by Terry Wieland
A couple of enquiries have arrived, requesting details on exactly how I manufactured ammunition for Heidi, my exquisite Werndl-actioned stutzen.
As previously reported, we eventually sleuthed our way to the information that her chambering is (I believe) the original cartridge for the Werndl carbine and/or Werndl single-shot pistol, which was briefly an official sidearm of the Austro-Hungarian Army. When the pistol was replaced by a Gasser revolver, the cartridge was retained, and was at that time designated the 11.2×36 Austrian Revolver (M. 1870).
This, however, was just one of more than two dozen aliases. Under the name 11.3 Montenegrin, it became a favorite chambering for the bizarre Montenegrin revolvers. Ammunition was produced, under various names and to a wide range of dimensions, by virtually everyone. In the U.S., Winchester made ammunition and catalogued it until 1939.
There is no existing case from which brass can be readily made by simply necking down or blowing out. I discovered, however, that the basic dimensions of the .40-65 Winchester are so close that making usable brass is, if not a breeze, at least not a stiff wind.
First, I cut .66 inches off to make it a little more than 1.4 inches, then trim to exact length and square it up on a case trimmer. The .600-inch rim is too wide, so it’s reduced to .585 on a bench belt sander.
At first, I carried out these operations the hard way. Then I bit the bullet and invested in two machines that were long overdue: A bench drill press, and the sander. In the past, I’ve cut cases to length using a buckshee-mounted Dremel tool with a cutting wheel, but that’s hard on the Dremel, costly in wheels, and very slow. The drill press does the same thing but much more quickly and precisely. As for the belt sander, once you get the hang of it, each case takes only a few seconds.
To give you an idea of the improvement, using my old method, I produced five usable cases in two hours; with the new machines, I produced ten (much better) cases in less than 30 minutes, and the next ten will probably be done in half that time.
From there, it becomes one improvisation after another. Redding is so backed up with orders for conventional dies, they have suspended — temporarily, I hope — any custom production, so getting dies was impossible.
No case holder fit exactly, but the reduction in rim diameter is so slight, a .45-70 case holder still works fine. The slight looseness means the cases are not automatically centered, however, so it’s best to seat primers using a hand tool, and proceeding gently.
For decapping and resizing, I can use .40-65 dies, since the case is identical, only shorter. Neck-sizing and belling can be done in a .44 Special/.44 Magnum die. Bullets are seated using a .45 Colt die. Since I have no crimping die, I simply take the decapping rod out of the .40-65 sizing die and run the cartridges in just enough to iron out the bell. At which point — voilà — what look to me like perfect rounds.
According to Munhall and White, the original 11.2 Austrian revolver cartridge hurled a heavy bullet (280 to 313 grains — it varied) at 689 fps. Given the wide variations in case and bullet dimensions, and the many companies loading it, I would treat those ballistics as approximate, and probably rather optimistic.
There remains the question of what bullet to use, ultimately. The .430 soft lead 200-grain I’ve been using works well enough, although I have not been able to shoot a group to see just how accurate it is. I suspect it will be a long way from minute of angle.
Heidi’s bore being .424, and her groove diameter .440, a cast bullet sized to .445-.450 would be about ideal, but I know of no standard bullet of that size. One possibility, at least as an experiment, would be to take a heavier .429-diameter bullet and hollow out the base, making a Minié-type projectile that would expand to fill the grooves. If it comes to that, you’ll be the first to know.
Gray’s Shooting Editor, Terry Wieland, is gradually acquiring a pretty well-equipped machine shop. Now if only he had the skills to really use the stuff.