Reloading problem? First make sure it’s not your tools… Here are a few things that can happen, and how to correct them.
Over years and years (and years) I’ve encountered a few factory-faulty sizing and seating dies, and associated pieces-parts. It’s not at all common, but it happens, or has happened, enough that I wanted to share a few stories as to what these problems come from, and how to identify (and correct) them.
As has been my norm here of late, yep: got a phone call from a fellow having problems with a new 28 Nosler. Took a while to get through this one… Turned out that the sizing die was the culprit. Wasn’t easy to sleuth but there’s a Zen tenet that paraphrases to this: If you’re not sure what something is, then carefully consider all the things that it is not; what’s left is the answer…
By the way, I’m not going to mention brand names for one good reason: I’ve seen or been presented with issues in dies from every major maker.
Sizing die problems I have either encountered first-hand or been witness to via my circle have most often been a full-length die that will not adequately set a case shoulder back where we want to take it. Conversely, it’s much more common to have a die that’s erring on the more extreme end of that, and erring toward “too much” sizing potential is logically a direction a die maker might take to accommodate more circumstances. Once the shellholder is making full and flush contact with the die bottom, that’s all she wrote. Continuing to turn the die body downward does nothing but stress the press and possibly damage the die. To get the case farther up into the die, either thin the shellholder top surface or grind the bottom of the die hisself. Neither are hand-tool operations! Get to a local gunsmith or machinist.
Look at a hair from your head and that’s ballpark 0.004-0.006 inches. It doesn’t take much at all to make the difference between smooth function and a bolt that won’t close.
Most sizing dies are reamed one-piece, one-shot like a rifle chamber; however, that’s not always the method. Some are done in two or more steps, using two or more cutting tools. Clearly, consistency and correctness favors the one-piece reamer. Assuming that the reamer is correct and correctly used. I have encountered one die that just wasn’t concentric, body chamber to neck area. I figured that one out by sizing without the expander and checking runout, and also by finding that I could shift off-center axis by rotating the (marked) case and running through again. Normally, sizing a case without the expander in place results in a case that runs flat-line on a concentricity fixture. Reason is primarily because any inconsistency in the case neck walls get “pushed” to the inside case neck. But if there’s wobble in a case that’s been sized sans expander, then, son, you got a die problem.
A bent or bowed expander stem will, not can, result in an expander that’s going to cock the case neck one direction. I watch for that when I polish the expander button. As described here before, that process involves chucking the stem (lightly) in an electric drill and spinning the ball against some wet emery to give the ball a shine. If it’s wobbling during this operation, that’s a problem.
Seating die issues, in my experience, usually revolve around plain old straightness of the seating stem, and, once, the concentricity of the reamed case body area. If you have a seating die that increases runout compared to what a concentricity fixture showed on the sized case neck, it needs looked into. Additionally, always (always) check to make sure the seating plug (the area that fits over the bullet to push it into the case neck) is deep enough the the bullet tip does not make contact with the inside of the plug. That’s a sure way to get a bullet tipped off kilter.
Now. Most importantly: What to do if you suspect a tooling problem? Short answer is: SEND IT BACK. Don’t accept it. I know of no maker who won’t profusely apologize and promptly return a new one. The fixes I mentioned are for those who prefer to solve such issues, and also for those who have the means to effect repairs. The point to this article mostly is to be aware that problems can and do exist, and don’t accept them, whichever direction you seek for the solution.
No matter how precisely a die maker produced the parts, there is and will be some gap in threaded pieces. This can disguise itself as a “die” problem, but it’s really not. It’s a set-up problem. I did an article a good while back here on a few ideas on improving tool/case alignment via some set-up tricks, and maybe that should be the next topic under the Reloaders Corner banner.
The information in this article is from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available HEREat Midsouth. Also check HEREfor more information about this and other publications from Zediker Publishing.
For a long time I’ve talked with friends about trying out a PRS-style match. Life has been busy, but when the right opportunity came, I decided to give it a try. My friend and shooting partner Jim Findlay offered to help me prepare, and told me it would be “fun to shoot gas guns together”. I decided I would shoot an AR-15, and thought that would be an ideal opportunity to try something new: the 22 Nosler. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was getting myself into, but that’s typically the way things happen when you’re really trying something new. It was a great experience, and it taught me a lot about shooting. I also made some great connections and friends during the match. If you are at all interested in PRS (Precision Rifle Series, or just Precision Rifle in general) I would suggest you enter and compete in a match. You most likely won’t regret it.
In this post, I’ll talk about preparing for the match, and the experience of competing in the match. In a follow-up post, I’ll go into more detail on the gear we used, and some of the gear we’d like to try in the future. So stay tuned for that!
Preparing For the Match
There were a few things to take care of before I started practicing with Jim in earnest for the match. I decided on the rifle platform I’d be shooting: it would be the AR-MPR AR-15 rifle, but with a 22 Nosler Upper. While I was waiting for the upper and components to arrive, I started practicing with 5.56 ammunition that I thought would be close to what I’d be shooting with 22 Nosler. I signed up for the match and paid my entry fee, and then downloaded the Practiscore Match App.
Practiscore is great, because you can read about each of the stages in order to prepare for each activity within the match. Here’s an example from the match I participated in:
After reading up on the match, it was time to create a game plan with Jim, and start practicing!
Practicing For the Match
Jim and I spent quite a few range trips preparing for the match, and I did quite a bit of practice up at my place, the “Ultimate Reloader Outpost”. First up was to sort out our gear, and get on target- we started at 600 yards. As I mentioned, this initial practice was performed with a .223/5.56 AR-15 configuration. With distances going out to 700 yards on match day, I chose to load 77 grain bullets for practice in 5.56 cases. At our 600 yard practice distance, these rounds did fine, but I wasn’t as confident about going out to 700 yards as they were getting into the trans-sonic zone.
Enter the 22 Nosler. The added velocity provided by this new cartridge combined with the extreme performance of the 70 grain Nosler RDF bullets I decided to use were a great combination. Here are the first shots I fired at 600 yards after the 100 yard sight-in and testing (see bottom group on target). The first round fired at 600 yards was on-target thanks to the G7 BC supplied by Nosler and Shooter App dope I had calculated. That’s a great feeling!
During our practice sessions, Jim and I focused on prone shooting, barricade shooting, and even shooting at a moving target at almost 600 yards. It was a lot of fun, but 90 seconds (the allowed time for each stage) was proving to go *very* quickly. Would I be ready on range day? I couldn’t wait to find out. Here we have Jim (far) and myself (near) shooting at 400 yards in preparation for one of the stages:
On match day, I was fortunate to have friends Eric Peterson and Carl Skerlong running the camera and drone respectively. That meant I could focus on the shooting stages, and final preparations. I had printed out the courses of fire, had printed a dope card and zip tied it to my rifle, had dialed in the shooter app, and had all of my gear ready to go.
Overall, the match was more fun and more laid back than I thought it would be. The guys in our squad were all really helpful, and even loaned me gear to try out when they noticed my gear wasn’t right for a particular shooting activity. One such case was when Ken Gustafson (of KYL Gear) offered to loan me one of the bags he had made. Below you can see me shooting off the infamous unstable tippy tank trap with a KYL Gear bag, and I’ll have to say- it was amazing. It helped me lock down my rifle and get on target. What a great feeling!
I did run into some trouble- I had loaded my 22 Nosler rounds to max charge weight with Varget powder and experienced some failure to feed issues during the match. Initially I thought my bolt needed more lubrication, but after the match I discovered pressure signs on the rounds I had fired to investigate what went wrong. While I didn’t have malfunctions in practice, the match day was between 96 F and 100 F at the hottest part of the day- the same time I experienced issues. I was over pressure! I switched to a slower powder after that discovery (H-380) and found 22 Nosler to run perfectly (and at higher velocity), even in similar temperatures. I learned that you have to test everything you plan to use on match day, and take into account things like weather conditions as well. I also had my bipod fly off the rifle while shooting off a barricade- but continued with the stage and did alright. Even with these challenges, I kept on “giving it my best”, and I still had a ton of fun.
PRS is all about pushing your rifle skills to edge. You may have to hit targets at four different distances in 90 seconds- and dial in your dope between each shot. These kinds of challenges are super-difficult, but with enough experience and practice, it’s amazing what you can do. I saw guys that were so smooth, steady, fast, and accurate, it was mind blowing! It doesn’t come easy, and the guys at the top of the heap are super-dedicated. One such guy named Sheldon Nalos (in my squad) told me about how he dry fired off scale replicas he made of the T-Post Fox Hunt stage- practicing again and again until he was confident he was ready.
I don’t have the goal to be at the top of the heap within the PRS community, but I do think I’ll compete in more matches- they are super fun to experience, and the friends you’ll make may just last a lifetime. If you have any thoughts of trying PRS, I say “do it”! Stay tuned, because in my next post, I’ll talk about the PRS gear I used (and wanted) and then after that it’s time to go deep into 22 Nosler.
In this final installment you’ll learn how to take bullet jump completely out of the equation, but it’s not just that simple… Here’s how to get the results you’re after. Keep reading…
There’s one more concept to consider to fully finish the topic of bullet seating depth, and it’s literally on the other end of the equation from discussions on bullet jump.
Last two articles were all about a combination of the evils of jumping bullets and also some ideas on reducing the ill effects, and hopefully to the point of zero measurable group size differences. I also mentioned that there are some bullets that just don’t tolerate jumping.
For many (many many) years it’s been generally held that starting a bullet touching the lands is the easy ticket to better accuracy. That’s hard to disprove. It’s a tactic very commonly used by Benchrest and Long Range Rifle competitors, and savvy long-shot hunters. Now we’re talking about zero jump. Myself and many others have referred to this bullet seating tactic as “dead-length” seating. To be clear: it’s the cartridge overall length that has the bullet nosecone actually sitting flush against the lands (touching on whichever point along the nose that coincides with land diameter). Some literally take that a step farther and increase contact force such that the bullet is sticking into the lands one or more (sometimes several more) thousandths, actually being engraved by the lands prior to launch.
There are two ways to attain or approach dead-length. One is through careful measurement using something like a Hornady LNL Overall Length Gage. That tool should be paired with a bullet-length comparator, and Hornady has one of those too, as do others.
Measure enough bullets using a bullet-length comparator and you will find length differences in a box of most any brand. A comparator, as has been shown before in my articles (because it’s a very valuable tool to increase handloading precision), provides a more accurate means to measure bullet length. It’s a simple tool: the bullet nosecone fits into the opening on the gage, stopping at a point (determined by tool dimension) along the nosecone. Not all such gages coincide with land diameters because both comparators and land diameters vary from maker to maker. They are all “close” but perfect coincidence doesn’t really matter because a comparator will allow a reading at the same point of diameter regardless. Measuring from the base of a bullet to the bullet tip is inaccurate, and not nearly “good enough” to provide a precise enough measurement to venture into lands-on seating depth experiments. The reason measuring from base to tip isn’t good enough is because, especially in hollowpoint match-style bullets, there are relatively huge variations in the consistencies of the tips. I’ve measured easy 0.020 differences in a box of 100. Can’t make bank on that.
Using the combination of the gage that shows overall cartridge length that has the bullet touching the lands and the comparator to precisely record this length, it can then be reproduced via seating die adjustment.
Here’s a tool set shown many times in my books and articles this pair or something similar is necessary to negotiate this step in handloading. Check it out HERE and HERE at Midsouth.
If using this method, maintain whatever usual neck sizing dimensions are for your routine loads. There’s no need or benefit from lessening the case neck “tension” (which is the amount, in thousandths of inches, of the difference between resized case neck outside diameter and the resulting diameter after a bullet is seated). If that’s, say, 0.003 then keep it at 0.003.
There’s another, maybe better, method to follow if (and only if) you have a bolt-gun that’s to be fed one round at a time. By that I mean the rounds are not feeding up from a magazine but are being manually inserted into the chamber. That method is to reduce the case neck tension or grip to a level that the bullet is free enough to move within the case neck such that it seats itself when the round is chambered and the bullet makes contact with the lands. That’s awfully light in-neck resistance. It can’t be so light that the bullet falls into the case neck, but light enough that it can be scooted more deeply with little pressure. For a number it’s 0.001, minus, and half of that is workable if the case necks have been outside turned (so they are dead consistent in wall thicknesses and therefore will reliably “take” that little tension, meaning respond consistently to the sizing operation). Need a bushing-style sizing die to get that sort of control over the neck sizing dimension.
This method is often called “soft seating.” It’s, as said, very popular with competitive precision shooters. The bullet, keep in mind, isn’t just touching the lands, it’s actually engaging the lands to whichever degree or distance that resulted from overcoming the resistance from the case neck. If you feel anything more than slight resistance in chambering a round, that’s too much resistance. Chances are that any soft-seated bullet will stick in the barrel so extracting a loaded round will likely result in a big mess (elevate the barrel a little to keep the propellant from dumping into the action). Pushing the lodged bullet back out and looking at it carefully gives a good idea of how much resistance it’s overcoming. If the engraved area is much over 1/16-inch, increase the neck sizing bushing diameter to likewise loosen up the case neck. The amount of engraving has a whopping lot to do with the bullet jacket material (you’ll see more with a J4 than with a Sierra).
If you follow this method, then finish the die-seated bullets “out” 0.005-0.010 inches.
The reason this method can give the overall best results is because it’s accounting for teeny differences in bullet ogives and it also is adjusting itself for throat erosion. As gone on about in the last couple of articles, a barrel throat is lengthening with each round that passes through. What was touching the lands, or jumping 0.015, even one hundred rounds ago is no longer valid, and it’s totally corrupt five or six hundred rounds later. It’s no longer a precise setting, meaning a precise seating depth, and it has to be checked and reset as the barrel ages.
Again, this is not a casual experiment. The level of control and precision necessary to make it work safely and as expected is a step or three beyond what most reloaders are tooled up to deliver.
Will lands-on seating work for a semi-auto? Yes. But only with adequate bullet grip to retain the bullet firmly in the case neck, and that means the same tension that would be used with any other cartridge architecture, and that means a minimum of 0.003 inches difference between sized and seated outside case neck diameters. I do it often with my across-the-course High Power Rifle race guns. Clearly the “soft-seating” tactic is in no way wisely feasible in a semi-auto.
WARNING! MOVING A BULLET OUT SO IT TOUCHES THE LANDS WILL (not can) INCREASE LOAD PRESSURE! Even going from 0.001 off to flush on will spike pressure. When the bullet is in full contact it’s acting like a plug. I strongly suggest backing off one full grain (1.0 grain) before firing a bullet touching the lands. Then follow my “rule”: work up 0.2-grains at a time but come off 0.5-grains at a time! If there’s ever any (any) pressure symptom noted, don’t just back of a tenth or two, that’s not enough, not considering all the other little variations and variables that combine to influence the behavior of the next several rounds you’ll fire.
THREE REASONS DEAD-LENGTH SEATING WORKS ONE: Accounts for and overcomes any minor variations in bullet dimensions. TWO: Minimizes bullet jacket disruption on entry. THREE: Virtually eliminates misalignment between bullet and bore.
SIDE NOTE If you’re one who, as many readers have suggested to me, has found that seating a bullet to touch the lands is the only way they get good groups, consider the above three reasons this seating method works and then interpret. If, and this is more common than we’d like to see, you’ve got a factory bolt-action rifle the chamber is likely to be overly generous in size or a tad amount non-concentric, or both. The case wall consistency and also sizing and seating tooling, or all three, might likewise be sub-par. In other words: lands-on seating is overcoming a few rifle issues, not, in itself, proving it’s the one-way ticket to great groups. Mostly, getting the bullet into the lands essentially straightens out alignment of the whole cartridge sitting in that (maybe) big chamber.
The information in this article is from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available HEREat Midsouth. Also check HEREfor more information about this and other publications from Zediker Publishing.
Tips that help take bullet jump out of the accuracy equation. Find out how!
Last time I shared some insight about bullet “jump,” and specifically with respect to the viability of setting up a “zero-jump” chamber/ammo combination.
To hit the highlights: Jump is the gap the bullet must traverse when it leaves the case neck to engage the lands or rifling. Generally, best (and better) accuracy comes with this gap is reduced to a minimum amount, or at the least reduced. Better is better.
To go farther into this topic, it’s worthwhile to move the bullet around, seating it more or less deeply (nearer or farther from the lands at rest) to maximize accuracy. Clearly, there’s a limit on cartridge overall length if the rounds have to fit into a magazine box so they can feed right. In NRA High Power Rifle competition, the AR15 pilots are specifically not allowed to have the rounds feed from the magazine in semi-auto mode; each round must be loaded into the chamber one at a time for the “slow-fire” segments, which includes the 600-yard event. That means competitive High Power shooters using AR-platform rifles are free to move the extra-long 80+ grain .224-caliber bullets out to near or on the lands when chambered. That doesn’t really matter but it explains the popular “Wylde” chamber we tend to use. It’s got a long enough throat to free more case volume and also provide a bigger “expansion chamber” for burning propellant gases, but it’s not as long as a NATO-spec so should perform better with bullets that do have to be loaded deeply in enough to fit the magazine box. Something like a Sierra 80gr or 82gr Berger won’t usually shoot worth a flip loaded to mag-length. That bullet, and others similar, are simply too dang long for a .223 Remington case. A huge amount of the bullet swallows up the case interior.
The best defense against ever worrying over jump, meaning whether you’re getting good accuracy regardless of the amount of bullet jump (well, at least within reason…) is bullet choice. Specifically, a tangent-profile bullet with a conservative ogive. Recollecting from some materials I did a while back, a “secant” profile is a sharper taper-in from bullet body to bullet tip; a tangent is a smoother transition. Secants, more or less, have a “shoulder” indicating a more abrupt taper rather than a smooth arc. For examples: true VLD (very low drag) and the Hornady A-Max are secant.
Bullets with relatively shorter nosecones and relatively longer bearing areas (length of the bullet that’s in contact with the rifling) are likewise more tolerant of jump.
There’s been a trend for many years now toward creating bullets with higher ballistic coefficients. Worthwhile pursuit! Only issue is that when a bullet design features better aerodynamics, the features of that are, yep, longer nosecones with shallower angles. The ogive (what I’ve been more descriptively calling the nosecone because it’s easier to picture) usually is expressed in calibers. Technically it’s “calibers of ogive,” and that’s the ogive radius divided by the caliber. To me it’s easier to picture looking at the “other side” of the equation: the arc that scribes the profile in multiples of the bullet’s caliber. So, a 7- to 8-caliber ogive is a tighter circle (more rounded profile) than a 12- or 15-caliber ogive. Most of the “high-BC” profiles use a 15, some more. In other words, they’re stilettos.
I’m kind of breaking this down farther and faster than exercising good technical care in covering this topic should warrant, but: comparing both same-weight and same-caliber bullets, the longer it is the more sensitive it’s going to be to jump.
I have shot way too many high-X-count 300-yard cleans with bullets jumping 0.030+ inches to say that it’s not possible to have good accuracy unless jump is minimal. I admit that’s only a 1 moa group. I’m also using what some makers call a “length-tolerant” bullet, and specifically that’s a 77gr Sierra Matchking, and the same goes for a Nosler 77 or Hornady 75 HPBT (not A-Max). It’s the bullet form, not just its weight, that has the strongest influence on all this.
So, do you have to abandon better ballistics to attain better accuracy? Maybe. At least to a point. With the smaller calibers, which don’t have other advantages larger calibers have simply by virtue of weight and sectional density, there tends to be an effectively greater discrepancy between the lighter and heavier (again, it’s really shorter and longer) bullet ballistic performances.
A rifle with a generous-length magazine box provides greater jump-reduction via loaded round architecture. If there’s enough room, a bullet can be scooted out to the limit of the space within the box.
As always, well at least usually, there are tools! Get them and use them. A gage “set” from Hornady is well advised. There are others similar. I’ve been using their LNL Overall Length Gage and Bullet Comparator for many years and receive needed results. The first tool indicates the seating depth that touches the lands, and the second provides more reliable and accurate means to measure and record it.
The leade, which, again, is the transition to the lands and determined by the chambering reamer (or throating reamer if custom-done) does influence tolerance for jump. The shallower the angle the better, but, that’s a two-edged issue. Take a commonly-used 3-degree leade and make it a more preferable 1.5-degree leade and that takes way on more than double the distance (length of cut) to attain. Again, when there’s a magazine getting in the way of bullet seating depth flexibility, a shallower leade eases transition into the barrel bore for a jumping bullet, but also increases jump. There are some cartridges, like David Tubb’s 6XC, that were designed specifically to “perfect” all these relationships: magazine-mandated cartridge overall length, bullet choice, and leade in, and it’s one reason it owns the records it does. Otherwise, it’s often a compromise… But don’t compromise accuracy for anything. A smaller group is, in the long run, the best defense against both wind and distance when it comes to hitting a target. Reliable feedback equals correct adjustments.
After 50 years with their current owners, and 70 years in business, Sierra Bullets has been sold.
If you’ve reloaded for any length of time at all, you’ve gleaned some knowledge of Sierra Bullets, based out of Sedalia, MO. Great projectiles, fine quality, and trusted pistol and rifle bullets, all sold here at Midsouth Shooters Supply. With our shameless plug out of the way, here’s some more history on Sierra:
What started at a few guys in a Quonset hut in California making rivets for aircraft, front sight ramps, and fishing rod guides, has spun up into one of the top projectile manufacturers in the country, and
it’s all thanks in-part to WWII, and competitive shooting becoming a popular post war sport. Demand was high, and Sierra formed to fill the need for match projectiles. In fact, they still sell the #1400 53 grain MatchKing bullet to this day. You can get yours here!
Flash forward some 20 years to 1969, and Sierra is purchased by BHH Management group. Keep standards high, and developing several new offerings to the reloading community, BHH led Sierra to become a household name in the shooting world. In 1990, when Sierra moved to Sedalia, MO they built a test range, which has led to more advancements like the Tipped MatchKing line of bullets.
Now, with 140 employees, and $30,000,000 per year in stated revenue, BHH has decided to sell to the Clarus Corp. formerly, Black Diamond Group. So, what does the price tag look like? $79,000,000 “subject to a post-closing working capital adjustment”. Clarus is no stranger to the “outdoor” world either. SafariLand, among a few other outdoor retail brands, plus the odd communications and common diversification companies round out their portfolio.
According to StreetInsider.com “The transaction is expected to be immediately lucrative to Clarus’ earnings per share. For the unaudited 12 months ended June 30, 2017, Sierra’s total revenues were approximately $32 million with EBITDA of approximately $12.5 million, representing a purchase price multiple of approximately 6.3x EBITDA. Sierra has a strong cash flow profile, generating free cash flow conversion of approximately 95% with limited ongoing capex requirements.”
“The team at Sierra has continued building on a 70-year legacy dedicated to the highest-level of precision in design, world-class manufacturing and quality control,” said Warren B. Kanders, executive chairman of Clarus. “These attributes have cultivated a diverse customer base of enthusiasts and industry OEMs that drive high recurring revenue and strong cash flow, which we expect to maximize through the utilization of our net operating loss carry forwards.”
Sierra’s President Pat Daly commented: “Our team takes great pride in developing and manufacturing the most precise and accurate bullets in the world. This is supported by our deep institutional knowledge of highly-specialized manufacturing processes that have produced leading products and created a significant competitive advantage. As the only pure-play bullet brand, it was important for us to partner with a team that shares our values and commitment to excellence, and we are excited to join the Clarus family. I look forward to staying on to continue driving our brand growth.” All senior management are expected to remain with Sierra under Clarus’ ownership.
Sierra was kind enough to post to their own blog the answers to a few frequently asked questions since the announcement of the sale.
Will Sierra Bullets be moving?No – Clarus has committed to keeping Sedalia, MO home for all 140 Sierra employees and their families. Unfortunately, our dreams of moving the plant to a private tropical island were quickly squashed.
Will I will be able to get the same great bullets I have come to love?Yes! There are no planned changes to the existing product line, but watch for exciting new additions in the future! Perhaps our dream of making a self-propelled gravity defying gold core titanium bullet will finally be fulfilled!
Are there any changes to the staff?Nope – you are still stuck with all of us from the President on down.
Can I invest in the company that now owns Sierra Bullets?Yes – Clarus Corporation is traded on NASDAQ under the symbol “CLAR”. Or you can continue investing in Sierra Bullets one little green box at a time!
We wish our friends at Sierra the best, and a smooth transition!
What questions do you have about the Sierra Sale? Are you a Sierra reloader? What’s your favorite Sierra bullet?
The distance a bullet travels to enter the lands is a topic of much concern to the precision shooter. This series takes a look at why it matters, and also when it doesn’t…
Bullet jump: the open space a bullet must span until its first point of sufficient diameter engages the barrel lands.
Last week I had a long phone conversation with a fellow who had been bitten by two bugs, two somewhat conflicting bugs (at least seemingly so on the onset). The one was a regrouping equipment project for USPSA-style practical rifle competition, and the other was for a desire to maximize accuracy, which is to minimize group size. This fellow had been involved in competition long enough to decide to stay with it, and was re-upping his AR15 upper with a new custom barrel. He wanted to have the best accuracy he could buy, and that’s a worthwhile pursuit as long as there’s a budget that supports it.
The subject of bullet jump became the dominant topic.
Yep, he had read my books and a few others and developed the impression that minimizing bullet jump was one crucial component to maximizing accuracy. That’s fair enough. I’ve gone on about it, as have others. Adjusting bullet seating depth can make a big, big difference in shot impact proximities. However! The reason bullet jump matters — usually — is largely, almost exclusively, because of some bullet profiles being more finicky than others. Namely the longer and spikier “very-low-drag” type bullet profiles.
The first point of “major diameter” on a bullet is what coincides with the land diameter in the barrel. If that’s a .22 caliber with 0.219 diameter lands, then the first point along the nosecone of a bullet that’s 0.219 is the distance. Gages that measure this distance (Hornady LNL for instance) aren’t necessarily going to provide perfect coincidence with land diameter, but still provide an accurate bullet seating depth that touches the lands.
If you find the cartridge overall length, which really means bullet seating depth, that touches the lands (coincides with land diameter) then subtract that from what you then measure when the bullet is seated deeply enough to fit into a magazine box, that right there is the amount of jump.
Dealing with an AR15, or any other magazine-fed rifle, assuming we are wanting the rounds to feed from the magazine, is that there’s a finite cartridge overall length that will fit into the magazine. So. We’re almost always going to be dealing with some amount of jump, unless one or two things can be manipulated to reduce or eliminate it.
The one is that the influence of rifle chamber specs with respect to either more or less jump is pretty much exclusively in the leade or throat. That’s the space that defines the transition from end of the chamber case neck area to entry into the lands. The closer the lands are to the chamber neck area the shorter the jump will be with any bullet. That is the leading difference between a SAAMI-spec .223 Remington chamber and a 5.56 NATO chamber. The NATO has a much longer throat. I’ve written on that one a few times…
A shorter throat has goods and bads. The main good is that, indeed, any and all bullets are going to be closer to the lands in a round loaded to magazine-length.
But the “two” in the things that influence jump is bullet selection. It is possible to find a combination that will easily have the bullet sitting right on or very near the lands at the get-go. That’s going to be a short, and light, tangent ogive bullet within a SAAMI-spec .223 Remington chamber, or (and this is what I have done) a barrel chamber finished using a throating reamer to get even closer. In general: the nearer the first point of major bullet diameter (remember, that’s the land diameter) is to the bullet tip, the shorter the jump will be, and that’s because this point is “higher.”
Throat erosion is going to lengthen the throat. Can’t stop that. The cartridge structure that was jumping, say, 0.005 on a new barrel is jumping more than that after literally every round fired through it. After some hundreds of rounds it’s jumping a few multiples of 0.005. (How much or how many is not possible to forecast because way too many factors influence the amount and rate of throat erosion. Just have to keep checking with the gage I suggest you purchase.) This is the reason I specify a custom dimension to get reduced jump: with the right hands using a throating reamer it’s easily possible to maintain land contact at magazine length seating even after a lot of rounds have gone through. Bullets will begin being seated more deeply and then get nudged out as the throat erodes.
So, where the conversation ended was this: If (and only if) someone is willing to take the time and make the effort to carefully establish and then control a reduced or eliminated amount of magazine-loaded jump then, yes, it’s a fine idea! It’s also an idea that likely will result in the best accuracy. I’ve done it in one of my AR15 match rifles, and it’s the best shooting I’ve ever owned. The hitch is that the rifle becomes what I call a “one-trick pony.” It’s not always going to accept bullets and loaded round architectures that stray from the carefully calculated dimensions originally set down. It’s also not likely going to perform safely with every factory-loaded round out there, and you can forget (totally forget) ever firing a NATO-spec round.
There’s a whopping lot more to this whole topic, and we’ll look at the other end of the spectrum next time.
The reason that reduced amounts of bullet jump increase accuracy, in a perhaps overly simple but entirely correct way to understand it, is because there’s simply less potential for disruptive entry into and lands and then through the bore. There’s less misalignment opportunity, less jacket integrity disruption opportunity. There is a lot more that can be discussed in finer points, of course…
Determining and setting the correct case neck diameter is a critical, crucial step in the handloading process: Here’s all you need to know!
Here’s another I get (too many) questions about, and when I say “too many” that’s not at all a complaint, just a concern… This next hopefully will eliminate any and all confusions about this important step, and decision, in the reloading process.
Basics: A cartridge case neck expands in firing to release the bullet. If the load delivers adequate pressure, it can expand to the full diameter allowed by that portion of the rifle chamber. That diameter depends on the reamer used. After expansion and contraction, the case neck will, no doubt, be a bigger diameter than what it was before being fired.
Back to it: To get a handle on this important dimension, the first step is tools. As always. A caliper that reads to 0.001 inches will suffice.
You need to find three outside diameter numbers: fired case neck diameter, sized case neck diameter, loaded case neck diameter. If you know the loaded case neck diameter then it’s likewise easy to find out the case wall thickness, or at least an average on it if the necks aren’t perfectly uniform (and they won’t likely be unless they’ve been full-on outside case neck turned).
A fired case neck has to be sized back down to a dimension that will retain a bullet from unwanted movement (slippage) in the reloaded round. Case neck “tension” isn’t really an accurate term, in my mind, so I prefer to talk about “constriction.” The reason is that making a case neck diameter smaller and smaller does not, after a point, add any additional grip to the bullet. Once it’s gotten beyond maybe 0.005 inches, it’s just increasing the resistance to bullet seating not increasing the amount of tension or retention of the case neck against the bullet. The bullet is resizing the case neck, and probably getting its jacket damaged in the process. If more grip is needed, that’s where crimping comes in…and that’s (literally) another story.
IMPORTANT Always, always, account for the “spring-back.” That is in the nature of the alloy used to make cases. If brass is sized to a smaller diameter it will spring back plus 0.001 inches bigger than the tool used; if it’s expanded to a bigger diameter, it will spring back (contract) to 0.001 inches smaller than the tool used. This is always true! The exception is that as brass hardens with age, it can spring back a little more.
How much constriction should there be? For a semi-auto, 0.003 is adequate; I recommend 0.004. For a bolt-action, I use and recommend 0.002, and 0.001 usually is adequate unless the rifle is a hard-kicker. See, the main (main) influence of more resistance in bullet seating is to, as mentioned, set up enough gripping tension to prevent unwanted bullet movement. Unwanted movement can come from two main sources: contact and inertia. Contact is if and when the bullet tip meets any resistance in feeding, and gets pushed back. Intertia comes from the operation and cycling of the firearm. If there’s enough force generated via recoil, the bullets in rounds remaining in a magazine can move from flowing forces. However! That also works literally in the other way: in a semi-auto the inertial force transmitted through a round being chambered can set the bullet out: the case stops but the bullet keeps moving. I’ve seen (measured) that happen with AR15s and (even more) AR-10/SR-25s especially when loading the first round in. Put in a loaded magazine, trip the bolt stop, and, wham, all that mass moves forward and slams to a stop. Retract the bolt and out comes a case with no bullet… Or, more usually, out comes a case with the bullet seated out farther (longer overall length). Never, ever, set a constriction level on the lighter side for either of these guns.
Most seem to hold a belief that the lower the case neck constriction the better the accuracy. Can’t prove that by me or mine. If there’s too much constriction, as mentioned, the bullet jacket can be damaged and possibly the bullet slightly resized (depending on its material constitution) and those could cause accuracy hiccups. If it’s a semi-auto and constriction is inadequate, the likewise aforementioned bullet movement forward, which is very unlikely to be consistent, can create accuracy issues, no doubt. My own load tests have shown me that velocities get more consistent at 0.003-0.004 as compared to 0.001-0.002.
Benchrest competitors use virtually zero constriction, but as with each and every thing “they” do, it works only because it’s only possible via the extremely precise machining work done both in rifle chambering and case preparation. It is not, decidedly not, something anyone else can or should attempt even in an off-the-shelf single-shot. As always: I focus here, and in my books, on “the rest of us” when it comes to reloading tool setup and tactics. Folks who have normal rifles and use them in normal ways. And folks who don’t want to have problems.
So, find out what you have right now by determining the three influential diameters talked about at the start of this article. Most factory standard full-length sizing die sets will produce between 0.002 and 0.003 constriction. Getting more is easy: chuck up the expander/decapper stem in an electric drill (I use oiled emery cloth wrapped around a stone), and carefully reduce the expander body diameter by the needed amount, or contact the manufacturer to see about getting an undersized part. I’ve done that.
If you want less constriction than you’re currently getting, about the only way to do that one is hit up a local machinist and get the neck area in the die opened by the desired amount (considering always the 0.001 spring-back). Or get a bushing-style die…
The bushing-style design has removable bushings available in specific diameters. Pick the one you want to suit the brass you use. If you run an inside case neck expanding appliance along with a bushing die, usually a sizing-die-mounted “expander ball” or sizing button, make sure you’re getting at least 0.002 expansion from that device. Example: the (outside) sized case neck diameter should be sufficiently reduced to provide an inside sized case neck diameter at least 0.002 smaller than the diameter of the inside sizing appliance. That’s done as a matter of consistency and correctness that will account for small differences in case neck wall thicknesses. And when you change brass lots and certainly brands, measure again and do the math again! Thicker or thinner case neck walls make a big difference in the size bushing needed.
48 years ago, we started out in a small shed. Located in New Market, TN, just east of Knoxville, near Jefferson City, Midsouth was a catalog driven retailer catering to a few folks who loved to load their own ammo, save a little money, and drastically increase their accuracy.
Flash forward to the present day, and a few hundred miles west, and you have pretty much the same thing, just in a bigger building, and coming to you live on the world wide web. We still believe in saving you money, being fair with our prices, and our shipping. We still cater to the reloader, but have branched out to other “D.I.Y.” folks with AR parts, and kits, muzzleloader kits, and more. We’re still a small, family owned company, with a tight-knit group of employees. Though the location changed, and the technology by which you shop with us has advanced, in our hearts, we’re still us.
Since it’s our birthday, we want to celebrate with you! You’re the reason we get to come here, flip on the lights, and get to work. We love our customers, and to show you just how important you are to us, we lined up an entire week of deals, just for you! We’re talking HAZ-MAT deals, giveaways, specials, and much more. Want to get in on our birthday presents? You need to sign up for our E-Flyer! Click here to subscribe. We will do our best not to bug you by only sending you deals to your inbox worth opening. Did we mention we’re giving away over $200 every day in gift cards, and gear? Yeah, our birthday week’s going to be AWESOME!
Take a Tour of Midsouth!
Our friends, the Quinns from GunBlast, stopped by for a visit recently. We gave them a tour of our facility and let them in on our day to day. It was great to have them come by so we could share what we do, and what we believe in when it comes to our customers. There’s a personal touch we add to every product you order, from the order taker, to the packer. Check out the video and Thank You for shopping with Midsouth Shooters Supply
The M14/M1A can be a cantankerous beast to reload for, so follow these suggestions to tame it down. Keep reading…
The “5 steps to success” are at the end of this article… First, read about why they will matter as much as they do!
A couple times back I decided that the best topic to write about might be the most current, and I defined that by the most recent questions I fielded on a topic. As the assumption goes: they can’t be the only ones with that question… So, over this weekend I had a series of questions from different people all on the topic of reloading for the M1A, the civilian version of the military M14.
Now. Since the M14 was the issue rifle of choice for a good number of years, and without a doubt the (previously at least) favored platform for the various-branch military shooting team efforts, it went through some serious modifications to best suit it to that very narrow-use objective: High Power Rifle competition. Although the M14 hadn’t been routinely issued to most troops for decades, it was still going strong in this venue. That changed in the mid-90s when Rules changes boosted the AR15 platform to prominence, and soon after, dominance.
Match conditioning an M14 involved modifications to virtually every system component, and resulted in a fine shooting rifle. Very fine. Amazingly fine. The one mod that prodded the impetus to write all this next was the barrel chambering specification changes. A while back I went on about what 7.62 NATO is compared to its fraternal twin .308 Winchester.
Match-spec M14 chambers are decidedly NOT NATO! They’re .308 Winchester, pretty much. I say “pretty much” because they’re on the minimum side, dimensionally, compared to SAAMI commercial guidelines for .308 Win. Lemmeesplain: the true “match” M14 chamber is short, in throat and in headspace. The reason is ammunition bound. I’ll explain that too: Lake City Match ammo was and is a universal competition cartridge. Military teams compete in, well, military team competitions. Some are open to civilians, some are not. All, however, used issued ammo across the board. You were given your boxes of Lake City Match, or Special Ball, or one of a couple other same-spec variants, prior to the show and that’s what you used for the event. Everyone used the same ammo. Civilian or Service. There were exceptions, like long-range specialty events, but what was said held true the vast majority of the time. That meant that everyone wanted the same well-proven chamber, civilians too.
Given this, that’s why a “match” M1A chamber is different than a SAAMI. It was built to maximize Lake City Match accuracy. That’s a short round. The headspace is a few thousandths under what’s common on a chamber based around commercial .308 brass. 1.630-inch cartridge headspace height is regarded as minimum for commercial.
So sizing a case to fit a match M1A, especially if it’s a hard-skinned mil-spec case, takes some crunch. To compound difficulty, M1As and M14s unlock very (very) quickly during firing. The bolt is trying to unlock when the case is still expanded against the chamber walls. The little bit of space this creates results in a “false” headspace gage reading on the spent case. It’s going to measure a little longer than the chamber is actually cut. That can lead someone to do the usual math (comparing new case and spent case headspace reads) and end up with a “size-to” figure that’s too tall, that has the shoulder too high. For instance, let’s say the spent case measured 1.634 and the new case measured 1.627, indicating 0.006 expansion or growth. Given the usual advice (from me at least) to reduce fired case shoulder height by 0.004 (semi-autos) for safe and reliable reuse would net a size-to dimension of 1.630. But. There can easily be a “missed” 0.002-0.003 inches resultant from the additional expansion explained earlier. My advice for a match-chambered M1A is to reduce the fired case all the way back down to the new case dimension. That might sound like a lot, and it might sound excessive, and it might be — but, it’s the proven way to keep this gun running surely and safely. That, however, is not always an easy chore. Some mil-spec brass is reluctant to cooperate. And, by the way, don’t kid yourself about reducing case life. This gun eats brass; I put just three loads through a case before canning it.
Two helps: one is to use petroleum-based case lube, like Forster Case Lube or Redding/Imperial Sizing Wax. And size each case twice! That’s right: run each one fully into the die twice. Double-sizing sure seems to result in more correct and more consistent after-sizing headspace readings.
A “small-base” sizing die (reduced case head diameter) is not necessary to refit match brass into a match chamber. It might help using brass that was first-fired in a chamber with more generous diameter, but sized diameter isn’t really the “small” part of the M1A match chamber. Again, the small part is the headspace.
So that’s the source the problem reloading for this rifle. And, again, “this rifle” is an M1A with a true mil-match armorer’s spec chamber. We best make sure that our sized cases are going to fit the chamber, plus a couple thousandths clearance for function and safety. And safety mostly. M1As are notorious for “slam-fires” which happen when the free-floating firing pin taps the primer on a chambering round delivering sufficient intrusion to detonate. Impressive explosions result. If the case shoulder is stopping against the chamber before the bolt can lock over, that can be all the pin needs to maximize the effect of its inertia.
Speaking of, there are three sources and fortunately the same number of cures for slam-fires. One, first, is the correct sizing on setting back the case shoulder so the shoulder doesn’t stop against its receptacle in the chamber. Next is making sure there are no “high” primers; each primer should be seated at least 0.005 inches under flush with the case head. Next, and very important: primer composition, which equates to primer brand. Do not use a “sensitive” primer, one with a thinner, softer skin. Although they are great performers, Federal 205 are too sensitive for this rifle. Better are WW, CCI 200.
I don’t like this chamber… I also used one because I competed in events with issued ammo. I don’t recommend a “true” M14 chamber because that’s a NATO. Plain old standard .308 Win. specs work better and allow more flexibility in ammo and component selection. Even though the true mil-spec match chambers are not common, the reason I’ve written as much as I have on this topic over the years is because a mistake can be disastrous. One of the folks who wrote me one question shared a story about a friend who blew up his match M1A firing improper commercially-loaded ammo through it. Whoa.
A CASE FOR THE M1A This gun needs a stout case. They won’t last long no matter what but they might not last at all if they’re too soft. I’ve broken some new commercial cases on one firing. Thicker/thinner isn’t the issue: it’s the hardness of the alloy. Harder material better resists reaction to the additional stress of premature system operation. New-condition mil-spec cases are great, if you can get them. Next best is Lake City Match that was fired in a match-chambered rifle. Stay completely away from anything, and everything, fired through a NATO-spec chamber. It’s nigh on not possible to size them enough to suit. For me, WW is the only commercial case I will run through my M1A. They’re thin, but pretty hard.
I did a whole chapter solely on reloading for the M14/M1A for my book Handloading for Competition that didn’t get printed into it for various reasons. However! I have the entire chapter available as a PDF download on my website. Get it HERE
A recent national television report asserted that road-rage incidents are becoming more common and more deadly, with the latest incident taking place in Pennsylvania, in which a man is alleged to have shot and killed a teenage girl during a traffic merge. Click to watch level-headed advice from your Independent Program Attorney about what to do—and what not to do—in these situations.
Hello, my name is Edwin Walker. I’m an Independent Program Attorney with Texas Law Shield.
I want to talk to you today about an issue that we see on a daily basis. In fact, you will encounter it on a daily basis — the subject of road rage. I am sure that you have all seen road rage. You may have actually been involved in a road rage incident.
Now, if you’re a responsible gun owner, I’m going to give you a few words of advice on how to react when you find yourself in one of these unfortunate road-rage incidents. While on the roadways, we all observe something that makes us upset, whether it’s poor driving, unsafe driving, or just simply somebody being very discourteous.
By all means, you should restrain yourself from engaging that person and telling them how bad their actions were because this can be perceived as an act of road rage. If you’re a lawful gun owner and you have a firearm in your vehicle, you do not want to be viewed as the aggressor in a road-rage situation.
Now, about a situation where an individual has chosen to rage against you, and you are the actual victim of road rage, if you and the other individuals are still in their automobiles, do not use your firearm to respond to any of the rager’s activities. This is because law enforcement views the fact that you’re both still safely in your metal boxes as removing any threat of immediacy that you may be harmed.
So please, if you have a gun, and somebody is raging against you, forget that you have a gun, don’t display it, don’t brandish it, don’t show it, don’t point it, and for God’s sake, don’t fire it. This could result in a lot of trouble for you. Now let’s look at a situation where a road rage incident has escalated to the point where one of the participants has actually gotten out of their vehicle. We recommend that you stay in your vehicle at all times. Do not exit your vehicle because the person who left their vehicle is going to be looked at as the aggressor.
If the other individual has exited his or her vehicle and the person is not in contact with your vehicle, and they do not have a weapon, then do not feel that you can display your weapon in the act of self-defense. People are allowed to just simply stand there and scream at you—scream whatever they want—until they make a demonstrative effort to try to harm you. There is no immediate threat that would justify displaying or shooting or brandishing your firearm.
Now, if the person shows a weapon, in particular, a firearm, the existence of a weapon would give you reasonable belief that there was an immediate threat of harm that would justify an act of force or deadly force.
Even in this situation, I would be very cautious. Now, if this situation escalates even further, where the person has actually made physical contact with your vehicle, whether they are beating on it with an instrument with their fists or they’re attempting to open your door, this would give you the facts that you would need to show that you had a reasonable belief that that individual is unlawfully and forcefully attempting to either enter your vehicle or remove you from your vehicle. This is very very important because this falls under what is commonly known in Texas as the Castle Doctrine.
The Castle Doctrine provides that an individual is given a presumption of reasonableness if they use force or deadly force in a situation where they believe that the person is unlawfully and forcefully either attempting to enter their occupied vehicle or remove somebody from their occupied vehicle. This legal presumption can be very very important because this legal presumption then says that you are allowed to use force or deadly force in response to this other individual’s actions.
We want to keep you safe out on the roadway, so keep these words of advice in mind and try to have a little less road rage out there. If we have a little less road rage, maybe we’ll have a safer world.