*Reloading Rifle Ammunition for Accuracy*
While most people reload pistol ammunition in bulk to save money, most hand-loaders that load for rifles do so to improve accuracy. In this article we will explore some of the ways you can get the most accuracy from your rifle through advanced hand-loading techniques.
If you are new to reloading and havenít already read the article on reloading handgun ammunition, go ahead and do so now to familiarize yourself with the basics before we move on to some more advanced information.
Besides the basic equipment needed for reloading outlined in the previous article, some additional, specialized tools are necessary for loading rifle ammo. The following is a list, with explanations of how they work and why they are needed to improve accuracy.
- Dies-All dies are not created equal. The standard dies offered by RCBS and Lee are fine for loading ammo intended for plinking and hunting, however for loading the most accurate ammunition we can, we need better. The better quality dies go by many names such as "bench-rest", or "competition" and are made to tighter tolerances than ordinary dies.
- Full length sizing dies-these size the entire length of the case body and are necessary for ammunition to be used in auto-loading rifles such as the AR15, M1A etc.
- Neck sizing dies-these only size the neck of the case, so are less stressful on the rest of the case. These neck sized only cases will only work reliably in bolt action or single shot rifles due to the fact that since the body of the case has not been sized, they will not usually chamber properly. The first time you load new brass for your particular rifle, you will need to full-length resize. After this initial firing, you can just neck size if you will only be using this brass in the same bolt action or single shot rifle that it was fired in previously.
- Small base dies-although they do not improve accuracy, they are another form of specialty sizing die due to the fact that they reform fired cases back closer to the original size and are sometimes necessary for auto-loading rifles and rifles with tight chambers.
- Case lube pad-since few people own or can afford carbide rifle dies, we use steel. This means that cases have to be lubed before they can be sized to prevent them from becoming stuck in the die. One way to do this is by using a case lube pad, which looks like a large ink pad and you use it by putting lube on the pad and then rolling the cases across. It takes a little practice to get the right amount of lube on the case as too little can cause the case to stick in the die (if this happens you need to buy a stuck case remover kit to keep from ruining the die getting it out) and too much lube will cause dents in the shoulder area of the case. Another option is too use one of the aerosol lubes. Simply put the cases in a box or whatever, spray them, roll them over and do the other side.
- Case trimmer and accessories-at this point let me introduce you to an important word pertaining to
accuracy, CONSISTENCY, this is what we are striving for at all times. Anything we can do to improve consistency will give us more accuracy. We want every round fired to be exactly like the one before and the one after. One way to improve consistency is to insure all our cases are trimmed to the same length. There are several ways to trim brass, the most common are listed below.
- Manual case trimmers-look like small lathes, and available from several companies, also available with an electric motor.
- Handheld trimmer-from Lee, the most inexpensive way to trim, hand powered, or you can use a drill to speed the process up.
- Rapid trim-from Dillon, sits on top of the press and has a motor that does the trimming, you can even hook up a vacuum cleaner to suck away the brass chips. This is the way to go if you trim alot.
- Trim die, screw into the press, raise the ram, and if the case is too long it will protrude through a hole in top and you use a file to trim, this is slow.
- Caliper-Needed to accurately measure cases and overall length (OAL) of loaded ammo as well as other things.
- Deburring tool-needed to remove the rough edges after trimming, use inside and out.
- Neck brush-Can also use a bore brush, used to clean inside the neck area of the case after firing.
- Flash hole deburring tool-When cases are produced, the flash hole is made by piercing, and this often leaves jagged pieces on the inside of the case which can cause erratic ignition, so we use this tool to remove these jagged pieces.
- Primer pocket cleaner-used to clean primer pockets to insure that all primers seat fully.
- Powder trickler -For bulk loading of handgun and rifle ammunition, a powder measure is good enough, but for really accurate ammo we need to be more precise. To be more precise, do the following-set your powder measures to throw a charge that is about 1/2 grain less than what you actually want. Then use the trickler (which is a device that meters powder by the kernel) to bring it up to exactly what you want. Another theory states that both volume (the amount of space that the powder occupies inside the case) and weight are equally important. So another option is to weigh every charge thrown by your powder measure and reject any that are not exact.
- Components-Using only the best components increases accuracy.
- Bullets-Use only match grade bullets. Hunting type bullets are not designed for super accuracy, but some such as Noslers ballistic tip can be a good combination of both. Match grade bullets have a higher ballistic coefficient (B. C.) and are made to closer tolerances than ordinary bullets. Another way to improve accuracy is to weigh your bullets with your scale. Reject any that donít weigh the same as the majority.
- Brass-Use match grade brass if possible, or at least "premium" or "supreme" brass and insure
it is from the same lot number. Lot numbers are marked on the boxes. If you buy 5 boxes of brass(100
pieces) and they all have the same lot no. then theoretically this means that all the cases were made on the
same machine, from the same raw materials, on the same day by the same employee. This means
consistency. Also weigh your cases and set aside any that are out of the norm.
- Powder-once you get a load worked up that you like, buy powder in bulk or at least buy the same lot number that you used before.
- Primers-Use bench-rest or match primers as these are produced for consistent ignition and can make a
difference in the final product.
In conclusion, as always, safety is the most important consideration when reloading. Paying attention to details can lead to significant improvement in the accuracy potential of any rifle (even an AK, shooter LOL). Think of accuracy as a triangle with ammunition, rifle and shooter at the three points. Now that we have the ammo part squared away, its time to work on the other two.
- It can get expensive, but try as many combinations of components as you can to see which your rifle likes best. You can keep costs down by "trading" components with your buddies. You trade 10 (x) brand bullets for 10 (y) brand bullets to experiment with.
- Another thing to play with is bullet seating depth. Usually the most accuracy will occur when the bullet is just shy of the rifling in your bore (NOT TOUCHING-this causes excessive pressure) when the round is chambered. To find out the optimum seating depth for your rifle, make a dummy round (no powder or primer) and use a marker or grease pencil to color the bullet. Chamber the round and adjust the seating depth until you see that the bullet is making contact with the rifling, then seat the bullet a little deeper in the case and lock the seater plug on the seater die.
- Maximum loads are rarely the most accurate. A good starting point is one full grain less than maximum.
- A note on G. I. brass. Once fired military brass will have a crimped in primer that must be removed before you can reload it. Use a decapping die to remove the primer, and then you can remove the crimp by either a handheld reamer, or a machine that swages the crimp out, available from Dillon Precision. Also military brass is thicker than commercial brass, so internal space is smaller. Reduce loads by 5% when using G. I. cases. You may have to use a small base sizing die to resize military brass that has been fired in a machinegun, as these weapons have larger than average chambers to insure feeding.
vA lot of the steps outlined above may seem tedious, and any one by themselves may not make a noticeable difference, but when you do all of them, the difference can become dramatic.
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