April 2012 Cover Page

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

This Month:
Hap Rocketto - Hap's Corner
Germán Salazar - Rifles and Reloading

15 Cents 

Reloading: .308 Bullet Substitution

.308 Bullet Substitution
by Germán A. Salazar


Hope all is well. Just finished reading the recap of your F-TR seasonnice run and great shooting.

I spoke with you sometime back and exchanged a couple of emails, but to refresh. I shoot F-TR and just recently had a new rifle built, Pierce long action single shot .308, Eliseo R1 tube stock with his new bipod (really like the bipod!), Krieger 1:12" twist barrel finished at 30". Reamer is PT&G M-138 tactical, freebore is 0.120".

First off I don't really expect a definitive answer, just wanted to get your thoughts on what seems to be a strange occurrence based on my limited reloading experience.

My initial load work up for the new rifle was with the Berger 185 gr. LRBT. I don't use moly or any other coating. I tested with varying loads from 43.0 to 45.8 of Varget in 0.3 gr. increments. Final load: Winchester brass, Wolf primers, 45.5 gr. of Varget. It chronographed at 2765 fps. Load shoots very well, maybe great, but my ability as a shooter keeps me from knowing that for sure. I do my load work up at 300 yards. Final load test I shot was a .428 MOA 10-shot group with .211 vertical spread and I said enough development, time for more practice. My first 1000 yard match (with any rifle) was at AEDC/Tulahoma TN; I shot 556 (181, 185, 190) with this load, finishing third out of 20.  For reference, the winner shot a 568 (186, 190, 192).

So all is good with this load and I decided to work on a different one for mid-range local club matches, shot at 300 and 500 yards. Decided to go with the Sierra 175 gr. SMK.  It's a known good shooter and a bit cheaper for practice and the local matches. All other components are the same and I decided I would work up from 44 grains to 45.5 (45.5 being same load as the 185's). Here's where the request for input comes in. At 45.3 gr. of Varget I felt the bolt lift change and could see a slight ejector mark on 2 of the 5 test rounds. I shot one round at 45.5 gr. and there was no doubt the load was too hot with increased bolt lift and obvious ejector mark.  The 45.3 gr. loads chronographed at 2805 fps, a little faster than what I had estimated they would shoot.

I've looked at the cases from the 185 load under a magnified light.  Primers have nice rounded edge, maybe slight sign of cratering with just a little lip around firing pin mark on some cases, no ejector marks, etc.  Soot marks on the neck are about 3/4's of the way down the neck and consistent.

Primers on 175 load really didn't look much different that 185's.  Maybe a little more consistent with showing slight cratering signs but primer edge still nice and rounded.  Soot on necks, right at mid-point of the neck maybe a little higher.  Remember I only shot 5 of the 45.3 load and one of the 45.5 load so not a big sample size.  I did have one where where I could see soot had leaked back around the primer but only one.  Assumed that might have been issue with case itself.

I jump both bullets, .017", that yields the following cartridge dimensions:

175 SMK: 2.238" base to ogive, 2.837" COAL. According to QuickLoad there is 0.226" of bullet shank in the neck and 0.411" overall in the neck including boat tail.

185 LRBT: 2.260" base to ogive, 2.925" COAL. According to QuickLoad, 0.236" shank in the neck and 0.416' total bullet in the neck.

All cases are trimmed to 2.012".

The load density is at 99% for the 175's and 101% for 185's (based on Quickload measurements)  I did same exact prep and loading routine for both rounds. The 185 is obviously a little heavier and has .010 longer bearing surface. So I'm stumped, why would I see pressure signs with the 175 and not the 185?  

I know every rifle is different but again this confuses me. Hoping you might have some thoughts on it as it appears to be a learning opportunity. I've dropped my load for the 175's back to 44.8 grains of Varget and they're shooting well. Need to play around with seating depth a bit to see if they'll tighten up but feel like I could shoot them today and turn in a good score. I appreciate all the writing you do for the blog. I've read and re-read a lot of the material and it's been a great help.




Thanks for writing and I really appreciate the level of detail you provided. Not only does that detail help in understanding the situation, it also indicates the level of care and attention that goes into your reloading, making your observations very reliable.

Your observations of the primer condition, ejector mark and the height of the soot line on the neck are great indications and support what you're feeling on the bolt lift. It is fairly obvious that the Sierra 175 SMK is generating higher pressure in your rifle than the Berger 185 LRBT when both are loaded with the same powder charge.

I think the best way to approach this question is to look at each pressure element in isolation; that will allow us to assess which, if any, is contributing to the apparent increased pressure of the 175 gr. SMK load. Certainly on the surface, it would appear that the same powder charge used with the lighter, shorter shank bullet should have lower pressure. However, because you are experiencing higher pressure indications, let's take a close look. We'll list various pressure factors and evaluate whether they are supportive of your observation (which is a reliable observation), neutral, or counter to your observation.

Berger 185 gr. LRBT (top)
Sierra 175 gr. Match King (bottom)
1. Bullet Weight - The two bullets in question are the Berger 185 gr. LRBT and the Sierra 175 gr. Match King. Obviously the 185 is heavier than the 175; the difference is enough to be a genuine factor in pressure levels. As you've seen, however, there are many instances where the bullet weight is not the principal determinant of pressure levels. This is one such case. Nonetheless, we have to say that generally, a heavier bullet will increase pressure with the same powder charge, so this factor is a counter-indicator to your observations.

2. Bearing Surface - Quite often when we observe a lighter bullet generating more pressure than a slightly heavier bullet, the factor contributing to that increased pressure is a longer bearing surface (shank) on the lighter bullet. This occurs when the lighter bullet is of a blunter design as might be found when comparing a Sierra (typically somewhat blunt) to a Berger (typically somewhat pointier). Your letter, however, indicates that the Sierra 175 has a 0.010" shorter shank than the Berger 185. Bryan Litz's Applied Ballistics for Long Range Shooting 2nd Ed. has values of 0.360" for the Berger 185 LRBT and 0.350" for the Sierra 175 SMK, corresponding with your notes. I measured a small sample of each and obtained values of 0.340" for the Berger 185 LRBT and 0.390" for the Sierra 175 Match King. My sample size was very small, three Bergers and one Sierra (I only have one Sierra 175 and it was driven 90 miles to me for this article!). As you can see, my bullets show a 0.050" longer shank on the Sierra 175 SMK.

Although I have the utmost confidence in Bryan's work and measurements, bullets vary from lot to lot and it is worthwhile to measure your actual bullets, if you haven't already. Because of the uncertainty created by the difference in Bryan's measurements and mine, I'm going to rate this factor a neutral but leaning toward supporting your observation of higher pressure with the 175 SMK based on the possibility of a longer shank on the Sierra.

Berger 185 gr. LRBT (top)
Sierra 175 gr. Match King (bottom)
3. Seating Depth -  The deeper a bullet is seated into the case, the higher the resulting chamber pressure will be. That's a basic fact that I think we all know and it assumes that the two bullets being compared will have the same amount of travel to the lands. Your seating depth is based on equal jump to the lands, so we need only look at the amount of bullet intrusion into the case. The simplest way to do that is with cutaway cases, as seen in the picture at left. I seated these bullets to the depth you specified. 

It is fairly clear that the Berger 185 intrudes further into the case than the Sierra 175. Without taking the time to determine the exact volume displaced by each bullet, we can confidently say that this pressure factor indicates higher pressure for the Berger and is thus a counter-indicator to your observations.

4. Bullet Construction - Although infrequently discussed, there are a few aspects of bullet construction that bear consideration in our analysis; unfortunately, I don't have the resources to do that analysis in this case. The most important of these are jacket hardness and thickness and core hardness. As the hardness of the components increases, the time required for the shank to fully enter the rifling also increases. That dwell time is critical in determining peak chamber pressure because the powder continues to burn while the bullet engraves, but the resulting gas has nowhere to go. 

In years past, Frankford Arsenal 172 gr. match bullets were known for their hard jackets. Cutaway photos of those bullets show that not only were the jackets hard (as specified by FA) but they were also quite thick. Pressure testing of handloads conducted by Frankford Arsenal staff at Camp Perry in 1965 showed that the 172 gr. arsenal bullet generated about 4,000 to 5,000 psi more chamber pressure than the Sierra 168 when both were loaded with the same powder charge. Jacket hardness and shank length were the principal factors in that difference.

Hard and thick copper certainly takes more time to engrave into the rifling than nice soft lead, thus raising pressure levels. Consider the extreme case of a lightly copper plated lead bullet such as we see in some .22 rimfire ammunition. That level of copper minimally changes the engraving force over pure lead. Now consider the opposite extreme, a solid copper bullet such as the Barnes Monolithic. Somewhere in the middle is the typical match bullet which has a jacket just a few thousandths of an inch thick. As that jacket is made harder and thicker, engraving force rises, dwell time rises and with it, pressure rises. The same effect will be noted for increases in lead core hardness.

Because we have no real data for jacket hardness and thickness or for core hardness for these bullets, we have to rate this factor a neutral in the analysis of the present case. However, anecdotally, it has been noted that Berger (J4) jackets are somewhat thinner than Sierra jackets. These observations come from bullet makers who have used both types. Therefore we'll slightly change the rating to neutral but leaning toward supporting your observation. I measured one J4 .30 caliber jacket recently and it was 0.018" thick, but I have no reference for Sierra.

The last bullet construction factor is diameter. As with jacket and core hardness, this can very from lot to lot, so measure your bullets. Although larger diameter bullets will tendtoward higher pressure, this isn't always enormously significant. I've tested 0.308" vs. .0309" bullets of the same type with the pressure testing setup and not seen significant differences. Of course, the enxt tcomparison pair might be quite different. 

Based on the foregoing analysis of pressure factors, I think that the most likely cause of the increased chamber pressure that you are observing with the Sierra 175 SMK when loaded with  the same powder charge as the Berger 185 LRBT is that your lot of Sierra 175's has a longer shank and possibly a harder and/or thicker jacket and possibly a harder core. Given that bullet weight and seating depth both indicate lower pressure for the Sierra 175, the effect of the shank length and bullet hardness has to be substantial to not only equal, but overcome those factors to create higher pressure with the Sierra 175 over the Berger 185.

In general, although we've tried to isolate a few different factors that can lead to increased chamber pressure, the rifle sees all of them at once. The cumulative effect of seemingly small changes might be more than one would expect.

The most important conclusion, is, of course, that bullet substitution always requires the kind of careful re-calibration of the load that you've done. As a final observation, I'll note that in my experience, mid-range loads work very well at a level of one or two grains below maximum, especially in the .308. As there is no pressing need for high MV in mid-range shooting as there is no danger of entering the transonic zone, try some lighter and lighter loads, you might be pleasantly surprised!

Many thanks to Allen Elliott who made a very long drive to bring me the one and only Sierra 175 he had, which was one more than I had!

Shooting Events: A Season of F-TR

A Season of F-TR
by Germán A. Salazar

Last year at this time, I was one week out of shoulder surgery and uncertain as to the extent to which I would still be able to compete in Highpower shooting. Clearly it would be quite some time before I could shoot from the sling-supported position again, in fact it took eight months to do so, but I was hopeful that F-TR would provide a good alternative in the interim. As things turned out, F-TR became much more than a temporary accommodation for me.

Because I had never shot F-Class before, I was starting almost from scratch. The first decision was whether to shoot F-Open or F-TR; actually, that wasn't too hard a choice for me. F-TR held more appeal for me right from the start because the cartridge limitation of .308 or .223 places all competitors on a fairly level playing field and makes the match - in my opinion - a purer test of shooting skills. A secondary, but nonetheless important, consideration is the lower cost of F-TR. Although building a rifle costs about the same, the much more frequent barrel replacement schedule necessitated by the cartridges used in F-Open adds significantly to the cost of shooting in that division. A front rest for F-Open can be much more costly than a bipod for F-TR, but a one-time expense such as that is less of a factor for me than the ongoing expense and delay of barrel replacement. The final cost consideration was that I already had two good Palma rifles that were perfectly suited to F-TR whereas F-Open would require construction of a new rifle with the associated cost and delay. F-TR provided me with what I consider to be a more interesting shooting opportunity, at a lower cost and without delay; thus the choice was a simple one: F-TR.

With the rifle side of the equipment list covered by my Gilkes and Borden actioned Palma rifles, both with Krieger 1:11" twist barrels chambered by Clark Fay, I still needed to take care of the two essential items for F-Class: a scope and a bipod. Knowing that I would initially be shooting our local 500 yard matches, I decided to use my old Leupold 24X scope. After researching bipods, mostly through talking to friends at the Phoenix Rod & Gun Club and through the forum discussions on Accurate Shooter, I selected the aluminum "ski bipod"made by Henry Rempel. With those two items in hand, I was ready to begin once my shoulder healed enough.

The conventionally stocked Gilkes/Leupold combination worked very well as I wrote in an earlier article. I shot eight 500 yard matches with the rifle, using the Leupold 24X and also a Leupold 36X I bought from the used shelf at Bruno's. The first match I shot with the Gilkes was a 594-22X and the high score was a 597-32X with six of eight matches at or above 594. All of these matches were fired with Sierra 180 gr. Match Kings, IMR 4064 powder and Winchester brass.

The last match I shot with the Gilkes was on August 20 - 21, 2011 at the NRA Mid-Range Regional at Camp Pendleton, California just north of San Diego. I used Berger 175 LRBTs, H4895 and Winchester brass. At that match, I broke the then standing Mid-Range Aggregate record (15 shots at each of 300, 500 and 600 yards) with a 444-25X. Unfortunately for me, that was the same day James Crofts shot a 445-26X at a match on the opposite end of the country! James got the record and I got a "nice try" letter from the NRA. Despite the lack of a record, it was very gratifying to come out on top in my first big F-TR match, especially given the very high quality of the civilian and military competitors at Camp Pendleton.

When I began, I didn't know if I would like F-Class shooting or how long I might be doing it. Although I prefer my CSS stocked Borden actioned Palma rifle for prone shooting, I thought it would be simpler to begin with the conventionally stocked Gilkes. A minor consideration was that the CSS/Borden had a fresh barrel on it and it seemed like a good idea to save it until I got better at F-TR. After the Regional at Camp Pendleton, I knew that I really liked F-TR shooting and that I was shooting at a good enough level to justify putting some rounds through that nice new barrel on the tubegun.

Converting the tubegun to F-TR was a bit frustrating. Hopefully it won't be that way for anyone who read the short series I wrote about that process. In short, the Leupold rings I used weren't very compatible with the hybrid Weaver/Picatinny rail made by CSS and required some careful machine work to get a proper fit. Then the mounting plate for the bipod kept slipping under match conditions. After a few attempts at fixing the problem, Henry Rempel made a special "tubegun plate" with a round contour to match the fore end of the tubegun. That solved the moving bipod issue completely.

I only shot four matches with the tubegun, with scores ranging from 583 to 591. By the time I got the new plate from Henry and had the ring problems worked out, I was already working on the next project so I was never able to shoot the tubegun with all of the bugs worked out. The reason I moved on from the tubegun was simple - weight. Both the Gilkes and the tubegun are fairly heavy Palma rifles. Although I was able to make the F-TR 8.25 kg. weight limit with the Leupold scopes, I couldn't make it with the Nightforce NXS 12-42 that I'd picked up from Bruno's - another nice used scope that seemed too good to pass up.

The reason for buying the Nightforce was the impending long-range season, which in Phoenix runs from November to April. Although the Leupolds served me well at mid-range distances, now that I was committed to shooting F-TR, the additional expense seemed justifiable. There are four significant matches during our winter season, the Palma, Long-Range and Mid-Range state championships held in November, December and April, and the Berger Bullets Southwest Nationals held in February. With these matches as the main event and club matches every weekend, we stay pretty busy shooting during the cooler months.

The BAT actioned 6XC prone rifle in my rack seemed like the best bet to make weight with the Nightforce and the Rempel bipod; it just needed .308 barrel. The first attempt went bad when the Krieger that was marked as being a 1:11" twist turned out to be a 1:18" twist. Thankfully, Bruno's had a true 1:11" twist blank in stock and John Lowther jumped right in to chamber the barrel. John's barrel chambering article series has since become one of the most viewed series on this website. I highly recommend it for anyone who has barrel work done and would like to know more about the process.

The new barrel was completed just before the Arizona Long-Range State Championship with just a couple of weekends available to get the scope settings down and make sure my existing loads would shoot reasonably well. After the 1:18" twist barrel debacle, I thought nothing more could go wrong, but I'm not that lucky. When I made it to the range for a 600 yard practice, I immediately discovered that the 30 moa taper base I ordered from BAT was too tapered to allow me to get a zero at 600 yards and I wasn't sure about 800 yards. I'd assumed that the Nightforce had a lot of travel and that a 30 moa base would allow the scope to zero from 300 to 1000 yards while keeping the adjustment away from the extreme at 1000. I was wrong. I went to Bruno's and placed an order for a 15 moa base. Although I could shoot 1000 yards with the 30 moa base, I would need the less tapered one for anything else.

Our 1000 yard practice got me a good zero for the scope and a couple of decent scores (147 and 145) on a windy morning. I was gratified, but not too surprised, to find that no change in load would be needed. Typically, a good .308 load will work across a large number of similar barrels and since mine were all 1:11" twist Kriegers with the same chamber, I was fairly confident the load would work in the new one. So, finally, after the barrel problem and the scope base problem, I was ready to shoot the BAT in the Long-Range Championship on November 19 and 20, 2011.

Beginning the match with a total of 42 rounds previously fired through the barrel, it's hard to say that I was particularly confident of a good outcome. However, the wind was blowing and that's something that I always consider to be in my favor. In fact that proved to be the case and my first day score of 575-16X, while hardly earth shattering, was enough to win by a good margin. The second day brought more of the same conditions and a score of 572-16X, pleasantly consistent and again the top score although only a point ahead of Steve Lockwood. Accordingly, the aggregate of 1147-32X was the high F-TR score and the second significant win of the season in F-TR, following the California Regional with the Gilkes. Click here for complete match results AZ LR 20011.

My loads for the Long-Range Championship were a mix of Berger 175 LRBT and Berger 185 LRBT, both with H4895. I had less than 150 of the 185, and hadn't tested them in this barrel. However, after the first day, which was fired with the 175 LRBT, I loaded one string for Sunday with the 185 LRBT.  The score with the 185's was a 196-9X, which was just 3 X's higher than the high scores with the 175 LRBT, not a huge difference.

With only two weeks to the Arizona Palma Championship, I spent a lot of evenings neck turning new brass and loading the 300 or so rounds I would need for that match as we go over the Palma course five times: once in practice, three times individually and once in the team match. I loaded the 175 LRBT for the 800 and 900 yard stages and the few remaining 185 LRBT for the 1000 yard stages. My load workup for the 185 was minimal, consisting of the one string fired in the LR match, with a 0.5 gr. reduction of the 175 load. Despite the minimal workup, I had confidence in the bullet. I cut the load another 0.2 gr. for a total 0.7 gr. reduction from the 175 load and loaded the remainder. To this day, I haven't chronographed that load.

If you've never been to the Arizona Palma Championship, you should consider putting it on your list of worthwhile matches to attend. With over 100 competitors from all over the country, it's a very fun and tough match in all divisions - Palma, F-Open and F-TR. The first day was very close with my 437-13X just squeaking past John Chilton's 436-17X for the win. John is a great F-TR shooter and the F-TR Palma course record holder, so I felt pretty good about my shooting that day. On the second day I stayed in the lead with a 442-15X to a second place 440-14X from Michelle Gallagher. With a reasonable lead, I went into the third day feeling fairly good about my chances, but my good scores slipped quite a bit. John and Michelle both shot 434 with John getting the win on X count and my 429 lagging in third place. Despite that slip, I got the aggregate win and the third significant win of the season in F-TR. Click here for complete match results: 2011 AZ Palma Championship.

The team match portion of the Palma championship was actually the highlight of the event for me. To begin with, I enjoy team shooting more than individual shooting because of the additional effort of coaching and shooting, but also because of the shared effort with friends. In this case, our Arizona State Rifle & Pistol Association F-TR team consisted of Warren Dean, John Chilton, Jeff Calhoon and myself. I introduced some of the procedures that I use in coaching sling shooters to the F-TR team and the others were very receptive to them. Our total score of 1741-61X was well in excess of the then standing record of 1717-42X. The NRA has been extremely slow in certifying new National Records this year and as of yet have not acknowledged our performance as a record, but I'm confident it will stand.

I was very happy with the performance of the Berger 185 LRBT at the Palma match, they did everything I needed in terms of accuracy and elevation control. I went to Bruno's the next day and bought a few boxes to use at the next big match; for the intervening club matches I kept using Sierra 180 gr. bullets. The powder remained H4895 for the Bergers and IMR 4064 for the Sierras, the brass was Winchester and the primers were the Russians.

As the last few weeks of the year ticked off the calendar, my recovery from the shoulder surgery continued and I began to shoot a bit of practice in the sling. On December 31, 2011, I shot my first match in the sling since the surgery; over the next few months, I continued to shoot in the sling, alternating with F-Class. I was committed to shooting the remaining big matches, the Berger Long-Range match and the Arizona Mid-Range Championship in F-TR; in part because my shoulder wasn't ready for a multi-day match in the sling and in part because I wanted to give F-TR my best effort for the whole season.

The Berger Bullets Southwest Long-Range Nationals (I run out of breath saying that!) in February rolled around very quickly.Over 200 competitors entered the match, more than we've had on our range in decades - probably since the 1970 ISU World Championships. With 100 firing points, we can handle a big match, but it was a lot of work for all involved and we owe them a great debt of gratitude.

 With five days of shooting I had a lot of loading to do in advance, and as with the Palma match, I used the Berger 185 for the 1000 yard line and the 175 Berger for everything else. The week begins with a wind clinic on Tuesday and then a 45 shot 600 yard match that doesn't form part of the aggregate on Wednesday. My 441-16X in the 600 yard match was good for third place behind winner Chris Ozolins at 444-16X and Jim Murphy at 442-18X.

Long-range shooting began on Wednesday with a Palma team match and we regrouped our ASRPA team from December. The only change in the lineup was that we had Steve Lockwood in place of Jeff Calhoon who couldn't make it to the match. Our objective was to surpass the 1741 score that we fired in December and conditions seemed favorable for that. There were five teams entered in the F-TR category for the team match and we thought that the toughest competition would come from the North State Rifle Club team with James Crofts, Ian Klemm, Ray Bowman and  Phillip Kelley. They drove about 2,200 miles from North Carolina to the Arizona desert to shoot this match and weren't going to just roll over for the locals.

Shooting began early in the day at the 800 yard line with a cool breeze blowing. We shot well and totaled a  593-31X, but the North State team opened up a lead with their score of 595-30X. Moving back to 900, we shot a very strong 590-20X to the North State club's 574-20X, thus creating a 14 point margin in our favor.  At the 1000 yard line, we moved through the first three shooters with good scores for the conditions, but disaster struck when Warren Dean came to the line. With a scope that wouldn't hold zero, he had difficulty hitting paper during the sighters and then struggled to a score of 123-3X for a team total of 541-9X to North State's 555-9X. Our 14 point lead vanished and we won the match by the slimmest possible margin: 1724-60X to North State's 1724-59X! No record, but a win against very tough competitors, we were elated.

Michelle Gallagher, German Salazar, Chris Ozolins,
James Crofts, Mike Krei (NRA)
Individual shooting from Friday through Sunday consisted of one day of Palma and two days at 1000 yards.  In the Palma I shot a 434-17X, good for 6th place and well behind John Chilton's winning 441-12X. The highlight of the 1000 yard matches came early for me when I shot a 199-11X on Friday morning; that score is just one X from the national record of 199-12X and let me know that my relatively untested load for the 185 Berger was working well. As could be expected, over two days of shooting 1000 yards in Phoenix's windy conditions, some scores were better than others, but overall I hung in there with the lead pack. At the end, it was a photo finish with James Crofts winning with a 1398-46X, Chris Ozolins in second at 1398-42X and myself in third place at 1397-40X. It really doesn't get much closer than that after three days of long-range shooting in difficult conditions and I was happy with the outcome. James and Chris came a long way to shoot and I'm sure they went home with a big smile also.

The Arizona Mid-Range Championship was the last of the four big matches of the season and by the time we fired it in mid-April, the weather was really shifting quickly. The course of fire is fifteen shots at 600, 500 and 300 yards (in that order) for two days and we had 60 competitors. Saturday was very cold and very windy with overcast conditions and an occasional drop or two of rain. I shot a 440-16X (147-6X, 146-5X, 147-5X) and built a good lead. On Sunday, which was warmer though still very windy, I shot the very same score, 440-16X (149-8X, 143-3X, 148-5X). The 880-32X total was not only the high F-TR score, but also the high F-Class overall score, a nice way to end the season. Click here for complete results: 2011 Arizona Mid-Range Championship.

Thee wins and a 3rd place in four big matches, three rifles, three scopes, three loads, there seems to be something about the number three that defines this season... Overall, it was a great experience, I'm really glad that I took the plunge into F-TR while my shoulder healed rather than sitting on the sidelines. One this is certain - I'll remain an F-TR shooter, mixing it in with sling matches now that I'm in reasonably good shape.

ASRPA F-TR Team: Warren Dean, German Salazar, John Chilton, Steve Lockwood

Cartridges: .303 British Handload Test

.303 British Handload Test
by German A. Salazar

Sometimes, things don't go quite as planned. The plan, in this case, was to test my handloads against Canadian  Mk VII ammo (DA 51) as used in matches for decades. The objective was to see how much better modern handloads are. I was given two boxes of this ammunition by Clint Dahlstrom some time ago and had set it aside for just such a project. Clint warned me that the primers are corrosive, and I don't want to fire corrosive primers in my rifle, so I planned to replace them.

DA51 case, bullet and approx. 38.5 gr. of extruded
powder similar to IMR 4064. Sierra 174 for reference.
Replacing the primers with modern non-corrosive primers is a fairly simple proposition; I intended to pull the bullets, dump the powder into the scale pan, remove the primer crimp, install a fresh primer, put the powder charge back in without any changes and reseat the bullet. Well, that was the plan...

Military ammo typically has a tar-like sealer on the bullet for waterproofing and a crimp to ensure that the bullet doesn't move as it cycles through automatic mechanisms in machine guns. Those two features, desirable though they may be for military use, do nothing for accuracy and they make pulling bullets a bit harder than normal. In fact, they make bullet pulling impossible unless you first break the seal and the crimp by seating the bullet a little bit deeper. I took 22 rounds from the box and ran them into my seater die until I got a sharp crack on each one. I takes a minimal amount of bullet movement to get the crack sound; it's quite loud, you won't miss it.

Once all of the rounds had the seal broken, I used my Hornady collet bullet puller to pull the bullets. They came out fairly easily albeit with a bit more effort than handloaded ammo. I apparently missed cracking one and it stubbornly refused to come out - and I stubbornly kept trying. Eventually the little bulb went on in my head and I went back to the seater die, cracked the seal and it then came right out with the puller.

So with all the bullets pulled, I was ready to decap and re-prime. That's when I came to the realization that these primers were Berdan, not Boxer... With no Berdan decapping equipment on hand and no Berdan primers with which to prime the cases, that was the end of that little project. A bit chagrined, I reseated the bullets and put the cartridges back in the same box they've occupied for 61 years.

Before re-seating the bullets, I examined them a little. As you can see, they're a flat-base design; I must say that I was expecting a boat tail. The jacket is folded over the base quite evenly and consistently from bullet to bullet. They aren't absolutely perfect, but they're better than a lot of FMJ match bullets I've examined in the past. I also noticed a star-shaped impression on the base of each bullet; I've never seen that sort of thing before, kind of interesting. The DA bullets measured 0.312", as did the Sierra SMK, although those are labeled as being 0.311". The larger diameter doesn't cause any concerns on my part as I've fired thousands of 0.309" diameter Lapua D46 bullets through 0.308" diameter barrels with great results. Besides, I don't know the actual bore and groove size of my rifle's barrel, so it's really not a concern.

Shooting the Handloads
I went to the Ben Avery range this morning, we had practice at 300, 500 and 600 yards. I planned to shoot the .30-06 at the longer distances and the .303 British at 300 yards. We shot 300 last, and it was fairly windy. I'm glad we didn't start at 300 because the Lee-Enfield is really uncomfortable to shoot and it when I was done firing it, I was definitely done for the day. The comb is very low, there's no pistol grip to speak of and the trigger is every bit of 8 lb. and it smacks me in the face on every shot. None of that is news to me, I've had the rifle for a long time, but I'm reminded of it every time I shoot it, which is fairly infrequently. Then, of course, there's that post front sight, although I was able to see it reasonably well today.

To keep it brief, I shot a 140-0X for 15 shots at 300 yards on the MR63 target (2 moa 10 ring). I left the camera at home, so no pictures, but it was certainly nothing spectacular. Most of the shots had good elevation, but I put four in the 9 ring low and one high as I struggled with the post sight. The rest of the points went out to windage, including one in the 8 ring. As you can see in the photo of the fired cases, the primers retain the full edge radius, the load is on the mild side and shoots well, but today, the shooter wasn't really up to the task! I'm sending the rifle home with Doan Trevor to add the high comb that came on the sniper version of these rifles, maybe that will make it more comfortable.

Cartridges: Reloading the .303 British Today

Reloading the .303 British Today
by Germán A. Salazar

The .303 British originated in the 19th Century, 1888 to be precise, as a black powder cartridge loaded with a 215 grain round-nose bullet. Notwithstanding its Victorian origins, early in the 20th Century the .303 successfully made the transition to smokeless powder and spitzer form bullets. In that form, it served the Commonwealth through two World Wars - not to mention a century of target shooting. The .303 British remains a perfectly useful rifle cartridge today, although it isn't very often seen on US target ranges. However, since I sometimes like to shoot a vintage rifle and the .30-06 is my principal target cartridge, a 1903 Springfield doesn't seem too "vintage" to me; therefore, I have a Lee-Enfield, albeit a fairly modern No.4 Mk II made in 1955.

Like many other current owners of any of the multiple versions of the Lee-Enfield rifle, I enjoy shooting this round and have always reloaded for it as I generally have no interest in shooting factory or arsenal loaded ammunition. Reloading the .303 isn't fundamentally different from any other bottle-neck rifle cartridge, but there are some special considerations brought on by the rimmed case design as well as by the rifles in which the .303 is usually chambered.

If we look beyond the cartridge's history for a moment and simply look at its physical characteristics, we see a case of volume similar to the .308 Winchester and a bore diameter just a few thousandths of an inch larger. However, it would be a mistake to assume that this cartridge can loaded to be a ballistic twin to the .308; it can't be loaded that hot because the rifles chambered for the .303 are not built to withstand pressure levels used in the .308. Whereas the .308 is loaded commercially to a maximum average chamber pressure of 55,200 c.u.p. (copper units of pressure), the .303 is limited to 45,000 c.u.p. and handloaders should be very cognizant of that limitation as it is essential to safe operation of these rifles.

Military brass for the .303 British isn't particularly easy to come by in the US these days, so most reloading will be with commercial brass. In his excellent Pet Loads article on the .303 British many years ago, Ken Waters noted that there is a very large difference in case weight and consequently case volume among the various commercial and military makers of .303 brass. Ken noted brass weight between 162 gr. and 190 gr. for various types of brass.

Because this article, unlike Ken's, doesn't provide specific load data, I won't go into case capacities by brand, but will caution you to check your brass if you plan to load in more than one make or lot of .303 brass as the differences can have a significant effect on pressure. I have IVI, R-P and S&B brass for my .303 and I certainly agree with Ken's caution as to the widely varying capacity among them.

As with any other cartridge, I recommend full-length sizing for the .303. However, because the .303 uses a rim for headspace control, unlike more modern designs that use the shoulder, we need to discuss case sizing a little. In a rifle chambered for a rimmed cartridge, headspace is the difference between the rim thickness and the space provided for the rim between the breech face and the bolt face. The case shoulder does not contact the chamber shoulder when the case is chambered. Although the shoulder should be set back in resizing, it should be a minimal amount - just enough to avoid hard bolt closing. Resizing in this manner will maximize case life.

The uper case is new, unfired. Note how much the shoulder has blown forward on the lower (once-fired) case.
Because the .303 British uses the rim for headspace control, many chambers, especially those in military rifles, have a very long rim to shoulder dimension, allowing for significant shoulder displacement on firing. If you set up the resizing die to touch the shellholder in the press and thus push the case shoulder all the way back to the original position, the case will separate after only a few firings, perhaps as few as two firings. My best advice is to use a case gauge to check the amount of shoulder setback and keep it to a minimum. This will require raising the die a bit in the press, and it might not size all the way down, but if the bolt still closes without undue effort, that's OK.

Despite my deep interest in primers, this is not an application in which the primer is going to make a meaningful difference. Primer variance is most noticeable at longer ranges, and for my purposes today, the .303 is something that I shoot at 300 or 500 yards, maybe 600 once in a very long while, so the subtleties of primer performance aren't really high on my list of reloading priorities. Add in the fact that it's been at least 20 years since I was able to generate a clear sight picture on a post front sight and you can see that primers just aren't that critical to me in this application!

What is important it that you select a primer with a tough cup as both the firing pin impact and protrusion from the bolt face are somewhat greater with many Lee-Enfield rifles that they are on more modern bolt action rifles. I tend to use Winchester primers in my reloading for the .303 and they have always worked well, although CCI primers would also be an excellent choice.

Given the very occasional use that I give the .303, I prefer to keep my reloading very simple and thus only use one bullet, the 174 gr. Sierra Match King. The bullet diameter for the .303 British is 0.311" and although Sierra makes a number of bullets in this size, as do the other manufacturers, the 174 gr. Match King is accurate, readily available and perfectly suited to my limited use. You can look through the various reloading manuals from the bullet manufacturers to find other bullet weights in 0.311" or 0.312" and appropriate loads, but I'll stick to the 174 gr. Sierra Match King.

Even though we aren't going to load the .303 British to the same pressure levels as the .308 Winchester, many of the same powders that are commonly used in the .308 are well suited to reloading the .303 with similar bullet weights. To me, that means H4895, IMR 4895, IMR 4320 and IMR 4064. Although other powders in that burn rate range would also be useful, I would caution you to avoid double-base powders and other attempts to maximize muzzle velocity. In fact, muzzle velocity with the 174 gr. Sierra should be held to no more than the original 2450 fps in rifles that are in excellent mechanical condition and 2350 is an even better limit for accuracy work. If the rifle looks worn or questionable in any way, it's best to make it a wall hanger and find something else to shoot. Many of these rifles are well over 100 years old and have received widely varying degrees of care over the years; risking your eyes behind one for the sake of a few more fps of muzzle velocity is foolhardy. Gambling at a casino is fine if that's what you like, but don't gamble your eyesight!

That's about it for now. Later this week I'll take the rifle out and generate some mid-range targets with my loads and some old Mk VII ammo for comparison. However, because the Mk VII ammo has corrosive primers, I'll pull it down, replace them with modern non-corrosive primers and then shoot it. We might be sacrificing a bit of historical purity in the comparison, but my barrel is pristine and I intend to keep it that way!

Reloading: Short Headspace on New Brass

This month's letter is from Aziz who asks a particularly good question about headspace on new brass, safety and accuracy. - GAS -

Short Headspace on New Brass
by Germán A. Salazar

Hello Germán,

I have been reading "The Rifleman's Journal" for about a year now and before I talk about anything else I want to say THANK YOU. TRJ has been a huge and invaluable resource for me in my shooting and reloading endeavours, and I feel has saved me from some costly and potentially hazardous blunders.

Now onto my question(s): I have been shooting (centerfire rifle) for about 18 months, and have been reloading for about a year. I shoot an unmodified Remington 700 Police in .308 Win. It has a 26" long heavy barrel and a fairly tight chamber (headspace of 1.632"; the SAAMI Min/Max spec being 1.630"/1.640"). I use a Forster full length sizing die (standard .308 Win chamber, not Palma or 7.62 NATO). I resize once-fired Remington brass to a headspace dimension of 1.629" (+/- 0.002"). So far I have achieved really good accuracy (less than 1/2" 5 shot groups at 100 yards on average). The extreme spread on my best handloads is 17 fps and standard deviation is 6.3 (over 10 rounds).

Recently I purchased a 50 count packet of new Winchester brass. This was my first purchase of new brass of any kind. When I checked the headspace dimension on these cases they turned out to be on average 1.625". I am not sure how to resize these. Running them through the die does not change the dimension at all. And, I don't think it will be possible to set the die in such a way that running these Winchester cases through it will increase their headspace dimension.

If I use this brass with this headspace it will need to expand 0.007" in order to seal the chamber. Is that excessive? Is it safe? And, how will it affect accuracy and case life? In your experience do new unfired cases usually have reduced headspace? How does one get them to the proper size? Or, is it that I have misunderstood some fundamental aspect of reloading and headspacing?

I hope to hear from you soon. And, once again, thank you for taking the time and effort to post The Rifleman's Journal.


Hi Aziz,

Thanks for writing! This is really a good question because it deals with a fundamental, yet poorly understood, aspect of reloading and accuracy. Headspace is, in purely technical terms, the difference between the chamber's length measured from the bolt face to the middle of its shoulder versus the length of case's base to the middle of its shoulder. For a case to chamber easily, without hard bolt closing and potential damage to the bolt lugs, headspace has to be a positive number (i.e. the case is shorter than the chamber). I think you're already familiar with the basics of checking headspace on resized cases, but for those who aren't, click here for a basic treatment of the subject.

As an initial matter, let me just say that I don't think you have a problem at all, the headspace of 0.007" is within SAAMI standards for the cartridge and everything should work normally. Having said that, let's have a look at the various dimensions and how these parts interact in our little system.

The first thing to know is that you can't make unfired brass grow, so there's not much you can do for a closer fit. Fired brass will grow in headspace as it is sized due to the reduction in shoulder edge diameter forces the shoulder cone forward until the die shoulder cone hits the case shoulder cone at the end of the stroke and sets it back a few thousandths of an inch. However, because unfired brass is at minimum shoulder edge diameter, running it through a die will not cause the shoulder compression and headspace lengthening that fired brass undergoes. Attempting to size it won't hurt anything as it won't change anything.

What you have is a very common situation and really not a serious concern. If you can seat the bullets to a solid jam in the rifling, that would be marginally helpful in ensuring that the brass stretches (as it must) more from the front than the rear - but whether or not this really happens that way is very speculative - still, it won't hurt to try.  You might even find that it takes two firings before they come up to the normal headspace for the rifle.

Whenever I have new brass like this, apart from jamming the bullet, I make sure to use Federal primers as they will fire reliably, even with a reduced firing pin strike. The reason for this extra caution is that the excessive headpsace can allow the entire case to move forward under the impact of the firing pin and thus cushion the blow resulting in erratic ignition or even a complete misfire. This can occur if your rifle's firing pin protrusion is less than ideal and the headspace is long. A simple check for this is to fire a couple of primed cases (no powder or bullet obviously). If they fire reliably, then don't worry about it. If you've never fired a primer by itself, be forewarned, it's loud! Sticking the muzzle into a wet towel is a good noise damper.

In your letter, you said: "with this headspace it will need to expand 0.007" in order to seal the chamber" and I'd like to comment on that for a moment. It isn't the case shoulder cone pressing against the chamber shoulder cone that seals the chamber, it is the expansion of the case neck against the chamber neck that seals it. That is the reason why this really isn't a significant concern. By the way, think for a moment about the case neck expanding to seal, many chambers have clearance amounts of 0.010" between case neck and chamber neck and they manage to seal quickly and safely - but we'll leave that whole topic for another day.

The last topic with respect to resizing is the amount and consistency of shoulder setback in your sizing process. Based on the information you provided, you are attempting to set the shoulder back 0.003" when you resize it and are allowing a tolerance of +/- 0.002". That means that your resized brass might be creating between 0.005" and 0.001" headspace in the chamber - that's too big a range. With the die that you have and good, consistent lubrication (Imperial) on cases fired the same number of times, you should be able to control shoulder setback to within 0.001" total variance. I prefer to set the die for an average of 0.0015" to 0.002" setback on a .308 and allow that 0.001" total variance. That keeps headspace variance a lot tighter. The reason to keep headpsace short and consistent is simply to maximize case life. The more we set the shoulder back, the sooner the case will separate at the base.

Now that we're past all of the mechanics of case expansion and resizing, let's discuss accuracy. I have very often found that unfired brass gives great accuracy despite the sloppy fit and often poor neck concentricity. I wish I could explain that, but I can't. Along those same lines, a world-class long range shooter whose opinion I value greatly once told me that the case should fit the chamber "like a rat turd in a violin case." I've never forgotten those words and they are one of the reasons that I full-length size every case, every time. Accordingly, I don't believe that a few thousadnths of an inch of headpsace in and of itself will contribute to a degradation of accuracy; however, headpsace, like any other aspect of the cartridge, should be kept very consistent to ensure that the vibration patterns in the barrel will be as nearly alike as possible from shot to shot. Those vibrations will indeed affect accuracy if they vary from shot to shot. Your barrel is nothing but a big tuning fork and how it vibrates determines its position and direction when the bullet exits. Keep it humming the same tune all day and you'll be singing a happy song on the way home from the range.


Hap's Corner: Major Leech and Lord Stanley's Cups

Major Leech and Lord Stanley’s Cups

by Hap Rocketto

Hockey fever was sweeping New England in the late spring of 2011 as the Boston Bruins battled it out for the National Hockey League Championship and the honor of hoisting the Stanley Cup. It was mentioned that the Stanley Cup is the oldest trophy competed for by professional athletes in North America and was donated, in 1892, by Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley, then the Governor General of Canada.
While Lord Stanley’s Cup may be the oldest professional athletic trophy it is still junior to the Leech Cup, which is arguably the oldest North American sports trophy, by nearly two decades. The Leech Cup was presented to the Amateur Rifle Club of New York by Major Arthur Blennerhassett Leech, Captain of the Irish Rifle Team on the occasion of that team’s visit to America in 1874 and passed on to the National Rifle Association of America in 1901. It is the oldest trophy in competitive target shooting in the United States.
The Stanley Cup, standing 35 ¼ inches and weighing in at 34 ½ pounds, consists of a bowl, three tiered bands, a collar, and five metal bands. The Leech Cup is a massive masterpiece of the Victorian Irish silversmith’s art. The silver tankard is heavily embossed and surmounted by a representation of an ancient tower in ruins. It is currently presented to the winner of the 1,000 yard metallic sight prone match which bears its name.
In the past match winners at the National Matches and NRA Championships were allowed to take the trophies home with them. However, the Leech Cup disappeared after the 1913 National Matches, not to be seen again until 1927. In response the NRA Board of Directors quickly required that all NRA trophies to be kept by the NRA and stored at NRA Headquarters or Camp Perry during the matches.
On the other hand the Stanley Cup, in a whimsical tradition unlike any other sport, is passed around like the first born at a baptism or briss. Each player and staff member of the winning team is allowed to keep the Cup in his possession for 24 hours during the summer following the play offs.
The past adventures of the Stanley Cup make the 14 year disappearance of the Leech Cup seem like a fortnight in a monastery. Apparently concurrent possession of the Stanley Cup, alcohol, and questionable judgment enjoy a long and storied relationship. For openers, after the Ottawa Silver Seven won it in 1905 they quickly began a pub crawl of Brobdingnagian proportions with the Cup in tow. In the shank of the night, after imbibing more than a few, several of the Seven thought it would be interesting to see if they could boot the trophy across the Rideau Canal which connects the city of Ottawa, on the Ottawa River, to the city of Kingston on Lake Ontario. The Cup disappeared in a soaring arc into the darkness and never made it across. Fortunately the Rideau was frozen and the players were able to retrieve it the following morning after they came to their senses.
The Montreal Wanderers won it in 1907 and proudly took their picture with the cup. Some months later they realized that no one knew the whereabouts of the trophy. Retracing their steps they eventually arrived at the photographer’s home where they found it holding the photographer’s mother’s prized geraniums.
The Montreal Canadiens proudly took possession of the Cup in 1924 and tucked it safely away in the trunk of the car taking them to the post game celebration. On the way the vehicle had a flat. The jack and spare were dug out and the tire quickly replaced. The exuberant hockey players arrived at the banquet hall and quickly uncorked a few Jeroboams of champagne to fill the Cup for a victory toast, only to find that they didn’t have it with them. They piled back into the car and frantically drove back to where they changed the tire and, much to their relief, found the Cup sitting forlornly in a snow bank three kilometers from the hotel.
Mark Messier, who won six Stanley Cups with both the Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers, used to bring it to his favorite Edmonton strip club and let patrons drink out of it. When he dented it in 1998 he simply brought it to a local auto body repair shop to have it repaired.
More than one player has proudly posed his naked infant child in the cup for a celebratory photograph without regard to the child’s state of potty training. The results were inevitable when the baby was startled by the flash bulbs and excitement.
The Cup has been put to more bucolic and domestic use by others. Colorado Avalanche defenseman Sylvain Lefebvre, after insuring that La Coupe Stanley was sterilized I am sure, had it filled with Holy Water to serve as the baptismal font for his daughter, Alexanne.
While I am sure the NRA has the best interests of the trophies at heart by not letting them out of their sight there is something of the imp in me that wishes, like a Stanley Cup winner, I could have brought the RWS Trophy home with me from Camp Perry in 2002. In celebration of my victory I can picture in my mind’s eye my family poised about the silver bowl, napkins tucked into collars, spoons at the ready, prepared to dive into a massive ice cream treat. Imagine, if you will, pineapple topping spooned over strawberry, chocolate syrup enrobing vanilla, and strawberries oozing down the chocolate like lava on Kilauea. This mountain range of ice cream would be garnished with crushed nuts, whipped cream, and maraschino cherries, ringed by a garland of banana slices.
Thus, the victory would have been made all the sweeter.

Good Stuff: Anti-Static Spray

Good Stuff: Anti-Static Spray
by Germán A. Salazar

I hate electronics - really, I do. That may sound a bit odd coming from someone who writes on the internet and enjoys email with friends from all over the world, but I just hate electronics. Like all irrational emotions, my dislike of the electron comes from a lack of understanding. You see, I was a mechanical engineering student in the slide rule days and I still think that technology reached its most elegant days during World War II (I would just say "The War" but with the new generation coming on, it seems we have to be more specific as there have been far too many wars...). In any event, big oily gears, Merlin V-12 engines, Supermarine Spitfires, B17 bombers, the M1 rifle and the Jeep all embody what I love about technology.

Then there's electronics with all of it's little unseen and (to me) unknowable flows of energy. I may be a bit irrational about it, but I'm no Luddite, so not only am I typing this on a Mac laptop, but as you know, I use an electronic scale in my reloading. The principal reason I use it is the nice, big digital display which save me a great deal of eye strain. I loved my old K+E slide rule, but it was tough on my eyes too - calculators were a semi-welcome innovation when they came around.

Of course, that electronic scale upon which I rely so heavily suffers from zero drift as they all seem to. I've read dozens of forum posts about drift and how to minimize its occurrence, so I know it isn't limited to my scale or my workshop. Drift is truly one of the only things that cause me some aggravation in reloading, which I otherwise find to be a peaceful, almost zen-like experience. But when I find myself frequently re-zeroing the scale and re-checking the past few charges, I enter a state somewhat removed from total tranquility.

Sometime last year, John Lowther and I were talking about a few reloading topics and he mentioned the use of anti-static spray as a solution to the drift problem. John stated that the spray had virtually eliminated drift for him. I don't know how the spray works, but then, I also don't really know why scales drift, so it's a wash - I'll just operate on blind faith. A trip to the local supermarket turned up a can of Static Guard for about six or seven dollars - cheap medicine in my book.

The spray works great, just as John said it would. I spray all surfaces that I touch with my hands and arms as well as the pan (top and bottom), the metal tray on which the pan rests and the table under the scale. In six months or so of using the spray I've re-applied it about two or three times; it certainly isn't something that you need to do each time you sit down to load. Before using the spray, it was not uncommon for me to re-zero the scale ten times in the course of loading 72 rounds; now it might need it once during a session.

I highly recommend that you try something like this if you're experiencing drift problems with your scale. I'm sure there are many brands that do the same thing. And if you're under 30, go read a book about about The War; it'll give you an appreciation for what people were able to accomplish without an i-phone, i-pad, personal computer, calculator, CAD-CAM manufacturing, or much else beyond a slide rule, some sharp pencils, lathes, mills, hammers, and the knowledge that freedom hung in the balance.


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