Reloading Ammo is an easy and fun way to increase your shooting experience. Many people ask why bother? Well there are a number of benefits to reloading.
- Reduce the cost of ammo
- Increase the precision of your rifle
- Build rounds that match your specific needs
The only real down side to reloading is the time element. You will need to invest a significant amount of time into finding out what specific selection of components will work best in your rifle.
THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION IS USED AT YOUR OWN RISK
First things first, reloading ammunition can be dangerous if you don’t know what your doing. I suggest you buy and READ several books on the matter, so that you have a solid understanding of what your doing before you begin. Every gun is different and you can never trust information from the Internet 100% Including my work. I am NOT an expert and I am posting this information as a reference only.>>>ALWAYS start 10% low and work your way up.<<<
Lets get started with the component make up of a modern round of ammunition.
First you have the projectile, AKA a bullet. Typically lead core with a copper jacketed, this is the most expensive piece of the puzzle ranging from $0.05 to $5.00 each depending on caliber and make up. A .308WIN bullet like pictured will run about $0.30 to $1.00 each. Bullets are sold by the 100, but weight affect the prices directly. Heavier bullets = more money.
Second you have the propellant, AKA gun powder. This comes in many shapes, styles, and burn rates but generally always goes BANG! More gun powder usually means more speed for the projectile, but case volume and pressure becomes a limiting factor. Sold by the pound, and always cheaper to buy in bulk. $10 – $50 per pound depending on what you get.
Thirdly you have the cartridge case, AKA brass. The case holds everything together. Initially, this is the most expensive component. However, this is the reusable part, so the cost will become a fraction every time you reload. Take good care of it, and its possible to get 60 or more reloads. $0.30 to $5.00 depending caliber and manufacturer.
Lastly you have the Percussion cap, AKA primer. This little beauty gets the chain reaction started. They are the least expensive part of the equation, but also the most dangerous. Primers are extremely explosive and must be handled with care. $0.01 to $0.10 each based on quantity and brand. You may be able to get even cheaper if you buy an entire case.
What to shoot…
Before you even buy a rifle, the first thing you should ask yourself is “what do I plan to shoot? At what range do I want to shoot it? and How often do I want to do this?” How you answer will help decide what caliber to start with. Having fun plinking cans, taking a deer at 300 yards, and long range target shooting all require very different firearms. A .22LR is fun and cheap to shoot, but its very low power. A more powerful center fire rifle like a .303British would be a good choice for hunting, but lacks precision. A high power magnum like the .338LM would be a great choice for ringing gongs at 1500 yards, but it pretty hard on your pocket book. Some calibers can bridge the gap between two areas, but your usually better off finding the rifle that many people use for the specific scenario and sticking with that. Once you have decided on your goal, you can choose the caliber that best suites that goal, and you will be ready to start working towards the goal.
Once you have the caliber sorted out, you can start to look through the hundreds of choices of components. There is no one secret selection of parts that will work for every application. You need to choose the components based on what you want to accomplish. Target shooting and hunting require very different components and are setup differently. Target shooters load for absolute precision, because points and X’s are all that matter. Where as an ethical hunter will load a round for high power and first shot accuracy to ensure a clean kill. In either case, top quality components will be wanted to ensure best performance. If you want to build cheap plinking rounds for practice sessions, then price will be the only driver. Power, precision, and accuracy will left behind.
You will want to consult a reloading manual to figure out what powders are recommended for different calibers. You will also want to find out what bullets are best suited for a particular twist rate of a barrel. Generally speaking, a fast twist of 1:8 will stabilize almost all bullets, where a slower twist of 1:16 will only stabilize the light weight bullets. You could shoot heavy bullets from a slow twist if you really wanted to, but accuracy would suffer immensely. Its usually a good idea to start with components that are widely used by numerous people. Once you have a handle on what your doing, start to expand your selection.
Tools of the Trade
Before you can begin reloading you will need to acquire some of the specialty tools:
- A solid bench to work on
- Reloading manual
- Reloading press
- Dies in your specific caliber
- Powder scale
- Powder trickle
- Case neck trimmer
- Chamfer tool
- Primer Pocket cleaner
- Priming tool
- Loading Block
- Powder dispenser
- Ammunition case
There are several kits available which include most of these items. These kits are a great starting point, but you will eventually want to upgrade as the tools wear out or you just don’t like the feel of them anymore. Sometimes its just better to start with quality products. The typical kit will run about $200, which may seem like a lot, but remember, by reloading you will be saving money. So the equipment will pay itself off after only a few hundred reloads.
Assembling your first round
Make sure you have read up and are well aware of all the dangers before you begin. There are many little things can go wrong if your not paying attention. Reloading takes a bit of finesse, so don’t rush or you’ll end up hurting yourself. It may take the information from several reloading manuals to figure out where you should begin. Most manuals will publish the safe maximum loads of a specific setup. DO NOT START WITH MAXIMUMS. You should always start 10% low and work up.
Every rifle is different and will prefer a slightly different compilation of parts. To find the most precise load for your rifle will take some experimentation. Lets say you want to shoot a 175 Gr Sierra Match King in your .308WIN, Sierra lists the top speed of this bullet at around 2600 fps. This is because the case volume limits how much powder you can pack behind it. Most .308WIN loads are close to 100% case volume. The suggested max of your chosen gun powder is listed as 44.8 grains. This means we will want to start at 40.3 grains, which is 10% below 44.8gr.
The first thing to do is load up 10 rounds starting with 40.3 grains. Each round will have 0.5 grains more than the last. So the second load will be 40.8 Gr, third will be 41.3 Gr, and so on. Label the rounds so that you know which is which. Take these ten rounds to the range and fire them in order from low to high. After each shot you should look for signs of high pressure. If a load is high pressure, the first thing you will notice is that the bolt / action of your rifle is difficult to cycle. This is always a good indication that you should STOP what your doing. The action should always be easy to cycle. The next thing to do is inspect the case. As pressure builds, you will begin to notice the primer becoming deformed.
The primer will begin to look flattened out and the firing pin dent will start to get a raised edge. This is called cratering. Both of these are signs that your pressure is beginning to build rapidly and its time to slow down. Only you can choose when to stop, there are many who prefer to load hot, because you get better performance at long range. I prefer to play on the safe side and increase my barrel life by loading below max pressure.
Once you have found your practical maximum for the combination of parts, you are ready to move on…
If you are planning to hunt, and looking for maximum power, congratulations you are done. Load the round for max pressure and your ready to go. However, if your like me you’ll want to tweak the load for maximum precision at long range. This is rarely at the point of highest pressure and can usually be found at a slightly smaller speed and pressure.
Every time a shot is fired, vibrations are created in the barrel. These vibrations cause the barrel to bend slightly and will change the exit vector of our bullet by a small fraction of an inch. At short range this may not even be noticeable, but as distance increases, the error will be amplified. This is one of the major factors that affects your group size.
It takes the bullet a small amount of time to accelerate down the barrel. However, the time it spends traveling subjects it to barrel vibration. Technically the bullet acceleration is what cause the vibration but lets not dwell on that. The barrel is a specific length, and just like a guitar string, it will have a certain frequency it likes to vibrate at. By increasing our powder charge, we can accelerate the bullet faster and faster. Each powder increase will shorten the time it takes for the bullet to exit the barrel. Depending on how much pressure is created, the tip of the barrel will be at a different point in its vibration as the bullet exits. Some bullets will leave with a slightly lower vector while others may leave with a higher vector. These high and low vector may also be left and right, but will show up on paper as a large group size.
At some point in the vibration pattern, the bullets will be coming out with virtually no vector at all. The muzzle velocity and barrel vibration are in tune with each other. Similar to a guitar string vibrating, there will be very minimal movement at specific points along the string. This is called a node. There are several nodes along the guitar string, and there are also several nodes in our barrels vibration. As we go in and out of tune with the nodes, our group size will increase and decrease. Because high muzzle velocities keep our bullet supersonic longer, we want to find the node with the maximum possible velocity.
Now that we have some idea what we are looking for, its time to get started on our statistical journey. It may seem boring to punch hundreds of holes in paper, only to measure the distance between them, but this is the best way to increase our rifles precision. Its also good practice, which will help our accuracy. I shot the target at left during a 300 meter competition. The inner most X ring measures only 2″ across, or about the size of an egg.
There are many schools of thought on how you can best find the maximum point of precision in your rifle. All are valid and offer good experience, but many will have you sending hundreds if not thousands of rounds down range. If the accurate life of our barrel is only say…3000 rounds, then it doesn’t make much sense to spend the first third of that life searching for some magic combination. What we need is a fast and efficient way to sort through the data with as few rounds fired as possible.
The method I am going to demonstrate has many types and styles. I first learned of this method from the website 6mmBR.com. The method is called ladder testing, and its one of the fastest ways you can hone in on the precision load your looking for.
The first thing you are going to need is a long range. 300 yards is the minimum distance needed. We want to get a fair amount of separation between bullets so that we can figure out where the nodes are located. This just isn’t possible at 100 yards. I prefer to do this test at 600 yards because I have easy access to that distance. Ideally, you want to test at whatever distance you plan to shoot most often. For competition purposes, you should always do your testing at maximum distance, which is typically 900 meters or 1000 yards.
After firing your ten pressure testing rounds, you should have found your practical maximum. We are going to use this number as our starting point and work down. We will create at least 3 strings that are loaded 0.3 grains less in each case. Lets say 43.9 grains was our practical maximum, we will now load 43.9 / 43.6 / 43.3 / 43.0 and so on until we have our string of ten. Make 3 copies of each. This will help to average out wind, barrel fouling, barrel heat, and any other factors. We also need to make sure we are on target, so lets load up ten extra rounds of our lowest charge which would be 42.2 grains. You should now have 40 rounds total for one ladder test.
The idea is to shoot all the rounds at the same target without adjusting your sights at all. We are going to let the powder charges do the talking. That said, we need to make sure we get all bullet to impact on the paper. So I suggest a large target in the order of 3 feet wide by 4 feet tall OR LARGER. I usually place a steel sight-in target a few feet away so that no stray bullets make it onto the paper. Using the ten low powder charged rounds, we will shoot and adjust the sights until confident of our zero. Hopefully this takes less than 10 rounds. Let the barrel cool down before beginning the test.
Once you are ready to start, do not adjust your sights. The group size does not matter at this time, we want the bullets to have space between impacts at this point in the test. Only adjust for windage if there are gusting winds that have blown you off target. We will shoot our 30 test loads in a round robin style ten at a time. Start with the low load and work up. Use the same point of aim for every shot. Shoot as quickly and consistently as possible. When you reach the top load or shot ten, stop and let your barrel cool down. Now repeat the process in the reverse order, high to low. Stop and let the barrel cool again. Fire the final string in what ever order you want, high to low or low to high. With all 30 rounds on paper we are ready to do some analysis.
Reading the results
It should be fairly simple to identify the nodes on paper. Even though you held the same point of aim, the powder charges were changing, thus there should be several clusters of holes on the target. We are looking for the areas with minimum vertical seperation. The load can be considered stable or in tune where ever there are tightly grouped clusters of holes. Changes in the powder charge did not signifigantly affect the drop of the bullet over long range, this is the sweet spot we are looking for.
You can see in my target shot on January 3rd, 2010 that there is a large cluster of holes to the upper left of my aim point. My final precision load would come from the values found in that cluster.
The next step
With the high node located, its time to shoot for groups. Take the three closest powder charges that you believe to be inside the node group. Load up 5-10 rounds for each and head back to the range. Shoot 5-shot groups at the same distance you used for the ladder test. The groups should now tell you which is the rifles favorite. In less than 100 rounds you should have located a solid performing combination of components for your rifle.
Now that you have found the sweet spot, you can start to play with the little things to see how much better it can get. Changing the seating depth of the bullet, trying different primers, case preparation techniques, all these and many more things can increase the final precision of the load. The hard part, finding a powder and bullet combination that works is done. Write down the results so you don’t forget. My video below will give you a pretty good idea of how the whole process works.
My .308WIN recipes :
Warning, this is what works in MY rifle, your results may vary, start 10% low and work up.
Latest Greatest Target Load for extreme long range ~ 2936 FPS
- 155 Gr Lapua Scenar seated 0.005″ off the lands – My special tool / land measurement = 2.065″
- 44.5 Gr Varget Gunpowder – Winter
- 43.8 Gr Varget Gunpowder – Summer
- Lapua Brass
- CCI BR2 Primers
Short to Medium Range Varmint Load ~ 3100 FPS
- 110 Gr Berger Match HPFB seated @ 2.705″ C.O.A.L.
- 47.2 Gr Varget
- Lake City Brass
- CCI BR2 Primers
Previous Long Range Precision Target Load ~ 2800 FPS
- 175 Gr Sierra Match King Seated at about 0.005″ off the lands
- 44.1 Gr Varget Gunpowder
- Lapua Brass
- CCI BR2 Primers
Previous Long Range Precision Target Load ~ 2670 FPS
- 175 Gr Sierra Match King seated at 2.800″ C.O.A.L.
- 42.8 Gr Varget
- Lapua Brass
- CCI BR2 Primers
Previous Test load for Heavy bullets ~ 2140 FPS
- 220 Gr Sierra Match King Seated at 2.800″ C.O.AL.
- 37.4 Gr RL15 Gunpowder
- Remington Regular Brass
- CCI BR2 Primers
Previous Long Range Precision Target Load ~ 2660 fps
- 168 Gr Berger HPBT Match @ 2.800″ C.O.A.L.
- 43.4 Gr Varget
- Remington Nickle Plated Brass
- CCI BR2 Primers