Tuning for long range

Discussion in 'Rifles, Bullets, Barrels & Ballistics' started by Alex Wheeler, Oct 17, 2017.

  1. Alex Wheeler

    Alex Wheeler Well-Known Member

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    I figured I'd take some time to share how I go about tuning a new rifle intended for long range hunting. I'll say up front I have tried every method out there and have settled on this one for a few reasons. First, it works. It has always provided me with loads that perform. Its fast and easy. Most times I can tune a hunting rifle in less that 20 rounds. I have 100% faith it the method, when I was still competing in 1000 yard Benchrest I would shoot a ladder the night before every match and load exactly what the ladder told me. That year I set 2 group aggregate world records. It would not have happened without the ladders.
    When you get your new rifle, load a light load and go put 100 rounds on the barrel. Use this time to get the scope setup, break in the barrel, and learn the rifle. Most barrels will change in that first 100 or so shots and you will be re-tuning if you find a load right away. I have been down that road so many times that I just dont try and cheat it anymore. You should also take some cases and work up .5 grains at a time until you hit pressure (stiff bolt lift). If you MUST do some load work before 100 rounds just play with seating depth but dont fall in love. Once you have that first 100 down and you know where pressure is in your barrel it time to load a ladder test. I would have to assume we have a basic knowledge of what powders, primers, and bullets seem to work well in the case we're loading for. I will usually pick 2 powders and load ladders with powder charges spaced .6%. So for a case that holds an 80 grain charge you would go in .5 grain incidents. Load about 10 cases ending just under your max. Example for a 28 Nosler with an 89 grain max
    84
    84.5
    85
    85.5
    86
    86.5
    87
    87.5
    88
    88.5

    Usually this will show you your upper node and the next one down. I didn't mention seating depth. Here I will say I usually always find accuracy just in or just off the lands. I will start with a seating depth that I know that bullet seems to like. Certain bullets do in my experience seem to like the similar seating depths across many rifles. I will list a few examples
    215 Breger Hybrid .010" off
    195 Berger Hybrid .015" off
    300 Breger hybrid .015" in
    180 Berger Hybrid .020" off
    If its a new to me bullet and there is no good data I will usually start .010" off, unless its really long like the 300 or 230, then I will put it .015" in. For some reason those long heavy bullets have responded very well to being in the lands. I have never pulled a bullet, I do not use very light neck tension. I have found most rifles will shoot best with more. I typically start with .003". Do nothing to the inside of your necks other than brush with a stiff nylon brush, do NOT remove the carbon from inside your necks.
    Im no writer and have bounced around, but I will tell you how to perform the ladder now. So you have your 10 loaded cases. Color from the ogive to the tip with a sharpie. Blue, red, green, and yellow are best. Record the colors so you know what they are and you will have to repeat their use because we dont have 10 colors to use. But you will be able to tell what are what, as the hotter ones usually will climb the target. Use your judgement on the range at which to shoot. If things are decent I will go to 600 if they are not great I will go to 300, but never less. You need to use your chrony for this. Use a clean white piece of paper, butchers paper works well or the back of a target. Fire all the rounds at the same aim point. adjust your scope so they print off to the side so you can read them better. With ladders we are looking for bullets to climb, then for 2-3 shots to stop and form a group before starting back up the target. Those spots where the shots level out also have to correspond with a flat spot in velocity to work for a hunting rifle. We are looking for the spot the barrel has given us leeway in load variations as well as a flat spot in velocity which will provide us with good ES. You then pick a powder charge in the middle of that flat spot and adjust seating depth if needed to achieve the accuracy your after.

    I must note that this method requires a well built rifle that is capable of good accuracy. We are depending on the rifle to pet every shot where it should go. I would not recommend shooting a ladder with a 1moa rifle, there will be too much built in vertical to make sense of it. Also you must be capable of breaking good shots, and choosing a day worthy of testing. If you test on a bad day with highs winds or mirage you will end up chasing your tail. It does not need to be perfect, but it needs to be decent. This was a lot of typing but I guarantee you if you do it in a controlled manner you will love the accuracy and efficiency of the process. Im sure I missed something, but Im just tired of typing at this point. Im happy to answer any questions...
     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2017
  2. Alex Wheeler

    Alex Wheeler Well-Known Member

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    This is a classic example of what to look for


    30 nos ladder.jpg
     
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  3. odoylerules

    odoylerules Well-Known Member

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    Great stuff, thanks!
    After you’re done with the ladder, how do you like to experiment/play with seating depth? I’m assuming 100 yard groups?
    Also, what cleaning regimen do you use during all this testing and after?
     
  4. Rhovee

    Rhovee Well-Known Member

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    Alex,
    Appreciate all the info you post on different topics, there very helpful. Since your shooting your ladder over a chrono, have you ever found a node or flat spot in velocity that didn't print a nice group like your shots 5,6,7. I am curious if you could arrive at the same place just using a chrono and powder charge.
     
  5. Alex Wheeler

    Alex Wheeler Well-Known Member

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    You could do it at 100 and verify it at distance. I like to go to 300 at least. If the rifle is shooting good, say around .5 moa then I only move .002" at a time. You can go right past a good seating depth with big changes. .005" would be a coarse adjustment for me. Cleaning is simple. IF you want to do a break in one shot and clean until you quit seeing blue. That will take about the whole day to do right and you will only fire 8-10 rounds. When I say clean I mean to bare steel. It will take an hour to clean that first shot out of the bore (copper). I dont really bother anymore. I just clean about every 30-50 rounds. Use a bronze brush every time. You dont have to get them spotless but dont let copper or carbon build up.
     
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  6. Alex Wheeler

    Alex Wheeler Well-Known Member

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    A lot of times yes they do line up. But its not un common they dont. In that case I switch to another powder. The nice thing about shooting a ladder over a chrony is you have something to support what you see. You can shoot some really good ladders but velocities that do not make me comfortable for a hunting rifle which will be used in all types of conditions and ranges.
     
  7. Rhovee

    Rhovee Well-Known Member

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    Reason for asking is that In order to shoot 300 yards I have to drive 1.5 hours one way. I can shoot 100-200 close to my house. But you mentioned sometimes the velocity and poi are the same and sometimes there not. What is an acceptable Es or sd for you?
     
  8. phorwath

    phorwath Well-Known Member

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    This thread is well timed for me. I have a rifle that needs put thru load development.
    I've been reading a lot about seating depth being the first step to accuracy load development, followed by the ladder.
    And then many use the ladder first, followed by fine tuning consisting of seating depth adjustment.

    Some highly experienced shooters in both camps. It's time for me to pick one method and get on with it. I like Alex's method combining the ladder with chronographed bullet velocities. Kills two birds with "one shot". Errrr, maybe 10 shots...
     
  9. Alex Wheeler

    Alex Wheeler Well-Known Member

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    If you have to shoot at 100 you are stuck shooting groups. Draw a horizontal line and put your aim points on that line. While shooting 3 shot groups you will see the poi shift up and down in a wave. That tells you where the barrel is pointing when the bullets are exiting. Look for a good load just before the highest point on that wave. You will have to test it for ES. You will have to shoot more at 100 and it may not pan out at long range, but if you find a good load just before the high point in the sine wave you should be close. Do not be afraid to tweak powder charges at distance if you see too much vertical. Under 20 on the ES is acceptable. 15-20 is a realistic goal.
     
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  10. Rhovee

    Rhovee Well-Known Member

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    So the age old question. If I had a 1.2 grain powder node. Have a load that shoots 15 es and .25-.3" group at 100, it might not be a proven 1k yard load?
     
  11. Rich Coyle

    Rich Coyle Well-Known Member

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    So the idea of using .020" or .030" is generally a waste of ammo to you?
     
  12. Alex Wheeler

    Alex Wheeler Well-Known Member

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    That load may shoot at 1k or it may be 14" of vertical. Thats a fact, seen it many times. If your on the wrong side of the sine wave it will be all vertical at long range. No matter how you do it, you need to always verify the load at long range to be sure. Many good loads have been worked up at 100yds, just be sure you take them out to long range to be sure its working.
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2017
  13. Alex Wheeler

    Alex Wheeler Well-Known Member

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    You mean making seating depth changes that large? You could be jumping over a lot of good tunes doing that. I would compare that to making 2 grain jumps in powder charge.
     
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  14. CaptnC

    CaptnC Well-Known Member

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    I'm in...very good stuff.

    Thanks Alex!