SIX BARRELS REVIEWED
by AK Church
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My first and second articles on the New England single shot in the .357 shorty configuration generated a fair bit of interest, not just in the short barrel, but in the NEF Handi-Rifles themselves. I have only one rifle, but I have six barrels total (so far) for the receiver.
The first barrel came on the original complete rifle as a .30-30 caliber. The rifle itself came more or less par for the current configuration-stocked in brown stained palletwood, heavy and somewhat gritty trigger, and a 22 inch iron sighted barrel in the fine old .30 WCF. The rifle came in at well under $200, including tax, and was replete with sling swivels. The iron sights from the factory are actually pretty good, resembling the Thompson Contender sights. They are fully adjustable for both elevation and deflection. Their only real failing is lack of radius at about 14 inches. The Williams Guide sights are better, however, so I went to those. They will require a taller front sight, and NEF thoughtfully has one in their parts catalogue for the .22 Hornet, serviceable and inexpensive.
Accuracy so far has been a disappointment. It'll do as little as 2-2 ¼ inches at 100 with Federal factory 150 grain which, admittedly, is good enough for its purpose. I had, however, hoped for better. It will do about what my 50 year old Marlin will do. It does however allow great flexibility in handloading, and pointy bullets are no magazine problem in a rifle with no magazine. As soon as adult life allows, I'd like to try some of the 125-135 grain .308 bullets intended for the Mini-30. Something shooting more or less flat to 125 yards would be most pleasant. It also appears to have entirely acceptable rifling for cast bullets. I'm not satisfied yet that all the accuracy potential has been wrung out of this barrel.
A note to handloaders: All the NEF barrels I've had fitted to my rifle have ferocious ejectors. They'll pitch your once fired brass well out into the weeds. Make a habit of having your hand there to stop it.
The second barrel is a .357 Magnum 22 inch. It has received the Williams sight treatment, and is otherwise stock. It does have the advantage of having several hundred rounds worth of jacketed ammo through it, which has unquestionably done some good things for the bore. How good? 1 ½ inches, 100 yards, 3 shots. This with Winchester's wunderbar 180 grain Partition Gold. 2 inches or a little under with Georgia Arm's 158 grain .357 +P "Deerbuster", good for almost 1900 fps, and match ammo consistency. 2 inches or so with a pet handload of 13 grains of 2400, once fired Winchester unplated hulls, CCI 550 primer, and a Sierra 180 semi-spitzer. Max, and again the disclaimer that I'm only telling you what I've done, not that you can or should do this. You handload, as I do, at your own risk.
If the .30-30 barrel did less than what I expected, this one did far more. I shoot little if any .38 Special in it (don't like scouring the chamber). I am looking at whomping up some .38 standard ballistics, cast SWC stuff for it in .357 hulls, as I have about half a million cases. This has been shown to be a fine small game arrangement, over'n over. Cast bullets for this rifle length bore, even at piddly velocities, need to be gas checked, or you will spend the rest of your days scouring out lead.
The third barrel is a 22 inch in the grand old .45-70. .45 Army of 1873 is one of the finest things the US Government ever did for us-right on a par with .30 Government of 1906. You could get a Handi-Rifle for under $200 in this caliber, and have a serious pig or bear rifle most cheaply. Judging from the performance of my barrel, you'd not be disappointed in the groups, either. Before mine got the Williams sight treatment, I put it on the bench with the first ammo to come to hand, the lightly constructed Winchester 300 grain whitetail ammo. 100 yards, 3 shots, 1 ½ inches. Same as the .357, as it happens. How it would group with a 4 or 5 shot effort I don't know. I can't hold off the flinch much past three rounds. The down side to this set up is that the rifle weighs not much past 6 pounds in the big cartridge. The big hole doesn't leave a whole lot of metal, and it'll kick. I could have it ported, but that'd cost far more than the barrel. I've played with some cast handloads so far, but nothing so far puts a hurtin' on the Winchester for accuracy.
Barrel number four is a shotgun barrel. 12 gauge 3 inch, 22 inches long, modified choke. This barrel is very light, and the "rifle" ("shotgun?" "gun?") doesn't weigh more than 5 pounds with this short light tube in place, it DOES kick. That said, NEF charged only $35 for that barrel, and it'll pattern cheap Wal-Mart shotgun shells, the #6 field loads, at proper modified densities. I've had this one treated to a very rust resistant molybdenum disulfide finish. Set up on the similarly refinished receiver, and with synthetic stocks, a person would have a splendid subsistence hunting gun-tight patterning and very weather resistant. I don't handload shotgun ammo, so what it'd do with carefully assembled, plated shot handloads is unknown. I am impressed by this barrel. Let me mention for our deerhunting readers in Northeastern states that it will pattern just as well with Fiocchi double-ought buckshot, and will spin you like a weathervane when you fire it.
Barrel number five is the shorty .357 caliber tube described in the previous article. My current approach is running jacketed rounds through it to polish out the bore. After a few hundred more rounds have zinged downrange, I'm hoping the accuracy will pick up. Let me note this for the curious: The Rev'd Jim has shown up with some surplus "data" powder-don't recall the precise designation. Loading the case with this stuff almost full, hand seating a 160 cast, I got almost 2100 feet per second out of the 16-½ inch with no pressure weirdness. The bullet was seated so far out the cartridge would tolerate little handling, so this is a range stunt, not viable hunting ammo. At least so far But these ballistics exceed the original 106 year old ballistics of the .30-30.
With this one the Williams sight treatment (or a much more expensive equivalent by Ashley) is essential. Otherwise sight radius drops to around nine inches.
Barrel number six is a 24 inch smoothbore 12 gauge, iron sighted slug barrel. It unfortunately is too thin for tapped holes, so the factory irons are what it will be. This was purchased for a trip to an eastern state, which fell through. Little range testing so far, but I suspect it'll do better than the 3 ½-4 inches at 50 yards it's done so far with the French Sauvestre fin stabilized discarding sabot slugs. I do believe me and my darned shoulder is the problem.
Thus far, no rimless cases, no really small bore numbers, and no scopes. I'm not a Luddite, but this seems like it might be the most practical setup for my needs. I've received a few letters from readers asking about rechambering the shorty .357 to .357 Maximum. My primary reason for not doing this is lack of components for that round. You don't just walk in and buy 100 once fired .357 Max hulls at the gun show, and I suspect that cartridge will be out of print in the next 10 or 15 years. I do hope I'm wrong, since I have a friend with a Dan Wesson in that caliber, but I suspect the cartridge is doomed doomed doomed.
Another thought cropping up in my fevered brain is a wildcat found in the Barnes/McPherson tome, the .35/.30-30. .30-30 hulls are abundant, and this one yields some impressive ballistics-approaching the .375 WCF. A .357 magnum barrel could be rechambered with minimum effort, and I have a mighty array of .30-30 cases. But that would have to be on yet another tube. .35/.30-30 deserves a longer barrel than the 16 ½ inches the shorty provides, and the existing 22 inch .357 is too accurate to touch.
The last barrel is one which doesn't exist, but which I wish did. A .45 Colt barrel, not the weird mutant .45/.410 shotgun jobber they have produced. It would be a simple matter mechanically to take the .44 Remington Magnum barrel they produce, and have it bored and rechambered to this fine, and ever more popular cartridge. Drilled and tapped to take either the William's or Ashley aperture sight. A rifling twist compromised between the factory or equivalent 250 to 255 grain stuff, and the newer 300 grain hunting bullet loads (factory and homebrew) would produce a dream barrel. The problem is that reboring runs as much as the host firearm, and kinda blows the claims of this as a budget firearm. Still this would be a nice barrel, and I think about it a lot.
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NOTE: Author Church regrets that he is unqualified to do appraisal, and cannot establish a value on your gun.
AK wrote back:
Steve wrote back too:
Thank you for responding. I have also thought about the twist situation but I have limited uses for the 220 grain bullet, although I may push one out the bore every once in a while. My main interest would fall around the use of 130, 150 and 180 grain projectiles. Also I believe the 165 grain has real potential in this single shot platform. The Krag is overlooked completely due to it's age and that is a real shame because even though it does not have the semi-rim, belts or modern neck taper ( aka. all the bells and whistles ) it is a classic cartrige from a more practical time when shooting skills were born from necessity and not because we have time to kill and really need something to do on a Saturday.
Thanks again. Steve
Have been enjoying your data on the Handi-Rifles. Have several at this time, including a rechambered 30-30 to 30-40. Worked great. My question: Have you come across a trigger shoe that will fit these rifles? I fell over a reworked shoe at a local gun show, but the brand/model number is not on it. But I really like the way it feels.
Enjoyed reading about your project. Sounds like a winner. Have been playing with these H&R/NEF rifles for 30 years. Shoot and load for 25-06, 308, 243, 44 Mag, 45-70, 450 Marlin, and 30-40 Krag (rechambered from 30-30).
Had a combo 357 Mag/20 Gauge set when I lived in Texas in 1983. On a whim had the 357 rechambered to 357 Remington Max, which was poplar in that country for shooting steel with revolvers. While the caliber had some problems in revolvers, namely gas cutting on top straps, in the single shoot it was a real winner. It provided all kinds of power, and still shot 357 Mag and 38 Special. From the bench at 100 yards, my scoped rifle (At my age you scope everything!) could turn in 1 to 2 inch groups with 357 Max factory and equivalent handloads. Could detect no difference in accuracy when shooting 357 Mag in the rechambered barrel, which was surprising, since the bullet had a longer leap to the lands.
I wish you well with your project.
Great Falls, Montana
AK wrote back:
Don't see a big ballistic
advantage to the .450 as opposed to the hotter
I have a NEF Handi-Rifle in .357 MAX that has gone thru a lot of changes, some of which you may find interesting.
It has been cut to 16 1/2" barrel, has a hand-made drift adj. only peep sight and an AO trit center white bead front sight. (These sights have survived pick-up and horse back travel as well as a "horse-wreck" or two.)
It has been partially "poacher-stocked" (a form of skeletonized buttstock in use since flintlock days), and three cart loops screwed over spaces inlet for the cart. to about 1/2 their depth at the front of the comb. (This is much flatter and less protuberant than a butt cuff). LOP was shortened as well.
I couldn't stand the plastic trigger guard so it now has a percussion era J & S Hawken guard.
The front sling hanger is silver brazed in a slot cut for it in the very thick barrel.
The rear of the sling is attached to a loop which slides on the "poacher stock", and is self-adjusting whether I wear it diagonally across my back, or slung muzzle down of the shoulder.
I carry this rifle horse back, and it so convenient that I don't even bother with a scabbard, just carry it slung or in my hand.
Slung diagonally, the barrel does NOT stick up high enough to foul in branches or trees so a horseman would get dragged off over the back of the cantle. (It can be pretty much "dog-hair" around here, particularly on the north slopes or wooded draws.)
I also carry it doing chores, fixing fence, in the pick-up, or watering and feeding stock.
The Hornady 200 gr. RN leaves the muzzle at 1,800 fps with 25.5 gr. Rel.7. (30-30 150 gr. from similar length barrel does 1,900 + fps.)
This load hits considerably harder than 30-30 and should kill noticeably better.
My 1st front sight was a bit short and I was maybe 3 or 4" high at 100 right on at 150 and I could "favor" high just a hair and get hits at 200.
My new AO white bead front is a bit higher and seems to be right on the mark at 85 to 100 yds., which should be just perfect.
I also load 1 1/2 gr. Red Dot in modified cases that accept Win. 209 shotgun caps.
I seat a round ball of .360 dia. in the sized case mouth and use some LEE liquid alox lube on the lead just ahead of the case neck and let dry.
These loads are pellet gun level noise-wise, do 600 fps, and will knock a squirrel or grouse kicking. (Should do fine for cottontail, but we have so few around her I do not shoot them.)
These round ball loads hit to the same POA at 20 to maybe 25 yds. and are nice for practice, checking that my sights are still "on", as well as small game.
I am going to develop a high speed jhp load for feral dogs and cougar, as well as a cast bullet load of moderate speed.
I am also starting work on some Rossi single shots that are lighter derivatives of the NEF.
18 1/2" barreled .357 weighs 4 lbs. as opposed to the cut-down NEF MAX which weighs 6 lbs.
The receiver of the Rossi is smaller dia., as is the barrel.
I am going to put a lanyard ring on this rifle and carry Cavalry style.
I will probably cut a dovetail in the standing breech to mount a peep sight as the barrel is not thick enough over the chamber area like it is on the NEF.
Since there is plenty of "gape-of-action", this should work well.
The NEF is like carrying a stout shovel handle at the thick end. The Rossi is like wrapping your hand around a walking stick.
Both are a joy for every day "shoot what you find".
I think the Rossi will get more off-season use, and the more powerful MAX, wind up being what I pack for deer or black bear (about $50 cheaper than the NEF).
I consider the std. length .357 out of a rifle at least equal to 30-30 150 gr. as to killing power with in reasonable "iron-sight range".
All but 3 of the deer I have shot over the years have been within 100 yds., well within "iron sight range", so I don't feel handicapped by such a rifle and such sights.
Also, any deer or black bear that needed a second shot when I was hunting with repeaters, did not need it so quickly that a single shot could not have been reloaded plenty fast enough.
I like the very short OAL and simplicity of these rifles.
You get a lot of bang! for the $, too!
Dave Orchard / inland NW not far from the Can. border
PS There'll be more coming your way eventually, or you can visit archives of Backwoodsman@yahoogroups.com for similar on Marlin lever rifles, M-70 reliability and tune-ups, mods. like 10-shot box mag on M-70, small-game loads for center-fires, "poacher-stock" history (and maybe by this time photos of the modification in late 1600/early 1700's era fusil & Marlin, NEF, Rossi), etc.
Added 28 April 2003.
As always, all hand loading is at reader's risk. We have not tested this load.
I was searching the internet, and saw your article on the shorty NEF rifle. I have had 2 NEF rifles in 30-30 that I cut to 16 1/2 inches. Both were really handy, heavy and great little guns. I worked upa load of 7 grains of Unique over a 220 gr. Sierra RN. It was quiet, with little recoil and really accurate. The difference was both of my rifles had little 2.5x scopes on them I ran into the same problem w/ the Williams receiver sight, the front sight was not tall enough. I really enjoyed both rifles, and wanted to work one up for .357 or .44 Mag.
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