Hits and Misses
Saturday, December 5, 2015
Barsness's Big Book of Gun Gack
Full disclosure: pre-publication, I helped John Barsness and Eileen Clarke proofread The Big Book of Gun Gack (RiflesandRecipes, 2015). At that point the manuscript carried what became its subtitle, "The Hunter's Guide to Handloading Smokeless Rifle Cartridges." As I later discovered when I Googled it, "Gack" has a rather startling range of meanings, but the subtitle is precise and illuminating: this is a guide for hunters who wish to reload smokeless cartridges. With the sole exception of the .303 British, all the cartridges covered here were first loaded with smokeless powder, so this book does not treat, say, the .38-55 or the .45-70.
Barsness discusses many, many rifle cartridges (I counted sixty, but I may have missed a couple). The result is a big book indeed: the size is 8.5 x 11" and it has 436 pages. So, what does it offer that you can't find in a printed manual from one of the standard companies like Hornady or a recipe from an electronic source like LoadData? Not only do these alternatives cover pistol cartridges, they offer even more loads. I just checked LoadData, and it has 303,595 loads available.
What you get in The Big Book of Gun Gack is something entirely different. Rather than being inclusive like LoadData, it is selective. Rather than offering brief overviews of a cartridge together with fifteen powders, say, for each of five to eight bullet weights in a given caliber like the Hornady Handbook, The Big Book of Gun Gack evaluates the merits of each cartridge at some length. Most reloading manuals have about a page's worth of background on a given cartridge. Barsness typically has four to six pages (and remember, they're big pages). His treatment of each cartridge concludes with a few loads that worked well in the rifles he used (the make of rifle, barrel length, and group size are always included). It is indeed a guide for hunters.
The chief virtue of this book is that it's written by John Barsness. His skeptical intelligence is evident on virtually every page. This is especially true in his treatment of reloading practices, techniques, and formulas. His 4-to-1 Rule for Ackley Improved cases is here, plus rules for figuring out potential velocity when a given case is necked up or down and for figuring out velocity for different bullet weights in the same cartridge as well as how much powder will be required. As for techniques, if you believe you are loading accurate ammunition, read Barsness's chapter, "Sizing Cases Straight." I followed his suggestions in a test run of 7x57's and reduced run-out by 50%. If you feel confident about reading signs of excessive pressure from external case measurements, read this book: the life you save may be your own.
Publishing his dictionary, Dr. Johnson declared, "In this work, when it shall be found that much is omitted, let it not be forgotten that much likewise is performed." The Big Book of Gun Gack omits little, and much has been performed: its breadth and depth are truly remarkable. If you are a hunter who reloads or are even thinking you might reload, John Barsness's The Big Book of Gun Gack belongs on your book shelf. I know I'm going to consult it often, and I'm confident that you will, too.