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Load Development for a new rifle. The start to finish product

rockchalk06

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I thought this might be a good thread to start and give anyone interested some iDeers, tips or just a place to start. This has been my process for years and it's worked out most of the time and produced some great results. Those of you who have shot with me, watched me take a 900 dollar rifle that shot "ok" with factory ammo and turned it into something that is holding sub MOA at 1000 yards. A lot of time and effort when into that load, but what it produced was worth every bit of it.

If you are green to handloading, this may be a bit overwhelming at first. Don't worry, this is not for the novice or beginning handloader. We can get to that down the road.

You're going to hear me beat a dead horse to death on consistency during this project. It's the #1 thing you strive for in everything. That is how those itty bitty groups and sub 5 SD's show up.

This will be an ongoing thread with updates a long the way. Please enjoy! Thanks OKBalls
 
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So you picked up a new rifle and want to load for it. You're keeping the sport alive and I thank you.

First thing to do, is ask yourself what your plans are or what your goal is to do with this rifle. Once that is set, it's time to pick some components. For this project, I've decide to make a lighter weight .308 load for deer or other medium to small game. I wanted a dedicated hunting bullet that will meet my standards for accuracy and push past 2900 FPS. The closer to 3k I can get, the better.

Large Rifle Primers are a PITA to get and have been for a bit. I've since switched to Small Rifle Primer Brass in 6.5 and decided to do the same with this new .308 load. There is a caveat to doing this. That's a thread for another day, but some rifles don't have the support in the firing pin channel they need and will cause heavily cratered primers and primer blow out even though the load is no where near max. I found this out with my Bergara 6.5 HMR (700 Clone) Couple hundred dollars later and a month or two wait, she is fixed. I don't know of many reports on the X-Bolt doing this, but that is a concern going in. I'll jump off that cliff when the time comes.

For this project, I decided on the following. None of this is exact science and it may all turn to shit once I hit the range and cause me to start over. That's the excitement of doing this and also a cause for anxiety!

Bullet: Berger 155 grain VLD Hunting. I've had tremendous results with Berger Bullets over the years. This bullet has a G1 of .464 with no cannular and most importantly, in stock. I picked up two 100 round boxes of the same Lot#. This is key to handloading. The larger the amount of component (provided it's all the same lot#), the better. Two boxes of the same brand, weight and style of bullet, will have a different O-Give length.

Brass: I chose Alpha OCD Small Rifle Primer Brass. I've used Alpha on the last two projects and been very impressed. It comes in nice smoke ammo boxes that I typically use at the range. Priced the same as Lapua, it is annealed, isn't buggered up as much as Lapua and you get the box.

Primers: I have a large stock of Remington 7.5 BR's on hand and will use them. I've had really good results with this primer.

Powder: I'm still not 100% settled on this yet. I have IMR4064 and Ramshot TAC on hand. Both have produced great results, but both have their flaws. TAC is a ball and temp sensitivity blows and is sporadic. Hard to track. 4064 is about the size of full spaghetti noodles and unless you are loading long, most full power loads are compressed. This isn't a yuge deal, but I've ended up not being able to use it due to space at times. Varget may be on the table if I can find it without going a full eight pounds at once.

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Thanks for following along so far. We have most or all of what's needed to start this project. As for the powder, I have time for that. I have prep that must be done before I can even touch off a round.

Thanks OKBalls
 
Next up is brass prep.

You are making little high pressure missiles from scratch. Do you due diligence and look your brass over. This is virgin brass from a reputable company, but still. Look it over. Pay special attention to your case mouths and necks. Look for any cracks, major imperfections etc. The dildo of consequences rarely arrives lubed. That statement will apply to everything you are doing with your load.

Once you are satisfied, it's time to true your necks. Several ways to do this, but I prefer the L.E. Wilson die with 30 cal mandrel. This die trues the neck, rubs any imperfection inside the neck out and sets my neck tension on Alpha/Lapua brass to my desired .002". I will shoot for this after re-sizing the brass, but I've had really good luck setting the necks on virgin brass at .002" from the get go. I only use this die on virgin brass. I set the neck tension with a Forster bushing after firing. I use the bushing that gives me 002" for my bullet/brass combo. Consistency across the board. When I shoot off the bench, rarely do my cases touch the ground. If they do and get buggered up, I'll use this to true them back up.

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This is virgin brass with no carbon in the necks. You need lube. Part of my process is ensuring the brass only gets worked as much is necessary to achieve my goals. Any more, it reduces brass life. You can use a liquid based lube, but you are going to have to clean it out afterwards. I like Imperial Dry Neck Lube. You apply some of this to a tub of balls and dip the case mouth past the neck into it. It coats it just enough to reduce over stressing the inside of the neck. Wipe off the outside excess and you are set.

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Now run each piece of brass into the L.E. Die. The mandrel is tapered, so you only need to clear the first half of the mandrel to achieve you goal. Set the cases back into tray afterwards with the necks up. Do not put them into a bag or box loosely. You just did all this work to clean up the necks, don't make yourself do it again. This also does something else. If you missed a cracked or split neck in your initial inspection, running your brass over this mandrel should let you know. You may feel much less resistance on the up stroke or hear something wonky. If you do, stop and instpect.

Take your time with this. You can't rush results. Thanks OKBalls
 
Next up more brass prep with trimming, chamfering and deburring:

.308 brass trim length is 2.005". I've screwed up in the last and trimmed to 2.002" and didn't die or see any ill effects. Don't be an ID10T and not check your results as you go. Every 5-10 pieces, stop and check. I check every piece. Every OAL, inside chamfer and outside debur.

I use the RCBS Tri-Way cutter on my RCBS Trim Pro. This does all 3 steps in one. Really speeds up your time and most importantly, keeps consistency. Same trim length, same inside chamfer and same outside debur. I know this isn't a .308 case, but I didn't take a picture with one in the jig. This was from some 30-30 I did the other day.

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I've been told in the past not to trim until your brass hits a certain length or until it needs it. That isn't an exact science and neither is my method. I do however strive for consistency. This is match grade brass that runs over a buck a piece. It still is not consistent in it's OAL. These are some random pieces pulled:

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I want every piece at 2.005" for my initial load work up. My method does all 3 in one as mentioned above. You have to chamfer virgin brass before you drop a bullet in it anyway, so this does that for me, keeps the chamfer consistent and gets my brass all to a desired OAL.

After some adjusting each step with the Tri-Way cutter, I have achieved what I set out to. All 100 pieces are exactly 2.005" OAL, have a beautiful chamfer on the inside and knocked off any burr created by trimming.

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100 Pieces of Virgin Alpha Brass with trued necks set at .002" neck tension, trimmed to 2.005", chamfered and deburred. This are the shavings afterwards. I know in my mind that I have 100 pieces of brass that are ready to roll and exactly the same.
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Set each piece back into the box or tray necks up. Again, you have spent the better part of a couple hours doing this, don't bugger it up and make yourself do it again.

Thanks OKBalls
 
This is amazing. Long live OKBalls.
 
Time to prime:

Priming is pretty straight forward. If you've made it this far, you know how to prime a case.

99 Pieces primed with Remington 7.5's I didn't prime one for the next phase of my process, but make sure to keep the necks up as mentioned before.
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Time to find Jam:

@conditionzero did a well documented write up on how to find jam here:
https://okballistics.com/threads/how-to-find-jam-for-your-rifle-chamber-and-bullet-combination.11/

Erik Cortina has a video on how and why.


I tried the chasing the lands method and while it does work for some, it wasn't for me. I could get 20 different results and that never set well in my brain. The above methods works perfect, are simple and almost damn near ID10T proof. Finding jam is not across the board and there is no way to find this without just doing it. Jam is specific to each bullet, brass for your rifle. It's very important to document this with each bullet you try and document it with specific round counts. After 500-1000 rounds, do it again. You can measure throat erosion this way as well.

I like Rite in the Rain books. I call them "Barrel Bibles" and each barrel has one.
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Put all data in here. This goes everywhere my rifle does. I have all the info needed or that I will need.
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On to jam. Being as I linked a video and write up for this, I wont draw this out with a ton of pictures and how I got my results.

Jam on my rifle with this brass/bullet combo is 2.280" O-Give. I know that I need to stay below this length to stay out of the lands. I like to start with a full .020" of the lands for initial load development. This is my COAL/O-Give starting point and above is how to find it.

May length plays a part in this as well. I will measure what my max OAL length can be to fit and run in the mag (reliably). That was 2.900" COAL in the center and 2.893" COAL to the sides. This was a rotatory mag from Browning. I want to stay .003" off the front of the mag. This ensures I do not have any feeding issues and I'm not buggering up the Meplat from the mag. I ended up with an COAL of 2.890" or 2.190" O-Give. That is going to be my starting COAL for this rifle with this bullet and this brass combination. This was at 47 rounds fired and a clean throat and bore. Note these numbers in your Barrel Bible.

In the end, I am jumping .090" to jam. Factory OAL length on this bullet is calling for 2.750" COAL. I will be running 2.890". This is going to be different for each barrel each and every time. Try a new bullet, this will change and you have to find jam again. When you hear someone talking about custom tailoring a load for their barrel, this is what they are talking about.

In the next segment, I will be running a ladder test at this COAL. This is where I want to start and if I do not get what I am looking for in my speed nodes, I will work on an OAL node, seating the bullet back .003" each ladder test and crunching the numbers again.

Thanks OKBalls
 
Just a couple of question off the top of my head.

Are all neck wall thickness the same throughout the circumference of the neck for all the pieces of brass? How much induced runout (yaw) if any are in the loaded cartridges and how much does it affect groups at distances?

I agree with your premise 100% concerning consistency. But I also believe after years of reloading for long range hunting/shooting we get too far wrapped around the axle and don’t stop to think, can we ever really shoot to the degree we think we have developed our reloads? How much effort do I need to spend to develop an accurate load at all ranges with an “acceptable” ES/SD and what is the minimum involved to accomplish it?

Most have a rifle with a 2.5-4.0lb trigger sitting on a bipod with a rear bag, a scope they have probably never put through its paces concerning tracking and parallax, shooting it from a god awful position with little regard to proper shooting technique and a reload they spent countless hours on in development.

Our reloads will never out shoot us. Start there and then strive to out shoot your best reload.

You would be surprised at how many scopes don’t track 1/4 moa or 1/10 mil; or how many don’t track true because they are not mounted level.

There is affordable match grade ammo out there that shoot’s wonderful in many rifles to ranges beyond 1000 yards that don’t have any level of reloaded precision we strive in our reloads. My point is, we can develop acceptable long range ammo without following all the steps we believe a bench rest shooter follows.

Start with a basic reload, test it, change one thing and one thing only (if necessary), test it. Rinse and repeat if necessary.

My point is, can we shoot to the level of accuracy at long range we believe our nats ass accurate/single digit ES/SD reloads are capable of? My guess is, probably not.
 
Just a couple of question off the top of my head.

Are all neck wall thickness the same throughout the circumference of the neck for all the pieces of brass? How much induced runout (yaw) if any are in the loaded cartridges and how much does it affect groups at distances?

I do not have the tools to accurately measure this. My hope is that using the same lot of brass with the same methods will help. That is a rabbit hole I've yet to jump down. Honestly, I don't feel I need to yet. My ability, while pretty high, isn't that of a PRS or F-Class shooter and I'm not loading for or shooting competition. This rig will never kill an animal past 600 yards, but I load for each caliber the same way.
I agree with your premise 100% concerning consistency. But I also believe after years of reloading for long range hunting/shooting we get too far wrapped around the axle and don’t stop to think, can we ever really shoot to the degree we think we have developed our reloads? How much effort do I need to spend to develop an accurate load at all ranges with an “acceptable” ES/SD and what is the minimum involved to accomplish it?
I agree. I know what my ability and limit is. Acceptable is below 10 but prefer below 5. I know that this will translate to my ability of putting rounds on target at the distances I'm capable of.
Most have a rifle with a 2.5-4.0lb trigger sitting on a bipod with a rear bag, a scope they have probably never put through its paces concerning tracking and parallax, shooting it from a god awful position with little regard to proper shooting technique and a reload they spent countless hours on in development.

Our reloads will never out shoot us. Start there and then strive to out shoot your best reload.

You would be surprised at how many scopes don’t track 1/4 moa or 1/10 mil; or how many don’t track true because they are not mounted level.

There is affordable match grade ammo out there that shoot’s wonderful in many rifles to ranges beyond 1000 yards that don’t have any level of reloaded precision we strive in our reloads. My point is, we can develop acceptable long range ammo without following all the steps we believe a bench rest shooter follows.

Start with a basic reload, test it, change one thing and one thing only (if necessary), test it. Rinse and repeat if necessary.

My point is, can we shoot to the level of accuracy at long range we believe our nats ass accurate/single digit ES/SD reloads are capable of? My guess is, probably not.
Above is my method and what works for me. It's one of a thousand ways to do it
 
Next step is to find your powder charge weight. I have IMR 4064 on hand and it has been a blessing on small SD's and tight groups. This is where I will start.

This is a step where data can overwhelm you. I really like Hornady's App for load data. Hornady is on the conservative side of charge weights, whereas Hodgdon is pretty liberal. Hornady is calling for a max charge of 44.8 grains on a 155 grain BTHP (their bullet) of IMR4064. Hodgdon is calling for 47.5 grains of IMR4064. This is a compressed charge. Nothing wrong with a little crunch when seating a bullet, but I think this is a bit too much for what I am working with. I could be wrong and after running my loads over a chrono, I may increase it. This is why it is very important to have more than one load data book. Start low and work up.

This all works better with a cup of coffee
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I have decided to start at 43.2 grains and work up to 45 grains. This is where opinions differ and you will get 1000 different comments on what works best. I've said this a few times in this thread, but this is what I do and what works for me and has worked very well in the past. I'm showing you one way.

I prefer a ladder test looking for my speed node. This has given me excellent results without wasting to many components. I will start at 43.2 grains and work up in .2 grain increments until I get to 45.0. I log every thing I do when working up a load. I document every round I fire. Foulers included. Date, time and temp. I'm a data type guy. None of this is exact science, but I do what makes me confident in my ability and what works in the past.

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When running a ladder test, I like to mark my cases. This way if I get distracted doing something or side tracked, I will know what I have in my hand..
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These little plastic trays are from Hornady A-Tip bullet packaging. I save them and use them for stacking bullets. They are pretty handy.
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I will end up running all 10 of these over a chrono in the next day or so. Starting with the low charge. I'll be looking for pressure signs with each firing and spending about 5 minutes per shot after a fouler. I will end up putting this data into a spreadsheet and looking for any flat lines in the graph. This will be my speed node. I will have 10 small dots on my target looking for bullet impact as well. If all goes well, I will find one or two places to dive deeper. I'll explain that after I collect and process the data.

Thanks OKBalls
 
Getting closer to 2900 FPS doesn't look like it's going to happen with IMR 4064. I ran out of case room at 46 grains and I'm loading long for this bullet. I do have some good data though should I decide to slow it down some.

Once the speed hit 2800 FPS, I noticed shot placement was a bit wonky. Very very faint ejector swipe on my brass.. No cratering of the primers and no heavy bolt lift, but I could tell I was getting warm. I'm not discouraged though as I do know now that IMR 4064 in this barrel likes sub 2800 with this bullet.

That said, I have a place to start should I go back to IMR 4064. Shots 5-6-7 were within 17 FPS and shot placement looked good. Shots 5 and 7 would be one hole. Shot 6 was 1/4" high. That would be a decent 3 shot group in itself. If I was going to settle on IMR 4064, I would load 5 at 44.1 and 44.3. Run them over a chrono, see what the numbers look like and measure the group.

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I'm a firm believer in document everything. I'll be testing this bullet out with 2 possibly 3 additional powders soon. Should that pan out, I'll go back to the above.

Thanks OKBalls
 
Barrel is cooling, but StaBALL Match has some promising numbers
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Test with Varget showed me two good nodes. Going to load 5 up at 45.7 grains and 5 at 46.9. Very impressed with Varget today
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IMR8208 XBR was a little faster than Varget. 5-6-7 looked pretty decent number wise, but shot placement wasn't the best. I'm going to run 5 at 44.7 grains and see. I'm kinda torn on this powder. I have a buddy with a few pounds to spare, but it's like unicorn farts right now. has been for what seems like ever. I'm just a little worried investing all the time and money into making a load for it and not be able to find it. We will see though.
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Last test of StaBALL Match. Shots 6-7-8 were close, but shot 8 went right of the two. Pretty sure that was not me, but it's promising that it wasn't high rather stayed in horizontal line. Will try 47.9 grains if I go this route
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I hope this isn’t any more stoopit than my typical question. How consistent are the powders lot to lot? Do you find your nodes going a little left or right if you overlay the graphs when you change batches?
 
I hope this isn’t any more stoopit than my typical question. How consistent are the powders lot to lot? Do you find your nodes going a little left or right if you overlay the graphs when you change batches?
Since I starting doing it this way, I have not changed lots on powders yet. I'm still on the first 8# jug of H4350 in 6.5. and the first 8# jug of IMR4064

I only have 2 pounds of Varget for this testing. I will be checking everything when (provided it's the chosen powder) I buy an 8 pound jug.
 
Saturday morning was a cold and windy one, but I got out to shoot some groups from 4 different powders. I just don't think 2900 is going to happen with this Bullet and Barrel. This is where I was at for this point in the development.
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Varget at 45.7 Grains came apart. SD of 23 and an ES of 63.
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Varget at 46.9 Grains had a pretty solid performance. SD of 8.3 and ES of 21.1 I had 3 touching and two to the left. My vertical wasn't bad. This SD was very promising. I should also note the FPS at 41° was around 2830ish. This 5 shot at 24° was averaged 2829. Virtually no change.
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IMR8208XBR at 44.7 didn't look very good. SD of 14.7 and ES of 43.1. Group wasn't worth exploring this powder any further. The ladder test was done at 41°. The same charge at 41° was 2787 FPS. These were done at 24° and closer to 2800 FPS
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StaBALL Match had a decent SD of 6.8 and an ES of 17.9, but the group was so so. What really turned me off is the drop in FPS. 2819 FPS at 41° and 2787 at 21°. I decided to not fuss with Match any longer with this bullet.
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I threw this load of IMR4064 in at the last minute. I was kind of on a wing n prayer as I have a ton of this on hand. I can deal with the drop in FPS with cold, but this didn't do well. SD of 24.3 and an ES of 65.9. Way to much vertical for me.
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