Using a Tactical Rifle For F-Class

Until quite recently my collection of firearms included a custom F/TR rifle that was built on a Barnard S receiver and chambered in .308. As is so often the case however something else caught my eye and – especially since my main F-Class interest lies not in the F/TR game but in the F/Open category – the Barnard S went off to a good home.

My Old Rifle – Purpose Built For F/TR

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With the F/TR rifle sold all was good, I have many .308 rifles and the sale of the Barnard S freed up funds for other new and shiny things and, normally, there the story would end ‚Ķ… except for one teensy weensy little thing: You see, I am honor bound to take part in an annual ( and wagered !) F/TR challenge with an old friend who is a sometime shooting partner and sometime shooting competitor. The ongoing wager ? Why none other than a framed (and famed) $10 bill that has exchanged hands a few times over the years but currently resides, in its rightful place, in my gun room.

Taking Possession Of What Is Rightfully Mine ūüôā

IMG-20121007-00411The ‘self-inflicted injury’ of lacking a F/TR rifle would be no excuse for denying my buddy the opportunity to wrest the prize away from me and even the merest suggestion of anything other than unbridled enthusiasm for the annual match would bring down upon my head allegations of cowardice, lacking of moral fiber and questionable parentage. A plan would have to be formulated‚Ķ

Many consider the big drawback to using a factory or even custom tactical rifle in F/TR comes down to the issue of barrel length. Most competitors in F/TR will shoot rifles equipped with 29 or 30″ barrels and will say that the 20-26″ tubes found on factory/custom tactical rifles are not long enough to generate the a muzzle velocity sufficient to give the bullet the legs it needs to ride the wind to the land of V Bulls at the thousand yard distances many F Class matches are shot.

Traditionally the wager takes place at an annual tournament we attend near the Canadian city of Kamloops. The match, which brings together some of the best F-Class shooters in Western Canada, is held in honor of a gentleman by the name of George ‘Farky’ Farquarson who was not only from that fair city but is the individual who is recognized as the founder of the sport of F-Class – an event which, from simple beginnings, has grown into the internationally popular shooting sport it is today. Called the Frosty Farky due to the fact that in even in September the weather can get a little chilly, this annual match is only shot out to 500m so the barrel length considerations talked about above ought not to be a concern.

First thing necessary to get this project off the ground was to find amongst my heavy barreled collection of rifles one that is in a suitable caliber (F/TR is limited to .308 or .223 and military equivalents) and that with scope and bipod can still make the F-Class weight limit for F/TR of 8.25 kilos. Last but by no means least I need to pick a rifle that is a consistent half-minute gun as my wagering friend is no slouch behind the trigger and, besides the wager, I would like to finish well in the match overall and possibly even medal.

Out of a possible five rifles that are meet the requirements of chambering and weight, I have decided to focus on two of them and to put both through some final tests to see which will give me the best chance of success. The rifles selected are both in .308 as my only sufficiently accurate .223 is a beast of a rifle due to a 1.2″ no taper barrel and anyway I prefer .308 for distance shooting even though others find no trouble in getting that little .223 to work wonders for them.

Discounted – Too Heavy

001-3_zps7ba0cf24The two rifles I selected are as follows:

PGW ‘Coyote’

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This is a standard offering from Canadian company PGWDTI out of Manitoba and hasn’t been customized in any way. Having said that, all the PGW rifles are pretty much custom guns. I suppose one could say that they are ‘factory custom’ rifles even though that really is an oxymoron. Equipped with a 24″ PGW signature helical fluted Krieger barrel in a 1:10 twist and chambered for the .308 M852 match ammo, I have shot a number of groups in the .3’s and .4’s with this rifle and am very confident behind the trigger. As the base rifle weighs 13.5 lbs I have a decent ceiling to add a quality scope and bipod before I run into a weight problem. I will be making up a load using the Berger 185 Juggernaut and Varget and initial tests will be at 2.220″ which is a 10 thou jump.

Rifle number two is a custom rifle built off a Remington 700 by the Canadian company Alberta Tactical Rifle Supply out of Calgary.

Clone M40A1 By ATRS

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I’ve owned a number of ATRS rifles over the years and they have all been very good shooters and this one is no exception. Looking a bit like a clone of a M40A1 this rifle is equipped with nice Timney trigger, sports a Rock Creek M40 profile barrel in 1:11 twist and housed in a McMillian M40 HTG stock. Coming in lighter than the PGW the M40A1 will allow for the mounting of a heavier scope such as the exceptional S+B PmII which is good but lacking anything other than the usual sling swivels attaching a bipod other than the ubiquitous Harris may be a problem. The load for this rifle will also be the 185 Juggernaut but having a longer throat than the Coyote the starting length to ogive will 2.270″ for the same 10 thou jump.

Ammo Development

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Because load development isn’t about scope performance I will be using scopes of similar quality for this stage of the exercise. The Coyote wears a Sightron Siii 8-32×56 while the M40A1 clone wears a Sightron Siii 10-5-x60. Both these scope have 1/4 min adjustments and my match preference is for a finer adjustment so while I like the Sightron Siii series of scopes – they are very good value and perform as well as scopes that cost over twice as much – if weight permits the match scope will be my S+B Pmii 12-50×56 with P4F reticle and 1/8th clicks

Another Look At The Competitors

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I will be load developing for the next couple of weeks and the rifle that turns in the consistently smaller average five shot group will be selected for the match. Stay tuned to follow this fun little experiment and to see which rifle is chosen and, ultimately, how it performs under match conditions against the custom-built F/TR rigs.

Everyday Carry (EDC) Knives Part I

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At a recent gathering with shooting buddies I was struck by a certain commonality – other than the obvious shared enjoyment of firearms, we all had one other thing in common; we all carried a pocket knife or, to use the modern term, an EDC (for, of course, Every Day Carry ). Realizing that shooters also often were aficionados of the blade I thought there may be an appetite amongst the readers of for an article about two of my favorite “going into town” EDC’s:- the Spyderco Paramilitary 2 and the Benchmade 580 Barrage.

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Before getting into the meat of the article I should explain what I mean when I say about these two knives being my “going to town” EDC’s – living on a farm as I do there is often the need for a more robust knife and so my regular daily carry is either a fixed blade Ka-Bar or, if it’s a folder, either of the Spyderco Manix2 XL or the tank-like Zero Tolerance 0200 Military. A trip to the feed store or similar town chore does, however, usually dictate that I carry a blade that isn’t so much of a pocket hog as the Manix or ZT and so therefore the PM2 or 580 gets to take a drive with me.

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Both of the PM2 and the 580 are knives produced from well-established, quality knifemakers. Spyderco is based out of Golden Colorado while Benchmade was originally from California it has, since 1990, been homed in Oregon. Both companies have well-deserved reputations and produce a variety of edged products besides folding knives. Naturally both of Spyderco and Benchmade have an online presence and can be found at : and

While it is certainly possible to buy quality knives made in countries other than the United States both of the PM2 and the Benchmade 580 are made in the US.

Besides the American-made PM2 and the Manix 2 XL I have a number of other Spyderco knives: I have the excellent and US-made Spyderco Military model which I often carry and I have two knives from their value line which are made in China. Of these Chinese-made knives I have the quite large ‘Persistence’ and the smaller ‘Tenacious’ and I find both of them to be really rather good and usually recommend them as ‘value buys’ to someone who doesn’t want to spend over $100 on a knife. I find all the Spyderco knives to be well packaged, sharp from the factory and irrespective of locking mechanism used to lock up tight with no play or wobble.

The PM2 is visually a beautiful knife but more than that it is a knife that just feel right in the hand. At least for my hands the ergonomics were just perfect.

Marketed as a mid sized EDC I think with an overall length of 4.8″ (a 3.4″ blade) and a weight of just 3.75 oz it to be just about the perfect size for carrying in a pair of jeans and isn’t out of place in chinos or dress slacks.

I am a real picky person when it comes to fit and finish and I’m happy to say that in the case of this PM2 I was totally satisfied – it was perfect out of the box and, yes, it arrived really very sharp.

The PM2 blade is made out of one of the newer super steels – S30V – which is an excellent material that stays sharp, is rust resistant and isn’t too hard to sharpen. Blade shape is the classic Spyderco drop point. A very comfortable choil and thumb jimping makes the knife feel really at home in my hand.

Opening and closing the PM2 is easy and fast – almost as fast as an assisted opening – and the oversized, 14mm, Spyder hole allows for this to be done with gloves on. Locking up is super tight and achieved by way of a compression lock.

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If there is a downside to this knife it isn’t apparent to me – if I really had to think of something to complain about then I’d say that the blade point might be a little thin for some applications but, really, I’d be stretching to say that and what I’d really be saying is that the knife isn’t suitable to be used as a pry bar.

For any cutting, slicing and, yes, defensive or tactical needs you’re likely to throw the way of your EDC the PM2 has to be considered amongst your shortlist of knives There is a lot of hype around this knife and quite often it isn’t in stock anywhere but in the case of this knife I think the hype and popularity to be fully justified. A cautionary note though – please be aware the popularity of this particular Spyderco knife leads to a preponderance of fakes and counterfeits on Ebay and Amazon so do be careful and buy from reputable dealers ( I got ripped off very recently from a company out of Florida that sold me a second PM2 via Amazon and which, when arrived, was revealed to be a pure fake !).

Note – Fake Knives Abound. Fake with cheap liner lock on the right

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The Benchmade Barrage 580 Axis Assist is actually the Fourth one I’ve owned. My original is now retired and sits in the glove box of one of the pickup for emergency use, another other is used by my wife who appreciates the one hand opening and the third is my alternate EDC to the PM2.¬† Number 4 is a collector that I like to take out and play with now and again.

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Introduced at SHOT in 2009 the first thing that came to my mind when I saw the 580 was ‘classy’ – this is a knife that to my eye at least exudes taste and refinement.

The 580 blade is made out of the very good 154CM steel which, while arguably not as good as the S30V used in the PM2 is nevertheless a very, very good material. Measuring 3.6″ the blade style is a modified drop point. There is no jimping on this model.

The blade handle is made out of a lightweight nylon like substance called Valox which looks nice but, honestly, feels a little bit cheap if I have to be really picky.

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Blade deployment of the 580 is where this knife really shines – wickedly fast and snaps into place with a quite audible ‘click’. The lock up turns this knife into basically a fixed blade so strong is the Axis mechanism. While blade deployment is impressive ( or scary if you are afraid of such things ) closing it takes some practice – it isn’t difficult but needs practice to make one-handed closure perfectly smooth. For a while I almost exclusively carried the 580 model and found it to be at equally at home in the pocket of a pair of jeans, 5.11 Tactical pants and the trousers of a suit ( yes, a suit – one of those things usually associated with ties and well polished shoes ). To prevent any ‘accidental discharge’ there is a safety on top of the spacer that can be employed by those concerned about such things

Which do I prefer ? It’s a real tough question as both of these knives are excellent but they are quite different. The PM2 is classic Spyderco and is thought by many to be the ultimate all-round EDC whereas the 580 while a bit longer and heavier seems a bit more delicate but we have put our 580’s to the test here on the farm and they are pretty capable at everything we have asked them to do. Cutting, slicing and stabbing tasks have all been carried out without a hitch.

Deployment of the 580 is unbeatable but it isn’t really discrete and it does take up a wee bit more pocket space than the PM2 though the smooth nylon handle is likely easier on material than the grippier G10 of the Spyderco. Both would make short work of any everyday task though maybe the PM2 would be better as a weapon if you had to use either as a defensive tool. At the end of the piece if I absolutely had to choose I think when it comes to a ‘going out’ EDC that the PM2 gets the nod by a hairs breadth. Thankfully I own both so I can pick according to my mood !

Next time I’ll take a look at the two folders most carried when I’m here at home – the Spyderco Manix 2 XL and the Zero Tolerance 0200

Handloading For Competition – Case Prep

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In the previous series of articles – Care, Feeding and Maintenance of Precision Rifles – we focused our reloading discussion on exactly that; reloading, which I consider to be the practice of properly resizing a piece of fired brass, charging it with powder and capping it with a bullet. The finished cartridge will both easily fit and can be safely fired in any rifle of the same calibre and – as I proved in Part IV of the series – such reloads can certainly equal factory match-grade ammunition if used by a competent shooter who is equipped with a rifle and scope of sufficient mechanical accuracy.

For perhaps the large majority of shooters the reloading practices I described in the previous series are more than sufficient for their needs but the fact is that shooting is one of those things – perhaps like golf – where the drive for perfection, in this case ever smaller groupings, demands an even greater level of attention and detail than we have previously discussed.

In this article we are going to examine the art of Handloading which I define as a procedure more detailed and taxing than Reloading and which, when properly attended to, will both tailor ammunition to a particular rifle and be capable of delivering sub half minute accuracy out to a thousand yards and beyond.

In this article I’ll follow the same style and format that proved so popular in the earlier series so without further ado……

While our new reloader has been very pleased with the results from the reloading that has been completed so far, there is the desire for even more precision and a yearning to make ammunition that is as consistent as possible. Having followed my advice from the previous articles the new reloader decided to buy some new Lapua brass, made up some loads which were fired off and is now sitting with a nice pile of once-fired brass.

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Some people insist that it is necessary to weigh and separate brass but I have found with Lapua ( and, for that matter, Norma ) that this is an unnecessary step. Likewise, there are some who advocate weighing bullets but I use Berger or Lapua for my match ammo and they are sufficiently uniform so as to not need weighing and separating. Other brands – like the otherwise very nice Hornady 178g BT’s for example – do vary quite a bit in weight and so a competition shooter may wish to consider weighing each projectile.

*Tip РBuy more than one set of calipers.  You will be measuring a number of things and more than one set is really handy

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Our new reloader should really make an effort to grasp a concept that can be confusing for many people – headspace which, for our purposes let us keep this simple and say that Headspace is the chamber clearance that allows your cartridge to move or expand forward or rearward.

Many real accuracy buffs say they want this Headspace measurement to be at the absolute minimum and will want to do this to ensure a cartridge is as perfectly aligned to the center of the bore as possible. Their position is that if a round is sitting ‘loosely’ in the chamber the bullet will tend to point a hair towards the bottom of the bore which may affect accuracy. Other people disagree and say that a round should fit loosely.¬† I say that for tactical matches or for ammo that may be used in more than one rifle then, yes, ammo should fit loose and should chamber and eject easily but for F-Class and BR I am of the view that it is best to tailor ammo.

The way a handloader can achieve minimal headspace is by adjusting the shoulder of fired cases when resizing. There are a number of ways to do this: there is the old trial and error method which basically works like this – keep adjusting the resizing die down when resizing a piece of brass until chambering is just barely possible without resistance. This method works pretty well – but please make sure to keep the case lubed while doing this or you will get a shell stuck in the die. A better – more exact – way of achieving a minimal headspace is to measure the case that has been fired and then bump the shoulder back two thousandths of an inch.

For measuring the fired cases I like to use the Hornady Headspace gauge. This is an inexpensive tool and is easy to use and once you have your measurement the best way to set back the shoulder the 2 thou or whatever you need to is to use some equipment like Redding’s Competition Shellholder Kit.

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The kit is composed of five thicker than normal shellholders which are packaged together in a neat little plastic case. A normal shellholder is .125″ thick. The five competition shellholders are thicker in increments of two thousandths of an inch i.e. +.002″, +004″, +.006″, +.008″, and +.010″. Each shellholder is stamped with its increase in thickness size, and they are Black Oxide coated so they can’t be confused with a regular .125″ shellholder.

Using these shellholders is very easy. Start with the +.010″ shellholder. Install on the press’s ram and raise to the top position. Screw down the sizing die to the point that it’s making firm contact with the shellholder. When all set up take a lubed up case run it into the die and measure again. If the shoulder hasn’t moved back far enough then repeat with the +.008 shellholder. When you are satisfied with the measurement try chambering it into your gun to make sure it fits. All good then onto the next step.

In previous articles we talked about resizing, case trimming, chamfering and the removal of burrs but we didn’t speak about neck turning. Few steps in case preparation are as controversial as neck turning and some people say that if you don’t turn the case necks you are not serious about accuracy. Before I risk being called heretic let me say that I have neck turned brass and I like to use the inexpensive Hornady Neck Turning tool with the appropriate mandrel – a slow process but remember this isn’t about churning out thousands of rounds for a steel match.

Neck Turning Tool – Hand Powered

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Where do I stand on neck turning today? Well, I am going to disagree with a lot of experts and say that unless you have custom chamber that requires it or have brass that is of differing neck thicknesses this is a step which is a time consuming and laborious step. Maybe it may edge you a wee bit closer to the goal of perfection but, honestly, for most shooters it isn’t going to make a great deal of difference.¬† Having said that, do check necks for consistency – if you find that they are of differing thicknesses you may decide that, even though it is a slow process, neck turning is necessary for you.

Measuring Your Cases – Data You Can Use

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Charging the cases for competition isn’t something that should be left to your trusty powder throw. For match consistency every charge should be weighed. When a single 4 can put you out of contention in a match you can’t risk a velocity change due to a thrown charge being off by a half grain or so.

Thrown Charges – Unwise For Competition Ammo

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When we were looking at reloading in general we made our ammo ( .308 ) to SAAMI spec of 2.800″ but a competition shooter may well wish to be at a specific jump to the lands, kissing the lands or even jammed. To measure the chamber I’ve used a Sinclair tool and a Hornady OAL gauge – of the two I prefer the Hornady. I have also made up my own tool for this purpose using a resized case and a Dremel tool – a cheap but accurate little gizmo.

Hornady Tool and Home-Made Tool in Background

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More Home-Made Tools

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Anyway, whichever tool you use you will need a comparator to take an accurate measurement from the ogive of the bullet as this is more consistent than OAL measuring due to the manufacturing differences in the points of bullets.

OAL Gauge and Modified Case

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Two Types of Comparators : Hornady and Sinclair

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Many shooters like to jump a few thou to the lands while some like to jam. Much will depend upon the bullet – some are quite sensitive to seating depth. A cautionary note though – if you jam and have to unload you may cause a case and bullet separation which will spill powder all around the inside of your chamber and down into the trigger. This will spoil your day.

Following these extra steps will allow for rounds to be truly custom made for your rifle and will likely see a measurable improvement over regular match grade ammo. The rounds likely won’t work well ( probably won’t even chamber ) in other rifles of the same calibre as they are unique to the particular firearm they are made for but they will allow every last bit of accuracy to be eked out and may get you into the winners circle !

A Personal Best Five Shot Group Produced With The Extra Steps Outlined Above

Does The USMC Need To Replace The M40 ?

There is a great discussion going on at Snipers Hide about an article that appeared in the Washington Times. The article suggested the USMC are under gunned and ought to change out of the .308 M40 into something else.

Worth reading and discussing for sure.

Review – Savage 12 Benchrest in 6.5-284 Norma

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Note: The rifle reviewed was actually sold to me as the Savage F Class.  Aficionados of Savage rifles have pointed out that this is actually the Benchrest model (Sku 18613). I have edited the review to reflect this.  Embarrassing but this is the internet !

While I have owned a number of Savage rifles – ranging from the Savage MkII BV in .22LR through to the 110BA in .338 Lapua Magnum – they’re not usually my first choice in firearms brands. For some, entirely subjective, reason I find Savages to be ‘clunky’ and somehow lacking the smoothness of other brands. However, and no matter criticisms I may have about Savage, one thing that has to be accepted is that ‘out of the box’ they can most certainly shoot. The other positive that must be said about Savage is that they have really made an effort to go after a smaller market – F-Class and BR – in a way that the other manufacturers have not, and for this they must be commended.

Last year I added to my Savage collection one of their offerings that is designed to cater to this limited market of shooters – the rifle I acquired was the Savage 12 Benchrest chambered in 6.5-284 Norma.

While the the Savage 12 F-Class (Savage SKU # 18155) is purpose built for the F-Open shooter and has features such as a 30″ barrel, dual port (left load and right eject) and the Savage Target Accutrigger. The Savage Benchrest¬† (18613) has a one inch shorter barrel and lacks the flat bottom buttstock that the F-Class has but in other respects they are identical. At an overall length of 49″ and a weight of 12.75 lbs this Benchrest rifle can certainly be used for F-Open as even using the heaviest of scopes, rings and bases, is one that will easily make the F-Open weight limit of 22 lbs.

Dual Port

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Target Accutrigger

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A couple of the features that people usually say contribute to the accuracy of Savage rifles is the very solid action and – almost by accident – the floating bolt head. Of course, this model has both of these features and it is housed in a stiff wood-laminate stock with a wide forend that is ideal for shooting off bags or (more likely in F-Class) a front rest.

Wide Forend

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While the 6.5-284 is no longer the dominant chambering it once was in the F-Class game, having been replaced with various offerings in the 7mm category, it remains a superbly accurate cartridge that can certainly be competitive at all levels (other than perhaps the absolute top tier) of competitive shooting and is one for which both very high quality brass (Lapua) and projectiles (139 Lapua Scenars amongst others ) are readily available.

6.5-284 and .308

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Loads for what was once a wildcat of the parent .284 Winchester, are often developed using H4350 or H4831SC as well as IMR 4350 and others and so when I got my rifle I sought out the Lapua brass, bullets and 4350 powder and started to get to work making up some loads.

The 6.5-284 isn’t a hard recoiling round to begin with and what recoil there is gets nicely managed by the weight of the Savage F-Class rifle which ensures that this rifle/ammo combo is a pleasure to shoot.

Usually, a good load for the 6.5-284 can be found somewhere between 47-49g of H4350 and this rifle seemed very happy at the lower end (47.2g) with no appreciable improvement at higher charge weights though I suspect a higher node lurks somewhere above the charges I was working with but I don’t want or need a barrel burner.

There are a couple of downsides to this rifle – one is that the wide fore-end makes no allowance for the attachment of a bipod. Users of this rifle have to shoot of bags or a rest and I think that was a mistake; milling in a channel and attaching a short Anschutz rail would have been a good idea in my view. The second downside isn’t really anything to do with Savage but rather a downside of the chambering – you see the big downside of the 6.5-284 cartridge is barrel life. With very moderate loads a 6.5-284 barrel may last a couple of thousand rounds but up the charge weights and barrel life can be as short as 750 before accuracy noticeably falls off.

The negatives aside, this remains a very good rifle to buy to get into Benchrest or F-Open and it is very well put together. Comfortable to shoot and nicely accurate, this Savage can compete at pretty much most levels and could easily be in the winners circle at club matches for sure.

Under an Inch at 200M = 0.420 MOA

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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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