June 6th, 2013

Amazing 0.349″ Group at 600 Yards — Wagner Shares His Secrets

Rodney Wagner IBS 600-yard RecordBack in May, IBS shooter Rodney Wagner shot a 0.349″ (50-2X) 5-shot group that became the talk of the shooting community. This was the smallest 600-yard group shot in the history of recorded rifle competition. Rodney’s group cuts the existing IBS 600-yard record in half. Rodney put five shots under the size of a dime at the distance of six football fields. Just pause and think about that…

News of this amazing feat spread like wildfire via the internet. People were amazed at what Rodney accomplished. Here are some actual comments posted on various shooting forums:

308Nut: Simply Astounding.

Coues Sniper: That’s insanity.

PapaJohn: I strut around like a peacock if my rifles will shoot under a half-inch at 100 yards. His group was better than that at six times the distance… that’s just unfathomable. I don’t see anyone breaking that record for a loooooooooooong time!

Given the spectacular (and historic) nature of Rodney’s 600-yard group, many folks wanted to learn more about Rodney’s equipment and his shooting techniques. For that reason, we’ve compiled this follow-up report. Rodney was kind enough to provide a short video showing his equipment and shooting technique. In his video demonstration, Rodney runs off a 5-shot group in about 19 seconds. When he actually shot the 0.349″ group, Rodney estimates he got the five shots down-range in 12-15 seconds. (He slowed down a bit for the video!)

Watch Rodney Wagner Fire Five Shots in Under 20 Seconds

Rodney comments: “You’ll notice I hold the stock with my left hand while working the bolt to keep it from losing its ‘track’ (that slows me down a lot). I have just gotten into the habit of doing that because I feel tracking is one of the most important things not to take for granted. With this technique I don’t have to ‘saw’ the stock into the bags as much when I get on to the record target.”

Rodney Wagner 600-yard record group

Record-Setting Load: Varget Powder, CCI Primers, and Berger 108s Jumped
Rodney’s record 0.349″ group works out to 0.055 MOA at 600 yards. To shoot a “zero” group at 600 yards you need the finest components and insanely good reloading techniques (not to mention the grace of God.) As he does with all his 600-yard ammo, Rodney pre-loaded before the match. This particular ammo had been loaded 5-6 days before the match. Here are specs on Rodney’s load:

  • 32.5 Grains of Hodgdon Varget Powder and CCI 450 Primers.
  • 108gr Berger BT Match bullets seated 0.020″ away from the lands.
  • Lapua 6mmBR brass fire-formed to 6 Dasher and turned to 0.265″ loaded round for a 0.268″-neck chamber.
  • Neck-sized with a 0.262″ Redding bushing.

Note that Rodney was using Berger 108s, not the 105gr VLDs or Berger’s popular 105gr Hybrids. Rodney found his Brux barrel shot best with the 108s: “I’d get really nice 4-shot groups with the VLDs, but it seemed there would be four together and one out. The 108s seem to have less fliers.” Rodney experimented with seating depths before he settled on a .020″ jump: “I shot them for a long time 3 to 5 thousandths in the lands, just barely in the lands. But I knew Sam Hall had really good luck jumping. So I went to .020″ jump and it all came together. The 108s have shot good like that in three different Brux barrels (all chambered with the same reamer) so I just start at that setting now — twenty off the lands.”

Rodney Wagner 600-yard record group

Record-Setting Equipment
Rodney was shooting a 17-lb Light Gun. It features a BAT Machine ‘B’ action, and a 29″ Brux barrel chambered for the 6mm Dasher with a 0.268″ neck. The 0.236″-land, 4-groove barrel was fairly new when the record group was shot — it had about 300 rounds through it, and had shot 30 rounds since its last cleaning. Rodney chambered the barrel himself. The stock is a Shehane ST-1000 fiberglass tracker, inletted and bedded by Tom Meredith. A March 10-60x52mm scope is held in Burris Signature Zee rings on a +10 MOA rail. These rings are inexpensive, but they work just fine, notes Rodney: “With the inserts I can align the scope mechanically and keep the windage pretty much centered in its travel.”

Supporting his rifle, Rodney used a Farley co-axial rest up front (on Super-Feet) and a Protektor Doctor bag in the rear. The Farley features a Borden top carrying an Edgewood bag. Rodney notes: “In the front, I use the black diamond blasting sand, because it doesn’t pack as hard as regular sand. You can buy it at tractor supply stores in the welding section. It’s not as heavy as heavy sand.”

Rodney Wagner IBS 600-yard Record

In the rear, Rodney runs a flat-top Protektor Doctor bag with Cordura ears. Rodney uses Sinclair heavy sand in his rear bag. He says “it’s got some squish — not much but just a little — call it a medium-hard fill”. Interestingly, Rodney sets up the bag so that the flat on the bottom of the stock rides on the stitches between the ears: “I like the stock to touch the top of the bag between the ears — I don’t like to see daylight.”

Conditions for the Record — You May Be Surprised
Many folks who have commented on Rodney’s 0.349″ group have wrongly assumed that the 0.349″ group was shot in “perfect” zero-wind conditions. Not so. There were switchy 5 mph winds with gusts to 10 mph. Rodney notes that on his second target of the day, he had to hold in three different places to manage a decent-sized group. So for those who think the group was shot in miraculous conditions, we have to say that wasn’t the case.

Creating Ultra-Accurate 6mm Dasher Ammunition

Rodney takes great care in loading his brass, and he employs a few tricks to get superior consistency.

Fire-Forming — To prepare his cases for fire-forming, Rodney starts by turning his Lapua brass to just past where the new neck-shoulder junction will be: “I just cut enough for the 6mm Dasher neck. A little bit of the cut shows on the shoulder after forming.” Then Rodney runs a .25-caliber K&M mandrel through the whole neck, expanding the neck diameter. After the entire neck is expanded, Rodney re-sizes the top section with a Wilson bushing, creating a false shoulder. Then, as further insurance that the case will be held firmly in place during fire-forming, Rodney seats his bullets long — hard into the lands. When fire-forming, Rodney uses a normal 6mmBR load of 29.8 grains of Varget: “I don’t like to stress my brass before it has been hardened. I load enough powder to form the shoulder 95%. Any more than that is just wasted.” Rodney adds: “When fire-forming, I don’t want to use a super-hard primer. I prefer to use a Federal 205, CCI 200, or Winchester — something soft.” Using a softer primer lessens the likelihood that the case will drive forward when hit by the firing pin, so this helps achieve more consistent “blow lengths”.

Ammo Loading — Rodney is fastidious with his brass and weighs his charges very precisely. Charges are first dispensed with an RFD manual powder measure, then Rodney trickles kernel by kernel using a highly-precise Sartorius GD-503 laboratory scale. He tries to maintain charge-weight consistency within half a tenth of a grain — about two kernels of Varget powder.

K&M arbor press bullet seating force accurateshooter.comOne important technique Rodney employs is sorting by bullet-seating force. Rodney batch-sorts his loaded rounds based on seating force indicated by the dial gauge on his K&M arbor press: “I use a K&M arbor press with dial indicator strain gauge. When I’m loading I pay lots of attention to seating effort and I try to batch five rounds that feel the same. For record rounds I try to make sure I get five of the same number (on the dial). When sorting based on the force-gauge readout, you need to go slow. If you go too fast the needle will spike up and down before you can see it.”

In practice, Rodney might select five rounds with a gauge value of 25, then another five with a gauge read-out of 30 and so on. He places the first five like-value rounds in one row of his ammo caddy. The next like-value set of five will go in the next row down. By this method, he ensures that all five cartridges in a five-round set for a record target will have bullets seated with very consistent seating force.

Rodney Wagner IBS 600-yard Record

Unlike some top shooters, Rodney does not regularly anneal his cases. However, after every firing, he does tumble his Dasher brass in treated corncob media. After sizing his brass, before seating the bullets, he runs a nylon brush in the necks: “The last thing I do before firing is run a well-worn 30 caliber nylon brush in the necks, using a small 6-volt drill for power. This is a quick operation — just in and out the neck”. Sometimes, at the end of the season, he will anneal, but Rodney adds: “If I can get 10 firings out of the case I’ve done good.” He usually makes up new brass when he fits a new barrel: “If it is a good barrel (that I may shoot at the Nationals), I’ll usually go ahead and prepare 200 pieces of good brass.”

Shooting Techniques — Piloting a 600-yard Group into the Zeros
Gun-handling and Rate of Fire — As you can see from the video, Rodney shoots with very minimal contact on the rifle. He normally shoots a string fast, but he remains calm and steady — almost machine-like. In the video he runs five shots in about 19 seconds, but he figures he shot the 0.349″ group in 12-15 seconds. Rodney says: “I’m not quite as fast as Sam Hall but I can usually run ‘em under fifteen seconds, sometimes closer to 10 on a good day. But when I shot the 0.349″ I couldn’t see the flags for the last shot so I dipped the joystick down between 4th and 5th shots, and that took a couple seconds. The flags had not changed, so I kept the same point of aim for 4th and 5th shot. I’d been watching that flag all morning, so to satisfy my curiosity I kind of dipped down for a second.”

Rodney Wagner 600 yard record

Rodney Wagner IBS 600-yard RecordAiming for the Nine — To shoot ultra-small at long range, you must aim very, very precisely. When shooting at 600 yards, Rodney lines up his cross-hairs on the white number “9” in the blue field above the ten ring. This is visible through his rifle-scope at 600 yards, and it provides an aim point smaller than the center “X”.

Rodney explains: “I always aim for the number 9 up in the blue field. It provides for a smaller aim point. I noticed a difference when I started doing that. I learned that from some guys from South Dakota. It made sense so I’ve been doing it ever sense.”

Tips for 600-Yard Shooters New to the Game
In the course of our interview with Rodney, we asked if he had any tips for shooters who are getting started in the 600-yard Benchrest Game. Rodney offered some sensible advice:

1. Don’t try to go it alone. Find an old-timer to mentor you. As a novice, go to matches, watch and ask questions.
2. Go with a proven cartridge. If you are shooting 600 yards stick with a 6mmBR or one of the 6BR improveds (BRX or Dasher). Keep it simple. I tried some of the larger cartridges, the 6XC and 6-6.5×47 Lapua. I was trying to be different, but I was not successful. It wasn’t a disaster — I learned something. But I found the larger cases were not as accurate as a 6BR or Dasher. Those bigger cartridges are competitive for score but not for group.
3. You don’t have to spend a fortune to be competitive. Buy a used rifle from somebody and find out if you like the sport. You can save a lot with a used rifle, but do plan on buying a new barrel immediately.
4. Don’t waste weeks or months struggling with a barrel that isn’t shooting. My best barrels, including this record-setting Brux, started shooting exceptionally well right from the start.

Rodney Wagner 600 yard record

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