Handloading the 7.62x39mm
Date: Oct 15 2013
My rifle buying may have reached a new high (or low, depending on your outlook). I rationalized the recent purchase of a CZ 527 Carbine 7.62x39mm as necessary to utilize the six boxes of .310- and .311- inch bullets and a couple of pounds of powder I already owned. That reasoning has worked out quite well, and I’m somewhat dismayed I waited so long to buy a rifle in 7.62x39mm Russian.
Autoloading rifles, such as the imported SKS, are by far the most popular rifles and carbines for the cartridge. At best, these guns are precise enough to shoot 3- or 4-inch groups at 100 yards. There is little sense investing the time handloading only to see a rifle spray bullets across an area like a hose watering carrots in the garden, but handloading for the cartridge in a bolt action is well worth the time. Various handloads shoot pretty well through the CZ, even though it weighs only a couple of ounces on the light side of 6 pounds and wears a thin, 18.5- inch barrel.
For years foreign surplus ammunition was so cheap barely anyone reloaded the 7.62x39. Most of that supply has dried up. Russian commercial ammunition was all that was found locally. The TulAmmo andWolf cartridges cost 46¢ per round. I got ripped off, though, because a friend says he buys those loads for about 29¢ each at the big box store across town. That is a pretty good bargain, as a jacketed bullet for reloading costs about that much. These two brands shoot about 2-inch groups at 100 yards from the CZ, but their steel cases are unsuitable for reloading.
Most American ammunition is made with brass cases suitable for reloading. The CZ commonly shoots Federal 123-grain Power-Shok softpoint loads under an inch at 100 yards. However, those loads cost over $1.00 a shot.
With those Federal cases, some new PMC cases begged from Lee Hoots of Wolfe Publishing and a set of Hornady Custom reloading dies, I set to work handloading the 7.62x39. The Hornady sizing die comes with two expander balls for sizing the inside case neck diameter to the proper diameter to hold .308- and .311-inch diameter bullets.
The CZ’s bore measures .311 inch between opposing grooves, but the bores of many American rifles, such as the Ruger Mini Thirty, measure .308 inch. That’s to take advantage of common .30-caliber bullets. Federal Power-Shok 123- grain softpoints measure .308 inch in diameter, so the loads can be safely fired through both diameter bores.
Hornady lists its bullets for the 7.62x39 as “7.62 Cal.” with a diameter of .310 and Speer “303 Cal” with a diameter of .311 inch. A friend said regular .30-caliber bullets shot accurately through his CZ rifle, so I loaded and shot some. They shot just as accurately through my CZ’s .311-inch bore as the slightly larger diameter bullets. Those different diameters and brands provide a lot of bullet options for the little 7.62.
The Russian is no longer-rangecartridge. At their relatively mild velocity, once bullets from the cartridge reach 200 yards, they plunge like a rock off a cliff. Sierra 110- grain bullets at slightly over 2,511 fps should be a good choice for small game and varmints. Hitting on aim at 100 yards, they drop nearly 7 inches at 200 yards. Heavier 123- and 125-grain bullets with a muzzle velocity of 2,300 fps drop only an inch more. The Nosler 125-grain Ballistic Tip has a sleek shape, and with a velocity of 2,460 fps it drops about an inch less than the Sierra 110-grain bullet, but an inch of drop either way at 200 yards is splitting pretty fine hairs.