Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Velocity Matters

I received a call from a friend a few days back asking about some loads for a new AR platform he had just finish. Seems he built a 300 Blackout rifle with a suppressor and wanted some sub-sonic loads to hunt hogs with. When I told him they won’t work much past 25 feet the discussion got lively. Suppressed subsonic loads in the Blackout are all the rage right now, and in certain circumstances they are great, but for hog hunting?

The problem is the lack of velocity. Simply stated, bullets are velocity driven; meaning they get their energy from the velocity they travel at. In short, the faster a bullet  goes the more energy it possesses upon impact. The problem is, my friend wanted to use a 200 grain bullet at 1050 feet per second. At that speed the bullet only carried 467 foot pounds of energy at 50 yards – hardly enough to effectively kill a large adult hog. Now compare that to a 300 Blackout with a 120 grain bullet leaving the muzzle at 2200 feet per second. At 50 yards that bullet is carries 1197 foot pounds of energy, more than enough to humanely stop most hogs but it’s going to be noisy, which is not what he wanted. So begins the trade off.

The problem is two fold – first is momentum, and the second is bullet performance.  Way back in the 1600s Sir Isaac Newton first explored the notion of momentum in relationship to a projectile penetrating an object. He defined the theory of momentum as “a projectile will stop in an object when it has transferred its momentum to an equal mass of the medium.”  We have come a long way from the original theory in defining and understanding momentum, but in short, with regarding to a hunting scenario, the bullet needs enough energy to penetrate the animal and reach the vitals in order to humanely put the animal down. Even though my friend wanted to use a heavier bullet, he gave up all of the advantages of that bullet by severely reducing the velocity of the round.  Even at the muzzle, the bullet carries less than 500 foot pounds of energy, less than half of what most people who study ballistic suggest for hunting hogs. In other words, most of the experts suggest shooting a bullet that carries at least 1000 foot pounds on energy upon impact to effectively and humanely stop a hog.

Then there is the bullet itself to consider. All bullets are designed to work within a certain parameters – meaning they are designed to work within a specific velocity range. Say, for example, you are using a hollow point that is designed to “open up” at a velocity between 1800 and 3000 feet per second, and you are loading that bullet to 500 feet per second. It won’t penetrate and certainly won’t open up  - in other words, no mushrooming effect. The same can be said if a bullet is loaded too fast, it may not be stable and expand to much on impact, again greatly reducing penetration. Bullet manufacturers spend a lot of time studying and testing their bullets to determine what velocities work best. Almost all hunting bullets are designated as expanding bullets, meaning they are designed so the nose of the bullet flattens out on impact and creates a much larger wound cavity. The idea is to maximize tissue damage to insure a clean, quick kill. So one can see the problem with loading bullet at a much slower velocity.

My friend was faced with a conundrum, as he wanted his rifle to be very quite – hence the suppressor - but at the same time to have a bullet that would stop a hog. What he learned, was he couldn’t have both. Yes, the suppressor will quiet – “somewhat” – a supersonic bullet but if he goes subsonic the bullet won’t have enough energy to do what it was intended to do. Of course I didn’t help matters whn I told him, “go subsonic and watch the bullets bounce off the hogs.”

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Evolution of the .22 Caliber

My introduction to the .22 caliber centerfire cartridge began when I was just a teenager, when one of the first firearms my dad got for me was a Savage 24V. That particular model was known as an African Style rifle, in that, it was an over/under with a rifle barrel on top and a shotgun barrel underneath. Mine was a .222 Remington over a fixed full choke 20 gauge. I used it to hunt varmints, which back then was fox and raccoons, as well wood chucks on my grandfather’s farm. The .222 Remington was also known as the triple deuce, and was introduced by Remington in 1950. It was one the first commercially produced rimless .22 (5.56) cartridge made in the United States, in that, the .222 Remington it was a completely new design, unlike so many other cartridges of the time period that was formed from another cartridge case. So it was that I grew up with the triple deuce.

It would be over a decade later before I got my second .22 caliber rifle. Again, it was a Savage rifle in 22-250 Remington. Developed in 1937 by Remington, the 22-250 was made from the 250-3000 Savage necked down to except a .224 bullet. Originally it was known as the .22 Varminter, and was capable of velocities over 4000 FPS. It was truly a high velocity .22 cartridge capable of creating devastating wound cavities. Like the .222 Remington the accuracy of the cartridge is legendary, and with time it over shadowed the .222 Remington and the popular 220 Swift.  The 22-250 is still one of the fastest .22 caliber cartridges available.

Then along came the .223 Remington. Originally developed for the military and designated as the 5.56x45mm, it was basically a lengthened .222 Remington cartridge. Work began on a new, lighter, faster cartridge for the military and in 1961 the 5.56x45mm (NATO designation) cartridge was approved for use in the newly developed AR-15, military M16 platform. Two years later Remington released the civilian version of the 5.56x45mm known as the .223 Remington and released it in their Model 700 bolt action rifles. More or less, it was another .22 caliber cartridge capable of reaching 3000 FPS with a 55 grain bullet, something the .222 Remington can’t do. The popularity of the .223 Remington is due in large part because of its kissing cousin the 5.56x45mm which is used by so many militaries around the world, thus so many people are familiar with the cartridge. I currently own four .223 Remington rifles. It is a great cartridge to shoot: low recoil, and much quieter than the 22-250 Remington. Like the other .22 caliber cartridges, the .223 Remington is really a varmint round, even though some people use it to hunt deer and hogs, even though it really is on the small side for larger game animals. Still, like the other .22 caliber cartridges, it is phenomenally accurate, and just fun to shoot.

Over the years the biggest complaint with the .22 caliber cartridges has been the limited bullet weights available. My .222 Remington, 22-250 Remington and two of my .223 Remington rifles have a 1:12 rate of twist in the rifling. That limits bullet selection to a maximum 55 grain bullet. Problem is that limits the effective range of the cartridge. Even with the faster rate of twist, cartridge capacity limited bullet size to 62 grains for the most part. There are a few specialized rifle manufacturers making .223 Remington rifle that are capable of shoot up to 75 grains, but the case capacity just prevents getting to most from the bullets, until…

Beginning in January 2017, at the Shot Show in Las Vegas, and then again this year at the Shot Show, both Nosler and Federal have introduced a .22 caliber cartridge that has changed the way we think about that caliber. First came Nosler with the .22 Nosler with a wilder case dimension compared to the .223 Remington.  With what amounts to a 14-15 percent increase in the case capacity, velocities are 350 to 400 FPS faster than a .223 Remington, and bullets weights can now comfortably reach up to 85 grains. Nosler rifles use a 1:8 rate of twist in their barrels, which restricts bullet weight to 85 grains: still better than the .223 Remington, and with high ballistic coefficiencies, that go father with a flatter trajectory: meaning longer range.

Then this year Federal in conjunction with Savage introduced the .224 Valkyrie: Federal developed the cartridge, and Savage developed the AR platform for it. The cartridge was developed around a Sierra 90 grain MatchKing bullet with velocities around 2700 FPS. Savage, for their part, developed an AR rifle with a 1:7 rate of twist to maximize the heavier weight bullets and literally, over night, fans of .22 caliber have two now calibers top choose from that are capable over reaching distances unheard of previously in a .22 caliber. Nosler originally developed the .22 Nosler for their bolt action rifles, and at present the .224 Valkyrie is only available in the Savage AR platform. Still, these are two flat shooting cartridges that suddenly and substantially increase the range of a .22 caliber bullet. With ranges that can easily reach 1000 yards and remain supersonic at that range is something previously unheard in a .22 caliber. And, both the .22 Nosler and .224 Valkyrie do so with the same recoil as the .223 Remington.

At present for the reloader the heavier bullets available the two new cartridges are limited to match grade bullets, therefore not for use on deer size game, but for those that want to reach out a touch a coyote, they are the perfect cartridge. Federal is producing a 90 grain Fusion bullet in their factory loads that they state is suitable for deer sized game, but the bullets are not yet available for those that want to load their own. Still, both Nosler and Federal are taking my .22 caliber to all new distances.

I spoke with a good friend of mine that makes custom rifles the other day, and the tools are available to cut a chamber for the .224 Valkyrie, and as we talked I could see a new custom bolt action rifle in that cartridge following me home one day…..

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

When Guns Blow Up

I read an article the other day about why guns blow up. It was an interesting read, especially the historical progression of metals as related to firearms. We blew up a lot guns trying to figure out what metals are best to withstand the pressure that develops in a chamber. The article got me to thinking of the many experiences I’ve seen regarding people who have blown up their firearms.

I have literally spent decades around firearms and studying ballistics, so I’ve seen my fair share of mishaps, most of them are the result of a shooter’s carelessness. My first experience came when I read the medical report and police report from an incident back in the early 1980s. A young man had purchased a late 1920 era Smith & Wesson Police 38 Special revolver.   This young man decided, since the 38 Special was a “mild” round, he’d set about to “increase” it. It started with him increasing the maximum load by just over ten percent. Then he topped it off – so to speak – with a small pistol magnum primer. The gun came apart with his third shot. The type of damage the gun experienced is referred in ballistic circles as a “catastrophic failure”  in other words the gun blew up. The young man used both hands to hold the gun when he fired it to try to control the recoil, and the emergency workers and law enforcement officers never found the two fingers missing from is mangled left hand. I have to admit I’m still a little haunted by the pictures of that young man’s left hand.

A few years ago my wife and I were at a local outdoor range and witnessed firsthand what happens when someone pulls the trigger on a rifle with an obstructed barrel. Two guys were at the range, a few stations down from us, sighting in a new rifle. They started by inserting a Site Lite in the muzzle of the rifle and checked the scope with the laser, and noting they were on paper, they loaded a round in the rifle. It was just then both myself and the range master saw the Site Lite in the barrel. I stepped back from my bench, grabbing my wife as the Range Master started to yell “cease fire.” All he got out was “ceas…” before the rifle went off. Fortunately no one was hurt, if you don’t count the rifle, which instantly was in need of a replacement barrel. Interestingly enough we never did find the Site Lite, and trust me it was not for lack of looking. The range master knew me and my background and I wanted to see what the pressure did to the Site Lite, but as stated earlier it was nowhere to be found. What happened to the barrel was a classic example of what is referred to as “…barrel going banana” – meaning it pealed back like someone pealing a banana.

Another time, I was witness to what happens when you put the wrong ammunition in a firearm. In this case it was a person who tried to fire a 300 Blackout in a 223 AR Platform. Again, the shooter wasn’t hurt, but the same can’t be said for the gun. I since learned there are a couple of videos of that happening on YouTube. As a matter of policy for my business, I will not reform and load ammunition with one head stamp to other caliber. I have this fear of someone miss reading the head stamp and trying to fire the ammunition in the wrong firearm. That is not going to happen on my watch, as I can tell you from personal experience it does not end well. The problem with the .300 Blackout is that so many people are reforming brass from .223 Remington cases to try and save a few dollars. The round will fit in a .223 magazine, and the forward assist on the AR can actually force the round into the chamber by pushing the bullet back into the case. A .308 bullet will not fit down a .224 barrel and that pressure has to go somewhere. To para phrase a friend of mine, “… the results ain’t pretty.” The person who pulled the trigger that day got off lucky, as the pressure blew the upper skyward and not back. Other than having to change is pants, he was relatively unscathed.

Of course not all failures are the result of operator error. Sometimes it is the gun. Some time back a friend of mine purchased a beautiful shotgun from a major manufacturer. What he did not know was that the gun was actually made in Russia. The first time he took it to the range the barrel failed on the third shot and split open. He sent it back and received a replacement firearm that did the same. I have since learned the manufacturer stop selling shotguns made over there: seems there was a potential liability issue if every shotgun you sell the barrel ruptures.  

Speaking of liability issues, being what they are, in combination with the advancements in metallurgy, very few guns blow up today from manufacturer defects. That’s not to say you can’t purchase a “bad” gun, but it is extremely rare. The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufactures Institution (SAAMI)  was formed by the major firearm and ammunition manufacturers back in the 1920s sets pressure standards for all the current production ammunition, and rifle manufacturers use it as a starting point for proofing the chambers in their rifles. There is not a rifle made today that is not tested before hitting the market. So, most mishaps today are the result of shooter error, with the most common mistakes being, either putting the wrong ammo in a firearm or an obstructed barrel. One other common factor in obstructed barrels is what is known as a squib load. That is a cartridge that for some reason has a much reduced load, and in most cases, the bullet ends up stuck in the barrel.  I could not tell how many people I’ve seen that have experienced a squib load and, not paying attention have chambered another round and destroyed a firearm. 

Another problem I have encountered several times is damage to a firearm and a person resulting from the operator overloading a cartridge or using the wrong power in a cartridge. There are a lot of shooters out there who feel that they have to push a bullet as fast as possible. I constantly hear people at the range stating “…I feel the need for speed.” That is until either (A) the gun comes apart from the pressure, or (B) they break their shoulder from the recoil. I know of one person that took the biggest of the Weatherby Cartridges – the 460 Weatherby – and pushed his hand loads ten percent over maximum load data listed as he wanted all the speed and energy possible for his African Safari. That ended up costing him over $150,000 in medical and emergency transportation costs when the recoil from the rifle dislocated his shoulder and shattered his collar bone.

I spoke with another gent one day who had the brilliant idea to increase the speed of his 300 Winchester Magnum load by starting with about 5 grains of a very fast pistol powder in the cartridge first, then set a compressed load of magnum rifle powder on top of it to hold the powder in place. The idea was to “bolster” the slower burning powder to increase the velocity of the round. I asked if had shot any of the rounds yet and replied, “no.” When I asked when and where he was going to test the rounds, he answered “why?” I explained I wanted to let emergency officials know so they could be on standby to treat his and anyone close to him wounds, and to make sure I wasn’t there – there are somethings I just don’t need to see.

One of the tenants of loading your own ammunition is to NEVER mix powders. And, second – make sure you are using the correct powder. I’ve seen what using pistol powder in a rifle cartridge can do to a rifle, not to mention the person holding the rifle. And, remember good accuracy doesn’t necessarily come from high velocity. It’s been my experience that I can gain some incredible groups by slowing the velocity down a little, not to mention how much my shoulder appreciates the lower recoil. 

I love to shoot, and I own an ammunition business. I only do custom hand loaded ammunition and over the years have loaded thousands upon thousands of rounds with not one problem. That is the result of first and foremost the application of some common sense. If it doesn’t sound or look right – it’s probably not. If I can hear - and you can hear it – powder cracking when you try to seat a bullet on a compressed load, the cartridge is probably over loaded. I triple and quadruple my load data to make sure I am using the correct powder and amount for the cartridge. Make sure it is the right primer for a particular cartridge. As a rule you don’t use magnum primers with a standard cartridge. You may not enjoy the resulting pressure spike. As I stated earlier, firearms have become incredibly safe if used properly, and that includes making sure you don’t have an obstructed barrel, and the ammunition is properly and safely loaded…..

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Match Grade Ammunition

Match Grade Ammunition

Many shooters tend to think of the firearm as being responsible for the accuracy, but that is only half the story. What many ignore is the role ammunition plays in accuracy. There is truth to the statement “…it’s all about the bullet.” Lower quality ammunition is going to result in lower performance from any firearm. For serious target or competition shooters the best choice for their ammunition is Match Grade ammo. What exactly is Match Grade ammunition?

To be label Match Grade means it is ammunition that is loaded to be more consistent and therefore more accurate than say general-use ammunition. It is ammunition which requires extremely tight tolerances and quality control.  While the origin of the term “match” is a bit fuzzy, the term became a way to identify especially consistent ammunition that would be suitable for use in formal shooting matches or competitions. Therefore, match grade ammunition is meticulously loaded cartridges. While some manufacturers simply load their standard ammunition with a match-type bullet and call it match grade, and others use the same machines as all the other ammo. True match grade Ammunition is much different.

Match grade ammunition is developed using the finest components available, meaning the best brass available, the best powder, primers and true match grade bullets. And, that’s just the beginning. So let start with the brass. The brass casing is – for lack of a better term – the “vessel” from which the cartridge is built. It matters not how good the bullets are, the quality of the primers or powder, if the components are loaded into low quality brass. The shoulder length, primer pocket tension, and neck concentricity are all important characteristics of good quality brass. But, most important is case wall thickness. Good quality brass must remain consistent from casing to casing, especially with regard to the thickness of the casing.  

The key to good quality brass is consistency is the construction and characteristics of the brass, but as noted, most important is the thickness of the brass. It must be equal for all the casings, and it is the resulting consistency in case volume which insures a consistent burn from each shot. It’s all about the internal case capacity, which if allowed to vary from casing to casing will result in an inconsistency in pressures, and – as noted – this will result in less than desired accuracy.  It is the case internal volume predictability that increases accuracy, and enables the shooter to have confidence in his or her shots. If the internal capacity of the brass various from round to round, the pressure is going to vary. This in turn will affect the velocity and thus the accuracy of the cartridge. Manufacturers of premium brass go to great lengths to insure their casing are held to extremely tight tolerances; therefore the internal volume remains the same across the entire lot of casings. So, it goes without saying, the perfect cartridge begins with the brass. Premium brass will cost you more, but in the end will be the foundation for consistent shots every time. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015


            I have heard on the news and even read some about the so called wussification of the American male. Some people have even given a name to this “new” guy. He’s not a new type of person in the physical sense, rather a person who, well…behaves different from you and me.  Some advertising executive in New York have labeled them as “Metrosexuals” or “Metros” for short.  I’m not talking about guys involved in some sort of kinky behavior; rather, these are guys, who according to the one article I read, are young urban fellas who like driving a fancy high priced sports car rather than a good truck.  Who, instead of spending Saturday morning afield or on the water, would rather be at some spa getting a massage, manicure or, even worse, getting various parts of their body waxed, don’t even ask, I didn’t.  Worse they actually like to go shopping for fancy clothing and shoes.  Now, for the most part, I only shop at a two local stores, Bass Pro Shops and Home Depot.  I figure if those stores don’t carry it, it isn’t worth buying.  That’s not to say I don’t go shopping elsewhere ‘cause every once in a while my wife does drag me off to the local mall where I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if one day they had an employee standing at the entrance shouting “dead man walking” because of the way I shuffle in.
            Even though I don’t tell her enough, I am proud of my wife.  She is a CPA, but she wasn’t when we got married.  She loves numbers, yet is married to a guy who has to use his fingers and toes when adding any number larger than two.  A few years after we were married, she went back to school and got her college degrees and then her CPA.  Which was quite a feat considering that all the while she had to put up with my shenanigans.  Now, I do have to admit being married to a CPA has its advantages.  She can clean up the mess I make out of the checkbook each month in no time flat and, since she started doing the taxes, our relationship with the IRS has improved greatly, but that’s another story.
            A while back I had the “pleasure” of attending a party at the home of one of my wife’s fellow accountants.  It’s one of those big fancy homes.  The kind we don’t have.  See, there two reason’s we don’t have a bigger home, and according to my wife are both my fault.  One is because of all the money I spend on hunting, fishing and camping gear and trips.  The other is my so-called lack of income from all the time I take off to go hunting, fishing and camping.  Recently, back in the swamps I hunt, I had found what appeared to be the home range of a huge boar hog that was in real need of spending some serious time on my grill. After spending the morning chasing that hog around the swamps, I got home and cleaned up just in time to go to the “party.”   It was there where I met some of those “metro” guys in person.
            Soon after arriving at the party, my wife told me to mingle while she caught up with her accountant friend, and I was left to my devices.  This meant I was off in search of a cold one, which I found in this huge kitchen, where several guys were standing around conversing and mixing some fancy drink that I couldn’t even pronounce.  As I walked in, one of the guys was talking about some new cologne he had recently purchased and how perfect it was for the early fall season.  After a brief introduction, the conversation returned to his cologne and the need to match it to the season.  As I stood listening, one of the guys asked my opinion on matching your cologne to the seasons.  I completely mis-understood their question and meaning of cologne. Thinking they were talking about some sort of deer scent. Since we live in Florida where the local rut doesn’t start until almost Christmas, and it was still early fall, I explained to the young man, this time of the year I prefer plain-old non-estrus doe urine.  Now, I could have sworn, when I finished, somewhere off in the distance someone shouted “strike one.”
            Another one of the guys quickly changed the subject and started talking about shoes.  He said he had just bought a pair of Gucci something-or-other, very expensive, leather shoes.  Then noticing my boots I was wearing, he asked about them.  I told him mine were indeed real leather as well - hiking/hunting boots with a Gore-Tex lining.  They seem impressed, until somewhere in the conversation, we discovered he was wearing shoes you never want to get wet, whereas I was wearing boots that you purposely wore while walking through mud and water in the swamps chasing or being chased by various critters, “strike two.”
            Again the conversation was changed, as still another one of the guys spoke of spending his morning at some new exclusive spa that we just had to visit.  He talked about the incredible massage he had gotten, in fact, he felt so good after the massage he got his eyebrows done.  What he had done to them, I don’t know and I didn’t ask.  In turn, the other guys talked about their morning, shopping trips for silk shirts in “passion” which was all the rage and haircuts by Monique at “that” salon.  I was actually beginning to fit in a little, and we were starting to get along, mainly because I had kept my mouth shut and just listened.  That didn’t last long because just as the first rounds of drinks were completed and we were all smiles, someone made the mistake of asking me what I did that morning.  I wish I could adequately describe the looks I got from those guys as I recalled spending the morning in the woods on the east side of Old Yankee Swamp, searching for this huge boar I had seen, “strike three.”
            I wondered off to this room with a really nice couch and one of those big screen TVs.  I remembered Alabama was playing Georgia and spend the rest of the evening, by myself, watching the game.  As we left, my wife commented about what a nice party it was, and how much fun she had.  When she asked I told her I had a good time too.  “Really?” she asked, “Yep, it was a hellva game.”

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Speed Kills

Speed Kills

            Or does it? For past several decades an argument has raged between firearm enthusiasts over which is best for hunting - a light fast bullet or a slow heavy bullet. The idea of using light, very fast bullets started in the 1940s with the now infamous Roy Weatherby and his Weatherby Magnum rifles. Mr. Weatherby was a big believer in light fast – really fast – bullets. He is credited with starting the magnum caliber craze that still exist to this day, and his Weatherby Magnums are legendary for their power and speed. What really helped the magnum crazy was a rapidly growing improvement in optics. By the mid-1940s, and especially just after WWII, the quality of optics available increased exponentially. This improvement in optics allowed shooters to reach out and “touch” critters at ranges never before heard of. Suddenly shooting 300 - 500 yards at various game animals became very popular, especially out west. Leading this crazy was the drive for lighter bullets at faster velocities. By the end of the 1940s, the Holy Grail was a bullet pushed out the barrel at or above 3000 Feet Per Second (FPS). Leading this revolution was Mr. Roy Weatherby and his Weatherby Magnum calibers, whose formula was simple – light bullets in front of a lot of powder.
            Many shooters are sold on the notion that a light really fast bullet will shoot really flat and upon impact knocks the snot out of anything it hits but, is that really the truth? For decades now hunters have believed that speed kills and to really reach down range and touch a critter with lethal results one needed a light really fast bullet. The theory espoused over and over, as noted, is light fast bullets shoot flatter and reaches the target quicker and with a lot of energy. Therefore one can extended their range and take really long shots at a critter. This goes back to my first article this year on Going the Distance, which you can read at my blog - - wherein I explored the controversy surrounding long range hunting. As I noted, lighter is not necessarily better when shooting at long distances in a hunting scenario.  Problem is a little factor called mathematics which gets in the way of the argument.
            The guys and ladies who argue for light fast bullets express their argument in terms that speed equates to energy and energy equates to Kinetic energy, which then equates to stopping power. But, in their argument they tend to ignore Sir Isaac Newton’s notion of theory of momentum which I explored last month, (I hope your reading along). In simple terms to state his theory again, “a projectile will stop in an object when it has transferred its momentum to an equal mass of the medium.”  What many long distance shooters don’t realize is the lighter a bullet is the less momentum it has to “transfer.” Here’s where mathematics really gets in the way, as those who understand ballistics know that foot pounds of energy of a given bullet is expressed in the velocity squared. Therefore, lighter bullets are faster, but don’t carry as much momentum as they are given credit for. For example, a .308 diameter 150 grain bullet traveling at 3,000 FPS carries 2.998 foot pounds of energy, while a .308 diameter 200 grain bullet traveling at 2800 FPS – 200 FPS slower - carries 3,483 foot pounds of energy - a 25 percent increase in energy from a less than 10 percent drop in velocity. If you really want to see the whole picture, take a look at what the values are at 500 yards. That 150 grain bullet is down to 2124 FPS and only 1503 foot pounds of energy velocity, while the 200 grain bullet is traveling along at 1961 FPS and still carrying 1707 foot pounds of energy. Upon impact which one do you think is going to carry more momentum?
            To reiterate my argument from last month’s article, in theory, the faster a projectile is traveling, the more energy it possesses upon impact, and that’s where many argue from, period. However, as I stated, bullet weight plays a major role in momentum. While lighter bullets within a given caliber can be driven faster at first because of their light weight they shed velocity - and therefore energy faster - which makes a big difference at longer ranges. On the other hand, heavier bullets - even though they typically start out slower - retain more of their velocity over a long distance; hence, they carry their energy farther. So it’s important to understand the distances you will be shooting so to optimize your bullet’s performance. Which brings up my next point that I always try to make – “’s all about the bullet.”  Both the construction and weight of the bullet are paramount in its performance.
            Within a given caliber, the only way to make a bullet heavier is to make it longer. Going back to my .308 example, the 200 grain bullet is noticeably longer than the 150 grain bullet. The long bullet will have a higher BC, which means - while the bullet may be slower - its flight path will be truer and it carries more momentum to the target. That momentum equates to greater stopping power as the bullet will not only penetrate deeper but will create a larger wound channel, and don’t forget the hydrostatic shock. That larger bullet will also carry a larger ballistic wave with it, thus do more damage from the hydrostatic shock, which combines to create a cleaner, quicker kill. I don’t know about anyone who reads this, but I don’t enjoy tracking wounded critters. Hence, my personal preference, whenever possible, is to use a good quality heavy for caliber bullet.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Why Custom Handloaded Ammunition?

            I manufacture Custom Handloaded Ammunition for a living, and one of the questions I’m constantly asked, is “What is that?” Simply stated, I don’t really manufacture anything, except in the eyes of the Government. I assemble ammunition, but for licensing purposes, it is considered manufacturing. Don’t you love the Government? So let’s take a look at what I really do, and why many think it is better.
            Working from the premise that there is no such thing as one size fits all, anyone who shoots a lot understands factory ammunition is at best a compromise. Please don’t get me wrong, factory ammunition has come a long - long way from when I first started shooting, but none-the-less, to this day, ammunition manufacturers struggle to make one size fit all. There are so many variables in rifle manufacturing today – chamber dimensions and rates-of-twist in barrels, to name just two factors. And, to make matters worse, some of these factors can vary between individual rifles of the same caliber, even in the same lot from the same manufacturer. Then consider the push for accuracy, especially at longer distances, than ever before seen and you can see how it is a struggle. Another reality factory ammunition manufacturer’s face is having to stay within SAAMI specifications for liability purposes, which can in some cases can and will affect accuracy. For those that don’t know who or what SAAMI is – they are Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute (SAAMI). They are an association of the nation's leading manufacturers of firearms, ammunition and components. Founded in 1926 at the request of the federal government, they are tasked with creating and publishing cartridge and firearm industry standards for safety, interchangeability, reliability and quality. So as you can begin to see, with factory ammunition, there are some real challenges to overcome, especially when some shooters are demanding so much from their ammunition.
            That’s where I come in. After spending a lifetime studying ballistics and learning everything I can about ammunition and what makes it better, as well as countless hours at the range experimenting and shooting I finally felt comfortable enough to get my manufacturer’s license (remember the government) and go into business April 2008. My whole business revolves around producing the finest custom handloaded ammunition I can. I specialize in hard-to-get and unique ammunition, meaning the ammunition you aren’t going to be able to find on the shelf of your local sporting goods store or even some of the larger chains for that matter. It maybe a rare safari caliber that someone really wants to take to Africa or someone who wants a very specialized cartridge for long distance target shooting.
            In the end it all comes down to the bullet, but getting that bullet accurately down range and making sure it performs as demanded brings to bare a whole host of factors that one must take into consideration. Bullet selection, brass, powder, and even primers used can all affect the performance of a given cartridge. So let’s take a look at some of the variables.
            Where I have an advantage is I’m not limited by selection. Meaning, within a given caliber the selection of bullets I can choose from is greater than what maybe typically found on the retail shelf. Many manufactures limit what they offer based on sheer sales volume, meaning they have to make a choice on what ammunition and what bullets to offer based on sales records and marketing projections. This means they may focus on the more popular calibers, and if possible maybe have a limited run, say once a year, of some other not-so-popular calibers. On the other hand, my business is order driven, meaning I don’t load ammunition I think will sell, rather I load what my customer’s request, so I have a great choice of options to choose from. For example, take a 308 Winchester – there are hundreds of choices available for that caliber, still I have customers I load 308s for with bullets that are not commercially available.
Don’t think ordering ammunition from me is as simple as calling and asking for a box or two of something. All my orders begin with a considerable amount of research. Chamber specs, if known, are discussed, as well as rates of twist of the rifling, and most importantly, what is the round being used for. From there loads are developed. Sometimes this process can take weeks, and in some rare cases even months: especially if it is an obsolete or very rare caliber. In some cases the components maybe very hard to come by and require special orders to get what is needed.
            From there the real work begins; assembling the finest components available to develop a cartridge that will do what is asked of it, every time. That’s really one of the biggest advantages of custom hand loaded ammunition, the confidence in knowing every shot will be close to the first one taken. Whether it’s in a hunting environment or someone shooting in a 1000 meter competition, consistency in the group is paramount.
Another factor to consider when hunting is whether or not the bullets will perform once they reached the target. Last month I explored the differences in some bullets and their intended uses. As I noted, Match Grade bullets are designed to provide as high a Ballistic Co-efficiency as possible. Those type bullets are designed strictly to fly as flat and true as possible and not for penetration on a target; therefore, they are pretty well useless in a hunting scenario. But, that’s not to say any or all hunting bullets aren’t accurate. Nothing could be further from the truth today as there are a whole host of extremely accurate hunting bullets available. I’ve been using a legendary Sierra .224 Hollow Point Boattail GameKing bullet for varmint hunting for decades now. I’ve taken shots out to 500 yards without hesitation with those bullets and been right on the mark. I was doing that at a time when a 500 yard shot meant something. So as you can see there are a lot of choices open to shooters who utilize custom hand loaded ammunition.
Not all the ammunition I load is for long distance shooting. Truthfully I load a lot of ammunition for safari hunters who consider a 75-100 yard shot really long. When it comes to dangerous game, it’s not necessarily about distance, as many of those hunts are up close and personal. Rather it’s about confidence in the ammunition and its knockdown power. This is where my experience and research really pays off, understanding kinetic energy and penetration. This is where knowing what’s going to give a hunter the best options to stop something really big that is dead set and determined to hurt him. 
            My investment in time and equipment was substantial, and I can say with a great deal of pride that ammunition I’ve loaded has been carried all over the world - from the savannahs of Africa, to the mountains of New Zealand, as well as all of North America. There are several long range target shooters who depend on me to provide the accuracy they demand for the competitions they shoot.