Category Archives: Reloading Corner

RELOADERS CORNER: Inside Reaming Vs. Outside Turning


Some confuse these operations. Don’t! Here’s what each is, and isn’t…

Glen Zediker

I get a lot of questions. I always answer each one, and in doing so that experience reminds me of the wide span of topic knowledge needed to be a successful, and safe, handloader. I make an effort not to assume any level or depth of anyone’s understanding of any topic I might address. At the risk of “offending” all the experts out there by wasting their time with fundamental starts to technical pieces, I’d dang sho rather bore them than shortchange a newcomer out of elemental information.

I told folks in my last book that “grains” refers to a propellant weight, not a kernel-count. Right. But I’ve fielded that question more than once. That’s not, in my mind, a “stupid” question. Truth: The only stupid question is one that’s not asked, when there’s a need to know.

So, that was leading into this: Here’s a question I got just yesterday that sourced via someone who wasn’t even a little bit uneducated in the need for finer points of case prep. This fellow was confused about the relationship between inside case neck reaming and outside case neck turning. Here’s a longer version of the answer I returned to him —

First, there is no relationship between inside neck reaming and outside neck turning, and by that I mean they are not a combined process. As a matter of fact, these should not be combined!

They can be confused because they both ultimately accomplish the same thing, the same basic thing: each process removes material from a cartridge case neck cylinder, and that makes the case neck wall thinner. These two ops, however, are done for two different reasons.

neck reamer
Inside neck reaming is a treatment to thin excessively thickened case necks after several firings. If the neck walls get too thick, the outside diameter of the case neck might not have adequate room in the chamber to expand to release the bullet. Excess pressure! Shown is a Forster-brand accessory for its case trimmer.
IMPORTANT: “Standard” case neck reamers are for use only on fired but not resized cases! Exceptions are custom-size reamers, and I own a few of those that get use from time to time, but, as was said for tight-necked rifles, if you know about that then you already know about this…

An inside case neck reamer is intended to relieve excess material from case necks that have thickened excessively through use and reuse. Brass flows, and it flows forward.

Important! Most “standard” case neck reamers are intended to be used on fired, but not yet resized, cases! In other words: Use the reamer on the fired cases as-are. Do not use one on a case that’s had its neck resized because that will cut away way too much brass.

Another application where inside reaming is frequently recommended is in forming operations that require a reduction in case neck diameter. When a case is “necked down,” which means run through a sizing op that creates a .243 caliber from a previously .308 caliber, for instance, the neck walls thicken. An appropriately-sized reamer makes the shortest work of this tedious but necessary job. Most forming die packages either include or make mention of the specific-size reamer to use.

Outside case neck turning is done to improve the consistency of case neck wall thickness around the cylinder. It’s a step taken to improve accuracy. Outside case neck turning should be done only on brand new (unfired) brass. It’s more precisely effective and easier because that’s when the alloy is at its softest.

turned case neck
Outside neck turning is a “precision” case prep step that improves consistency of the case neck wall thicknesses. It can be done a little bit to clean up “high spots” and make the cases better, or full-area to make them nearly perfect. That, of course, also makes them universally thinner so your sizing apparatus might need to be dimensioned differently to maintain desired case neck inside diameter to retain adequate grip on the bullet.

There are specific, custom combinations that require a smaller than standard case neck outside diameter. The “tight-necked” rifle, which is just about exclusively encountered in Benchrest competition, has to have its brass modified to chamber in the rifle. The neck area of the rifle chamber is cut extra-small to provide a means to attain a “perfect” fit and minimal case neck expansion. If you’re into this, then you already knew that…

So, the primary role and use of an inside neck reamer is as a safety precaution; its secondary use is as a prep step in case forming. The primary role and use of an outside neck turner is to improve the consistency, quality, of a case neck cylinder. The idea is that more consistent wall thickness leads to a more centered case neck. And it does. Reaming does zero to improve consistency. Reaming just makes a bigger hole of the hole that’s already there; it doesn’t relocate its center.

drop test
The way (or one way) to tell if your cases need a ream is to take a fired case and see if a bullet will freely drop through the neck. If it won’t, they’re too thick. Thrown them away or refurbish them with a reamer. Resizing won’t change a thing.

Combining these ops might create a safety issue because the necks might get too thin, and that could mean there wouldn’t be enough grip on the bullet. Point is, ultimately, that reaming and turning are not equivalent even though they might seem to be doing the same thing. One is not a substitute for the other. It certainly would be possible to remove metal from the outside of the neck cylinder to overcome the effects of thickened necks, if (and only if) the neck is sized again using the usual die apparatus. When that’s the goal, though, a reamer is lower effort, faster, and less expensive to buy into.

Very important! Always (always) culminate either operation by running the cases a trip through the sizing die you normally use.

Check out a few tools at Midsouth HERE



Understanding the relationship between bullets and barrel twist helps prevent mistakes. Here’s what you need to know…

Glen Zediker

Sierra 90gr MatchKing

Why am I devoting this space this time to such a topic? Well, because it’s commonly asked about, and, no doubt, because it influences some of the decisions and options faced in choosing the best-performing load for our needs. Making a mistake in choosing twist can limit both the selection and performance in the range of usable bullet weights and styles.

First, barrel twist rate is a component in the architecture of the barrel lands and grooves. The lands and grooves form a spiral, a twist, that imparts spin to a bullet, and the rate of twist is expressed in terms of how far in inches a bullet travels to make one full rotation. “1-10” (one-in-ten) for example means “one full rotation for each ten inches of travel.”

Bullet length, not weight, determines how much rotation is necessary for stability. Twist rate suggestions, though, are most usually given with respect to bullet weight, but that’s more of a generality for convenience’s sake, I think. The reason is that with the introduction of higher-ballistic-coefficient bullet designs, which are longer than conventional forms, it is easily possible to have two same-weight bullets that won’t both stabilize from the same twist rate.

70gr VLD
Good example: 70-grain VLD (left) needs an 8; the Sierra 69-grain MatchKing next to it does fine with a 9. It’s bullet length that determines the needed twist, not just weight.

The M-16/AR15 barrel changes give a good example. Short history of mil-spec twist rates: Originally it was a 1-12, which was pretty standard for .224-caliber varminting-type rounds, like .222 Remington, which were near-universally running bullet weights either 52- or 55-grain. That worked with the 55-grain FMJ ammo issued then. Later came the SS109 63-grain round, with a bullet that was a bit much for a 1-12. The military solution was total overkill: 1-7. That’s a very fast twist.

Commercially, the 1-9 twist became the standard for .223 Remington for years. It’s still popular, but is being replaced, as far as I can tell, by the 1-8. An increasingly wider selection of barrels are done up in this twist rate. I approve.

1-8 twist.
Generally, well, always actually, I recommend erring toward the faster side of a barrel twist decision. 8 is becoming a “new standard” for .224 caliber, replacing 9 in the process. Reason is that new bullets tend to be bigger rather than smaller. Don’t let a too-slow twist limit your capacity to exploit the promise of better long-range performance.

I’d always rather have a twist too fast than not fast enough. For a .223 Rem. 1-9 is not fast enough for anything longer than a routine 68-70-grain “magazine bullet,” like a Sierra 69gr MatchKing. 1-8 will stabilize any of the newer heavier bullets intended for magazine-box cartridge overall lengths, like a Sierra 77gr MatchKing. An 8 twist will also shoot most of the longer, higher-BC profiles, like the Sierra 80gr MatchKing (which is not intended to be assembled into a round that’s loaded down into a magazine).

Other popular calibers have likewise edged toward faster and faster “standard” twist rates, and that includes 6mm and .308. Once those were commonly found as 1-10 and 1-12, respectively, but now there’s more 1-7s and 1-9s offered. Reason is predictable: longer and heavier bullets, and mostly longer, have likewise become more commonly used in chamberings like .308 Winchester and 6XC.

The tell-tale for an unstable (wobbling or tumbling) bullet is an oblong hole in the target paper, a “keyhole,” and that means the bullet contacted the target at some attitude other than nose-first.

Base your next barrel twist rate decision on the longest, heaviest bullets you choose to use, and at the same time realize that the rate chosen has limited those choices. If the longest, heaviest bullet you’ll shoot (ever) is a 55-grain .224, then there’s honestly no reason not to use a 1-12. Likewise true for .308-caliber: unless you’re going over 200-grain bullet weight, a 1-10 will perform perfectly well. A rate that is a good deal too fast to suit a particular bullet may cause damage to that bullet (core/jacket integrity issues), and I have seen that happen with very light .224 bullets, like 45-grain, fired through, say, a 1-7 twist. At the least, with that great a mismatch you might not get the velocity up where it could be.

.224 bullet extremes
Clearly, these don’t need the same barrel twist to attain stability: the bigger bullet needs double the twist rate that will fully stabilize the smaller one. There’s quite an extreme range of .224-caliber bullets, like this 35-grain varmint bullet and 90-grain match bullet. Now. Do not fire the little bullet in the big bullet’s barrel! It probably would not make it to the target… Swap barrels and bullets and the big one will likely hit sideways.

Bullet speed and barrel length have an influence on bullet stability, and a higher muzzle velocity through a longer tube will bring on more effect from the twist, but it’s a little too edgy if a particular bullet stabilizes only when running maximum velocity. My failed 90-grain .224 experiment is a good example of that: I could get them asleep in a 1-7 twist 25-inch barrel, which was chambered in .22 PPC, but could not get them stablized in a 20-inch 1-7 .223 Rem. The answer always is to get a twist that’s correct.

Effects on the load itself? Yes, a little at least. There is a tad amount more pressure from a faster-twist barrel using the same load, and the reason is initial bullet acceleration is slower.

The preceding was adapted from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available here at Midsouth. For more information on this book, and others, plus articles and information for download, visit



Here’s how to use (or not use) Standard Deviation calculations in ammo decisions, what they are, and aren’t… Keep reading…

Glen Zediker

A standard deviation plotted out is a bell curve. Chances are outstanding that a range session calculation will plot into what they call a “normal curve.” Like any normal bell curve, it can get divided into three segments and given values, and, technically, these are the “standard deviations.” It’s “a” standard deviation rather than “the” standard deviation.

SD bell curve plot

Assuming a normal curve, the values are that about 68 percent of forecasted results will lie within one standard deviation of the mean, about 95 percent lie within two, and over 99 percent lie within three standard deviations. If we have an SD calculated to be 12, that means that applying one standard deviation means that about 68 percent of all “next shots” will be +/- 12 feet per second. Since, though, the curve is in threes, in effect if not in fact, that means that a scant number of the shots pose a chance for +/- 24 and some teeny chance remains for shots to go to +/- 36. That, however, is extrapolating or predicting with data and that’s not really wise and doubtlessly uncalled for. Data collection is a record of numbers and I do know that there’s 100 percent chance that the highest and lowest velocities collected for an SD calculation did, in fact, happen. That’s what matters. No matter what the shot results calculated into for an SD, those were the two that represent the highest and lowest prints on the target.

It’s mathematically not possible for an SD to be higher than the greatest single raw deviant, but I do for a fact know that an SD can easily be far lower than the worst shot. Given how it’s calculated, along with how many samples contributed, it’s plain that the nearer the majority are to themselves the less impact a bad one or more has.

I said in a very open-ended way last article that a tolerable SD is 12. Anything more than that is not good; anything less than that probably won’t perform noticeably any, if at all, better than a 12. However! It is at this number, so I say, where the often-uttered tune of “…SD doesn’t matter…” and its refrain of “…seen good accuracy with high SDs…” starts and stops. Twelve. That’s it. Now we have an SD that “doesn’t matter.” The reason this is stuck out here is that everyone has heard this chorus but hopefully figured that it couldn’t be taken universally at literal value. Well it can’t.  So now you know! It’s 12. 12 should not be responsible for a points loss, even accounting for or including coincidence of any one shot hitting the edge limit of usual group size.

(Yes, 13 or 14 or 16 or even 20, which is often given as a “limit,” might well be a realistic ceiling but I drew a line to have one. Since there’s a line, now we can cross it and commence argument. I won’t use any load in competition that wouldn’t calculate to a single-digit SD. My 600-yard .223 Rem. load tested to an SD of 3.18 with a Range of 8 fps.)

So after all this has been said, I don’t give SD as much weight in my load decisions as some do. The reason for my focus on it here, as said in the first article, is because that’s the usual “standard” measure of consistency. I look at the speeds as they come up on the chronograph display and write them down. I weigh range and extreme spread more heavily, and I want to see really small variations over the number of test rounds I fire. It’s a matter of waning patience and waxing time. If I see a variance that could cost a point, that load is abandoned.

If you don’t have a chronograph or don’t want to burden a testing session with using one, watch for a correlation between the elevation dispersion and the wind dispersion of test groups. At 600 yards I always test from position (prone, “suited up”). No chronograph (muzzle-mounted chronographs now make this a non-issue). I’ll already have speed-checked the load I’m now down on the mat with. When I shoot my groups, I honestly don’t pay much attention at all to anything but measuring how level I got my perforations. Attempting shot-to-shot wind corrections when testing for ammunition accuracy throws another variable into it that might be most misleading. If I come up with a group that’s a foot wide but only three inches tall, I’m happy.

Aside from finding the perfect and magical load combination, ha, there are a few things that do seem to help tighten shot-to-shot velocity deviations. They’ve all be talked all the way through and back again in this space in other articles, but, considered ultimately that this is the overall effect they have, here they are again:

One. Primer seating: fully seated onto a flat pocket bottom.

Two. Consistent propellant charge: weigh the charges if metering isn’t dead-on perfect.

Three. Ignition efficiency: consider that inside flash hole deburring routine…

Four. Temperature insensitivity: choose propellants that exhibit stability under extremes.

Five. Balance: strive to find a propellant that fills the case, but “loosely” (no compressed charges); even more, avoid an overage of air space. These both allow too much variance in ignition pattern.

Propellant level.

I learn things all the time. A most knowledgeable and helpful reader pointed out a detail in SD calculation that is better adapted to calculations for ballistics, and it helps because of the usually relatively small size sample involved. We’re not going to chronograph 100s of rounds, usually 10-20. So, instead of dividing the average square of the deviations by the number of samples, but the average square of the values, less one (n-1). That helps any distortion of results toward a number that calculates too small. Keep in mind always that SD is an estimate, in one way of looking at it.

This article is adapted from Glen’s book, Handloading For Competition, available at Midsouth HERE. For more information on that and other books by Glen, visit

RELOADERS CORNER: SD — what it matters and why


Getting a handle on improving long-range accuracy has a lot of to do with understanding the importance of consistent bullet velocities. Here’s a start toward that…

Glen Zediker

There’s one more thing (seemingly, there’s always one more thing…) that’s important to accuracy at extended distance. I’ll say “extended distance” is anything over 300 yards. That is bullet velocity consistency.

I’ve said in these pages before that a good shooter will lose more points to elevation than to wind. This next explains that a might more.

First, and the first step, is getting and using a chronograph. It doesn’t have to be a zoot-capri model, and nowadays that’s a fortunate bonus because there are a number of inexpensive chronographs available that are entirely accurate.

PACT chronograph.
A chronograph is essential, well, at least for all this here. There are a lot of good ones. I’m partial to PACT.

Check Misdouth offerings HERE

magnetospeed chronograph
The newer barrel-mounted electro-magnetic chronographs make it really easy. I like the idea of being able to chronograph from shooting position, not just from a benchrest. This is a MagnetoSpeed.

“Standard deviation” (SD) is probably the most commonly used measure of bullet velocity consistency. SD reflects on the consistency of velocity readings taken over a number of shots. “Standard” reflects on a sort of an average of the rounds tested.

[Math folks don’t use phrases like “sort of” when describing numbers and can provide tickier definitions of SD and the means to calculate it. Here it is: it’s the square root of the mean of the squares of the deviations. Actually harder to say than it is to calculate.]

Steady Wins the Race
Standard deviation is not the only measure, and I don’t even think it’s the right one, let alone the most important, but it’s no doubt the most popular way to talk about ballistically consistent bullet performance. I don’t think standard deviation is near as important as is the “range,” which is the lowest and highest speeds recorded. Some who write and talk about it call that “extreme spread,” but if we want to get picky over terms (and ballisticians, card-carrying and self-styled, tend to get right touchy over such formalities) extreme spread is the difference between this shot and the next shot.

I watch the speed on every shot. I compare this one to the next one and to the last one, and, as said, find the highest and the lowest.

There is no saying that a load that exhibits low standard deviation is going to group small, just because of that. Any Benchrest competitor will tell of experiences whereby “screamer” groups came with high SDs and hideous groups with low SDs (“high” and “hideous” by their standards, still pretty small for the most of us). But, at 100 yards the bullet’s time of flight and speed loss are both so relatively small that variation in bullet velocities isn’t going to harm a group, and, yes, not even the tiny groups it takes to be competitive in that sport. On downrange, though, there is going to be a relatively greater effect on shot placement, right? Yes and no. Drift and drop are influenced. There is a relatively greater effect in ultimate displacement of elevation, more next. Based on drift allowance it probably does not.

To put an example on it, let’s say we’re shooting a Sierra® 190gr .308 MatchKing. Its 2600 fps muzzle velocity becomes 2450 at 100 yards and 1750 at 600 yards. (All these numbers are rounded examples, and examples only.)

If we’re working with a truly hideous inconsistency of 100 fps, say, that means one bullet goes out at 2550 and the next leaves at 2650 in a worst-case event. The first bullet tracks across about 28 inches (constant full-value 10-mph wind to keep it simple) and the next moves sideways 26 inches. Figuring drift on 2600 fps means it’s two inches off, one inch per shot.

Drop, which means elevation, is a (the) factor, and here’s where poor SDs bite. With this Sierra® 190, drop amounts over a 100 fps range are about three times as great as drift amounts. A vertically-centered bullet at 2600 fps hits about 5-6 inches higher or lower at each 50 fps muzzle velocity difference. That’s enough to blow up a score to elevation. And it gets way, way on worse at 1000. Keep always in mind that velocity-induced errors are compounding “normal” group dispersion. And, in reality and as discussed before, it’s unusual in a competitive shooting venue for a wind to be full-value, so the on-target lateral displacement is even relatively less — but the elevation displacement is consistent.

The next-to-the-bottom line, then, is that poor SDs don’t hurt in the wind as much as they do on the elevation. The bottom-line, then, is back to the start: don’t shoot a load with inconsistent speeds. It’s flat not (ever) necessary.

So what’s a tolerable SD? 12. That’s the SD that “doesn’t matter” to accuracy. More later…

SD bell curve
Standard deviation calculation forms a bell curve. The steeper and narrower the apex of the bell, the more level and narrower the fluctuations were. But there’s always a bell to a bell curve and the greatest deviations from desired standard are reflected in this portion of the plot. Depending on the number of shots that went into the SD calculation, these deviations may be more or less notable than the SD figure suggests. So? Watch each shot. That’s the way to know how a load performs with respect to velocity consistency. Each and every speed collected for each and every shot fired in a test. More next time…

MATH: For Them That Wants It
If you have no electronic gadgetry to help, calculate SD like so: add all the velocities recorded together and divide them by however many there were to get a mean. Subtract that mean number from each single velocity recorded to get a deviation from the mean. Square each of those (eliminates the negative numbers that ultimately would cancel out and return a “0”). Add the squares together and find the mean of the squares by dividing again by the number of numbers. Then find the square root of that and that’s the standard deviation figure, which is “a” standard deviation, by the way.

This article is adapted from Glen’s book, Handloading For Competition, available at Midsouth HERE. For more information on that and other books by Glen, visit



Reloaders Corner: Accuracy 2


Accuracy matters! Now here’s what matters to accuracy… This article discusses 5 essential steps that pay off big.

Glen Zediker

Last time I wrote a little “essay” on the importance of accuracy and a few ideas on why it matters and how to judge it. That’s all well and good, but the part I knowingly left out was to say more about “how” to get the most of it. Here’s a few points that, over a many-many years, have proven themselves to me to improve the quality of on-target perforations, and, to make sure I’m clear, that is manifested by smaller-diameter shot groups. There are a plenty of others who agree with these tips. There are plenty of others who might not agree with all of it, and even a few more who would love to add their own “can’t miss” components to this mix. But here are mine.


ONE: After-the-fact concentricity. By that I mean actually checking loaded rounds on a runout indicator. Concentricity is pretty much the goal for sizing, seating, and neck-related case-prep steps, like outside case neck turning. However! All those things are done to help support concentricity, but not a one of them is concentricity.

Concentricty is the centered relationship of all influential circles in a cartridge case, with the reason that a more concentric round will have its bullet looking down dead center into the rifle bore: ultimately, if the loaded round spins “flat-line” it will shoot better than those that don’t.

It starts with brass selection and then likely also segregation. Then it moves on to the quality of tool alignment.

I have checked enough factory-loaded rounds though a concentricity fixture, and those that show the best group the best; even if the overall group from random selections is so-so, “flatliners” shoot smaller.

Check out Midsouth products HERE

TWO: Inside flash hole deburring. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but this simple and easy step shows up on target next firing on thusly-prepped cases. It improves propellant ignition consistency and, depending on the tool used, also ignition efficiency.

Inside deburring tool
How and why an inside flash hole deburring tool works is pretty clear to see. Despite the fears I’ve heard, it will not hurt the integrity of the case.

There’s a burr inside most cases that resulted from manufacture (with only a few drill-cut exceptions, like Lapua, cartridge case manufacturers punch the flash hole). This burr is variable in size and scope, but it acts as a block to the spread of primer flash, and it’s redirecting or misdirecting the flash at the same time.

It only has to be done once. Ever.

Check out Midsouth products HERE

THREE: Primer pocket uniforming. This helps because it lets you set each primer the same, and also fully. The reason is that it squares the “edges” or corners of what otherwise is a slightly bowl-shaped cylinder. A perfectly seated primer is sitting square and flush on the bottom of the pocket, with its anvil legs compressed. This “loads” the compound for rapid and consistent ignition. If the primer isn’t seated fully then the firing pin finishes that job before detonation. That creates what equate to time variables — inefficiency.

Funny, but clean primer pockets don’t shoot any better than dirty pockets. What matters is flat pockets.

Check out Midsouth products HERE

FOUR: Consistent case sizing. There is a widespread fear, especially among some “accuracy” fanatics, about sizing ops. There’s also a lot misunderstood about full-length sizing versus neck-only sizing and so on. But. What matters is that, whichever tooling and how much sizing the cases are treated to, it needs to produce dead-same cases. Consistent case expansion dynamics is not often talked about, but it’s influential, especially on longer-range rounds. Just in general, going a little on the “light” side with sizing might seem like a good idea (less stress, less working the metal, etc.) but it can also lead to round-to-round inconsistencies. My belief is that it’s better to be more “positive” in sizing ops, and by that I mean to reduce a case neck 0.003 inches rather than 0.001 prior to seating a bullet. Get all the case shoulders the same height. Running extra-light case neck tension and leaving case shoulders where they emerged last firing may not reproduce round-to-round consistency, unless the rifle chamber was perfect and the cases were too. A little more sizing works the best for the most of us in the most rifles.

Forster seating die

FIVE: Invest in a good seating die. No doubt: the bullet seating operation is the “last thing” that happens and it’s also the one thing that can corrupt the care and treatment given to the quality of the loaded round prior. A sleeve-style seater, well machined, goes a whopping long ways toward preserving alignment, and, therefore, concentricity. Also make sure that the stem in yours comes to rest well down onto the bullet ogive, and, above all else, is not contacting the bullet tip! That will wreck a round.

seating stem
Remove the seating stem and drop a bullet into it. The farther down the ogive or nosecone the step recess grips the bullet, the better. If it’s only pressing down against the bullet tip, a crooked seat is assured, along with inconsistent seating depth.

Check out Midsouth products HERE

This article is adapted from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available at Midsouth HERE. For more information on that and other books by Glen, visit

RELOADERS CORNER: The Value of Accuracy


Can you take a focus on accuracy too far, or never far enough? Here are some thoughts on why better accuracy (really) matters…

Glen Zediker

dial indicator

Anyone who has ever read one of my books knows the extent of tickiness that can be involved in handloading. Competitive shooters also tend to get pretty wrapped up and sometimes entrenched hopelessly in technical rifle details. All these things we do are done in the hope of better accuracy: smaller shot groups.

Why bother with tickiness? Well, the answer (always) depends on the level of tickiness afoot and on the level of reward we get from it. No other answer makes any sense.

Accuracy always matters. If you do something different or new in the handloading process and see better shot groups, that no doubt was worth it. Ultimately, it was worth it. It might have been upgrading tools, experimenting with components, one or more case prep steps you hadn’t tried before. It’s still always a payback over the expense, time, and effort. But. It’s another level, attaining another level. It’s stepped up. I’ve compared all this to other endeavors where attaining that new level forever eclipses the old. But then there’s also the time and the effort. When I load ammunition, I consider its purpose. I do not turn case necks for ammo that’s going through my old SP1 on a Sunday afternoon of tin can hunting with my sons. For that, I’m interested in volume and function: the best way to load a lot of .223 Rem. with bulk-packed bullets and ball gunpowder, and with the fewest number of steps. We need a lot of ammo because we have eradicated entire species of discarded objects.

But, let’s for the rest of this assume that the sole purpose is the smallest group sizes we can get, day in and day out. That’s easier to talk about and make sense of, because, no doubt, there are factors that influence it, and I do know what they are.

I’ve always judged accuracy by group size. No shock. Most people do it thataway. I’m also way on more concerned with the worst group my combination shows me than I am the best group. Not everyone views that the same. When it gets down to it, though, I want to know what the worst shot I can anticipate might be because that information is very valuable in adjusting for the next shot. Now I’m talking about shooting for score in a tournament.

I picture a circle that outlines the group size I warrant for my rifle/ammo combination. For my own purpose of clarity, I call it “the accuracy cone.” This circle gets bigger the farther I’m shooting. Shots outside that circle need correction, shots inside that probably don’t. Yes, no, I don’t always launch a perfect shot. So honesty matters, objective evaluation of the shot break.

Group ilustration
You are always shooting a group! You might be aiming at one point but you’re shooting a group. The aiming point is really the center of the group. That’s a “zero,” by the way, or that’s how to zero, but this is straying beyond the levee here. This drawing is a representation of the importance of smaller group sizes. One of the biggest helps that great accuracy provides is that it’s clear when there’s need for sight correction, and when there isn’t. The smaller circle the ammo covers on a target face, the more defining sight corrections can be. If that’s not clear: A perfect shot break on a correct sight setting at 600 yards from a 1 MOA combination means that a shot 3 inches left, right, up, or down away from target center is still a “perfect” shot, even though the perforation point was imperfect. With a 1/4 MOA combination, we’re defining “perfect” with more certainty, because “imperfect” is anything outside 1 inch of target center. Follow? This isn’t just theory.

Mathematically-oriented people may tell you (and I understand this) that testing with 3-round groups provides accurate feedback of a round’s performance. It has to do with probabilities and such. However! I believe too much in luck, or as Buddy Dave calls it, “The Bullet Fairy.” Math-folk will further tell you that the more rounds fired the bigger the shot groupings will become. I’ve seen many instances where that wasn’t true, where the first two or three rounds defined the outer edge of what ultimately became a 10-shot group. I can’t argue with math, but I can argue with myself to the point that I want to see more rounds, and more groups, before I cook up a big batch of a component combination and call it good, or call it “match ammo.”

If you are a competitive shooter, better accuracy helps you get all the points you hold for. We can’t, any of us, ask for more than that. If you are a varmint hunter, it means a close miss may become a hit. The smaller the target the more it matters, or the smaller the goal area on a target is. Aim small, miss small. So let’s miss smaller… Examples can continue, and they might involve a trophy elk in New Mexico, or something even more important to stop in its tracks. It’s doesn’t really matter if the target is 10 feet away, or 10 yards, or 1000 yards, a more accurate firearm is a more effective tool. You can’t miss! Or you sure don’t want to.

accuracy cone
This equals that. Accuracy, on-target group size, is a “cone” that gets wider, expands across distance. A 1/2-inch 100 yard gun is not a 5-inch 1000 yard gun. It shoots bigger than that. However! A solid load-test group like this one David Tubb fired at 288 yards held up on down the pike at 1000. Tip: velocity consistency is a key to keeping a group together at extended distances.

The value of accuracy is undeniable, but the value of time and effort and expense does indeed have a limit. No, I don’t do “everything” possible to my ammo to make it perfect. I have found a few things that really help, things that are reasonably (by my standards) good paybacks. Another tip: Get a good barrel! Honestly: that gets the most from whatever you do, or don’t do, to help the cause.

This article is adapted from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available at Midsouth HERE. For more information on that and other books by Glen, visit

ATF Goes Through Major NFA Branch Reorganization


BATFE organizational changes might mean greater processing efficiency and shorter wait time. Here’s the scoop…


If you own or have been thinking about owning an NFA item like a short-barreled rifle (SBR) or silencer, no doubt you know that processing times have been going up. The reason is ATF Rule 41F, which became active in July of 2016. The increase of required paperwork under the new rules combined with the front-loading of many submissions by those attempting to make it before the deadline have led to a larger workload for the NFA Branch. It hasn’t helped the silencer industry either.


But on April 3, 2017, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE) made some major changes that amounted to a complete reorganization of the National Firearms Act (NFA) Branch.

In an attempt to better provide oversight, cut down wait times, and increase efficiency, two distinct new branches have been formed: The Industry Processing Branch (NFA IPB) and the Government Support Branch (NFA GSB).

The NFA IPB is responsible for industry forms processing and working towards refining current operations.

The duties of the NFA GSB include processing SOT applications, government transfers, exemptions, and expediting LEO/Gov requests.

Furthermore, a new NFA Division Staff Program Office has been formed to manage publications, FOIA requests, respond to data calls, and oversee the vetting of statistical data.


These new changes just might mean greatly reduced wait times — keep your fingers crossed!



As careful as we want to be, loading-bench mistakes are just about certain at some point. Here are 3 thoughts to help you avoid them, and also some ways to put a mistake behind you.

Glen Zediker

Standard Bullet Puller
Forster Standard Bullet Puller

This isn’t going to be a “troubleshooting” guide of epic proportions because following along with the suggested ops and processes, using the suggested tooling, there’s not a lot that can go worng. But sometimes even when everything is right, things can go awry. We all make mistakes. There may be a few confounding eventualities that will arise.

No case lube
You might forget or overlook putting lube on a case. Well. Lube each case, each time. Lube a case over each time it’s run through. Don’t think it hangs on. A stuck case remover is tool you don’t want to meet, and here’s to hoping you never see one. However, go ahead and buy one because it’s less embarrassing than borrowing one. Ha.

stuck case remover
Here’s to hoping you never see one of these… It’s a stuck case remover, and this is from Hornady. Folks, there’s a drill bit involved… Lube your cases!

“Ooopsie” on the propellant charge
Don’t do that. Check two or three times before calling a meter “set.” This was gone over thoroughly in another article. And read the load two or three times, and check your scale setting at least that many times as well. A mistake like that can be disastrous. Too little propellant can likewise create huge problems. Pay special attention to propellant supply level when using a meter, and even more attention when using a progressive press. Fortunately, loading most of the propellants wisely suitable for .223, .308, or most other popular rifle cartridges, it’s easy to notice a short charge. The propellant is, or should be, easily visible within the case neck. It’s a real issue with pistol loading: some of those propellants don’t reach halfway up the inside case walls.

bullet puller
There are different forms bullet-pullers take, and I prefer the slower but somewhat more “gentle” and likewise more secure collet-types. This is a Forster “Universal.” Bullet pullers grip the bullet in the jaws of a collet, which is tightened using a handle or nut, and then withdraw the case, dislodge the bullet. Simple. I do not like the “kinetic” pullers, which are essentially hammers that rely on intertia to dislodge a bullet after beating it a few times. They’re effective but daggone obnoxious in operation.

Triple-checking settings and notes
Same advice goes for indexing to any recorded setting. Powder meters, bullet seaters, anything. Just give it two sober checks before proceeding to shuck away. I’ve put the wrong setting on a bullet seater a few times… I learn all this the hard way, I freely admit, and here’s to hoping you can learn from me.

The wrong load
So what do you do if you realize there’s been a mistake made in a batch of ammunition? Of course, it depends on the mistake and what it might mean. If it’s not over-pressure, it’s probably best to just go ahead and shoot it up and reuse the cases. If it’s a bullet seated too deeply, same advice.

As long as safety is not a question, just shoot it. But there are times that’s not wisely possible.

Breaking down a loaded round requires removing the bullet. Of course, there are tools. Bullet pullers are tedious, as you might imagine. They also purport to allow for the reuse of bullets, but I sho don’t take that seriously. Removing a bullet, having already been seated, and then reseating it, there’s bound to be some compromise somewhere, or more, in the bullet integrity, accuracy at the least. The grip of the puller isn’t going to be benignly harmless either.

Before you pull a bullet, set it a little deeper. Makes this op on easier. Adjust the seating die down another five or ten thousandths. That breaks the “seal.”

Pay attention to what you are doing! For every moment you spend doing it. And write down what you did…

Check out choices at Midsouth HERE and HERE (bullet pullers and stuck case removers, and don’t forget to check HERE to avoid the last one)


sooty case neck
Soot means there wasn’t complete sealing there in firing. Don’t worry about the little ding you see here either. Just shoot it again.

Sooty cases. You might see sooty case necks and shoulders. That’s common, and that’s not really a problem. The reason is pressure, lack of it, that has then meant the case areas did not fully (fully) expand. Sometimes this is unavoidable. Just clean it off and use the case again. A little more: because it is necessary to create gaps between cartridge case and chamber wall, some leakage is just about a given. Excessive leakage, again, usually just means the load is a little on the lighter side. The combination of case and chamber also might mean it’s uavoidable. Thinner case neck walls (which means a little smaller net case neck outside diameter) in a more generous chamber might mean there won’t be idealized conformation to the chamber neck area. I see this often on case necks that have been full-circumference outside turned.

This article is adapted from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available at Midsouth HERE. For more information on that and other books by Glen, visit

AR15 Gas System Enhancements, Part 2


Reducing the influence of excessive AR15 gas system pressure is most directly done reducing the pressure itself. Here’s how!

Glen Zediker

This is the second of two articles on ways to tame down an “over-functioning” AR15 gas system. Aside from running more reliably, reducing the evil influence of an overly-rapidly unlocking system improves cartridge case condition, which means longer case life. The first article talked about ways to increase the time the bolt stays locked, or delay its unlocking, however you want to see it.

Going more directly to the “source,” there are also ways to reduce the actual amount of gas that gets to the bolt carrier key and that’s up now for this one.

Adjustable gas block
Here’s an adjustable gas manifold. It’s a way to restrict the flow of gases through the system. Don’t get too greedy! Make sure to err on the side of function. These are probably the single most effective means to tame over-function. Check this one out HERE.

An adjustable gas manifold or “gas block” is an effective means to restrict the amount of gas that gets into the system. This device attaches at the port location, replacing the existing manifold (or front sight base if it’s a standard-configuration build) and will have some manner of valving function whereby propellant gases allowed to pass through the gas port in the barrel, through the manifold, and into and through the gas tube are restricted. Some incorporate a valve that regulates the passage dimension. Others provide a vent, more or less, to expel excess gas. I prefer the “valve-type” over the “bleed-off-style” devices.

Installation is straightforward, and these are available from a wide array of sources, so it shouldn’t be hard to find one that will fit even a custom-profile barrel. Standard for this area is 0.750-inches diameter. What matters is that the inside diameter of the manifold matches the outside diameter of the barrel at the connecting position.

There are different approaches to using this device but it’s really pretty simple. Figure out the minimum gas flow necessary to function the action and then open the flow-control screw adjustment a half turn more to give a little safety margin. Don’t get greedy. I shut one down all the way (minimum flow) and then open it up until the rifle functions.

The only foible on an adjustable manifold is that it has to fit in with the architecture of the setup you have. A retro-fit requires removing any muzzle device that might be installed and, of course, removing and later reinstalling the gas tube (make sure you check that it isn’t binding).

I have used other products that provide alternate means to do the same thing, like a gas tube with a valved adjustment mechanism. Sometimes something like that is best for anyone wanting to run a more standard gas manifold system. They work just fine, and dandy.

adjustable gas tube
There are other means for softening the system, and this adjustable gas tube is an example. Others include the “pig-tail” gas tubes that spiral around the barrel to increase tube length/volume. They all work…

Other gas tube modifications that work have been those formed in a spiral that wraps around the barrel, and I’ve seen tubes with expansion chambers (area of larger volume) along the span of the tube. What’s happening with these isn’t reducing the amount of gas, it’s just giving it more distance or room to weaken its presence.

The best solution I’ve yet encountered is fairly new and is an adjustable bolt carrier key. This requires no modification or labor about the barrel, and also works with virtually any AR15. Remove the old carrier key and replace it with the adjustable key.

adjustable carrier key
Here’s fairly new: an adjustable bolt carrier key from Sun Devil. David Beatty hit a long ball with this device, the ADIGS. I like it because it can be added to virtually any AR15 out there, even one that needs to maintain outwardly stock appearance. Works great. See more HERE.

A good while back I talked about gas port pressure and propellant burning rates and cautioned against using a propellant on the slower-burning side of “suitable propellant chart” center. To reiterate, I don’t think any propellant slower than Hodgdon 4895 should be used, but I know full well I can safely extend that range one more step to say something like Varget or RE15 is the limit. Slower propellants create more gas port pressure because they peak farther down the barrel, nearer the gas port location. Related: I recommend to anyone who’s going to do a longer custom barrel to request that the builder relocate the gas port another inch forward. There’s more gas contained in a longer barrel for a longer time: more pressure hits the carrier key as a result.

long gas tube
It’s common for an NRA High Power Rifle to get its gas port relocated forward another inch, or even two. The reason is because the 24-inch+ barrels we run “trap” more gas inside, which increases the pressure available at the gas port. The port farther forward gives more time and room (all the gas goes out when the bullet exits the muzzle).

No doubt, if you load up an AR15 with a heavy carrier and related parts then combine that with a gas restriction device, the range of propellants can move one or more steps slower-burning. In any of my full-blown across-the-course race guns, I can construct and successfully deploy loads that would wreck a rack-grade AR15. Don’t mess with that. Enjoy smoother and “softer” function and the assurance that you can run closer to a maximum load without fear of the odd and inevitable “pressure spike” causing problems. That’s why to do it.

The preceding was adapted from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available here at Midsouth, click HERE to order. For more information on this book, and others, plus articles and information for download, visit

Reloaders Corner: AR15 Gas System Enhancements, Part 1


AR15s can have problems “over-functioning.” There are two essential ways to make your AR15 behave better! Here’s the first…

Glen Zediker

Right. I know this column is about handloading and reloading, so why am I spending space talking about gas system function? Well, it’s ammunition-related, or, at the least it is influenced by ammunition, and therefore also influences ammunition choices.

First, an AR15 gas system “over-functions” when it fills up too quickly and with too much burned propellant gas. The AR15 uses a “direct impingement” gas system, sometimes called an impulse system, and that means there’s a port hole in the barrel that lets gas out and through a gas tube, and this gas goes directly into the bolt carrier key and sends the whole works backwards. There’s no piston (although piston systems exist that can be fitted to these firearms) or other regulating device beyond gas port hole location and size.

AR15 bolt carriers
An M-16-profile carrier (back photo) weighs about 1 ounce more. Big big difference in slowing down initial movement. Get the right firing pin! If it’s a full-diameter carrier it will have a shrouded firing pin recess and takes a “large-collar” pin for correct operation.

The effect or upshot of over-function is overly quick bolt unlocking. The symptoms include extraction problems, damaged case rims (related), overly-blown cartridge case shoulders, excessive case head expansion, and, generally, accelerated wear on the action hisseff. As with many things, the severity of the excess function likewise increases excess in its manifestations.

What happens is that the case is swelled up under pressure inside the chamber, as it should be, but then it’s still swelled up when the bolt opens and the extractor takes a yank on the case rim to get it out of the chamber.

With respect to handloading ammunition, keeping the bolt in battery a tick longer makes a world of difference in spent case condition. The case has a tick more time to return to closer to normal dimensions and shrink away from the chamber walls. And time is, again, what this is really about. The case will be less stressed and dimensionally nearer original specs, and that means there’s “less” sizing done for next use, in effect. Case life improves and also does longer-term quality for reuse.

So. If we can delay bolt unlocking we’re seriously on to something. The simplest way to slow something down is make it heavier. Heavier things don’t accelerate as fast, they have a greater “moment of inertia,” less resistant to initial movement. Increasing bolt carrier mass is very effective. Keep in mind that what unlocks the bolt isn’t bolt movement, it’s bolt carrier movement. The bolt movement is a natural oucome to rearward travel of the carrier. Minor point but, well, there it is. I run “M-16 style” bolt carriers in all my AR15s. That’s a carrier with a full round section at the end rather than the notched out profile of the standard semi-auto carrier. And, no, an M-16 carrier won’t make a gun full-auto, and, as a matter of fact, carriers with the full-round profile are routinely encountered as “match” bolt carriers. Heavier is better!

Anything contacting the bolt carrier can increase in weight also and be effective. That effectively increases the load against the bolt carrier, and that requires more time to overcome and create movement. The buffer, for instance. I always run heavy buffers in my short guns, and also my hot-rod rifles for Across The Course use. The carbine-length stocks use a shorter spring and also a shorter buffer, and that means a lighter buffer.

AR15 buffers
Here’s an array of buffer components designed to slow the initial back-travel in the carrier. Anything helps, and more than one add-in makes an amazing difference in AR15 manners.

More about the spring’s role in all this next time, along with other more major modifications that will downright tame an AR15. And I’ll also run down a step-by-step on ensuring reliable function in a slowed-down AR15.

The preceding was adapted from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available here at Midsouth. For more information on this book, and others, plus articles and information for download, visit