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How To Get Into Precision Reloading
There are three levels of reloading: basic, intermediate and advanced. Basic is reloading at is simplest; a mere matter of using a loading press to install a primer in a case, placing a measured charge of powder in the case and then inserting a bullet to form a finished cartridge. Intermediate is where we start to get serious about all aspects of reloading with the intention of not only producing a less expensive cartridge but also a much more accurate one. Advanced is yet another level of reloading, left primarily to those of us who are bench-rest shooters where the equipment and precision that goes into reloading is nothing short of surgical in nature. It is my intention in this piece to discuss the intermediate level of reloading and what can make a real difference in tightening groups for those of you who want an accurate load whether you hunt coyotes or deer. Forgoing the fundamentals of reloading, as this is the subject of basic reloading, let’s being with one of the building blocks.
Overall Cartridge Length
Most rifles perform at their best when the bullet is seated out in the case far enough that the bullet almost makes contact with the lands in the barrel. But, in doing so you must keep in mind that whatever length you eventually use it should not exceed the length of the rifle’s magazine. Most reloading manuals provide a recommended overall cartridge length, but this is too imprecise as no two rifles are chambered exactly the same and the length of the throat can vary considerably even in the same calibre. Manufacturers individual bullet design will change overall cartridge length as well. The simplest, but more costly, approach to determining the overall cartridge length is to purchase an O.A.L. gauge and utilize it to determine the overall cartridge length for each type of bullet you intend to use in a particular rifle. Or you can use a coated cleaning rod to accomplish the same task as follows:
Make sure your rifle is unloaded, then with the bolt in place carefully run a cleaning rod down the barrel from the muzzle until it comes to rest against the bolt. (Wrap any exposed treads on the rod in tape.) Then mark the rod with a pencil exactly at the point where it exits the barrel. After removing the rod and bolt, take the particular bullet you intend to use and drop it nose-first into the chamber. Once it has come to rest against the lands, tap it lightly with the end of your cleaning rod.
Then carefully and slowly rerun the cleaning rod down the barrel from the muzzle until it comes to rest against the tip of the bullet. Once again, mark the rod where it exits the barrel. Tap the bullet free and remove the rod. Measure the space between your two marks with your dial calipers and you will have the maximum cartridge length for that bullet in your particular rifle.
For example, in my new Sako 85 .270 Winchester Short Magnum, the maximum length for the 140-grain Hornady boat tail is 2.825 inches. I would then seat the bullet to a maximum length of 2.815 inches. Ensure you record this information for each type of bullet in your reloading record book, as it will come in very handy over time. As seating a bullet close to the lands can increase pressure, keep a watchful eye for any pressure signs such as a flattened primer. If they appear, back off on your load.
Cases can be a real contributing factor in the accuracy game. Cases should be separated and prepared as follows:
- Do not mix cases between manufactures.
- Separate cases by how many times they have been fired, and particularly new from used.
- Only neck size wherever possible.
- Neck size new brass, just to ensure that it is uniformly round; to do so set your sizing die so that it only resizes, let’s say, the first 1/8-inch of the case neck.
- Deburr both the inside and outside of the case neck after you have neck sized the case and this includes new brass.
- Clean the primer pocket and ensure the flash hole is clean.
- Weighing each case and separating them by weight can additionally improve accuracy.
- Ensure that each case is uniform in length. If not, trim it to the recommended length.
- Cases can also be separated by case neck thickness, which can be measured with a case neck micrometer. This is the surest approach, or you can do as I have done on occasion. If I find any bullet difficult to seat, a sure sign that the case neck is too thick, I remove it from the rest of the cases.
- When on the range I find that any one case throws a shot out of a group, I set it aside. By doing so, I found that over time I end up with a group of cases that will consistently shoot well.
When it comes to bullets there are only a couple of things that we can do to improve performance. Foremost, have a good variety handy to try in each rifle, as it is surprising how the harmonics of one particular bullet type in one particular rifle can improve accuracy. Bullets can also be individually weighed and separated as to weight groupings and lastly, they must be seated to the correct overall cartridge length to obtain the best out of your rifle.
As with bullets, it is always very advantageous to have many varieties of powders available as each individual rifle can like or dislike any particular powder. A good reloading manual will be very helpful here, as it will not only provide a wide range of powders that can be used but also various loads for each for each bullet and powder type. I’m also a firm believer in having both a powder measure and an accurate scale. I would suggest that you use the powder measure to under-throw a charge and then use the scale to accurately bring each powder charge up to a precise weight.
I will only briefly mention primers as I have found that if I seat them properly, today’s primers will deliver uniform results. Only one word of caution here, ensure that they do not come in contact with any moisture, oil or sizing lubricant. In my more youthful days when I wasn’t so careful, on one occasion I ended up with a bunch of extremely disconcerting hang fires.
At The Range
Your chronograph will be useful at the range — as it will very accurately indicate how each particular load is performing. Not only will it provide you with each shot’s specific velocity but, just as importantly, the standard deviation between each shot. If, from shot to shot, velocities vary considerably and poor groups depict the results on the target, the powder you are using is most likely a potential source so you may want to try another. Without a chronograph to point the way, it may have taken some considerable effort and expense to try to solve the problem. It will also let you know immediately if the load you are using is performing up to what either you or your loading manual expected or depicted. Once again, record all your range data in your reloading record book, as it will greatly assist you in your future hunting and shooting plans.
Are You Having Lot Problems?
Have you purchased a type of powder or bullet that had been a surefire winner in the past — but for some reason your accuracy dropped off when using the new powder or bullets despite utilizing the exact same load and preparation techniques? This problem is not new and may well stem from the fact that you have purchased a different lot number of either powder or bullets. Powder and bullet manufacturers identify each production run by a specific lot number that can be found on every container or box and, as there may have been minute changes between the new and old lot, these changes may well effect not only your accuracy but ballistics as well. The key here is if you find a particular lot number of either powder or bullets that happen to shoot very well in your rifle, buy a sufficient supply of that lot number or face the possibility that by the time you go to purchase either again, they may have already been sold.
- A reloading press
- Dies for each caliber to be loaded
- Shell holders for each category of cartridge
- Accurate scale
- Powder Measure
- Dial Calipers
- Case trimmer and pilots
- Powder funnels
- Deburring tool
- Primmer pocket cleaner
- Overall length gauge (O.A.L.) and or a coated one piece cleaning rod
- Lube kit
- Loading block
- Primer tray
- A reloading record book to record all your loading data and results
- A chronograph
- Cases, primers and a variety of powders and bullets
- At least one good reloading manual.
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