Here’s a few ideas on how to proceed in load testing to find the safe maximum velocity, and keep it safe…
We’ve chosen the sometimes twisting path to becoming handloaders because we want to improve on-target results. The difference between a handloader and a reloader? My wise-crack answer, which is honest, is that handloaders start off with new brass… We’re not about to shoot factory ammo.
Part of the process of developing the load we’re seeking is learning how to safely set a cap on its pressure. Most of us don’t have pressure-testing equipment, so we rely on measurements and observation to know when we’re at the limit. The goal often, all other things being the same, is to find the highest velocity we can get. Less drift and drop, shorter time of flight, all good. However! Knowing that the maximum tested velocity is also going to be safe over the long haul is a much narrower line to walk.
There’s not room here to cover every pressure check, all the symptoms that can point out over-pressure ammo, but I’ll share my two leading indicators: primer pockets and velocities.
Always start load development with new brass! There are a few reasons, but the leading one related to this material is that the primer pockets will be at their smallest. So. Fire the cases, size the cases, and seat new primers. It takes a little experience, which means a few times through this process, but my leading indicator of pressure is how easily the primers seat. They’ll go in easier than on the first use, but if there is much less to very little resistance felt the second time around, that load is over-pressure. Period. The case head has expanded (I put a max of 0.0005 on expansion, when it’s measured with a micrometer). The more you use the same cases and repeat this process, the sooner you’ll get a handle on the feel to know when the primer pocket has overly expanded.
Jump back, don’t step back. If you encounter a pressure symptom, come off a “whole” half-grain. Not a tenth or two. And if you see it again, come off another half-grain. Folks, if anyone thinks the difference between over-pressure and safe-pressure is 0.10-grain, that same little bit exists in the difference in 20-degrees ambient temperature with many propellants. Don’t cut it that close. Keep the long-haul in mind.
Select a temperature-insensitive propellant (related to the above). There will be one out there you’ll like. I use a single-base extruded (stick) propellant when loading for the season. The propellants I choose are coated to help reduce temperature-induced changes. That season is going to span a 50+-degree range, and I don’t want August (or October) to force me back to the loading room… Temperature sensitivity works “both” ways, by the way… Hot or cold can induce pressure increases.
Read the speed on each and every round tested. Beforehand, I have to assume you’ve gotten an idea in mind of what you’re looking to get for a muzzle velocity. If not, do that… A journey of this nature has to have a destination. If not you won’t know when you get there. If you are reading velocities more than 40-50 feet per second over a published maximum, that’s a flag. That 40-50 fps is usually about a half-grain of most propellants in most small- to medium-capacity cases. Certainly, there are all manner of reasons some combinations can vary, but, despite what your mother might have told you, you are really not THAT special…
Don’t assume anything. If you have one round out of many that “suddenly” exhibits pressure symptoms, don’t guess that it’s just a fluke. It’s not a fluke. You finally saw it. Overwhelming chances are that the load is over-pressure and has been over pressure, and the question is how much for how long? Back it off. (The way you know it might have been a fluke, and that happens, is again based on how close to a velocity ceiling it is: if it’s a real mid-range velocity load, it might have been a fluke.)
One last about primer appearances. Usually the first thing a handloader will do after firing a round is look at the primer. I do. No doubt, if the primer is flattened, cratered, pitted, or pierced that’s a honking red flag, and the immediate response is, you guessed it, come off a “whole” half-grain. However. Small rifle primers (especially some primers in some cartridges) do not exhibit the common over-pressure appearances. They can look just fine and shiny until they blow slap out. If you ever see anything that looks like a pressure symptom, back it off; however, don’t assume a load can’t be running hot if the primers don’t show it.
Back to the start: primer seating and velocity are the leading indicators.
The preceding contains specially-adapted excerpts from the new book “Top-Grade Ammo” by Glen Zediker and Zediker Publishing. See it by visiting ZedikerPublishing.com.
Last time we talked about case lube, and also about getting it gone. This time, let’s talk about storing ammo. Concerns and cautions aren’t necessarily only applicable to those looking to store a lot of ammo for a very long time. Nope. Ammo can “go bad” pretty quickly. Continue reading Ammo Handling→
Guest post by Richard Mann, courtesy of SHOT Daily.
Though it is often overlooked, ammunition continues to be the area where we see the most innovation in the firearms world. For 2016, we have new and exciting ammunition products for any gun you choose to shoot, from muzzleloaders to itty-bitty handguns. Two firearms manufacturers have also stepped into the branded ammunition arena. This is very good news, because of all the firearms-related gadgetry sold, ammo is the one consumable you can never have enough of.
Yes, hunters are still going to the field with muzzleloaders. Early seasons still offer great opportunities for trophy animals, and the inline muzzleloader is the tool to put ’em on the ground. Muzzleloader hunters need propellant that ignites reliably and burns consistently even in extreme weather conditions. New Blue MZ from Alliant Powder delivers on this tall order. The 50-grain equivalent pellets produce higher velocities than do competing pellets at safe pressures and ignite reliably with 209 shotshell primers. Blue MZ provides outstanding accuracy with a wide range of popular bullets. The clean-burning formulation allows for fast, easy cleaning with water-based solvents. Blue MZ is available in 48-count packs. (alliantpowder.com)
Barnes Bullets has added two new loads to the VOR-TX line of premium ammunition. The first is a 130-grain Tipped Triple Shock load for the .308 Winchester. It is rated at 3,170 fps, and it takes the .308 Winchester into a new realm of velocity. SRP: $45.69 for a 20-round box. The second load is an 190-grain LRX bullet for the .300 Winchester Magnum. This bullet’s ogive and cannelure design gives it a high B.C., and the nose cavity engineering ensures it expands reliably at lower velocities. This combination makes it a good choice for hunters who intend to take longer shots. It is rated at 2,860 fps. SRP: $61 for a 20-round box. (barnesbullets.com)
The biggest ammunition surprise might be the news that Browning is now offering, via licensing, a full line of ammunition. This includes hunting, shotshell, personal protection, target, and, maybe most surprising, even rimfire loads. What is probably not a surprise is that this new line of ammo will be manufactured by Olin-Winchester. The Buck Mark–logoed centerfire rifle hunting loads fall into two categories. First is the BXR Rapid Expansion Matrix Tip, which is designed for rapid expansion and high energy transfer. It could be considered a deer-specific ammunition. Available chamberings include .243 Win., .270 Win., .30/30 Win., .308 Win., .30/06, .300 Win. Mag., and .300 WSM. The other centerfire rifle loads are topped with the BXC Controlled Expansion Terminal Tip bullet. These bullets have a brass tip and the jacket is bonded to the core for deeper penetration through thick muscle and bone. These boattail bullets are available in the same chamberings, with the exception of the .243 and .30/30 Win. and the addition of the 7mm Rem. Mag.
The shotshell loads come in three categories. The BXD Waterfowl Extra Distance loads are launched at high velocities utilizing an optimized long-range wad and plated round steel shot. Combining round steel with an innovative wad design results in a lethal combination of energy retention, penetration, and pattern density. Five 12-gauge loads are offered in No. 2, No. 4, and BB shot sizes at 1½- or 1¼-ounce payloads. The single 20-gauge load delivers 1 ounce of No. 2s.
The BXD Upland loads launch premium plated No. 5 or No. 6 shot. The nickel-plated shot helps keep the shot round, resulting in high velocity retention and energy transfer as well as tighter downrange patterns. There are three 12- and three 20-gauge loads to choose from. The BPT Performance Target loads are designed for busting clays. They are loaded with hard shot to help deliver tight patterns and maximum target-breaking energy. There are four loads total in this category: three for the 12-gauge and one for the 20.
The BXP Personal Defense X-Point defensive handgun loads are loaded in black nickel-plated cases, with bullets utilizing the X-Point technology. This technology allows the hollowpoint bullet to deliver consistent expansion and penetration, and rapidly transfers energy to the target. There is also a line of Target Performance BPT loads for defensive handguns. It is a matched training counterpart to BXP Personal Defense loads. The usual defensive handgun ammo suspects are represented in both lines, with one load each in .380 ACP, 9mm Luger, .40 S&W, and .45 Auto.
And last but most certainly not least, we have Browning’s rimfire loads. It is offering three, all for the .22 LR. There is a 40-grain lead round-nose bullet at 1,255 fps, a 40-grain lead hollowpoint at a sizzling 1,435 fps, and a 37-grain fragmenting bullet for varmints, small game, and such, at 1,400 fps. They have a distinct black-oxide coating on the bullet and will be offered in 100- and 400-round packages. (browning.com)
The unquestioned king of rimfire ammunition is CCI, so it is surprising that for 2016, it has only one new rimfire load. But this load makes sense, and for West Coasters it will be much appreciated. It is loaded with a California-legal bullet and is called CCI Copper-22. The projectile is constructed from a unique mix of copper particles and polymer compressed into a potent 21-grain hollowpoint bullet. Combined with CCI’s reliable priming and propellant, Copper-22 loads achieve a wickedly high muzzle velocity of 1,850 fps and provide superb accuracy.
If CCI is the king of rimfire ammo, then it is also the emperor of centerfire shotshell loads for handguns. Even with no competition in the marketplace, CCI has decided to offer four new centerfire handgun shotshell loads. But these are not your average snake-killing loads. The new CCI Big 4 loads extend the range and capabilities of these downsized shotshells, thanks to a payload of No. 4 lead shot. The resulting energy and patterns enable Big 4 loads to take down larger pests at longer distances. The 10-round packs will be available for the 9mm Luger, .38 Spl./.357 Magnum, .44 Spl./.44 Magnum, and the .45 Colt. SRP: $17.95 to $19.95. (cci-ammunition.com)
Federal Premium & American Eagle
As one of the largest ammunition manufacturers in the world, Federal Premium is not going into 2016 lightly. It is offering three new 3rd Degree 20-gauge loads. 3rd Degree uses a multi-shot, three-stage payload to deliver larger, more forgiving patterns at close range while still providing deadly performance at long distance. The pattern of No. 5 Premium lead, No. 6 Flitestopper lead, and No. 7 Heavyweight shot is maximized by the Flitecontrol wad, which opens from the rear and stays with the shot column longer than do conventional wads for full, consistent patterns.
For defensive handguns, a new 9mm Luger load has been added to the Micro HST line. This load utilizes a 150-grain HST bullet optimized for terminal performance and low recoil from micro-sized handguns. SRP: $31.95 for a 20-round box.
Federal’s American Eagle Syntech loads in 9mm Luger, .40 S&W, and .45 Auto are also new. Conventional ammunition causes metal-on-metal contact between the bullet and bore, which can shorten barrel life and rob accuracy. But the all-new polymer-encapsulated Syntech bullet prevents this while eliminating copper and lead fouling. Combined with specialized clean-burning powders, your gun will stay cleaner longer.
The exclusive Catalyst primer provides the most reliable, consistent ignition possible. SRP: $19.99, 9mm; $33.95, .45 Auto. Both are available in 50-round boxes.
There are also 10 new loads in the American Eagle rifle line. It’s no surprise that the line now includes a .300 Blackout load, but the OTM 120-grain 6.5 Grendel and 140-grain 6.5 Creedmoor are a bit of a surprise. Now devotees of both of these .264-caliber rounds, which continue to grow in popularity, have an affordable factory-ammo option. The other seven new American Eagle rifle loads are specifically intended for varmint hunters. They include a 20-grain Tipped Varmint bullet load for the .17 and .22 Hornet, a 50-grain JHP load for the .223 and .22/250 Remington, a 75-grain JHP for the .243 Winchester, a 90-grain JHP for the 6.8 SPC, and, uncharacteristically, a 130-grain JHP load for the .308 Winchester. They are available in 40- or 50-round bulk packs for high-volume shooting.
In the law-enforcement line, Federal has two Tactical Ballistic Tip loads—one in .223 Remington and one in .308 Winchester. The Tactical Ballistic Tip bullet’s polymer tip provides excellent accuracy, while the tapered jacket allows rapid—yet controlled—expansion on impact. The new .223 Rem. and .308 Win. loads are specifically designed for use in semi-automatic rifles, including M-16 or AR-15 variants. The ammunition is built to military specifications and utilizes low-flash propellants, the best Federal brass, and crimped primers.
The Fusion MSR line from Federal has a new 6.8 SPC load specifically designed for hunting and performing to perfection through a 16-inch barrel. The molecularly fused 90-grain bullet transfers tremendous energy on impact for lethal terminal performance. SRP: $29.95.
Although it seems the bullet trend is all-copper projectiles, Federal is returning to the roots of the muzzleloader with the Lead Muzzleloader Bullet. Federal transformed muzzleloader capabilities in 2015 with the B.O.R. Lock MZ System and the Trophy Copper Muzzleloader Bullet. For 2016, that technology expands to include a new hard-hitting lead version. Like its predecessor, it provides outstanding accuracy in a non-sabot design that’s easy to load, scrubs fouling from the breech, and ensures consistent bullet seating. The rear of the B.O.R. Lock MZ cup features a hard fiber-reinforced polymer ring that scours fouling from the breech as the bullet is pushed into place. These 350-grain hard-hitting .50-caliber projectiles are available in packs of 15. SRP: $24.95. (federalpremium.com)
The big news from Hornady this year is the introduction of the ELD-X and ELD-Match bullets, and the inclusion of these in the new Precision Hunter and current Match ammunition lines. Both the ELD-X and ELD-Match bullets feature a Heat Shield tip that resists heat deformation in flight. This not only flattens trajectory, it also eliminates ballistic coefficient degradation during flight. Ultimately, this improves long-range accuracy and helps with wind resistance to provide better precision at long ranges. ELD-X component bullets will be available in 6.5mm, 7mm, .30, and .338 calibers. Those same calibers will be loaded in Precision Hunter ammo for a variety of long-range cartridges. The same calibers will be offered with ELD-Match bullets, and Match loads will be offered for the 6.5 Creedmoor and .338 Lapua. ELD-X bullets just might be the most important projectile advancement since bonding.
Hornady has also added five new loads to the American Whitetail line of ammunition. These include a 140-grain .270 Winchester load, a 154-grain 7mm Rem. Mag. load, a 165-grain .308 Winchester load, and a 180-grain .30/06 and .300 Win. Mag. load. Continuing with new offerings in affordable ammunition, Hornady has added four new loads for the American Gunner line. These include a 55-grain JHP load for the .223 Remington, a 110-grain BTHP 6.8 SPC load, a 155-grain BTHP .308 Winchester load, and a 125-grain hollowpoint load for the .300 Blackout.
New Hornady Superformance loads include a 180-grain GMX for the .30/06 and the .300 Winchester Magnum. There are also four new GMX loads in the Full Boar line, one each for the .25/06 Remington, 6.5 Creedmoor, 7mm-08 Remington, and the .300 Blackout. There is also a 140-grain Full Boar MonoFlex load for the .30/30 Winchester.
Hornady’s Critical Duty line of personal protection/law enforcement ammunition gets a new addition with a 175-grain FlexLock 10mm Auto load. And, though not a true ammunition product, Hornady’s unique Ballistic Band is a simple and handy way for shooters to record and reference their ballistics information. It should be a great companion for any long-range hunter. (hornady.com)
The big news from PolyCase is its new partnership with Ruger. Aside from that, PolyCase has also teamed with Alexander Arms to offer its ARX projectile in loaded .50 Beowulf ammunition. The .50 Beowulf, developed and produced by Alexander Arms for the AR-15 platform, is designed to deliver exceptional terminal performance at short to moderate range. PolyCase’s ARX projectile is an advanced injection-molded copper-polymer bullet that transfers energy to targets without expanding like a hollowpoint. The .50 Beowulf ammunition loaded with the PolyCase ARX projectile is available direct from Alexander Arms. (polycaseammo.com)
Staying true to form, Lehigh Defense continues to offer alternatives to traditional ammunition. The new .380 ACP Xtreme Defense (XD) load will penetrate more than 14 inches in 10 percent ordnance gelatin while retaining 100 percent of its weight. This barrier-blind projectile is an intense tissue-damaging, deep-penetrating alternative to traditional shallow-penetrating, expanding .380 ACP self defense loads. (lehigh defense.com)
Liberty is continuing its trend of offering high-velocity, light-for-caliber projectiles, and new for 2016 is its copper monolithic, a fragmenting, hollowpoint lead-free hunting load for the .308 Winchester. With a 3,500 fps muzzle velocity, it generates 2,700 foot-pounds of energy. (libertyammo.com)
Remington has a variety of new loads for 2016, with shotgun ammo being the category with the most to see. It has introduced a new category of shotshell loads called American Clay & Field that uses 100 percent high-antimony hard-round lead shot and the power-piston wad. There are five 12-gauge loads, three 20-gauge loads, and two 28-gauge and .410 loads. It has also increased the velocity of four Nitro Steel loads, boosting the 10-gauge 3.5-inch No. 2 shot load to 1,450 fps, the 12-gauge 3.5-inch No. 2 and BB loads to 1,500 fps, and the 20-gauge 3-inch No. 4 load to 1,500 fps. There are also five new loads in the XLR shotshell line, all offering higher velocities and lighter payloads at a lower price, with moderate recoil.
Remington has also introduced the 12-gauge to the Hog Hammer line, offering two 12-gauge Hog Hammer loads for 2016. The first is a 2¾-inch 000 buck load at 1,325 fps; the second is a 3-inch 7⁄8-ounce slug at 1,875 fps.
Finally, there are two new Ultimate Defense loads for the 12-gauge. There is a 9-pellet 00 buck load at 1,325 fps and an 8-pellet 00 buck load at 1,200 fps. Both will work in 2¾-inch chambers.
For defensive handguns, Remington has two important contributions. It will finally be offering the excellent Golden Saber Black Belt loads for civilian sale. This will include a 124-grain +P and a 147-grain 9mm Luger load, 164- and 185-grain .40 S&W loads, a 185-grain .45 Auto +P, and a 125-grain .357 Magnum load. The Golden Saber Black Belt bullet is a fantastic, less-expensive alternative to bonded personal protection ammo.
Remington has also added a full-size handgun category to the Ultimate Defense line of handgun ammunition. Last year it launched the compact handgun category with loads purpose-built for little pistols. Now, it has essentially rebranded the original Ultimate Defense handgun ammo for full-size pistols. For those who like to shoot a lot and spend a little, Remington has two new Range Bucket offerings. One big plastic bucket—The Range Bucket—is filled with 350 rounds of 9mm Luger (SRP: $98); the other contains 300 rounds of .223 Remington ammo and is called the Freedom Bucket. (remington.com)
Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc., has entered the ammunition business by partnering with PolyCase. This new ammo, called the Ruger ARX, is designed and produced by PolyCase under license from Ruger. These loads use PolyCase’s revolutionary ARX bullet technology. By design, the non-expanding Ruger ARX exploits the bullet’s velocity to redirect energy laterally via flutes in the bullet ogive. The bullet’s design allows it to feed like a round-nose, yet still transfer energy to targets effectively over a wide range of velocities. The ARX penetrates many barriers without deformation and penetrates through clothing without clogging and degrading terminal performance. The four loads are a 56-grain .380 ACP, a 74-grain 9mm Luger, a 107-grain .40 S&W, and a 118-grain .45 Auto. (ruger.com)
Last year, SIG shocked the ammunition market with the introduction of a full line of products. For 2016, SIG has added to that line with several new loads. First up is a .38 Super +P Elite 125-grain V-Crown jacketed hollowpoint load at 1,230 fps. A 125-grain FMJ load at the same velocity is also available for the .38 Super. SIG has also added four new revolver loads for the .38 Special and .357 Magnum. The .38 Special loads are available with either a 125-grain FMJ or V-Crown bullet at a muzzle velocity of 900 fps. The .357 Magnum loads deliver 1,450 fps with either the FMJ or JHP bullet. The most interesting new load from SIG might be the Elite Performance 300 BLK round designed specifically for hunting. This 220-grain subsonic V-Crown load offers excellent penetration, increased expansion, and maximum terminal ballistic performance, creating an ideal hunting round for the .300 Blackout. (sigsauer.com)
Weatherby is doing something in 2016 it has not done for 17 years. It will be offering a new cartridge, and in Weatherby tradition, it’s a screamer. It’s the 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum, made by necking down the .300 Weatherby Magnum to 6.5 caliber. With the 6.5-300, Weatherby has created the fastest 6.5-caliber rifle cartridge ever. It is capable of pushing a 127-grain bullet in excess of 3,500 fps. Just as new and important is the fact that Weatherby will be loading all of the ammo for the 6.5-300 WM here in the United States at its Paso Robles, California, factory, Initially, three loads will be offered. A 127-grain Barnes LRX, a 130-grain Swift Scirocco II, and a 140-grain Swift A-Frame. (weatherby.com)
Reporting by SHOT Business Daily, reprinted with permission. SHOT Daily, produced by The Bonnier Corporation and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, covers all facets of the yearly firearms-industry show. Click here to see full issues. Product pricing and availability are at of time of publication and subject to change without notice.
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