There are a lot of different ways to do load development (I’ll refer to it as LD as I get sick of typing it). I am going to do my best to write this as an explanation on how I do LD and not as advice for how you should do it.
I am not an F-class shooter and I am not someone who searches for the “perfect” load. I have tried a few methods since I started shooting and this is the one I have settled on as it works best and fastest for me. I don’t care what other people are doing or what people are crapping on about on snipers hide BUT I will keep an open mind to new things that may help me to refine my method.
Back in the olden days (2013, lol) I insisted on doing LD with 5 shot groups. In the end this proved to be more of a test of me as a shooter rather than a test of my rifle and ammo. I lost a lot of sleep over why I could not shoot a good group. The only time I’ll shoot 5 shot groups nowadays is if I have trouble deciding between 2 different loads. I’ll shoot a few 5 shot groups and tightest one wins.
KNOW THIS: You are not going to shoot good groups every time you go to the range. AVOID doing LD on hot days when there is heavy mirage.......it will make you (and possibly your rifle smith) go insane. If you are having a bad day, pack your rifle up and go to the pub....try again tomorrow. PS: Don’t take your rifle into the pub.
STEP # 1.
FIND YOUR STARTING LOAD - If you are new to the caliber, ask around. Someone will know where to start. For the 6 Creedmoor my starting load is 41.5g’s of H4350 with Berger 105g hybrids.
STEP # 2.
I load 6 rounds of 4 different loads 0.2 grains apart (24 total).
6CM example - 6 X 41.5g, 6 X 41.7g, 6 X 41.9, 6 X 42.1G. I will write the load value on the case with a sharpie. I have about 10,000+ rounds on the 6CM so my starting load is well known to me. I will also load 10 rounds of the hottest load for warmup.
Don’t be all proud of your cases and write the load value on the bullet (which I have done). We need to check for pressure signs later so it’s important to know what load caused any pressure signs.
STEP # 3.
I will set my target up as follows.
I always make a note of exactly what caliber and barrel I am shooting.
6CM = 6 Creedmoor / HH # 1 = Hawk Hill barrel # 1 / 700rds = I have (about) 700 rounds on the barrel / DATE = Happy New Year
I keep the targets in case I get confused about where I am at with a barrel.
Side note: 700 rounds??? Seems weird that I am doing load development after 700 rounds? I’ll address this later near the end. For now just know that my method is the same if the barrel is brand new or has a bunch of rounds on it.
STEP # 4: Head to the range. *** Avoid disappointment, remember your target and your LD ammo.
STEP # 5:
Get ready to shoot.
I only do LD at 100 yards, I think it is the best distance and will give you the most accurate results. If you are unfamiliar with the range, make sure you shoot the target boards with a range finder to confirm they are at 100 yards. When I started shooting at B-tactical I was discouraged with the groups I was getting. The targets were at 100 metres not 100 yards. It matters.
Make sure you put your target as high on the target board as possible. If there is any mirage present it’s better to put it up as high up as possible. On hot days I will shoot the target sideways rather than as pictured. This is my preferred method when there is minimal mirage.
You will note that I have a few targets on the left that are not numbered. These are warmup targets (for both you and the barrel). I never start LD on a cold barrel. I shoot a minimum of 5 to 10 rounds (depends on how hot it is) for warmup. I will also use this time to make sure I have an almost perfect zero. I like to stay close to my aim point, typically I am 0.1 left or right as well as up or down. This is important! If you are aiming at the dot and you shoot the dot (but not perfectly), what are you aiming at now? Don’t shoot your point of aim.
STEP # 6.
Yep you guessed it, start shooting.
MY METHOD: I prefer to shoot prone but not every range will allow you to do this. On heavy mirage days it is better to shoot from a bench. Some people have told me you should always do LD prone. I don’t really care, I’ll do either as long as I can get square behind the rifle.
LEAD SLED???? Only if you suck. If I am having a tough time getting a rifle to group (it’s nearly always me who can’t group, not the rifle) I will break out the sled to try and figure out what is going on. In times of desperation I will turn to someone who is at least as good a shooter as me (preferably better) and have them shoot it.
*** MAIN GOAL *** Produce a group that is 0.5 MOA or better. I prefer 0.3 or less.
Ok, back to the shooting.
* I shoot 2 strings of 3 shot groups
* I load only the 3 rounds I am going to shoot into the mag.
* I shoot quickly, I don’t like taking a long time to shoot each group. I do not shoot a group and wait 5 minutes for the next. I’ll shoot 2 or 3 groups right after each other. I only take time to load the mag between groups but I am careful to not let my barrel get above 130 degrees (which is real tough when it’s already 105 degrees).
* I start on the left of my target and shoot 41.5 then 41.7 and so on. I’ll have a rest after the string (maybe 10 minutes).
* I have found it is important for me to write the load value in large text on the target (so I can see it through the scope with ease). It is also important to make a conscious acknowledgment of what load value you are shooting and which target you are shooting at. If you go out or order and forget what load was shot at which target = GAME OVER start again. Don’t guess, be precise.
I’D LIKE TO HIGHLIGHT THIS POINT. I shoot the left side 41.5 thru 42.1 first. Then I rest and return to shoot the string on the right. For me this is an essential process to confirm which the tightest, most consistent group is.
I hear people say “check this group out, I think I got lucky on this one”. Whatever, that’s BS to me. If you were behind the rifle and you shot that group, then you shot that group. Shooting 2 separate strings will confirm how “lucky” you are.
All of these loads are go to go for any PRS match. You will notice that the last 2 groups (41.9 & 42.1) on the right have opened up. This is a personal fault of mine. I can see that I have nailed the load and I subconsciously gave up on the last 2 groups. Please don’t tell my Mum.
Here’s the target when I am done.
WHEN YOU’RE DONE SHOOTING.
Check for pressure signs right now. Even if you don’t experience sticky bolt lift or other rifle indicated pressure signs, you should check the cases to see if there are any indications.
I have 6 Creedmoor squared away pretty good. No pressure signs here that bother me. The only word of caution here is that it was quite cool during this LD (about 45 degrees). I will make a note that this LD was done in cooler temperatures and re-test in the months to come (when temps start hitting 80 each day).
If you do your LD in winter and are close to max pressure......you are setting yourself up for problems when temps start hitting 100. Not everyone will agree on this point so just be sure to make your own checks as things warm up. I have had trouble with this especially when running a can.
THOUGHTS ON SPEED.
I try to run the 6CM at in between 3050 & 3100fps. Some people try to run it faster, but I won’t. I have shot it at 3150+ and I hated it. The recoil impulse of the rifle was horrible and things started to break.
Don’t be obsessed by speed. Accuracy trumps everything. As long as I have a load that does not enter transonic range until 1100 yards, I am good. How about those guys winning PRS matches running a 6mm at 2900 and a 6.5 at 2700??? Probably just lucky.
It’s time to start an argument with the wife and head to the reloading room to bask in the glory of my successful load development and drink a bunch of beer.
The numbers that are circled represent the order the target was shot in.
No emotion here, tightest group wins. Group # 2 is the clear winner and it’s confirmed as a consistent load with group # 6. Group # 5 is also good and FU groups 7 & 8. Even if I only shoot one good group out of all 8, I am done. Tightest group wins, period. I will not re-test. I load up 120 rounds in that load and head to the range to get some D.O.P.E and have a bit of fun. I will save the last 10 rounds to confirm my 1000yrd DOPE. At this stage I should have about 140 rounds on the barrel and consider it to have settled down. I will chrono before every match, the speed is always slightly different. I just put whatever speed my chrono tells me into the Kestrel and shoot the match.
So at 41.7g’s I should be right around 3060fps.....perfect.
I’m done. Time to go make up with the wife.
SO WHY DID I DO LOAD DEVELOPMENT AT 700 ROUNDS?
Some really smart blokes from Oklahoma told me that it is not an “accuracy node” it is a “speed node” where you found the most accurate load. As your barrel slows down, it’s important to add powder to maintain the original “speed node”.
I am looking into this idea only because the people who shared this with me are some of the best PRS shooters on the planet.
Back in the olden days (2013) I would find the tightest group on a new barrel and burn the barrel out without any changes. This barrels original load was 41.5g and ran at 3077fps (taken at 150 rounds since new). I chrono’d it recently at 3040fps. So the new load will increase by 0.2 grains. Will that put me back at 3077??? Probably not, but it’s heading back above 3050 and that’s good enough for me.
This piece is not about reloading but I’d like to share my feelings on seating depth......I don’t care about seating depth. I start 20 thou off the lands and if I get a group that shoots, I’m done. I will only change the powder charge and then burn the barrel out.
That’s about as detailed as I can be on my process. In parting I will suggest that we as shooters can be too emotional about group size. Some days we just suck (I have had to learn this the hard way). Mirage will make you suck, be sure to avoid shooting groups in heavy mirage if possible.
If you have a bad day at LD but do not want to do the entire process again, then I suggest picking the best group (no matter how bad it is) and loading 9 rounds just of that load. Shoot 3 X 3 shot groups and re-measure.
If you can squeeze a 0.5 MOA group out, you are good. You’d be surprised how well you can do in a PRS match with a 1/2 MOA rifle.
I hope this info is helpful.