By Stephen Schafer
Now that summer’s here, hunting has pretty much grinded to a halt. September seems a long way off, so let’s talk about fine-tuning your favorite hunting rifle.
The most effective way to improve your rifle’s performance and accuracy is by reloading your own shells. Today’s factory-loaded ammo is better than ever, especially the premium ammo loaded with Nosler, Barnes, Fail-Safe and other top-notch bullets.
But if you want your rifle to perform at its highest possible level, reloading is the ticket. By fine-tuning the bullet, powder and primer to suit your weapon, you can consistently create groups at 100 yards that can easily be covered by a quarter. If your weapon is a real “tack driver,” and you do your part, often you can cover your groups with a dime!
If you can consistently shoot groups like that, your confidence when you place those crosshairs on that trophy buck will be as high as possible. Not only will you have fine-tuned your ammunition, you will also have enhanced you own shooting ability and confidence through the additional practice that is required as you develop that favorite “pet-load.”
Reloading metallic cartridges requires a bit of up-front expense to get started. You will minimally need the following:
• Reloading Manual
• Reloading Press
• Rifle Dies
• Priming Device
• Powder Scale
• Case Trimmer
• Powder Trickler
• Deburring Tool
• Shell Case Measurer
• Shell Holder Head
• Shell Lube Pad and Lube
• Powder Funnel
These items can be purchased at most reputable gun shops, at Bass Pro, or from several mail order catalogs such as Cabelas, Midway USA or Midsouth Shooters Supply.
The components to load the shells are bullets, primers and powder. Most bullet manufacturers have manuals available that list all the loads available for each bullet weight and the best performing powder and primer combinations.
Once you’ve set-up your press and adjusted your dies, you have to decide what bullet to try and then pick several “loads” comparable for that bullet. Never start off by loading maximum loads for a particular caliber; start at the lower range and increase the loads by one or two grains until you find the load that the weapon likes best. That is what I mean when I say, “fine-tune a load.” Sometimes one or two loads will shoot very similarly, by plus or minus a half-grain or sometimes even a 1/10-grain. The results will often give you the optimum bullet and powder combination for your rifle.
For hunting purposes, three shot groups at 100 yards will suffice, but five shot groups have always been the standard for accuracy.
Do some manual reloading research to see what powders are the most popular for a particular caliber. Over the years, I’ve had wonderful results with IMR 4350, but IMR 7831, 4064, Reloader 19 and 22 and the Hodgedon powders are all top-notch.
Picking primers is pretty much a matter of personal choice. I’ve always used Federal, CCI, Winchester or Remington, with C.C.I. as my hands-down favorite.
Bullets are a different story. There are many weights and configurations to choose from and choosing one to suit the particular application you’re looking for can be a time-consuming process. It’s best to try several different bullets to see if your weapon has a particular preference and then fine-tune your load around that bullet.
In general, the bullets most popular for various calibers are as follows:
• 30 cal: 165 gr. 180 gr.
• 7 MM cal: 140 gr. 160 gr.
• 270 cal: 130 gr. 150 gr.
• 6 MM cal: 80 gr. thru 100 gr.
However, these are only examples as all rifles perform differently with various weight bullets.
The personal satisfaction and downright fun associated with reloading and the development of a favorite “pet load” is immeasurable. Couple that with the joy of shooting and, of course, the eventual success during the hunt and that’s when all the rewards of the reloading experience come together.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the need for extreme safety whenever handling components or live ammunition. Store these items in a cool, dry and dark environment. The oil on human hands can easily taint powders and primers. Therefore, wearing tight rubber gloves is a good habit to practice when reloading, as is wearing safety glasses.
If you’ve considered reloading, but the initial outlay has led you to shy away, listen up. Reloading will enable you to load ammunition for a fraction of what it costs retail. This will make it cheaper for you to shoot more often, thereby, making you a better and more confident shooter. The initial outlay will be absorbed in your savings and you’ll be able to shoot more often and more accurately.
Nothing quite matches the satisfaction of working up a really good shooting load for your rifle, grouping it and seeing the positive results, then using it in a hunting situation and seeing the performance first hand. Reloading is not a chore; it is an extension of the entire shooting and hunting experience. It can keep you shooting throughout the dog days of summer. Do a little research and you too might just want to take your whole shooting experience to a different level.
Reloading: it’s fun, inexpensive, rewarding, and will make you and your weapon perform better than you ever imagined.
Issue 1.6: June 1, 2006