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Mike Innis Reviews the 97D Rifle in 6mm PPC

The Varmint Hunters Association The 6mm PPC:
More Than Just The Ultimate Paper Puncher

By V.H.A. Member Mike Innis
®Copyright 2008, The Varmint Hunters Association, Inc. • PO Box 759 • Pierre, SD 57501 • 605-224-6665
Reprinted with Permission
   I met Lou Palmisano in New Jersey when he still was on his quest for the "perfect cartridge." He was convinced that there was a "just right" combination of case configuration, powder load, and projectile size that would become a world beater when it came to match shooting. He also was convinced that he would be the person to find that combination, and if you follow match competition, you'll probably conclude that Dr. P. found his perfect cartridge in the PPC.

  For most of my hunting career, I've been satisfied with being able to shoot 1-inch groups at 100 yards. As a handloader, I found that I could get almost any rifle in my collection to meet that requirement. I would tinker around with powder types, charge size, bullet weights, and bullet configurations. Cleaning primer pockets and reaming flash holes, along with experimentation with full length and neck resizing eventually would get me that minute of angle for which I was searching. Then I could fine tune the seating depth of the bullet to control the jump to the lands and tighten up the groups even further if I felt a need to do so. With so many combinations of components to juggle, the process of finding that right combination could take weeks of part-time work to discover. But I always considered time at the reloading bench and the range to be a logical extension of my hunting hobby, so I found the rather tedious job of discovery to be thoroughly enjoyable.

  My perspective on acceptable hunting accuracy changed a few years ago when I became a member of The Varmint Hunters Association. After a couple of trips to prairie dog towns, I discovered that MOA levels of accuracy for 9-inch tall, 2-inch wide critters at 300 plus yards didn't quite get it. Toss in a little mirage and some quirky winds (pre-existing conditions at most dog towns) and I found out that I was wasting ammunition by shooting at anything over about 100 yards. I decided that it was time to begin looking for a "same hole" kind of shooting rig.

  Researching the literature on "best of breed" in the accuracy department quickly led me to conclude that either a 22 PPC or a 6mm PPC would be the best choice for my needs. Given the windy conditions often encountered out on the prairies and grasslands, I decided that the 6mm projectiles would be more stable. Further research on the 6mm PPC led me to the issue of "neck turning" all the cases. Since I think I already have just about every toy a reloader could imagine, the idea of buying even more tools so that I could reload the PPC didn't appeal to me. Then I read about the Model 97D, built by E. Arthur Brown Company, located at Garfield, Minnesota. I placed a call to Eben Brown and he graciously shared the following information with me.

  The 97D uses a unique falling block action. The entire firing mechanism, including the hammer, is contained in the block. When you open the action the block slides down and the ejector throws your spent cartridge cases straight back. The design is simple and direct and results in a very fast lock time, an inherent accuracy feature. EABCO Accuracy Barrels are used in all of their standard chamberings. Each barrel is turned and threaded on-center and given a concentric, 11-degree target crown. Into this barrel, the chamber of your choice is reamed and individually headspaced. Chambers are dimensioned properly tight, ensuring good alignment with the bore. They use a process of zero stress barrel mating. The barrels are threaded to fit snuggly onto the actions without torquing. Then they're sealed into place with an industrial Loctite®. Finally, they don't stamp their markings into the guns; they're electronically etched. Stress-free barrels shoot better. EABCO is currently making singleshot rifles and handguns in more than 50 different cartridges. When I asked Eben about neck turning cases for the 6mm PPC cartridge, he said, "Mike, we decided to eliminate that extra step for you handloaders by reaming our chambers to 0.275 inch to accept Lapua cases without turning them."

  I told him, "Eben, you've just sold another 97D!" Before I placed the order, he told me that they were currently backlogged and that the wait for a custom-built 97D was six to twelve months. I was not too happy with that news, but to get the rifle I wanted I was going to have to swallow the "instant gratification" thing and spend my time getting ready for delivery.

  I ordered the dies from Hornady, since I was already using their "Lock- N-Load" press, and have been very satisfied with Hornady dies in other cartridges. I then got several boxes of Lapua 220 Russian unfired cases, CCI Bench Rest primers (BR-4), a couple of different VihtaVuori powders (N130 and N135), and two boxes each of 65- grain and 58-grain Hornady V-Max bullets. By the time my new 97D arrived, I was totally ready to go. Indeed, I had ammunition already loaded to begin the first step of fireforming the cases on the day it was delivered.

  The recommended procedure is to full-length resize the cases, then use a 65-grain bullet over 21.8 grains of N130 and a CCI BR-4 primer for the initial fireforming. Being a cautious creature, I began with 20.8 grains and headed for the range with 20 freshly minted cartridges. Having previous experience with fireforming cases, I had no expectation of realizing any type of acceptable accuracy on this first pass. I was merely blowing out the cases to fit the chamber, and would begin the serious business of chasing sub-moa once I had a supply of once-fired fireformed cases with which to work. As I began firing and fine tuning the scope, I noticed that my three-shot groups were fairly tight. I completed the scope work after nine rounds and had it dialed in to shoot dead on at 100 yards. I stapled up a new target, hunkered down, and got serious about controlling my breathing and developing my sight picture. The first three shots were all touching! My fireforming load out of the 97D was better than many of my second and third passes with other cartridges that had required nothing more than simple reloading. I was impressed, to say the least. So I shot three more and created one large, ragged hole with the six shots. I proceeded to finish off my remaining five loads with only one flier outside a hole that I could cover with a quarter. I hurried back to the reloading bench and cobbled up 20 more rounds using more new cases but increasing the powder charge to 21.8 grains. (Careful inspection of the cases in which I used the starting load of 20.8 grains turned up no indication of excess pressure.) On my return trip to the range, these loads gave me another large hole; not as tight as the first go around, but still sub-moa.

6mm PPC Load Data  When I began to reload the newly fireformed cases, I used the recommended starting load of 25.5 grains of N135, the 58-grain Hornady V-Max, and the CCI BR-4 primers. I then worked my way up, in half grain increments, to where I was loading 28.5 grains. The results were excellent, so I nudged the charge up, a tenth of a grain at a time, until I got to 28.8 grains of N135, which gave me consistent 3/8" groups at 100 yards, a muzzle velocity of 3,301 fps (chrono placed 10 feet from muzzle), and an estimated chamber pressure of 47,232 (CUP), well within safe limits. With this load, at 200 yards, I shoot half-inch groups every time I take it out. Given the realities of my poor eyesight and advancing age, I can't do any better than that under field conditions. I might be able to tighten 'em up some more with one of those $1,000.00 rifle rests and a few wind flags, but that's not in my budget right now.

  As you can well imagine, the effects of the 58-grain V-Max on prairie dogs is awesome. I score more than 90 percent on any of them that pop up inside 200 yards, and 75 percent between 300 and 400 yards. I have trouble even finding them with binoculars at much more than 400 yards; tracking them down with the scope is pretty much a "mission impossible" endeavor.

  I was eager to see how this rig would work on larger varmints, so I contacted a local rancher who had mentioned to me that he had been experiencing severe predation problems. He'd seen several coyotes as well as some tracks at the watering holes that led him to believe there were bobcats as well that had begun attacking the young sheep on his place.

  Early one morning I set myself up in an old deer blind that overlooked the convergence of three distinct game trails. I used a PreyMaster caller, and assoon as the light was sufficient I gave the "baby jackrabbit" call a try. Within minutes a gray fox appeared. I passed on him, since they're not a danger to livestock. He wandered around for a moment, seemingly confused by the lack of a follow-up squeal that he thought he was going to turn into breakfast. He suddenly looked over his shoulder, froze, and then bolted from view. Something had badly frightened him.

  I focused on the area where the fox had been looking, and, sure enough, a large bobcat carefully emerged from a thick growth of young mesquite trees. He, too, was looking for breakfast, swiveling his head in all directions to catch the sound or scent of that distressed rabbit. I located him in the scope and squeezed off a round. I saw him jump straight up and begin scrambling back to the cover from which he had come. There were some thrashing sounds that moved out into even thicker brush in a small arroyo, and then everything became quiet. I waited ten minutes and then went out to investigate. At the site where I had shot him, there was a large smear of blood. I followed the blood trail (carefully, I might add, with rifle at the ready!) into the brush. I discovered him, quite dead, about 20 yards from impact. The little 58-grain bullet had passed through his lungs and heart and had created an exit wound about the size of my fist. If you're collecting furs, this is not the load to use.

  Additional experience with the 6mm PPC has led me to the conclusion that it is a superior hunting cartridge, as well as being the premier paper puncher it was reputed to be. If you're looking for a "walkabout" hunting rifle for anything from small deer and antelope down to prairie dogs, but that can put 'em all in one hole out at the range, this is the cartridge and rifle model to consider.

CONTACTS
E. Arthur Brown Co.
4088 County Road 40 NW
Garfield, MN 56332
(320) 834-3000
E-mail:  CONTACT US 

Hornady Mfg. Co.
PO Box 1848
Grand Island, NE 68802-1848
(800) 338-3220
www.hornady.com

The VARMINT HUNTER Magazine®
PO Box 759 • Pierre, SD 57501
(800) 528-4868
www.varminthunter.org

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