The story starts with my first NZ fire arms, a new Norinco JW15 .22lr and a second hand Norinco Bushmaster in .223, both bought from Will’s.

The JW15 shot like a shotgun, would not eject unfired rounds and the mag would not feed correctly.  Took the rifle back to complain and it was replaced without question.  The second rifle was totally different, good consistent accuracy with no feed problems, a good honest cheap gun.  Next came my first foray in NZ centre fire, a Norinco Bushmaster in .223 second hand.  This had all sorts of cheap and expensive ammo fired through it with….reasonable accuracy, certainly good hunting accuracy.

These two rifles gave me the introduction I needed and the desire to get better quality rifles with better accuracy.

Whilst in Wills one day I noticed he had a Howa 1500 .223 with Hogue stock, Nikko Stirling Game king 3-9×40 for $1,000 hanging on the wall.  Too much to pay, mmmmm, but I liked the rifle and it would give my lad something else to shoot.

After some discussions with Will, I became the proud owner of the Howa with a good sensible trade in for the two Norinco’s, that deal I could afford.

Wow what a difference, smooth bolt, effortless loading and ejecting, light and easy to handle with a 5 shot drop plate mag.  It just shot well handled well and carried well straight out of the box.

With cheap Barnell steel ammo it would shoot about 3 MOA, but the better quality the better the groups, the best was .7MOA with Hornady Hyper Performance ammo.

After sorting the ammo, no more cheapo steel stuff, S&B reasonable and affordable I was happy with the rifle, until the fateful day I looked though a Leopold VX1.  As my Chris put it “it was like looking through the tears of an angel” in comparison to the Nikko Stirling.

Much scratching around of funds (yea I know it’s not an expensive scope but I’m not rich) saw the Nikko Stirling flicked into the back of the cupboard and the Leopold gracing the rifle.  Now I feel that the rifle had the scope it deserved, not over capitalised on the scope, a good balance.  Oh boy it shot so well and consistently, so easy to get 1MOA with S&B.

But, there is always a but, the Hogue stock was a pain.  The ‘sticky’ rubber coating grabbed your clothes when trying to snap shoot ending up with a missed shot and or caught up in the coat.  Just by chance Wills had a Howa 1500 short action Walnut stock sitting in the shop whispering “buy me” every time I walked in (funny how that happens!).  Yet again much scratching around of funds saw the Walnut stock following me home one day and the Hogue on trade me, which sold for $150.

Now the Hogue stock was a fully floated light weight plastic stock with a ‘bendy’ fore end.  The Walnut stock had two pressure points about 1/3 back from the fore end and significantly heavier.

To my utter surprise the rifle needed no re sighting in, in fact accuracy improved and the heavier rifle had noticeable less recoil. Awesome and it looks damn good to boot.

Next came the search for something with a bit heavier bullet for bush work, not wanting to pick up something that kicked like a mule (buy a .270, they’re awesome was many a comment) and not being flush with cash I mused at something that fired the AK round after shooting a friends mini 30. Whilst buying some .223 at Wills, a Norinco Bushmaster in 7.62×39 tripped me up and would not let go, so I duly put it on layby just so I could get out of the shop.  Well I thought I would have learnt my lesson with the first Norinco.  The length of pull was far too long, the barrel channel was badly cut, intermittent firing caused by the bolt full of tractor grease and a rough as rats bolt action.

But I like to fiddle with rifles and it was only $400 new and the bore was good and it shot ok.  I was given some old Norinco ammo….big mistake, first two shots I had trouble lifting the bolt handle, the third locked the bolt solid.  This resulted in a broken extractor, and the only way to free the bolt was a cleaning rod down the barrel and a hammer.  I duly returned the bolt back to wills expecting a repair bill but it was replaced no questions asked.  So whilst waiting for the new bolt to arrive, I cleaned out the barrel channel to fully float the barrel sealed the wood, and debured all the action and trigger, when the new bolt arrive it would hardly hit the primer it was so full of grease, so that was stripped down cleaned, debured etc. etc.  Finally a workable bush gun.  I cut a sizeable chunk off the stock to get the length of pull right as well.

But I hankered for better, now a Howa 1500 in 7.62×39 that would be good…so the Norinco was flicked on for an honest price, the same as I paid for it but with a scope and much better rifle than out of the box.

Finally the mini action 1500 was announced, wow and 2/3 the price of a CZ in 7.62×39 and pre threaded for a silencer.  So the long wait started, 1 year near enough.

I wandered in to Wills one day just as he was unpacking a shipment and there was a long rifle shaped box with “buy me” written all over it. My fair lady wife just stood there, her mouth doing an impression of a goldfish as drinking vouchers were exchanged for a long cardboard box.

Oh boy the expectations were high, nice light quick to the shoulder, smooth bolt and….is that a 10 round mag hanging out the bottom, what only a 5 round…and that mag release is in such a terrible place in front of the mag, slightest touch and the mag was on the floor.  And it was not threaded for a silencer as shown in the adds. It came with the latest Nikko Stirling Panamax scope though which is a huge improvement over the Gameking.

Mounted the scope and carefully cleaned and checked the rifle, bore sighted it on a big tree 100m+ away and I was ready for the range.  I then carefully followed Howa’s recommendations of running in the barrel and getting 4 to 5 inch groups with cheap ammo and 2inch with S&B.  The rifle was carefully cleaned and stored. Next range day I was struggling to hit the target after 10 rounds or so, only to find the scope was about to fall off, it was nice and tight when it was last used.

In between purchasing the .223 and the 39 I had started reloading, starting with the .223 then .308 and .303, finally when the 39 arrived it was logical to reload for that.

Oh boy now the fun starts, I had 2206H and Bench Mark 2 for the .223,308 and 303, ADI had load data for 2206H so that’s what I started with.  A trip to Reloaders saw me with a box of Hornady 123g projectiles and a box of Lee 39 dies.

After much case prepping I had a good clean batch of cases.  I did note though that when cleaning the cases and carefully inspecting them there were two sizes of flash holes, further investigation shows that only PPU cases have the two sizes of flash hole, S&B, Winchester etc. all had the same size.  So the PPU cases oversized flash holes are now in the scrap bin.

  First loads with 2206H I noted that even on starting loads the case was rather full and max load was bordering on a compressed load (28g start 29g max).  Accuracy was between .47MOA to 1.5MOA, mmm not bad.  Careful inspection of the cases showed that most of the primers appeared flattened even on the starting load cases, which was interesting.

Next batch loaded I noted that the neck expander was actually for the .308 bore (two expanders are provided, .308 and .311), so I swapped to the .311 expander but then noted that the projectiles were quite loose in the cases, with the 308 expander they were very tight.  Out comes the third die in the Lee set, the crimp die and carefully crimped the cases so the projectiles were tight.

Next range day most of the primers were not only flattened but several were left protruding from the case and some fell out of the case.  This is not good as it was happening on starting load, which happened to be the best accuracy.  Back at the bench a very careful check of the scales and the loading manual showed I had not slipped up.

But then it dawned on me, the 7.62×39 SAMMI spec is .311 – .002, I took the expander out and measured it and it was .310”, the Hornady projectiles were 0.310” hence why they were so loose.

Many hours searching the internet failed to find and .311 projectiles that were suitable, as most projectiles sold as 7.62×39 were 0.310” in diameter any bigger were labelled for .303 at .312” and usually much heavier projectile (no point in them as I might as well use my .308 with 165Gr Game Kings)

I then put the expander in an electric drill and with fine emery polished it and brought the diameter down 0.3095”, not much of a reduction I know but now the projectile is held firm (with the .308 expander it took a lot of pressure to seat the projectile).

After many discussions with fellow reloaders and scanning internet forums I bought some AR2207, which as it turns out is actually advertised ideal for the 39.  This is a slightly finer grain and does not fill the case so full (start 24.5g max 26.5g).  Again groups ranged from 1.5MOA to 0.5, well chuffed with that.

Reloading for the .223 however produced the best of .4MOA at 200m, super chuffed with that, the .223 is not very fussy over the projectile type or weight or seating depth.

I have been experimenting (read playing) with Trail Boss in the .223, not to get subsonic loads as I have a .22lr for that but (from what I have read) performance around that of a .22 Magnum.  Well best (at 25m) was a 9 shot one whole group with one pulled, wow.

So where to from here?

I have been nagging Outdoor Sports, the importers to see if they do a drop plate conversion for the 39, sadly no and no plans to do one.  Every review of the Howa Mini action criticises the mag release, what a dumb ass design.  Outdoor Sports actually recommend cutting the release leaver down to half its length.  The big sticky out ugly mag makes carrying the rifle uncomfortable and you have to be careful not to lose your mag, it is also uncomfortable if you cradle the rifle in your arms.  I am investigating buying a second mag and cutting it down to make it less intrusive, why the heck you would want 10 rounds I don’t know.  Also the mag rattles when in the bush, so tape to stop it rattling and tape on the release lever, not good.

When you compare the two rifles one is stunningly accurate, consistent, looks good, easy to reload and a pleasure to own, whilst the mini action is rather mediocre, tacky, crappy mags, bad balance, poor mag release but light to carry and interesting to reload for which I enjoy the challenge. All the mini action needs is a drop plate conversion and it will be as near perfect as the price will allow.

Mike Simms