Please Note: This is not a complete reloading manual and should not be taken as a replacement for the couple of good reloading manuals that you should own (and read).
It is a guide to some of the specifics related to loading for F-Class and T/R and to provide some sensible advice for those just starting out.
If in doubt ask.
If you're reading this because you want to reload for another application fine, but remember that this reloaded ammunition is going to be used in single shot target application in the controlled environment of a rifle range.
It makes no allowance for things like magazine use or trouble free feeding in a hunting application and especially not the use of the ammunition in multiple rifles.
Reloading for F-Class and T/R (Basic advice for first timers)
Reloading for F-Class and T/R is sometimes just a way of saving money, sometimes it's a way of improving accuracy and sometimes it's a necessity because the factory ammunition does not exist.
Whatever the reason you decide to start reloading this guide should help you to tailor your handloads specifically to your F-Class and T/R shooting. It will not attempt to replace a reloading manual or showcase the incredible amount of reloading equipment available out there.
It is important to understand that while the basic process is the same as reloading for any other purpose (e.g. hunting, Varminting and even B/R) there are a number of differences that the reloader needs to be aware of. The reloading manuals that are commonly available are a great start, and you must read and understand them, but you need to take into account the differences and the manuals usually do not cover them. The sheer volume of information needed to cover every possible aspect of reloading for every discipline is beyond anyone's ability to put into a Reloading Manual which is why they typically restrict themselved to describing the one size fits all default process that you will become familiar with.
Most commercial Reloading Manuals and most die instructions typically only describe the default approach to die setup. The approach is great for your average standard "spec" rifle but not all rifles were created equal. Many, particularly second hand rifles, have chamber variations and throat variations that need to be catered for to ensure that your reloads are safe. Some reloading manuals produced by individuals will describe die set up techniques similar to what I describe here. Even the occasional die manufacturer follows the same processes. So there's nothing controversial here.
So what are the differences???
For starters because F-Class and T/R are long range disciplines we typically use long range projectiles. These are usually a lot longer than the projectiles that were in use when the cartridges were designed and as such standard overall lengths (OAL's) that form part of the cartridge specification are not appropriate for use and in some cases, are actually dangerous to use.
Epic FAIL about to occur??? Long range VLD Projectiles and standard OAL's do not go together.
A better VLD Seating depth? Yes, but only if you can do it safely.
Velocity (= pressure):
In addition to the long range projectiles we typically try and push as much velocity from our loads to ensure they stay above the sound barrier (or more specifically out of the transonic zone) all the way to the target, particularly for the longer ranges. The hunt for velocity means putting more powder in which increases pressure. When you start operating at higher pressures there is less margin for error so greater caution is required.
Because F-Class can be shot with such a large range of rifles from standard factory rifles to custom rifles both old and ultra modern there is a variety of chambers that the reloader could encounter while reloading for F-Class and T/R. Many of the older Omarks are chambered in 7.62 chambers (instead of 308) which are a bit longer. Some modern customs have tight match chambers. Some have short throats and some long throats. Some have tight necks. Factory rifle chambers, like any mass produced items can vary significantly from manufacturer to manufacturer and even rifle to rifle from the same manufacturer. It is important for safety reasons to load for the chamber that you have and not the one described in your reloading manual. The reloading manuals (as thick as they are) would be twice as thick if they tried to cover everything so instead their authors tend to opt for a safe "one size fits all" approach which does in fact work for the most part.
Anyway, we know some of the differences, but we're not going to be reloading anything if we don't have the gear so let's look at a basic setup.
There is a mind boggling array of reloading equipment out there which range from basic necessities to hyper accuracy tools. This article is all about keeping it as simple as practical and you might think that one of the reloading kits that are out there is as simple as it gets to get started. Generally they are ok but in most instances you will be replacing half of the kit with better items or even the reverse where you opt out of a kit but end up buying the items that were in the kit. So with that in mind I'll stick to covering the items and not how you obtain them.
Get one; or two or more, and read them.
They cover the basics and they contain load data that you can cross reference for safety as some errors do creep in to the various publications from time to time. Also download the ADI load data.
If you wonder at the thickness of these manuals it's because there is a lot of information in them. More than I can include in a web page which is why I'm really just providing an F-Class and T/R spin on it. If I don't cover it then it's because you've read it in your manuals and the process is the same.
It is generally recommended to buy yourself an O-Frame press. Like almost anything in this game better is typically more expensive but having said that, a Lee press will do the job, but maybe not as good as a Redding and there are still plenty of other options in between. I have what would be considered a mid range press (Lyman Orange Crusher II) and it does me fine but get what your budget permits.
I would not recommend a C-Frame press or a Progressive press simply because there are better options available and not because they cannot be used to do the job. Arbor presses are for an entirely different discussion. Turret presses are good if you're reloading for multiple calibres but they're not necessary as it only takes seconds to change a die anyway.
You need a good set of scales. A good beam scale will always work and are a good starting option. There are electronic scales around which can be very much a hit and miss affair. If you get lucky with a good set or spend a lot and ensure that luck plays no part in it then you will find them much quicker to use once you get used to them. Finally there are the automatic dispensers which are very, very quick and their owners typically rave about them.
Regardless it's recommended to get something with accuracy to 0.1 of a grain or better.
Electronic Scales and Powder Dispenser
The topic of what dies to buy for any reloading task will always start an argument. It has to be said though that there is not a die brand out there that you cannot make reasonable hand loads with.
I have personally used dies from Lee, Simplex, Lyman, Hornady and Forster.
At a minimum you will need a Full Length Sizing Die, a Bullet Seating Die and a shell holder for the cartridge.
Optionally I recommend a Neck Sizing Die and a Bullet Puller Die for easy correction of mistakes.
With neck sizing dies I recommend the Lee Collet Die because it does not require lube and is very easy to use. Many people will mention that the bushing dies are better and they're right, but the bushing dies only work properly with turned necks and that's a discussion that belongs in another, slightly more advanced section. Suffice to say; if you use a bushing die and you don't neck-turn or if you use a regular neck die you still need to drag an expander button through your necks, which means lubing your case necks inside and out. If you're stuffing about with lube you may as well be full length sizing them. So the Lee Collet Die will do the job and do it well, faster and with a lot less fuss and no cleanup.
With that in mind I do recommend the Lee Deluxe Set which, in addition to the dies, also comes with the shell holder and a powder scoop. There is however one big drawback with the Lee dies and that is their locking ring. If you buy Lee dies then I recommend buying normal locking rings (Hornady rings are awesome) as they preserve your die settings as you switch dies in and out of your press. My recommendations are all about making the process easier wihout compromising the quality of your handloads.
While you are looking at different brands there are some points to consider when purchasing your first set of dies. You will one day forget to lube a case either outside or inside the neck and you will put on too much lube. You will tighten a die and lock ring onto the press so hard that you won't be able to unscrew them from the press. You may even get handed some berdan primed cases with double flash holes and not notice that they're different.
In these novice situations (we've all done it; and still do it) the Lee dies come to the fore. By not having a threaded stem for the expander the expander stem doubles as a stuck case remover (depending on how stuck your case is) and if you forget lube on the inside of your neck and the expander button gets stuck you can get your case out easily so that you can pour lube in the neck to free things up. There is a vent hole on the die for excess lube to run out and the full length dies have flats for using standard spanners or shifters so there is no need for specialist die ring spanners, or heaven forbid the pliers, to free the die you screwed in too tight. If you try and size a berdan primed case or a case where the manufacturer forgot to create a flash hole (it actually happens) then the decapping assembly will slide up in the die instead of breaking like a threaded decapping assembly will do.
This is not an advertisement for Lee dies. It's just an acknowledgement of some of the things that can really frustrate beginner and experienced reloaders alike, and how these ultra cheap dies seem to cater for that easily when the high end brands don't.
If you do want to purchase high end dies then buy the Forster dies as their seaters are stronger than the Redding dies. A Forster Ultra micrometer seater is a devine piece of equipment for those using multiple makes and weights of projectiles in the one rifle.
Your every day die set may end up as mixed as this...
Loading block - Any brand will work. There are generic ones that do multiple calibres and some that do single calibres.
Powder Funnel - Any brand will work.
Powder Funnel and Loading Block
Case mouth Chamfer and deburring tool - A basic one of these is a necessity. It is also recommended, but not essential, to get a VLD chamfer tool.
K&M VLD chamfer tool (top) and standard deburring and chamfer tool
A powder trickler - It makes getting that perfect powder charge so much easier.
A primer pocket cleaner - or even better a primer pocket uniformer. Because residue build up in the primer pockets will eventually start to impede ignition and effect shot to shot consistency (your velocity will go up and down and so too will your shots on the target)
Primer Pocket Cleaner
A case trimmer - Because you need to keep your cases at a safe length. Three recommended trimmers are: the basic Lee trimmers which are simple, fool proof and functional. The possum hollow kwick trim or the Wilson trimmer. Beyond that all trimmers do the job they're designed to do, which is to trim cases, so whatever you get will work.
A hand priming tool - One like the Lee auto prime is ideal and saves a lot of time and effort.
Bullet Comparator - Because for the bullets we're using overall length (OAL) is not good enough for accurately determining seating depth. The Sinclair comparator nut is a start and the vernier attachment tools are even better.
Case lube - Case lube is the ugly messy component of reloading. Personally I prefer the best lube available which is a neck die which does not require lube at all :-) Regardless you will have to Full Length Size at some time so lube is a necessity. I prefer anhydrous wool fat (lanolin) although there are a lot of options out there and they all work. The spray ones are very convenient and there are some that do not need to be cleaned from the cases so feel free to pick what works for you.
Calipers (vernier or electronic) - You need to be able to measure things accurately and these are the tools to do it. Electronic are easier but a vernier will last a lifetime so it's worth owning a vernier as a backup for when the batteries go flat on your digital while you're reloading the night before a shoot and all the shops are closed.
A set of Imperial Allen Keys - All of the dies (and many reloading tools) are US manufactured or designed and all the hex screws (when your die uses them) are actually all Allen screws with imperial sizes. Metric Hex keys won't do the job and should not be used. If your die locking ring uses Allen screws and you tighten them or loosen them with metric Hex keys you will eventually strip them and have to cut off your die locking ring with a Dremel. Also never lend your gear without lending the tools for them.
Metric Hex and Imperial Allen Key sets
Whatever projectiles you choose will ultimately come down to personal preference (and the rules) with respect to the .308 and perhaps barrel twist rate with the .223
With the 223 you need a 1 in 8" twist barrel to shoot the 80gr projectiles. With a 1 in 9" or a 1 in 10" twist barrel you will be restricted to 68gr/69gr projectiles although don't be afraid to experiment with 80gr projectiles in a 1 in 9"
Cases can typically come from two sources. Buying them new or once fired brass from factory ammunition you bought or had handed to you.
If buying cases it is recommended to buy good quality cases and look after them. It is especially important that they can handle the pressures that we'll be working with. With that in mind I recommend the Lapua cases as they are proven performers. Many of the other brands (both more and less expensive) will suffer from loose primer pockets a lot faster than the Lapua and you'll be throwing them out and buying more where as if you'd just bought Lapua in the first place you'd still be using them.
With once fired brass either from your own rifle or someone else's the process described later remains the same.
There are many primers out there however only a few are really suitable for trouble free F-Class and T/R reloading. They're the various match primers like CCI-BR2 and CCI-BR4 and Federal Gold Medal Match. They have two main characteristics that we're looking for. They usually have a greater consistency which means more consistent ignition and therefore more consistent velocity and accuracy, and they are usually stronger and therefore resist piercing which can be an issue with the higher pressure loads we tend to run.
Luckily for us both the 223 and 308 use the same powders when being loaded for F-Class and T/R. ADI AR 2206H is typically the powder to use although AR 2208 works just as well. The idea when choosing a powder is to get a high load density (a fuller case) for the projectile you're using without using compressed loads (where there's so much powder in the case that you're squashing the powder with the projectile when you seat the projectile). With 223's compressed loads may be somewhat unavoidable due to the very small case capacity and the very large projectiles.
So now we've got our gear and we've got our components. It's time to get down to it. Will you have your first reload out soon? Sadly, no. There are quite a few preparation steps we need to go through first.
The Reloading Process:
Case preparation (basic):
The first step is to ensure that all of your cases will fit in your rifle. Either new or once fired from someone else or even once fired from your own rifle you need to check that they're right to use.
But why would new cases not fit?
The answer is that Lapua cases are the choice of wildcatters which are custom chambering based on common cases. They are usually a little over size to ensure a tight fit while fire forming wildcat cases to ensure that the process occurs properly.
This means that from the start some of them may not fit easily in a standard or tight chamber. You also need to ensure that all of your cases are the same. And for that you need to run them through a full length Die. The same goes for once fired brass from another rifle especially if its chamber is bigger than yours.
So the first thing you need to do is take some (or all of your cases) and chamber them in your rifle. If they fit easily, that's great, and if you have one, you need only get out your neck die for the next step. If not then it's even better because you can now get your full length die set up properly from the start.
With cases that fitted easily you may still have necks that are out of round so run your cases through either a full length die as described next or a neck die as described later.
Full Length Sizing (FLS) Die setup:
If it's not clear, it is important to have your rifle next to you whenever you are adjusting or changing the adjustment of your full length die so that you can check that cases sized in it will all fit.
Too often people think they'll be right and they've run the cases through the die only to find that the cartridges won't chamber because they've been resized incorrectly.
They're then often left in the embarrasing situation of having a live round stuck in the chamber.
That's not to say that you need to check them in the rifle each time you use the full length die. Just the first time you set the die up and whenever you try to alter that adjustment.
If they're new dies then wash them out with Metho or Shellite then spray them with a spray lube like Inox or silicone spray or wipe them down with an oiled rag.
FLS Die setup is very important to get right because of the various chamber sizes found in F-Class and T/R rifles. For instance using a 308 die with its factory instructions to reload for a 7.62 chamber will see you suffering from case head separations and possibly primer ignition problems. Over sizing your cases for a standard chamber will have the same result and will also reduce case capacity (because the case is made smaller) so you won't be able to get as much powder in.
So sit down with your cases to be sized, some case lube and some cleaning cloths. Take the decapping assembly (and thus the sizing button) out of your Full Length Die. Put its lock ring on and tighten it so that you can only just rotate the ring on the die. Too loose and you will not get the right adjustment.
Raise the press ram to the top put in your shell holder and screw down your die until it touches the shell holder. Now unscrew the die two (2) full turns. Yep. Unscrew it. Yep. Two full turns. Yep. That's not what the instructions say. Now wind down the locking ring until it touches the top of the press.
Now lower the ram. Put your lubed case in and raise it into the die and out again. Wipe off the lube with your cloth and try it in your rifle. Don't force it. If it is still tight to chamber then wind your die in by 1/8th of a turn and run your re-lubed case through the die again. Now winding the die in isn't easy because of the tight lock ring. You need to screw the die out with the ring holding the ring and die together so that they don't rotate relative to each other. Then you turn the die within the lock ring by the required amount and then screw the die and lock ring back down together. Keep sizing the case slowly until it chambers to your satisfaction. You want it easy to chamber but not loose. If it's loose then you need to wind the die out another 1/8th of a turn and start again with a new case. When it's right, tighten the lock nut fully on the die. It's a long slow process but you only do it once.
Take your next lubed case and size it and try it in the rifle.
If it's tight to chamber then the locking ring was probably not tight enough on the die while doing the initial adjustment. Loosen the locking ring and turn the die down another 1/8th of a turn and retighten. Run the second case through again and check it in the rifle. It should be an easy fit.
From now until the end of time do not touch that locking ring as it is in the correct position for your rifles chamber and you will be sizing for what is called minimal headspace. Re-Insert the decapping assembly into your die. Lube all your cases up outside and inside the necks and run them all through the die. Even the ones used to set the die in the first place, as their necks have not been expanded to the correct size and once fired brass will still have the spent primers in them.
Now you know that every case you have will fit in your rifle.
Trimming, deburring and chamfering:
After sizing all your cases it's time to trim them to length deburr the outsides of the necks and chamfer the insides of the necks. The reloading manuals have the correct trim to lengths and it's good to just trim to those. I'll leave it to the manuals to describe the steps as there is nothing F-Class and T/R specific to the tasks.
Primer pockets and flash holes:
Now it's time to inspect your cases primer pockets looking at the flash holes. Clean them if you're working with once fired cases. If you see any where the flash hole is oval shaped or off centre then put the cases to the side. You won't be shooting them but they will make good dummy rounds for seating dies or seating depth determination (which we'll get to next). Sometimes some helpful individuals will offer you some surplus military rounds or once fired cases. These are tough cases and will do the job but their primers are typically crimped or glued or both. Metho will remove the glue and in a pinch you can use your chamfer tool to remove the crimp. You have to go easy with the removal as you can remove too much material. Whatever you do the primers will be very tight to seat for a few firings so be very careful when seating them that you do not crush them.
Determining lands distance and seating depth:
You now need to determine the distance to the lands (aka the rifling in your barrel). There are many methods that work and some that do not. I do the split case method where I cut a split in the neck of a case to hold a projectile but I have tried other methods with equal success. I simply find the split case method to be easier. There are specialist tools to do it like the Sinclair seating depth tool and the Hornady Lock-N-Load OAL gauge and if your budget stretches that far then please feel free to go down that route.
It's important to do this. Because we use long range projectiles that are a lot longer than standard projectiles, the standardised cartridge lengths, which measure to the tip of the bullet, are far too short. Alternatively you also need to know where your rifling starts relative to the length of your loaded round so that you do not accidentally seat a projectile to be touching the rifling and cause pressure problems. A round with the projectile sitting hard up against the rifling will result in a lot higher pressure than normal and the projectile can get stuck and separate from the case in the event that you need to unload your loaded round because of a "cease fire and unload" call by the RO.
Because comparator's simulate contact with the lands (the rifling) they can be used to simulate how OAL can vary, while seating depth can remain the same
All these 223 dummy rounds measure the same using a comparator.
They are 52gr SMK, 77gr Nosler, 69gr SMK, 68gr Hornady, 80gr Nosler and 80gr Amax.
You can see the significan variations in OAL. Actual lands contact would increase the OAL variations that you can see in the picture.
In a .308 this is not likely to be an issue because the 155gr projectiles used are very close in length to the standard projectiles for the caliber. In the 223 though with standard projectiles being nearly half the weight (and half the length) of the ones we use it's critical to get this right.
Split cases for seating depth determination
To make a split case you need a Dremel or similar rotary tool with a fine cutting disk to cut a vertical split in the case neck. You also need to drill out the primer pocket of the case to allow you to fit a Hex or Allen key in to push the projectile out. Do not use a case that is a tight fit in your chamber as the compression of the case will mess up your measurement. Don't have a rubbish case or the tools? Ask around because someone will. It's even worth asking if someone has one of the seating depth gauges because you can be pretty sure that someone will have one of them too.
Anyway take your split case and run it through a full length or neck die after cutting. Lube the inside of the neck of the case and push a projectile partly into the case with your fingers. You could use the seater die to do it however the need to use a seater die may be counterproductive as it might indicate that the case neck is too tight and needs another split cut. Slowly and carefully chamber this dummy round in your rifle. You should feel significant resistance as the projectile comes in contact with the rifling. Slowly apply force to the bolt to push it in and closed. This will force the projectile up against the lands (rifling) where it can go no further at which point the projectile will start to slide further into the case. Once the bolt is closed open the bolt and carefully extract the dummy round. Try and get your finger in to stop it being ejected fully from the action and to minimise dragging of the projectile against the edge of the chamber or action which could disrupt the position of the projectile.
Once it's out measure it with your comparator and write that down. Push the projectile back out a bit with a hex key through the drilled out primer pocket and repeat the process a few more times until you think you've got it right. It's sometimes possible for the bolt to over travel and to push the projectile in too far. This is dependent on the tolerances in your action and these incidences will show up as shorter measurements.
Measuring with a comparator
This distance varies from projectile to projectile so if you're using more than one brand, make or weight of projectile you will need to repeat the process for each one. The reason for this is that the projectiles are different shapes and sizes. In .223 a Nosler 80gr is different to an Amax 80gr which is different to a Sierra 80gr. The same applies to the 30cal 155gr projectiles.
But I didn't touch the lands? The bullet never moved?
Many of the older chambers (and some of the newer ones) have long throats and there is no way that you will get anywhere near the rifling. If that's the case don't worry about it. But now you know that you're not going to have any problems no matter what seating depth you use.
Priming your cases:
As recommended you should prime your cases using a hand priming tool. It's faster and easier and you can do it away from the press. There is nothing special about this task so I'll leave it for the reloading manuals and priming tool instructions to describe in detail.
For the main part measuring out the powder for your cases can be done in many ways. Throwers, automatic dispensers and even the humble powder scoop all work. I'll leave it to the reloading manuals to describe it but I will make a few recommendations with respect to F-Class and T/R.
You should weigh every charge to the highest precision you can. A little difference in velocity from shot to shot can show up significantly on the target so you need to ensure that as much as possible you have the same amount of powder in each case.
When putting powder in the cases I recommend putting all of your cases that you are going to load into the loading block at once and put your measured charge in each.
Then, using a torch, check each one visually to see if any look lower or higher than the others.
A visual check shows up 2 problems here. Can you identify them?
Now you're ready to seat the projectiles.
Setting up your seater die / Making a dummy round:
It's not uncommon for people to have a problem chambering a round after seating and this entire process ensures that you've checked your cases at each of the intermediate steps.
That way, if there is a problem, you can be sure of which stage in the process it was introduced.
Raise the ram on your press to the top. Take your seater die and screw it in until it touches the top of the ram then unscrew it two full turns. Screw down your locking ring until it touches the press and tighten it in that position. Many seaters have inbuilt crimping features and you want to avoid them as much as possible. Backing the die out 2 turns compensates for the longer projectiles that you are using and moves the crimper out of the way.
Now take an empty case without a projectile and run it up into the die. There should be no resistance felt and the case should still chamber after it has been in the die so it's time to check it in the rifle again.
In case you get any ideas later... Never test a live round for fit unless you are in a safe environment like on the firing line of a shooting range. By all means test a dummy round without powder and primer but never a live one.
Next unscrew the seater stem out until there is enough clearance to put a case and projectile into the press and raise the ram without them coming into contact with the seater stem. Now screw the seater stem down until there is contact. For some precision seaters you need to be careful not to screw the die down while the press ram is raised as they have a fine enough pitch thread to seat the projectile simply by screwing the seater stem down.
From here you lower the ram screw the seating stem in a 1/4 turn and raise the ram again pushing the case and projectile into the die. Remove the cartridge and measure it with the comparator.
What you want to do initially is get it to the exact same dimension that you measured to the lands for that projectile. So to do that you keep repeating the process until you get there. As you get closer to the measurement, reduce the size of the adjustment until you're exactly there. Alternatively if you were not able to determine a lands distance because your chambers throat has too much clearance, just stop when you like the look of your seated projectile. Or if you'd like to be more precise; when the start of the projectiles boat tail is level with the bottom of the neck.
If you were able to determine a lands distance and you're now seated at that point it's time to decide on what seating depth you actually want. Because this is for beginners I will recommend a distance of 30 thousands of an inch or 0.7mm seating depth. It's close enough to maximize case capacity, yet far enough out that you do not accidentally jamb the projectile in the rifling because your seater tolerance was out. With that in mind subtract 0.030" from the lands distance and start adjusting the projectile down that additional 30 thou until it's at the desired seating depth.
Why did I do it in two steps and start so far out?
Because it's ridiculously easy to screw the seater stem in past the desired setting the first time you try and set up the die. By starting so far out, and stopping at that lands distance, you get plenty of time to get a feel for how much adjustment of the seater stem correlates to variation in seating depth. And if you happen to go over then it really doesn't matter.
But the projectile is barely in the case at all?
For some you may have a throat that is long enough to determine where the rifling starts but it is too far out to seat the projectile properly in which case just seat it so that the start of the projectiles boat tail is level with the bottom of the neck.
To simplify things in the future you can make up a dummy round (no powder or primer) using a spare case and a projectile and use that to set your seater each time. To use it you back your seater stem out a turn and screw your die into the press till the lock ring contacts the press. Raise the presses ram with the dummy round inserted and then screw the seater down until it contacts. You're now ready to go.
Load Development (Basic):
So that's the process but how much powder do I use?
To determine both an accurate load and a safe load you need to do some form of load development. In many instance it's all too prevalent to be told to "...just put in the max and shoot it..." This is not a safe practice but is most likely come about because in the old days pretty much everyone was shooting with Omark or similar target actions with 7.62 chambers which could handle the same loads as everyone else was using. Nowadays with such a variety of factory and custom equipment turning up on the ranges it's important to work up to your own loads and not just borrow someone elses.
The major problem is that it's phenomenally difficult to get the long range target time needed for proper load development under the correct conditions so we are left with having to make do with what we have. The easiest way to do that is to do a simple ladder test.
A simple ladder test involves loading 10 rounds of different powder charges from the maximum downwards in 0.3 grain or 0.4 grain increments. Plus 4 or 5 extra rounds of one of the lighter charges for sighting in and fouling the barrel. We load from the max down but shoot the opposite way from the lightest (and safest) load to the maximum.
These can be shot during a normal F-Class or T/R shooting session. You will need to sight in so that the sighting rounds are low on the target (you do this because the point of impact will move up the target as the charge increases. If you sight in the middle you could end up off the top of the target while only halfway through your test.
Once you're sighted in low on the target you commence firing off your shots. Ideally you should be doing this in consistent conditions if they're available but we can understand if they're not in which case it won't be a complete waste. The worst possible time to be trying to shoot these is in a varying head or tail wind as they affect vertical the most and you will not get good results. If you have close to a 3 or 9 o'clock wind you'll be right.
Any way start shooting them from lightest to heaviest and plot the location where each shot lands on the target. Inspect each case after firing. Look at the primer to see how flat it is. Look at the soot on the outside of the necks and how far down the neck and the shoulder it goes. Check the case head for ejector marks. If you see the primers start to flatten don't worry too much because it might just be excessive headspace from a roomy chamber. If you see marks on the case head from the ejector it's time to stop and pull (remove the projectile and tip out the powder) any remaining rounds. Generally soot flowing down the sides of the case past the shoulder is a sign of too light a load that is not expanding the case fully to seal the chamber. There are other signs so please read your reloading manuals to get a more comprehensive idea of what to look for.
When you're done you should have a string of shots going up the target from the bottom to the top. Generally speaking you're looking for the loads where consecutive shots landed in the same spot as this could indicate an accuracy node. One series does not make a complete accuracy test though and it's worth repeating the test to see if you get the same results. Honestly it can be a bit of a black art but at least at the end of the test you may not have your perfect load accuracy wise but you will know what your maximum load is and work to avoid it.
You've now done more load development than many of your peers :-)
More serious reloading "Improving the consistency and accuracy of your reloads"
I'm deliberately not calling this "Advanced Reloading" because it's not. Calling it that implies that it's difficult or "not for beginners" both of which are completely untrue. There should be nothing stopping anyone that wants to shoot with the best reloads they can, from making those reloads.
Long range accuracy is all about consistency and more specifically about ensuring at your velocities are consistent. To do that you need to ensure that each and every component you use is as close as possible to the next one. The main area to work on there is the cases and the majority of this section will cover case preparation.
Primer Pocket Uniforming:
The first thing to work on is to ensure that the primer pockets are of a uniform depth. This ensures that each and every primer is seated at the exact same depth relative to the head of the case and will all receive the same strike from the firing pin when it hits the primer. This ensures consistent ignition of the primer which is the first step in the combustion process.
To do this you need a primer pocket uniformer. There are a lot out there like the K&M or the Sinclair. If you're uniforming small primer pockets (.223) only, then a hand tool will be sufficient but if you're uniforming large primer pockets (.308) it's best to get a power adaptor or your hands will be killing you after a dozen cases or so. The Sinclair can be chucked directly in a drill.
Primer Pocket Uniformers with handle and power adaptor
Do each case until the primer pocket is smooth. If there are chatter marks then the tool was not all the way in and the pockets are not uniform. Take care to not go too fast and make sure to allow the cuttings to come out as you go because the uniformer cutter does not work too well through a pocket full of brass shavings.
Flash Hole Deburring:
You can have the most uniform primer pockets in the world but that won't help if the igniting blast from the primer cannot get through to the powder in the body of the case in a consistent manner. Sometimes the process that puts the flash holes in the cases can leave burrs on the inside. These burrs need to be removed and to do that you need a flash hole deburring tool. There are many brands out there and some of them work better than others. Some deburring tools index off the pilot and require that all the cases are trimmed to a uniform length. Others like the Sinclair Gen 2 uniformer index of the inside off the case and can be used on cases that have not been trimmed. All will remove the burrs. Some will do a little more and will actually work to completely uniform the flash hole inside of the case including chamfering the flash hole.
There is no trick to using these tools except to ensure that the cases are all to a uniform length for the ones that index off the pilots and to ensure that you set the pilot in a position to get enough of a cut to do the job.
Avoid buying one with a small handle or get one with a power adaptor as it can be quite a chore working your way through a large batch of cases.
Flash Hole Reaming:
Sometimes the flash holes are not all the same diameter and this is true for Lapua cases as well as the other brands. A flash hole reamer will bring them all up to the same diameter hole or at least get them closer to having the same diameter hole. Sinclair makes the only known tool at the moment. Reviewers are commenting that you need to check the reamer cutter as shipped as some are over size so it's worth me repeating that advice.
There is no trick to using the reamer just insert it in the primer pocket and give it a turn then move onto the next case.
Neck turning (it's not just for tight neck chambers):
The next big area of case preparation is the necks and more specifically neck turning. If your rifle has a tight necked chamber you will already be neck turning. In fact you wouldn't purchase a rifle with a tight neck chambering unless you were already familiar with the process. But Neck Turning is not just for tight neck chambering. As I will always say, reloading for F-Class and T/R is all about consistency and the necks of all mass produced factory cases are inconsistent. So the main goal for neck turning is to clean up the case necks and ensure that they are an even thickness all the way around. This assures consistent neck tension and therefore expansion and release upon firing. It also sets your cases up to be used properly with bushing dies by allowing you to remove the expander button from the die ensuring that each case is sized uniformly.
To neck turn you'll need a neck turning tool with the appropriately sized turning mandrel and an expander die with the appropriately sized expander mandrel. Strangely my two recommended brands for each are the K&M or the Sinclair tools.
The first step to neck turning is to remove the expander button from your Full Length Sizing die and to use that die to size all of your cases and preferably after being fired at least once in your rifle but doing it from new should be fine. The reason for that is that the varying initial headspacings of your cases will cause them to stretch differently on first firing until they're all fire formed to your chamber. Many people will turn the necks on new cases and then turn them again after the first firing and I agree with that process.
Do not take a shortcut by using a neck die prior to turning (especially do not use a collet die) as it will not set the neck up properly for the turning tool.
Once all your cases have been resized in the full length die you need to expand all of the necks to the correct size for the neck turning tools mandrel. You do that using an expander die with an appropriately sized expander mandrel.
When expanding it is important to ensure that each case is expanded exactly the same amount and that means ensuring that the insides of the necks are all lubed the same and the expander mandrel is kept clean. Make sure that the expander die is set up so that the case mouth does not come into contact with the top of the expander as it can over expand the mouth of the case.
Once all the necks have been expanded it's time to set the tool up and start turning. Deciding how much material to remove is always a tricky thing. If you're starting fresh and have not turned before then you can do it in stages a little bit at a time. I recommend trying to clean up at least 90% of the neck surface area. At that amount you'll find that the bits you don't touch are not really thinner by any discernable amount than the bits where you've removed material and you can be sure that you're not removing too much material.
So apply some thin oil or lube to the turning mandrel and slide on your first case. Carefully adjust the cutter inwards until it just starts to remove a light amount of material. It's not easy to explain but case necks typically have thick and thin sections and you need to make sure that you don't adjust the cutter too far so as to be cutting deeply into the thin section of the neck. Something you will often find is that the case mouths are often a little thicker than the neck itself, and what you initially thought was a deep cut setting turns out to be a light cut one once you get to the main part of the neck. In such circumstances simply readjust and start again.
Try not to remove too much in one go. If the necks have significant thickness variations you should go very slowly or turn in two passes because the cutter will dig in deep to the thick parts of the neck. Trying to cut too deep in one pass will cause the tool to bind. If that happens just back up and try again being slower to progress the case onto the turning mandrel.
You will find as you go that what was 90% cleanup on one case is only 60% on another. You can either cull that case or readjust the turning tool and start again.
I recommend turning the cases by hand with the appropriate handle. Some people like their power adaptors, and I'm no exception, but this is a situation where the friction generated heat, caused by turning them too fast by power, will cause everything to expand and will result in inconsistent necks. The very thing you're trying to avoid. People will disagree with me here but I feel that even the heat from your hands holding the cutting tool can cause some unwanted expansion of the mandrel or case. Regardless it's important to keep the turning mandrel clean and well lubed to prevent the case binding and to keep cleaning away the cut brass so that it doesn't get caught up in the cutter and damage the neck.
It is generally recommended that once you have your desired setting for the cutting depth that you lock the tool in place and do not adjust it again. The reason being is that you will have it ready to go for the next set of cases you acquire and it will turn necks to the exact same thickness you are currently using ensuring that you can use the same sizing bushings and achieve the same neck tension.
It is generally considered appropriate to cut lightly into the shoulder of each case while turning the necks. This is because cases do stretch during the sizing/firing/sizing process and the case material that starts of as shoulder does eventually start to move up and become neck material. This forms a thick ring in the neck of the case which is usually referred to as a donut. Depending on the chambers neck dimensions and your die setup the donut can start to cause problems like excessive pressure. A properly set up bushing die will keep the donut internal to the case neck while a die setup that uses an expander button will move it to the outside of the neck. Either way it can be removed using a neck turning tool or a neck reamer but it's easy to minimise it from the start by cutting a little way into the shoulder while turning the necks. Just a light cut. Too deep and you risk the neck separating from the main part of the case.
The last step in case preparation is to chamfer your case mouths using a VLD chamfer tool. There are a few tools out there but the best one by far is the K&M tool which is self aligning and ensures a neat consistent cut all the way around the mouth of the case. After using one of these you'll never again have to listen to the screech you sometimes get during the seating process, as the projectile is forced past the edge of the 45 degree cut of a standard chamfer tool. You get a significantly improved feel for the neck tension present while seating each projectile.
After spending all of that time preparing your brass your next task is to sort your projectiles. There are two main steps, weight sorting and "Base to Ogive" or "Bearing surface" sorting which I will refer to length sorting although the term is not entirely correct.
For weight sorting you simply use your powder scales. If you happen to have electronic scales you will now commence your love affair with them because weight sorting is where they really shine.
For simple base to ogive length sorting you can use a bullet comparator and some digital or dial calipers or you can use something like the Sinclair bullet sorting stand. You can do it with vernier calipers but it will take forever and you will give up.
For bearing length sorting you can use two bullet comparators and some digital or dial calipers or you can get something like the Tubb Bearing Surface Comparator which is like the Sinclair one except that it has a comparator attachment for the shaft of the dial indicator.
Length Sorting Projectiles:
I have been weight sorting for quite some time and have recently started length sorting. I recommend length sorting by box first before weight sorting as you will find less variation within a single box of projectiles than you would mixing them all together. Bullet makers typically have more than one machine for making bullets and that is the greatest source of variation in length.
After sorting by length into a number of distinct groups I sort each group by weight. I sort projectiles to 0.1 of a grain. You will end up with a few large groups and a lot of small groups. Each of the large groups gets bundled up on its own and labeled and put away for use in competition or more serious shooting and the smaller groups get combined into one bundle and marked for club or less serious shooting.
Timing and neck weld (When to load those rounds):
If you take two pieces of metal with mating surfaces that have large contact areas and put them together with some pressure they will bind (stick together). Copper jacketed projectiles and brass cases are no different in this respect. The longer a loaded round sits the greater the amount of neck weld. There are no hard and fast rules as to the magnitude of the neck weld experienced and how quickly it develops except to say that it does cause significant inconsistencies. It is recommended that you leave your reloading to the last possible moment but if that's not possible it is advised to seat your projectiles high and then at the last possible moment re-seat them to their final seating depth. In doing that you will break the neck weld that had formed and also get a feel for how much had developed based on the seating force required to re-seat the projectile to its final seating depth.
Bushing Dies and Neck Sizing versus Full Length Sizing:
With your turned necks you can now consider using a bushing die. There are a few brands out there the most common of which is the Redding type 'S' series and others like Forster Precision Plus and Hornady Match Grade New Dimension dies.
These dies allow you to precisely control your neck tension by sizing them with a bushing that you choose specifically to match the diameter of your neck turned cases.
Forster Bushing Bump Die
The complete bushing die comes in 3 main parts: the die body, the decapping assembly (without and expander) and the bushing.The bushing is typically purchased separately. The expander is not needed because you choose a bushing that sizes the case neck to the exact final diameter that you want so there is no need to expand the neck to that dimension using an expander button. Bushing dies can often be used without lube at all although for some you may want to lightly lube the neck.
When choosing a bushing die I reccommend buying a die that bumps the shoulder but does not size the case body. The Forster Precision Plus Bushing Bump Die and Hornady Match Grade New Dimension Neck dies both do this. They provide easy chambering of a resized case without the drastic reduction in volume that results from the use of a full length die. The Redding dies (from their literature) do not do this.
Why do I reccomend this?
A case fired in a chamber and neck sized will eventually expand enough that it becomes difficult to chamber and needs full length sizing. Typically it is because of the shoulder moving forward that they become difficult to chamber. These cases really just need the shoulder pushed back by 1 or 2 thousands of an inch in order to become easy to chamber. As cases age the number of firings they can be subjected to before they start to get difficult to chamber decreases. Rather than Full Length Size them every second firing you can simply bump the shoulder back every time. Full length sizing squeezes the sides in as well as pushing back the shoulder and this reduces the case volume enough to change how your load performs. You end up needing a load for full length sized cases and neck sized cases. It's easier to just run one single load in one type of sized case.
Capacity comparison of Neck Sizing versus Bump Die Sizing versus Full Length sizing.
As the picture above shows (from left to right) the powder charge needed to fill a single case that has been neck sized only, the powder charge needed to fill the same case after it's been through a Forster Bushing Bump die and finally the same case after it's been through a Full length die. Yes I know water is a better indicator for volume however it's a fine powder (benchmark 2) and it's been tricked in slowly and it proves the point nicely. As can be seen there is a dramatic difference between the neck sized case and the full length sized case and just a small variation between the neck sized case and the Bump Die sized case. Variations in volume equals variations in pressure which equals variations in velocity which equals vertical dispertion on the target. The conclusion and the reason for the reccomendation is that using a bushing bump die like the forster and the hornady you have an easy to chamber round that has the same volume each sizing, the same neck tension each sizing and the freedom of skipping the case lube each time you use the dies.
Bushing dies are a very sensible reloading option if you neck turn. If you don't neck turn you're better off sticking to the standard neck die and full length die setup.
I need you to explain the collet die thing with neck turning, I didn't understand that bit.
The collet die does not size the neck perfectly straight. Some may but it's not guaranteed. The neck can taper in from the bottom to the top. If you mic the necks you will get different measurements near the mouth compared to near the shoulder. It's just the way that the collet die works. The cases are just more sized at the mouth than the neck (or vice versa).
They're consistent from case to case and produce straight, evenly neck tensioned rounds (straighter than most dies) but when sized the necks can have a taper.
When turning the neck needs to be expanded with an expander that is matched to the neck turning mandrel. That means making them smaller than the expander so that they can be sized up to the correct size for turning. That correct turning size is actually less than what the collet die can size down to unless it's been modified.
Turning makes the outside of the neck perfectly straight but that's no good if the inside of the neck isn't straight.