reloading from a newbie

Discussion in 'Reloading' started by jmason, Dec 30, 2008.

  1. jmason

    jmason Well-Known Member

    Feb 6, 2008
    Loading for long range can be a bit rough for people like me who haven’t done it before. Those of you that have been doing this a while will probably find this elementary. This post is more for people like me just getting their feet wet with factory rifles. I make no claim’s to be a great shot or have any depth of knowledge in this topic as this was my first run. This is information I’ve gathered over the last 8 months or so. I hope something in this cuts the curve a little for others as I took the long way.

    There seem to be 2 methods most people use for reloading. The “OCW” (Optimum Charge Weight) method from Dan Newberry as well as Creighton Audette’s “Ladder method”. Everyone seems to have a version or mix of these two that works for them. I started with the "ladder" method and ended up with a mix of the two.The idea behind these methods is to find that repeatable, accurate load using very little time and consumables. Interpretations of the methods are widely available in forums, other sources and one can even be discussed with its author. When using these methods for finding the accuracy required for taking long shots, the results can be confusing for someone new to the game. I have loaded up “short range” hunting ammo that shoots fine at a hundred yards in the past. It certainly won’t pass scrutiny beyond that. When you start stretching things out it gets difficult. I found the information (other than Chrono data) I gathered at 100 yards to pretty well be useless at longer distances. Hence, for me, come the next step , shooting further and using that data. I started shooting my ladders and confirming charges at 200 or 300 yards depending on conditions. What happened? My lack of confidence in shooting further away made my collected data hard to sort out. I’d bombard people with questions (that I’d eventually answer on my own).I got through it by re-shooting what I thought might be a potential load 2 or 3 times just to be sure. I burned up a ton of money, powder, bullets, and barrel. This is where I started learning to trust myself and what my capabilities are. This (in my situation) needed to be done so I would learn to interpret my own results.

    What I knew I needed was low shot to shot velocity deviations and like points of impact on the target. You can get one or the other at one or more locations down range. I had light varmint bullets that had a low velocity spread and good grouping until I went past 250 yards. I’ve also had loads with good grouping to 400 yards with unacceptable velocity spreads. I have no idea why, I just knew that these loads wouldn’t work. Back to that damned “drawing board” again. That part right there is very discouraging, but it’s a necessary evil. I’ve run almost 800 rounds down range just trying to get the loading and interpretation aspects down. I’m still not there entirely.

    Before, I’d really get hung up on one powder, one primer, and/or bullet. I spent a ton of time trying to “make” the combo work. Don’t do that. If you trust yourself at all move on because dwelling on what’s not working won’t help you find what will. What I eventually did was pick a bullet, 3 different powders, and shoot a ladder with each powder and 3 different primers. It’s a lot of work, but that’s what it takes “work”. This is something most people probably already do but take for granted that you’re doing it too.It could also be that I just went overkill on the situation. Either way it helped me start to understand what worked or what didn’t. I looked for a couple charges a step apart from each other to land close to each other on paper and have like speeds (within about 9 fps). Some times it would happen, and others it didn’t. In the image below (first ladder with 270 win) I thought charges 9and 10 of RL22 might yield something. So I went back loaded up 3 rounds of each and got nothing. Most seasoned loaders or long range shooters would have thrown this target away and not looked back. Me? I didn’t know any better and burnt some more life out of my barrel.

    This 300 yard ladder of RL 22 didn’t cut it.
    Nor did this 200 yd IMR4831

    I did the same thing with IMR 4831. It wasn’t a complete waste of time because now I know what it looks like when a powder likely won’t work. So, I then tried H4831SC.

    1.5 MOA on whole ladder

    Something here has got to work here, right?

    So I took 3 rounds each of charges 5 and 6 which had like speeds and landed together. I went from a couple 10ths of a grain below charge 5, to a couple 10ths above charge 6 in 2/10 grain steps. What I found was this was indeed an accuracy node, and found the edges of this node. The groups within the node were from .25-.75 MOA at 200 yards. Next step is to put some more rounds further down range and make sure the groups and speeds are acceptable. By this time I know I’m not a consistent ½ MOA shooter. I have good days where I get less than .5(even under 1/4 once in a while) but I need to honest with myself for interpretation purposes.

    I couldn’t get good velocity spreads with H4831SC and the Federal match primers I used in the ladder. The effects of the velocity spread didn’t become obvious to me until I shot a group at 500yds. I had vertical dispersion that matched the velocity (about 20fps) changes. I’m not saying this happens this way with everyone it just did for me. However, I now have a much better idea what I’m looking for. So I tried 2 more ladders; one with CCI primers and one with Winchesters both with H4831SC as it appeared to be the most accurate powder(on paper). I did end up with a better load using the CCI primers but it was consistent only 70-80% of the time. I reshot the load on 3 occasions and 1 or 2 out of every 5 shots would drop or increase to an unacceptable speed. What to do now? Forget about using the 135 Gr. Match Kings, and try another bullet? I read somewhere that someone was having good luck with Ballistic Tips in the 270 Win chambering so I gave that a try as well.

    Same deal inconsistent speeds (after 4 powders), grouping was equal to the SMKs at long range (around MOA), and short range grouping was good.At this point I also tried several other things like a LEE collet neck sizing die(to try to get more consistent neck tension), checking brass for concentricity and sorting by it (I was told this really won’t settle my velocity but helps accuracy), as well as turning my case necks(should help with both speed deviations and accuracy, right?). I got some advice to try to sort my brass by like velocities, so I did. I went to the range and shot the BTs, and the SMKs at 600 yards. I marked each shot on the target with the speed, and wrote the speed on the spent brass. The target marking will show the vertical dispersion with speeds to correlate it. Unfortunately that didn’t work. I didn’t get vertical dispersion that matched the speeds at all. I should not have driven out and marked the target between shots. It took me about 35 minutes to shoot the string and conditions had certainly changed over that period.I then shot the speed sorted brass to see if the brass was the culprit. The next day I went to the range with my speed sorted brass and shot a mostly horizontal group with speeds all over the place again.

    Speed from last firing - Speed this firing


    they were shot in the order listed.

    A few weeks ago I was reading an old thread where someone was shooting 3 shot strings of charges and stepping up the powder with each string. I had an epiphany. These 1 shot, 1 charge ladders I was shooting were leading me a stray. If your barrel doesn’t like a particular charge you get wide velocity swings. So just because I got like velocities on 2 or 3 shots using the method I did doesn’t really tell me it will happen again because the next time they could be way different speeds.

    When something like this happened I figured I found a node. So I’d go back and shoot 5 of the center charge that produced these speeds. Well they wouldn’t repeat. 3 of 5 shots would be good but the other 2 would be too fast or slow. This is not to say they didn’t group well at closer ranges because they often did. Now I took what I read in the thread and tried it. It was the same idea but with more shooting. I grabbed a couple old 1 shot, 1 charge ladders I shot and started where I left off. I loaded 3 rounds of what I thought was the low end of a node then and went up in 2/10 grain increments for about a 2 grains. The reason I went with 2/10 increments was to find the center of a node if there was one. I shot all 3 shots of each charge, recorded the speeds and let the barrel cool 5 minutes between strings. I did this with the two bullets mentioned before. The 135 gr. match kings still never repeated, but the 140 gr. BTs did on 3 consecutive 3 shot strings I had a 7 fps ES. So I loaded up 5 more just to confirm (also my last 5 bullets which were sorted odd weights) I got an ES of 14, and an SD of 4.97. Finally something I could work with. 57 grains of H4831SC, 140 Grain BTs, and CCI BR2 primers. The bottom line here is that I missed my node on many occasions by using a 1 shot, 1 charge ladder work up method. As for the 135s, I’ve been told sometimes a bullet just won’t work in a particular barrel.

    Some who have been doing it for a while, or started out shooting long range can take the skills and knowledge they have for granted. If you don’t have a background in distance shooting or reloading for consistent accuracy it can be down right discouraging! There are many (helpful to newbies) details that don’t get mentioned unless you are specific in your questions. It’s not that they are secrets either. You have to know what to ask in some cases, and in others it may be assumed you already know certain things. If you’re like me sometimes you comprehend what you've read only after you've got to the point you experienced what ever it was.

    I’m still not 100% confident in deciphering my results but I’m getting better. Hopefilly something in this post cuts the learning curve down for you.

    The best advice I can offer to someone starting out is to not get discouraged. You have to keep trying until things start to become clearer.

    Special thanks to a few fellows who I’ve PM’d about reloading. You know who you are….
  2. goodgrouper

    goodgrouper Well-Known Member

    Sep 3, 2004
    Glad you finally found the right combination and I hope I wasn't too confusing in my explanation of the loading process. Sometimes, when guys ask me to help them find a load, I end up going right over their heads!

    And I totally agree with your statement here:
    "There are many (helpful to newbies) details that don’t get mentioned unless you are specific in your questions. It’s not that they are secrets either. You have to know what to ask in some cases, and in others it may be assumed you already know certain things. If you’re like me sometimes you comprehend what you've read only after you've got to the point you experienced what ever it was."

    There are just certain things that can't be taught until the learner "visualizes" what your talking about and they can't do that until they "get to a certain point". The teacher isn't keeping secrets, it's just what you said.

    The three shot incremental load development that I told you about works. In fact, yesterday, I took a brand spankin new 6br improved to the range with 6 rows of charges loaded up with three shots each to test for group at 100 yards while chronographing. I found two loads that had good groups and very small standard deviations. So I picked the load that had just a slightly larger group (.3" vs. a .220") but slightly better numbers (4 fps vs. 9 fps) and I went back inside and loaded up 12 shots of this load. I then went back outside and fired a group at 900 yards. It was a nice 4.25" five shot group. Then I handed the gun over to a buddy and let him shoot it. He plunked down a nice 7 shot 4.5" group. Not too bad!!

    I had a load that was drilling them at 900 yards and it only took about 45 minutes total time to find it and that was with load time and cleaning mixed in there. It works!

    Now I will just fine tune it a little with seating depths and see if I can't sweeten it up a little more.
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2008

  3. royinidaho

    royinidaho Writers Guild

    Jan 20, 2004

    Great post. I enjoyed the read and review. You're doin' pretty good for a fella from Wampum:D Go Moniteau Warriors..........:)

    Try doing that for every time you try a new rifle over a 40 year period, like I did.

    Once I got into this group of fellas load workup has become like what GG posted. Of course that was after getting my first Kirby built rifle. Then I still burned up a bunch of time, resources and barrel. :rolleyes: