March 2012 Cover Page

  March 2012
  
The Rifleman's Journal
A Collection of Articles Dealing with Rifle Accuracy Topics


This Month:
Hap Rocketto - Hap's Corner
Rod Vigstol - New Shooters in F-Class
Germán Salazar - The .223 for Palma Competition

15 Cents 

Shooting Events: Getting Started in F-Class

Getting Started in F-Class
(or: How easy it is to have fun with rifles and equipment you probably already have…)
by Rod Vigstol


Forks Rifle Club, Grand Forks, North Dakota
I don’t know about you guys, but it sure has been a long off-season winter for me. No F-Class shooting currently going on in my area at this time, its winter up here and unlike some folks we know, we can’t shoot in the winter. There is something about frostbite and freezing your trigger finger after the first shot that just takes all the fun out of it.

My first year of competing in F-Class was great and I have been busy preparing for this coming season.

The last match I participated in was the F-Class Nationals in Lodi, Wisconsin. Since that time, my thoughts have been preoccupied with F-class topics: getting a new stock, chambering up a new barrel, brass work, equipment review and improvement. But even more so, I am focusing on improving my skills as a shooter. One thing that really helps is having other shooters to compare notes with, to discuss the effects of wind, light, form, mental conditioning, etc. However, therein lies my problem - I don’t personally know that many skilled competitive shooters, and the guys I that I shoot with have pretty much the same skill sets I have. But there is hope, I will be attending a Wind Clinic in Elk River, Minnesota this April and I am stoked to suck up all the knowledge I can absorb.

Looking back over the past year, because of F-Class, I found a real good shooting buddy, Brad Sterup, this past year. Brad had never shot F-Class before this year, but had the basic knowledge of what an F-Class match is, good equipment and the desire to give it a try. The nearest organized shooting opportunity we have here in Fargo, North Dakota is up in Grand Forks at the Forks Rifle Club.


Brad Sterup with his .308
The Forks Rifle Club is a fantastic range for serious shooters by the way. It is a 160 mile round trip from Fargo, so Brad and I car pooled to the matches and during that time, we found we have a lot in common. This past year, I shot in F-Open, while Brad shot in F-TR. Brad even went on to win the Mid-Range overall aggregate in F-TR this year at our club. Honestly, I am pretty envious of the gorgeous trophy he received for his shooting efforts. I mean hey, I talked him into shooting with me, I’m older and better looking, so why didn’t I get something too?

In retrospect, I got something better; I got a new friend who I can discuss shooting, accuracy and marksmanship with and is on the same page as me. Even better, I got someone involved in the sport I love, hook line and sinker! Brad is in the process of building a new rifle for F-Open and I know he is going to be a threat to my shooting self-esteem. Aside from meeting Brad, I was able to make other new friends with members of the Forks Rifle Club and a couple of these guys are very accomplished shooters.

By now you might be asking: “Okay Rod, but where are you going with this story of yours? Sure it’s a warm and fuzzy tale of how you found a poor boy wondering aimlessly on the prairie then suckered him into paying half your gas so you could go shooting. Big deal, now there are two of you Tundra Wookies running around thinking you can shoot.” My point is, if you’re lonely, time to get your friends on the firing line with you! It’s a lot easier than you think.


Tracey Janisch
If you’re reading this, you have more than just a general interest in the shooting sports and in the awesome rifles that shoot tiny groups at insane distances. You probably even have friends that enjoy shooting as much as you do. The quandary you may find yourself in is your friends haven’t quite jumped into it head-first like you have and they haven’t spent a lot of money and time obtaining the equipment you have to go shoot these matches. But you know what? Your prairie dog shooting buddy or coyote hunter friend can attend these matches and shoot alongside with you. He or she more than likely already has the basic equipment to needed to shoot a match. They can have a great time, and get hooked just like you did.

It really is that easy, in fact, I just did it again. That is, I got a shooting buddy, who doesn’t have all the fancy gear I have, all fired up to give F-Class a shot this coming year with just the shooting and hunting gear he already has.

After some birthday cake and ice cream the other night, my brother-in-law Noel and I invariably starting talking about shooting, deer hunts gone by and future prairie dog shoots, etc. Noel is great hunter, good marksman, likes accuracy and fine rifles too. He, like many others are of the notion they need to have a custom action with a custom barrel chambered in some blazing exotic wildcat cartridge with a million dollar scope on top of it to shoot in a F-Class match. They tend to worry about looking like a complete greenhorn. I advised Noel: “Grasshopper, this is where you are mistaken, you already have the means to accomplish this goal, and you are simply overlooking the obvious.” “Really, enlighten me Sensei.”

I am speaking primarily to folks that have access to their local rifle club with rifle ranges varying from 100 to 600 yards, where F-Class Mid-Range matches are held, or can be held. I will explain what I have experienced when attending these matches.


Ruger M77 VT - Serious prairie dog  medicine,
great rifle to try F-Class with
Most varmint shooters, whether they shoot prairie dogs, hunt coyotes or whatever, probably already have a “varmint rifle” of some sort. Whether it is the typical varmint style rifle like the Remington VLS in .22-250, or a sporter weight Ruger 77 in .223, you almost ready to shoot F-class.
Chances are you already have the following equipment:

• A variable power scope in the 4.5-14x range or higher, will work just fine to give this great sport a try.

• A front bipod like the trusty old Harris 9" to 13” or maybe you even have a Caldwell front rest.

• A rear bag or similar to rest the butt stock.

• A basic shooting mat from Midway or at least a piece of carpet or canvas to lay on.

Well, heck son, you have the basic equipment, let’s go shoot F-Class. What? You don’t think you can shoot past 300 yards? You’re worried about looking silly? Trust me, we all had to start somewhere and I’ll help you. Besides, you already have the basic knowledge of how to get on paper at 500-600 yards. Let’s get on the computer and go to a ballistics resource site like JBM Ballistics or many others, and I’ll prove it to you. Leave the looking silly up to me, it’s one of my natural talents.

We already know that your .22-250 is sighted in for 200 yards and shooting a 55 grain Hornady V-Max bullet at 3600 fps. This is one of your favorite varmint loads and you can hit pop cans at 200 yards all day long, right? The computer ballistics program shows us that this load, zeroed at 200 yards will need a scope elevation adjustment of 1.5 to 2 MOA to be on at 300 yards and an additional 8.5 to 9 MOA to reach to 600 yards. “Wow, is it that simple?” Yes it is… But let’s dump in some additional environmental data in to the ballistics program such as the expected temperature, altitude, humidity and several wind factors, like a 5 mph & 10 mph crosswinds. Now we have some core data to make our adjustments from; print that little data sheet and keep it handy. But before we go to the range, we need to grab a few other essential pieces of equipment like ear and eye protection.

Jackson Soeby - Son of Tod Soeby,  2011 IBS 1000 yd BR Nationals winner
A few other trinket things I like to have with me on the line are:

• Notebook to take notes and record scope adjustments made (so I don’t get all screwed up wondering which way I need to adjust). Don’t forget a pen or pencil.

• A small piece of canvas or carpet to place your bipod legs or rest on so it doesn’t sink into the ground. I use Bob Pastor’s huge Viper F-Class feet on my rest, they will not sink.

• A kitchen timer so I know how much time I have to shoot. Typically we have 17 minutes to shoot a 15 round relay and 22 minutes to shoot a 20 round relay. This is not a race to see who can get his rounds downrange the fastest. Take your time and think about each and every shot.

• Elbow pads, for one or both elbows. Some berms or firing points are soft, others not so soft.

• Shooting Hat, one of those things that look silly on your head, but is worth its weight in gold. Permits you to not only block out the sun from the front, but the sides. Makes you look serious too…

• You will need an “Open Bolt Indicator” or OBI for short. This is the yellow plastic thing you stick in place of a closed bolt on your rifle. It is a safety item as it signifies to those around you that your rifle is in a safe condition. Just ask for one and someone will have an extra or you can buy one at the match for a $1.00.

• Camping Chair or small stool to sit on when it’s your turn to score the other guy. This may or may not be necessary as some matches are informal and you may find yourself recording your own scores. In an NRA Approved Match, you will score the other person and he will score you.

• Cleaning Rod. Trust me on this one, it is far better to have one with and not need it, instead of finding out you somehow left a cleaning patch in the chamber two seconds after being given the command to load by the line officer. This I know from experience.

Gary McKenzie
Alright, we’re almost ready to go shooting. Have you got everything we discussed? Are you sure? Okay, where is your ammo? I knew you forgot something, been there & done that… Now you may be wondering how much you should bring. That is pretty easy to determine, but depends on the match format and which club is running the match. Find out how many shots the match consists of (40, 60 or 80 are typical) and bring 10 to 12 extra for sighters; that will cover you well.

All right, now we are ready to go to the match and have fun. At High Power Rifle matches (F-Class is a division of High Power), 99% of the time, it has been my experience that there is a lot of help available for the asking, you just need to ask. There are many super folks out there ready and willing to take you under their wing and guide you through this first time. Just stick with them and they will show you the ropes. The best of them remember being the “Rookie” and so they will know of the concerns you may have.

Nobody I know likes to be embarrassed and walk around feeling like you wearing a blaze orange dunce hat. You owe it to yourself and to your shooting buddy to ask any and all questions you may have. So please ask questions and never assume you know it all, regardless of what you may think, none of us truly know it all. Funny though, how we seem to run into folks that think they do - stay away from those folks!

Okay on the other hand, maybe you don’t have a shooting buddy or friend that is active in this sport but you’re bound and determined to attend one of these matches to see what it’s all about. GREAT! Go for it! This is how I got started because it seemed like I moved every couple years and within my circle of friends at the time, no one seemed to be as interested as I was about shooting. In retrospect, I have been told many times I march to the beat of a different drum. Que sera, sera!

So rather than just read about shooting F-Class or High Power and whining to my wife about how I had no one to play with, I sought out these types of matches and attended them by myself. It was simple, I wanted to learn and I was going to do what it took. The first F-Class match I attended was 1000 miles away from my home. I did my research ahead of time and found out about a match that was to be held in the area I was to be traveling in. I then contacted the match director, the rest is history.

Tom Reiten and others readying for pit duty
My work takes me all over the country and as a result I have shot in different matches all over the states over the past 10 years. Not only F-Class, but also Service Rifle, LR Benchrest, Smallbore, etc. But more important to me is that I have met some fantastic folks and forged great friendships by doing one simple thing: contacting the match director to volunteer my time at a match.

It is as simple as making a call or sending an email to the match director advising that I would be in the area, bored in a hotel and would like to help at the match doing whatever needed to be done. Match Directors are volunteers themselves and I’m telling you, these folks love to have extra help. It was a win-win situation, I got to meet new people and make new friends, all the while learning something about the particular discipline of the match I was attending and the Match Director got cheap help.

You get to see first-hand the varied types of equipment and accessories you may need. More importantly, you too will meet great folks and make new friends. More often than not, when you volunteer to help out, somebody will ask you why you are not shooting. When they find out your visiting the area and have never participated in this type of shooting or maybe you just have any shooting gear with, you’ll be very surprised to see how many folks offer to let you shoot their equipment and even ask you to shoot with them on a team match.

Okay, back to my earlier focus and that is getting started shooting local when you don’t know anybody who participates. Just finds out who is the match director and contact him ahead of time if you can. If you can’t get a hold of anybody, just show up at the scheduled match well ahead of time and be the first guy there waiting. Introduce yourself to the folks coming to the match until you meet the Match Director; tell them you’re a new shooter and that you have not done this type of shooting before. They will generally appreciate this information, it will make their job easier and more likely than not, they will get you hooked up with someone who can mentor you through this process. But be sure to advise them you have no experience in a formal match setting; whether it’s getting set up on the line, shooting the match itself or that you have never worked the pits before.

Rich Plum, deep in mental preparation
Like I said, we have all been rookies, newbies, new kids on the block or whatever. So we all have a good idea of what may be going on in your mind, the questions you may have, the concerns, etc. I’m telling you this sport is full of fantastic people who deep down find it far more fulfilling to help a new shooter get started than running a clean target. You just have to take the first step to get involved.

As a side note, if I can be of any assistance to anyone one reading this, to get started, hooked up, answer any questions, eat your food, etc, please send me an email and I will do my best to help you out. I can be reached via email at: Nodak7mm (at) yahoo (dot) com I really would like to hear from you.

Rod Vigstol

Basics: A Few Wind Reading Tips

Today we have a letter from our friend Wayne in New Zealand who inquires about my method of wind reading. Although this topic is of central importance to our sport, I have always found written material on it to be of limited value compared to shooting under a coach. I certainly am not attempting to make this short item into a comprehensive lesson in wind reading, but there may be a nugget or two in here for the newer shooter. There is, however, no substitute for range time and coaching. - GAS -

Basics: A Few Wind Reading Tips
by Germán A. Salazar

Hi Germán,

I hope you are doing well and congratulations with you’re placing in the recent Berger shooting competition. I have just read your “Back in the Sling” blog and a sentence caught my eye. Firstly let me provide some background. I am a novice shooter coming towards the end of my first season's shooting, I currently shoot a 6BR (95 gr. VLD  at about 2985 fps) in F-Open at a range where 7mm cartridges rule supreme. Yes, I could move to a 7mm as well, but I like the 6BR and the main reason I am not doing much better, is simply my ability to read the wind.

I have learnt that competitive shooting is unlike other sports in that, while you are competing against other shooters, in reality there is only one thing that you need to beat – the wind. So, while I am hurrying up and waiting for my wind skills to grow I am devouring anything to do with improving wind skills and techniques, thus “It's difficult to adjust to being a slow shooter when I've built my whole wind reading technique around shooting very fast.” caught my eye in your blog.

I am hoping you could take the time to explain further your techniques and approaches to wind readings, maybe things you have tried that have worked and perhaps even those that haven’t worked and why. I am currently working my way through The Wind Book for Rifle Shooters so I can appreciate that my question probably requires a book of its own - anything you can offer would be appreciated. Certainly nothing will replace trigger time at the range, however I do want to approach each days shooting with a plan and a process to get myself onto the leader board.

Kind Regards

Wayne

*********************************************************************

Hello Wayne,

Thanks for writing and I'm glad to hear that the site is useful to you!

I like the 6BR a lot also; in fact, I think it's a far better cartridge with which to learn about the wind than any of the 7mm cartridges. The 6BR is inherently more accurate so it gives you a better indication of what you did, and the barrel life is so long compared to those big ones that you can really work on your shooting and learning for a long time before having to go through the hassle, expense and delay of a replacement. Good choice! However, the 105 to 108 gr. bullet weight will probably be better in many respects, at least past 300 yards.

When I wrote that piece, I wondered about whether or not to include the specific line that you quoted. My doubts about it arose from the fact that someone (you as it turns out) would ask that very question and it is a very difficult question to answer, perhaps impossible in writing. Of course, if I hadn't included the line, the concept I was trying to explain about the recovery would have been lost!

Preliminary Matters
Let's begin by eliminating one topic altogether; you mentioned that you're shooting F-Open and I realize that the predominant method of wind correction in F-Class is holding-off with the crosshairs rather than adjusting the windage knob. I am a firm believer in aiming at the center and turning the knob as needed, but we'll leave that for another time and focus on seeing what the wind is doing.

Another preliminary matter is that of how your matches are arranges in terms of shooting order. In the US, we shoot string-fire almost exclusively. If you are shooting two or three to the mound, my technique may be of little value, although the general wind indicators remain the same. With that out of the way, let's think about wind a bit - not in the usual attempt to correlate flags to windage, but in a manner that will hopefully develop a deeper understanding of what's happening between you and the target.


The Wave
I find that most shooters begin to shoot immediately when the time commences rather than waiting for an appropriate moment in the cycle, this often leads to lost points early on. If you've been scoring prior to shooting, hopefully you've observing the flags and your shooter's shot placement. It's a very useful way of gaining some insight into the day's wind patterns before shooting.

My technique, alluded to in that earlier article as "shooting very fast" is based on the understanding of wind as a cyclical wave motion. That statement alone should give you plenty to think about next time you're on the range. Imagine for a moment, a surfer. He waits for a gentle swell, gets moving on it and rides it through it's growth and ultimately its crescendo and hopefully avoids being swallowed in its crash. Wind typically behaves in the same fashion as that wave and a smart shooter behaves as does the surfer - get on early in the wave, ride through the major change and get off at the right moment. Knowing when to stop shooting is every bit as important as shooting quickly through the predictable portion of the wave; getting back on to the next wave is a matter of delicate judgment and timing.

When you are on that rising (or falling) wave, the idea is to shoot very quickly to minimize the amount of change between shots and to make a small adjustment on each shot. Too many shooters waste time trying to analyze the exact amount of the change, by which time it has changed even more! Get on with it, click or hold over a set amount and fire the next shot quickly. This is the foundation of how I shoot and it is very effective as long as you know when to start, when to stop and you have a good man working the target - a slow marker is the death of this method.

Good Neighbors
We all watch the wind flags, of course, and the trees if your range is so blessed (ours are fairly barren), and many other small wind indicators. As you watch all these things, don't forget about those living, breathing, grunting and occasionally cursing wind indicators lying next to you - yes, your neighbors near and far. Assuming that you know your neighbor's relative skill level, his shots can be a very useful tool and should be observed whenever possible. When a good shooter next to you comes up with a poor shot, it should signal you to stop and reassess conditions as they may not be what they appear. When you hear your neighbor grunt and curse, thank him for the advance warning!

While scoring for another shooter, take a moment to scan the line of targets. You'll be surprised at how most of the shot markers move in unison to one side and then the other. The sad truth is that most shooters are behind the changes in the wind and they will get carried to either side of the bull as the wind changes. You'll see this in the targets as they come up, and once learned, you'll find that the line of targets is as useful as another row of flags. Good neighbors are one of the best ways to determine the right moment to step off the wave and wait for the next one.

Wind Flags, Ten-Speed Gearboxes and Honky Tonk Women
Yes, over-the-road trucks, eighteen-wheelers to us in the US, have a great deal to teach us about the wind. We've all seen a heavily laden truck struggle to go up a mountain road, turbos glowing red hot, each gear change timed perfectly to minimize speed loss and keep the engine at peak torque output, the driver sweating and struggling to maintain speed, never mind increasing it. Should the driver let off the throttle, thus reducing the energy input, the truck's speed will drop precipitously. Try not to cut-off a truck driver going uphill, it seems to anger them for some reason...
 
What could that possibly have to do with reading wind? Quite a bit as it turns out. Remember our wave? Well, like the truck going uphill, the wave and the wind depend on energy input to keep increasing.

Increasing the height of the wave and the speed of the wind is much more difficult than decreasing them. Wind is simply moving air, a very large mass of air - and it takes constant energy input to make that mass accelerate and move. Energy can almost always be dissipated much more quickly than it can be increased or stored. Climb up the stairs with a very large rock then drop it from a window - when did the rock move faster, going up or going down? Did the truck increase or decrease speed faster while going uphill? Does wind increase or decrease velocity faster? Now you've got it, it decreases velocity faster than it increases - much faster.
 
What should you do with that little nugget as you duel the wind? Watch targets while scoring and you'll see many more points lost as wind decreases than you will when it increases. Even shooters who understand the wave theory and shoot and adjust quickly frequently fail to increase their rate of adjustment when the wind speed begins to drop off - as it inevitably will. No source of energy is infinite, not even the sun's heat; the wind will die down, it's up to you to understand and recognize when it happens.

An overly simplistic, but useful, rule of thumb is: as the wind speed drops off your rate of change should be twice what it was when the wind speed was increasing. The shooter who fails to understand the laws of physics will lose many more points than he should, and like the truck driver who crashes in a smoldering heap at the bottom of the hill (a different sort of problem), he will have to seek solace in the arms of someone who cares (or can be paid to care) for he will find precious little of it at the range.

Each day is different, and ranges certainly vary in their prevailing conditions, but the wave motion of wind and the basic understanding of energy as applied to the mass of air on the range remain constant and can be applied almost anywhere.
 
Final Thoughts
As much as I'd like to continue with some other concepts, I think this is a good beginning for you and we'll leave some for another day if there is any interest out there. Like so many topics related to actually shooting (position, trigger control, sight picture, etc.) versus technical subjects, it is very difficult to convey good information in a written one-way article as opposed to a person-to-person dialogue on the range as things are really happening. Hopefully this hasn't been too boring and will have some value to you and others.

Cartridges: The .223 for Palma Competition

This month we have a few questions from our old friend Dan, who raises the topic of shooting the .223 in Palma competition, a subject that seems to be coming up more frequently lately, both in the sling and F-Class contexts. - GAS -

The .223 for Palma Competition
by Germán A. Salazar

Germán,

In recent years, .223 has dominated the Service Rifle XC game because of its light recoil, and the fact that the rifle that uses it is better for 3-position shooting, and I begrudgingly have two AR-15 mouse guns that I use, in addition to the M14 that I like to use on occasion because it is just more fun.
However, my question to you is why has the .223 Palma rifle not taken off?

On paper, the .223 with either 80 gr. or 90 gr. bullets has slightly better performance when it is held to International rules. At 1000 yards, in a 10 mph full value crosswind, a Berger 155.5 gr. Fullbore bullet fired at 3100 fps will drift 8.2 MOA. The 90 gr. Berger BTLR in the same conditions at 3000fps will drift 7.5MOA. The BTLR has a lower BC than the 90 gr. VLD, but may be easier to work with.
From my understanding, there are two things that have really hindered .223 Palma shooting. The first being that we already have excellent rifles and excellent bullets that work equally well for all shooters. A 155 gr. bullet with plenty of Varget behind it is a go-to solution for most shooters, and there is a certain point where returns for having a better bullet are rarely going to show at the top levels of competition.
The second problem is that loading the .223 is just more difficult to load. In a .308 with 45 grains of powder, a 1/10th of a grain variation will be 0.222% of total charge, whereas a .223 with 25 grains of powder the same error would be 0.4%. Powder weighing needs to be more precise in order to achieve the same accuracy that is capable in a .308.
Another question would be whether or not the marketing of higher performance powders could affect .223 performance? Hornady is marketing a line of Super-Performance powders that I imagine are technically similar to the 500 series of VV powders. Alliant has the MR-2000 powder which is marketed as essentially Reloader 15 in ball form which would allow for greater load densities, and perhaps greater velocities. Another aspect is that if the equipment was available, and MR-2000 works exactly as marketed, that it could be trickled to smaller variations due to granule size.
The rifle I have now is a Remington 40X with a 28 inch, six groove, 1:11" twist Krieger barrel. I am not planning on shooting internationally for the time being, but do have plenty of the old 2155 bullets for mid-range competition.  In your opinion, what is the best Sierra bullet for 800-1000 yard use that is also reloader friendly?
Dan

***********************************************************************

Dan, 

Thanks for writing, you've certainly laid out some interesting questions and I hope we can cover them all with sufficient depth.

The .223 for Palma - Wind Drift Ballistics
Your first set of questions concerns using the .223 for Palma shooting (800, 900 and 1000 yards). I was among those who thought that the paper wind drift advantage would be worthwhile and in 2000 I built a rifle for that purpose, in fact I built two of them. It was a great experience - mostly an experience in frustration, actually - and I learned a great deal. What I found mirrors the experience of others with whom I've discussed the topic:
  • the .223 is a very finicky cartridge to load accurately,
  • we could never get the same degree of elevation control with the .223 that we could with the .308, and
  • the theoretical wind drift advantage of the .233 just didn't amount to anything worthwhile in real shooting, especially in light of the increased elevation dispersion.

Let's use your figures for wind drift: you stated that under a certain set of atmospheric conditions, at 1000 yards, the 155.5 gr. Berger would drift 8.2 MOA in a 10 mph cross-wind and the 90 gr. Berger would drift 7.5 MOA in the same conditions. Thus, the .223 has a theoretical 0.7 MOA advantage in this scenario.

Unfortunately, in either case, if we fail to adjust for that 10 mph wind shift we will place our shot well into the adjacent target, right? Really, anyone who misses a 10 mph shift deserves his miss. What we often fail to detect is a 2 mph shift and that's enough to lose a few points quickly. The 2 mph shift is about what can happen on a switchy wind day between making the windage call and actually firing the shot; it's in the range of reality for any shooter and it's what we hope to guard against with some "ballistic insurance" in the form of higher BC.

Therefore, if we look at the difference in these two bullets in a 2 mph wind shift, what we see is that the 0.7 MOA advantage to the .223 is reduced by a factor of 5 and is now merely 0.14 MOA. That is slightly more than a 1/8 moa "advantage" to the .223 when dealing with the magnitude of wind shift (2 mph) that a reasonably good shooter might miss during shot execution. That's less than one click on the sight. Although now and then it might have been the 1/8 MOA that saved a point, given the difficulty of maintaining good elevation with the .223, points will be lost much more frequently than saved by using that cartridge regardless of the slight, theoretical wind drift advantage.

Load Variance in the .223
The simple fact that all long range shooters deal with is that the 10 ring is a lot wider in the middle than it is above and below the X ring. Accordingly, elevation control is the long-range shooter's principal reloading goal. Service rifle shooters and other competitors who shoot at 600 yards or less don't deal with this issue quite as much because elevation control at those distances isn't particularly difficult. However, as the bullet descends from it's trajectory peak on a 1000 yard shot, the angle is much steeper than on a mid-range shot and the effect of any variance in muzzle velocity is very apparent in increased vertical dispersion on the target.

Your comment regarding the greater percentage variance in a .223 for a given charge weight variance is correct, both as a mathematical proposition and as a reflection of the .223's more exacting nature. However, I will assume that any good long-range shooter can control his charge weight variance to 0.05 gr. - certainly some of the newer powder scales claim even closer accuracy than that. At that level of accuracy, although the .308 has the advantage in terms of percentage of charge weight variance, I think we're in a realistically useful area for both cartridges. This assumes a good scale and proper use thereof, otherwise the advantage to the .308 will be significant as you pointed out.

The .223's small case capacity and powder charge, however, are the root of another significant and perhaps insurmountable problem causing elevation dispersion - the primer. Yes, we're back to my favorite topic. Much though we might wish to believe otherwise, primers just aren't as consistent as we want them to be. Their method of manufacture almost guarantees a significant level of variance in their power output. In the next paragraph I'll give you a couple of examples from my primer testing, this was conducted in the 6BR cartridge, a .223 with its smaller capacity would make the variance greater.

The lowest standard deviation (SD) of chamber pressure was 400 psi with a corresponding extreme spread (ES) of pressure of 1,400 psi. The largest SD of pressure was 1,400 psi with a corresponding ES of pressure of 4,100 psi. These were all high quality primers in use by Highpower competitors, not bargain basement off-brand stuff.

Large primers used in the .308 have similar levels of variability; however, the primer's contribution to the total energy in the system is much smaller in the .308 due to its larger powder charge. The result, therefore, is that the .308 suffers less from primer-induced pressure variability and its resulting elevation variability. Think of the primer as an additional powder charge with some variability that you can't control; then think of that as being 5% of the .223's total energy and 2% of the .308's total energy and I think you'll get the idea (those percentages are not scientifically determined, just rough estimates).

This is the reason that many people are interested in small primer .308 cases and why Lapua has recently introduced such a case. It is an attempt to reduce primer-induced pressure variance. However, the small primer in the .308 case can present its own set of problems with marginal ignition in certain circumstances, but that's another discussion and we won't cover that today. In any event, there is no similar way to reduce the effect of primer variability on the .223 and I believe that will always be that cartridge's Achilles' heel for long-range shooting.

New Powders for .223
New, high-energy powders for the .223... That's about like asking if we should pour higher octane gasoline onto the raging fire. More energy and more MV is about the last thing a .223 needs or can use. I don't mean to sound callous or in any way condescending to .223 shooters with these remarks, but frankly there is no group of shooters that I see experience more serious and more frequent problems related to excessive pressure than .223 shooters.

The .223 case has less metal surrounding the primer pocket than any other case used in Highpower shooting; add in the typical .223 shooter's propensity for heavy loads and you get the blown primer pocket failures that we see every week with this cartridge. Going back to your earlier comment about the increased effect of charge variance on pressure in the .223, consider also that the smaller case responds more dramatically to changes in temperature (and absorbs chamber heat more quickly); it's really just a recipe for disaster. I don't mean to completely dismiss the discussion of new powders, but simply putting yet more energy into the .223 case isn't the answer.

A Few Concluding Thoughts on the .223 for Palma Competition
When I shot the .223 with 90 gr. bullets, the highest velocity I could attain with reliably safe chamber pressure in 30" barrels with a long-throat chamber was 2850 fps. Yes, like many others, I was able to make the bullet go a lot faster, but not with safe chamber pressures and it resulted in the type of case failures that are characteristic of excessive pressure and are completely unacceptable to me as a person who places a high value on safety and on the continued ability to use my eyes.

Whether you accept my 2850 fps limitation or not, however, there is truly an almost insignificant difference in practical (2 mph) wind drift between the 80 gr. and 90 gr. bullets used in the .223 and the various .30 caliber bullets used in the .308 at their appropriate MV.

I believe it is the nature of the American competitor to seek a ballistic advantage in rifle competition. Unlike shooters in most other countries, we have always handloaded and have had a large number of bullet makers enticing us with their "new and improved" offerings each year. This usually results in plenty of wasted time as we re-develop loads, and spend our mental energy at the range "testing" rather than competing. In the rest of the world, the Palma/Fullbore cartridge is much more standardized in terms of bullet and powder and the focus remains - rightly - on the shooter's ability to accurately deal with the conditions between muzzle and target.

The .308 is not what I would consider the ideal 1000 yard .30 caliber cartridge; its capacity is a bit too small to allow the MV needed with safe pressures and generally available powders and the neck is a bit too short to allow chasing an eroding throat or using more than a small range of bullet weights. Yes, the .30 caliber cartridge was perfected in 1906 and everything since then is a compromise - but I digress... The point is that if the .308 isn't exactly ideal, the .223 is far worse. Everything that limits the .308 can be said with even greater emphasis with respect to the .223.

The newer long-range and Palma competitor is better served by following the well-worn path than by trying to blaze new trails. Effective wind reading and decision making for long-range shooting is a true art and it takes a very large effort and a huge number of rounds fired at many ranges under many conditions to even begin to master. Working with non-standard ammunition during this learning process is counter-productive at best.

I can recommend nothing better to you for your 40X than to load the Sierra 2155 or 2156 for mid-range shooting and the 2156 for Palma and then to get about the business of understanding what's happening over that 5/8 of a mile between you and the 10 ring - and leave the .223 out of the equation altogether.

Hap's Corner: Silence is Golden

Silence is Golden
by Hap Rocketto

The winter had closed in and I was watching a bit more television than usual. A bowl of popcorn, balanced on my belly, gently rose and fell with my breathing as I peered over it at the screen. Idly flipping through the channels I was surprised to see a black and white movie. Even more intriguing was the sight of a man attaching a long tube to the muzzle of a revolver. I cranked up the volume a bit and began to pay attention.

It was a Hollywood crime story in the film noir genre popular in the late 1940s and early 1950s. These films’ plots usually revolved around a private detective involved with a lady of questionable virtue. The more notable classic of the type were directed by big names such as John Huston and Alfred Hitchcock and starred actors of the stature of Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Rita Hayworth, and Barbara Stanwyck. The Maltese Falcon, Laura, Key Largo, and Notorious come to mind. However, the one I was watching was an example of the B movies which were poorly imitative of the pulp fiction style of Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlow, Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, or Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer.

The character on the screen was talking out of the side of his mouth to his fellow henchman as he screwed the tube onto the revolver. “With this silencer no one will hear this poor sap get it and the dumb flatfoot that comes to investigate won’t have a clue either ‘cause there won’t be no shell casing lying around.”

OK, it was only a B movie and suspension of belief is usually needed to swallow the plot but the gunsel was only speaking a half truth. True, the revolver would not eject any spent cases, as would a semiautomatic pistol, usually a Colt 1911 derivative which seemed to be the firearm of choice of a B movie criminal. However, silencers do not work on wheel guns.

Silencers, heavily regulated in the United States by the 1934 National Firearms Act, are a regular feature in spy and crime movies. The loud report from a firearm takes place in two parts. The first is caused by the rapid expansion of gases as the powder in the cartridge case burns. The second noise is that made by the projectile passing through the sound barrier, a miniature sonic boom if you will. The latter can be eliminated by using a sub sonic cartridge and limits the calibers available, .22 being the most popular, and the former by a silencer or suppressor.

A silencer is little more than an automobile muffler that works by trapping the powder gases at the muzzle of the firearm, allowing them to dissipate over a longer period of time. A tube with internal baffles creates a series of chambers which may be filled with metal mesh or steel wool and it called a “dry” suppressor. If the baffles are filled with a liquid or gel, which is more efficient, it is a “wet can” suppressor. An efficient silencer will almost completely eliminate the gas sound so that only the movement of the action is heard. In a pinch it has even been reported that a potato, the fabled “Irish Silencer,” can be stuck on the end of a firearm for a one shot field expedient. The firearm system must be closed to work and the gap between the cylinder and the barrel of a revolver cannot be sealed, thereby making a silencer on a revolver useless.

A silencer does, however, resemble a bloop tube. Used on target rifles to extend the sight radius, the barrel extension causes the report of the rifle to have a popping or hollow thumping sound. This sound, rather than the normal sharp report, gives the device its moniker.

Some bloop tubes are equipped with a tuner device. Part of the smallbore community believes a barrel can be tuned to give the smallest and roundest possible group by placing a movable weight on the barrel and sliding it back and forth in tiny increments, test firing at each move, until the sweet spot is found. This takes time and ammunition and for that reason tuners, although popular with the bench rest crowd, are not all that accepted with prone and position shooters. In order to determine the sweet spot location, and be able to return to it, most tuners have an index mark in the stationary mounting piece and a series of numbers inscribed on the revolving collar.

This fact reminded me an interesting and amusing situation involving Her Majesty’s Customs and Revenue Service and Lones Wigger. The British have some pretty Draconian firearms laws and tightly control the flow of firearms in and out of the country. Upon arriving for the 2009 Lord Earl Roberts Trophy Match we had registered our rifles with British customs and obtained the necessary permits. As we were leaving the serial numbers were again checked against the entry records.

Oddly enough, in light of the restrictive British firearms laws, silencers are legal and relatively easy to acquire in the realm. As our rifles were being examined for departure one of Her Majesty’s loyal servants was inspecting Wigger’s bloop tube/tuner equipped rifle. Not knowing at what he was looking, and with his curiosity aroused, the agent asked why the suppressor had a fiducial mark and the rotating adjustment bezel had numbers embossed upon it.

At this rather delicate moment in our departure, before Wigger could reply, a bold wag on the team loudly volunteered, “Oh, that is just to adjust the volume.”

We were all allowed to leave the country anyway. Or, maybe, that is why we were allowed to leave the country as quickly as we did.
 

All contents Copyright 2012 The Rifleman's Journal