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How do I efficiently identify the 'best' bullet for long range precision rifle?

Discussion in 'Handloading and Reloading' started by Onewolf, Jan 8, 2013.

  1. Onewolf

    Onewolf Well-Known Member

    I am just starting to learn how to reload. I am primarily interested in reloading .260 rem for my Savage Long Range Precision. I have ordered 100 packs of the following bullets :what:

    Berger VLD 140
    Berger VLD 130
    Lapua Scenar 139
    Lapua FMJBT 144
    Sierra Matchking 140
    Sierra Matchking 142
    Hornady A-MAX 140
    Nosler Custom Comp 140
    Barnes MatchBurner 140

    These bullet packs are starting to arrive so it's time to start figuring out which bullets work best in my rifle. In the online reviews of these bullets, practically every reviewer states that each of these bullets is the most accurate bullet they have ever used. :confused:

    So.... What is the most efficient process/method for determing what bullets a particular rifle "likes"?

    Based upon online research I have decided to try Hodgdon 4350 and Alliant RL-17 powders.

    Being the ignorant newbie that I am, my initial thought is to just pick one of the powders and load ten identical rounds (sub max load) with each of the different bullet options (90 rounds total) and shoot two 5 round groups at either 100? or 200? or 300? yards? And then refine the candidate list based upon best group sizes?

    Any/all advice is greatly appreciated!

  2. 918v

    918v Well-Known Member

    2 shot groups, then 5 shot groups.
  3. Ifishsum

    Ifishsum Well-Known Member

    So many variables there - I don't think it will be quite as simple as just shooting them all with a single powder charge because various bullets can act very differently depending on powder, seating depth, etc. To do it right you have a lot of testing in your future, which should be fun. Be sure to keep detailed notes - for this kind of work I like to save the targets and make notations on the paper. Here's how I would probably start:

    Choose one of those bullets to begin with (probably the one that is most available) and then do a load workup with your chosen powder. By that I mean load ten at the starting charge, and ten more each in half grain increments up to the max or as close as you're comfortable. Then I would shoot two 5-shot groups of each test load (watching for pressure signs of course) and then compare the group sizes. You should get an idea of a load range that your rifle likes for that weight of bullet and that powder, as well as that bullet's accuracy potential. If your first bullet choice shows good promise, you might want to fine tune by making more test loads in smaller increments centering around the data from best group you saw in the first test.

    For meaningful results, all of the bullets should really be tested in this manner - but you should be able to narrow down your test range for that powder and bullet weight based on results from the first bullet tested.

    Be sure to clean your rifle well, and shoot 2 or 3 fouling shots through a clean bore before starting any tests. A box of cheap factory ammo is good for that.
  4. hueyville

    hueyville Well-Known Member

    Dang it, the American way. Throw money at the issue till your satisfied by the results. Your idea will work, give lots of data to work with and you will find something that works. From years of doing this I have a few suggestions. Load 10 of each type as mentioned about 7-10% below maximum on chart for each powder. That will be 20 rounds per bullet. Shoot 5 round groups and when measuring size only use the 3 best shots so human error is minimized. Get either a folder or 3 ring binder and write load combination on the Target shot and save for reference years from now when your head starts to overflow from data. You will see a definite pattern emerge.

    Find your best 3 to 5 groups and work with those. Build loads again with same bullet powder combo but 1 that is 3% lower and one 3% heavier charge and repeat. Patterns will continue to emerge and follow them continuing to vary charges till your group sizes start increasing or you see signs of excessive pressure.

    When you go to the range remember a clean bore is different from a fouled bore. Take a box of factory ammo and fire a group to foul the bore. Save this group to compare with your loads. Also a cold rifle shoots different than a hot one. So variations in bore cleanliness and temperature will affect results. I take a non contact thermometer to the range and a fan. After each shot or group I open the bolt and let the fan cool the rifle a tad. While exact same temperature for each shot is impossible, don't compare a.group from a cold rifle with one that the chamber was too hot to touch. Every 30 rounds or so, run a brush down the bore then shoot a fooling shot to recondition it for consistency.

    Other things to note. The shape, i.e. ogive, length, etc is different for every bullet. So if you seat them all the same depth, the distance from where the bullet starts until it engages the rifleing will be different for every style which makes your comparisons view on an unlevel playing field. If you are as serious as you sound due to just dropping several large bills on bullets, a device to measure the distance from your bolt face to the lands of the rifle then set the seating depth of each bullet so you know the amount of "free bore" is imperative. As you figure out which bullets and powder your rifle likes then you can start adjusting the distance from bullet ogive to lands and see if it helps or hurts group size.

    Then you can try different primers with your loads. Standard, magnum and match from at least 3 manufactures. Also you can decide whether to full length size or neck size. Then you move to neck turning. Inside champhering or outside turning or both. Maybe you want to start with the actual parent case for your caliber and form your brass for it so you have more neck thickness to play with. Then you can do a chamber cast to determine inside diameter of your chamber. Take that info with the outside diameter of the bullet then some basic math will give you the information so that you can neck turn in a manner to adjust your load for minimum neck clearance in the chamber.

    Ohh, I mentioned primers before. Remember to uniform your primer pockets then debur and uniform the flash holes. After you have Spent hundreds of hours getting your cases perfectly matched to your.chamber then you weigh them and match them in groups that weigh close to each other so each fires group is from as nearly identical brass as humanly possible. About a 1,000 rounds into this process you will be a better marksman instead of a shooter, a handloader instead of a reloader, have the perfect load for your rifle and then decide your ammo is better than your gun so you have to get someone to build you a better rifle to match your ammo making skills, then repeat this process for the new rifle until it and you are tweaked.

    By then you will be showing up at the range with a chronagraph connected to a laptop with your favorite Ballistics Lab software, looking for smartphone apps to use on the field. Taking more time setting up your mid-range and target location wind flags, checking the wind speed and direction at the bench before every shot. You might even go so far as to attach a direct contact thermometer to your chamber and hook it to you NIST calibrated Fluke HVAC thermometer with humidity feature and dual temperature capabilities so even relative humidity is figured into your shots along with ambient temperature and bore temperature. The computer becomes a necessity to log all this information so you have time to shoot and do your meditation. Yes, you must clear the mind so that all you know down to every fiber of your existence is sight placement and trigger control. A clip on heart rate monitor also helps once you have completely gone down this road. Keeping your heart rate under 60 bps and consistent from group to group makes a difference.

    If any of y'all think this is fantasy well it isn't. Welcome to my world of obsessive compulsion. In fact, I have left out as many steps as I have mentioned. We can talk about annealing the brass and most consistent techniques. Brinell hardness testing of both your bullets and brass. Do we try a partial setback of our necks? Dang, don't know till you try. So you buy a new rifle and about 5 years later you have it shooting satisfactory but guess what. Some stinking company or 3 come out with new bullet designs that might be better so we better give them a check. Pull out that folder for your rifle, order the new bullets and let's go back to the bench and the range.

    Daggum, I think if I try this new wildcat cartridge that is all the latest buzz I might tighten up my 400 meter groups. Let's see... what action is the stiffest for that overall cartridge length? Where are the chamber readers available? Do we "Blackstar" or cryofreeze the barrel or both? Who has the best bedding material these days? Traditional or thumbhole stock? Synthetic or lamented? Magazine fed or single shot? Off the shelf benchrest scope, what magnification, do I have it "blue printed"? I ought to just quit this sport.... Nahh, think I will go ahead and order that barrel blank while I contemplate the rest. At least since I have to buy a chamber reader having the dies made are that much simpler...
  5. MtnCreek

    MtnCreek Well-Known Member

    You’re going to be overwhelmed. Pick one and work it up. Then try another. I would start with either the smk or amax. I would skip the Bergers; they are just too expensive for me. Any of those bullets should do fine if you work up a decent load.
  6. ranger335v

    ranger335v Well-Known Member

    If you have access to a 300 yd. range, do "Ladder Tests". If you only have a 100 yd range, do "Optimum Charge Weight" tests. Google for both to find instructions. Either method will help you determine the better load for each powder, bullet and OAL fairly quickly. Certainly faster than the old 'load a bunch of rounds and shoot them several at a time' method.

    Statistically, an occasional tight group of a small number of rounds means nothing at all because any three shots of a ten shot group may see touching holes while shooting the rest may open the group to a valid 4", or whatever it's actually capabile of shooting.

    Trying to find an accurate load by discounting the out lying holes or averaging a bunch of groups is an exercise in futility - all the shots of one load go into the group for that load or you're kidding yourself about your real accuracy.
  7. MtnCreek

    MtnCreek Well-Known Member

    I always shoot sub 0.5moa groups, but I throw out all the flyers. :)
  8. Onewolf

    Onewolf Well-Known Member

    Thanks for all the replies and great information. My interpretation of the comments so far is that I should probably pick the most likely candidate based upon 'gut feeling' and perform 300m (my normal range has 100yd, 200m, 300m options) ladder tests with both powders. And then repeat with the other candidates.

    Since I only get to the range 4-5 times per month the price difference between the least/most expensive bullets is really a non factor (since this new hobby is sort of a replacement for offshore fishing the daily 'cost' is less by a factor of at least 10X).

    Any additional comments and advice are welcome.

  9. WNTFW

    WNTFW Well-Known Member

    What do you consider long range? Have you given consideration to the BC of each bullet? Since money doesn't sound like an issue cost is not a consideration. I would look at the highest BC bullet first & use the OCW method. It is very similar to the ladder. Keep in mind it is not to find the best load on the first pass. It just narrows down where to look. I have have some very solid loads on the first pass though.


    Take into consideration your shooting skills - which I don't know. At one point I just bought 500 bullets, settled on a load & shot with my skill being the only thing changing. When groups got smaller I could then develop a load better.
  10. gamestalker

    gamestalker member

    Long range load developement is a long and fun process. But for the sake of actually making some fixed determinations you need to work with just one bullet for a good long while until you've tried just about all variations of powder and bullet seating options. This alone will keep you busy for a life time of load developement.

  11. Canuck-IL

    Canuck-IL Well-Known Member

    VLDs are touchy with respect to OAL (ie distance off the lands) so I wouldn't start with them - they can be very time consuming in and of themselves w/o even considering other brands/weights.

    I'd start with a midrange load for each bullet, 2 5 shot groups at 200 or 300 - see if 1 or 2 bullets look significantly more promising. If so, repeat with several loads around the one you began with using .steps of .2 or .3 grains above and below. Again see if some few standout, continue to refine those loads and use 10 shot groups at this point.

    You're likely to find 1 or more that shoot to within your/the gun's estimated capabilities. In the future you could try some other powders & primers but it's pretty likely that the known good powder in that cal with a decent selection of bullets will allow you to fully maximize the gun's potential.

    It's not unlike RL-15 or Varget and 77gr SMKs in service rifle ARs ... if in a couple different loadings with those your gun won't shoot reasonable groups, I'd suspect the gun. The amount of "fine tuning" one can do is virtually unlimited but there's a point of diminishing returns. When you get to consistent X-ring capable, everything else is just for fun (unless you shoot benchrest of course!). Myself, I'd have started with 2 bullet weights with only 2 brands - so 4 bullet variables and then try 1 or 2 powders. When just about all finished up, I might try a few different primers.

  12. ranger335v

    ranger335v Well-Known Member

    "Ranger, I always shoot sub 0.5moa groups, but I throw out all the flyers."

    I used to have a varmiting buddy who always shot one hole groups on the range; he shot ten rounds and tossed everything but the one closest to the X. His range "groups" were consistantly much smaller than mine but in the field I hit more crows than he did! :D
  13. ranger335v

    ranger335v Well-Known Member

    "Ranger, I always shoot sub 0.5moa groups, but I throw out all the flyers."

    I used to have a varmiting buddy who always shot one hole groups on the range; he shot ten rounds and tossed everything but the one closest to the X. His range "groups" and zero were consistantly much better than mine but in the field I hit more crows than he did! :D

    He's dead now, I miss him.
  14. hueyville

    hueyville Well-Known Member

    I never thought about one shot groups. Duh! My load development time just went way down and all my rifles will shoot groups with all holes touching. Stinking genius. BTW. Purchased a new .22 Hornet today. Bet that will keep me occupied till spring.
  15. Poppaj78

    Poppaj78 Member

    Rainier Bullets

    I am new to reloading. What do most of you think about rainier bullets.
  16. 1911 guy

    1911 guy Well-Known Member

    I always start with selecting a powder that gives the highest velocity at the lowest presure for the given bullet weight. I'm not savvy on .260 Rem loads and you already have two powders, so that makes your selection 1 of 2, not 1 of 30.

    I also begin by loading five rounds of each charge weight, then the next five are either 1/2 or 1 grain more pwderweight, depending on the spread between minimum and maximum loads.

    As you shoot for groups, you'll find a window where accuracy with that particular powder and bullet begins to increase, then to fall off again. When it begins to fall off, stop shooting and pull the components of the remaining rounds.

    In your window, load five rounds each with 1/10 grain difference increments.

    When you've found the "sweet spot" for that powder and bullet, start playing with seating depth.

    Primers don't matter that much, as long as you stick with the same one all the time.
  17. Onewolf

    Onewolf Well-Known Member

    My first handloaded rounds....

    Since these are the FIRST rounds I've ever handloaded, I decided to make 20 identical rounds as a 'test'.

    • Once fired Lapua brass tumbled in a Lyman turbo tumbler
    • Neck length sized using Little Crow Gunworks WFT
    • Sized and deprimed using Redding T-7 with Redding die
    • CCI BR-2 primers using Lee handprimer
    • 37.7 gr Alliant RL-17 (92% of max) using Redding 3BR dispenser
    • Hornady A-MAX 140gr 6.5mm bullets
    • OAL = 2.795" (Max is 2.800")

    The only issue I had was getting the Redding 3BR to dispense smoothly. It seemed like it would sometimes bind/stick about half way up on the dispense stroke (Like the stick powder was interfering with the action).

    For each case I reset the 'tare' weight and kept (re)dispensing until I got 37.7 +- 0.1 grain.

    Wish me luck on Saturday at the range! :D

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jan 8, 2013
  18. blarby

    blarby Well-Known Member

    Think of a rifle and bullet combination as a marriage- and a short lived one at that, if you consider competitive barrel life.

    Each one is an individual unto themselves- and just because we say you'd be great with martha- don't make it so.

    About the best you can hope for is to find your rifles "type"- usually based on twist rate and application, and go on a lot of dates together.

    Thats about the only way you can find the best bullet for your rifle.

    You are going to need to evaluate seating depth, powder charge, and powder type for each bullet.

    You will need to do this on identically ( or functionally, anyway) segregated brass that has been fire-formed to your chamber. Neck concentricity, bullet run-out, case weight... you will learn these terms and their effects well. Very well.

    I'd start by segregating out 200 pieces of brass that are within 2 grs each of total weight after FL sizing, primer pocket uniforming, chamfering and deburring.

    Load them up to standard length, and fireform them. All of 'em. Think of this as getting to know your rifle.

    After you've fire formed 'em all, check any for bizarre deviations, and discard those.

    I'd take 20 and use them to find your bullet/rifles preferred ogive seating length. Within bullet weights and types, this won't vary that much- It should hold very consistent for say- 140 gr bullets that are boat tails. Fire shot strings of 4 or 5 based on capacity of your rifle, and carefully select the length that provides the best groupings.

    Test it again.

    After you have the length it likes for that bullet- its pretty much charge weight and type, with each bullet. Its a long process, but a fun one ! For my most recent .308 I went through about 30 bullets, with ten charge weights of 5 types of powders. Every shot was worth it.

    I like the rifle and round I ended up with. You guys in F-class would laugh at the rifle and process, but she's a beaut- and she does everything I want 'er to.
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2013
  19. Kachok

    Kachok Well-Known Member

    In general I have found Serria bullets to be the most accurate and easiest to work up loads for, that said the best groups I have shot out of my 6.5x55 (your 260s ballistic twin) were with the lowly 129gr and 140gr SST hunting bullets, go figure. No luck yet with the VLDs shame because I really like the super high BC.
  20. AABEN

    AABEN Well-Known Member

    I use Sierra for target shooting. They have won a lot of matches.

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