In the last article of this series we dealt with the workspace and tools required for reloading rifle cartridges. All that remains before we go through the process of reloading is to discuss bullet, brass, powder and primer options. This is a VAST subject which is open to some debate. Most experienced shooters who reload have their own “magic formula” in terms of choosing which brands of reloading consumables to use. Understanding the basic concepts of reloading and then finding out which combinations work best for you really is pivotal in terms of improved accuracy. One mans “magic formula” can be another mans complete miss or worse catastrophic failure because every rifle is different. Even two of the same model will have tiny differences in machining and fit. Reloading allows us to exploit this phenomenon and find the best match/combination to one specific rifle.
Rule 1. of reloading. Never just use a load/combo just because your buddy suggested it or you saw it on the forums. Always begin with data from the manufacturers of your components (i.e a reloading manual).
Always bear in mind your head is next to your rifle when you pull the trigger
With that in mind I will tell you how and why I selected my current reloading consumables.
I choose to buy brass rather than use brass from factory bought ammunition. Why? Because I can buy 100 at a time which are from the same batch. I also find quality control can sometimes be a little hit and miss with factory ammunition. I purchase Lapua brass. I exclusively used Lapua ammunition as a small bore competitor (Lapua Dominator) and found their quality control to be superb. Many other shooters I speak to also use Lapua brass and would not contemplate any other brand. I have tried several others and ended up sticking with Lapua. I use their .308 and .223. Both have been superb. I retired the last 100 after 8 firings but they could have gone on for much longer. They are well within safe boundaries in terms of wear. I had trimmed them twice to ensure consistent case length within guidelines. Factors such as case length should be thoroughly researched in your loading manuals. Ignorance will not stop your gun exploding if you dont bother..
If only it stayed so shiny without cleaning!
There are multiple choices when it comes to propellant. One of my first lessons came after selecting the first powder for use in my .308. I had settled on vihtavuori http://www.vihtavuori.com/en/homepage.html
I found their N140 to be superb. However a few weeks later I could not find any at a sensible price. When supply dries up price increases. Luckily I was pointed in the direction of a UK based producer/supplier offering a powder called TR140. This was available at a good price for the forseeable future and reasonably locally (avoiding expensive delivery costs). In a perfect world we would have equal access to all products and select simply on performance. The world is not perfect and so factors like availability become primary in terms of maintaining consistency over time.
A tub of TR140 on the loading bench.
If you delve into the forums or speak to other shooters there will be lots of guys running different powders. Have a listen to what they have to say, refer to your loading manual to back up the claims and draw up a shortlist of powders for your calibre/application. Check availability and see what you are left with as options. Some powders will be completely unsuitable for your application and could possibly be dangerous. That is why you must double check everything. Even if Sn1pEr223 from Tacticool forum insists it will be ok… Check first! I was lucky enough to learn from a reloader with 40+ years of experience. Even he makes mistakes as technology and techniques change over time. Never rest on your laurels when dealing with safety. It is your responsibility as a shooter/reloader to keep up to date and ensure good practice at all times.
As you can see there are many options, not all of them will be safe/suitable for your firearm.
I have used 3 types of primers. Did I see any differences between them? In short no, none. Now I am not saying there is no difference, just that for the disciplines I shoot (F class, practical rifle) I did not perceive any benefit. A bench rest shooter may have a different opinion. In bench rest comps are won and lost based on the difference of a hairs width. If a certain primer shrinks your group by 0.01″ then it would be worth using. Remember these guys shoot off of very heavy, large expensive benches. The most stable I get is in prone with a bipod and rear bag. I cant keep the set up still enough to notice such minute margins in group size. As long as they all hit the bull or the steel I don’t much care. That being I always use primers from the same brand and batch every time I make a load of ammunition. That way you give your system the best chance to be consistent. Currently I use CCI primers because they are available nearby. I happily used Remington for a while before I switched and found them to be fine. Primers come in different sizes. Check your calibre and reloading manual to find out which you require.
CCI primers –
I buy my powders, brass and primers from http://www.acpshooting.co.uk in Sussex, UK. They are lovely guys and are always happy to help and advise if you are stuck. They also stock full reloading kits with set ups available to look at/try.
Possibly the most vital part of the equation in terms of hitting the target with consistency. Have a look at what other guys are using in your chosen shooting discipline. You will discover a handful of bullets in your calibre which are popular. Take a look at those using the same rifle and note what works well for them. This will allow you to narrow down your options.. Have a look at the bullet data in your reloading manuals. Look for bullets which will work well given your barrels twist rate (heavy bullets need more twist to stabilise) and note their BC (Ballistic coefficient). In general terms a higher BC number is “better” and can be used to aid making your shortlist. You will then want to find out about availability and price. These are major factors for most people. As with the powders, what seems ideal on paper may not be available in the real world. I currently use Lapua B476 170g bullets in my .308 1-12 twist Remington 700. Supplies are running very low in the UK. When I finally run out I will have to find another viable option. Many people love Berger bullets. I agree that they make superb bullets but they also cost more than my Lapua. Hornady are rapidly gaining fans in the practical rifle world with their Amax line and Sierra have long been popular with their match kings in multiple disciplines. I currently use Sierra MKs for reloading my .223 AR and they give me sub MOA groups and take 5″ targets at 800yds. Good enough for me.
Reloading is all about finding the best recipe for your unique rifle. The only way to do that is to try a few and record the data. This is of course all part of the fun. Trips to the range with new bullets or powders to try are exciting! Please use this article in concept only, it is NOT a shopping list. What works for me is highly unlikely to work equally well for you because we have different rifles/bodies/environments/disciplines ect. I have tried to outline why I chose the items, often down to variables such as cost or ease of procurement. You must make these choices for yourself and most of all ensure they are INFORMED choices..
Good luck! Next week we shall begin the first reloading session, getting some brass prepped and primed.