Squirrels, Springfields and Simple Satisfaction
I retained my strong enthusiasm for squirrel hunting long into my adulthood when many of my then childhood friends around my southeastern Pennsylvania home migrated toward an interest in larger game or other sports. Thirty autumns of following this passion, plus years of detailed journal entries to augment my forgetful memory have helped me to formulate particular opinions regarding weapon selection and hunting methods. My scoped .22 Rimfire long ago replaced using a smoothbore; the importance of bullet placement superseding any desire to fulfill game bag limits, and now centerfire rifle cast loads expand my interest by placing more enjoyment in this form of simple satisfaction. Today, the common squirrel still continues to provide me a graduate level course on marksmanship, load development, and hunting techniques.
The past four years provided a new venue toward my pastime since acquiring a Remington 03-A3 bolt rifle from a friend who claimed the rifle was never fired due to its inability to chamber a .30 Model 1906 round. Deducing the two-groove barrel may be a replacement, a quick check with a set of GO/NOGO gauges confirmed the new and unfired RA-43 replacement barrel remained in its original short-chambered state. A quick trip to my favorite precision gunsmith, J. C. Coleman of Coleman’s Custom Repair (now of Deerfield, Virginia) solved the problem of proper headspace and safety. The rifle consistently grouped issue Ball ammunition around four inches or less at 200 yards off the sandbags.
I ceased using jacketed bullet ammunition however after 158 rounds. Frequently reading about the accuracy of cast bullet loads often being easily obtained from these two-groove war production barrels expanded my interest in cast load development. I studied articles by Al Miller, C. E. Harris, Dave Scovill and others, as well as referencing the Lyman Cast Bullet Handbook in order to find safe recipes for moderate to full power loads. Postal Match results published in The Fouling Shot also help reveal a pattern of favored moulds and loads. My only apprehension centered on the use of fillers and thus determined I would avoid any loads calling for such material. I also knew my limited time, knowledge, and budget prevented me from applying many of the tools and techniques that put the die-hard cast bullet competitors into the winner’s circle. I enthusiastically read of their published accounts, but set off toward my own agenda.
I acquired and experimented with several Lyman and RCBS moulds in weights from 150 to 200 grains over the next two years. I stayed with a mix of nine parts wheelweight lead to one part 50-50 Bar Solder. Bench testing this military rifle demonstrated most loads grouped about equally well plus exhibited little leading in the bore. This rifle’s preferred load proved early on to be the RCBS 165-SIL bullet, sized to .310” over 16.0 grains of Hercules (now Alliant) 2400 powder combined with selected Match cases and primers; a load referenced in an article as a standard for accuracy. Most five-shot groups measured about 2-1/4 inches at 100 yards with minimal leading in my barrel. This load is my current standard for measuring load accuracy in further cast load development for this particular rifle, all in spite of the necessity to raise the aperture to the 500-yard setting on the issue 03-A3 rear sight.
I next purchased a Lee 113 FN mould in order to develop a mild load for teaching my son and others to shoot this full size and historically relevant battle rifle. Bullets from this economical mould display somewhat the same characteristics as the early Cartridge, Gallery, Practice, Cal. .30, M1903, intended for use within 100 feet by early 20th century garrisoned troops confined to range practice in their barracks. Left unsized, the little bullets were loaded over 7.8 grains of Unique in FA 37 cases. Wow! At 25 yards, ten rounds clustered into a ragged hole and still do today when I do my part and there is little wind. Reportedly traveling at about 1000 fps, this load also displays minimal leading, but shows some powder fouling though not enough to be objectionable. The recoil is nil but groups open to about 1½ inches at 50 yards. Sight setting on my 03-A3 is 300 yards.
I soon decided I must try this latter load on some local squirrels. My duty station at the time was Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and I knew of a local farmer who granted me permission to hunt Fox Squirrel in the hickory grove on the corner of his farm. I soon learned that with proper sling adjustment coupled with a steady hold in strong light, any squirrel within 35 yards was in the pot. The skeptical look from my host’s family members the first time I stopped by to let them know I was on their place with my "battle rifle” soon abated when they later saw me heading back to my truck with a brace of fat Fox Squirrels.
I’ve now shot that rifle/load combination for the past three years in both fall and late-spring squirrel seasons. It’s a definite favorite. It feeds reliably, meat damage is minimal, and the rifle’s report is not objectionable to squirrels or local landowners.
This spring, I acquired a Springfield Armory Model 1903 through the Civilian Marksmanship Program. I was initially disappointed by its apparent condition, but held hope in its barrel once I cleaned its four-groove bore and found it to be in mint condition with no trace of copper fouling. Any remaining disappointment further evaporated at its first range session when I discovered this rifle might handle the Lee 113 FN load as well as my Remington 03-A3. I did find the ladder-type sight took some getting used to but as I shot the rifle more often, groups shrank to about three-quarter inches for subsequent five-shot groups at 25 yards.
I took this Springfield to the field this past June for Kentucky’s spring squirrel season but must report no game was brought to bag. My difficulty in lining up the issue sights on a squirrel in heavy foliage had nothing to do with the rifle/load combination. However in future springtime hunts, I’ll likely stick to my scoped .22 or the 03-A3 with its aperture style rear sight.
I’m still in the early "crawl” stage of the "Crawl, Walk, Run” progression of cast bullet load development. I am however, encouraged by my early attempts in that I discovered a suitable rifle/cast load combination that fulfills my desire to combine my squirrel hunting passion with my new but growing fondness for "Springfields.” I plan to next develop another suitable load to participate in some of the CBA postal matches for as-issued military rifles, then another for coyote and groundhog hunting. I’m also taking a close look at what I can do with a lever action .30-30 I’ve had sitting in the corner of my cabinet.
The quest continues. •