This is the first of a series of articles we will be putting out on the topic of Precision Reloading. Each post will talk about different steps in the process of precision reloading and how best to accomplish that specific task. We’re going to talk about everything from the equipment used for different steps in the precision reloading process to the actual process of using the equipment to reload ammunition. This being the first article in the series we are going to discuss the topic of Precision Reloading in general. What it means, what’s the objective, how to get it done safely. None of this is any fun if somebody gets hurt so safety is going to be a paramount point emphasized in all the articles.
What is Precision Reloading?
Precision reloading as defined here at AccuracyTech is the process of manually creating precision rifle ammunition by hand on the shooter’s reloading bench. This is a process opposed to buying commercially produced ammunition from a factory. Some people might ask, why do it yourself? Two main reasons! Price and Accuracy. Ammunition created through the process of precision reloading at the shooter’s home is done so at a more affordable rate than purchasing the ammunition from a factory. There’s a joke that says, “You don’t really save yourself half the money, you just shoot twice as often!” That’s a fairly true statement. With easier access to a greater quantity of ammunition you tend to shoot more often negating any monetary savings. The upside is your money lets you shoot twice as much!
The other primary reason to embark on the journey of mastering the precision reloading process is the accuracy attainable from custom ammunition. When you fire a rifle and the gases propel the projectile down the bore of the barrel there is a shockwave that moves down the barrel as well. The whole barrel vibrates like a tuning fork. Using ammunition created through a proper precision reloading process the exit of the bullet from the barrel is ‘timed’ to coincide with the shockwave being back towards the chamber rather than at the tip of the barrel. Obviously the less movement at the muzzle, the more consistent the bullet’s exit from the barrel and thus the better the accuracy downrange. So the theory goes.
Measuring Performance of the Precision Reloading Process
As we work through this series of articles there is likely to be some controversy stirred. We’re going to challenge people’s understanding and precision reloading processes by putting emphasis in a different place, and at a different part of the precision reloading process, than many people are used to doing. We’re also going to challenge the historical performance benchmark of the precision reloading process. The best truly objective way to measure the performance of your precision reloading process is with a Chronograph. If you aren’t familiar with chronographs you can read our article on How to Use a Chronograph!
I can hear the yelling already. I know everybody considers group size, both at 100 yards and farther downrange around 500-600 yards, to be the end all be all measurement of how tight ammunition shoots and how well the reloader’s precision reloading process is producing quality ammunition. Here’s the issue, most people don’t shoot as well as they think they do. There are plenty of guys with tens of thousands of rounds of trigger time that can get behind a rifle, shoot a few groups, and make well informed judgments of how tightly a given amount of ammunition shoots. The problem is most shooters, even those that shoot more often than a lot of people, don’t shoot well enough to make that call. At least not when using group size as the only benchmark!
Challenging the Traditional Precision Reloading Process
I mention the book Accuracy and Precision for Long Range Shooting frequently on this website. Parts of it can be a little dry but there is really a lot of excellent information available within it and I highly recommend it for anybody interested in long range shooting. Bryan Litz knows a lot about the science of ballistics and putting rounds on target. There is great emphasis in the book on the standard deviation and extreme spread of hand loaded ammunition. To paraphrase the information if you have ammunition that produces inconsistent velocities with large standard deviation and extreme spread numbers the differences will become significant enough over distance to cause a miss.
You absolutely must have ammunition that produces consistent velocities. This is one of the hallmark principles of the precision reloading process. I don’t think anybody will argue that point or dispute it’s importance. Where we tend to bend the spoon and free everyone’s mind is by advocating the use of the chronograph early in the precision reloading process rather than later on, at the end, as has been traditionally done. If you base your decision on what powder charge to use on the size of a group at close range you are setting yourself up for extra hassle and failure. Chances are your ability to shoot a tight group isn’t as well developed as you think. Certainly it is not well developed in a novice shooter new to loading their own ammunition.
You would do much better to base your decision on powder charge, at least early in the process, on how the different powder charges perform with regard to consistency when fired over a chronograph. Then when you’ve established a handload through your precision reloading process that shoots tight SD/ES numbers on the chronograph you go out and shoot for group size. I would honestly like to see a tight shooting load on a chronograph that doesn’t shoot a decent group at 100/500yds in the hands of a capable shooter. The issue becomes what we see as a result of a novice shooter and reloader who bases his powder charge and load data on group size in the absence of chronograph data.
Wrapping Up Precision Reloading Opener
Guys, I want everybody to be successful in their endeavors into long range shooting. Especially the new shooters. I don’t want new shooters getting pissed off and discouraged because of bad results that could be avoided. A lot of new shooters don’t even chronograph their ammunition. They shoot what they think is a decent group at 100 yards and bingo, we must have a great load right? Wrong. 100 yards is not enough flight time to really illustrate the effect of inconsistent velocities on point of impact. It becomes more apparent at 500 yards but even that can be deceiving. Especially when tactical rifle matches these days are starting to regularly stretch even past 1000 yards and into the teens.
If you want to be competitive, hell if you just want to have a good time, you need to do your homework during load development. That’s going to be the point of this series of articles on Precision Reloading. Helping everybody do it right so it isn’t their ammunition holding them back! Even if you disagree, at least read the articles and leave us some comments on what you think, we’re always interested to hear feedback from readers!