Small Caliber Fever (or is it insanity?)

CAUTION: This article contains load data, which can be very sensitive in these small cartridges and bores. Please work up accordingly taking very small increases in charge weight.


Small Caliber Fever (or is it insanity?)
Frank Brakefield
Jasper, Alabama

The project started out as a short-range rifle or pistol to use around the house on crows, squirrels, etc. I wanted something with an effective range of 200 yards or less, the noise level of a 22 mag or less, that could be reloaded. I wanted groups of around 1" or less at 100 yards. A bullet with the ballistics of a rock or feather would also be nice. I have used a 22 mag to 22 CB caps and also built a 17 HMR but was not satisfied. The 17 HMR was close, but the ballistics still were not quite what I wanted, and it could not be reloaded.
I was talking guns to a fellow shooter one-day, and he gave me a copy of Small Caliber News, with an article on the 22/32. I also found an article by W.A. (Bill) Eichelberger about the 12 calibers. I called Todd Kindler and ordered all the back copies of SCN and the year to come. When I got them I found that Mr. Eichelberger had written about the 14 calibers, but no longer advertised. I called Todd again to ask about Mr. Eichelberger and the 14 calibers. He told me who to call, and that I should be an "advanced handloader" before trying the 14 calibers.
After a couple of phone calls to Jeff Lawrence and Russ Lucas, I ordered a couple of barrels, a cleaning rod, funnel, dies, and bullets in 14 caliber. When it all finally arrived, I spent all night the first night and most of the next day working on it. The barrel started out as a 16" blank 1" in diameter. I turned it to contender barrel size and cut a step target crown on the muzzle. Virgin Valley builds a great block for building contender barrels for $25. I chambered it for the 14 Squirrel, which is a very short necked down Hornet. Made a forend from a New England Arms plastic forend. I topped it off with a Tasco 6X18 AO scope on Weaver mounts and rings.
I bore sighted the scope and could not find any 14 squirrel loading data for Little Gun powder, so making an educated guess, (not recommended under most circumstances) I started with 4 grains of powder with 10 grain bullets. I went up one tenth of a grain at a time to 5.5 grains. I'm going to put in a "legal disclaimer" here. That's not a hot load in my rifle, but "Always" start low and work up. With a sub caliber it's not a bad thing to start 20 or 25% lower than you think. At 5.5 grains with the 10-grain bullet the cases started forming nice. It would also almost shoot through 1/4 inch steel plate at 35 yards.
I think the reason Todd Kindler may have said what he did about being an advanced reloader has to do with case size on the 14 squirrel. Group size is very much dependent on case weight as well as bullet, primer, powder charge, etc. Loading cases, firing, and then weighing the cases you could see groups and flyers directly tied to even small variations in case weight with the fastest loads being the most sensitive.
Using a Remington case with a 10 gr. bullet and 296 powder, 7.3 grains wasn’t a very hot load. With a Winchester case and 6.8 grains of 296 it almost blew the primer. So load data needs to include case type and all loads must be worked up from well below what someone loads for each gun. For this reason I weigh every load.
I shot 1/4 inch painted plate at 50, 85, and 140 yards. At 50 yards it almost went through. At 85 yards it put in a hell of a dent. At 140 yards it barely made a little dent. At 50 yards I shot a 5.5 oz. can of Welch's grape juice 2 inches in front of the 1/4 inch steel. The can exploded in 3 parts and there was a small mark on the paint on the steel. Shots on jays from 40 to 85 yards were instant kills with an explosion of feathers and body parts everywhere. (explicit details omitted here) It compares to a long rifle or 22 mag hollow point.
Next thing is the 17.5-grain bullets shot the best at 100 to 140 yards. (Note: 1 in 7 barrel twist) They compete very well against the 17 squirrel with 20-grain bullets. The hotter loads make brass flow badly in the case neck. Some need to be turned after only 3 loads just to chamber. That’s Remington brass, some Winchester only got one shot after fire forming. I do have a tight chamber though.
You’ll notice some of the targets have a slight raised place on one side of the bullet hole. We found out a slight angle on the target holder will cause that. I use a target stand and we don’t always get it square with the bench. The 14 caliber bullets are more inclined to do that than a 22, at less of an angle. The 14 is a different animal in a lot of areas. I have shot 22’s in a lot of different cases over the years. My 2 favorite high velocity rounds were the 22/250 and the 220 swift. You could load a very light bullet at very high velocity and get a very explosive result on crows and jays. The 14 out does them both with a very small case and bullet. I think you are right about the twist/velocity ratio.
The hardest part so far is picking up the little bullets in my big hands. So far the 14 is about like anything else to load for, it's just a lot smaller. You need to be really careful about pressure. Over all, I’m very pleased with the 14. The way it performs is above and beyond what I expected. It is also perfect for what I wanted with the 10-grain bullets. I have not had a chance to get out and test the 17.5 gain bullets over distance with fire-formed cases. In the 14/221 they should do real well with a 1 in 7 twist.
Editors note:
Frank is going on with other 14 caliber cartridges, and has ordered 12 and 10 caliber barrels as well. He has also ordered 12 caliber jacketed bullet dies.