Tips for Loading Straighter Ammo with Less Run-Out
Steps to Minimize Bullet Run-Out
by Pete Petros, Lead Reloading Technician, Sinclair International
Poor bullet run-out can cause poor and inconsistent accuracy, and variations in bullet velocities. The truer the loaded round, the more consistent your results will be on paper and across the chronograph.
We all know that low run-out is the goal. But how can you tell if your run-out is high or low? Run-out is generally measured in thousandths of an inch with a concentricity gauge. There are many concentricity gauges to choose from that work well. Some work on loaded rounds only, some have a bullet straightening feature, and a few work on both loaded rounds and empty cases for checking case neck concentricity. The tool of choice for the Sinclair Reloading Tech Staff is the Sinclair Concentricity Gauge (Part # 09-175).
This tool is a mainstay on my bench, and it is used about as much as I use my reloading press! The tool uses two sets of bearings that are set on lateral, length-adjustable anodized aluminum blocks to accommodate cartridges from .221 Fireball-sized cases up to .50 BMG. The indicator is set on a height adjustable swiveling base on a stand that can be used for checking bullet or case neck run-out. The adjustable blocks ride aligned in a precision-milled slot. The entire set up is on an anodized base plate that gives excellent support during the process that is crucial to operation and accuracy. Basically the operation consists of placing a loaded round (for checking bullet run-out) or an empty case (for case run-out) on the bearings with the indicator end touching the chosen point to be measured. The case is easily spun with one finger as the indicator measures the amount of run-out. Once this process has been done a few times it is a fast and accurate means of measurement. In terms of indicator type being used, whether dial or digital, I actually prefer a standard dial indicator over the digital type. My reason for this choice is that you can see the needle jump when run-out is present. I believe this to be easier and faster than looking at digital numbers while measuring. In the video below, Sinclair’s Bill Gravatt shows how to use the Sinclair Concentricity Gauge correctly.
Sizing Steps to Minimize Run-Out
One of the most common steps in the reloading process that contributes to bullet run-out occurs is the sizing operation. If improper techniques are used or there are issues with the sizing die set up, a once perfectly concentric case can become out of whack. By using the proper dies for your application, properly setting up the die/shell holder or floating the de-capping/expander assembly, you can eliminate problems before they happen.
Many of us on the technical staff choose the Redding Type-S series of dies. These are full-Length or neck sizing dies that utilize a removable/changeable neck bushing (sold separately) to size the neck according to your application. These dies are machined with true precision and quality in mind. The Type-S dies come with a standard de-capping assembly with a caliber-specific expander ball in place. In addition to this an undersized retainer to hold the de-capping pin is included with the die. In my experience with these dies I use the standard expander ball with new, unfired brass on the initial re-size. I will then use the undersized retainer in place of the expander ball with brass that has been fired. I have found this step crucial in my reloading regiment to minimize bullet run out. The use of the expander ball can cause a few thousandths of run-out when the case is being pulled back out of the sizing die. With the undersized retainer in place the only thing that touches the neck of the case in sizing is the bushing. If you prefer to use an expander ball, Redding offers caliber specific carbide floating expander balls that fit on the de-capping rod. This free floating expander ball will self center on the case neck, and reduce the amount of run-out that can be caused by a standard expander ball.
When setting up a Type-S sizing die, set the neck bushing into the die with the numbers facing down toward the body of the die. Tighten the de-capping assembly until it contacts the bushing and then back it off ¼ of a turn. This allows the bushing to free float in the die. You should be able to hear the bushing rattle if you shake the die. Having the bushing free floating self centers the neck, and again minimizes any run-out that can occur.
If you prefer other brands of sizing dies there are a few tricks that people use to minimize run-out as well. Many reloaders claim that the use of an O-ring at the base of the de-capping assembly lock nut will float the assembly and help self center during sizing. Another trick that has been used is to remove the retaining pin on the shell holder slot on the press ram, and use an O-ring in its place to hold the shell holder in place. This allows the shell holder to self center during sizing as well.
Seating Steps to Minimize Run-Out
Run-out issues can arise during the bullet seating process. To reduce run-out during seating, use a high-quality die with a sliding sleeve. The sliding sleeve perfectly aligns the case with the bullet to be seated. Good examples of these dies are the Redding Competition Micrometer bullet seating dies, Forster Ultra Seaters, or RCBS Competition Seating dies. All of these dies utilize a micrometer top to precisely set seating depth. They are all very high quality dies that have tight tolerances to maximize bullet straightness during seating.
We receive many questions about seating long pointed bullets such as the Berger VLD or Hornady A-Max. One problem that the reloader faces with longer bullets is that they are so long that the standard seating stem is not machined deep enough to contact these bullets properly. The point of the bullet “bottoms out” in the stem and the result is off-center seating and/or rings and dents on the bullet nose. If you plan on using such bullets, you should purchase a “VLD” style seating stem, which is cut to accommodate the longer bullets. The use of this stem results in truer seating of the bullet without leaving a ring or marring the tip of the bullet.
Besides using a traditional press and threaded seating die, another great way to get a true bullet seat is by using an arbor press and Wilson chamber-type seating die. These dies are cut to very tight tolerances and have proven themselves as the main choice for bench rest enthusiasts. The design of the die positively aligns the case with the bullet as they are both captured by the die before the bullet is pushed straight into the case by the stem. These seating dies are available with the standard seating cap and stem or an additional micrometer top can be added for precise adjustment. Wilson also offers a stainless seating die with an integral micrometer seating head.
Finally another trick used by many in the seating process is to turn the case while the bullet is being seated. Some people claim this will keep things straight. What they do is raise the ram in increments while seating and rotate the case in the shellholder in increments of 90 degrees from the original starting while the bullet is being seated. Personally I have tried this and have seen no significant difference at all. However you may be the judge of this one. It makes sense, and maybe I should try this a little more before I rule it out.
After the Rounds Are Loaded — Batch Sorting by Concentricity Levels
No matter how meticulous you are, and no matter how good your components and tools are, run-out will still show up. Reloaders can drive themselves crazy trying to make each and every loaded round a true “0” in run-out. You will still see some minimal amount no matter what you do. Set yourself a standard of maximum allowable run-out for your loads. For instance for my Long Range 600- and 1000-yard F-Class loads I like to see .002” or less. I average .0015” and see a few in the range up to .004”. I spin each loaded round on my Sinclair Concentricity Gauge and sort them by run-out. Those that run over .002” I use for sighters or practice. Though achieving zero run-out (on every round) isn’t possible, minimizing run-out can definitely help your performance. Not only will your loads shoot better but you will have one less thing to worry about when you are lining up the sights on the target. — Pete Petros
- Care and Maintenance of Reloading Dies
- Neck-Expander Mandrels for More Uniform Neck Tension
- Expander Mandrels — Not Just for Neck-Turning
- Expander Tool for New Brass
- DVDs Provide Advanced Reloading Tips