BEAUTYis in the EYE of...
Iím really not into full blown custom guns....I do use small custom touches on my guns...like stag stocks, slicked up triggers, and now and then deep lustrous blue...that kind of thing. So it is with great surprise to my gunny friends that suddenly I went the way of the CUSTOM handgun...itís a bit of a surprise to me also....
I have wonderful personal friends like Ham Bowen, John Linebaugh, and Milt Morrison, and their work is exceptionally fine...along with a number of others. You hear Jim Taylor, John Taffin, Doc OíMeara and a number of Shootist members speak of certain gunsmiths....none of the Shootists would recommend a gunsmith that wasnít proven...excellent...and top of the line. If your going to put out the kind of money it takes for a custom gun, you and I want to be sure it will last down thru our great grandchildren...
Saying all this I happened to meet a fella named Gary Reeder. Kelly Brost told me about him..Kelly is the Honcho for Cast Bullet Performance...Kelly raved about his work. So I invited Gary to the Shootist Holiday this past June. I asked him to take all the guns he could carry with him...and boy did he. From a beautiful 475-70 (thatís a 45-70 blown out to 475...full case) Marlin to a 218 Bee Ruger Single action...all kinds of T/C Contenders....475 Ruger S/As...500s...and all the standard calibers...I shot them all, I admired his work greatly, like the others mentioned, Gary Reederís work is also Ďtop of the lineí. But I wasnít into custom guns for myself...really?
At the Shootist Holiday, I picked up what I thought was a slicked up 357...and when I fired it I realized THAT WAS NO NORMAL 357! Gary explained that he had developed a 356 GRN...obstensively a 41 magnum case necked to a 357. Now this is not new in the gun world...I had a S&W Mod 27 once rechambered to the 357 Bain and Davis...a 44 mag case necked to 357. And it was a fine gun and round and that was in 1969!
Gary explained that the 41 case took out less steel from the chambers, so they were stronger, and he redesigned the case shape so there would be no case setback...the killer of bottle necked cartridges in revolvers. And lets put that to rest right now....I tried everything...even heavy overloads to try and set back the 356 GRN in my Ruger...nada!
Gary told me he was getting very heady velocities with this round...like 1800 fps with a 158 grain JHP...from a seven and half inch barrel. My son and I shot up all his ammo...hitting rocks all the way past 600 yards..we had a ball. Before Gary left I gave him my Ruger 357 Bisley to rechamber. I asked if he could fit another 357 cylinder so I could still shoot 38s and 357s...and he did.
The gun:my gun was a stock but pretty Bisley Ruger with a 7 and Ĺ inch barrel. Been shooting it since they came out....Gary asked if he could pretty it up some. I said sure...íhow could he make it any better I thoughtí. Well what he did was build me his Prototype ALASKAN HUNTER and made it nicer than it ever was...slicked up the trigger and action, put a bit of engraving on it consistent with what the following ALASKANS he will build, will have...reblued it...rechambered it...made the Bisley grip so much nicer to my hand by reshaping it, which I have found also gives me a better pointing ability. And marked it as the prototype...I will treasure it for a long, long time. My son (son-in-law but like the son I never had) already is making noises about passing it down to my grandson...I keep reminding him I DON"T HAVE A GRANDSON YET!
SHOOTING IT:I was hoping it would match the long lost 357 Maxi Ruger I had in the early 1980s. But it has far surpassed even that fine cartridge. Let me give you a few examples of some extraordinary loads that came out of testing..these are not any kind of everyday woods loafing loads...but for special purposes....For grins I put a 147 gr copper gilded HP 9mm bullet over 25 grains of 2400, figuring the accuracy would be terrible but the velocity would be high.
And it was high...2112 fps for over 1450 ft.lbs of muzzle energy! And I had forgotten being gilded it was malleable enough to slug up well in the bore with the pressure running most likely close to 50,000 psi...accuracy was just over 2 and Ĺ inches at 25 yards...not bad for a 9mm out of a 357 bore. 25/2400/158 JHP Hornady went 2072 fps and 1500+ ft.lbs of muzzle energy but pressure was high 2 inches at 25 yards....23/2400 under the fine Cast Bullet Performance 187 grain WFN cast bullet, gave 1660 fps and almost 1150 ft.lbs. of muzzle energy, just under two inches at 25 yards. These groups were shot standing.
Have you noticed we are above the 44 magnum levels of power....Iím not saying the 356 is equal to the 44 mag, Iím saying the paper ballistics show tremendous power. It will take hunting to test the paper figures. And my everyday loads are more sensible in the pressure department...but I wanted to test this gunís full potential.
If you go back and check my article on the 357 Maxi you will see that my top velocities were in the 1550 fps levels...with 180 grain bullets and thatís with pushing the pressures. Now comes the Mystery! I get the same or higher velocities with the 356 with 2 to 4 grains less powder and less pressure when comparing ball powder loads! It takes over 24 grains of Ball powder in the Maxi to get 1550 + fps with 180 grain bullets...I can get the same velocity with 20 grains of 2400 in the 356....and over 1600+ fps with 20 grains of H110. Why? I donít know. Maybe...and I mean maybe, because Iím not sure...itís the shoulder in the 356 case giving much more efficient and complete burning of the powder over the straight sided case.
Also I have found that my beloved 2400 is badly outclassed by H110. 20 grains of H110 under the 158 gr HP gives 1755 fps...22 grains of 2400 gives less at 1670 fps...also the ball powder load shows considerably less pressure. Breaking 2000 fps with the 158 gr HP, with a comfortable pressure for the gun is easy with 21.5 grains. And 22.5 grains of H110 equals the velocity of the 25 grain load of 2400 over 2070 fps. And the cases fall out of the gun with a slight tap of the ejector. Not so with the 2400 load....
The Maxi was made for the 180 grain class of bullets and 1550 fps levels..certainly the 356 is a 180 grain+ shooter also. Only I can get 1558 fps with the Lyman 215 grain cast bullet...where as the Maxi tops out with the 180s. Of course loading a 215 grain bullet into a 356 case takes some doing..it goes in deep and I need to seat it part way in, then shake the case to get the power up around the bullet and out from under it, so I can then seat it all the way and crimp.
The 190 grain Lyman roundnose cast is a short and stumpy bullet...it gives plenty of room in the case for powder and can easily break 1700 fps. We have a sandstone ridge that we test bullets and loads against. At 25 yards this bullet put a pockmark 1 inch + deep and 2 inches around in the sand stone. At 100 yards the pockmark was still 3/4 ths of an inch deep and 1 Ĺ inches around. The penetration of this bullet I bet would be awesome in large animals...The 187 grain Cast Performance WFN gave a larger radial size and depth, than the 190 grain round nose...both at 1700 fps+ with H110 with 20 grains. I found that 20 grains of H110 was a good load with all the bullets tried except the light weights like the 147 grain 9mm slug.
If there ever was an valid reason not to use the 357 magnum loaded hot..on deer...and that argument isnít going to stop any time soon. Certainly the 356 GRN canít be painted with the same brush. With the right bullet...always the bullet is the key...deer and black bear should fall well at reasonable ranges. Of course your shooting is the other key....and I have to follow my own rule...rememberPACOíS RULE: one shot for every yard of range you might shot at game...if thatís 100 yards than 100 practice shots...200 yards, 200 practice shots, all the way out to the furthest distance you would take a shot at living game. With the load and gun you are going to use...with this 356 it will be minimum 150 rounds out to 150 yards for me.....
I put up the old paper plate at 100 yards....off the bench first...with the 180 grain XTP. They went into 3 and 3/4ths inches...muzzle velocity 1677 fps. I did a little better with the Remington scalloped 180 HPs. The 158 grain Hornady HPs went into 3 inches...but were lower by four inches in the target backer. Standing...well lets say that I need to get into Pacoís Rule real soon.
Just for grins I put 3 litter water filled plastic jugs out at 100 yards...they were easy to hit...and they came apart like they do at 25 yards with a 357 magnum...the 158 grainers just blew them up. At 25 yards with the 356, the jugs exploded...thatís the only way to describe it.
Will I hunt deer with the 180 gr bullets out of the 356? You bet. Black Bear? We donít eat bear meat from Az...and I have taken more than my share, so even though I know this round will do it...I wonít. But I am munching at the bit to try it on hogs...big ones...and we have a place right outside of Tucson that has big ones....
So I have my first custom handgun. Will I do another...donít really know. But if I do it will be from Reederís Custom Guns...his turn around time is two months, not years and his prices are reasonable...catch his web site and look at all the pretty guns...tellíem Paco sent you, heís good people.....www.reedercustomguns.com