I'm starting a thread to which I will add over the coming days. You are welcome and encouraged to ask questions and make comments.
This thread is dedicated to handloading rifle cartridges that will be fired in a specific rifle in order to achieve the ultimate precision humanly possible and then reproduce that load on a consistent basis over a long period of time.
I have been evolving this methodology over my decades of high power competition and more recently enhancing it to meet the demands of high level F-class long range competition, 1000 yards, with a .308 Winchester.
There will be some repetition from other past threads, but everything will be in this one. I'd like to keep it on track, something that may be difficult to do but we'll see.
First the parameters. I had to develop a precise load for a .308 Winchester that would push a bullet fast enough so it would be above Mach 1.25 at 1000 yards in the coldest, driest conditions I would ever compete in. It had to be a safe load, under book maximum because I also shoot in very hot temperatures and I want long case life so I don't have to deal with the expense and trouble of new cases all the time.
I selected the 180 grain .308 JLK Long Boat Tail for several reasons. Past experience showed that the bullet was very precise, the meplats are consistently small and clean and the weight is always dead nuts on. The bullets cost more than Bergers but not doing any prep or sorting is worth the difference to me.
Computer analysis and then my load development and testing showed that a charge of 44.5 grains of Varget in a Lapua case fired by a Russian primer makes my bullets fly out of my 32 inch barrel at 2850FPS. This load is 0.5 grains below max and the bullets reach 1000 yards going anywhere between Mach 1.3 to 1.7 depending on elevation, temperature and humidity.
Next up, refining the load and then how to load consistently.
|Knows too little |
about too much
I'll bite: How important to you is neck turning and can you detect a true difference in concentricity between turned and unturned cases?
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Remember: After the first one, the rest are free.
WHY use Russian primers? Federal, CCI, RP or Winchester somehow inferior?
Nneck size dies that size your neck via a specific bushing size...in order to control neck tension. With quality brass like Lapua , should I still neck turn? At least turn enough to clean up the neck?
I apologize for taking so long to come back to this thread, I had some family events to attend and I shot a match today in preparation for TSRA mid-range. I will continue shortly but I will answer the questions now.
Neck turning; I do not do it and in Raton the various people I talked to seemed to eschew that step also. This does not mean that nobody does it because there were a few who do, but I could not find a correlation between winners and people who turn necks. I will say the vast majority used Lapua brass.
As for the Russian primers, well as you probably can guess the F-class crowd is always looking for "the next big thing" or "the advantage;" it has become quite competitive. Some years back, the Russian (Wolf or Tula) primers were being touted as being excellent primers and many of the top guys were using them. I bought a large amount of these primers as I approached the end of my CCI match primers that I had acquired after the panic of 2008.
The Russian primers were half the price and performed just as well as the CCI Match primers. Now, I can afford to buy whatever component I want, but that doesn't mean I waste money. I have been extremely satisfied with the Russian primers and I have found that they are a little harder than the CCI and Winchester primers I had used in the past. To make a primer harder, you just make the cup thicker, I discovered that the Russian primers are just a smidgen (pardon the technical term) wider than the CCI and that means they seat more firmly in an expanding primer pocket. This is a good thing. As I will explain later in this thread, anything to increase the longevity of cases is a good thing.
The main goal in handloading for competition is to identify a load that meets your precision parameters and then replicating this load as closely as possible, over and over again, in somewhat large quantities. For example, I shoot about 1400-1600 match cartridges a year in competition. I load when I can; always planning ahead to make sure I have enough ammo for matches.
The most basic thing one needs to do is to buy quality components in large quantities, from the same lots. When I rebarrel a match rifle, I usually get a new lot of virgin cases. Since I do attend national and this year for example, World competitions, I want to make sure I can produce enough ammo to go to one of these competitions and not have to worry about handloading ammo in my hotel room. The most I have ever needed was a little over 400 cases last month at the Nationals and Worlds. So, I buy 500 cases with the same lot number. I specify this when I place an order. I cycle these 500 cases in boxes of 100 rounds in a round-robin fashion. Each box has its history of use and prep noted on the inside cover; I process each box by itself though there may be times when I will do two or three boxes back to back. With five boxes of 100 rounds each, I always have ammo in various stages of processing; from fired to loaded.
I buy primers in lots of 5 or 10 thousand; they always seem to come in boxes of 5000 and if I buy more than one, I specify they must be the same lot number.
I use Varget powder exclusively and again, I buy in pairs of 8# kegs at a time. Same lot number and they come in their factory box, built for two. I have found Varget to be very consistent lot to lot. I started a new lot with my Raton ammo and I was a little worried about that, but I shot some of it at a local match and I was very pleased with the consistency of the performance and it worked out great for me in Raton.
I buy my bullets in lots of 2000. I order them 6 to 8 months in advance. Swampworks does a great job with their bullets and I do not mind (much) paying the extra cost for those great bullets.
I never assemble a box of ammo with components from two different lots. I also never assemble a box of ammo, after case prep and priming, in two or more sessions. When I sit down to load powder and seat bullets, I will do an entire box using all the same components from the same lots.
I process all my brass the same way every time; let’s examine that.
I start with virgin brass from Lapua. The only processing I do for virgin Lapua brass is to run a neck turning mandrel through it. I went back to the order from 2009 and it is an NT-A30. This neck turning mandrel is .002 under .308 or .306 in diameter. The use of the mandrel will round out the mouths of the virgin cases and uniform the neck tension to be the same as I have set my bushing sizing die.
If one wishes to start with once-fired brass, it would be best to use brass that was fired in the specific rifle. Then jump ahead to the processing of a fired case below.
As I pull the virgin cases from their factory blue boxes, I run the mandrel through them and then put the case in its MTM 100 case box. It will spend it life in that box. The Lapua cases are already chamfered and deburred and the flash hole is drilled, not punched so no chad. I do not mess with the primer pocket as there is nothing I can do to improve on it. Doing anything to the pocket will only decrease case life. I also inspect each case to make sure there is no defect; I have yet to encounter a bad Lapua case.
If you are unable to find Lapua virgin brass or want to save money and get Winchester instead, then here is my process for Winchester virgin brass. I run the same neck turning mandrel through the neck. I chamfer and deburr the necks using my RCBS trim mate device. I use the VLD chamfer head. Then I pop the flash hole chad with the Trim Mate attachment for that and finally I uniform the primer pocket on the Trim Mate. Of course I inspect every piece of brass, and if I were buying Winchester now for match ammo, I would sort the cases by weight, something I do not currently do with Lapua. I do some times end up throwing a few pieces out of every 100.
BTW, that mandrel is a useful thing to have on hand at all times. I have dropped a prepped case on the floor at times and the neck will get dinged (just like buttered toast always falls butter side down.) I just push the mandrel through about a quarter of the way and all is good with the world.
When I have a complete box of prepped cases, I seat the primers using my RCBS hand priming tool. I never use the priming attachment on a press because I can’t get the same feel. Using the hand tool, I do the very best I can to make sure the primers are firmly seated and at the same pressure. After several 1000s rounds, you get used to it. You do want to make sure your primers are bottomed but you do not want to crush or deform them in any way. I keep track of the number of times a case gets primed; that’s what counts as a load for me.
I then place the box aside and will not load powder or seat bullets before at least one week. This is especially important for me after I have resized the cases. I believe brass has some spring back and I want it at the same “tension” when I seat a bullet. I believe a week is sufficient to stabilize the brass. I can cite no research to support that belief; it’s just something I choose to do.
When I shoot my ammo, the brass cases never touch the ground. I bring my ammo box to the line and load directly from it. My current F-TR match rifle does not have an ejector so I have to remove every fired case from the boltface by and I place said fired case back in the hole it came from, pointing down.
When the box is used up, and this can take more than one match, it becomes a candidate from processing, as follows:
I run all my cases through my Giraud annealer, letting them air cool. Once they are cooled, they go back in the box and the annealing process is noted on the lid for that box.
Next I resize the cases using a Redding S-Type bushing small base full length resizing die. For Lapua brass I use a .335 nitride bushing which provides the .002-.0025 neck tension that I crave. For Winchester brass, it’s a .331 bushing. I use Imperial wax as the lubricant and my die has been carefully adjusted to push back the shoulder of the fired case by about .001 to .002. The small base die is used because I like the chambers of my match guns to be very tight and these SB dies help me control the growth of the OD for the cases. I recently measured an 8 times fired case that had been processed this way and the OD was the same as a virgin case. I also believe keeping the web diameter at minimum using a small base die helps to retard the inevitable growth of the primer pocket, but again, I have no way of proving that. I do not however, that my primer pockets still hold the primers after eight heavy loads while I know that most of my fellow competitors retire their cases after 3-4 loads and sometimes after just 2.
I will also note that I do not use an expander ball in the sizing die, but I use the small rubber grommet to hold the decapping pin so that the sizing action will pop out the spent primer.
Next the resized case will go in the Lyman 3200 where it will spend a minimum of 2.5 hours getting cleaned up. Once that step is done, the cases go back in their box and are ready for their primers and then spend a minimum of a week acclimating, so to speak. Notice that I do not clean the primer pockets (total waste of time unless they are gross and why shove a tool in that vulnerable area?) nor do I chamber and deburr or even trim the brass. After 5 loads, I will trim all cases back to 2.000 using a WFT or my old Bonanza lather, then I chamfer, again with the VLD bit and deburr and that’s it for trimming. The case will be retired before they need trimming again.
The astute reader will have noticed the minimalist approach to case preparation, however even this small amount of prep is governed by the need to be consistent. I have been in matches were even during a string I will finish one box and switch to another box with the complete confidence that the ammo is the same box to box. I do my utmost to use ammo that has the same number of firings within the same string.This message has been edited. Last edited by: NikonUser,
|Alea iacta est|
This astute reader has noticed that you use a WFT instead of a Giraud for trimming. I figured for sure that someone that shoots your volume would use a Giraud.
But.. After reading your whole process, top to bottom, I suppose it makes sense. If you only throw 2000 downrange, starting with new brass, and you buy 500 at a time, but don't trim until after the 5th loading, you trim, on average, less than once per year.
Every time you make a typo, the errorists win.
Correct. A Giraud is much more suited for someone who shoots across the course or any other heavy user of handloads in a semi-auto. The mechanism is very "violent" and cases need more babying. I was getting ready to buy a Giraud when I was shooting Service Rifle but I switched over to F-class and the need went away.
As for the volume, you are again correct; it's not a lot compared to others on this site who make claims of shooting tens of thousands of rounds per year. I usually drop one or even two zeros from the right side of those claimed numbers. As for me, I shoot 1000 yard competition every month and then add in the state and national matches and that amounts to about 1600-2000 competition rounds a year. There are just not that many venues for such competitions.
I will also point out that I eschew neck-only sizing for my match ammo. There are several reasons for that in my experience.
The main one is Consistency. When one only neck sizes cartridges that are loaded hot, they have to use a body die or a F/L die at some point or the cartridge will simply not chamber or worse yet, extract.
On the F-class line it's easy to identify the few people who still neck size their match ammo, they are the ones who pack a rubber mallet with which to open the bolt.
You never know from one load to the next when you will need to start pounding on the bolt handle.
Yesterday I shot a club match at 600 yards in preparation for the state match in two weeks. My Raton trip had pretty much depleted my match ammo and I had only 100 rounds left when I came back and 400 round that had been shot. I started the processing and already have 200 rounds primed, now ready for loading. But I decided to go shoot the match the night before, to get a 600 zero, and did not have time to load any. I had shot 54 rounds of the 100 box at the prior match and only had 46 rounds. Just for fun, I brought along a box of old 8 times loaded ammo that I had left over from the prior barrel.
As it turned out I decided to shoot the third match and broke open that ancient ammo and used 22 rounds from it. It chambered like my current ammo, no muss, no fuss. It didn't shoot quite as well, because I had changed my powder charging some months back to tighten up the groups and this load was not made to those specs, but it worked well enough to finish the match and win.This message has been edited. Last edited by: NikonUser,
|All Generalizations |
This sparked a question in my mind:
Do you think there is a difference in neck tension or consistency for a round that was loaded 2 weeks, 2 months, or 2 days ago? Not comparing different rounds from those two time frames, but instead the same rounds but allowed to sit for different time frames. Would you be more comfortable shooting a box loaded 2 months ago versus a box you loaded last week in a match?
We are nearing the end of the competitive shooting season here – do you think one would be better served to spend the winter reloading all of their rounds and let them sit until the next season starts, or wait until 1-2 weeks before the first match to pull all the components together? Or, is there no difference in the two options?
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That's a great question and one that is seldom discussed. The reason may well be "it makes no difference, so why talk about it?".
My thinking is that when I resize a case, I am doing major work to it and I want it to settle before I seat the bullet. On the other hand, my neck tension is fairly light at .002 or so.
I also know that lots of shooters resize in their rooms at the big matches, but then again, the winners seem to be the guys who are well prepared and do not reload in their room. But of course, that could be wrong.
I would have no problem using ammo that was loaded months earlier, provided you let the case relax between sizing and seating.
Then again, the benchresters will load on the line, but I think their neck tension is minimal to non-existent. Though to say.
There is also a concern about cold welding of long-term loaded ammo, one I am not sure I believe in.
Also, I do know of people who seat bullets long and then final seat them the night before a match to break the cold welding.
|Alea iacta est|
Re the claims of tens of thousands of rounds: It is certainly not outside the realm of possibility. A very frequent 3-gun competitor, for example, could likely do this, I would imagine.
Consider: I have a coworker that is a die-hard USPSA competitor. Goes to nationals every year, competes at the local and the state level. I've gone to a few events at his urging. They are quite fun, but the closest ones are like 2 hours each way from me, so... But I digress. The events that I went to consisted of several stages, each stage involving multiple targets. You need to put two shots ON each target. The number of targets vary from stage to stage, and the number of stages vary from event to event. The ones that I went to all required between 180 and 200 rounds, more if you wanted to practice beforehand, and/or if you weren't a good shot and needed more than two shots to get two on paper at a given target.
Figure my friend is a good shot, and doesn't need practice shots, so just call it an even 200 per event. He goes 3 weekends a month, both Saturday and Sunday. Season runs something crazy (for Wisconsin) like March - November. that's 1200 rounds per month, for 9 months? That also doesn't account for larger competitions like state and nationals, where there are multiple days of shooting, and multiple events each day, each event with multiple stages. Last I asked him, he said he takes 2000 rounds to nationals, which is a week-long event. He orders pistol bullets and powder and primer by the truckload.
While I certainly couldn't see someone shooting that volume with a bolt gun, it is definitely not outside the realm of possibility for someone with a semi-automatic platform to send that much downrange. I know that I bought my AR earlier this year (January? February maybe?), and I already have over 2,000 rounds through it. I don't compete. I know this because I have half a 5-gallon bucket of empty brass waiting to be processed and reloaded.
Ah, yes, the neck-sizing debate. I gave up on that idea before I ever even got started, thanks to your wisdom and making me realize consistency is the name of the game. When you do finally have to hit that case with a body die, it will be horribly inconsistent with the last x loadings that were all done neck-only.
Cold welding of ammo.. I've not heard of this before. But, I'm assuming it is strictly an accuracy issue, not one of safety, correct? People shoot ammo that is decades old all the time. Just go look at that milsurp crap for sale all over the internet.
Every time you make a typo, the errorists win.
I don't believe that I said it was impossible for someone to shoot a lot of rounds on a consistent basis. What I was trying to convey is that most (but not all) people exaggerate the amount of ammo they go through in a year and it usually by one or two orders of magnitude.
That said, I know a few die-hard competitors who go through a lot more rounds than I do and they are constantly in their respective reloading areas.
I have a life, a wife, children, grandchildren and a career outside the shooting world, so that hampers my shooting.
Cold welding: It's definitely not a safety issue and I'm not even sure it's an accuracy issue but I thought I would pass it on as a concern that some people have for completeness sake. When you think of the pressures that exert themselves on the back of that bullet, I doubt very much whatever welding or fusion may take place would present the least amount of resistance.
I have recently shot some of my revolver ammo that I loaded almost 30 years ago and it worked just fine. I have .223 ammo I handloaded even before that time period and while I have not shot it recently, I would have no hesitation in using. Just not for competition; I have learned a few things about handloading since I loaded that ammo.
A couple of additional notes on case preparation.
I always keep some 0000 steel pads handy to buff out stuff that may get stuck on the cases. I like clean cases as it makes it simpler to detect any defects.
After I prime my cases and place them back in the box, mouth down, I use a Sharpie to draw a line through the case head and the primer. It’s an easy way to identify the brass in case of an issue. It’s an old Service Rifle competitor trick when you brass goes flying out of the rifle or another unfortunate event occurs. Don’t ask me how I know that. You could even use a different color for each box; I don’t usually do that, but I have been known to use silver, black, red and blue on occasion.
Now let’s talk about powder charging.
My current methodology involves three electronic devices; two scales and a trickler. The first scale is my 7-year old RCBS Chargemaster 1500. The second scale is a GemPro 250 that I acquired this past spring. The trickler is an Omega device that I got at the same time I bought the GemPro.
I got the GemPro at oldwillknottscales.com and it’s a My Weight GemPro 250, ($141). The trickler is an Omega Powder Trickler that I got from Sinclair (www.sinclairintl.com) part number 749-013-384WS, ($65).
My setup is as follows from left to right: CM1500, GP 250, Omega trickler with spout over the pan of the GP 250, the control box for the Omega as on the extreme right.
Before every session, I calibrate the two scales according to their instructions, then I set my desired charge minus 0.1 gr on the CM1500. So, if I want 44.5gr, I set the charge to 44.4gr. I start the first charge on the CM and once it’s done, I empty the CM’s pan into the GP’s pan on the GP250. I place the now empty pan back on the platen of the CM and let it dispense the next load. I look at the reading on the GP 250 and then I activate the Omega trickler to drop some kernels of Varget. I know from experience that I can get the Omega to dispense single kernels of Varget by hitting the slow speed button. I can do a quick calculation in my head and know how many grains I need to reach 44.50, exactly. If I run over, I use the plastic tweezers to remove the appropriate number of kernels from the pan.
Once I have the target weight exactly, I pick up a primed case, brush the case neck, fit the funnel and dump the charge into the case. I put the charged case on a loading block. By that time, the CM will have dispensed another near-charge and I repeat the process. When I have 50 cases charged, I use a penlight to do a final check of the contents of the case and I take a break and seat bullets in the charged cases. More on that later.
What I discovered with the above method is how much the CM can “lie” to you. With the setting at 44.4, a good amount of the dispensed charges would be between 44.24 to 44.32 grains. I have seen as low as 44.18 and as high as 44.58 and the CM indicated 44.4 for all of them. Sometimes the CM would go to 44.5 or even (rarely) 44.6 and the GP would show 44.50 or a bit less.
I no longer trust the CM alone to load my LR match ammo, but it is fine for Mid-Range ammo, unless it’s a state or National match. Using the GP 250 in the manner described above allowed me to reduce or eliminate random vertical issues that could not be attributed to conditions or my marksmanship; yes, I know when I screw up a shot. This loading technique was instrumental in my great performance in Raton and the 199-7X at 1000 yards with a .308 F-TR rifle.
I know I keep coming back to vertical issues, but in order to succeed in F-class, you MUST have full control of your vertical and ammo is a huge component to tame.
|Alea iacta est|
Interesting find on the CM. I was really waiting to hear about that one.
Re: marking the case heads: I do that too, for rifle ammo. I mark all case heads with one color marker in the same series of # of times fired. ie, my current loading of AR brass has been fired once (then I bought it, processed it, and loaded it). The case head for every single piece of that brass, once loaded, was marked with a red sharpie. When I begin to process the brass that I've fired twice, after it's loaded, I'll use a different color (blue or black, since those are the other two colors on my bench) to denote which firing those cases are on.
Not only is it helpful for me to keep track of how many times a case has been fired (after I tumble them they go into a bucket marked with the number of times that case has been fired), it's also very useful when recovering brass at the range - I want my rifle brass back, and I do not want anyone else's rifle brass. Makes things very simple when a buddy and I are both shooting ARs. I get the LC with the red stripe, he gets everything else. Saves me from getting a stray, unprocessed piece of brass into my stock. Nothing worse than trying to seat a primer in a case you think has been swaged, but hasn't...
Every time you make a typo, the errorists win.
And now for the final step loading world class match ammo, seating the bullet.
Depending on the brand and type of bullet, some prep work might be advisable or even required to bring the bullets to some form of consistency. Match ammo is invariably of the open tip design because the heel of the bullet is a critical part to have manufactured at a highly consistent level. There is nothing that you can do to a bullet with a bad base so you want them as perfect as possible, hence the open tip design. The jackets are placed in a mold heel down and the core is swaged into it from the front and finally the ogive is formed, retaining the core. OTM bullets are not designed to expand, they are designed to fly true.
There are 4 areas that are of interest for match ammo; weight, meplat, ogive and bearing surface.
You can sort the bullets by weight and thus eliminate or segregate any heavy or light bullet. I got tired of seeing 180.0 on my electronic scale so I don't sort for weight. This is the benefit of paying a premium for bullets.
You can also sort the bullets by length of bearing surface. This is the area of maximum diameter on the bullet and it should be consistent lest you get different amounts of resistance as the bullets go through the barrel. There are instruments that allow you to measure this. Again, a premium price on bullets reduces or eliminates this.
The shape of the ogive can vary in some brands and that will have a definite effect on the G7 BC value of the bullet. So this is another are which some people deem necessary to sort on.
Finally the most apparent variation will be in the meplat, the tip of the bullet. Some brands have very ragged large diameter meplats. A large meplat will definitely affect the G7 BC of the bullet and the ragged meplat makes the bullet more difficult to seat exactly and induces variations in the BC, bullet to bullet. In order to cure this, some people will use a meplat trimmer to uniform the meplats and then they may use a bullet pointing die to close up the meplat. This is a lot of work, which I prefer to avoid by paying extra for my bullets.
Once your cases are prepped, primed and loaded with powder, it is time to seat your prepped or premium bullets in the cases and produce the ammo.
I use a Redding Competition Seating die with the internal sleeve to seat my bullets. Since I have been using the same bullets for years, I know exactly what the best COAL is for them, relative to my chamber. So when I got my rifle built, I provided a dummy cartridge loaded to my liking (more on this in a second) to my builder and I instructed him to chamber so that the bullet would be barely touching the lands.
I like to seat my bullets so that the pressure ring, that little bump just at the end of the bearing surface as the boat tail begins, is just above the neck of the case. I like my bullets to be seated properly in the case, with about .002 of neck tension. Any more is superfluous and less may allow the bullets to become skewed while travelling in the boxes. Also, I do not want my bullets to remain lodged in the barrel if I have to open the bolt for any reason before firing; smokeless powder in the action is a not a good thing on the line. Also, I have seen boxes of ammo tip over moving from SUVs to hotel room or the line; stuff happens so it pays to be prepared.
You can fine tune you ammo by varying the seating depth, once you have found a good load. You can try 0.020 from the lands, 0.0 from the lands and 0.015 or so jammed in. I found that for my bullets, 0.0 or close to it worked just great and shooting a 199-7X at 1000 yards in a National competition confirms that.
I like to make sure the bullet is started as straight as I can make it in the case as I lower the arm. I also spin the case a little bit once the bullet is in the sleeve to make sure it’s straight and then I finish the arm movement and pull out a perfectly finished World class cartridge which I place in the MTM box, ready for the next match.
This concludes my small attempt at explaining the process I use to make World class match ammo for 1000 yard F-Class competition. This process was proven in multiple competitions, and most recently at the just concluded FCNC and FCWC where I did very well indeed for a little boy who is not sponsored and/or member of a national team or burning multi-thousands of cartridges at matches around the country during the year.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask, I will visit here until the end of the week after which time I will be gone and this thread will disappear in due time.
Great thread. Thanks for taking the time to write it up and post it.
FN in MT
Thanks for your time Nikon. It's an interesting read and some good information as well.
I was wondering. I don't remember which post it was but you indicated that you had a very poor opinion of the SMK's. What specifically do you not like about them?
Also, have you ever used a VLD case chamfer on any other style than a VLD bullet?
You're very welcome, I hope it can be useful to you.
You're also very welcome, thanks for the compliment.
The SMKs have issues with very ragged meplats and sometimes very large meplats, especially after you trim them. Also, their ogive has been know to be inconsistent at times. They make fine bullets for short and mid-range but beyond 600 yards there are better bullets out there such as Bergers and JLKs.
I use my VLD chamfer for every type of bullet. I don't even know where my regular chamfer bit is.
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