Lapua Rimfire Service Center - Mesa, Arizona

Lapua Rimfire Service Center - Mesa, Arizona
by Germán A. Salazar


As I drove up the mountain road to the Nammo facility in Mesa, I had the feeling of entering a James Bond movie set. High security, isolated location, windowless industrial buildings and more, all reinforced that impression. Like what you see in a Bond movie, much of what happens at the facility is vital to national security and off limits to cameras. However, we were there to learn about a distinctly different and very media-friendly portion of the operation: the new Lapua Rimfire Service Center, a test facility where serious competitive shooters can go to test a wide variety of types and lot numbers of Lapua rimfire ammunition in their own rifles. Even if you don't shoot rimfire, you should be aware of the level of attention that the people at Lapua dedicate to ensuring maximum precision from all of their product lines; it is truly a way of life for them.

Pete Sioma, President of Nammo, Inc,
Scott Selle, President of Nammo Talley,
Raimo Helasmäki, Executive VP, Nammo Lapua Small Caliber Division
Lapua, a member of the Nammo Group, hosted a group of visitors for the grand opening of the Rimfire Service Center (RSC) as well as a tour of their .338 Lapua Magnum manufacturing line which we'll cover in a separate story. The RSC is a purpose-built facility designed to give rimfire competitors a unique opportunity to maximize the performance of their rifles and gain an edge over those who use other makes of ammunition that don't offer this level of support. Although this website has been focused on centerfire shooting, as most readers know, I've been a Smallbore competitor since 1971 and I am thrilled to have this sort of facility in the US, not to mention close to home! Now that my shoulder recovery is complete, I hope to get back on the Smallbore firing line in the coming months and the RSC will certainly play a role in that effort.

Compared to centerfire rifles, rimfires are fairly fickle firearms. There is measurable variability in precision from each barrel with different manufacturing lots of ammunition. Notwithstanding the manufacturer's effort to build the highest level of quality and consistency into its process, there will be enough variance from lot to lot for a top level shooter to notice. Any minute change, such as the hardness of the lead, the viscosity of the bullet lube, the particular primer slurry from which the cases were primed and even such esoteric factors as the particular organic material from which the powder is manufactured can and will have an effect on performance. Although some manufacturers place an emphasis on muzzle velocity as a lot differentiation factor, that is far from the only variable outcome from lot variance. There is genuinely no substitute for careful lot testing of top-quality rimfire ammunition because each barrel will display a preference for some lots over others.

Kirsten Weiss of Team Lapua
At the highest level of national and international competition, the shooter needs to know that she is firing the very best ammunition available for her rifle - not only for the actual performance on target, but also for the positive psychological effect of knowing that every effort has been made to ensure success. When a shot fired in competition goes away from center, the shooter must be able to accept responsibility for it and make the necessary correction rather than casting doubt on the equipment or ammunition. If that type of doubt enters the picture, its effect is instantly corrosive to the shooter's ability to perform at her peak level.

Large, well-funded operations such as the US Army Marksmanship Unit, the US Olympic Team and the national teams of many countries have facilities, equipment and personnel dedicated to an ammunition testing program. The Lapua RSC provides individual shooters with equal access to this type of testing, with the added advantage of having an enormous variety of ammunition types and lot numbers from which to choose. Lapua has a history of supporting competitive shooters with this type of facility, having long operated one at the Lapua and SK rimfire plant in Schönebeck, Germany. Andreas Schnitzeler, the Service Center Manager of the Schönebeck facility was on-site to consult with the Mesa staff on the operation. Darrel Stettmeier has responsibility for scheduling and operating the RSC in Mesa.

Darrell Stettmeier, RSC Manager
The heart of the RSC is a 100 meter firing tunnel with electronic targeting setups at 50 meters and 100 meters which allow accuracy to be recorded for each group fired at both distances. Because the bullets never touch paper, their flight isn't disrupted at the 50 meter mark, thus allowing equally precise measurement at 100 meters. The Meyton Elektronik system used by Lapua detects the bullet's exact position as it crosses through a curtain of infrared light at each measuring point. The infrared system is accurate to 1/10 mm (0.004") and is not affected by dust, temperature, or other environmental factors. Meyton is a leading supplier of electronic targeting systems to shooting associations in Europe and their design and manufacturing embody all of the superior characteristics we've come to know as German engineering. The accuracy, reliability and repeatability of this system, upon which the evaluation depends, is rock solid.

The evaluation process begins by securing the rifle in the test cradle. If the rifle has an accessory rail on the bottom, as do most prone and 3P rifles, it is held by the rail by a large bracket that bolts to the cradle. In the event that a rifle doesn't have a rail, such as a benchrest or silhouette rifle, it is attached to the cradle with special clamps that hold it solidly in place without marring the stock finish or paint. The cradle itself moves back under recoil and then returns to battery. The repeatability of the return to battery mechanism is crucial to the process as there is no fixed aiming point downrange.

As the rounds are fired through the tunnel, shot groups are displayed on two large screens in the viewing area, one for the 50 meter group and one for the 100 meter group. Along with the visual representation of the group, the screens provide group size data. The groups can be measured either center to center in the American fashion, or by outside diameter as is more common in Europe. Although the end result is the same, each user can pick his preferred method and remain within a zone of familiarity with the measurements. Shot groups and data are printed for further reference and selected lots are fired again through various cycles until a final decision is reached.

I observed as Kirsten Weiss, a three time All-American on the University of Nebraska rifle team, put her rifle through the process. Darrell Stettmeier, the RSC manager cleaned the rifle to ensure a good baseline for the testing, then a few rounds were fired to season the barrel with the particular lube of the ammo type being tested. Once the barrel was prepared in this manner, the testing began. As each group was fired and the images appeared on the screen, it was fascinating to note the direct correlation in shot position within the group between the 50 meter group and the 100 meter group. Essentially, the 100 meter group looked like a slightly enlarged version of the the 50 meter group. I asked Darrell if that was the usual situation; he responded that about 75% of test groups show that relationship. Later in the testing I noted a group or two in which the 100 meter group was visibly different in shape from the 50 meter group - never take anything for granted, test, test, test!

Kirsten worked her way through a large number of ammunition lots, a process that took most of the afternoon. Long after most visitors had left, she and Darrell continued their work. I'm very grateful to them for their patience with my various photo requests and constant questions. By the end of the session, Kirsten had her lot selection finalized and was able to leave with a few cases of the best lot for her specific rifle.

Prior to the opening of the RSC, lot selection in this tightly controlled and data-rich manner required a very expensive and complicated trip to Europe with a rifle - it's a lot simpler now! In addition to in-person testing, arrangements can be made to ship your rifle to the RSC and have the testing conducted for you with target printouts emailed or faxed in real time for your lot choices. I have no doubt that this facility will be a significant factor in improving the competitiveness of US shooters in international competition and will allow those competitors who make the commitment to maximizing their performance to do so in a simpler and much more cost-effective manner than has ever been possible.

Competitors who would like to visit the Lapua Rimfire Service Center to test ammunition are requested to contact Darrell Stettmeier at (480) 626-8648, or dstettmeier@nammoinc.com to make a reservation. Generally speaking, selected ammunition is sold in case lots only. Along with supporting its shooters, Lapua supports its dealers and distributors, so all sales to competitors through the RSC are credited to the individual's dealer and distributor, although delivery is taken right at the RSC.

We are truly grateful to our hosts: Pete Sioma, President of Nammo, Inc.; Scott Selle, President of Nammo Talley; Bruce Webb, Vice-President of Nammo Tactical Ammunition; Raimo Helasmäki, Executive Vice President, Nammo Lapua Small Caliber Division; Andreas Schnitzeler, Service Center Manager, Schönebeck; Adam Braverman, Business and Sales Manager; Kevin Thomas, Sales and Marketing Manager; and Darrell Stettmeier, RSC Manager for their hospitality. Our visit to the Lapua facility was a genuine pleasure; the friendliness and everyone's effort to answer our questions and accommodate our requests was greatly appreciated by all.



Adam Braverman of Lapua
Detail shot of the rifle cradle. Bracket goes into the rifle's accessory rail 
and bolts to cradle from below. Side clamps add stability and assist in aiming 
the rifle, but the bracket is the securing mechanism. Cradle slides back and
forth on base rail.

 

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