Enough waffling. I think I have a plan for my next reloading efforts.
When I reload, I like to reload “everything at once”; that is, as long as the press is set up for X caliber, just keep reloading that caliber until I’m sick of it. Sure, the Hornady Lock-n-Load progressive press is relatively quick with caliber conversions, but I don’t have enough duplicate parts to just swap around without having to reconfigure some things, like the powder drop. So, just keep it dialed in and stable, load until I’m sick of it, then change. With pistol rounds almost finished, I can now shift to something else, and that something else will be rifle.
About a year ago I was trying to reload .223 Remington but it just wasn’t working out. So I put it on the shelf, loaded a lot of 9mm and .38 Special, and wondered what rifle to do next. I thought about 6.8 SPC because that’s really the only way to utilize those Barnes 6.8 SPC 95 grain TTSX’s, but I wasn’t sure about doing that because components are expensive (even the cheapest 6.8 components are still relatively more expensive than say .223 or .308) and I was still unsure about what caused the .223 reloads to not work out: was it me? process? equipment? components? not enough trials? so many possible reasons, I didn’t want to bet the farm on expensive 6.8 components until I had a better grasp on things. I recently was thinking about .308 Winchester, but that motivation was primarily driven by the thought of an elk hunt with Dad…which is now unlikely to happen. So I come back to the shelf. I mean, if I look at the long-term reloading plans I set about a year ago, I’ve accomplished much of what I wanted, but the path was always to go back to .223 Remington. Now of course at that time I was still very curious about hunting with .223 Remington and hadn’t made the move to 6.8 SPC, thus why I still wanted to come back to .223. But as I think about other reasons for shelving it, I want to come back to it to finish what I started. I want to figure out what was going on and what caused things to not work out.
And so, I’m going to work on .223 Remington. It’s final, no more waffling.
So here’s my plan. Fellow reloaders, feel free to comment.
The general plan is to use loading .223 Remington as a platform for figuring out my rifle reloading process. I want to iron out any issues and gain rifle cartridge reloading experience. Thus this go-round will be loading simple and, relatively speaking, cheap .223 plinking/practice rounds. Longer-term I want to be able to make fine-tuned hunting rounds, be it in .223 Rem (probably using something like heavy Barnes TSX/TTSX, or maybe 60 grain Nosler Partitions), or 6.8 SPC… being able to get exactly the best hunting ammo my rifles can shoot? That’s my longer-term goal.
The goal of this particular load is practice: a round to use for shooting practice, a round to give me practice in reloading. Thus I want to keep it fairly simple and straightforward, but also with a nod to mass production on a progressive press.
I will be testing it out of a Bushmaster AR-style carbine. It has a 1:9 twist, 16″ barrel, 5.56 NATO chamber, carbine-length gas system. While I can load it hot due to the 5.56 chamber, I don’t want to. My primary concern is accuracy, wanting to make a load as accurate as I can within the limitations of the components and the rifle. Velocity is a secondary concern. I doubt this will be shot beyond 200 yards, and if I can make a round with acceptable accuracy that’s less violent on the gun, all the better. Plus, it’d be nice if this load could work out of any .223-chambered rifle, so I want to do my best to keep it within .223-specs; I may not test it out of any other rifle (unless someone is willing to put up their rifle for the tests), so the Bushmaster will be the sole test platform.
So what is acceptable accuracy? Before I shoot the reloads I will obtain various factory ammo of similar design from different manufacturers (e.g. UMC, Winchester white box, I’ve got some Georgia Arms “canned heat”, some XM193, Federal P223S, etc.) and shoot them through the same rifle and note their performance. I will want to use both cheap target ammo but also some premium ammo. That will provide me a comparison baseline.
Bullets: Winchester bulk 55 grain 22 caliber (.224″) FMJ BT (WB556MC55). I obtained a lot of these when I originally bought my reloading equipment, thus they are what I’m going to use because they’re what I have.
Primers: Magtech small rifle (PR-SR, #7.5). I don’t know much about Magtech primers but they were what was available during the great Obama gun-rush. Google turns up positive results, so I’ll try ‘em for these plinking loads. My CCI #41′s I’ll keep for the hunting loads.
Brass: Initially I’ll start with new Remington-brand .223 brass, because again I have some. I want to minimize variables, so I figure starting with new brass of all the same brand/headstamp should help with consistency in the brass department. I will then continue to use this same fired brass while developing the load. After the load is developed, brass will be the next thing I vary because if I want to load a lot of rounds for plinking then “mixed used cases” is where I have to go.
When I work the brass I will be using RCBS small-base full-length resizing dies… at first! The first time through the brass will get this treatment, then will be marked. Subsequent uses of that marked-brass will go through a RCBS X-die (small base). Thus, when I do the initial brass setup, I will set up the brass, trim it, etc. according to X-die instructions. First time through I will also take care of things like deburring the flash hole, cleaning primer pockets, and so on.
COAL: Load to the cannelure. These bullets have a cannelure, so I’m going to load such that the case mouth is centered in that cannelure. Exactly what is that length? I’m not sure… have to wait until I get one loaded and then I’ll measure. But rough measuring lying a bullet outside a non-prepped case was somewhere around 2.2″.
Of course, that brings up an issue of to crimp or not to crimp. I personally want to crimp because there is a cannelure thus I CAN crimp, and since these are going to be practice loads 1. I don’t need nor expect “one-hole” accuracy, 2. the rounds are likely to be banged around in loose-storage in an ammo can, shot out of an AR, and so on… so I think a light Lee Factory Crimp would be good insurance against setback. HOWEVER, that said, I think I’m going to try developing the load without a crimp. I’ll work to find what’s “good enough”, then throw a crimp on there and see if that changes anything.
Powder: Of all the rifle powders I have on hand, I am going to use Ramshot TAC because it’s usable in .223 and it should meter extremely well, important for use in the progressive press. From my researching, I get the feeling that TAC will produce a good load… maybe not the best in terms of maximum accuracy and maximum velocity, but should be more than adequate. I should be able to get an accurate-enough load, but it just may not have the most velocity. But given my above-stated goals, that’s fine. Ease of loading with it, if it’s accurate-enough, low-cost, etc. all add up to a powder that fits the bill for the intent of the load.
As for charge weight, I’m going to start at 23.5 grains and work up to 26.5 in 0.5 grain increments. The Speer #14 book says that shooting 7 rounds gives you the best idea of how a load will perform without using a lot of components, so I’ll go with that emotion and load 7 at each charge weight. Once I see which of those 7 weights performs best, I’ll try some refinement from there (e.g. if 24.5 is best, try out 24.3, 24.4, 24.6, 24.7 and see how they do).
Testing Procedure: I will start by keeping all components relatively the same, except for powder charge weight. I say relatively because I will start with new brass and use the same brass throughout development, so over time it’ll be once-fired, twice-fired, etc..
I will initially shoot only for accuracy, not using the chronograph. The main reason is logistics. Best way to test for accuracy will be at the indoor range off a bench and I can’t use a chronograph there. The indoor range is the closest, and if I want to ensure I can work on this stuff well, I must have some conveniences here.
I’ll start by throwing a few Georgia Arms “canned heat” downrange just to get the barrel fouled and warm, then I’ll start with the various factory ammo, shooting for accuracy. The scope will be zeroed @ 100 yards and I’ll shoot at 100 yards, thus while I’m sure I’ll see some POA vs. POI shifts as I change ammo, in general that should keep me on paper. I’ll use fresh targets for each string. I’ll see what charge weight gets me the best results. After that, it’ll be going home, analyzing, and figuring out how to correct or refine.
Where I go from there will be determined by the results of the initial test. But I can say that of those factory ammos I purchase, I will not shoot all of them that first time. Once I have the most-accurate loading, I’ll then take everything to the outdoor range and shoot over the chronograph. I’ll shoot the factory loads too to get their velocities for comparison.
After that, I’ll try varying other things, like trying out the Lee Factory Crimp, using mixed used brass cases, and so on, and just see how performance goes. If all goes well, I’ll have myself a nice plinking load and perhaps be able to figure out why my attempts last year didn’t pan out. :-)
I won’t be starting on this immediately as I’ve got a bunch of other things in life to get dealt with. But I did want to get my plan on paper. I may tweak it slightly between now and whenever I actually start loading, but the above is what I have so far.
Any input from seasoned reloaders is welcome.