October 2010 Cover Page

October 1907
The Rifleman's Journal
A Collection of Articles Dealing with Rifle Accuracy Topics

Cavalry Match Winners - Sea Girt

This Month
Hap Rocketto - Bill Brophy Biography
Townsend Whelen - ABC of Marksmanship
Germán Salazar - Reloading Tips
Germán Salazar - Palma Preparation
Germán Salazar - Front Sight Filters
More to come...

15 Cents 

Reloading: 6BR Reloading Tips

6BR Reloading Tips
by Germán A. Salazar

This month we have a few questions from Wayne that are of general interest.  Wayne is interested in the details of neck turning for the 6BR.
Hi Germán
Thanks so much for the detailed information on reloading. After reading the article titled Neck Turning Basics (Dec.2009) I had a few questions.

1. In section titled Brass preparation you said "size your brass with a full length non-bushing die and trim to uniform length. If the brass is new, run it over the expander and trim to uniform length." My question is..starting with new 6 BR brass, do you suggest running the brass through a full length die, then an expander and then trim to length?

2. Also in the section titled Brass Preparation you recommend the Hornady New Dimension as your non-bushing die. When I checked the Hornady web site the only New Dimension die I could find had bushings. My question is..am I looking at the wrong Hornady die, have the changed this die since you wrote the article and if so do you have another recommendation? Currently I have a set of Redding type S match bushing die set. Included in that set is a body die, will that work in place of the Hornady New Dimension Die that you talk about or do you recommend something different?

3. Currently I use a Nielson turner and turn by hand. Do you have any thoughts or recommendations about this equipment?

4. Do you have any other tips about reloading the 6BR? I just received my Eliseo tube stock and Borden action. When the Jewell trigger arrives I will finish the assembly of the rifle. Thank you so much for the recommendations they were spot on, both supply a premium product.

Thanks for your time to answer my questions.


Hi Wayne,

I'm glad the article was useful, let's look at your questions.

1. With brand new brass, you can go right to the expander, then trim to length and neck turn. No need to FL size.

2. I just did a search on Midway USA and Sinclair and all I see are Hornady bushing dies, as you mentioned. Give Hornady a call to find out, I'd be interested to know if they dropped the non-bushing die.  In any event, I found that Redding now has a non-bushing 6 BR die, it's here and it will work fine; I have their non bushing dies in .30-06 and they are excellent.
The body die won't do what you need because it specifically doesn't touch the neck. For neck turning the reason to use a non bushing die (or new brass) is that you need to size the neck for a tight fit on the expander, but you can't have the little bulge at the base of the neck that a bushing die leaves. If you have the bulge, the cutter will really thin the brass at that point and the neck will separate from the case, probably on the first firing.

3. I've never handled a Nielson but all reports are that it is a first class piece of equipment. One of my friends has one and I'd really like to see it, hopefully he'll bring it by one day. If you choose to go with a bit of power for driving the case, I recently got a Black and Decker cordless screwdriver to replace my old Craftsman. The new one has Lithium batteries and seems to work better and longer.

4. The last tip is to stick to very mild primers such as Wolf, Federal 205M or CCI BR4. They will always give you better results than hotter primers like the CCI 450, Remington, etc. Also, this is a pure accuracy cartridge, it works really well in the 2750 to 2830 fps range, no need to push beyond that. I think Reloder 15 is the best overall powder, but Varget, H4895, IMR 4320, N140 and other powders in that burn range all work well.

Enjoy the rifle and stay in touch!


Equipment: Glare Cutting Filters Part 2

Glare Cutting Filters - Part 2
by Germán A. Salazar

In the first article evaluating the glare cutting filters from Shooting Sight, I wrote that I would shoot my next match with the fixed aperture made from the smoke colored material.  This week, I shot a 500 yard match at the north-facing Rio Salado Sportsman's Club where light conditions are always good and the wind is always tricky.  Using the same rifle and load with which I shot the 600-41X last week, I shot a 599-41X, the sole stray being entirely my error as I got caught in a fast let-off in the wind.
The picture above shows the dramatic difference in light conditions when compared to the picture in the first article from the south-facing Phoenix Rod & Gun Club.

There were two areas of interest in evaluating the fixed aperture: i) would the bevel cut into the filter material provide a sufficiently wide and sufficiently dark ring around the bull, and ii) what would be the effect of the loss of the crossbar which I use to gauge how level I have the rifle.

Once I got behind the rifle and took aim, all concerns about the ring vanished as it was every bit as bold and dark as that of the variable aperture.  I tried to get a good photo of that, but it's quite difficult to line things up properly and maintain the camera's focus on the front sight while juggling things around at the range.  Nonetheless, I think the photo at the right gives and adequate idea of how the ring appears. You can enlarge the photo by clicking it.

As to the loss of the crossbar, something entirely unexpected happened - I loved not having it!  The unobstructed sight picture is beautiful.  The bull and surrounding white area shine through the aperture like a beacon and I feel more decisive on the trigger.  I don't use spirit levels in the front sight because I think they're a distraction and potential glare-maker, but the crossbar provided some comfort level as to being level.  In reality, maybe it's just another distraction too, because I find myself very comfortable without it.  My elevation dispersion was excellent and, as I mentioned, I felt more decisive and was thus able to take shots a little faster which always helps in a switching wind.

This insert is a 3.8mm which I find appropriate for the MR-65 target used at 500 yards.  It is just big enough that the sides of the target frame are creeping into the aperture - I like a lot of white around the bull.  My next step is to order a few other sizes so that I can shoot the Palma course with fixed inserts.  I have a feeling this might be one of those small but genuine improvements that can have a positive effect on long-run average scores.  A sight picture that "pops" at you and gives you the ability to take a shot more quickly is definitely  something of value.

Art Neergaard

ShootingSight LLC
email: shootingsight@nuvox.net

Good Stuff: 21st Century Shooting Arbor Press

21st Century Shooting Arbor Press
by Germán A. Salazar

Reloading at the range with an arbor press and Wilson dies is my preferred method of load development.  I just received a new arbor press from 21st Century Shooting, and am very favorably impressed by it.

An arbor press' basic function is simple enough: exert sufficient downward pressure on the die to either size the case neck or seat the bullet depending on which die is in use.  It isn't a mechanically challenging function, in fact it can be done with a rawhide mallet.  So why do we use an arbor press and what should be look for in one?  Consistent operation, sensitive feel, quality of design and machining are the hallmarks of a good arbor press and this one from 21st Century comes away with good marks in all areas. 

For my initial session with the press, I seated 72 bullets in .30-06 cases, another 70 in .308 cases and neck sized a handful of cases (just for evaluation since I prefer to full-length size).   The design of the actuating arm, which angles slightly away from the press was very convenient, allowing me to operate it with less jostling of the press because my fingers weren't bumping into the press head as they sometimes do with my previous press that has the handle parallel to the press head.  That's a nice touch and shows the press was designed by someone who has used these things.

The press uses a relatively light return spring which materially aids the feel of seating pressure.  I prefer this to a heavier return spring which would reduce the feel that I really look for in an arbor press.  For someone who uses very heavy neck tension this might not be a big concern, but because I usually use 0.001" to 0.002" neck tension, the ability to detect small levels of variance in seating pressure is important to me.

Every part of the 21st Century press reflects careful thought and skilled machining.  The knurled wheel for adjusting the height of the press head is a distinct improvement over the plastic hardware store knobs seen on many presses.  The aluminum press head itself is nicely anodized, the steel base well blued and the shaft nicely polished.  Even the decapping base reflects careful design as well as precise machining.  Overall, the press gives a look and feel of quality and is a welcome addition to my range reloading setup.

Equipment: Glare Cutting Filters

Glare Cutting Donut Filters
by Germán A. Salazar

All of us have at one time or another struggled with glare in the front sight at certain ranges and certain times of year.  There are a lot of ways to deal with glare, shade tubes being the most commonly seen.  I prefer to avoid any type of extension on the front or rear sight, especially anything that hangs past the muzzle where the muzzle blast can cause damage and in any event, I haven't found those tubes to be very effective.  However, the need to do something about the glare at our south-facing range at the Phoenix Rod & Gun Club has become essential for me.  At this time of year, the sun is directly in front at this range and I really struggle to get a clear sight picture. 
The photo above, taken today (Oct. 16, 2010) clearly illustrates the problem at PRGC as the early morning sun is from the left and front - note the backlit flag and the direction of the shadows.  As the sun continues to rise, it aligns itself right down the range towards the shooters.  Apart from the glare, the bull is hard to see on the targets once they're up because the light is coming from behind the target, not from the front.  A very challenging set of light conditions which will worsen from now through February as the sun stays lower in the sky month by month.
I recently spoke to Art Neergaard about this problem.  Art manufactures a number of innovative products for rifle sights through his company ShootingSight LLC and he had an idea for me.  The idea was simple in concept, a filter for the front sight with a hole in the middle so as not to darken the already dim bull and yet, it would cut the glare that otherwise enters the front sight.  A donut filter - brilliant in so many ways!  The picture at left shows the filter mounted on the sight.  When you're looking through the sights, there isn't the large gap around the aperture, it's actually a very close match.  Sticking the camera right into the sight obviously changes the perspective a bit.
I mentioned in an earlier article about preparing for the Palma season that I wanted to evaluate the Centra Goliath sight on the new Palma tubegun, since Art intended to make the filters for the 30mm size, this was a good time to begin that evaluation as well.  My last match score with this rifle, five weeks ago before the light got bad, was a 600-42X, since then, I've had a couple of poor matches with other rifles as the light and glare have really troubled me.  With the 600-42 as a "good condition baseline" with this rifle I was eager to see how the filters would work.
Art sent me a few items: two filters, one gray and one orange and one holder for them as well as a fixed aperture cut in the same material as the filters, with a beveled edge like the ones available for many years for smaller sights.  The filters are interchangeable in the holder and can be changed in a minute or so.  The aperture, however, is fixed as the hole is drilled in a lathe after mounting the disc in the holder - this ensures perfect concentricity for the aperture, something that is less critical for the filters. 
Arriving at the range I mounted the yellow filter first and looked through it.  Frankly, although it cut glare well, I hate the look of an orange world!  A quick change of filter and another look through the sights showed a good, glare-free and natural looking sight picture with the gray filter.  OK, let's shoot!

Shooting a good mid-range .308 load with Winchester brass, Federal primers, IMR 4064 (manufactured in 1960, just like me) and moly-coated Sierra 190 gr. bullets, the rifle showed it's good breeding giving me a 200-12X, 200-15X and 200-14X for a 600-41X, my 22nd score of 600!  Well, quite a dramatic improvement over the last couple of weeks when I struggled to shoot 590, and back to the score I shot five weeks ago when the light was still good.  Hooray!  So yes, I'm very satisfied with the concept of the filter with a hole in it.  All the extraneous glare that was hurting my sight picture was gone and the bull remained unimpaired.  Not that the bull was too good to begin with as all I can see is a fuzzy gray blob out there, but keeping the center unfiltered was better than some solid filters I've tried in the past.  Click the picture to enlarge it and look at the targets over my shoulder to see how the backlight affects their visibility.

 At left is a photo that shows the relative glare cutting effect of the filter. 

 This photo shows the filter from the front of the sight.  Everything fit perfectly and caused me no additional concerns, in fact, I was more relaxed today than I have been in weeks as the struggle to see was transformed into a very workable sight picture.

Art intends to make some clear donut filters to use as a rain shield for shooters with a front lens in their sight.  That would keep raindrops off the lens, most importantly, off the middle of the lens where a drop could destroy the shooter's ability to see the bull properly.


Although I intended to try the fixed aperture also, I ended up shooting the entire match today with the filter and the Centra variable aperture; I'll try to use the fixed aperture (photo at left) next week.  The value of a fixed aperture shouldn't be underestimated.  It provides a lower cost way to use a 30mm sight, an important consideration given the current $175 price of the adjustable aperture.  Perhaps just as important, the fixed aperture is something that should be in every high-end shooter's kit in case of failure of the adjustable, which has been known to happen.  If I were traveling across the country or around the world to a match, you can be sure there would be a set of fixed apertures of various sizes in my kit to back up the adjustable iris.

  Click here for Part 2 of this article.
Art Neergaard
ShootingSight LLC
email: shootingsight@nuvox.net

Hap's Corner: The Good Old Days

by Hap Rocketto

When I made my first trip to Camp Perry I was overwhelmed by the long awaited and anticipated experience. Day after day of shooting, free meals three times a day in the Mess Hall, a Spartan but adequate bunk in a hut, the company of like minded souls, and Commercial Row. I was living large. Yet, as great as it was I was constantly reminded that I was a late comer and had missed the ‘Good Old Days’. Now that I am in what I call my ‘anecdotage’ I fondly recall my ‘Good Old Days’ to the distress of today’s youngsters.

In expectation of that first trip, I dove into musty issues of The American Rifleman from the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, submerging myself in the aura, history, and lore of Camp Perry. When I finally got there shooting veterans wistfully told me of the days before a politically correct Congress stripped away Federal funding, a time that that would never be seen again. I had missed the military bands tooting and banging away, the columns of soldiers, sailors, and Marines marching to the pits to pull targets or act as scorers, and merchandise freebies doled out by the big gun and ammunition manufacturers.

Still, it was quite a place. Almost everyone lived “on post.” There were hundreds of huts, long gone, where modules and barracks now stand. Commercial Row was alive with a frenzy of activity and noise reminiscent of a carnival midway. People paraded up and down Donahey Road renewing friendships, making new ones, all the while exchanging greetings and stories of the day’s shooting. Some gathered under the golden glow of street lights, along with the moths and May flies, to exchange gossip and tall tales on the benches set up outside the buildings. Others roamed in and out of the many commercial establishments manned by the likes of Old Man Hogue, Al Freeland, and the nattily uniformed staff of Colt, Winchester and Remington.

The delicate musical tinkle of the bells of an ice cream truck slowly cruising down Commercial Row provided a counter point to the muscular ping of lead pellets hitting the backstop at the air gun range. From time to time a figure or two would break away from this island of sound and light and stroll the short distance though the silent darkness to building 1002. In each dim corner, like sentinels standing guard at the catafalque at a state funeral, stood industrial strength pedestal fans that moved the warm humid air about in a futile attempt to keep the building cool. The deep roar of the fans’ motors discouraged extraneous conversation. The long tunnel like building was neatly bisected along its long axis by the “Wailing Wall”, which was illuminated by banks of fluorescent light fixtures. On both sides Plexiglas panels covered hundreds of square feet of the grid like NRA Form SR31A score reporting bulletin sheets.

Each competitor’s name, class, and category were neatly lettered on the plastic and next to it a pair of volunteers, wielding black grease pencils, posted the scores from each match. If one was particularly skilled, or lucky, a ring of color would surround a score or two indicating a small victory. A small knot of competitors would trail the statistical crew as it went about its business of transposing scores from hand typed sheets onto the board with accountant like precision. Competitors would read the posted numbers, check them against a scrap of paper covered with penciled scribbles and, from time to time, pull out a purse or wallet, extract a dollar bill, and bolt towards the Challenge Window next door in building 1000.

At ten o’clock the concessions and stat shack would close and the crowd slowly broke up and drifted away to the huts to rest and prepare for the next day’s competition. Quiet would settle over the camp, occasionally broken by a mischievous burst of laughter from a hut full of excited juniors or the squeaking and slamming of a hut’s screen door as one of the elders made a necessary trip to the washroom in the shank of the night.

The common washrooms were from an earlier era. Juniors, unfamiliar with communal living, often found that their digestive systems shut down after their eyes first fell upon the lavatory. Opposing rows of china fixtures, each topped with a black wooden horse shoe, faced each other, sans the doors and dividers that kids were used to seeing in their only other exposure to group living, school. Mess Hall food was free and plentiful so that by the third day even the most fastidious and bashful of juniors could contain themselves no longer. Perched apprehensively upon the porcelain the kids were often unwillingly drawn into a friendly discussion about the previous day’s scores - baseball or rifle - or perhaps the weather, by an avuncular old timer sitting next to him perusing the morning paper.

The hunched over youngster, briefs drawn as high as possible and shirt stretched low to preserve some shred of childhood dignity, probably had no idea that the friendly old timer with the white wizened legs, boxer shorts casually draped wreath like about his ankles, had probably made his acquaintance with this type of facility with similar concern when he was a fuzzy cheeked draftee back in ‘Dubya Dubya Two’ or “Kowe-rea.”

The great open concrete cavern of the shower room offered even less privacy than the rest of the building, it that were possible. Shower heads lined the walls and a wooden grate covering the floor. The more reserved youngsters would sneak in late at night hoping to bathe in private. It was no use. There was always someone taking either a late night or early morning shower. Youthful modesty was only marginally preserved by facing the wall, working up generous amounts of soap lather, or the gossamer gray clouds of steam which belched forth from the shower heads. In a short time the youngsters grew comfortable with the situation and soon were engaged in towel snapping and other adolescent locker room horseplay. They had been initiated into the “Culture of the Huts” and completed one of the many male rites of passage. They looked forward to watching the next crop of juniors negotiate the path they had just traversed.

Fikret Yegül, student of classical antiquity, summed up the significance of this type of public facility when he wrote that, “…it is hardly an exaggeration to say that at the height of the empire, the baths embodied the ideal Roman way of urban life. … Their public nature created the proper environment.” As it was with the Romans at their apogee of their empire, so it was with the shooters at Perry.

Some thirty years later the ‘Good Old Days’ of my elders, like most of them, have passed on, preserved only within the pages of The Rifleman or in the memory of a few old duffers like me. So it will be with my tales of the ‘Good Old Days’. But I have to wonder how the memories of the ‘Good Old Days’ of today’s crop of Perry youngsters - days of a diminished Commercial Row, modules, air conditioned huts, privacy stalls in the bath houses, and computer generated score sheets-measure up to mine?

Cartridges: Loading the .308 for Palma Matches

Loading the .308 for Palma Matches
by Germán A. Salazar

This article is a continuation of Palma Preparation and Loading and describes how I load the .308 for Palma shooting.  To me, there is nothing terribly unusual about loading a .308 for Palma or other forms of long-range shooting and the experienced long-range competitor will find little new information here.  However, the techniques differ from the manner in which many competitors new to long-range shooting load their .308 (or other) ammunition for shorter distances and it may be useful to them.  This is by no means a "how to reload" article, just an overview of the techniques that will make a worthwhile difference in your long-range ammunition, with an emphasis on the .308.  I'm not a believer in doing everything that can be done simply because it can be done - I want to use my limited time effectively and efficiently.  Wherever possible, I've linked in earlier articles from the site that provide additional depth on a specific area of discussion.  So with that in mind, let's get started.

The Main Problem
The .308 is really not a good choice for shooting at 1000 yards, but, for better or worse, it's what the Palma match requires.  Its limited powder capacity makes keeping almost any bullet above the transonic range (1.2 mach) a challenge.  Additionally, even high ballistic coefficient (BC) bullets in .30 caliber are really not that high by modern standards.  Therefore, because the bullet's velocity drops so quickly (due to the low BC), the trajectory near the target is a very steep downward plunge.  That might not seem too important until you consider the effect that a small variance in the bullet's velocity will have its point of impact on the target: the steeper the downward trajectory, the greater the vertical dispersion on target from any variance in velocity.

Because of the problem just described, a great deal of effort is expended on reducing variance in muzzle velocity and in retained velocity when loading .308 Palma ammunition.  This effort is directed at two principal areas: i.) reduction of variance in muzzle velocity; and ii.) seeking bullets with the most consistent BC possible.  Every bit of progress along those two paths will keep the bullets flying more nearly along the same trajectory, steep though it may be, and going through the target in a more predictable manner with less vertical dispersion.  You'll often hear good long-range shooters discussing loads with an emphasis on low (single digit) standard deviation of muzzle velocity; that's the best measure of the load's consistency.  If you think you might benefit from a refresher course on statistics, Statistics for Rifle Shooters should be just right.

Some may wonder why reducing vertical dispersion is so important.  Apart from the obvious desire to eliminate points lost to high and low shots out of the 10 ring, we always want to stay closer to the centerline of the target where the scoring rings are wider.  It's not hard to be less than perfect on your wind calls at 1000 yards and the 10 ring, which is 20" wide at the centerline is far narrower as it curves away from center.  "Keep it in the middle" is good advice both vertically and horizontally!

Component Selection
As I described in the first part of this series, my ammunition for this season will principally be loaded with H4895 and Berger 175 gr. bullets.  The object of this article, however, is to discuss loading techniques rather than specific loads.  The important concern with your choice of components is their uniformity and how that will affect our twin goals of minimizing variance of muzzle velocity and of BC.  That will be our primary, but not sole, focus.

The cartridge case, good old brass, is the first component to select because some other choices will flow from that decision.  Uniformity of case volume is somewhat important, but incredibly tedious to check.  You would have to check the internal capacity of each case (best done after they're fired) to really know what it is.  Many people think they can use case weight as a proxy for volume, but it's an unreliable proxy.  Weighing cases is a good way to identify a real oddball that got mixed in with your brass (very rare), but the small weight differences some people use to segregate cases are highly unlikely to represent a meaningful difference in internal volume and thus pressure, velocity and ultimately, trajectory.

Case Wall Variance
The more important selection criteria for brass is case wall concentricity.  The tools and technique for this procedure were covered in this earlier article.  Although this isn't a widely used selection process, I am confident of its importance to higher scores and higher X-counts.  I will note that the negative effects of cases with excessive wall thickness variance is less pronounced in rifles using a three-lug or four-lug action such as the BAT 3L, Gilkes, RPA, or Barnard to name a few. 

Creighton Audette, who developed this process found that cases with more than 0.003" variance were likely to cause lost points.  Using that criteria, I find that about 2 or 3 out of 60 cases exceed that when checking Winchester brass.  That level of case rejection causes me no concern whatsoever, I can use those to set up the neck turner or any other low-grade use.  The most recent lot of Lapua brass that I checked (the small primer cases) had over 50% of the cases with more than 0.003" variance - that was really unacceptable.  Previous lots have been acceptable, so that shouldn't be taken as an indictment of Lapua brass generally, but perhaps a bit of caution is in order.  Other brands of brass, and military brass in particular, are often terrible with respect to this important determinant of accuracy.  If you can't check this dimension, at least play it safe by sticking to Winchester or Lapua brass.

Neck Turning
Once the brass is in hand and selected by case wall variance my next step is turning the necks.  Now we're getting down to one of those important steps in reducing SD.  Neck tension, the case's "grip" on the bullet, is one of the variables that affects muzzle velocity, and necks with inconsistent thickness will not produce consistent neck tension.  Neck turning is the solution to this problem and although it can be a tiring process, there's no real alternative. 

I turn my case necks to a thickness of 0.0125", this yields loaded rounds with a neck diameter of 0.333" (0.0125 x 2 + 0.308).  To get my preferred neck tension of 0.002", I use a 0.331" bushing or a non-bushing die that has been machined to have a 0.331" neck.  Once your necks are turned, you'll really feel the difference as you seat bullets - all of them will feel the same.  For more on neck turning, you may want to read my earlier article on neck turning.

Other Brass Prep
Apart from selection by wall thickness variance and neck turning, I trim the cases at each loading.  This does two things: it keeps the cases at a safe length, because .308 tends to grow quite a bit with each resizing; and the fresh chamfer on the case mouth is a small but important factor in keeping the bullets undamaged and consistent.  I also turn the case mouth into steel wool after chamfering to get rid of any remaining small burrs that might damage the bullet - quite likely an excess of caution, but it lets me sleep better.  I don't deburr primer flash holes, having found in prior testing that I couldn't see any change from this process.  I also don't cut primer pockets to a uniform depth unless a particular lot of cases seems either unusually shallow or unusually inconsistent; neither situation is very common.  As long as the primer is below the surface of the case head when properly seated, I don't worry about pocket depth.  It's easy to go too deep with those cutters, even the pre-set ones, and compromise the quality and consistency of your rifle's ignition.

Case Sizing
When sizing the case,we're interested in a two main objectives: ease of bolt operation and consistent headspace.  If you're laying on the firing line fighting with your rifle to open or close the bolt, you aren't watching the wind and you may as well forget about producing a good score.  I've written quite a bit about the importance full-length sizing as a standard practice; this article should be a good refresher if needed. 

Consistent headspace is another important element of good long-range ammunition, and while it really shouldn't be a concern if all of your brass is sized in the same manner, problems can crop up from using different dies, or adjusting the lock ring on your sizing die part way through loading a set of brass.  You also need to ensure that you're creating enough headspace clearance for easy bolt closing without creating an excessive amount of clearance as that could shorten case life and compromise ignition.  The point to remember is to check the headspace of sized cases throughout the process and keep notes as to the correct amount for each rifle.

Finally, if your chamber neck is 0.004" or more larger than your loaded round's case neck and you use bushing type dies, you should consider two-step sizing to minimize neck to body runout on your finished rounds as well as to ensure maximum consistency of the sized neck diameter.

Primers and Priming
If you want ammunition with single digit SD, you are going to spend a fair amount of time working with primers - unless you happen to get lucky, but I wouldn't count on luck.  Once you have the case necks turned, you can begin working with primers.  Although my own primer testing has been incredibly detailed, maybe even obsessive, you don't need to go that far.  Here's the shortcut that really pays off:  test your primers by shooting each with a standard load over the chrono, varying only the primer.  Fire at least 10 and preferably 20 of each primer type.  Look for the one that gives the lowest MV and with a low SD although not necessarily the lowest SD (that will come later).  That primer should be the one you use as you develop your load, now looking for the lowest SD load by varying powder charge and neck tension.  There's a bit of judgment required here, but a low MV on the standard load and a reasonably low SD is the best indicator of a good long-range primer compared to the others. 

In my testing, I've found the Russian primers to consistently yield the lowest MV and SD.  They've been imported as KVB, PMC and Wolf.  These primers are on the low end of the SAAMI height range and their cups are thick and hard, so if your ignition system is marginal, it'll show up right away.  Improper seating, weak firing pin spring, inadequate firing pin protrusion, light firing pin and excessive headspace will all contribute to inconsistent ignition and thus higher SD.  In extreme cases you may also experience misfires and that certainly won't do your frame of mind and your score any good.

Seating your primer is far more important than many reloaders realize.  Today we live in a digital world and we've developed a digital on/off mentality.  Primers aren't digital, they will fire under less than ideal conditions, but they will do so inconsistently.  Read that last sentence again, it is one of the most important things that can be said about primers.  Perfectly consistent primer seating that ensures the cup is bottomed in the pocket and that a slight pre-load has been applied to the pellet by the anvil is a requirement of great long-range ammunition.  There's no substitute for a high quality seating tool that gives you great feel for the process and the experience to use it well.  I use the Sinclair tool, the K&M also meets the criteria.

Powder Measures and Weighing
There's not a lot to say about this topic other than: weigh all your charges!  I'm always surprised by the number of new shooters who tell me they're throwing their charges without weighing.  What they're really throwing is points into the trash!.  All the work we've discussed so far with respect to cases and primers is wasted effort if the powder charges aren't consistent.  My standard is to hold the charge within half a tenth of a grain (0.05 gr.) and that seems to be adequate for minimal elevation dispersion at 1000 yards.

The most expensive powder measure in the world isn't much better than a basic RCBS or Redding when their function is reduced to throwing the basic charge which will then be trickled up to the final weight.  Save the money from the fancy measure and get a good scale instead, whether mechanical or electronic.  Develop a good routine and organization of your bench and this will go reasonably quickly.  It usually takes me about half an hour to weigh powder for 60 cases.

If you're looking for a mechanical scale, I still like the RCBS 10-10 and in a lower price range, the Dillon mechanical scale which is made by Ohaus.  I use an Ohaus Navigator electronic scale and I don't know if they're still made.  In any event, they've probably changed the design in the 7 or 8 years since I bought it.  I have very little experience with the new generation of automatic dispensers and therefore can neither recommend them nor caution you away from them - I just don't know much about their suitability.

The earlier article, Palma Bullets and Barrels, is a good introduction to the topic.  Bullet selection is the heart and soul of your load and deserves your attention very early in the process.  The barrel's twist rate and the powder selection depend on the bullet choice to a large degree. 

Everyone gets a bit over-concerned with high BC and low wind drift when the subject turns to long-range shooting.  This is really a misguided approach, whether you're shooting at 300 yards or at 1000 yards, accuracy must be the first priority.  Your eyes, your brain and your hand on the windage knob can take care of the wind, but nothing can fix an inaccurate bullet.  Quality bullets are worth every penny their maker charges for them and frankly, you really can't inspect in quality once you've bought them.  Make sure the bullet you select gives you great accuracy, then get to the range and work on your wind reading skills.  The real life wind drift differences among various bullets isn't that great as we showed in the Doing the Math portion of the first part of this series, but the accuracy differences can be substantial.

The only bullet preparation process I believe to be worthwhile is pointing up the tips.  I don't do this to try to increase the BC, which would be futile, but to make it more consistent from bullet to bullet.  Most bullets are pretty even as they come from the box, but there's always a few that are a little battered, the tipping tool cleans them all up evenly.  If you moly-coat in a tumbler, as I do, the tips suffer a bit more pounding, so the tipping process is worthwhile to me.

You've heard your real estate agent tell you the three most important factors in real estate value are: location, location, location.  Well, similarly, the three most important factors for a Palma bullet are: accuracy, accuracy, accuracy.  Don't lose sight of that or you'll end up with more frustration than fun.

Seating Depth
Varying the seating depth of your bullets is a worthwhile exercise in the quest for maximum accuracy.  If you can't tell the difference at your level of shooting, don't worry about it and try again when your other skills have increased.  There are real gains to be had here and there are no hard and fast rules for what seating depth works best for what bullet.  I will caution you, however, that jamming a bullet into the lands will increase pressure, sometimes significantly.  Accordingly, if you're shooting a maximum load with the bullet seated to jump to the rifling and you want to try jamming the bullet, first cut the load down by a full grain and work back up with the new seating depth.

Seating Dies and Concentricity
It's hard to say much more about seating dies than I did in this earlier article.  Simply stated, both the sizing die and the seating die will affect the total runout or concentricity of your ammunition and it pays to use high quality components.  Understand the objective (low runout), the tools with which to measure it, and do your best to produce straight ammunition.  If the equipment is good, there's not a lot of additional effort required here.

In Conclusion...
It's taken me quite a long time to write this, so I hope someone finds it useful.  If you follow all the links, it'll probably take you longer to get through it than it took me to write it!  Palma shooting is the most enjoyable and challenging form of shooting sport for me and I hope this will help our newer shooters make a bit of progress and leave the range with a smile more often.

Click here for Part 3 of the series.

Good Stuff: Billet Loading Blocks

Billet Loading Blocks
by Germán A. Salazar

Tom Sziler, a very talented machinist and shooter is making the billet aluminum loading blocks shown here.  I recently bought a set and am very impressed with their quality.  Tom makes these in all case head sizes and will engrave just about anything you like on the side.  Tom's been a bit backlogged lately, but for a custom product, delivery was more than speedy at about three weeks.
The loading blocks are priced at $25 each plus shipping. $5 for shipping up to 2 pieces, $10 for 3-7pcs, and 8 or more shipping is free. (all in USPS flat rate boxes).

Best payment is a US Postal Money Order sent to:

Tom Sziler
5521 W 110th Street, Ste 6
Oak Lawn, IL 60453

The picture at the top of the page came from Tom; below are a few pictures of my blocks; as you might have guessed, I didn't order the .223 size... 

Update October 25, 2010: Some new stuff Tom is making: 25 round blocks and .50 BMG blocks. 

Cartridges: .308 Palma Preparation and Loading

.308 Palma Preparation and Loading
by Germán A. Salazar

As the calendar tuns to October and summer begins to wind down in Phoenix, two things happen: first, we optimistically watch the weather report to see when the first day with a high temperature under 100 will arrive; and second, we turn our attention to Palma shooting.  Because the Highpower range at the Ben Avery Shooting Facility doesn't have covered firing lines, it falls out of use from late April to late October as the heat would make shooting there physically hazardous.  Instead, we spend the warmer months shooting 500 yard matches on the shaded firing lines of the Phoenix Rod & Gun Club and the Rio Salado Sportsman's Club.  But now, as the long-range season approaches, things get more serious.  The Arizona Palma State Championship is held on the first weekend in December, relatively early in the season, so anyone with a new Palma rifle or loads has to work quickly to get them sorted out.  Naturally there are many who have shot long-range over the summer in other locations, but for the majority of us that isn't the reality so the earliest part of the season is a hectic scramble to get ready for the big match.

The New Rifle
During the summer, my new Palma rifle was completed; it is built around a Borden Tubegun Special action.  Clark Fay chambered a 30" long Krieger 1:11" twist heavy Palma barrel for it and Jim Cobb glued the action into an Eliseo R1 long action stock.  With all the parts in hand, I assembled it with a Doan Trevor walnut grip and an X-Treme Shooting two-stage trigger.  A Warner rear sight and a Riles front sight round out the hardware.  However, I may switch the front sight to a Centra Goliath soon, that's at the top of my list of things to evaluate on the range as soon as possible.

I had the new rifle built to match my .30-06 tubegun that I have enjoyed shooting so much.  In fact, apart from the serial number on the action and the barrel contour, there isn't much to distinguish one from the other.  Although I like the 28" MTU profile on the .30-06, I opted for a 30" heavy Palma contour on the .308 for a couple of reasons.  First, the little .308 can always use those extra two inches (5 cm) for a slightly higher MV when shooting at 1000 yards.  Second, because of that extra barrel length, I felt that the slightly lighter heavy Palma profile would yield a balance similar to the shorter MTU profile barrel on the .30-06.  As things turned out, that was a good estimate and the two rifles have very similar balance and feel.  Stock adjustment largely followed the guidelines from my article on that topic and, in fact, ended up idential to those on the .30-06 tubegun. 

The barrel was chambered with a reamer on which Clark and I collaborated.  It has a 0.336" neck diameter and a 0.114" freebore length, the rest of the dimensions are fairly standard.  These dimensions were specified with Winchester brass and heavy bullets in mind.  A Sierra 190 MatchKing will have the base of the shank even with the base of the neck when the ogive is at the lands and a 175 Berger will have the base of the shank about halfway up the neck when its ogive is touching the lands.  Other bullets in that weight range will fall somewhere in between those two, but since the Sierra 190 and the Berger 175 are my principal choices for Palma shooting, they are the ones on which we focused.

Although most Winchester brass could be used in this chamber without neck turning, it is my practice to turn necks on all of my brass.  I turn the necks to 0.0125" thickness which yields a loaded round neck diameter of 0.333" thus giving the cartridge 0.003" diametrical clearance in the chamber - not much, but enough to ensure safety since each case neck is identical.  Any time a chamber such as this one, with a neck diameter under SAAMI standards is used, all brass should be checked before use and the reloader should have a very thorough understanding of the clearances sought and the means to achieve them.  This is a significant safety concern and should not be taken lightly.

Early Testing at 500 Yards
Once the rifle was put together, I shot it in a few matches at 500 yards to evaluate loads and refine the stock and trigger adjustments.  During the summer, we shoot 500 yard matches every available weekend day, so testing is simply done in the matches.  Between work and home responsibilities, there's really no free time to go to the range for testing outside of the match schedule and, of course, I prefer to shoot the .30-06 so the .308 testing got squeezed in but didn't become my sole focus at that point.  The following account of this testing may seem a bit tedious, but that's how it really goes.  I hope that it gives an insight into the process I follow to identify good loads and eliminate those that just won't do the job.

The first test (July 24) was with the Sierra 155 MatchKing (2155) and H4895; this is a standard load for me and I expect any good Palma rifle to shoot it well.  Although the barrel is optimized for heavier bullets, it shot the155's perfectly and that first day at 500 yards resulted in scores of 199-16X and 200-14X.  The trigger adjustment needed more refinement, so I finished that match shooting the .30-06 in the third string for a total of 598-38X to win the match. 

I look at several things in judging a load: score, X-count and place in the match.  The score is the least important of these because a 9 is more often a result of shooter error than of the load.  The X-count is a very useful measure of a load's performance and the placement in the match results is a reasonable indicator of overall shooter performance, especially when conditions are challenging.  This holds true as long as the club has a good group of shooters of equal skill, which is certainly the case in this area where no win comes cheap.

The next day, July 25, I shot the rifle again, this time with the 175 Berger and H4895 (200-14X), then with the Sierra 190 and IMR 4064 (199-12X) and finally with the Lapua D46 185 gr. and IMR 4064 (199-09X) for a total of 598-33 and another win.  I was pleased with the performance of the Berger 175 and the Sierra 190 and decided not to pursue the D46 any further as it was clearly not shooting as well as the others. 

The August 8 match resulted in a disappointing second place 594-21X on a very windy day; Doug Frerichs won with a 594-29X shooting his 6.5-284.  I was shooting the Berger 175 (198-07X, 197-05X, 199-09X); was I just "off" that day, was it the load, was it the rifle?  Although the wind seemed the most likely factor, I left the range with some doubts and decided to chronograph some loads before going further.

Chronograph Testing
On August 21, I was able to get to the range for a chrono session and tested a few loads.  The high temperature that day was 106 degrees and it was right at 100 during the session.  I chronographed three combinations that were of interest: the Berger 175 with H4895, the Sierra 190 with IMR 4064 and the Berger 190 VLD with VihtaVuori N550.  The first two are what I've been shooting in my other Palma rifle which has an identical barrel and chamber and the last combination is one that I hoped would provide a material improvement in wind drift and retained velocity for 1000 yards.

The Berger 175 with H4895 testing showed 2830 fps and an SD of 5, clearly good numbers for this bullet and comparable to the load I was shooting in the other rifle.  The last two Palma matches I shot with this load (February 4 and 5, 2010) gave scores of 448-27X and 448-26X, it's a good load.

The Sierra 190 with IMR 4064 test ended at 2660 fps with an SD of 13.  This load has been excellent at 800 and 900 yards in the other rifle, often producing high X-count clean scores, but has usually had a low X-count at 1000 yards.

Finally I got to what I hoped would be the most interesting combination: the Berger 190 VLD and N550.  I worked the load up carefully, first in 0.5 gr. increments, then smaller as I neared the maximum charges shown in the manuals.  My final load showed 2770 fps with an SD of 8 - very promising!  The only flaw in the plan is the total disappearance of N550 from dealer stocks in the US and my meager supply of 3 lb. of the magic powder.  But a promising load nonetheless.

Back to the Range
The day after the chrono session (August 22) I shot three loads in a match.  First up was the 190 VLD, N550 load which resulted in a 199-12X, that didn't seem too bad.  Next, I shot the standard Sierra 190, IMR 4064 load and fired a 200-16X that was so much tighter than the first load that it was clear to me that without further development on target, the N550 load wasn't going to cut it and I don't have enough powder to develop it at this time.  More's the pity, because it truly does look promising for 1000 yards.  Finally, I shot the Berger 175 H4895 load, but in the Lapua small primer case as a final test of that case.  The score of 199-11X was not consistent with the mild conditions we had; my target puller, John Lowther, commented that the group really opened up and the elevation spread doubled.  I'm done experimenting with that case as well.

The Sierra 190 load shot so well that I decided to pursue it a bit more, bumping the powder charge a bit to see if it would still shoot well and perhaps then see if the 1000 yard performance increased when we begin shooting long-range again.  Unfortunately, as things worked out, match day (September 4) was very windy and comparisons of small changes in the load were impossible to see.  I shot 196-10X, 200-09X (+0.5 gr.) and 198-04X (+0.8 gr.) for a 594-23X, which although low, was enough to win on that day.  I'm still uncertain of this load's potential, or even whether I'll keep working with it.  It shoots great from 500 to 900 yards but just doesn't shine at 1000.

The final test day came on September 11 and I was back to the Berger 175, H4895, WCC 60 brass and PMC (Russian) primers.  The day was a rare one for Phoenix, a forecast high of only 100 degrees and almost no wind.  If the load was going to shine, this was the day.  The three strings were loaded identically except for seating depth.  The first string had the bullets seated for a jump to the lands of 0.010" and I shot a 200-11X - not too exciting given the conditions.  I wondered if my shooting was "on".  The next string, with the bullets seated to a jam into the lands of 0.010" worked a little better, with a score of 200-15X and noticeably tighter elevation spread.  Now things were getting interesting. 

The last string was seated to a jam of 0.020" and conditions remained favorable, about 1.5 to 2 moa of wind.  With 14 shots on paper, I had a 140-13X going when the wind picked up significantly so I decided to wait.  After a couple of minutes, I got nervous about the round in the chamber heating up (foolish thought) and opened the bolt.  Disaster struck, the bullet stayed in the barrel and powder spilled out all over the action!  A few minutes of very hectic cleanup, getting the powder out of the locking lug recesses, off the bolt lugs, and everywhere else, as well as knocking the bullet out with a cleaning rod, got the rifle back in operation.  Naturally, the wind hadn't been waiting for me and it had now reversed direction!  A deep breath, a quick prayer, a reasonable sight adjustment and a careful squeeze of the trigger got me into the 10 ring -whew!  A few more 10's and X's and the string finished at 200-16X for a match winning 600-42X, my 21st 600.  A fine end to the day and closer to a decision on loads.

Doing the Math
The ballistic challenge of a Palma match is the 1000 yard stage.  That's where the rubber meets the road and the load either works or it will cost you the match.  Somewhere between 901 yards and 999 yards, a bullet fired from a .308 runs into a wall, and that wall is the transonic region which roughly begins as the bullet's velocity drops to 1.2 mach.  Ideally, we can remain over 1.3 mach and avoid problems, but that's not always possible within safe pressure limits.

I use the JBM Ballistics program for all my calculations, it's accurate and always accessible online.  Running the numbers on the three final loads from the chronograph session plus my normal load with the Berger 155.5 produced some interesting data.  There's a lot more to evaluating ballistic data than just wind drift figures; and of course, the ultimate test is putting holes in paper at 1000 yards.  Nonetheless, the data provides some useful guidance.

Numerically, the 190 VLD at 2770 outshines the others by a good margin.  The drift is less, the retained velocity is higher and it is therefore, above the transonic region by a more comfortable margin.  Sadly, without additional load development to find the a bit more accuracy, I'm unwilling to shoot it at 1000 yards and since there is no powder with which to do that load development, the whole thing is shelved.  I could shoot the 190 VLD with another powder, obviously, but my supply is limited so I'll hold on to them until I find some N550 with which to experiment.

Looking at the Sierra 190's low retained velocity, well into the transonic region, I can see why it has never been a top performer at 1000 yards.  At 900 yards, it is still holding on to 1.281 mach, but it just plunges from there and the scores show it.  Although the wind drift figures are the same as for the Berger 155.5 at 2970, the accuracy just isn't there.  This load is at the pressure limit for the powder used (IMR 4064) and I don't have any good alternatives pending the arrival of more N550.  I realize that a lot of people like Varget for this application, but I am not satisfied with the lot-to-lot variability of Varget and I haven't done any pressure testing with Varget and the 190 so I won't simply jump into load testing with it.

At this point we're left with the Berger 175, which not only has good numbers in all categories, but is very accurate as shown in the mid-range testing and previous Palma scores with the other rifle.  You might ask why I don't go with the Berger 155.5, that is simply because the higher MV required by that weight class of bullet increases the possibility of bullet failure and a lost match.  The chances are small, but I have experienced it and don't care for a repeat occurrence.  Wind drift differences are minimal, especially when reduced to the difference in a 2 mph change which is as large as might occur without the shooter noticing.  The best reason for using the 175 is not reducing drift so much as it is reducing risk.  Additionally, the 175 load generates slightly lower chamber pressure than my 155 load and I like having that extra bit of safety margin.

Click here for Part 2 of this series:   Loading the .308 for Palma Matches

Related Articles
Palma Shooting in the US
Western Shooters' Pet Loads for Long-Range
Palma Bullets and Barrels
History of the Palma Match
Adjusting the Tubegun Stock

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