Stretched necks

Long ago and far away (20+ years and 300+ miles) I was just starting to reload rifle rounds. I probably wasn’t using the proper lubrication and I got a 30-06 case stuck in this die:

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I concluded it was impossible to get the case out and I went to the local gun shop to see if they had a replacement die I could purchase. The owner of the store, a wise and knowledgeable man, suggested I order a case extraction tool rather than purchase a new die. I did so, but it took far longer for the tool to arrive than I had patience for and I got another die anyway. A neck resizing only die.

When the tool did arrive I was looked at the situation and realized I needed to drill out the primer pocket (drill provided with the tool), tap the resultant hole (tap provided), use a cup like piece of metal with a hole in the “bottom” through which a bolt was screwed into the base of the shell casing, then tighten the bolt to pull the case out of the die. That should work! Except for one problem. The depriming pin and expander ball were inside the case and blocking the drilling and tapping operations. I was unable to remove them from the case up through the top. In fact you can see the broken top of the spindle (is that the correct word for this?) in the picture above from my attempts to unscrew it from the die. I didn’t really need the full length resizing die at the time and left the stuck case in the die.

20+ years later I started to reload 30-06 again and I needed to do full length resizing with some used brass I had purchased a year or so ago. I got out the full length resizing die and discovered the stuck case. Crap. As I shuffled through my die supplies I stumbled across the case removal tool and reevaluated the situation. I really needed to figure out how to get the depriming pin and expander ball out of the case. After way too long I realized something.

In the picture you will see four different knurled sections to the die. The top two are associated with the spindle. I removed these, squirted some case lube into the top of the die, turned the second one upside down so that it didn’t thread itself back into the die main body and tightened it up. It was a hard pull but the expander ball came back up through the case which had been stuck for 20+ years.

I drilled and tapped base of the case and successfully extracted the case with the case extraction tool I had purchased so many years ago. See the case on the left below compared to the normal case in the center:

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I expressed my joy and cleverness to Barb, reassembled the die, adjusted it, lubed up a bunch of cases and started resizing them. On about the fourth case I stupidly picked up an lubed case sitting on the bench and got it stuck.

This time it only took about 10 minutes, instead of 20+ years, to get the case out. See the case on the right above.

What I found most interesting was that the stuck cases had necks which were stretched a full 0.150 inches. Previously stuck cases on the left and right compared to a normal case in the center:

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The primer story

There are multiple factors contributing to the shortage of primers. I had previously heard or assumed most of them in the following post. But the Remington component to “The Great Primer Shortage of 2020.” was new to me.

From Powder Valley, Why Is There a Primer Supply Shortage?

Demand, however, is just one part of the story. Disruptions in the supply chain have also made a big impact on the availability of primers. When it comes to ammunition supplies, bullets are easy to manufacture, brass can be re-used, and powder is generally stockpiled by companies (though perhaps not the kind you’re looking for). This leaves primers, which are relatively difficult to make, as the component that causes the bulk of ammo shortages.

In the U.S., only four companies (Winchester, Remington, Federal, and CCI) manufacture primers for civilian use, law enforcement, and the military. Even under perfect circumstances, there’s only so much they can produce at once, and needless to say, circumstances have not been perfect during the pandemic. People getting sick, missing work to take care of their kids, and self-quarantining – from factory workers to delivery drivers, and all throughout the supply chain – caused a lull in manufacturing this spring.

The Remington bankruptcy has had a large impact on the shortage of ammo and primers.  With Remington in a state of financial insolvency for the past two years, suppliers were demanding payment upon delivery for products.  Remington simply did not have the financial capabilities to have an abundance of raw materials on hand and had to shutter some of their production capacity.  Barnes bullets and primers were hit particularly hard in the reloading market.  With the recent purchase of Remington by Vista, there is a good chance that Vista will be diverting CCI and Federal primers that would typically go to reloaders to Remington ammunition production.  Remington primer production capacity has never been great.  The hope would be that Vista will place more emphasis on getting the Remington primer production capacity increased substantially and quickly.

Ammo matters

The group below was at 100 yards with some old FMJ ammo found in a magazine using a red dot 1X scope on the cheapest AR upper I could buy:

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This is with everything the same except the ammo:

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This is the same ammo with a precision rifle using a 14.5 X scope. This is 10 rounds with the last two, and possibly three rounds flying to the right after the wind came up:

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It is a handloaded 55 grain match grade bullet. In two rifles with 24” barrels it achieved 3,140 and 3,156 fps at the muzzle with standard deviations of 14.4 and 14.2 fps. With the cheap, short (18”?) barrel it came out of the muzzle at 2,943 fps with a standard deviation of 37.0 fps.

This is a load that works well in three very different rifles. I’m extremely pleased.

Large pistol primers for sale or trade

I have 1,000 CCI and 2,993 Winchester large pistol primers that, at the current consumption rate, I’ll consume sometime after Donald Trump Jr. finishes his second term.

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As primers are essentially impossible to get right now I thought I would sell them to someone that could use them. I’m selling them at the inflated price of $40/1,000 or I’ll trade them for an equal quantity of small pistol primers.

I don’t want to ship them. If you can meet me in the Bellevue area that works. Or I’ll probably be driving to Orofino Idaho sometime in the next couple of weeks. If you can meet me somewhere along the path of Bellevue, Vantage, Colfax, Troy, Kendrick, Cavendish, Lewiston, and Orofino* that would work too.


* No. That not the exact path. But either coming or going I will visit all those towns.

IMR 5010, Bofors, Others

Via email:

From: dj
Sent: Wednesday, September 2, 2020 9:44 AM
To: Joe Huffman
Subject: IMR 5010, Bofors, Others

Greetings Joe

A friend of mine is one of the late Bill Steigers’s sons – developer of Bitterroot Bullets in Lewiston, ID.  We were going through some of Bill’s leftover reloading supplies recently and came across several (full and partial) 20# canisters of old surplus reloading powder, including IMR 4831, H4831, Red Dot, Bullseye, DCM 4895 and some “flavor” of Bofors. There was also a large (original) box (originally weighed 150#) of IMR 5010.  I’d estimate that there are 30-40# remaining in it.

Some of the canisters are unopened. I inspected the ones that were open and all smelled OK, and appeared dry and in otherwise good condition. 

Bill’s son isn’t a ‘gun guy’ so I’m helping him out. I’d never be able to use even a small fraction of any of that powder, so I’m reaching out to anyone who might be plugged into a network of reloaders to see if anyone has any interest in any of this stuff.

Thank you.

Dan
Bonners Ferry, ID

If anyone has an interest send me an email (blog@joehuffman.org) and I’ll forward it on to Dan.

Broken Dillon XL650 indexer return spring

As I posted yesterday the indexer return spring (item 22) on my Dillon XL650 reloading press broke. Here is a picture of the two pieces:

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From looking at the larger piece with the naked eye I originally thought it might have been worn then broke. After I found the second piece and looked at them closely and together I decided it probably was a defective spring.

If someone has a different opinion I’m willing to listen.

Rounds in the last month

I haven’t done any reloading since February. I was working very long hours and finally got that project done earlier this month. And with the COVID-19 thing I didn’t really want to go to the range anyway, so why spend the time reloading ammo I wasn’t going to shoot for a while? When I received the email saying the Area 1 Championship, which I had signed up for last year, was still on I decided it was time to start practicing and reloading.

Today I started reloading some 200 grain bullets in .40 S&W. I only completed round 104 when the indexer return spring broke on my Dillon XL650 press. It sort of looked like I should consider it a consumable and I ordered five of them. At $1.99 (plus $8.49 shipping) I decided to order five so I could quickly replace it when the next one dies.

After ordering I thought about it some more and realized I had never lubricated the spring. If I had it might have lasted longer (I had only reloaded 21,584 rounds when it died).

No matter. I’ll have spares and maybe they will last longer too.

This brings my lifetime reloaded ammunition totals to:

223: 7592 rounds.
30.06: 756 rounds.
300 WIN: 2,126 rounds.
300 Savage: 50 rounds.
40 S&W: 109,877 rounds.
45 ACP: 2,007 rounds.
9 mm: 21,641 rounds.
Total: 144,049 rounds

Rounds in the last month & yearly report

This year was a bit slow on the reloading front. I spent a lot of time working on precision ammo for .300 Winchester Magnum and .223 rifles. Individually weighing the charges to less than 0.1 grains is extremely slow compared to the .40 S&W rounds I pump out on the Dillon XL650. And then there is the case preparation that consumes several seconds per round on top of that.

The last couple of months my supply of .40 S&W practice and USPSA match ammo became critically low and I ignored the rifle ammo. This last month I reloaded 5,786 rounds of .40 S&W. This is more rounds in a single month since the first month I began reloading. That was 10,944 rounds of 9mm in November 1997.

5,432 of those .40 S&W loads were 180 grain polymer coated bullets from Black Bullet International. This finished off my supply of those bullets and I loaded one box of the 200 grain bullets (552 bullets in a box instead of the stated 550). Mixed in there were test loadings of CCI 500 primers instead of the usual Winchester WSPs. I really like the Winchester primers but I thought would be a good idea to have loads for the CCI primers if we get into a situation where reloading components are difficult to get.

This brings my rounds for the year up to 12,114 and my lifetime count up to 143,638.

My yearly and lifetime reloading numbers are below,

Continue reading

Labradar chronograph on sale

My chronograph died a couple years ago and I went shopping for a new one. The radar based Labradar chronograph showed up in my search. At first I blew right on by it because it cost $600. I was expecting to pay something on the order of $100. But the more I looked around the more I thought about the radar unit.

No optical sensors to put up down range! I could go to the local indoor range and set it up in my stall and do my chronograph work rather than waiting for trip to Idaho or reserving the training bay to myself. It would also work under any lighting condition. Indoors I had to use special LED lights and cover the sensors to protect them from the flickering fluorescent lights. Even when I was outside if it got too late in the day there wouldn’t be enough light and I would have to supply artificial (non flickering) light. Set up and break down took time, especially with the extra lighting issues.

Another issue is that with the optical sensor chronograph you get the velocity for each shot at one particular distance from the muzzle. Labradar will give you velocities from the muzzle out to 100 yards depending on the size of the bullet. .22 caliber bullets, even under idea conditions, disappear from the radar at about 60 or 70 yards. It’s amazing it can do that well. For those with some physics and/or electrical engineering background think about the cross sectional area of the bullet and the length of the electromagnetic wave. How do you get a detectable reflection off of something that small from so far away? It’s amazing!

I finally spent the money. I rationalizing that it would save me a lot of time and I would have a lot faster turnaround during my load development. Plus I could use the down range data from a single shot fired to compute the ballistic coefficient of bullets that I didn’t have factory data for (think pulled military surplus bullets).

It was a little awkward to use at first. Then they came out with a free app for my phone. That made a huge difference in the usability of it. I am extremely pleased with it.

In a little over two years I have fired 1836 measured bullets (a few more were fired but weren’t detected because of setup error) resulting in 134 different series.

There is a single .CSV file (easily read and worked with in Excel) for each series giving the typical statistics at preset ranges and a different .CSV file for each shot fired with the velocity measured every two milliseconds. For a 1000 fps bullet this means you get the velocity of that bullet every two feet until it disappears from radar view. This is very cool!

Yesterday I received an email from Labradar saying the unit is on sale for $499.95 from November 9th until December 2nd. Details here. You need an external USB power supply. They sell one or you can get a USB charger from Amazon or elsewhere. I recommend getting their tripod. It’s sturdy and short enough you can shoot prone with it. I’m a little annoyed they don’t have more internal storage. If you have an old SD card laying around (or a smaller card with an adapter) use that. Even a couple of megabytes will be way more storage than you would ever use in a single session.

What color do you want?

I use two different color bullets to indicate major (black) and minor power (blue) factor loads. I’ve loaded a fair number of red bullets as well. I just noticed that Eggleston Munitions has 16 different colors available now:

EgglestonBulletColors

Wow. What to do with another color (or 13)…. Maybe white for extremely low power loads for new shooters. But what about the rest? Christmas presents for the kids?

.40 caliber Black Bullets International BC estimates

I couldn’t find Ballistics Coefficients on the Black Bullets International web page so using data from my chronograph over the range of 0 to 25 yards I made some estimates for the .40 caliber 180 grain and 200 grain bullets.

I came up with 0.199 for the 180 grain bullet and 0.179 for the 200 grain bullet. Yes, the heavier bullet has a lower BC.

I’m a little skeptical of this although I suppose it could be possible. The two bullets look like this with the 180 grain bullet on the left.

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The lube groove on the 200 grain bullet may increase the drag enough to account for the unexpectedly low BC.

Does anyone else have data that verifies or refutes my estimates?

Cleaning brass

In the comments Sendarius asks:

When you say “clean”, how do you do that?

Vibratory tumbler with dry media?
Rotating tumbler with wet media?
Power drill with a Brasso-soaked rag? /jk

I have been using a Lyman tumbler with walnut shell dry media for years, and I am considering switching to wet solution with those tiny stainless steel rods.
Others at my club have made that switch, and their brass looks amazing.

Any thoughts?

I first sort the brass using a set of these (Amazon also has them for $10 more):

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This is how the brass ended up in a five gallon bucket.

There is a similar product available for less money but I have not had my hands on them so I can’t compare the quality:

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Amazon sells it for the same price.

I then put the brass in an ultrasonic cleaner (I bought mine from Harbor Freight several years ago but Harbor Freight is slightly more than Amazon for what appears to be the same product):

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I use Hornady One Shot Sonic Cleaner Ultrasonic Case Cleaning Solution. I tried a homemade recipe using vinegar and Dawn dishwashing detergent but this works much better. I run the cleaner for at least 24 minutes (three cycles of 480 seconds each).

After the cleaning the brass may not look that great. But most of the remaining dirt/tarnish will come off in the rinse.

I then dump the brass and cleaning solution into a colander:

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I stir the brass with a gloved hand to remove most of the liquid.

I then rinse the brass in tap water:

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Again I stir the brass with my hand.

I drain and rinse two more times. The final rinse is done with distilled water from my dehumidifier.

After the final draining I put the brass on a rack above my dehumidifier. I built the rack from PVC pipe, a plastic screen, and transparent duct tape:

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The dehumidifier puts out warm dry air. I usually let it run for about eight hours and I may stir the brass a time or two.

When cleaning rifle brass I may remove the primers before cleaning. This will result in clean primer pockets as well as a clean interior and exterior.

If I want really shiny brass I will first run it through the vibratory cleaner with the usual corn cob or walnut shell media and a brass cleaner additive. I then follow up with the ultrasonic cleaning.

For many years I just used the vibrating cleaner with the corncob or walnut shell media but the ultrasonic cleaner gave me a faster throughput and the cases are cleaned on the inside as well as the outside.

I considered buying a wet, stainless steel pin, type cleaner but I decided what I had worked well enough.

It’s time to clean some brass

I haven’t reloading any .40 S&W ammo in a long time but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been shooting any. Here is a partial illustration:

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This is what I have picked up of the floor after practice as the local range before I sorted and cleaned it. Maybe five percent of that is 9mm or .45 ACP that got mixed in as I scooped it up. That this bucket is full means I don’t have a place to put the brass I’ll bring home from the range this week.

It’s time to sort, clean, and put away some brass.

Ammo aging

This last weekend I finally got around to doing some chronograph work on some (relatively) new loads I made last February. To make sure the chronograph was all set up correctly I fired some old rounds that weren’t marked but I was pretty sure what they were. The mean velocity should verify or disprove my hypothesis as well as do the function check on my chronograph setup.

The mean velocity was 3507.92 fps. I looked up the last time I had reloaded and chronographed the ammo. I last reloaded that bullet in April of 2001 and chronographed them using the same gun in May of 2001. The mean velocity from over 18 years ago was 3506 fps.

The ammo (and gun!) aged better than I expected. I like Varget powder even more than I did before.

Rounds in the last four months

I kept forgetting to make a post about my reloading activities. Partially because there hasn’t been much. But it was greater than zero and I intended to make my usual posts. Oh well.

March

80 rounds of match grade .223. This was four sets of 20 using various weights of CFE 223 powder. Even the hottest loads, showing some minor high pressure signs, were almost 20 fps slower than previous loads with Varget which showed no pressure signs. Varget is one of Hodgdon’s Extreme Rifle Powders which is extremely consistent from lot to lot and extremely temperature stable (actual test with 308 Winchester):

VargetExtreme

CFE 223 is not part of their Extreme product line.

April

125 rounds of match grade .223 using the previously tested Varget loading.

May

216 rounds of match grade .223 using the previously tested Varget loading.

2509 rounds of .40 S&W.

175 rounds of these were a load which tested hotter than expected. They resulted in a Power Factor of 182.7. My previous tests indicated this load should result in about a 175 PF. I was quite perplexed at this until I looked at my data closely. This velocity measurement was done when the temperature was 80F. My previous velocity measurements had been at a lower temperature. I verified this by cooling some of the ammo to 35F. The velocity was over 25 fps slower which was equivalent to a powder charge of 0.1 grains less. I put these rounds aside for a match in Idaho on a cold day.

The remainder of the .40 S&W rounds were of the load I wanted to use for USPSA matches when the temperature is 60 F or warmer.

June

61 rounds of match grade .223 using the previously tested Varget loading.

This brings my lifetime reloaded ammunition totals to:

223: 7,439 rounds.
30.06: 756 rounds.
300 WIN: 2,126 rounds.
300 Savage: 50 rounds.
40 S&W: 100,872 rounds.
45 ACP: 2,007 rounds.
9 mm: 21,641 rounds.
Total: 134,891 rounds

Over 100K rounds of .40 S&W! That’s kind of cool.

Chronograph stage at Area One

Prior to the Area One match in Bend Oregon I expressed some concerns about making Major Power Factor. It turns out I did just fine:

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I saw the chrono team weigh the bullet before getting any velocity measurements, 180.2 grains, and knew I was going to be okay. My sample of 20 had a minimum of 178.3, a maximum of 180.7 and a mean of 179.2. I was concerned they might pull a 177 or something. Then, if the velocity was really low for some reason I could be pushing the threshold and perhaps break into Minor Power Factor (< 165). But the velocities were good. Had they pulled a 177 grain bullet and measured the same velocities the power factor would have still been 170.6 and comfortably in Major.

The odds were low of getting a low velocity since my measurements indicated a mean velocity of 978.4 with a standard deviation of 10.6. But still, you never know how the tolerances might stack up against you on any given day. As it is I suspect the chronograph they used would not agree with my chronograph, which is another variable that is difficult to plan for.

Quality control

For USPSA matches I’ve been using 40 caliber 180 grain, polymer coated, Truncated Cone, bullets from Black Bullets International. They are very accurate, clean to reload, clean to shoot, and don’t have a jacket that comes back at you when you shoot at steel. I have reloaded almost 11,000 rounds using these bullets.

My only complaint about them is the quality control appears to be a bit marginal. One time I found a 125 grain 9mm bullet in with the 180 grain 40 caliber bullets and a few bullets which weighed as little as 177.5 grains.

The most concerning to me, which isn’t that big of a deal if you take it into account in your reloading, is the weight variation. They are advertised as 180 grain bullets. I have had batches that averaged 181.26 grains. And, most recently 179.2 grains.

Looking a bit closer at the data (a sample of 20 bullets) I found:

Mean Standard Deviation Min Max ES
179.2 0.574 178.3 180.7 2.4

If I had assumed the bullet weight was the advertised 180 grains, adjusted my load for 925 fps to get a 166.5 Power Factor and expected to meet the 165 minimum PF required to “make Major” at a USPSA match I would have ended up shooting Minor with a PF of 164.9 if chrono man had pulled a 178.3 grain (or less) bullet. This would have made me rather annoyed. One has to take into account the variation in bullet weights too, not just the average or the minimum from a sample. The statistics are a bit complicated and beyond the scope of this blog post but after taking into account the weight variation, velocity variation, and temperature sensitivity of the powder I had to load for a PF of about 175 at 70F to have less than a 10% chance of shooting Minor at a match where the chrono tested was done when the temperature was near freezing.

Okay, fine, that’s not really a big deal. I can tell the difference between a 175 PF load and a 165 PF load but it doesn’t make that much of a difference in performance.

Today I found another thing to annoy me about their quality control:

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It looks as if the bullet mold was not completely closed when the lead was poured. Why wasn’t that caught by some quality control process? When Barb and I toured the Montana Gold Bullet manufacturing facility QC was clearly a big deal. The bullet above clearly would have been rejected. But I have other indicators that Montana Gold may be an exception in the QC department.

 

Limits to muzzle velocity standard deviation

When attempting to get the best long range accuracy there are a number of contributing factors. Some of the are

  • The firearm components including barrel, scope, bedding of the stock, etc.
  • The consistency of the bullet in weight, jacket thickness consistency, and shape
  • The consistency of the primers
  • The consistency of the shell casing
  • The consistency of the powder
  • The consistency of the powder charge

When reloading these last five are the ones you have most under your control. You buy match grade bullets and primers and obtain good brass. You might even weight each piece of brass and turn the necks to be uniform.

The muzzle velocity variation is a major contributor at the longer ranges. Suppose you are shooting a 69 grain Sierra Match King bullet with a BC of 0.301 at a MV of 3000 fps.

Here are the odds of getting a 0.5 MOA result at various ranges assuming everything else is perfect (zero wind, perfect bullets, etc.) with the muzzle velocity variation the only contribution to the inaccuracy (via Modern Ballistics):

MV Stdev \  Range 200 300 400 500
10 fps 100% 100% 100% 99.6%
15 fps 100% 100% 98.7% 80.8%
20 fps 100% 99.8% 84.4% 50.4%

As a reference point on expected standard deviation of MVs, for 55 grain American Eagle FMJ ammo I get from 20 to 25 fps. If I let the default powder measure on the Dillion 550 do the powder charges I sometimes get up to 30 fps. With match ammo from Federal and Blackhills using 10 or more shot samples I typically see 12 to 18 fps with one 10 shot sample giving me 8.3 fps.

As you can see muzzle velocity variation makes a big difference and it’s tough to get it in the range of 10 fps.

The next question is, “How much tight of tolerance on powder mass is required to get the standard deviation into the range of 10 fps?” Or put another way, “What is the MV change per unit mass of powder?”

By measuring the average velocity for powder charges on either side of your chosen load you can get an approximate answer. It’s important to not make the difference be too large from the load in question because the relationship between powder mass and velocity is not linear. And if you make the delta too small you lose your “signal” in the “noise”.

I did this measurement for two different powders for .223 loads. I was a bit surprised to find that for both powders the muzzle velocity sensitivity to powder mass was very close to the same and larger than I expected. For Varget it was 11.10 fps/0.1 grain and for CFE 223 it was 10.14 fps/0.1 grain.

What this means is that having powder masses +/- 0.1 grain can blow your entire muzzle velocity standard deviation budget!

My electronic powder scale only has a resolution of +/- 0.1 grain. Furthermore, I have found that with extruded cylinder powders like Varget three kernels of the powder weigh about 0.1 grain. Hence, if you want to get muzzle velocity standard deviations with a relatively small powder charge into the range of 10 fps you must measure it down to, literally, one or two kernels of powder.

So, how do you do that?

What I did was set my electronic charge dispenser to output 0.1 grains less than my desired charge. I then add the one, two, or three additional kernels of powder and stop when the scale first indicates the correct charge. Using this technique I loaded 15 rounds and measured them with a doppler radar chronograph. I got a standard deviation of 12.5 fps. from a loading that has approximately 11.1 fps delta for each 0.1 grain of powder.

So… what I want to know, is how do factories output 100’s of thousands (millions?) of rounds of match ammo with standard deviations in the range of 10 fps?

Rounds in the last month

During February I was sort of blocked on some rifle reloading I wanted to do. I needed to test out some new loads before I went “into production” with them. I normally like to do my rifle load tests in Idaho where I have several hundred yards available. I went to Idaho a couple weeks ago but there was so much snow that I ended up not having the energy and time to snowshoe the distances required to set up the targets and do the shooting I wanted to do. I finally joined a local range in the Seattle area which has 200 yards available. I went there yesterday and did some of the testing I wanted to do.

I reloaded 80 sample rounds with various charges and bullets for .300 Win Mag and another 99 rounds finishing off some old bullets.

In .223 I reloaded 60 sample rounds in various charges for one powder and bullet. I was able to test these and concluded I should test a different powder before settling for the best this combination could give me.

This brings my lifetime reloaded ammunition totals to:

223: 6,957 rounds.
30.06: 756 rounds.
300 WIN: 2,126 rounds.
300 Savage: 50 rounds.
40 S&W: 98,363 rounds.
45 ACP: 2,007 rounds.
9 mm: 21,641 rounds.
Total: 131,900 rounds