20 PPC Long-Range Pistol
SnakeEye's Varmint-Slaying Twenty-CAL 'Truck Gun'
This week’s featured firearm belongs to John “SnakeEye” Seibel of VarmintsForFun.com. In recent years, John has become a “true believer” in the little 20-Caliber cartridges. He says this light-recoiling 20 PPC, Rampro-actioned pistol is perfect for a quick shot on a critter, taken from the front seat of his truck. John tells us: “A long-range pistol is an ideal truck gun in my opinion. It stows in a small area and doesn’t take up the room a rifle does. Just keep ear protection near by at all times! I’ve taken varmints as far as 400+ yards with this 20 PPC pistol, so why would you need a rifle?”
Perspectives on Pistols for the Varmint Hunter by John Seibel
I decided to try my hand at shooting varmints with a pistol one day when I grew tired of wrestling a rifle around in the truck for a quick shot. Many times when traveling around on the farm you’ll spy a groundhog or fox that usually isn’t more than 200 yards away. A single-shot pistol like the Thompson Contender could fit the bill. With its compact length, around 20 inches, a long-barrel pistol can lay on the truck’s passenger seat for easy access. I usually keep my two leather brick-style sandbags laying beside the console and seat. I have a box made from hard rubber that I lay across the top of the door. I then lay the two bags on top. This makes a nice platform to rest the pistol’s forearm. I like to use a forearm that is at least two inches wide. That lets the gun lay steady—almost like you are shooting from a bench rest. For the shooting hand, I prefer a pistol grip with finger grooves and a slight overhang or flare for the web of your hand.
As for optics, I tried long-eye-relief pistol scopes but they lacked the magnification you need for long-range target shooting or varminting. Those pistol scopes have really long eye-relief because they are designed to work with the pistol held at arm’s length. When shooting at the bench or from a truck that’s not what you want. By the time you find the target and get your eye in the exact location, the varmint has moved on or died of old age! After much fiddling around with pistol-type scopes, I finally decided to use rifle scopes on my long-range pistols. The minimum I use is a 4.5-14×40. Eye relief on a Leupold 4.5-14×40 is about 3.5 inches at 4.5 power. Field of view is better with rifle scopes too and it’s easier to acquire your target. For this type of shooting a light-recoiling caliber is essential or you will have scope-eye bad! I currently have three long-range pistols and use them to shoot 17M4, 20 PPC, 22 BR, and .223 Rem. The featured gun may be the most accurate of my pistols, and your editor thinks it’s the most handsome of the three.
The Rampro Pistol Project–Working with John Illum
A couple of years ago I called John Illum of Rampro about building the ultimate long-range pistol. It just so happens that John was a big time long-range pistol shooter. I told him that I wanted a gun that didn’t recoil badly and wouldn’t torque when fired. As I am a quadriplegic, with no grip in my hands, the gun had to handle well under recoil so I didn’t drop it. Recoil had to be straight back–no twisting.
Well Illum listened to me and came up with a gun that performs just the way I wanted. Illum suggested a rear grip stock of his own design. It has a 2.25″ wide forearm and a rear grip with a slight palm swell that fits your hand perfectly. Another nice feature is the finger grips. It has an extended overhang or “beavertail” that fits comfortably in the web of your hand. Of course it had to be walnut! I chose Rampro’s STP small action with a PPC bolt. His bolt uses a Sako-type extractor. The action is a single-shot. Being right-handed, I chose a right bolt, left port configuration. This works really well in a pistol. You can load with your left hand and see the round laying in the action–that’s what you want in a pistol without a safety.
John Illum’s Rampro actions are chrome-moly steel. Commonly you’d see them blued, but I had him put a brushed nickel finish on the action and rings. From a few feet away it looks like stainless. The trigger is Illum’s own design set at 8 ounces, and there’s no creep that I can detect. The action has Remington barrel threads and will accept Remington type triggers. One neat thing is that the action was milled with an integral recoil lug (much like the current Surgeon Action). And the bolt is milled all in one piece–no soldered-on handles. My only gripe with this bolt handle is that it could be a tad longer, but it still is manageable for a single-shot. You’ll also note how slick and streamlined the scope rings are. Illum made those as well. His rings mount to the action via two screws from the inside of the ring, a very elegant set-up for sure. (I currently have a 6.5-20×40 Nikon scope on this gun. If I had to do this project over again the only thing I would change would be installing a 30mm scope because I like ‘em!). The barrel is a PacNor Super-Match heavy taper with flutes milled by John Illum, who did all the gunsmithing on this pistol. Twist rate is 1 in 12 inches, with an 11° crown, polished to a mirror finish. The barrel was bead-blasted on the exterior to cut glare. I had Illum cut a 20 PPC minimum-spec chamber, with a .237″ neck. That way I don’t have to turn necks on the Lapua Brass (220 Russian necked down to .204). This is a varmint gun–there’s no need for turned necks. [Editor's Note: Rampro is no longer in business. However, John tells us "I haven't had any problems with the action so far. If I did, most competent gunsmiths could fix them easily."]
Handgun Handling Tips
If you want to shoot a long-range pistol but have never have shot this kind of gun before, try to find a mentor–someone with a gun like this who can school you a bit in the correct technique. The first thing you notice is that you have no comb or cheek piece to help align your head and neck. And getting used to the optics takes some practice. Most people fit a pistol-type (long eye-relief) scope, but these can be awkward to use, and somewhat frustrating at first–the field of view is very restricted. Move your head very slightly and you can lose the sight picture completely. You can solve that problem by using a standard rifle scope, but that will put your head very close to the eye-piece–just three to four inches. With that arrangement, if you don’t hold the gun correctly…POW instant scope-eye!
Now once you get the hang of shooting a long-range pistol you will find it can be just as accurate as a rifle. But there is a trick to shooting them. Shooting a long-range pistol is a whole new world–you need to hold it just right. If you don’t let the gun roll back a little (i.e. if you grip too hard) you will get vertical stringing. I hold my hand against the back of the grip to guide the gun but let it almost free recoil. Looking at how compact the pistol is, you might think “Hey, this would make an ideal ‘walking-around’ Varminter.” Well, that’s not really the case. For real precision shooting a solid benchrest type set-up is a must. You can attach a bipod to a long-range pistol, but you would need a flat surface. A fence-post top would work pretty well without a bipod if you carry a small light bag. Overall though, this type of pistol works best as a sandbag gun. As a walking-around gun, you’d be happier with a rifle I think.
Load Development and Accuracy
When I built this gun, Hornady had just released the 32gr V-Max (see footnote), a good match for my barrel’s 1:12″ twist. I choose the 20 PPC because of the very good Lapua brass (220 Russian parent case). I figured teaming Lapua brass with the little .204 bullet would offer excellent accuracy combined with very low recoil. My expectations were fulfilled. The brass proved to be excellent and the PacNor loved the little V-Max pills. I tried quite a few different loads and most powders that I tried worked very well. These included: H322, Benchmark, AA 2460, and Reloader 7. Amazingly, with just 14″ of barrel, all of these powders delivered impressive velocities–ranging from 3914 to 4074 fps. I settled on 48 Harrell’s clicks of Accurate Arms (AA) 2460, which drives the 32gr V-Maxs to 3995 fps.
With AA 2460 the gun will shoot in the low Threes at 100 yards consistently–as long as I steer the gun right, which takes some practice. I think groups in the low 0.3″ range is excellent for a non-benchrest factory bullet. Despite having no buttstock to grab, recoil on my 20 PPC pistol is very minimal–it just rocks back into your hand. The main problem is to keep the scope from smacking you, since I used a rifle scope with short eye-relief. Muzzle flash and noise are tolerable but DO NOT shoot one of these without good ear protection. Your ears are very close to the muzzle.
I also have a 20 PPC rifle built on a BAT action with a Richard’s #008 laminated stock cut down in size. That gun’s 1:9″ twist Lilja barrel lets me shoot the Berger 50gr LTB bullets. In the wind, these perform quite a bit better than the 32s. My two favorite loads for the 50 grainers are: a) 26.0gr VV N135, CCI 450 primers, 3615 fps; and b) 27.3gr Hodgdon Varget, CCI 450s, 3595 fps. The BAT 20 PPC also shoots really well with the 40gr V-Max, pushed by N135 and Fed 205M primers.
Pistol Action Legal Issues
One important thing to remember if you build a pistol is to make sure the receiver came from the factory as a pistol and was titled as a pistol. Rifle actions are illegal to use as a pistol. Yes, that’s a nonsensical law, but it’s still on the books. You can use actions such as the XP 100. If you want a new custom action such as a BAT (my favorite), you can order it as a pistol action and when you get it, register it as a pistol. Note, in some states there may be additional fees, waiting periods, or restrictions for pistol actions (as opposed to rifle actions). Check your local laws before ordering.
I think these sub-caliber rounds, both 20s and the 17s, are the future of recreational varminting, at least out to medium distances. The Twenties offer low recoil, excellent accuracy, and components keep getting better and better. In a couple of months we will be able to get Lapua Tactical 20 brass. Dakota Arms says it will be importing Lapua 20 VarTarg and 20 PPC brass at the end of the year, or January, 2006 at the latest. The bullet-makers are finally making high-quality bullets in appropriate weights. Compared to something like a 22-250, I’ve noticed that my 20 PPC rifle has a lot less noise, a plus when you want to be quiet around other people and varmints. The flat trajectory is another big advantage in the field. With the 20 PPC, zeroed at 100 yards, I can pretty much hold dead center and get hits out to 300 yards or so without touching the scope to add elevation.
The 20-Caliber cartridges we have now, in particular the 20 PPC and 20 BR, are very well-refined. You don’t have to do a lot of tuning or tinkering to have a very accurate, effective varmint-slayer. In fact, if I could dream up a signature “20 VFF” (Varmints For Fun) cartridge it would basically be the 20 PPC. (Right–that’s just what I need, my own varmint round!) In truth, nearly any of the popular 17- or 20-Caliber cartridges will perform well if you start with top-quality brass. The sub-calibers have less recoil and burn less powder, and there are very good components for most varmint and target-shooting applications. To me it seems that these small calibers work so well because of good components, low recoil, and efficient cartridge designs (particularly in the VarTarg and PPC cases).
WARNING: For your own safety, ALWAYS reduce all starting charges by 10% and work up carefully! Ambient temperature changes, powder lot variations, and differences in barrel friction can result in significantly increased pressures.
|20 PPC LOAD MAP|
|H322||27.6||Rem 7½||Lapua||4000||Lilja 1:12||WarrenB Form Load|
|AA 2460||29.5||Rem 7½||Lapua||3995||PacNor 1:12||SnakeEye
|H4198||25.1||CCI BR4||Lapua||4222||PacNor 1:12||A. Boyechko Load|
|H322||26.0||Rem 7½||Lapua||3700||Lilja 1:12||WarrenB Load|
|VV N540||28.8||CCI BR4||SAKO||4064||PacNor 1:12||D.Moore, Low 2s|
|VV N135||27.8||Fed 205m||Lapua||3950||Lilja 1:9||SnakeEye Load|
|VV N135||26.0||CCI 450||Lapua||3615||Lilja 1:9||SnakeEye Load|
|Varget||27.3||CCI 450||Lapua||3595||Lilja 1:9||SnakeEye Load|
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Topics: Rampro, varminter, pistol, 20 caliber, .20 PPC, 20PPC, 20, .204, .204 Ruger, .20 Tactical, 17-Caliber, Virginia, Richard’s Custom Rifles, precision rifle, hunting, varmints, varminting, groundhog shooting, Prairie Dogs, rifle accuracy, guns, Lapua, Brass, Dakota Arms, 6mmBR, 6BR, 6 Dasher, .223, 223 Rem, Accurate Powder, AA 2460, Varget, IMR 4064, Claro Walnut, BAT custom actions, Krieger barrel, Jewell trigger, Walnut, Laminated Walnut, Phoenix, training, reloading, powder selection, case forming, fire-forming, Winchster Brass, Sierra, Blitz-King, V-Max, Hornady, bullets, moly, gunstock, stock-making, wood working.