Getting back into the habit

Since the end of the 2016 hunting season I have been making an effort to shoot more regularly. Fortunately there is a winter high-power league, and a regular small bore practice events happening on alternate weekends, so I have been taking advantage. When I first moved to the USA I bought a “brick” of 500 rounds of .22LR match ammunition, and to my shame it took me until the end of last year to use up. When I was regularly shooting in Scotland I would probably go through at least that much in a couple of months, so I have some catching up to do. Last year however I bought two new bricks of SK match, and with all the shooting I have been doing I have already got though one: things are looking up. My scores have also been improving, and although I am shooting on the NRA 50m target, not the international (which is somewhat more challenging), I have been pleased with my groups and scores.

Here are a few examples of recent targets. They are not my best targets, but they are representative.

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On the high-power side of things, I have also seen some improvements. My offhand (standing) scores have steadily improved, and the last few weekends I have managed to get all my 10 shots onto the scoring area (5 ring or better), and occasionally even into the 10. My best score was an 88/100 a few weeks ago.

My sitting rapid is going well, mostly because I can now get into position without feeling like I will break, and this last weekend I shot a decent group. It would also have been a decent score if it was centered on the bull. It wasn’t though, but I take what victories I can.

Prone rapid is going okay, and although I haven’t managed to recreate my early successes (several 100/100) I came pretty close this weekend with a 99/100. Here is a picture of the group.

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There were actually 12 shots recorded rather than 10, since I forgot to switch the system into match mode after my two sighters. The high 9 was one of the sighters (honest).

In an effort to get better at offhand, easily my worst position, I have built a small 10 meter air rifle range in my basement. In truth is it probably only 9 meters, because that’s the furthest I can go between the foundations, but for practicing my technique it works great. I am borrowing a junior CO2 powered air rifle for that, and I built a target box with a steel back plate to keep the ricochets down.

Here’s me in action:

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The air rifle weighs considerably less than my high-power rifle, which I will try to correct at some point, but I hope the practice will be worthwhile anyway. The state championship is happening at the end of the month, and since I plan to enter the 3P event I will try to spend as much time in the basement as I can before then.

 

Shoot a lot, learn a little.

Warning: the loads described in this post are safe in my rifle, but may not be in yours. In the words of many a loading manual: start low and work up while watching for signs of pressure.

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In a previous post (here) I described the beginning of my search for a more appropriate load for 300m competition that won’t leave me black and blue in the process.

I based my first test load on my hunting load that uses 40gr VV N140 behind a 150gr soft point and named it the 300m Special. This load was a pleasure to shoot, but I never felt I was getting the best results with it. I decided to try to compare the 300m Special against my original long range load and a variation of the 300m special with the bullet seated out to 15 thou off the lands.

My first attempt to test was in less than ideal conditions (described here) on a 100yd range, and I was unable to get anything approaching a decent group. I decided to try again on the 300m range, shooting from the heated shooting house. The 300m range is not ideal for load testing as the wind becomes a factor and I am far from an expert at judging wind (I am working on that), but I wanted to test the loads and the way this winter has gone I doubted it would ever be warm enough to do anything else.

I tested three loads of my own, (and was given two 175gr loads by another shooter).

My loads were as follows:

(All loads were in a Lapua case with CCI BR2 primers, VV N140 powder, and a 155gr Sierra Match King (palma) bullet)

Load One: 300m Special – 40gr powder – 2.850 OAL.

Load Two: 300m Special (long) –  40gr powder – seated 15 thou off the lands (I bought a seating depth gauge recently)

Load Three: Original long range load – 46gr powder – 2.850 OAL

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My process was to fire a group then photograph the plot screen as well as the data screens that record group size and location.

I recorded the wind as gusting from 10 o-clock. I didn’t record the temperature but it was cold (certainly way below 0C/32F).

(Results include two groups that were shot with ammunition lent to me by another shooter, these rounds were loaded with 175gr bullets.)

See below for the results.

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300m Special (6 groups)

Group One (plot)

Group One (plot)

Group One (Data)

Group One (Data)

Group Two (Plot)

Group Two (Plot)

Group Two (Data)

Group Two (Data)

Group Two (More Data)

Group Two (More Data)

Group Three (Plot)

Group Three (Plot)

Group Three (Data)

Group Three (Data)

Group Three (More data)

Group Three (More data)

Group Four (Plot)

Group Four (Plot)

Group Four (Data)

Group Four (Data)

Group Four (More data)

Group Four (More data)

Group Five (Plot)

Group Five (Plot)

Group Five (Data)

Group Five (Data)

Group Five (More data)

Group Five (More data)

Group Six (Plot)

Group Six (Plot)

Group Six (Data)

Group Six (Data)

Group Six (More data)

Group Six (More data)

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300m Special long – seated 15 thou off the lands (3 groups)

Group Seven (Plot)

Group Seven (Plot)

Group Seven (Data)

Group Seven (Data)

Group Seven (More data)

Group Seven (More data)

Group Eight (Plot)

Group Eight (Plot)

Group Eight (Data)

Group Eight (Data)

Group Eight (More data)

Group Eight (More data)

Group Nine (Plot)

Group Nine (Plot)

Group Nine (Data)

Group Nine (Data)

Group Nine (More data)

Group Nine (More data)

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175gr experiment (given by another shooter to see how it would shoot)

Group Ten (Plot)

Group Ten (Plot)

175gr Long Range Mk 316

175gr Long Range Mk 316

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175gr experiment 2

Group Eleven (Plot)

Group Eleven (Plot)

175gr Long Range M118

175gr Long Range M118

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Original long range load (One group)

Group Twelve (Plot)

Group Twelve (Plot)

Group Twelve (Data)

Group Twelve (Data)

Group Twelve (More data)

Group Twelve (More data)

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To be honest I don’t know that I learned much from this test.

The 300m Special groups seem to display a distinct vertical spread.

The 300m Special (long) groups didn’t appear to be significantly tighter than the 300m Special, but they were less vertical.

The best group was number 12, shot with my original long range load (but it was only one group of three shots so it may not be representative).

All I discovered from shooting the loads with 175gr bullets was that my rifle will shoot them (good to know) and that I am not very good at reading the wind (which I knew already).

Conclusion: Assuming that the best group (#12) was not just a case of me trying harder, then the only difference between the 300m Special and my original long range load is the powder charge. The faster bullet is less affected by the wind. Therefore, I have determined to experiment with souping up my load a little and see if I can find a balance between speed and comfort.

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When I left Scotland I had to leave behind all the ammunition and components that I had collected and loaded over the years and months before leaving, and being a student I haven’t been able to replace it all. I only have 200 Lapua match cases in .308, and I have been concerned about wearing them out shooting at 300m where their quality probably isn’t making a huge difference.

So I put the word out that I was interested in getting some decent but affordable cases to use at 300m, and I was not long after given an ammo box containing 500 once fired Lake City match brass (see picture below). I am very grateful.

500 once fired LC Match brass

500 once fired LC Match brass

I am going to try my new 300m load in these cases. Having weighed them I have discovered that they are slightly heavier than my Lapua brass so after discussions with George (the club secretary and source of the cases) I am going to try 42.5gr VV N140 behind a 155gr SMK seated to 2.850 inches. There is a shoot this weekend (and I have been reading about the wind), so we shall see what we shall see.

Till next time.

Ooops: A reloading story.

In anticipation of going target shooting this weekend I sat down the last couple of evenings to get some ammunition made. I have been reloading for a few years now and it usually goes well, I enjoy the satisfaction of shooting my own ammunition and it has always performed excellently.

These are the first match rounds I have reloaded since I came to the USA and my recipe has altered slightly. In Scotland I used Lapua Scenar bullet heads, however they cost a bit more here than some of the alternatives. After taking some advice I bought some Hornady A-Max, but it turns out that they are not allowed on the 300 meter range at the Minneapolis Rifle Club due to their thin jacket. The electronic targets used on that range have an enclosed acoustic chamber and the A-Max are known to disintegrate after passing through the face of the target causing unnecessary damage to the rear wall and the operation of the scoring system.

Therefore I recently purchased some Sierra Match Kings which I was assured would pose no threat to the technology. This however is not where the problem occurred.

On Tuesday evening I sat down to prep 200 of my brand new .308 Win Lapua Match cases. I used these in Scotland and was very happy with their consistency and performance, and unlike the Scenars there is no premium for using Lapua cases in the US.

I got set up and started running the cases through my Lee full length sizer die (I tried neck sizing my cases once, which resulted in me having to buy ammunition at the range in the middle of a detail, and later dismantle all the neck sized cases I had left because they wouldn’t chamber in my rifle). In the beginning I noticed some light scoring on the necks of the cases but it didn’t seem significant, so I continued.

Anyone who does it will know that reloading can get a little repetitious, especially when you work with a single stage press, it is easy to tune out and just go through the motions. I would also like to add in my defence that I am currently studying for a Masters degree and have been a busy boy recently, working long hours at school and not always getting as much sleep as I need. The result of these excuses is that it wasn’t until I had sized around 90 cases that I paid attention and had a close look at the case I had just removed from the shell holder. The light scoring had changed to heavy scoring.

Lapua .308W neck scoring. 5th Feb 13

Lapua .308W neck scoring. 5th Feb 13

I wasn’t very happy about this.

I tried my best to clean out the die, but nothing changed. In the end I sized the last few rounds of the first 100 but decided not to do any more. As far as I can tell my die is damaged, but I have no idea how this has happened. I reloaded 50 rounds in November to zero my hunting rifle but they had no marks on them like this.

If anyone reading this has an explanation I would be happy to hear it.

Yesterday I ordered a new set of RCBS dies that I hope will arrive early next week. I am planning to shoot again next weekend and I will need more ammunition. It may be that my Lee die has a build up of copper fouling which could be removed, but new dies wont hurt and they are probably better than my current dies which are pretty basic.

I am down the cost of a new set of dies, and the life of these cases is probably reduced, but I have been reminded of an important rule when reloading.

PAY ATTENTION!

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Update on 11th Feb 2013

Unfortunately due to a winter storm the 300 meter match was cancelled yesterday, I include a snippet of the email I received:

Match cancelled - suggest eat comfort food

Match cancelled – suggest eat comfort food

A sensible decision, I didn’t want to get stuck in the snow in the middle of nowhere, but I was very keen to shoot. There is another shoot next weekend that I hope to attend if I am able. I will let you know.

On the subject of my scratched cases, my friends Niall and Charles had a chat about it but were unable to come up with an explanation. Their advice is to make sure I clean everything before use and get a new die. Which I have ordered and will hopefully receive today.

Fingers crossed for a snow free week.