.22lr Tumbling Bullets From Revolver

Keyhole Tears

I was at the range on Saturday past, shooting my little Smith & Wesson .22lr wheel gun. It was a peaceful day and I was enjoying my morning. I was tearing up the bulls-eye on a target when suddenly my shots began to spread like buckshot.

I know the smithy is old and I began to think could the barrel be shot out? No I told myself; sure when I cleaned it last the rifling looked as good as new with nice sharp lands and grooves. Also it’s shooting lead not copper.

Below is an example of the keyhole tears I was getting.

KeyHole Tear 3 KeyHole Tear 2 KeyHole Tears

Check the Bore

I popped open and emptied the Smithy cylinder and took a peek down the bore. There were no visible obstructions. Yes there was the usual carbon fouling but nothing more visible.

The Ammo

I then turned my attention to the ammo. I had swapped ammo brands from CCI to Remington as a trial due to nothing more than cost. I had not experienced any such problems with accuracy whilst using the CCI and now with Remington the bullets were tearing up my target. Was this just coincidence or were the Remington bullets really a problem.

I checked the remaining Remington bullets I had and they didn’t have any marks or look deformed in any way. I decide not to run any more Remington down the bore for now and swapped over to CCI to check if they were ripping up the target also. The outcome is yes they were. Then it couldn’t be the ammo, my suspicions were incorrect. It was time to stop firing rounds down this pipe and box it.

When in Doubt, Clean it Out

The next logical step is a good bore and cylinder cleaning. When in Doubt, Clean it Out. God I hope that works the fear of my little Smithy being damaged is a bit too much to bare.

That evening I laid the Smithy out and gave it a field strip by removing the Cylinder and Crane from the K Frame.

Step 1. I gave the bore a good soaking with 3 patches of Rimfire Blend.

Step 2. I run a nylon brush also soaked in Rimfire Blend up and down the bore 10 times to loosen up any lead fouling.

Step 3. I gave the brush another soaking and repeated step 2.

Step 4. I left the bore to soak for 5/10 minutes as the Rimfire Blend worked its magic.

Step 5. During the bore wait time I repeated the Steps 1 to 3 above on the Cylinder.

Step 6. After the 5/10 minute wait time I run another 3 soaking wet patches of Rimfire Blend up the bore to clean out the leading and carbon. It was this step that I found a number of lead fragments clinging to the soaked patch. So there was definitely leading in the bore.

Step 7. I run dry patches one at a time up the bore until I could see that there was no visible carbon or lead deposits on the patches before I declared the bore clean.

Step 8. I repeated Steps 6 and 7 on the cylinder and finally gave the K frame and Crane a good detailed scrub and cleaning, especially around the Cone with a rimfire blend soaked toothbrush then a final wipe down and dry off before reassembly.

Better out than in. Below is the leading that was removed from the bore of the smithy during cleaning.


A Sleepless Night

I didn’t sleep to well that night ‘but that’s not unusual for me anyhow’, as I was thinking the many scenarios of what if this little Smithy doesn’t perform at the range after the cleaning. With a day’s work under my belt I was off to BRC Shooting Club that evening to throw some lead down the pipe of the Smithy. Yes I was going to test both Remington and CCI once again but firstly the CCI then the Remington, ‘after all I am a doubting Thomas’.

Ready To Pop

With the cylinder populated with 40 grain Target CCI and the hammer back I was ready to see how my shots would play out on a clean target. Front and rear sites lined up I squeezed back on the trigger and rattled some lead down the pipe. One swallow does not a summer make but on glancing at the target I had a clean nicely carved circle. I drew back the hammer and followed up with the remaining shots to empty the cylinder, it was all looking good. A nice group was forming and the shots were all clean cuts on the paper. No keyhole tears, so the relief was lifting from my shoulders. I finished of that box of CCI with every shot forming a full moon and no exceptions. This gave the Smithy a nice warm up and drew a big smile on my face to see her back shooting well.

Now it was time to test that skeptical Remington. Again 40 grain Target Remington filled the cylinder and I drove that lead down range towards fresh paper. Viola it performed without a flaw. No keyhole tears. I emptied the box into the paper to ensure it all shot well and it sure as hell did. My only complaint from the Remington was that it produced much more burnt carbon that the CCI. The cylinder face was pretty dirty after only a few shots.

The Theory

Perhaps this carbon build up was partially to blame along with the leading for the keyhole tears forming. So both carbon and leading combined would reduce the bore size and make a tight fit for the lead bullet to travel down and possibly with a bullet losing lead on one side gave it an inconsistent flight path as it tumbled towards the target.

Learning The Gun

As a regular rifle shooter in both rimfire and centre fire I find that I clean both firearms with different regularity. With the rimfire I would clean the bore twice per year but with the copper jacketed centre fire well that gets a cleaning after every outing to the range. As a relatively new shooter to handgun and small arms I have learned that you do not treat the short barrel like you do the long one. The short bore needs a more loving touch, i.e. a good cleaning. If you don’t have time for a full cleaning due to time constraints or competitions on the range then at minimum a wet and dry patch or nylon brush up and down the pipe a few times between shoots will help remove carbon and leading. This alone should keep you accurate until you get to perform a more intricate cleaning.

Smithy & I

On average I find that I need to give the bore some form of cleaning between 200 and 300 rounds and the cylinder a quick pass through with a wet nylon brush and a dry patch between 50 and 100 rounds as it begins to gum up from the lubrication on the lead bullet. This gumming prevents the cases from sitting flush in the cylinder and this in turn stops the cylinder from rotating smoothly, due to the tight mechanical tolerances on the Smithy Model M-17.

Back On Target

Now that I am back on target I can sleep a little lighter tonight, knowing that my Smithy is firing on all cylinders and is as accurate as the day she rolled of the production line.

If you want to keep your firearm safe, reliable and as accurate as she can be while you spend some quality time at the range then you must follow up with a good cleaning regimen. This will no doubt extend the life of any firearm so that it may even be handed down to the following generation of sporting shooters.

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