Next Theory, Please

Today - er, make that Sunday last - was “test magazines” day.

As some may recall, I’ve been trying to track down the cause of “light strikes” with my 45ACP wad reloads.

A “light strike” is when the hammer strikes the firing pin which strikes the primer, but nothing happens and, when you inspect the back of the primer, the dent is smaller than it should be.

A “light” strike.

These have numerous causes including not fully seating the primer when the round is reloaded (by yours truly), a weak mainspring (replaced a couple of weeks ago) and the slide staying a “nudge” short of being fully chambered - small “nudge” = hard to see. In the first and last case, the whack from the firing pin shoves the primer or the round the rest of the way in but it doesn’t go bang. In the case of a weak mainspring, the whack just isn’t hard enough.

The size of the dent is noticeably smaller. That’s what I’m seeing about 3-4 per 100 rounds.

Easy fixes first: I replaced the mainspring but didn’t think that was it because that would’ve made all strikes light. Not what I was seeing. And, as expected, the new spring didn’t make any discernable difference.

Burr on the firing pin or otherwise hanging up somewhere? Cleaned and smoothed recently but to no avail.

Today I tested another possibility, that of a magazine somehow causing the problem. My working theory was that if a weak or somehow inconsistently behaving follower spring were not shoving up the occasional round fast enough, then the slide coming forward and pick up the incoming round at a slightly lower spot causing it to carrom of the ramp and chamber hood more than usual thereby using up the recoil spring’s energy and leaving the round not quite completely chambered.

The “nudge” case.

I have four magazines I’ve been using so I decided to give them a methodical test today.

The two “SA” magazines are the originals I received with the Springfield Armory 1911 way back when it was a Mil-Spec model, long before several gunsmiths, several replacement parts and it’s graduation as my wad gun. And the two “W” magazines are Wilson Combat models I bought on special a while back as spares. (You can never have too many magazines.)

With 200 rounds of ammunition, my plan was to cycle evenly through the four magazines so that, as dirt built up on the gun – a dirty chamber is yet another possibility – I would be able to see if light strikes favored one magazine or if they developed over time.

So my drill was to load five rounds into each of the four magazines, shoot those twenty rounds, and repeat until the ammo was gone.

Meanwhile, I would also be working on trigger control. My goal in that respect was simple: to hold the dot in the aiming area and move the trigger straight back without disturbing the sights. And to help keep my attention on the one cubic meter at the firing point where everything happens rather than fifty yards away where nothing of importance takes place, I fired on target backsides. The “aiming area” would simply be the back of the target, a large and indistinct area. My “head” would be on what I was doing, not on the target that simply records the result of what I did.

Two hours, 200 rounds and four bottles of water in the 100+°F temperature later, I was done.

And as you can see from my range notebook, I had three (3) light strikes at widely different times, with three different magazines, and with at least two different head stamps. (I did not record the head stamp on the first light strike.)

And while it is true that the two nearer the end of the session leave a slightly dirty chamber as a possible contributor to light strikes, the first came after less than 40 rounds. That makes it clear that “dirty chamber”, if it is a factor, is not the only one.

It’s not the magazines.

What else could it be?

Well, several years ago I ran into some problems with a couple of brands of brass. With careful testing, I convinced myself that certain brands of brass – generally the ones that cost less – worked worse than those costing more. While that is hardly a revelation, for me it meant that those thousands of used brass shells I had accumulated over a long period of scrounging were of highly questionable value.

So, I dumped ’em.

From then on, I vowed, I would limit myself to a single, known good headstamp – Winchester – and I bought 1000 new shells and started reloading.

But then parts became scarce and, when I was ready for another 1000 pieces of Winchester 45 ACP brass, there were none to be had. And I don’t mean “none at a good price.” I mean “none.”

So, I started a second headstamp, Starline, that was available from a couple of sources. In time, I ended up with about 2000 Starline in addition to the 1000 Winchester.

At that time, my routine would be to, over several days, reload all 3000, shoot most and then reload again.

But a funny thing happens when reloading. You get into the rhythm, not only for each pull of the crank but also for each evening. It becomes a habit.

“I think I’ll go out and reload a couple of hundred rounds after dinner tonight.”

But what to do for more brass?

And what of my pledge to reload nothing but quality brass?

Well, finding a tub of 5000 “once fired, mixed” brass hidden away at the bottom of one cabinet coupled with an episode of “senior moment” and, next thing you know, I had another couple of thousand rounds ready to go, but this time in questionable brass.

Faced with several thousand rounds of “good stuff” and “not so good stuff”, when it came time for practice I’d naturally grab the latter.

“Save the good for matches. Shoot up the bad in practice.”

And many months later, with mostly practice and very few official matches behind me, here I am now with those light strikes and the revelation that I’ve been shooting the “not so good stuff” most of the time, and the good stuff only rarely.

Do the light strikes occur only in that admittedly older, probably cheaper, and more worn brass?

Maybe. Maybe not. My log book doesn’t have all light strikes, only the more recent ones when my frustration level was up. By that point, however, I had shot up all the good and was using only the bad stuff over and over.

A switch back to the “good stuff” and another 200 rounds should tell the tale.

Last night I began the switch. I cleaned the old brass I had shot up but then packed it away in a tub, deeper and lower in the back of a storage cabinet with a “might be bad” sign.

And then I pulled up the empty “good stuff” brass and set it on the reloading table. I’ll be pulling the crank on that the next few evenings.

If the better brass makes the “light strikes” issue go away, I’ll ditch (recycle) the bad stuff. If not, well, I’ll be back to scratching my head.

But I’m hopeful that with so many other causes already ruled out, I am close to a solution.

In my profession as a software engineer, my absolute favorite moment is when the source of a problem for some long-sought failure is finally found and, more importantly, understood. The longer and harder the search, the more rewarding that final revelation of cause and effect.

Now I know that many Bullseye shooters would fix all possible contributors, maybe get a brand new set of fresh brass and simply be done with it, but for me, it is the understanding, the knowledge of cause and effect, that I value most.

Fixing a problem is nice. But understanding why it failed and then how to make it work better, carries a much greater reward.

About components I’ve learned a lot.

  • Brass fired in Glocks cannot be 100% resized and will eventually cause malfunctions if reloaded. Don’t pick it up to reload. It is trash.
  • Brass will eventually lose it’s ability to spring back. It gets tired. Use a Martindale Gauge to cull those shells out.
  • Bullet weight must be within a single grain of weight or better for consistent flight within an inch or two at fifty yards.
  • Molybdenum-coated bullets rub off on hands, clothing and your face and, assuming you can get good quality uncoated LSWCs with a high enough hardness (Brinell#) to minimize barrel leading, the latter are a lot easier to hang on to when reloading.
  • Pay the extra it takes to get good brass if you want consistent performance, and track the number of times it’s been reloaded. Fewer reloads = more consistent performance.

Knowledge is power and, in Bullseye, that means more points.

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