On the Road to Records

By Bob Birmley

Last year I received a phone call from a shooter in Washington State. His name was Mike McCaughan. He asked me if I could help him with his bulet casting as it pertained to accuracy. He said that for two years now his groups looked like shotgun patterns. I told him that was a tall order with him living in Washington and me in New Mexico.

Before the conversation went any further I asked him what kind of accuracy he was looking for. “I want to go after the LRH national records.” Wow! My first impression was here’s a guy that is new to bullet casting and not only does he need help on how to cast a good bullet he also wants to set national records. So my next question to him was “Do you have an competitive shooting experience?” Then he laid it on me. He shot IHMSA for twelve years and he had held multiple state and regional championships. That was enough for me. I knew that I had a serious competitor on my hands and I wasn’t going to lose him.

It had been several years since I had done any serious load development for CBA matches so I figured that I would simply fall back on the techniques I was taught so many years ago when Bob Thompson, Art Coover, Frank Craig and the late Dave Lee took me under wing and started me on a game that I have enjoyed for so many years. From weighing bullets to tight neck tension it worked back then so why not now.

I sent Mike a bottom pour pot and two custom 30 caliber moulds. And thus began several months of serious dedicated experimenting. Bullets, cases, powder etc. It didn’t take long before Mike was casting good bullets. While Mike worked on the bullets I concentrated on the cases. Our goal was to have the gun and loads ready for the 2017 CBA competitive season.

Fast forward. Even though we had several months of serious work under our belts I still felt that we were not quite there yet but Mike was ready to rock n’ roll. I followed his lead and said “Let’s go for it” The first shoot was the following weekend. The next Saturday evening Mike called with the results. “Well Bob, I’ve got some good news and some bad news.” On his first time out Mike had broken the LRH 200 yd 5 shot group national record but it didn’t count because there was no moving backer system. There again I don’t think either on of us expected Mike to break the group record his first time out. At least I didn’t but that shoot really got us wired! We now knew that Mike was ahead of schedule on his quest for setting some new records.

Never being satisfied and after several phone conversations we decided to put a new barrel on Mike’s gun even though he had just broken a record with his current barrel. This meant making up and sending Mike several cases of different neck thicknesses. We lucked out and found the right case size on the first try.

This was Mike’s setup for the coming season. He’s using a M.O.A single shot pistol with a Hart barrel, 1-11 twist and chambered for the 30 BR case. The pistol was topped with a 45x scope. Mike would only be using one case loading at the bench. The reason for the single case was that with a uniform outside case neck tension he was consistently getting smaller groups. The completed cartridge was as follows

  • 1. 30 Br case formed from Win. 300 Savage cases
  • 2. The neck was reamed .3065 and the neck was turned to a thickness of .012 giving it a nice firm neck for his custom chamber
  • 3. Primer pocket uniformed and flash hole deburred
  • 4. Primer CCI 200
  • 5. Powder 17.5 gr. Of 4759 (This one still puzzles me!)
  • 6. Bullet ACC 311230E sied .312
  • 7. Bullets weighed to 1/10 gr increments and shot accordingly
  • 8. Gator gas checks
  • 9. Bullets and cases were indexed and chambered the same way for each shot. Velocity 1550 FPS.

Over the next few weeks we decided that while I looked for clubs that still used moving backers Mike would try to build a portable system. The best option I could come up with was either Roseburg or Springfield OR. As usual Mike was on step ahead of me. He took his new portable backer system to the next club shoot and missed the 10 shot group record by .022. Then came the bad news, the club would probably stop shooting groups altogether. We were forced to regroup again. We thought that maybe Mike would be able to shoot 5 shot groups while the rest of the shooters shot score but we soon found that can’t be done. According to the Rules of Competition we would need at least four competitors shooting groups even without backers to let him go for a group record using a moving backer.

As usual Mike was thinking positive. “Bob, the club still shoots one shot per bull score matches and they have a score shoot coming up.” Mike also stated that he had two cases left with a .012 neck and he would use them for the next shoot. A few days later Mike called with some great news. He had just shot the 100/200 yd. Score matches and everything went as hoped. He tied the 100 yd. score record and broke the 200 yd. score and 100/200 yd. aggregate records.

Mike then said that he was going to make the 700 mile round trip to Roseburg OR. to shoot at Mel Harris’s one day 100 yd. Shoot. This shows just how serious a competitor Mike is. Things were really moving fast now, in fact too fast. Mike was down to just the two cases that he had used to break the previous records and we both worried that they may not hold up much longer. It was too late for me to make up some more cases and get them to him before he left for Oregon but Mike decided to go for it anyway. When Mike got back he called and hit me with the goods news bad news thing again. The bad news was during the score match the first case gave out and he shot lousy. The good news was that the second case held together just long enough to get him the 100 yd. 5 shout group national record before it gave out. The 5 shot group record that Mike broke was set by Dr. Jesse Miller 16 years earlier and as luck would have it Jesse was shooting that day and was there to congratulate Mike.

That reminds me of the time when the late Dave Lee came down to Modesto from Roseburg for our 2 day Regional Shoot several years ago. Dave broke 6 club records and when the late Mel Johnson asked him at the end of the shoot why he hadn’t broken more records Dave smiled and said “I only brought 3 cases with me and the last one gave out on me half way through today’s shooting.”Note: When an individual custom case gives out by stretching and loses its firm neck tension it still shoots good just not excellent.

In the Rules of Competition section 5, Equipment Requirements, section 5.2 Production Rifle, says “The barrel must be chambered for its original cartridge and the chamber including the neck must conform to SAAMI specifications for the cartridge used.” There is a reason that sentence was added several years ago to the production class R of C. A tight custom neck even on a factory cartridge will improve accuracy.

The next shoot would be in late June. Mike called the afternoon of that shoot to tell me of his disappointment in only tying the 200 yd. Score record. As usual Mike was thinking positive, “I’ll break it the next shoot.”

After five CBA shoots what is Mike’s total? He has broken 4 national records, tied 2 national records and missed one by .022.

How did Mike go from 2 years of frustration with his bullet casting to consistently breaking national records in less than a year? Simple. From weighing bullets to case neck tension he didn’t miss a thing. He worked very hard at every stage of bullet and case preparation. He never once complained about how much extra work or time he had to spend at any operation because the more he worked at it the smaller his groups became until he started settling records.

Good shooting Mike. After working with you these past few months it’s been a blast from the past. You did it the old fashioned way. You earned it and I know there’s more to come.

In my article “On the Rock Road to Records” in Fouling Shot #250 I told how CBA member Mike McCaughan had set a goal to go after the Long Range Handgun records in the 2017 competitive season. At the end of the article I tallied up Mike’s scores and after five shoots and half way through the 2017 season he had set four national records, tied two national records and missed one by .022. I finished up the article by saying “I know there’s more to come” and was I ever right. Less than a week after sending the article off to Glenn Latham, our Fouling Shot editor, Mike called to tell me that he had just set three more records. He had bettered two of his previous records and added a new one plus he earned the first 200 ever shot in LRH competition.

During his call Mike said that he had decided to make the Regional tournament in Springfield OR. I told him that I would make up twenty cases and get them to him in plenty of time so he could fire form them and find out what cases were ready for some serious shooting.

After Mike checked out the cases he called and said that he had three cases that could win matches and one case that was good enough to set some records. Saturday afternoon the second week of August Mike called. “Good news Bob. We have two more national records.” He also said that he thought it would be difficult shooting at 200 yds. On Sunday because of the wind but on Sunday afternoon he called again to say that he had broken anther national record plus earning two screamers. As if that wasn’t enough a couple of days later he called to tell me that there was a fourth record, the 100-200 yd. 10 shot agg.

Before I go any further let me explain what Mike has to go through for each shot during a 10 or 15 minute match. He loads and shoots one case over and over until the neck starts to loosen. On his bench he has several 445 mag. Handgun cases, each one holding a pre measured amount of powder. No fancy powder measure for him. After firing a shot he takes the fired case and punches out the primer, he then seats a new primer. He pours the powder from one of the 445 mag. Cases into his 30BR case then indexing everything and using a straight line die he taps the bullet into the case.

Because his handgun is a M.O.A single shot and the case is a tight fit he taps the cartridge into the barrel using a special wood dowel. He closes the action, takes aim and fires a shot. Then he starts all over again.

Yes, he loses a lot of valuable shooting time but he still has the composure to shoot record groups and scores. That’s the price he has to pay to shoot one excellent case instead of ten or more preloaded good cases and he has proven that it does pay off.

Has there been any hurdles for Mike to overcome on his to set new records? Sure. Unlike other competitive shooting sports that may make changes to their rules but keep the game the same from club to club CBA is different. Over the last few years the serious competitor at best has been squeezed into a corner, at worst he has left the game to shoot another discipline. You can’t set group records without a moving backer. Mike even built a portable moving back system only to find out that he couldn’t use it because his club had decided not to shoot groups anymore. Shooting for score can change from club to club, one shot, two shots or even multiple shots. Stopping a score match to change a competitors target because he may be shooting well enough to set a new record is not the kind of attention any competitor needs to shoot his best.

On the positive side, Mike has shown us that serious dedication to the game and serious load development can still win matches and set records.

Helping Mike out over the past year has been the most rewarding thing I have done in CBA in a long time. The kicker is I have never met him. I wouldn’t recognize him if I walked past him on the street. Mike doesn’t have a computer so all of our correspondence has been through the mail or on the phone. What I have enjoyed the most working with Mike is he is old school. It has always been “we can do it Bob.” What a great attitude.

So, after ten shoots what is Mike’s total for the 2017 season? In ten shoots Mike has broken eleven national records while setting nine new national records, plus some screamers, assorted medals, and the first perfect 200 in LRH.

The late Joyce Hornady said it best, “accuracy doesn’t just happen, you have to make it happen.”