Care, Feeding and Maintenance of Precision Rifles Part IV – Finishing Our Reloads

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Last time – in Part III of this series – we looked at how a new reloader would go about preparing fired brass to make sure it was once again ready to carry a charge and bullet. This time, in Part IV, we will look at the next steps the new reloader needs to make; charging up the brass and seating a bullet. At the end of this article we will be ready to test the reloads at the range.

Because this series of articles is geared towards the newer shooters and reloaders amongst us, I will leave more advanced handloading techniques aside for the present but will incorporate them into a future article about handloading for competition. The purpose of the present series of articles is to provide sufficient guidance to ensure that our newer shooter can get properly set up with his or her new rifle, know how to clean and maintain it and, in this and the preceding article, make safe and accurate ammo that will perform as good as a premium brand of factory cartridges.

So, where we left off is that our reloader has a tray or two full of nice shiny, trimmed and primed brass and is ready to embark upon the next steps – charging the case and seating a bullet.

Beautiful – Ready To Charge

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Before pouring a single speck of powder let us digress for a moment. You need to make certain you have read over the reloading manuals regarding the recommended charge weights and powder selection for the bullet chosen. In our example we are assuming that the new reloader has decided to go with Varget powder and a 168 gr bullet and has read that bullet maker manuals recommend a charge weight between 39 – 44g of powder and powder makers manuals suggest that it is OK to go up to 46g.

Every reloader thinks that manuals err on the side of caution – loads have to be safe for all rifles of a given chambering and we live in litigious times – but this should not be a new reloaders justification for jumping in at the top ( or beyond ) end of what is recommended as a safe load. On the contrary, one should always start at a lower charge and work up the load in increments from there. A rule of thumb is 1% at a time but I usually go up in .5 of a grain with cartridges like the .308 so in this case where the range is 39 – 44g, I’d likely start at 41.5 then 42.0 then 42.5 etc.

A lot of people like to do ladder tests or OCW tests but I am a bit old fashioned and so I like to shoot 5 shot groups – it uses up more ammo but it is my preference and time behind the trigger is never wasted. So, in this case I’d load up 5 rounds at each incremental point from 41.5 – 44g for a total of 30 rounds and I’d add to that 5 of my factory match rounds and two or three foulers for a total of just under 40 rounds; a nice little range visit.

After fouling the barrel I will shoot one round of the 41.5 at target #1 followed by one round of 42.0 at target #2 and so on until each of the targets has a bullet hole. I will then wait a minute or so and repeat. At the end of the exercise I will have 7 targets and each target will have in it a 5 shot group. Of the groupings shot you will usually find that a couple will be better than the others and this will allow for some fine tuning between the charge weights.

I do not recommend that the exercise of figuring out a good load be done at 100 y/m as it is possible to have too many false positives ( groups that look more promising than they will prove to be over distance ) but, rather, try to shoot at 200 y/m (unless you are quite accomplished, leave the 300 y/m for a later date as you want to make sure it is the ammo you are testing not your marksmanship ). Doing the exercise at 200 y/m will suffice to weed out false positive groups and should still be a distance that isn’t too demanding of your rifle skills.

During load development you need to be wary of any signs of pressure that the gun or the brass may exhibit. Signs of significant over-pressure would be primers that are blown out of the primer pocket, cracks in the case near the case head or case neck and cases where the head has separated – these are very dangerous indications and you should pull remaining bullets and drop the charge weight of your load. For a new reloader I say that even the beginning signs of pressure such as flattened primers, ejector marks on the case head or a sticky bolt lift is where you should back off – it is too early and totally unnecessary to be hot-roding cartridges.

Digression over, let us resume the exercise of charging our new brass with powder and bullets – all our cases are primed and waiting in a loading tray so let’s pour. I know there are many people who use a scoop or a powder throw to dispense powder but I take the view that because reloading (and, even more so, the art of ‘handloading’ ) is all about consistency – and since powder weight is the single biggest factor in reloading that the reloader can control – I like to see each charge weighed. Of all the things a reloader can do, I believe that taking the time to ensure each round has the same amount of powder in it is the thing that will yield the largest gains in ammunition accuracy and consistency.

While charges can be weighed on a traditional beam or balance scale, a very solid investment to make is in a RCBS Chargemaster 1500 which allows you to select a powder charge, dispense the amount you selected and then stop. This machine can be a real time saver and I recommend buying one. Another use of the Chargemaster is as a scale to check charges you have thrown from a powder hopper.

RCBS Chargemaster

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While even the moderately dexterous can easily develop a cadence of loading a bullet into one charged piece of brass while the Chargemaster is preparing a charge for the next piece, I’m going to caution against that procedure. I recommend that the new reloader charge all cases and then make sure that each and every one has powder in it – seriously, use a flashlight and visually check this. It is too easy to forget to charge one piece of brass, load a bullet in the case and put it in the box. Sadly if you make such an error what will then happen is this: when you are shooting your ammo the unloaded cartridge will be fed into the chamber, the trigger will be pulled, the primer will go bang and that has enough ooomph to push the bullet part way into the barrel where it will come to a stop. The next round will go bang and, a nanosecond later, disaster will strike as the second bullet will collide against the tail of the first one and split the barrel , blow up the receiver and possibly cause you to loose an eye or worse. Sound serious ? It is, so be careful to ensure that there is a charge of powder in each case ( the opposite problem – a double charge – isn’t possible with a .308 case as it will simply overflow )

All Filled Or Not ?

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A Flashlight Can Confirm

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A quick note on powders – some meter, or pour, better than others depending on the size of the individual grains; Varget, for example, meters well whereas IMR 4350 not so much.

Varget – Temperature Stable and Meters Well

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A cautionary note on all electronic scales is that they can be susceptible to drafts or other interference so periodically you may wish to cross check to make sure they are weighing correctly – I keep a bullet of known weight handy for such a purpose.

So, at this stage you will now have a tray full of neatly laden cartridges ready to be capped with the bullet of choice.

First thing you need to do is to remove the sizing die from the press and replace with a seater die. I very strongly recommend that the money be spent on a quality seater with a micrometer head as these allow precise and quick adjustments. Overall I feel these are worth the extra money and give a more uniform seating than the other, regular, seaters. I use both Forster and Redding brands of seaters and find both to be equally good.

Micrometer Seaters

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To set up the seater dies back out the micrometer adjustment all the way then raise the ram of the press and screw in the die until it contacts the die body then back it out a 1/2 turn or so to ensure that the numbers are facing you. Secure the die by tightening the locking ring and securing the set screw.

Now taking one case place it in the shellholder seat a bullet on top and run the case and bullet all the way up in the die until the handle stops. Lower the handle and remove the cartridge and voila you have made your very first round of ammunition !

All Done

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Now we will need to remove the loaded cartridge from the press and measure the length to see how much we need to adjust the die so that the bullet is seated to the proper depth. Let us assume that we are making a dimensionally similar cartridge to our factory match ammunition (which you have measured as being an overall length of 2.779″) so measure your new reload and, using the micrometer, turn the seater down so that the loads you are making measure the same length as the factory rounds.

Check for Overall Length

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In our next article we will talk about a more advanced measurement than overall length (OAL) and also how to vary seating depth to fine tune our loads but for the present, simply repeat the process of seating bullets until all your rounds are made up and then put a label on the box and make a note in your logbook of all the details ( powder, charge, bullet, OAL etc ) of your new cartridges.

Simple Label on Box – Details in Logbook

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Now it is off to the range to see how our ammo works. I made up the exact same ammo as detailed in this article using the exact same procedure with the only difference being that I used Lapua brass. I used 43.5g of Varget, a FGMM primer and a Hornady 168g HPBT bullet which I seated to an OAL of 2.779″.

How did this ammo shoot. Well, to be fair I didn’t use a bone-stock rifle but I used a Remington that started off life as a SPS and now has a Rock Creek M40 Profile 1:10 barrel and is bedded into a McMillian M40 HTG stock. This rifle has a Timney 510 trigger and a NF 20MOA rail and is equipped with a Sightron Siii 10-50×60 scope with the MOA 2 reticule.

My Test Mule For This Article

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I shot 25 rounds and each group measured around .5 MOA with the best producing a ‘five inside a dime’ grouping of 0.377″ at 100 m which is 0.344 MOA.

Best Target

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This is excellent for beginner level reloads and in the next series of articles – Handloading For Competition we will look at ways of making ammunition so consistent that, with the right rifle, scope and shooter, half MOA or better will be the norm. See you next time !

Our Female Standard Poodle “Lapua” Who Occasionally “Helped” Write This Article Also Says “Bye”

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Care Feeding and Maintenance of Precision Rifles Part III – Making Ammo

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I have written a couple of articles about how to Care, Feed and Maintain Your Precision Rifle and these have proven really popular which, in turn, has inspired me to write another article geared towards the new shooter. This post goes into some more detail on the first steps needed to make good ammo for your rifle and so while it can be read as a stand-alone post, it is really Part III of the Care Feeding and Maintenance Series.

If you have read the Part II article ( if not, here it is : ) you have got your basic supplies and have set it up in a suitable space. You have also bought some quality components and have at least one reloading manual – I recommend buying a few manuals because as is the case with potato chips ( or “crisps” for the UK readers ) “you can’t have just one”.

Having More Than One Manual Is Helpful

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For the purposes of this article let us assume that the new reloader has purchased a heavy barreled Remington 700 chambered in .308 Winchester and that he or she has access to a range that goes out to 300 yards or so. This assumed this rifle, chambering and range combo is the most common I could think of but if your circumstances are different don’t worry as the information I present will still work well for you.

I’m also going to assume that because the new reloader is only going to shoot out to about 300 yards that they purchased some 168g bullets, some Varget powder and some Federal Gold Medal Match (FGMM) primers. For brass I am assuming that my imaginary reloader followed the advice I gave in my earlier article and shot FGMM ammo until reloading gear was purchased and so has on hand a nice stock of once fired Federal cases. ( a lot of people don’t like Federal but I see no harm in using the brass that you have until it is time to buy new in which case I recommend Lapua )

Lapua Brass – My Preferred Choice If Buying New

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For reference, let us agree that the factory ammo usually gave our shooter five shot groups that measured in and around the 3/4 minute mark which wouldn’t be unreasonable out of such a rifle.

What we are going to do is work together to turn these components into ammo that is match-grade and capable, in the right hands, of printing nice tidy little groups that at least equal the factory match ammo.

The first thing we need to do is to decide upon which step to do first – clean the brass or de-prime and resize it ? I suppose that the very best thing to do would be to clean it first as then you wouldn’t be putting dirty brass into your resizing dies but I do it the other way around. My brass isn’t all muddied up and I am in favor of keeping the number of steps down to only those that are really necessary so I deprime and resize first.

I recommend that newer shooters Full Length resize – if you really want to, you can always neck size down the road as you get more experienced with reloading. With neck sizing you can run into feeding issues and so, especially for a hunting or tactical rifle where you certainly want the round to easily chamber every time, FL sizing is the better choice. As a matter of fact while I neck size for my F-Open and F/TR rifles, I do FL resize for everything else and to be perfectly frank I am actually leaning towards the view that I am not able to see any appreciable difference in accuracy using a neck die over a FL die. On this issue some pretty knowledgeable guys ( like Kevin Thomas of Team Lapua USA for example ) are quite strongly of the view that neck sizing of brass gives no advantages at all.

Redding and Forster Dies – Neck and Full Length

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Your reloading manual will tell you how to set up your dies and these instructions should be followed. If your ammo is likely to be used in more than one rifle I recommend that with the ram raised, you run the die down all the way until it touches the shell holder. Then you lower the ram and screw the die in an additional 1/8 to 1/4 turn before securing the locking ring. This way will ensure your ammo fits and feeds easily in all your rifles chambered in the same calibre.

If you have only one rifle that this ammo is going to be used in you can set up your die so that the ammo is tailor-made for this one chamber but that is a story for next time. Today we are keeping it nice and simple.

Ok, before placing your fired brass in the die you need to lubricate the cases – this is really, really important. If you don’t lubricate your cases one will get stuck in the die and then you are in serious goo-goo unless you have a special tool to hand for removing said case.

You Hope You Don’t Need This

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I personally don’t use sprays for lubing cases preferring instead to lubricate cases with a lube pad for the body and a brush for the inside of the necks.

My Preferred Way To Lube Cases

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Once all your fired brass is de-primed and resized you should trim them to length. Reloading manuals say to trim to 2.005 – but don’t panic is you go below that as SAAMI specs allow for the cartridge to be shorter – and that is the number you should aim for. There are lots of ways to trim and these days I like to use the World’s Finest Trimmer which attaches to a drill and is fast and efficient once set up ( setting up is a bit tricky – hence the reason I know about trimming too short ! ).

Trimmer Attaches To Drill

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Trimmers Available In A Variety Of Calibers

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Deburring and chamfering of necks is the last step and there are both power and hand tools for this – I use an old-fashioned hand tool as I find this little task to be both therapeutic and a good opportunity to actually inspect each case. There are powered tools that can do this job and I have been tempted by a specialty tool made by Giraud Tool Company that trims, chamfers and deburrs all in one step but it is expensive and, like I said, I find this exercise therapeutic.

Hand Tool For Deburring and Chamfering

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Others will write about the importance of cleaning up primer pockets and such things but we will leave that alone for this article. Likewise all talk of neck turning and annealing can also be left for another day.

Having done all the resizing and trimming it is now time to clean up your brass – actually, you don’t absolutely have to do this but since you need to get the lube off any way why not. I like to clean my brass in a case tumbler which I use with Lyman media though any brand will be fine. Let the brass tumble away for a couple of hours or so and it will come out looking real nice and shiny. Tip – the nature of the beast is that vibratory tumblers are loud and irritating so keep them in a shop/garage/basement if you can. Tip #2 – make sure you check brass for small little bits of media getting stuck in places like the flash hole – if you find any there they can be removed with a dental pick or similar.

Old Dental Picks – Very Handy Tools For Gunnies To Have

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Now you will have some nice shiny brass that looks like new and it will be time to prime them – it sucks to miss this step and charge all the cases only to realize that they have no darn primers in them; ask me how I know !

Freshly Clean and Ready to Reprime

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To re-prime my brass I use the RCBS hand primer that came with my kit when I bought it a thousand years ago. Any brand of hand primer will work and your goal is to smoothly insert a primer into the pocket at a uniform depth. You don’t want a primer sitting too high ( especially is something like a M1A ) nor do you want to ram them in too deep so just go slow until you develop a ‘feel’ for what you are doing.

RCBS Hand Primer

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When all your primed brass is done take a break – you have deserved it. In Part IV of this series we will charge up those primed cases and continue making quality ammo. See you next time !

Primed and Ready For Powder

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The Law of Diminishing Returns: Are We Spending Too Much for Precision?

This is such a great post – I have seen many people chase small groups through the checkbook; just like golfers who try to buy an extra 20 yards off the Tee.

The Everyday Marksman

There is a story about the late Colonel John Boyd in which he admonishes a young crowd of Air Force officers about progressing through their careers.

And you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.” He raised his hand and pointed. “If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.” Then Boyd raised his other hand and pointed another direction. “Or you can go that way and you can do something – something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and…

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Review of Pentax 80ED Spotting Scope

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It goes without saying that I visit quite a number of gun sites and one of the questions I often see is some variation of the “what spotting scope should I buy?“. Sadly, the advice usually given is to buy either a very, very expensive piece of equipment or, “well Costco has a deal on……“. Fact is that neither of these answers really satisfies the prospective purchaser who is looking for a high quality piece of glass at a reasonable price.

I’ve had my Pentax 80ED spotter for about three years now and have recommended it whenever I see people pose a question looking for a very good spotter that won’t break the bank. When using it the other day – in some horrible mirage conditions –  I figured it was time to actually write and post a review to show readers that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a very nice piece of equipment that will satisfy most target shooting applications.

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How did I settle on my spotter ?

For a number of years I stubbornly refused to spend much money on spotting scopes because I chose to pour my optics budget into good glass for my rifles. When I got to the point where I was mostly satisfied that my rifles were fairly well-glassed, I decided to invest in a decent spotting scope to replace my ‘good value’ spotter that I bought some years previously from….. yes, Costco.

I was not planning on using a new spotter for hunting so size/weight wasn’t an issue but at that time of my purchase I really didn’t use a spotter very often so I gave myself a budget of $1500 to play with. This budget constraint eliminated some brands of spotter but I felt I should be able to get a nice piece of gear for somewhere around the price I set myself.

I chose to make the purchase over a weekend when I was competing in a F-Class match as this gave me a good opportunity to look and compare spotters and if the local store had a good return policy, permit me to ‘buy and try’ some contenders.

In the store I looked at a variety of mid priced scopes and initially chose a Leupold Sequoia. Frankly, after testing in a variety of lighting conditions I didn’t even bother taking this spotter to the range preferring instead to search about the store for a better product….. a Vortex Viper HD

After upgrading to the Vortex I went off to the match. The Vortex was a huge improvement over my old spotter and for a while I felt fully satisfied that I had gotten what I needed at a very reasonable price…….until…… yes, I started to look through some other scopes on the line. While the Vortex was good I felt that it wasn’t quite what I wanted.

Besides the usual brands seen at any match, I noticed a disproportionate number of Pentax spotters on the line mmm…. maybe people knew something I didn’t …. After looking through a few of these Pentax units throughout the day and in changing light and mirage I was impressed. Bullet holes at 300m were viewable and targets at 500m were very clear.  Finally, something I could see myself owning and at day’s end my mind was pretty made up but  though I had used Eyeball V.1 to assess what I liked, I decided to do at least a bit more research.

I learned that the Pentax 80ED features extra low dispersion (ED) glass elements, a large 80 mm objective lens, and a nitrogen filled (JIS Class 6) waterproof body for – according to Pentax – “the perfect blend of durability and outstanding image quality even under the most demanding conditions”.

The body of the PF-80ED incorporates the American standard 1 1/4-inch – diameter eyepiece receptacle, which accepts not only the Pentax XW eyepieces, but also other telescope manufacturers’ eyepieces on the market. When I made my purchase I was torn between the zoom and fixed eyepiece and went with the zoom which was a tough choice – the image quality is better with fixed but zoom gave me the ability to dial down and, at the time, I put more weight on that feature. Today I would likely have gotten a fixed eyepiece but, either way, make sure that the eyepiece you buy is also waterproof – Pentax ones are.

The zoom eyepiece I purchased features a magnification range of 20-60X, an apparent field of view of 38 to 60 degrees, and an eye relief of 20mm. Eye relief is important – especially if you wear glasses – and more is better. I am OK with the 20mm eye relief but I’d be more OK with 25 or 30mm.

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A built-in lens shade cuts down on excessive light and helps to prevent rain and other weather elements from interfering with viewing and an extra wide focusing knob is incorporated for effortless focusing.

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I chose to buy the angled body as it suits my needs – shooting from prone – better but others may prefer a straight body depending upon their intended application.

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I’ve used my Pentax for about three years and change now and I’ve found it to be excellent. Is it as good as a Kowa spotter ? No, but it cost less than half of what I could have ended up spending and it works really well for my applications – I can see bullet holes easily at 200m and in nice weather out to 300m and beyond. I can see bullet trace and can easily see target markers out well past 500m. For me, I am very happy with my choice and recommend that you consider this spotter when next looking to make a purchase of this pretty important accessory to your shooting hobby.

Prices ( in US$ ) for the Pentax body average $850 and eyepieces average about $350. Mine came as a kit for $1099 which included the zoom eyepiece and a soft case.  Even though I live in Canada I bought my spotter from Cameraland NY in the USA and was very pleased with their pricing and service.

Marksmanship – The ABC’s by Col Townsend Whelen

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Recently, when thinking about putting down on paper some ideas about basic marksmanship skills the expression ‘only accurate rifles are interesting‘ passed through my mind and I immediately thought the person who coined that expression – Col. Townsend Whelen – probably had something to say on the matter. Five minutes later I had found an article written by this legendary shooter, hunter and marksman and quickly figured out two things – firstly, what the good Colonel wrote was better than anything I could have written and, secondly, his words were as relevant today as when penned nearly one hundred years ago. So, without editing at all, here – in the words of Col Whelen himself – are the ABC’s of Marksmanship from his 1918 book The American Rifle.

Rifle shooting is almost entirely a matter of intelligent practice. Practice alone, without head work, will not get one very far. To illustrate, take the case of the man who made the highest score in the course in rifle shooting of the 10,000 men attending the Plattsburg training camp of 1916. He was a man of about thirty years of age, and had never fired a rifle before in his life. He had only about four days of preliminary instruction, perhaps two hours a day, before going on the range, but he stated that he paid particular attention to the instructions of his officers, and tried to follow them as closely as possible. On the other hand, in my work in the Army I often come across men of a rather low order of intelligence whom no amount of practice will teach to shoot, chiefly because they have never learned how to use their brains. Any man of ordinary intelligence, who is not physically handicapped, can become a good shot. To become an expert shot requires both a good body and a good brain. Most persons have the idea that eyesight is the important factor. Fair eyesight is of course essential, and may be obtained either naturally or by the aid of well-fitted glasses.

There are five essentials which must be attained in order that one may be able to shoot accurately. All instruction in rifle shooting is aimed at perfecting one’s knowledge and execution of these five essentials. These are as follows:

1. Aiming. One must be able to aim consistently, aiming each shot exactly the same. This requires the training of the eye in the correct alignment of the sights and target until the view or picture that they form becomes so indelibly impressed upon the retina of the eye that whenever the aim is the least bit incorrect it will be noticed at once.

2. Holding. One must be able to hold the rifle steadily in the various firing positions. First, a good, well-balanced position must be learned, and then this must be practiced until it becomes perfectly natural, and one acquires steadiness in it. Usually this takes longer to learn than the other essentials.

3. Trigger squeeze. It matters little how accurately one aims, and how steadily one holds, if, just as the rifle is discharged, one gives a convulsive jerk to the trigger which deranges both aim and hold. The trigger must be squeezed so that the rifle is not disturbed, does not move a particle, before the recoil comes.

4. Calling the shot. Literally calling to the coach the exact spot where one’s sights were aligned on the target at the instant that the rifle went off. Of course one tries to hold steadily, but absolute steadiness is beyond the ability of most riflemen. The sights bob around a little with the best of us. We must catch with our eye the exact place on the target where the sights were aligned at the instant that the recoil blots out clear vision. This spot is where we expect the shot to strike. If the shot does not strike close to the point of call it shows that there is something the matter with either rifle, ammunition, or sight adjustment. If one has a good rifle and ammunition it indicates that a change in the sight adjustment is necessary.

5. Sight adjustment. The sights of the rifle must be adjusted so that the bullet will strike close to where one aims. Owing to factors which will be discussed later, almost all men require slightly different sight adjustment. Thus a rifle sighted in by one man is by no means correctly sighted for others, and rifles sighted in at the factory are never more than approximately correct. One must be able to adjust his sights so that the bullet will strike where his rifle is aimed; that is, where the shot was called.

Finally, one must learn to co-ordinate all these five essentials. He must learn to aim accurately, and at the same time hold the rifle steadily. While he is doing this he must be gradually increasing the pressure on the trigger, so that when the aim seems best, and the hold the steadiest, he can squeeze on the trigger the last ounce or so of pressure which will discharge the rifle. And while doing this he must not forget to catch the point where the sights were aligned at the instant that the rifle goes off. He must learn to concentrate his mind, and every bit of his will power on doing these four things, and doing them perfectly.

The secrets of good shooting are:

1. Know your rifle. Get a good rifle and stick to it. Do not be changing your rifle all the time. Never change to a new arm until you know the old one as perfectly as it is possible to know it. There is a very true saying, ” Beware of the man with one rifle.”

2. Pay the closest attention to every little detail.

3. Be careful. Lots of good scores are spoiled, and lots of game escapes, through carelessness alone.

4. Be accurate. You are handling an instrument of precision, but it will not avail you if you be not accurate yourself.

5. Don’t get excited. An excited man cannot hold a rifle steadily, nor will his aim be accurate. Excitement usually comes from a lack of confidence; that is, from a lack of practice.

6. Go slow. Especially at first, go slow. Many men who have been shooting for years will never make really good shots because they do things so fast, or so impulsively, that they do not get the required steadiness or accuracy. Do not attempt rapid fire until you have mastered the slow fire. Skill in slow fire never makes a man a poor rapid-fire shot; it is lack of practice in rapid fire.

Some men soon acquire a remarkable ability to shoot the rifle, but it must be remembered that to be really expert one must have his lessons so drilled into him that even when excited he will still continue to shoot well. This means that one must practice until shooting becomes second nature before he can really call himself expert. In every case where anything important is at stake in rifle shooting there will be a certain amount of excitement, physical exertion, and necessity for speed. Let the novice not think that because he has made a score which equals the record he is an expert. Let him try to duplicate his work after a hard climb up a steep mountain when a mountain sheep suddenly leaps up and is about to disappear over a ledge. Or again, on the battlefield, when he must beat the other fellow to it with a perfectly placed bullet or go under. Most beginners can become good shots after several weeks of daily intelligent practice. To become a real expert requires years of practice, study, and experience. If it were not so the game would not be worth the candle.

Col Townsend Whelen who was born in Philadelphia on March 6, 1877 and died on December 23, 1961 was a career soldier, outdoorsman, hunter, marksman cartridge inventor and prolific writer whose ideas about all things to do with shooting are as valid today as they were when written.



An Overview of Bipods – Part Two: The F-Class Rifle Bipods

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In this, the second part of my review of bipods, I’m looking at bipods that are primarily designed for use in events such as F-Class.

We all know that in an ideal shooting world all rifles would shoot into the half minute, there would be no wind, ammo would be free and we could easily buy a perfect bipod. In such a world, the perfect bipod would be easily recognized because it would be as stable as a front rest; it would be light; it would attach easily; it would be solid; it would manage elevation and cant and it wouldn’t cost more than the rifle it was intended to support.

Sadly ideals are rarely attained and so, while most of the better bipods achieve some of the attributes desired in a perfect bipod, it is up to the end user to decide which feature is most important to them and then figure out which bipod best delivers that feature and at a price point they are prepared to pay.

Over the last few years I’ve looked at and used a number of bipods designed for F-Class and while some have starred in their own reviews, I thought I would bring my observations together into one article so that shooters – especially those newer shooters just getting into F-Class – can have a one document reference to help them make a good selection. I will be looking at each bipod in turn and looking at features like, stability, size, ease of deployment and price.

The Bipods Reviewed

Dolphin Trakker
Dolphin Trakker 2
Xtreme Bipod
Mystic Precision MPOD
Centre Shot

Dolphin Trakker

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The Dolphin Trakker Bipod is manufactured by the Dolphin Gun Company . Dolphin is a UK company that provides a full range of precision products – up to and including full rifle builds – and appears to be well-regarded amongst the very active community of British F-Class and target shooters.

What I had for review was the standard model of the Trakker which, since the time of my review, has been on a diet and now only weighs 550g. My initial impression was that this was a really nice piece of kit – it came fully assembled and had its’ own handy little carry case.

A criticism of some bipods is that once attached to a rifle and with the shooter in the prone position, they cannot easily be adjusted for height or elevation with any degree of precision or, if they can be adjusted, the adjustments are in pre-set graduations. One way to solve this problem is by way of a capstan turn wheel under the center of the bipod which adds some mechanical complexity and, more importantly for a game like F-Class, the dreaded weight of extra machinery. The Trakker takes a different approach and solves the problem of elevation by using a simple rod threaded between the two legs with a turning knob on the left; ideally positioned for the off-hand of a right handed shooter. Cant is resolved by way of two easy to operate levers that work in a similar way to the single lever found on the S-type Harris and others.

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As expected, the test Trakker came with an attachment for an Anschutz rail but I understand that Dolphin can supply their bipod with a sling or swivel attachment if your rifle isn’t rail equipped.

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If being able to quickly attach and detach a bipod is important to you then the Trakker delivers, I found that installation of the Trakker on each of the three rifles I used was a breeze.

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Once installed, the Trakker felt very solid – not as solid as the Remple but that one I put in a class of its own – and I doubt anyone could have legitimate complaints about the stability of this bipod.

As I played around with the Trakker I began to really like the elevation adjustment as though very simple it really worked well. Cant control also worked well but I prefer the single lever system rather than the Trakker’s double lever.

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The Dolphin website lists theTrakker at GBP 175 and it is sold in Canada ( Wolverine Supplies 0 for $249 which makes this a very good buy. In my view, the Trakker has great functionality in a simple design and is even better now the weight is lower than before. In a game where fractions of an ounce can count, even a small weight reduction is an important number. Remember, compromises…..

The Trakker II Bipod

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The Trakker II was immediately appealing; it was both very light (390 g) and was clearly very well-constructed out of carbon fibre and 6000 series aluminum.

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As with the original Trakker the attachment of this bipod was easy and accomplished via the supplied Anshutz type rail. When attached to the rifle the Trakker II felt very solid and is fully adjustable for cant, using a standard 5mm Allen Key which is also used to unlock and lock the twin fixings to the rail on your rifle stock. The elevation adjustment is achieved by using an aluminum thumb grip wheel situated beneath the bipod which can be operated from the shooting position.

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The Trakker II retails in Canada for $399 which is very reasonable for what is clearly high quality equipment.

Xtreme’s Gear Box Bipod.

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Made by Xtreme Shooting Centre in Manitoba ( the Gear Box bipod is made from 6061 aluminum, weighs a svelte 27 oz and is adjustable to a max height of 5 1/4″ and attaches via the usual Anschutz rail,

Called the Gear Box due to the bearing adjustment system this bipod does, indeed, adjust super smoothly – the rod fits neatly ( and magnetically ) into the bipod and actual adjustments are made via an aggressively knurled knob. The star feature of this bipod is that the aluminum rod does not add to overall weight so long as it is removed from the bipod when shooting.

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My review of this bipod was limited to a dry run without an opportunity to shoot off it but in dry testing I found it to be responsive and easy to use while appearing to be solid enough to give me confidence that this was a bit of equipment that would hold up to the demands of match shooting. I loved the idea of a separate adjusting rod which doesn’t add weight and it also made adjusting a breeze without moving from shooting position. Conceptually, this is a winner.

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Were there things I did not like about the bipod ? Well, since I didn’t have a chance to shoot off it I can only speak to cosmetic issues and the one sent to me for review had rough machining marks and the engraving looked like it could have been better done. Small matters but ones which, if addressed, would really make the product look better and more worth the retail price of $450 plus tax and shipping which puts this bipod right in the wheelhouse of the excellent but heavy Remple and the outstanding LRA.

MPOD Bipod

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Invented and originally manufactured by Mystic Precision out of BC Canada and now made by EGW, the MPOD is a very popular bipod due, in part, to its low weight and solid feel under the gun. I’ve used and commented on a pre-production model and I’ve owned and used a production version that incorporated a number of product improvement. The word from Mystic Precision is that further MPOD improvements are in the works which are likely to include a cant feature. Retailing for about $200 this bipod is priced very competitively compared to the competition.

The MPOD arrives unassembled and the included instructions are clearly written and easy to follow but fine tuning may be required so take your time when first putting this together.

The MPOD attaches via an Anschutz rail and for uses of rifles with non standard rails the MPOD can be outfitted with a custom sized lug for easy installation on a wide variety of rifles.

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Where the MPOD really shines in the use – it is a very stable platform from which to shoot yet it is still nice and light (12.8 oz). It doesn’t move about and I think people will notice a tightening up of groups when moving to the MPOD from a Harris or similar. It slides on and off the rifle with ease and is fully adjustable to allow for uneven terrain etc.

A criticism of the MPOD would be that it is difficult to make elevation adjustments from the prone but at the price and weight something has to give – remember what I said about compromise ? Overall this is a good bipod which in my view is a ‘value buy’ that does do the job it was designed for.

Centershot Bipod

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This was my first non-metal bipod and I bought it for just shy of $400. Arriving fully assembled, the Centershot weighs 16oz.

The Center Shot attaches to both European and American rails and is a pretty sophisticated looking piece of kit. It has a very wide stance and, like the other F-Class bipods, it has skid feet which are meant to help the rifle recoil back in a straight line rather than bounce or hop about. Adjustable for cant or tilt and height (by way of a capstan wheel on the underside of the center portion of the bipod ) this is an easy bipod to adjust without moving from the shooting position.

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Attachment to a rifle is a bit finicky but when it is installed it provides a very solid shooting platform and the micro adjustable height feature makes the Centershot a very good choice for a match.

Remple Bipod

Considering that the maker of this bipod – Canadian gunsmith Henry Remple – neither advertises nor has a website, the Remple bipod is very well known and it is rare to attend a North American F-Class match and not see one or three on the line.

I am always commenting upon how I see shipping of a product as indicative of corporate pride and the Remples’ packaging deserves a serious mention – other internet shippers who shove stuff into a plastic bag could well do with taking a note – Henry basically makes a box with wooden sides and heavy duty plastic ( like the signs they use at election time ) which is stapled and nailed – yes, nailed – together and into which he places the bipod with enough foam to refloat the Titanic.

Once I opened the box I realized I wasn’t just dealing with a bipod – I had bought myself a honest-to-goodness work of art. Constructed entirely of aluminum, the machining and functionality was perfect. The Rempel is much, much more solid and heavy duty than any of the other bipods above and once you have used the wheel to set height you can lock the legs into place so there is zero chance of any inadvertent elevation shift.

Attaching the Remple to the rifle couldn’t be easier – an aluminum adapter fits securely to an Anschutz rail ( I think other adapters are available ) and that adapter fits perfectly to a base plate on the bipod which is then held in place by way of a cam lever – nothing is moving or shifting on this bipod.

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Naturally, all the controls face the shooter so you can make adjustments to height and cant easily and with precision.

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Contact with the ground is by way of ski-pod feet that look like they will run freely on any surface.

Remple, Centershot and MPOD

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The Remple is substantially heavier than the others but if you have the weight to spare then this has to be the bipod to consider. Put quite simply, every now and then an object is created that changes the landscape of a sport – the Remple bipod is one such item and it created a new level of performance that changed how every other bipod would be judged. Wonderfully machined, rock solid and providing accuracy potential similar to the very best pedestal rests, if the goal is to have the very best bipod available and weight is not an issue, there is none finer than the Remple.

Price of the Rempel in my hands after shipping and tax etc was about $475.

My F-Open 6mmBR resting on Remple

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I hope you enjoyed reading this article and that you now have some better idea about the various choices out there and how different makers attempt to handle the competing issues inherent in the quest to make the “perfect” bipod.

An Overview of Bipods – Part One : The Tactical / Sniper Rifle Bipods

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The use of bipods by military, law enforcement and civilian shooters has grown exponentially over the last thirty years to the point that it is now rare to see any form of tactical rifle that isn’t so equipped. Indeed, bipods have become so popular that it isn’t unusual nowadays to see a hunting rifle wearing a lightweight bipod so that a user can take advantage of the, admittedly rare, opportunity to shoot the game of choice from the prone position.

As with many pieces of equipment, a shooter’s intended application will often determine the type of bipod that her or she will use. In some cases, like F/TR for example, the rules of the game are such that weight may well be the most important of considerations but on a rifle used for a tactical shooting event for example, the speed at which a bipod can be deployed and a smaller size may be considered the most important features.

Whatever the intended use, I’ve used and reviewed enough bipods to conclude that there isn’t one perfect solution and every bipod made is some form of compromise between weight, support, ease of use and – of course – price.

In this, the first of a two-part review – I take a look at bipods that I think more suited for the Tactical/Sniper rifle set up while in part two I will consider the bipods that I think work better when used on rifles shot in F-Class and other, similar, matches. Naturally, there is some cross-over between the different types of shooting sports and so there is no hard and fast rule that says you cannot use one bipod for both a tactical match one weekend and a F-Class match a week later. Where I think that a bipod is ideal for such double duty I will make a mention of that adaptability as it certainly goes to the value for money aspect of a product. With that being said, let’s move on with the review – looking at each bipod in turn from the perspective of features, stability, size, ease of deployment and price…..

Tactical Bipods

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I’ve owned and used a number of tactical bipods:

NcStar / UTG Bipods
Made in China Harris-type Bipods
Genuine Harris Bipods
The Versa Pod
Atlas Bipod
LRA Bipod

The Made in China NcStar and UTG bipods that either attach by way of a Picatinny rail or ( heaven forbid ) clamp onto a rifle barrel are inexpensive but they really should only be used on airsoft or, perhaps, by that particular type of shooter known as the Mall Ninja. I’ve yet to see one of these bipods that has any place on a real rifle – even one used as a range toy – as the ones I have seen are poorly made and have too much wobble to be of any use in a real shooting application.

The Made in China Harris-type Bipods

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I tried a few of these some years ago and while these seemed adequate for a .22lr, I thought them a bit flimsy for centrefire rifles. More recently however I’ve acquired some of these cheap bipods and thought they were better made. While they are not be as good as the genuine Harris, they are certainly inexpensive – under $20 on Ebay – and they have the swivel, notched legs and other features as found on the original. I’ve used a few of them on centrefires up to .308 and have had no issues with them.

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While I couldn’t recommend you use anything but an original piece of equipment on a rifle that you were taking into harms way, the price of these clones makes them an option to consider for a rifle that is just going to see use at a range. Based on the recent ones I’ve seen, I think these bipods are a better buy than the Harris-like ones marketed under the Shooters Choice brand and which retail for less than a real Harris but a lot more than these do.

Genuine Harris Bipods

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Harris make quite possibly the World’s best selling bipods and they are made in the USA. The model pictured is the 6-9 swivel model ( I strongly recommend getting the swivel version – it’s worth the extra money) and it has the ‘S lock’ installed which is a handle that replaces the tension adjusting knob and makes for far easier operation in the field. It is certainly worth the additional $25 or so that they sell for.

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The advantages of a Harris are that they are easy to install, deploy very fast ( i.e. you can get the legs in place very quick ), are light weight and – at least when compared to other brands – they are relatively inexpensive ($100 – $150 depending on model and where you shop ). Harris’ are also light weight and fold close to the stock which means you are less likely to snag the folded legs when moving through bush or similar terrain. Harris are also easy to adjust from behind the rifle – especially if you get the ones with the notched legs which are, in my view, better than the smooth or un-notched ones.

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There really isn’t much to dislike about a Harris, they are tried and true and they are found on the rifles of many shooters all over the World. Having said that, I do find them less stable than some other styles and they do have a tendency to bounce from shot to shot especially when deployed on a hard surface.

The Versa-Pod Bipod

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Manufactured in the USA the Versapod reminds me of the old Parker Hale bipods and is a popular choice amongst tactical shooters. A teensy bit more difficult to install than the Harris, the Versapod is still really easy to attach to a rifle and offers some advantages over the Harris but the advantages come at a price. I purchased a VersaPod ‘Battle Pack’ and paid over $300 which is significantly more than the Harris but for the money you get the bipod, a nice Molle pouch and 3 sets of legs; the usual rubber feet as well as legs with skids on them and ones with claws or, as Versapod calls them, ‘Raptor’ feet which are really useful if shooting from a soft surface as they allow for you to dig the bipod into the ground for even more stability.

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The Versapod tilts and swivels and the legs are notched. When installed it feels very solid and it is easy to ‘load’ the bipod if that is your preference. Overall, I feel the Versapod is a more stable piece of gear than the Harris and – for those that consider this to be important – it certainly looks more aggressive or ‘tactical’ looking.

The Atlas Bipod

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Made in the USA the Atlas bipod claims to offer features that place it in a category of its own. While that claim isn’t actually factually accurate the Atlas bipod does offer many really useful features which include ones not shared with the ubiquitous Harris or the Versapod we have already looked at.

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The Atlas features include legs that move independently and can be deployed in a 45 degree position either forwards or backwards, in the traditional 90 degree position, and facing directly to the front or back, locking securely into 5 positions through a 180 degree arc. It provides the shooter with 30 total degrees left to right Pan as well as 30 total degrees of cant which Atlas claim makes it easy to align your cross hairs on the target regardless of the terrain.

The Atlas does appear to be well made and it has notched legs which allow for easy , in the field, adjustment. I find ( and others have also reported ) that the tensioning knob is difficult to keep tight as it loosens under use which is annoying. It does however provide solid support and the features it has are useful ones. Weighing in at just under 11 ounces the Atlas feels well made and durable. Costs range from about $220 – 250 depending where you shop. I consider it a better bipod than the Harris but the additional cost is off putting.

The LRA Bipod

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This bipod was the subject of it’s own review which I wrote a while back and which can be found here at:

Without re-typing all that I wrote in the LRA review let me just say this: this is the best tactical bipod I have used, period. It is sufficiently sturdy as to make the Atlas look and feel like a toy. It has independently adjustable, notched, legs and can pan for tracking of targets.

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Like I said earlier, all bipods are a compromise and so the quality and stability offered by the LRA is offset somewhat by the two negatives of price and space. The price of the LRA in Canada is $450 which while currently a bargain given that it is $450 in the US is nevertheless a lot of money to pay for a bipod. If you are looking for a bipod that can perform double duty though then this would be the one so that makes it a bit of a better value. The other downside to the LRA is space – even when folded up it takes up a fair bit of real estate and so if your gun safes are like mine, it is probably best to remove the LRA before storing your rifle away.

So that completes today’s tactical bipod roundup. Next week we will look at the bipods more suited for F-Class matches.

Range Report, SLOSA

Really good review from an excellent US blog I follow

The Everyday Marksman

I took the 20″ Musket to the a new range today to get some more testing done with the new Elcan SpecterOS. This range, the San Luis Sportsman’s Association (SLOSA), is a bit farther to get to than my normal range, which is why I have not gone to it before. However, after this range trip, I expect I’ll be going there more often. I was very impressed with the facility.

SLOSA is out towards the Morro Bay area, tucked into a valley with pretty views that remind me quite a bit of Montana. The Range Officers were friendly and helpful, and did a good job policing the range for unsafe practices. The fees are reasonable, especially for military members.

A view from the berms back toward the complex. A view from the berms back toward the complex.

The rifle range is covered, and has berms for 15, 25, 50, 75, and 100 yards. That’s not the part I…

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