Category Archives: Reloading Corner

Load Testing Insight: 5 “Rules” for Load Work-Up

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Don’t waste time and money collecting half-boxes of “loser loads.” Here’s how to start and finish load work-up in one day.


Glen Zediker


Last time I talked a little about keeping your ammo pressure-safe, under a range of conditions. Quite a bit of that dealt with observations made during load work-up. So this time I’d like to talk more about the work-up process I use.

The reason for the term “work-up a load” is pretty clear: we’re almost always looking to get the highest velocity we can, safely. High velocity, or, more clear, higher velocity, is usually all good. Shorter time of bullet flight to the target means less drop and drift, and a harder impact.

So working up means increasing propellant charge incrementally until we’re happy. Happy with the velocity or happy that the cases are still able to hold water. Ha. As said last time, it’s vitally and critically important to have a stopping place, a goal to be reached, prior to testing.

I also mentioned an “incremental” load work-up method that I have followed for many years, and it’s served me very well. I do all my testing and work-ups at the range. I load right then and there. I take boxes of sized and primed cases, and my Harrell’s powder meter, and a small press that I c-clamp to a bench. The press, of course contains my seating die. And the most important pieces of gear are a notebook and a chronograph.

load at the range
You don’t have to invest a fortune to take your handloading show on the road. Some c-clamps and one of these little Lee Reloader presses is all you need! And a good powder meter. One with a clamp is handiest, or just mount it to a piece of wood and clamp that down (even a pickup tailgate works just fine).

Before the trip, I have taken the preparation time, done the homework, to know exactly how much “one click” is worth on my meter. It varies with the propellant, but by weighing several examples of each click-stop variation (done over at least 4 stops) I can accurately increase the charge for each test a known amount.

reloading at the range
I map out the incremental values of each click on my Harrell’s meter adjustment drum with the propellant I’ll be testing, and it’s really easy to step up each trial with confidence. I carry the whole kit in a large tackle-type box.

I work up 0.20 grains at a time. Sometimes it’s more if I’m reading a low velocity initially. Since I have a meter with a “Culver” insert, which I trust completely, I actually reference the number of clicks in my notes rather than the weights. I check after the weights when I get back home, and I do that by counting to the setting and weighing the charge. It’s easy enough also to throw a charge into a case and seal it over with masking tape.

I started loading at the range because I got tired of bringing home partial batches of loser loads. And, you guessed it, the partial boxes usually contained recipes that were too hot. The only way to salvage those is to pull the bullets. Tedious. Or they were too low, of course, and fit only for busting up dirt clods. Plus, I’m able to test different charges in the same conditions. It’s a small investment that’s a huge time-saver.

During my work-up, I fire 3 rounds per increment. As it gets closer to done, I increase that to 5. Final testing is done with 1 20-round group. Does 3-round volleys seem inadequate? It’s not if there’s confidence that the rounds are being well-directed and speed is being monitored. If I’m seeing more than 10-12 fps velocity spreads over 3 rounds, I’m not going to continue with that propellant.

Here are a few things I’ve found over the years to better ensure reliable results. Learned, of course, the hard way.

  1. Limit testing to no more than one variable. I test one propellant at a time, per trip. If you want to test more than one on one day, bring the bore cleaning kit and use it between propellant changes. Results are corrupt if you’re “mixing” residues. Same goes for bullets. Otherwise, though, don’t clean the barrel during the test. Don’t know about you, but I fire my most important rounds after 60+ rounds have gone through it, so I want a realistic evaluation of accuracy (and zero).
  1. Replace the cases back into the container in the order they were fired. This allows for accurate post-testing measurements. Use masking tape and staggered rows to identify the steps. I use 100-round ammo boxes because they have enough room to delineate the progress.

    ammo pressure
    Keep track of the cases in the order they were fired. This helps later on back in the shop when the effects can be measured. This little outing here, though, didn’t require a gage to cipher: a tad amount hot on that last little go around (last case bottom row on the right). Thing is, I didn’t load a whole boxful of those chamber bombs to take with me, and that’s the beauty of loading right at the range.
  1. Use the same target for the entire session. (Put pasters over the previous holes if you want, but don’t change paper.) This helps determine vertical consistency as you work up (when you’ve found a propellant that shows consistency over a 3-4 increment range, that’s better than good).
  1. Exploit potentials. If you take the lead to assemble a “portable” loading kit, the possibilities for other tests are wide open. Try some seating depth experiments, for instance. Such requires the use of a “micrometer” style die that has indexable and incremental settings.
  1. Go up 0.20 grains but come off 0.50 grains! Said last time but important enough to say again here. If a load EVER shows a pressure sign, even just one round, come off 0.50 grains, not 0.10 or 0.20. Believe me on this one…

Last: Keep the propellant out of the sun! I transport it in a cooler.

shooting chrony
Chronograph each round you fire. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune to get an accurate chronograph. This one is inexpensive and, my tests shooting over it and my very expensive “other” brand chronograph (literally one cradled in the other) showed zero difference in accuracy. The more expensive chronographs mostly offer more functions. The muzzle-mounted chronos are fine and dandy too.

The preceding was a specially adapted excerpt from the new book, Top-Grade Ammo by Glen Zediker. Check it out at ZedikerPublishing.com or BuyZedikerBooks.com

5 Steps to “Pressure-Proofing” Handloads

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Here’s a few ideas on how to proceed in load testing to find the safe maximum velocity, and keep it safe…

We’ve chosen the sometimes twisting path to becoming handloaders because we want to improve on-target results. The difference between a handloader and a reloader? My wise-crack answer, which is honest, is that handloaders start off with new brass… We’re not about to shoot factory ammo.

Part of the process of developing the load we’re seeking is learning how to safely set a cap on its pressure. Most of us don’t have pressure-testing equipment, so we rely on measurements and observation to know when we’re at the limit. The goal often, all other things being the same, is to find the highest velocity we can get. Less drift and drop, shorter time of flight, all good. However! Knowing that the maximum tested velocity is also going to be safe over the long haul is a much narrower line to walk.

There’s not room here to cover every pressure check, all the symptoms that can point out over-pressure ammo, but I’ll share my two leading indicators: primer pockets and velocities.

  1. Always start load development with new brass! There are a few reasons, but the leading one related to this material is that the primer pockets will be at their smallest. So. Fire the cases, size the cases, and seat new primers. It takes a little experience, which means a few times through this process, but my leading indicator of pressure is how easily the primers seat. They’ll go in easier than on the first use, but if there is much less to very little resistance felt the second time around, that load is over-pressure. Period. The case head has expanded (I put a max of 0.0005 on expansion, when it’s measured with a micrometer). The more you use the same cases and repeat this process, the sooner you’ll get a handle on the feel to know when the primer pocket has overly expanded.
seating primer to check pressure
My primary gauge for pressure is primer seating — how easily a new primer seats into a once-fired case. This is an indication of case head expansion. It won’t be as tight as new, but it should still be snug. A low-leverage tool, like this Forster Co-Ax, increases the feel and feedback of this operation.
  1. Jump back, don’t step back. If you encounter a pressure symptom, come off a “whole” half-grain. Not a tenth or two. And if you see it again, come off another half-grain. Folks, if anyone thinks the difference between over-pressure and safe-pressure is 0.10-grain, that same little bit exists in the difference in 20-degrees ambient temperature with many propellants. Don’t cut it that close. Keep the long-haul in mind.
  1. Select a temperature-insensitive propellant (related to the above). There will be one out there you’ll like. I use a single-base extruded (stick) propellant when loading for the season. The propellants I choose are coated to help reduce temperature-induced changes. That season is going to span a 50+-degree range, and I don’t want August (or October) to force me back to the loading room… Temperature sensitivity works “both” ways, by the way… Hot or cold can induce pressure increases.
  1. Read the speed on each and every round tested. Beforehand, I have to assume you’ve gotten an idea in mind of what you’re looking to get for a muzzle velocity. If not, do that… A journey of this nature has to have a destination. If not you won’t know when you get there. If you are reading velocities more than 40-50 feet per second over a published maximum, that’s a flag. That 40-50 fps is usually about a half-grain of most propellants in most small- to medium-capacity cases. Certainly, there are all manner of reasons some combinations can vary, but, despite what your mother might have told you, you are really not THAT special…
  1. Don’t assume anything. If you have one round out of many that “suddenly” exhibits pressure symptoms, don’t guess that it’s just a fluke. It’s not a fluke. You finally saw it. Overwhelming chances are that the load is over-pressure and has been over pressure, and the question is how much for how long? Back it off. (The way you know it might have been a fluke, and that happens, is again based on how close to a velocity ceiling it is: if it’s a real mid-range velocity load, it might have been a fluke.)
primer indicators for over-pressure ammo
Some over-pressure indications are pretty clear. Left to right: new, nice and safe (notice there’s still a radius on the primer edge), cratered and flat, yikes! It’s another article, but not all piercings are caused solely by high-pressure ammo; an overly large firing pin hole size in an AR15 bolt contributes.

One last about primer appearances. Usually the first thing a handloader will do after firing a round is look at the primer. I do. No doubt, if the primer is flattened, cratered, pitted, or pierced that’s a honking red flag, and the immediate response is, you guessed it, come off a “whole” half-grain. However. Small rifle primers (especially some primers in some cartridges) do not exhibit the common over-pressure appearances. They can look just fine and shiny until they blow slap out. If you ever see anything that looks like a pressure symptom, back it off; however, don’t assume a load can’t be running hot if the primers don’t show it.

over pressure ammo, primer appearance
Here’s what I mean about primer surface indications not always revealing high pressure. The middle one is an incredibly over-pressure load fired through one of my AR15 race-guns with an extra-heavy bolt carrier. Primer looks just fine. Right hand case is what happened without the extra weight. Neither case would hold a primer after this one firing.

Back to the start: primer seating and velocity are the leading indicators.


The preceding contains specially-adapted excerpts from the new book “Top-Grade Ammo” by Glen Zediker and Zediker Publishing. See it by visiting ZedikerPublishing.com.

Throat Erosion, Part II

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The following is a specially-adapted excerpt from the forthcoming book “Top Grade Ammo” by Zediker Publishing. BuyZedikerBooks.com for more.

by Glen Zediker

We talked about rifle barrel throat erosion last time, in descriptive terms. Short course: It’s the area just ahead of the case neck area in a rifle chamber that bears the majority of the “flame cutting” effect of burning propellant gases. The wear in this area determines the accurate life of a barrel. The greatest detractor from accuracy is the roughness that results from the deteriorating steel surface. Of course, the throat is advancing, getting longer, at the same time. After time, the “jump” or gap the bullet has to leap before engaging the lands plays its part in poor on-target performance.

I’ve always followed a “scheduled” replacement plan on barrels, determined, of course, after much experimentation and many measurements. That’s for competition rifles. For others, I have a more-or-less “shoot it until it doesn’t shoot well” approach.

If you chronograph frequently enough, and are using the same load, you’ll see velocities drop as more rounds go through the barrel. This is because of the lengthening throat: more room for expanding gases, lower pressure, lower velocity. I know a few who gauge barrel replacements based around chronograph readings, and the resultant propellant charge adjustment necessary to maintain “new barrel” bullet speed. The general consensus, for a round with approximately .308 Win. case capacity, is 2.0gr. So when it takes another 2 grains of propellant to restore original velocity, that one’s done.

Here are a few more ideas on barrel life, and also a few thoughts on how to keep a barrel shooting better longer.

Last time I made a statement that I should have qualified more, but space is always such a concern in these articles. It was respecting the idea of pulling a barrel, cutting some off its chamber-end, and then rechambering it. This overwrites the eroded area, well most of it. That can only be done for a bolt-action rifle. I said that worked well for chromemoly barrels but not for stainless steel barrels, and the difference is in the “machine-ability” of the steels. It is possible to set back a stainless barrel, but it’s tough to have a

“chatterless” cut result. A little more usually needs to be removed to get good results with stainless, and this, of course, is making the barrel overall that much shorter. Certainly: you have to plan on a set-back at original barrel installation, and that means include enough extra length to compromise. Usually it takes a minimum of 1 inch to get a worthwhile result with chromemoly.

So what can reduce the effects or severity of erosion, which is only to say prolong the life of the barrel? Reasonable does of propellant behind lighter-weight bullets, that’s one. Another is that flat-base bullets do result in less cutting than boat-tails. Flat-base bullets “obturate” more quickly. Obturate means to “block,” but here it means to close a hole, which is a barrel bore, which means to seal it. The angled tail on a conventional boat-tails creates a sort of “nozzle” effect, directing gases to the steel surface. Can’t much be done about that, though, because when we need boat-tails we need them. However! A relatively obscure but well-proven boat-tail design does increase barrel life, and also tends to shoot better though a worn throat. A “rebated” boat-tail has a 90-degree step down from the bullet shank (body) to the tail. It steps down before the boat-tail taper is formed. These obturate fully and quickly. It is common for competitive .308 shooters to switch from the popular Sierra 190gr MatchKing to a Lapua 185 rebated boat-tail when accuracy starts to fall off due to throat wear. Sure enough, the Lapua brings it back for a couple hundred more rounds.

Some propellants burn lower temperatures than others. Some double-based propellants claim this, and, true, if you can be happy with the performance of one, it can extend barrel life a few hundred extra rounds. WW 748 is one of those propellants and my experience with it is that the claims are true. It’s not night-and-day, but there’s a difference. Research to find others.

Coated bullets don’t have any influence on throat erosion, but they tend to perform better though a rough throat. Boron-nitride is the only bullet coating I can recommend. I use it. Do an extra-good job cleaning the throat area in a wearing barrel. Copper and other residues tend to collect more as the steel gets rougher and rougher.

 

 

 

Factors in Barrel Life: Throat Erosion Part I

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The preceding was a specially adapted excerpt from the book The Competitive AR15: the ultimate technical guide, by Glen Zediker and Zediker Publishing. Available at Midsouth Shooters or BuyZedikerBooks.com

By Glen Zediker

Last time the topic was finding the bullet seating depth that touches the lands or rifling. In discussing the tool featured, the Hornady LNL O.A.L. gage, I also mentioned how this appliance can also be used to document barrel throat erosion. A little more about this…

As rounds go through the barrel, one after another, the chamber throat is advancing, moving toward the muzzle. The “wear” in a barrel is all right in the throat. The influence is “flame cutting” by the high-temperature gases that result from burning propellant. The steel is burning up. At some point, it quits shooting well. The reason for a fall-off of accuracy is a combination of excessive free-bore (space between end of the chamber neck area and the first point of contact a bullet will have in the barrel) and also roughness, plain and simple. Bullets won’t enter the rifling as smoothly and the rough surface rips at the bullet jacket. Any wear along the remaining length of the barrel is insignificant, and not influential; it’s mostly from simple friction.

So how long does a barrel last? About 5 seconds. Let me explain.

Of course, that’s spread over a scant few milliseconds at a time over a number of rounds. There are two main influences in the progress of erosion: bullet weight and amount of propellant. The more of each, the faster the deterioration, but bullet weight factors mostly. As was introduced in the material way on back about gas port pressure, if we plot out pressure levels against bullet movement through the bore, we get a “pressure-time curve.” Pressure levels are associated with respective levels of flame cutting. A steep P-T curve (slow bullet acceleration) means more concentrated cutting over a shorter distance. It’s clear, then, that lighter bullets will do less damage than heavier bullets, even though the lighter bullets mean burning more propellant. In a .223 Rem., for example, a steady diet of 77-grain bullets will shorten barrel life compared to using mostly 55-grain bullets. Fortunately, .223 is one of the kindest to barrel steel of popular rounds. I expect about 5000 good rounds from a quality barrel (about the same as .308 Winchester). Some folks offer a much higher figure than that, but, again, “shoots well” is subjective. Shoot it until it doesn’t shoot well. The cartridge factors mightily: .243 Win.? Maybe 1200 rounds with 107-grain bullets.

Barrel steel material most definitely has an influence on life. Short answer: get stainless steel. Comparing true “match-grade” barrels, stainless will not shoot one bit better than chromemoly, but will shoot its best for longer, about 10-15 percent more accurate rounds. The reason is in how the steel “wears” as throat erosion progresses. Chromemoly tends to get rough (like sandpaper) whereas stainless steel tends to form cracks with still-smooth areas between them (like a dry lake bed). The stainless erosion is less disruptive to the bullet jacket.

However, that’s not a blanket recommendation of stainless. When a stainless barrel quits shooting, it quits right then and there. Accuracy fall-off is abrupt. Like in the middle of a string… Really. Chromemoly group sizes cone outward more slowly. Chromemoly tends to continue to shoot “better” after it’s lost its gilt-edge. Some will shoot a very long time at only a minimum fall-off from its best performance. I have to recommend chromemoly for a semi-auto, unless, that is, the semi-auto is strictly a competition rifle. Then, just take your medicine.

A bolt-gun can have its chromemoly barrel pulled and “set back” to prolong its life. Simple: cut a half-inch or so off the chamber-end of the barrel, rechamber it, back in business. Can’t do that with stainless. Of course, semi-automatics can’t get this treatment because of gas system orientation.

Chrome-lined barrels do, yes, tend to last longer (slower erosion), but they also tend not to shoot as well, ever. Steel hardness also factors, but most custom match barrels are made from pretty much the same stuff.

Back, finally, to using the gage: Take a measurement every now and again. Experience will tell you when. My standard is +0.150 inches, compared to the reading I got on the barrel when new. That’s a max. Sometimes they quit before then, sometimes not, but no matter how it’s shooting, I rebarrel at +0.150. I use stainless and I don’t want the next target to be when it quits. I’m a little conservative, by the way… Some very good shooters comfortably extend that to 0.250.

Keep a worn barrel clean! Scrub the throat area (carefully of course). The cracks and roughness attract and retain fouling. There are other “tricks” to help preserve accuracy for a longer time, and I’ll talk about those next time.

 

Use the Hornady LNL O.A.L. gage to record and then track barrel throat wear. This isn’t technically a “throat erosion gage,” which do exist, but the author has found it an easy and reliable way to keep up with an advancing throat. As the seating depth gets longer, it’s indicating how far the throat is advancing.
Use the Hornady LNL O.A.L. gage to record and then track barrel throat wear. This isn’t technically a “throat erosion gage,” which do exist, but the author has found it an easy and reliable way to keep up with an advancing throat. As the seating depth gets longer, it’s indicating how far the throat is advancing.

 

Bullet weight, mostly, determines barrel throat life. Why? The heavier the bullet, the slower it accelerates, and the more time the flame from burning propellant has to torch into the metal. Even though a lighter bullet is burning more propellant, it’s the intensity of the cutting that does the most damage.
Bullet weight, mostly, determines barrel throat life. Why? The heavier the bullet, the slower it accelerates, and the more time the flame from burning propellant has to torch into the metal. Even though a lighter bullet is burning more propellant, it’s the intensity of the cutting that does the most damage.

 

Stainless steel barrels keep their “gilt-edge” accuracy for about 15% more rounds, but hit the wall head-on and in a big way when they reach their limit. Chromemoly steel tends to open up groups sooner, but also maintains “decent” accuracy for a longer time, in the author’s experience — the groups open more slowly. Most are best served with chromemoly in a semi-auto.
Stainless steel barrels keep their “gilt-edge” accuracy for about 15% more rounds, but hit the wall head-on and in a big way when they reach their limit. Chromemoly steel tends to open up groups sooner, but also maintains “decent” accuracy for a longer time, in the author’s experience — the groups open more slowly. Most are best served with chromemoly in a semi-auto.

 

 

 

Dead-Length Bullet Seating

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The following is a specially adapted excerpt from the forthcoming book Top-Grade Ammo by Glen Zediker and Zediker Publishing. Now, it’s just around the corner… BuyZedikerBooks.com for details.

by Glen Zediker

Last time I showed a couple of valuable tools: the Hornady LNL O.A.L. Gauge and the LNL Comparator. The first showed the bullet seating depth that touches the lands, and the other gave a more accurate way to measure. Now for a few ideas on how to use this newfound information.

“Dead-length” sounds pretty ominous, and it is, or can be. Again: that is the cartridge overall length that has a bullet touching the lands when the round is chambered.

Hornady LNL O.A.L. Gauge, and why to use it: these three .224 Sierra 80-grain MatchKings are seated to touch the lands in three different barrel chambers. You need to know the overall length if you want to experiment with this tactic.
Hornady LNL O.A.L. Gauge, and why to use it: these three .224 Sierra 80-grain MatchKings are seated to touch the lands in three different barrel chambers. You need to know the overall length if you want to experiment with this tactic.

dead_length_3_depthsThis tactic is well (very well) proven to promote accuracy. Usually. The overall idea is to introduce a bullet dead straight into the bore. Entry will be smoother. This is also an asset to concentricity, or centeredness. If not touching the lands, scooting a bullet out to be very near the lands helps, usually, and it’s a near-requirement for some bullets. The reason is pretty clear: the shorter distance the bullet has to “jump” before it engages the lands and enters the bore, the less can go wrong. Off-centeredness may then be less a factor over a shorter distance. The bullet is already in-line with the bore, and that overcomes any small alignment imperfections that might exist elsewhere in the round. Gravity also factors in, even in that short gap.

Dead-length seating is not the same as “soft-seating.” You’ll encounter that term. Soft-seating is sizing the case neck inside diameter to just barely less than the bullet diameter, and the idea is to have the bullet “out” and then let contact with the lands finish the seating the bullet into the case neck as the bolt closes. That requires very light case neck “tension” (less than 0.001 difference). Bolt-actions only! This eliminates the effects of any bullet dimensional issues. I’m not recommending this, but there it is. Pressure cautions are increased with this tactic! It’s common for soft-seating to engage into the lands by 0.010-0.020. So now you know…

My experience has been that once it gets past 0.010, more jump doesn’t really make any difference. I see the biggest improvements (if I see them) when it’s reduced to 0.005 or less. That sort of reduction is not often possible when loading to cartridge overall lengths that fit into a box magazine. However, there are some 52-grain-range .224 bullets that have to be seated more deeply than the generally-accepted 2.260-inch mag-length maximum for an AR-15. Hornady’s 52-grain HPBT for one. This bullet will be 0.020 into the lands, or more, at 2.260 inches. There are other similar bullets that will do the same: contact the lands at a cartridge overall length less than the magazine allows.
My experience has been that once it gets past 0.010, more jump doesn’t really make any difference. I see the biggest improvements (if I see them) when it’s reduced to 0.005 or less. That sort of reduction is not often possible when loading to cartridge overall lengths that fit into a box magazine. However, there are some 52-grain-range .224 bullets that have to be seated more deeply than the generally-accepted 2.260-inch mag-length maximum for an AR-15. Hornady’s 52-grain HPBT for one. This bullet will be 0.020 into the lands, or more, at 2.260 inches. There are other similar bullets that will do the same: contact the lands at a cartridge overall length less than the magazine allows.

Generally, the longer and spikier a bullet is (secant-style ogive, high-caliber-radius), the more likely it will be to perform best starting nearer the lands. For good example, although it’s contrary to some others’ experience, I have yet to get good accuracy from any of the true “VLD” (Very Low Drag) bullets until they get on the lands. Same goes with others similar, like the Hornady A-Max; those are more tolerant of jump, but don’t like much of it.

Three things:

One — first, foremost, always — this tactic will raise pressure! There’s nothing to worry about here until the bullet actually gets on the lands. Going from “near” to “on” is a huge difference! The reason is the loss of space for burning gases to occupy, release been delayed because the bullet is working as a plug from the get-go. Reduce any load one full grain! Work it up from there. It might end up being more like a half-grain, but it will at the very least be that much difference. That’s significant.

Two is that approaching dead-length isn’t usually possible on any but single-loaded rounds (not fed from a magazine). This also goes for bolt-actions (and, honestly, I really only recommend this tactic for bolt-guns). Just depends on the space available for the rounds at rest: magazine length. For my ARs I do it only with “long” bullets used for the “slow-fire” portions of a rifle tournament (rounds must be fed singly). (With one exception, shown nearby…)

Three is that it’s going to change. As the rifle throat erodes it advances, distance to the lands gets longer, so what was “touching” some-hundred rounds ago is no longer “touching” now. Certainly, that varies with the cartridge, and will lengthen faster with a .243 Win. than it will with a .308 Win. Get the OAL tool, keep up with it, and it’s easy. However! The load is also changing, a little bit, each time the bullet moves forward, and that can influence velocity and zero.

It’s a lot to keep up with.

Make sure there is adequate bullet retention (diameter difference between bullet diameter and case neck inside diameter, go a good 0.003 inches). Can’t have the bullets jumping forward (inertia-induced). If, for example, you’re loading to give 0.002 hold-off, that little gap can get taken up easily and then, if the bullet gets on the lands, there’s a pressure spike. Goodbye primer!

dead_length_barts

Here’s a couple of purpose-built loads for 100- and 200-yard “reduced” High Power Rifle courses. It’s a .222 Rem. with a chamber built around one bullet: Bart’s 52-grain flat-base. The whole idea was to create an “ideal” round structure where jump could be eliminated entirely. The author had it throated at 0.150 shorter than cartridge overall length that touched the lands at the magazine length limit; 0.150 throat erosion is where the author rebarrels. The author chose .222 Rem. because it’s well more accurate than .223 Rem. There’s also a long case neck, and no donut, ever, to contend with. It’s the most purely accurate AR-15 the author has owned. It’s a solid 1/8-minute-of-angle gun, but its little world of dominance border is 250 yards.
Here’s a couple of purpose-built loads for 100- and 200-yard “reduced” High Power Rifle courses. It’s a .222 Rem. with a chamber built around one bullet: Bart’s 52-grain flat-base. The whole idea was to create an “ideal” round structure where jump could be eliminated entirely. The author had it throated at 0.150 shorter than cartridge overall length that touched the lands at the magazine length limit; 0.150 throat erosion is where the author rebarrels. The author chose .222 Rem. because it’s well more accurate than .223 Rem. There’s also a long case neck, and no donut, ever, to contend with. It’s the most purely accurate AR-15 the author has owned. It’s a solid 1/8-minute-of-angle gun, but its little world of dominance border is 250 yards.

Bullet Seating Depth Determination

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The following is a specially-adapted excerpt from the book Top Grade Ammo, by Glen Zediker. Visit ZedikerPublishing.com or BuyZedikerBooks.com for more.

by Glen Zediker

Since I’m focusing on bullets for the next few times, I’ll say some more about the relationships of bullets and barrels.

Barrels have two diameters: groove and land. The groove diameter is the caliber size (within, usually, 0.0005 inches); the land diameter is smaller than that, usually about 0.0050 smaller, or a little more. That means that the first point of contact the bullet makes inside the barrel will be the lands. Learning where this point is can be a valuable thing.

Here’s a Hornady LNL OAL Gauge, along with the Hornady LNL Bullet Comparator. Midsouth has them. This appliance combination works along with a caliper and lets you determine the seating depth that touches the lands, and then gives a better way to measure and record it. Every serious handloader needs this setup! Get the angled version (as shown) because it’s more accurate than the straight one and easier to use.
Here’s a Hornady LNL OAL Gauge, along with the Hornady LNL Bullet Comparator. Midsouth has them. This appliance combination works along with a caliper and lets you determine the seating depth that touches the lands, and then gives a better way to measure and record it. Every serious handloader needs this setup! Get the angled version (as shown) because it’s more accurate than the straight one and easier to use.

We talked here about the essential forms a bullet ogive or nosecone can take, that some are more or less rounded or blunt, and also the gradual curve of a tangent-style ogive versus the more “spikey” secant style.

Usually (almost always) the nearer to the lands a bullet is the better the accuracy. “Jump” is the distance a bullet has to travel prior to engaging the lands. Different profiles will net different amounts of jump, and that led to my recommendation of a tangent-style bullet with no more than an 8-caliber ogive to give better results when it’s loaded to fit into a box magazine. Such a profile more easily enters the rifling and will have a longer bearing area (both mean less disturbance and a smoother trip through the bore).

There’s a valuable tool that will let you determine the relationship between your barrel and your bullet, which varies from barrel to barrel and bullet to bullet. Originally conceived by Tom Peterson of Stoney Point, it’s now offered through Hornady as the LNL O.A.L. Gauge.

This makes it easy to see how a comparator works, and also why it’s an asset: The tool measures at a point along the bullet ogive, avoiding the tip completely. Much more precise.
This makes it easy to see how a comparator works, and also why it’s an asset: The tool measures at a point along the bullet ogive, avoiding the tip completely. Much more precise.

The purpose of this tool is to show the overall cartridge length that has a bullet touching the lands. To get the most from this determination requires another gage, a bullet length comparator. What that does is measure the length of a bullet in a way that avoids the bullet tip coming into the equation. Especially in match-style hollowpoints, bullet tips are inconsistent. I’ve seen as much as 0.020 inches difference in some brands measuring base-to-tip in a box of 100. Closed-nose bullets, not so much, but they’re not perfect either.

There’s an opening in a comparator that comes to rest at a point along the bullet ogive, excluding the tip entirely. The diameter of the comparator opening may or may not coincide with land diameter, but it’s usually close. That doesn’t matter though. The combination of tools provides a pretty accurate picture. Of course, comparator-measured lengths won’t correspond in any way to tip-to-base lengths, but they provide a way to, as its name implies, compare different bullets. It’s the comparison, the net, that matters.

Use this tool set to determine the overall length that touches the lands, and then use the comparator afterward to determine the amount of difference when the bullets are seated to fit into a box magazine. Write it all down and we’ll talk more about making use of it next time…

 

All About Ballistic Coefficient

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The following is a specially-adapted excerpt from the book Handloading For Competition, by Glen Zediker. Visit BuyZedikerBooks.com for more.

by Glen Zediker

A “ballistic coefficient,” or “BC,” is a number that reflects on the aerodynamic performance of a bullet, how well it flies.

I was explaining BC to a fellow once and after talking through all the technical language he said, “So, it’ll hit furtherer on up the hill….” Exactly.

It’s actually a comparison, and that gets explained first. Here’s how it
works: There are “standard” bullets that are mathematical models. Workaday ballisticians know which model to apply to different bullet styles. For most rifle bullets we’ll encounter, one model is a “G1” (there are other models, like G7). The flight of this bullet has been calculated at varying velocities and distances. Pistol bullets, for example, are calculated from or compared to different standard bullet models.

The standard bullet, and, again, let’s say that’s a G1, has a BC of 1.000. An actual bullet that’s compared to the G1 at points, distances downrange, will either be flying faster or slower than the G1. If it’s faster, its BC will be 1.000+; if it’s slower, it will be 1.000- (fractional).

Comparing bullets with different BCs, the one with the higher number will lose less speed over distance. Losing less speed means its flight time will be shorter and it won’t drift and drop as much as a bullet with a lower BC. So, a 0.600 flies better than a 0.550. So: the higher the BC, the less speed lost over distance. That’s it.

ballistic-coefficient_2.jpg The author had a question from a Midsouth reader regarding ballistic coefficient, so here’s his answer: Perhaps even more important than a high ballistic coefficient is BC uniformity in a box of bullets. Bullets that demonstrate uniform BC performance will produce less elevation dispersion.
The author had a question from a Midsouth reader regarding ballistic coefficient, so here’s his answer: Perhaps even more important than a high ballistic coefficient is BC uniformity in a box of bullets. Bullets that demonstrate uniform BC performance will produce less elevation dispersion.

Published or stated BCs are either calculated or measured, depending on the maker’s policy. More mathematics than I can wrap my mind around can get these calculations done based on a bullet’s blueprint. Measured BCs involve chronographing at the muzzle and then at other points on downrange, same bullet, same flight. There’s a good question as to which provides the best information. Some logic applied suggests that, without question, a measured BC is more “real world” and therefore more valuable. On the other hand, if the point is to compare bullets, then calculated BCs might be more reliable. One point, however, is that the relationship between measured BCs and calculated BCs is that measured are usually lower…but not always. Reasons for that follow.

All the drift and drop tables (whether printed or digital) you’ll see are based on a bullet’s BC. And, the accuracy of those tables clearly revolves around what the actual BC performance of the bullet you’re shooting is.

So what affects the actual, realized BC of a bullet? A lot of things… Anything that can influence bullet flight influences BC realization. Bullet stability has the lead, though. For a supposed BC to be realized, the bullet has to be “asleep.” If it’s not stable, it’s encountering disruptions that will slow it down. I don’t know many who have had much luck running BC tests “at home.” That’s a logistics issue with chronographs, as could be imagined. Those, however, who have successfully done their own BC testing learn a lot. One, for instance, is that even the rotational speed of a bullet in a test can influence BC. Comparing the same bullet through a 1-8 and a 1-7.5 twist barrel, the 1-8 likely will net a higher BC. The extra revs per second from the faster twist are the likely cause. Easy enough to imagine: 1000-yard BC tests are more revealing than are 500-yard tests.

There will be variations in any box of hollowpoint match-style bullets, and a source for variation is the meplat (tip). Variations are an unavoidable result of the pointing-up process in manufacture. I’ve measured as much as 0.020 inches in a box. A “meplat uniformer” strives to eliminate this variance. Uniforming reduces the BC a scant few points, but it’s a trade many serious long-range shooters say is worth the effort. Uniformed on left.
There will be variations in any box of hollowpoint match-style bullets, and a source for variation is the meplat (tip). Variations are an unavoidable result of the pointing-up process in manufacture. I’ve measured as much as 0.020 inches in a box. A “meplat uniformer” strives to eliminate this variance. Uniforming reduces the BC a scant few points, but it’s a trade many serious long-range shooters say is worth the effort. Uniformed on left.

Atmospherics, which can be a long list of factors, influence BC mightily. Air density is probably the most powerful influence here. Any conditions that allow for easier passage of a bullet through the air don’t detract as much from its BC as any conditions that do serve to impede its flight. A BC, which is based on sea-level air density, can easily show itself as a higher number at 2000 feet above sea level.

Reality is that the demonstrated BC changes from morning to afternoon and day to day and place to place. The calculated BC is not changing, of course, but the mistake is assuming that a BC is some “set” or finite measure of bullet performance. If you’re interested, there’s some valuable information from David Tubb (visit DavidTubb.com). He’s done a volume of work on calculating influences from atmospherics as it applies to his DTR project, which, in one way of seeing it, gets down to understanding why it’s really rare to dial in what a ballistics table says for a particular bullet and speed and distance, and hit the target.

One last bit of information I’ve always found interesting is that a BC is a finite thing, whether the bullet at hand is going to show it or not. Any BC derived from a G1 model, for instance, fits all bullets with that same BC. This was helpful before ballistics apps were as common and easy as they are now. For instance, if there was a new .224-caliber bullet with an advertised BC, but no tables, just find another bullet, of any caliber, with that same BC, plug in the velocity, and the drift and drop figures would be accurate. It doesn’t matter if the other bullet was a .308 or .277 or whatever else.

 

Bullet Basics

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This is a specially-adapted excerpt from the forthcoming book, “Top Grade Ammo,” by author Glen Zediker, owner of Zediker Publishing. Click here to order from Midsouth.

by Glen Zediker

A cartridge is a system, a sum of its parts. There’s not really any one part that matters most, but the bullet matters much. The material below will offer an outline to identify influential aspects of bullet engineering and execution.

There are bullets engineered to perform variously on target, including the proximity of impacts on target. I say it that way because a “match” bullet’s job is to perforate a piece of paper. A bullet designed for varmint hunting, on the other hand, is designed to produce explosive impact, and one for larger-game hunting strives to strike a balance between expansion and penetration. All bullets have to meet their target to be effective, and different premiums often also result in a few trade-offs. Specialty hunting projectiles, for instance, don’t usually out-and-out group as well as those engineered for target shooting.

However, no matter how a bullet is constructed inside, essential elements of any bullet design are universal. I’m talking about the outside of a bullet.

Here are the parts: base (that’s the bottom); boat-tail, or not (flat-base); shank, portion of full-caliber diameter; ogive, the sloping “nosecone”; tip, either open or closed (open it’s called the “meplat”). The shape of the ogive and the first point of “major diameter” are very influential elements. The first point of major diameter can vary a from barrel brand to barrel brand because it’s the point on the bullet that coincides with land diameter in the barrel. It’s the first point that will actually contact the barrel as the bullet moves forward. This right here can be a very important thing to determine. When there’s a cartridge sitting in the rifle chamber, the distance to the lands that the bullet has to “jump” to engage is, well, called “jump.” It’s the gap between dead air and first contact. I pick back up on this next article.

The first point of major diameter and the shank combine to determine the “bearing area.” This is how much of the bullet is riding the barrel surfaces.

The two essential forms a bullet can take are “secant” and “tangent.” This refers to the profile of the ogive. A tangent is a more rounded, gradual flow toward the tip, while a secant is a more radical step-in, more like a spike.

Ogives are measured in “calibers.” That’s pretty simple: an 8-caliber ogive describes an arc that’s 8 times caliber diameter; a 12-caliber is based on a circle that’s 12 times the caliber. The 8 will be a smaller circle than the 12, so, an 8-caliber ogive is more “blunt” or rounded. (So I don’t get comments from engineers, there’s more to it than this, as it applies on blueprints to different profiles; it’s the ratio of its radius to the diameter of the cylinder. But my description is accurate as an overview.)

Now, here’s how and why all that matters to bullet selection: Generally, bullets with longer bearing areas are more tolerant of jump and tend to shoot better than those with shorter bearing areas. Shorter bearing areas, though, can allow for higher velocities (less drag in the bore). Bullets with lower-caliber ogives are likewise more tolerant of jump and shoot better. However, higher-caliber ogives fly better, that is, farther. This is an important component in “low-drag” bullet designs. Same thing comparing tangent and secant profiles: the first is easier, the second beats the air better.

When you see terms like “magazine bullet” or “length-tolerant bullet,” that is referring to those with tangent profiles and lower-caliber ogives. They are designed to endure jump so, therefore, can be seated to “magazine length” without much, if any, accuracy loss. If you want to experiment with the longer, “low-drag” or “high-BC” style bullets, you will find they don’t want to group as expected until they get very close to or right on the lands when the round is chambered.

This is the tip of the iceberg. More soon…

The Ins and Outs of Metering Charges

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This is a specially-adapted excerpt from the forthcoming book, “Top Grade Ammo,” by author Glen Zediker, owner of Zediker Publishing. Click here to order from Midsouth.

by Glen Zediker

Most reloaders are going to invest in a powder meter. And, right off, it is a meter, not a “measure.” Meters don’t measure. My preference would be to most accurately call a “powder measure” a “dispenser.” That’s what it really does. The “measure” is comparing a meter hopper volume to a weight on a scale. This may seem tediously technical, but I think it’s important to really understand what we’re doing when we use a powder meter. It’s a volume, not a weight. The volume corresponds to a weight, that we arrived at through adjusting the meter volume.

Here’s a Culver. All Culver mechanisms are the same in that they have the same values; there can be differences from model to model in the steps between whole rotations, but each whole rotation is the same. It’s like comparing a ½-moa back sight to a ¼-moa back sight.
Here’s a Culver. All Culver mechanisms are the same in that they have the same values; there can be differences from model to model in the steps between whole rotations, but each whole rotation is the same. It’s like comparing a ½-moa back sight to a ¼-moa back sight.

If you plan on relying on a meter to throw charges, and not weigh each one, you best get a good meter. If the meter is only a starting point, where you are then going to use a powder trickler to top off a scale-weighed charge, meter quality is of no real concern. A powder trickler is a device that delivers propellant a kernel at a time.

So what’s a “good” meter? Good question. The very best have Culver dispensing mechanisms. Named for Benchrest pioneer Homer Culver, these precision-made mechanisms click, just like a back sight. Each click, of course, either expands or contracts a void that the propellant fills. The only Culver-equipped meters I know of are produced by smaller shops, and they are more costly. But unlike most of the major-player meter designs, a Culver setting cannot change. There are no set-screws or rotating micrometer stems or barrels. A lot of folks give advice to “check the meter each 10 throws….” Meaning, check to see if it’s still throwing the desired weight (by the way, that would be a pretty bad meter). My experience, which has come from a whopping lot of testing, showed me that my scale was going to change before a Culver would change.

The author is adamant about following this process to set a meter: Don’t throw and weigh single charges to adjust the meter. Throw and weigh 10-charge portions, with the scale set, of course, to 10-times the desired single-charge weight. The author does not recollect one time when the meter adjustment did not change following this process from what he first arrived at weighing single throws. Here’s how he sets it to adjust for a 24.0-grain throw.
The author is adamant about following this process to set a meter: Don’t throw and weigh single charges to adjust the meter. Throw and weigh 10-charge portions, with the scale set, of course, to 10-times the desired single-charge weight. The author does not recollect one time when the meter adjustment did not change following this process from what he first arrived at weighing single throws. Here’s how he sets it to adjust for a 24.0-grain throw.

If you look at how a meter works, there’s a volume-adjustable cavity that rotates in position under the propellant supply, fills with propellant, and then rotates back, to dispense the propellant through an outlet. When it rotates, the granules contained in the meter are struck off, fixing and sealing the amount of propellant in the “hopper,” I call it.

A few things: One is that the smaller the granules, the more precise each fill can be. Longer-grained kernels have more air space and “stack” more than smaller-grained kernels. It’s also clear that the higher degree of precision on the internal sliding surfaces, the more “clean” the strike-off will be. It’s also clear that meter operation has a lot to do with the consistency of filling the hopper. Just like tapping a case bottom settles the propellant to a lower fill volume, same thing happens when filling the hopper in a meter.

Not too heavy, not too light. Work the handle the same each time, and have it come to a positive stop. “Thunk. Thunk.” Focus on a consistent speed. This has a huge effect on how consistent the throws will be.
Not too heavy, not too light. Work the handle the same each time, and have it come to a positive stop. “Thunk. Thunk.” Focus on a consistent speed. This has a huge effect on how consistent the throws will be.

A key to good throws is working the meter handle consistently, and also settling on a contact force when the meter handle comes to a stop in the “fill” direction. It should bump but not bang. I wish I could be more clear on that, but it’s a feel that must be developed. Don’t go too slowly and gingerly take the handle to its stop, and don’t slam it there either. You want a positive, audible “thunk” when the handle stops. If it’s the same each time, fill consistency will improve. I have found that focusing on operating the handle at a constant rate of speed teaches this. It’s a positive movement that, for me, takes about one second to lift the handle.

The author recommends longer drop tubes, whether it’s for a meter or a funnel. The longer tube has the same effect as tapping the case to settle the propellant. This helps when loading stick propellant into small cases, like .223 Rem. A dryer sheet rubber-banded around the propellant container eliminates static influence, which indeed can be an influence, especially in the Western regions. And do not leave propellant in a meter! Return it to a sealed container when you’re done for the day. This setup is a Harrell’s Classic with a Sinclair stand.
The author recommends longer drop tubes, whether it’s for a meter or a funnel. The longer tube has the same effect as tapping the case to settle the propellant. This helps when loading stick propellant into small cases, like .223 Rem. A dryer sheet rubber-banded around the propellant container eliminates static influence, which indeed can be an influence, especially in the Western regions. And do not leave propellant in a meter! Return it to a sealed container when you’re done for the day. This setup is a Harrell’s Classic with a Sinclair stand.
This is a Harrell’s Premium. Its accuracy is astounding and is the author’s choice. With H4895, the “10-throw” test is within a tenth of a grain, for the whole pan-full.
This is a Harrell’s Premium. Its accuracy is astounding and is the author’s choice. With H4895, the “10-throw” test is within a tenth of a grain, for the whole pan-full.

 

 

Segregating Cases by Weight

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This is a specially-adapted excerpt from the forthcoming book, “Top Grade Ammo,” by author Glen Zediker, owner of Zediker Publishing. Click here to order from Midsouth.

by Glen Zediker

Weight is another common means of case segregation. I can’t imagine doing this job without an electronic scale, because I have done this job without an electronic scale.

A bag full of new brass is a wonderful thing. Sorting is optional, but worthwhile to get the very most from it.
A bag full of new brass is a wonderful thing. Sorting is optional, but worthwhile to get the very most from it.

Most set a percentage tolerance for weight, not so much seeking identical weights. Otherwise, you’ll have to sort a lot of cases. The physically larger something is, the more variation can exist. 1% is pretty harsh; 1.5% is more reasonable; 2% is commonly used. You’ll figure out the viability of your segregation criteria after you go through a few dozen cases. If you have 10 piles, then the criteria might be too harsh. If you use a percentage, certainly then larger caliber cases will have a greater overall weight tolerance/variance than smaller ones. Think of it as: 1% in a 90-grain .223 is 0.90 grains, and in a .308 Win., it’s 1.7 grains, or about double.

No doubt — cost is the first segregation criteria. The author says components from Europe are better than domestically produced items. But at what cost. The author has used a lot of Norma and Lapua brass, and it’s extra-high-quality, which means low-tolerance/variance. It’s also soft and heavy. I’d be willing to spend for it, but I prefer to sort other brands that are more suitable for use in a repeating action of any type. Hours and hours of doing this showed me that Norma, for example, gives about 5% more “really good” cases compared to the domestic brand I favor.
No doubt — cost is the first segregation criteria. The author says components from Europe are better than domestically produced items. But at what cost. The author has used a lot of Norma and Lapua brass, and it’s extra-high-quality, which means low-tolerance/variance. It’s also soft and heavy. I’d be willing to spend for it, but I prefer to sort other brands that are more suitable for use in a repeating action of any type. Hours and hours of doing this showed me that Norma, for example, gives about 5% more “really good” cases compared to the domestic brand I favor.

This segregation method or means is nearly universally adhered to by NRA Long Range competitors. The belief is that weight reflects on case capacity: heavier cases, lower capacity; lighter cases, higher capacity; and, mostly, same-weight cases, same capacity. Most are not looking for “light” or “heavy,” just “the same.” There’s a correlation between wall thickness consistency and weight consistency, I’m sure, but it’s not direct.

Don’t confuse the ultimate results from an exercise in segregation. We will get what we look for, but that’s all we know for sure. No doubt, the combination of segregation by weight and wall thickness should result in the best of the best, but, dang, that might also result in a very small pile.

Important: Fully prep all the cases prior to weight segregation! The reason is a matter of reliability in the result. Primer pocket uniforming, length trimming, chamfering, and inside flash hole deburring all require removal of brass. The amounts will vary in each instance. I’ve collected and weighed enough shavings from prepping before and can tell you that, if you’re segregating by fine increments, you’re kidding yourself if you don’t follow this advice. The amount of brass removed does not at all directly reflect on the quality of a case because the areas where the weight is originating don’t influence the “overall” quality. But it can influence the scale. Which is the criteria, right?

Weight segregation is easy, but tedious. Establishing criteria limits (defining the contents of each pile) comes mostly from experience in checking examples of the stock being used. Just weigh as you go and label as you learn. Get some plastic containers and label them, after deciding on the range you’re sorting by, and toss the case into the appropriate bin when you pick it from the scale pan. Keep in mind that the goal is to find “light” “heavy” and “okay.” Most shooters I know who weight-segregate are looking for three piles and, of course, the occasional culls.
Weight segregation is easy, but tedious. Establishing criteria limits (defining the contents of each pile) comes mostly from experience in checking examples of the stock being used. Just weigh as you go and label as you learn. Get some plastic containers and label them, after deciding on the range you’re sorting by, and toss the case into the appropriate bin when you pick it from the scale pan. Keep in mind that the goal is to find “light” “heavy” and “okay.” Most shooters I know who weight-segregate are looking for three piles and, of course, the occasional culls.

The procedure used by most winning 1000-yard shooters is to segregate by weight and then outside-turn the case necks to make the neck walls consistent. Again, it ultimately will be a better test if the neck turning is done prior to weight segregation. At this point, however, we have done a lot of work.

So, looking back on the last article, which was segregating by neck wall thickness variations, here’s what I think: If most of your shooting is under 300 yards, go with neck-wall thickness. If you’re covering more real estate, I’d suggest sorting by weight. No doubt, a combination is the ultimate.

Since I focus on concentricity both before and after bullet seating, I can’t say any weight-segregated cases have outperformed my concentricity-selected ammo at 600 yards. I also know, from experience, that the cases I favor are demonstrably low in weight variation. For me, segregating by wall thickness makes more sense. I use the same brand/lot for 200, 300, and 600 yards; the difference is the load. I am pretty much looking for a good, better, best to coincide with my needs for accuracy at 200, 300, and 600 yards.

This might sound contradictory, but it seems that when firing on targets at short range, where weather conditions aren’t overly influential and bullet limits are not nearly being approached, it’s superior concentricity that prints the best groups. Further on down the pike, though, concentricity is important, certainly and always, but it’s really the consistency of bullet velocities that gets “10s.” A good long-range shooter (who can keep a handle on condition-influenced corrections) will lose more points to elevation shots than to wind. High-low shots are, for a Master or High Master, pretty much the fault of the ammo. The reason velocity deviations are just not that important to short-range groups is solely a time-of-flight answer. The longer a bullet is in the air, and the slower it’s moving, the farther and farther it flies, the more initial velocity consistency factors in.

The preceding is specially-adapted from material in the forthcoming book “Top Grade Ammo” coming (very soon) from Zediker Publishing. Check BuyZedikerBooks.com and ZedikerPublishing.com for more.