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RELOADERS CORNER: Bullet Jump, Three

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In this final installment you’ll learn how to take bullet jump completely out of the equation, but it’s not just that simple… Here’s how to get the results you’re after. Keep reading…

Glen Zediker

There’s one more concept to consider to fully finish the topic of bullet seating depth, and it’s literally on the other end of the equation from discussions on bullet jump.

Last two articles were all about a combination of the evils of jumping bullets and also some ideas on reducing the ill effects, and hopefully to the point of zero measurable group size differences. I also mentioned that there are some bullets that just don’t tolerate jumping.

JLK 105 VLD
Bullets like this tend (a true Davis-drawn VLD) not to shoot well unless they start right on or very near the lands. I sho don’t know for certain, but I really think it has at least some to do with, for want of a better way to describe it, their leverage: it’s a lot of front end ahead of the first point of land diameter. These really long bullets don’t have to tip much to shift alignment relatively more.

For many (many many) years it’s been generally held that starting a bullet touching the lands is the easy ticket to better accuracy. That’s hard to disprove. It’s a tactic very commonly used by Benchrest and Long Range Rifle competitors, and savvy long-shot hunters. Now we’re talking about zero jump. Myself and many others have referred to this bullet seating tactic as “dead-length” seating. To be clear: it’s the cartridge overall length that has the bullet nosecone actually sitting flush against the lands (touching on whichever point along the nose that coincides with land diameter). Some literally take that a step farther and increase contact force such that the bullet is sticking into the lands one or more (sometimes several more) thousandths, actually being engraved by the lands prior to launch.

There are two ways to attain or approach dead-length. One is through careful measurement using something like a Hornady LNL Overall Length Gage. That tool should be paired with a bullet-length comparator, and Hornady has one of those too, as do others.

Measure enough bullets using a bullet-length comparator and you will find length differences in a box of most any brand. A comparator, as has been shown before in my articles (because it’s a very valuable tool to increase handloading precision), provides a more accurate means to measure bullet length. It’s a simple tool: the bullet nosecone fits into the opening on the gage, stopping at a point (determined by tool dimension) along the nosecone. Not all such gages coincide with land diameters because both comparators and land diameters vary from maker to maker. They are all “close” but perfect coincidence doesn’t really matter because a comparator will allow a reading at the same point of diameter regardless. Measuring from the base of a bullet to the bullet tip is inaccurate, and not nearly “good enough” to provide a precise enough measurement to venture into lands-on seating depth experiments. The reason measuring from base to tip isn’t good enough is because, especially in hollowpoint match-style bullets, there are relatively huge variations in the consistencies of the tips. I’ve measured easy 0.020 differences in a box of 100. Can’t make bank on that.

Using the combination of the gage that shows overall cartridge length that has the bullet touching the lands and the comparator to precisely record this length, it can then be reproduced via seating die adjustment.

Hornady LNL gage setHere’s a tool set shown many times in my books and articles this pair or something similar is necessary to negotiate this step in handloading. Check it out HERE and HERE at Midsouth.

If using this method, maintain whatever usual neck sizing dimensions are for your routine loads. There’s no need or benefit from lessening the case neck “tension” (which is the amount, in thousandths of inches, of the difference between resized case neck outside diameter and the resulting diameter after a bullet is seated). If that’s, say, 0.003 then keep it at 0.003.

There’s another, maybe better, method to follow if (and only if) you have a bolt-gun that’s to be fed one round at a time. By that I mean the rounds are not feeding up from a magazine but are being manually inserted into the chamber. That method is to reduce the case neck tension or grip to a level that the bullet is free enough to move within the case neck such that it seats itself when the round is chambered and the bullet makes contact with the lands. That’s awfully light in-neck resistance. It can’t be so light that the bullet falls into the case neck, but light enough that it can be scooted more deeply with little pressure. For a number it’s 0.001, minus, and half of that is workable if the case necks have been outside turned (so they are dead consistent in wall thicknesses and therefore will reliably “take” that little tension, meaning respond consistently to the sizing operation). Need a bushing-style sizing die to get that sort of control over the neck sizing dimension.

This method is often called “soft seating.” It’s, as said, very popular with competitive precision shooters. The bullet, keep in mind, isn’t just touching the lands, it’s actually engaging the lands to whichever degree or distance that resulted from overcoming the resistance from the case neck. If you feel anything more than slight resistance in chambering a round, that’s too much resistance. Chances are that any soft-seated bullet will stick in the barrel so extracting a loaded round will likely result in a big mess (elevate the barrel a little to keep the propellant from dumping into the action). Pushing the lodged bullet back out and looking at it carefully gives a good idea of how much resistance it’s overcoming. If the engraved area is much over 1/16-inch, increase the neck sizing bushing diameter to likewise loosen up the case neck. The amount of engraving has a whopping lot to do with the bullet jacket material (you’ll see more with a J4 than with a Sierra).

If you follow this method, then finish the die-seated bullets “out” 0.005-0.010 inches.

Redding sizing die bushing
It’s necessary to be able to fine-tune neck sizing dimension to experiment with soft-seating. A bushing-style sizing die is best. The bushing might also change for different brands or lots of brass if there are thicker or thinner neck walls. Clearly, outside neck turning is a step toward consistency in this sizing operation.

The reason this method can give the overall best results is because it’s accounting for teeny differences in bullet ogives and it also is adjusting itself for throat erosion. As gone on about in the last couple of articles, a barrel throat is lengthening with each round that passes through. What was touching the lands, or jumping 0.015, even one hundred rounds ago is no longer valid, and it’s totally corrupt five or six hundred rounds later. It’s no longer a precise setting, meaning a precise seating depth, and it has to be checked and reset as the barrel ages.

Again, this is not a casual experiment. The level of control and precision necessary to make it work safely and as expected is a step or three beyond what most reloaders are tooled up to deliver.

Will lands-on seating work for a semi-auto? Yes. But only with adequate bullet grip to retain the bullet firmly in the case neck, and that means the same tension that would be used with any other cartridge architecture, and that means a minimum of 0.003 inches difference between sized and seated outside case neck diameters. I do it often with my across-the-course High Power Rifle race guns. Clearly the “soft-seating” tactic is in no way wisely feasible in a semi-auto.

WARNING!
MOVING A BULLET OUT SO IT TOUCHES THE LANDS WILL (not can) INCREASE LOAD PRESSURE! Even going from 0.001 off to flush on will spike pressure. When the bullet is in full contact it’s acting like a plug. I strongly suggest backing off one full grain (1.0 grain) before firing a bullet touching the lands. Then follow my “rule”: work up 0.2-grains at a time but come off 0.5-grains at a time! If there’s ever any (any) pressure symptom noted, don’t just back of a tenth or two, that’s not enough, not considering all the other little variations and variables that combine to influence the behavior of the next several rounds you’ll fire.

THREE REASONS DEAD-LENGTH SEATING WORKS
ONE: Accounts for and overcomes any minor variations in bullet dimensions.
TWO: Minimizes bullet jacket disruption on entry.
THREE: Virtually eliminates misalignment between bullet and bore.

SIDE NOTE
If you’re one who, as many readers have suggested to me, has found that seating a bullet to touch the lands is the only way they get good groups, consider the above three reasons this seating method works and then interpret. If, and this is more common than we’d like to see, you’ve got a factory bolt-action rifle the chamber is likely to be overly generous in size or a tad amount non-concentric, or both. The case wall consistency and also sizing and seating tooling, or all three, might likewise be sub-par. In other words: lands-on seating is overcoming a few rifle issues, not, in itself, proving it’s the one-way ticket to great groups. Mostly, getting the bullet into the lands essentially straightens out alignment of the whole cartridge sitting in that (maybe) big chamber.

The information in this article is from Glen’s newest book, Top-Grade Ammo, available HERE at Midsouth. Also check HERE for more information about this and other publications from Zediker Publishing.

RELOADERS CORNER: Bullet Jump 2

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Tips that help take bullet jump out of the accuracy equation. Find out how!

leade
This is an aluminum staub cut with a chamber reamer. It’s easy to see the transition to the lands. The more smoothly a bullet enters the lands, the better it will shoot. When seating depth can’t be idealized, choosing a “gentle” bullet is the best defense against ill effects of jump.

Glen Zediker

Last time I shared some insight about bullet “jump,” and specifically with respect to the viability of setting up a “zero-jump” chamber/ammo combination.

To hit the highlights: Jump is the gap the bullet must traverse when it leaves the case neck to engage the lands or rifling. Generally, best (and better) accuracy comes with this gap is reduced to a minimum amount, or at the least reduced. Better is better.

To go farther into this topic, it’s worthwhile to move the bullet around, seating it more or less deeply (nearer or farther from the lands at rest) to maximize accuracy. Clearly, there’s a limit on cartridge overall length if the rounds have to fit into a magazine box so they can feed right. In NRA High Power Rifle competition, the AR15 pilots are specifically not allowed to have the rounds feed from the magazine in semi-auto mode; each round must be loaded into the chamber one at a time for the “slow-fire” segments, which includes the 600-yard event. That means competitive High Power shooters using AR-platform rifles are free to move the extra-long 80+ grain .224-caliber bullets out to near or on the lands when chambered. That doesn’t really matter but it explains the popular “Wylde” chamber we tend to use. It’s got a long enough throat to free more case volume and also provide a bigger “expansion chamber” for burning propellant gases, but it’s not as long as a NATO-spec so should perform better with bullets that do have to be loaded deeply in enough to fit the magazine box. Something like a Sierra 80gr or 82gr Berger won’t usually shoot worth a flip loaded to mag-length. That bullet, and others similar, are simply too dang long for a .223 Remington case. A huge amount of the bullet swallows up the case interior.

Sierra bullets compared.
It’s not all in the ogive specs, but it’s influenced by it, because those specs influence the overall profile of the bullet. Here’s a .224 Sierra 77gr MatchKing next to an 80gr MatchKing. The first is approximately 8 calibers, the 80 is approximately 12. The marks indicate the location of the first point of coincidence of land diameter. Considering the overall profile differences, it’s pretty clear that the 77 jumps with better results when each is loaded to the same cartridge overall length. There’s just 3grs difference in these bullets but they’re worlds apart in both tolerance and performance.

The best defense against ever worrying over jump, meaning whether you’re getting good accuracy regardless of the amount of bullet jump (well, at least within reason…) is bullet choice. Specifically, a tangent-profile bullet with a conservative ogive. Recollecting from some materials I did a while back, a “secant” profile is a sharper taper-in from bullet body to bullet tip; a tangent is a smoother transition. Secants, more or less, have a “shoulder” indicating a more abrupt taper rather than a smooth arc. For examples: true VLD (very low drag) and the Hornady A-Max are secant.

Bullets with relatively shorter nosecones and relatively longer bearing areas (length of the bullet that’s in contact with the rifling) are likewise more tolerant of jump.

Sierra 69, JLK 70 VLD
Here’s an example of different .224 bullet profiles at essentially the same weight. A Sierra 69gr MatchKing on left and a JLK 70gr VLD. The tangent 8-caliber-ogive (approximate) Sierra shoots great when it’s jumping; the secant 15-caliber-ogive VLD tends not to shoot well at all unless it starts touching the lands.

There’s been a trend for many years now toward creating bullets with higher ballistic coefficients. Worthwhile pursuit! Only issue is that when a bullet design features better aerodynamics, the features of that are, yep, longer nosecones with shallower angles. The ogive (what I’ve been more descriptively calling the nosecone because it’s easier to picture) usually is expressed in calibers. Technically it’s “calibers of ogive,” and that’s the ogive radius divided by the caliber. To me it’s easier to picture looking at the “other side” of the equation: the arc that scribes the profile in multiples of the bullet’s caliber. So, a 7- to 8-caliber ogive is a tighter circle (more rounded profile) than a 12- or 15-caliber ogive. Most of the “high-BC” profiles use a 15, some more. In other words, they’re stilettos.

calibers-of-ogive
Here’s an illustration of calibers-of-ogive from Sierra. That transition area from bullet diameter to first point of contact with the lands (which will be land diameter, and at least 0.005 smaller) has influence on how well a bullet endures jump. A lower-number is favorable in this regard. In this illustration the ogive radius, 2.240 inches, divided by the caliber, 0.308, gives 7.27. That should tolerate jump well.

I’m kind of breaking this down farther and faster than exercising good technical care in covering this topic should warrant, but: comparing both same-weight and same-caliber bullets, the longer it is the more sensitive it’s going to be to jump.

I have shot way too many high-X-count 300-yard cleans with bullets jumping 0.030+ inches to say that it’s not possible to have good accuracy unless jump is minimal. I admit that’s only a 1 moa group. I’m also using what some makers call a “length-tolerant” bullet, and specifically that’s a 77gr Sierra Matchking, and the same goes for a Nosler 77 or Hornady 75 HPBT (not A-Max). It’s the bullet form, not just its weight, that has the strongest influence on all this.

So, do you have to abandon better ballistics to attain better accuracy? Maybe. At least to a point. With the smaller calibers, which don’t have other advantages larger calibers have simply by virtue of weight and sectional density, there tends to be an effectively greater discrepancy between the lighter and heavier (again, it’s really shorter and longer) bullet ballistic performances.

A rifle with a generous-length magazine box provides greater jump-reduction via loaded round architecture. If there’s enough room, a bullet can be scooted out to the limit of the space within the box.

As always, well at least usually, there are tools! Get them and use them. A gage “set” from Hornady is well advised. There are others similar. I’ve been using their LNL Overall Length Gage and Bullet Comparator for many years and receive needed results. The first tool indicates the seating depth that touches the lands, and the second provides more reliable and accurate means to measure and record it.

Hornady LNL gage
This Hornady LNL gage pair gives you the tools needed to determine the jump you’re getting with the bullet you’re using. Check it out HERE

The leade, which, again, is the transition to the lands and determined by the chambering reamer (or throating reamer if custom-done) does influence tolerance for jump. The shallower the angle the better, but, that’s a two-edged issue. Take a commonly-used 3-degree leade and make it a more preferable 1.5-degree leade and that takes way on more than double the distance (length of cut) to attain. Again, when there’s a magazine getting in the way of bullet seating depth flexibility, a shallower leade eases transition into the barrel bore for a jumping bullet, but also increases jump. There are some cartridges, like David Tubb’s 6XC, that were designed specifically to “perfect” all these relationships: magazine-mandated cartridge overall length, bullet choice, and leade in, and it’s one reason it owns the records it does. Otherwise, it’s often a compromise… But don’t compromise accuracy for anything. A smaller group is, in the long run, the best defense against both wind and distance when it comes to hitting a target. Reliable feedback equals correct adjustments.

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 ZedikerPublishing.com

RELOADERS CORNER: Bullet Jump: does it really matter? (Part One)

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The distance a bullet travels to enter the lands is a topic of much concern to the precision shooter. This series takes a look at why it matters, and also when it doesn’t…

Glen Zediker

bullet jump
Here’s jump: it’s the distance from the end of the case neck portion of the chamber to the first point the bullet will engage the lands or rifling.

Bullet jump: the open space a bullet must span until its first point of sufficient diameter engages the barrel lands.

Last week I had a long phone conversation with a fellow who had been bitten by two bugs, two somewhat conflicting bugs (at least seemingly so on the onset). The one was a regrouping equipment project for USPSA-style practical rifle competition, and the other was for a desire to maximize accuracy, which is to minimize group size. This fellow had been involved in competition long enough to decide to stay with it, and was re-upping his AR15 upper with a new custom barrel. He wanted to have the best accuracy he could buy, and that’s a worthwhile pursuit as long as there’s a budget that supports it.

The subject of bullet jump became the dominant topic.

Yep, he had read my books and a few others and developed the impression that minimizing bullet jump was one crucial component to maximizing accuracy. That’s fair enough. I’ve gone on about it, as have others. Adjusting bullet seating depth can make a big, big difference in shot impact proximities. However! The reason bullet jump matters — usually — is largely, almost exclusively, because of some bullet profiles being more finicky than others. Namely the longer and spikier “very-low-drag” type bullet profiles.

The first point of “major diameter” on a bullet is what coincides with the land diameter in the barrel. If that’s a .22 caliber with 0.219 diameter lands, then the first point along the nosecone of a bullet that’s 0.219 is the distance. Gages that measure this distance (Hornady LNL for instance) aren’t necessarily going to provide perfect coincidence with land diameter, but still provide an accurate bullet seating depth that touches the lands.

If you find the cartridge overall length, which really means bullet seating depth, that touches the lands (coincides with land diameter) then subtract that from what you then measure when the bullet is seated deeply enough to fit into a magazine box, that right there is the amount of jump.

Hornady LNL gage
There are other ways to find it, but the Hornady LNL Overall Length Gage makes it easy. I’d be lost without this tool. Use it to determine the current distance to engage the lands for any bullet you’ll use (it works also as a way to monitor throat erosion). Get one HERE

Dealing with an AR15, or any other magazine-fed rifle, assuming we are wanting the rounds to feed from the magazine, is that there’s a finite cartridge overall length that will fit into the magazine. So. We’re almost always going to be dealing with some amount of jump, unless one or two things can be manipulated to reduce or eliminate it.

AR15 loaded magazine
A box magazine sets the effective limit on overall cartridge length. Getting a bullet to sit close to the lands when the round is chambered requires either some trickery in chambering specs or, mostly, bullet selection. However, with selection there is also limitation. For safety’s sake, no factory loaded round is going to approach lands-on seating structure. When a bullet touches the lands at rest, pressures will, not can, spike. All good, if it’s accounted for. This sort of “fine-tuning” is strictly a (careful and knowledgeable) handloader’s realm.

The one is that the influence of rifle chamber specs with respect to either more or less jump is pretty much exclusively in the leade or throat. That’s the space that defines the transition from end of the chamber case neck area to entry into the lands. The closer the lands are to the chamber neck area the shorter the jump will be with any bullet. That is the leading difference between a SAAMI-spec .223 Remington chamber and a 5.56 NATO chamber. The NATO has a much longer throat. I’ve written on that one a few times…

A shorter throat has goods and bads. The main good is that, indeed, any and all bullets are going to be closer to the lands in a round loaded to magazine-length.

But the “two” in the things that influence jump is bullet selection. It is possible to find a combination that will easily have the bullet sitting right on or very near the lands at the get-go. That’s going to be a short, and light, tangent ogive bullet within a SAAMI-spec .223 Remington chamber, or (and this is what I have done) a barrel chamber finished using a throating reamer to get even closer. In general: the nearer the first point of major bullet diameter (remember, that’s the land diameter) is to the bullet tip, the shorter the jump will be, and that’s because this point is “higher.”

Hornady 52gr HPBT
Looking through a good factory loading manual down amongst the “lighter bullet” selections, take a notice of the overall round length used in the test ammo. Magazine box maximum for an AR15 is 2.25 inches (it’s actually 2.26 at a maximum, but don’t cut it too close). If you see a length less than that, then there’s a bullet that can be seated on or near the lands at magazine length. Simple.
Here’s a great example that I can tell you absolutely will engage the lands in an AR15 loaded to magazine length. As a matter of fact it will be over 0.020 into the lands at magazine length, so certainly must be loaded to an overall length well less than that… It also shoots little groups. Check it out HERE

Throat erosion is going to lengthen the throat. Can’t stop that. The cartridge structure that was jumping, say, 0.005 on a new barrel is jumping more than that after literally every round fired through it. After some hundreds of rounds it’s jumping a few multiples of 0.005. (How much or how many is not possible to forecast because way too many factors influence the amount and rate of throat erosion. Just have to keep checking with the gage I suggest you purchase.) This is the reason I specify a custom dimension to get reduced jump: with the right hands using a throating reamer it’s easily possible to maintain land contact at magazine length seating even after a lot of rounds have gone through. Bullets will begin being seated more deeply and then get nudged out as the throat erodes.

So, where the conversation ended was this: If (and only if) someone is willing to take the time and make the effort to carefully establish and then control a reduced or eliminated amount of magazine-loaded jump then, yes, it’s a fine idea! It’s also an idea that likely will result in the best accuracy. I’ve done it in one of my AR15 match rifles, and it’s the best shooting I’ve ever owned. The hitch is that the rifle becomes what I call a “one-trick pony.” It’s not always going to accept bullets and loaded round architectures that stray from the carefully calculated dimensions originally set down. It’s also not likely going to perform safely with every factory-loaded round out there, and you can forget (totally forget) ever firing a NATO-spec round.

There’s a whopping lot more to this whole topic, and we’ll look at the other end of the spectrum next time.

The reason that reduced amounts of bullet jump increase accuracy, in a perhaps overly simple but entirely correct way to understand it, is because there’s simply less potential for disruptive entry into and lands and then through the bore. There’s less misalignment opportunity, less jacket integrity disruption opportunity. There is a lot more that can be discussed in finer points, of course…

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 ZedikerPublishing.com