Don’t lose sight of the basics when making tool, dimensional, or load choices. Here are four unchanging “musts” to make your results the best they can be. READ ON!
I have been basing some of my topics for this department on correspondence, and here’s another. Someone wrote asking me for a compare/contrast on the two handloading-specific books I’ve written, and the essential question revolved around whether or not the older of the two had been “updated.” Concerns were over inclusion or exclusion of new tools and propellants, and other components, and reloading techniques: essentially whether the newer book was better just because it was newer. Hmm… I thought long and hard about all that.
My answer, strongly self-paraphrased, was that there were always going to be new tools and propellants and bullets and cartridges and primers, but “what matters” in learning how to make ammo gin (accurately and safely) hasn’t really changed. Those who know my work over the past twenty-something years know I’ve never been eager to step up on a soapbox and proclaim coronation of the latest-greatest propellant, bullet, or even cartridge king. Instead, I’ve done my best to help folks learn how to judge merits and values of new things, based on a thorough understanding of all the old things. But this isn’t about me and it’s not just shameless self-promotion. It’s an overview of what I really think matters: it’s an effort to put into perspective the potential merits of all the new things.
For me, the four most important things to achieve with a handload are, one, that the case has been sized correctly and appropriately for the rifle; two, that care has been taken to ensure that the round is concentric (more in a bit); three, exercising some discretion in bullet velocity (also more in a bit); and, four, taking steps from reloading to reloading to maintain consistent performance.
Then there is an almost never-ending slew of finer points within all these points. And one ton of tools.
What I “know” about a load combination hasn’t come from one afternoon at the range. It’s often come from years. I have seen a whopping lot of bandwagons competitive shooters have jumped onto and off of. Newly hitched wagons are still rolling strong, departing continually. It is very important to have a set of components and processes and load structures to fall back on, which really then means a set that you can move forward from.
I look at new things from a perspective of how and how well I can apply one of them to satisfy the same old needs. These needs are a filter, more or less, that helps determine if the new things are indeed improvements, or just new.
I am a competitive person. Our club CRO, Col. Floyd, once announced to the crowd at a local High Power Rifle tournament that I could smell gold-plated plastic through four feet of reinforced concrete… I admit to the truth in that. So, I am in no way suggesting that new things aren’t good, that we should all stay only with what we know. I’m always looking for ways to do better; but for me it’s not been so much trying something new, but rather taking another step using what’s been working pretty well for me thus far. That usually involves more focus on consistency.
I have a lot of stories about ultimate failures eventually resulting from initially wild successes, including lost championships, but the only value telling any of them would have is to make me sound way too old school. They are, again, never (ever) taken to mean that new things aren’t worth pursuit. Just shoot a lot of it under varied circumstances before packing it up along with the suitcase to attend a big event.
Back to setting down some tangible point to all this: most tool choices and case preparation steps I take have a goal of improving loaded round concentricity, which is to say centeredness or straightness. No doubt about it, a bullet looking dead center into a rifle bore is going to shoot better than one that’s cockeyed.
Cases with more consistent neck wall thicknesses, sizing die designs, and bullet seater designs can either enhance or detract from concentricity. Likewise, operations like outside case neck turning are done ultimately to improve concentricity. It matters!
The comment earlier about not getting too greedy for speed gets preached a lot by a good many, and the reason is avoiding anything that’s edgy. “Edgy,” to me, means something that’s going to take a turn for the worse on a day that’s 20-degrees warmer, or (in the case of the lost event mentioned earlier) 20-degrees colder.
The best advice I can offer on this is, first and most obvious, use a little discretion working up a load to a ceiling higher than what equivalent-spec factory ammo can produce. It can take more than a few case and primer inspections to know if a “max” load is truly safe. Next is to get to work on finding a propellant/primer combination (mostly propellant) that’s showing good accuracy at less-than-max velocities. By that I mean I will not trust anything that seems to shoot well only when it’s running “hot.” Accuracy is, after all and always, what ultimately defines success.
(Since this piece is kind of a “year-end” thing, I plan to start the new year up fresh with a whopping lot more about specific new (and old) things that will help ensure you’re getting the most you can from your time spent at the loading bench.)