Reader Mike left a comment that pointed to Dan Newberry’s Optimal Charge Weight website and reloading technique. Thanx, Mike!
Reading through Dan’s writings, I have to say there’s a lot of sound reasoning in there — or what sounds like sound reasoning, because I’m still new to reloading so it may be my naiveté talking. Googling on the topic turns up a lot of people who use his technique and that are satisfied with the results, and I’d like to try Dan’s approach especially since prior attempts at using the ladder technique didn’t quite get me what I was after. But I’m struggling with one point.
Backing up a moment, I do think there’s something to what Dan says. For instance, he points out how Federal Gold Medal Match .308 ammo is a top performer out of so many rifles. But how can this be? A lot of handloading lore revolves around the notion that every rifle is different, even two of the same rifle model that came off the production line physically adjacent to each other. I don’t deny that, but if truly that mattered so much, there’d be no way factories could develop such high-performing ammo, right? One place Dan really gets on with this is the issue of “seating off the lands”. He doesn’t deny there’s something to it, but he doesn’t put tons of stress upon it like others do. Again, look at Federal GMM, because there’s no way it can be set at some ideal distance off the lands because every rifle is different. So while perhaps distance off the lands matters, is it that critical to the process? Dan argues there are other things more important. That isn’t to say the distance isn’t important; I figure if you are wanting to wring the utmost performance out of a particular gun then yes it’s another variable to tinker with to see how it affects your loads for that gun. But first, worry about other things. Read Dan’s website to understand his reasoning and approach.
I think the reason that struck me so much was when I first tried my hand at .223 Rem reloads, there was greater discussion of this issue because Barnes bullets apparently can have a little more of an issue with the distance they are seated off the lands. So I kept agonizing and wondering if this was my problem, if that distance from the lands (or conversely, the seating depth) was my issue in some way. But lack of money to keep buying those expensive Barnes bullets gave out (not to mention my patience). So going into this new round of reloading, I’ve been struggling to find a COAL. For instance, so much reloading recipe data out there mentions the bullet, the primer, the powder, the case… but so often there’s no mention of the COAL. It’d be nice to know the overall length! Most solid publishers of data always provide it, but people often don’t. As a further example, since I’m going to make plinking loads of a 55gr FMJBT and use Ramshot TAC, I discovered that m4carbine.net has a “board standard” of using 55gr FMJBT’s with 24.5gr of TAC to get a generally good-performing plinking load. But… what’s the overall length? I scour and have yet to find it. So I did some measuring of factory and other reloaded .223 rounds that I have and well, my conclusion is to not sweat it so much. These particular bullets have a cannelure, and I’m just going to load it there and see how it does, not sweating it until later in the process. Thank you Dan for freeing me of fretting about this particular issue. 🙂
But the thing about Dan’s technique that troubles me? Only firing 3-shot groups.
Granted, you shoot a lot of 3-shot groups, but each are different loads (powder amounts). So really, you are trying to determine performance of that load based upon a small set of data. I’ve done enough shooting to know that 3-shot groups are great for the ego, but 5 shot groups tend to be a little more honest. I think I read in the Speer manual (if not there, read it from some reputable source) that after much analysis they concluded that 7 shots was the statistically best balance between shooting enough to get a good picture of performance but also keeping the number of shots low for cost, barrel wear, time, trouble, etc. purposes. Plus if I only load 3, what if I get an honest flier where I know I pulled the shot? That’s very easy to do when I’m testing loads at the indoor range… just as the trigger is about to break, someone opts to shoot their 300 Win Mag in the next bay and it rattles my fillings and there goes the shot. So now what? Does that mean I should load 10+ rounds of that powder charge just in case? and if something messes up, start that group over? But then, you’re supposed to fire in a round-robin fashion to try to combat effects of heat and so on, so if there’s one mess up do I have to start over?
All those questions aside, it just feels like 3 shot groups isn’t going to give me what I want. But then, maybe I’m looking at it wrong? Honestly… as I write this it’s making me think. If I’m perhaps (now better) understanding what Dan wrote, it’s not looking for a tight grouping but rather how the groups are generally printing… looking for groups hitting the same general area on the target. Thus, you start to find the harmonic vibration point for that rifle. Once you know that, then you can work to refine it to tighten up the accuracy part, fine-tuning the powder charge, fine-tuning the seating depth (which of course also affects distance off the lands).
Hrm. Is that the point?
Maybe then yeah, taking the more traditional Speer approach isn’t the way to go about it.
Hrm. Maybe I need to just shut up and blindly try Dan’s approach for myself and just see how it goes. 🙂
In related news, Mike also suggested I try out a Weaver T-36 to help me develop loads. I think that’d be great, but it’s going to have to wait. Too much money has gone out the door, so there’s no way I can afford that right now. I’m just going to pull the 3-9×40 and mount off my 6.8 hunting rifle and use that for now. It’ll just have to do. I figure it will be good enough since I am looking to make a plinking load and not wring out every last millimeter of accuracy.