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August 15th, 2021

Sunday GunDay: Winning .300 WSMs at 152nd Imperial Meeting

.300 WSM imperial meeting bisley win short magnum gary costello

For today’s Sunday GunDay story, we head across the Atlantic to the famed Bisley range in the United Kingdom (UK). There the historic Imperial Meeting took place last month. This shooting competition is steeped in history, first being held 161 years ago in 1860. Today we highlight the .300 WSM rifles shot by F-Open winner (and Forum member) Gary Costello. Gary came home with a huge haul of trophies. He won the F-Open Grand Agg on V-count scoring 665-76V, 19Vs more than second place Lance Vinall’s 665-57V. In the UK the “V” is equivalent to our “X”, and the target has five number rings, with five being the highest numerical shot value.

Gary posted: “Finally cooled down after the Bisley Imperial Meeting. What a week, 8 trophies, 14 gold medals, two silver, two bronze and the big one — the Grand. It was an experience shooting in 86+ F degree heat and at some unusual times. Congratulations to all the medal and comp winners, in particular to second-place Lance Vinall, who shot a great match”.

.300 WSM imperial meeting bisley win short magnum gary costello

.300 WSM imperial meeting bisley win short magnum gary costello

About the Imperial Meeting at Bisley in the UK

.300 WSM imperial meeting bisley win short magnum gary costello

The Imperial Meeting is a large, multi-discipline rifle shooting match contested annually in the United Kingdom. This article spotlights Gary Costello, who won the 2021 Imperial F-Open division with his pair of handsome .300 WSM rifles.

The first Imperial Meeting event was contested on Wimbledon Common, in southwest London, in 1860 when Queen Victoria fired the first shot and gave a prize of £250 to the best individual marksman. Originally the Meeting was only available to Volunteers (regular and reserve military personnel) using the issued service rifle of the day.

.300 WSM imperial meeting bisley win short magnum gary costello

Today the UK National Rifle Association holds the Imperial Meeting as an open competition with the aim to promote and encourage marksmanship throughout the Queen’s (or King’s) dominions. The event has grown to include many different disciplines. The largest entry is for Target Rifle, which dominates the final week of the Meeting and culminates with the final of the Queen’s Prize. The Queen’s Prize remains the premier award for the Meeting’s top shot, with the £250 prize still given to the winner.

.300 WSM imperial meeting bisley win short magnum gary costello

Host to the competition is the National Shooting Center at Bisley, the world-renowned range complex which can host virtually all forms of shooting from air rifle to 1200-yard full-bore matches. Set in 3000 acres of heathland, Bisley is unique in character with a wide variety of ranges.

.300 WSM imperial meeting bisley win short magnum gary costello
.300 WSM imperial meeting bisley win short magnum gary costello

Report from Imperial Meeting at Bisley by Gary Costello

The recent 2021 Imperial Meeting was the 152nd event of its kind. Last year was my first Meeting and it was a condensed version as the COVID lockdown had just been relaxed (but later revived). This 2021 Imperial was the full version. In F-class we had 15 scheduled matches, held at 300, 500, 600, 900 and 1000 yards. In these matches you get two sighters and the 15 shots for record. This year was my second Imperial Meeting. Lots of shooters were keen to enjoy some shooting freedom now that the UK national lockdowns had ended. However the NRA was still practicing COVID safety protocols.

.300 WSM imperial meeting bisley win short magnum gary costello

Three very prestigious competitions are qualifiers for the final matches. These three are: the St. Georges, the Donaldson, and the Farquharson (named after George Farquharson, the father of F-Class). The finals add another three matches if you qualify. Also there are three range Aggregates which qualify for medals/trophies.

Twin Winning .300 WSM F-Open Rifles
Gary brought TWO .300 WSM F-Open match rifles to the Imperial Meeting. Gary notes: “I had two .300 WSM rifles ready for the competition. I have managed to tune both rifles to take the same ammo and seating depth allowing me to alternate and use the same lot of ammo. My philosophy was to alternate both rifles as to not cause too much attrition/wear (due to the high round count and multiple matches). One .300 WSM rifle has a Borden BRMDX action, with some Thomas “Speedy” Gonzales mods and the trademark Speedy bolt shroud fluting. This has a 1:9.5″-twist Benchmark 5-groove barrel, actually chambered by Stuart Anselm at GS Precision Engineering Services.”

Gary’s second .300 WSM F-Open rifle features a BAT M RBLP dual port fitted with a 1:10″-twist Bartlein barrel (supplied by Speedy), with action tuned and modified by Speedy. Both rifles are chambered virtually identically. Both rifles have Cerus stocks, blueprinted Jewell triggers, and Ezell PDT tuners.

.300 WSM imperial meeting bisley win short magnum gary costello
The rifles are supported with a Lenzi front coaxial rest and a Lenzi rear bag, spec’d to the Cerus stocks.

Match .300 WSM Load — Berger Bullets, Norma Brass, H4350, Fed 210M
I run the .30 Cal Berger 215gr Hybrid bullet exclusively. I have not found a better long range bullet for F-Class. I use neck-turned Norma .300 WSM brass, H4350 powder, and Federal 210gm match primers. Unfortunately H4350 is not available in the UK anymore, but I was lucky to buy up a decent amount before it was banned. I anneal the Norma brass with an AMP 2 annealer every firing. But I do NOT trim and chamfer after every firing — only when the brass gets to the point of requiring it.

Here is the .300 WSM compared to a .284 Shehane (7mm), another popular F-Open cartridge
.300 WSM norma brass win short magnum gary costello
Cartridge comparison image by Kris Wilson, aka “Willow” on our AccurateShooter Forum.

.300 WSM norma brass win short magnum gary costello
The .300 WSM has been described as a “super-sized Dasher”.

.300 WSM imperial meeting bisley win short magnum gary costello

OPTICS — March 10-60x56mm High Master Scopes
Both .300 WSM rifles have March 10-60x56mm High Master (HM) riflescopes. Gary notes: “In my slightly biased opinion, this scope is simply the best F-Class and long-range scope money can buy. I was using a MTR-3 reticle in one scope and the slightly thinner MTR-1 reticle in the other. The HM temp lens system is astonishingly clear and bright. It’s very easy on the eye, reducing strain and fatigue during long shoots.”

.300 WSM imperial meeting bisley win short magnum gary costello

March optics have a clever system which enables shooters to use their scopes like a FFP scope on specific zoom power. The MTR1 and MTR3 reticles are subtended with hash marks at 1 MOA on 40X and 2 MOA at 20X, this allows the shooter to calibrate the necessary hold from a sighting shot without even looking at a plotting sheet, it also makes very precise hold over and follow up shots, (which proved invaluable during the week with the very switching and changing conditions) it also gives you the choice to turn down the power if mirage and conditions call for it.

.300 WSM imperial meeting bisley win short magnum gary costello

March 10-60×56 HM scopes feature a Temp anti-drift lens system. This has really proved its worth in searing temps. The clarity and image quality helped me achieve three personal bests and wins. (TIP: Use the MD disk supplied with your scope if you have one. Mine never left the rifle all week.) In fact I actually stopped using my spotting scope on some of the shoots as I could see mirage better through the March than anything else.

March Optics 10-50x56mm scope costello

Mental Preparation — Be Confident and Consistent
I went into the Imperial after having a very good season so far. I was unbeaten in three National 2-day matches. So my confidence was high and I was feeling good about the competition. This confidence proved a massive advantage — you have to believe in your abilities.

.300 WSM imperial meeting bisley win short magnum gary costello

My main focus was to be consistent. At the Imperial it’s almost impossible to win every single competition, as there are 18 in total. However one must not to make too many mistakes and be consistent. As Brian Litz says, a “train wreck” will finish your comp. However if you stay consistent and only drop a few points here and there, you will be all right, as most other competitors will drop a few points as well. The key is not to make BIG mistakes.

Here’s an example of avoiding the “train wreck” disaster when conditions are tough:

Final Final — the Farquharson. It was super hot, the wind was up and conditions were very tricky, I knew this was going to be a survival match and it was. I saw many 3s going in, however I did have a pretty good hold on the conditions losing a few 4s but nothing major until a big fat 3 came out of nowhere. But I persevered and did not let this upset me as I could see lots of points being lost around me. When the dust had settled I won by 2 points in this match and 4 points overall in the Aggregate.

Physical Fitness — Training Is Important
I have been working hard on my physical fitness for the past two years (after a pretty serious condition). Fitness really helps in a long competition and especially in the heat, with the stress it can cause. During the Imperial match, vehicles are only allowed in certain areas so you have to be able to hand-carry your shooting kit all over the range, a very large area. In recent months, I’ve dropped 25 pounds in weight. That helped — I found myself very physically able to cope with the exertions.

Reloading Advice from Gary Costello

.300 WSM imperial meeting bisley win short magnum gary costello

Check and Double-Check Everything! Often I have found errors and mistakes which would not bode well for accuracy.

Label Everything! This is especially important when preparing for a long competition, and when shooting different rifles.

Choose a Temp-Stable Powder. Make sure you select a powder that is not sensitive to temp variations. Hodgdon, and Alliant would be my choice, and of course some Vihtavuori powders.

Load to the MIDDLE of your Accuracy Node. This way you can allow for warmer or cooler temps and conditions. I see lots of guys just pick the fastest speed and/or smallest group. But that can get you in trouble on hot days.

Use Quality Tools and Dies. Buy the best reloading gear your budget allows. Quality kit will last forever and stand you in good stead.

Thanks to Speedy, Cerus, and March Scopes
A big mention has to go to my good friend and master gunsmith Thomas (“Speedy”) Gonzales. This man is a legend and has taught me more about the dark arts than anybody. I think he produces the finest rifles known to man. Give credit also to Cerus Rifleworks. All my rifles have Cerus stocks and they are just awesome. Final mention is to March Optics. I have the honor to work with this company since 2010. I believe they make the finest optics in the world.

.300 WSM imperial meeting bisley win short magnum gary costello
Gary also shot with the winning White Horse Lodge F-TR Team coached by Stuart Anselm.

Photos courtesy NRA of the UK’s Facebook Page.

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August 15th, 2021

Guide to Auto-Indexing Progressive Reloading Presses

USAMU Progressive Press auto  self-advancing

The U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit regularly publishes reloading “how-to” articles on the USAMU Facebook page. One very good article, part 5 of a 6-part series, focused on Progressive Presses. This article explains proper procedures for Auto-Indexing Progressives, which advance the shell-plate with every pull of the handle. Auto Progressives are very efficient, but they also require special attention and focus, because so many things are happening at once. You need to train yourself to watch every station. If you run a progressive press now, or are considering getting a progressive, we recommend you read this article. Visit the USAMU Facebook page for other helpful handloading guidance.

Progressive Loading Presses — Self-Advancing Shellplate Type

USAMU Progressive Press auto  self-advancing
Photo courtesy

Recently, we addressed manually-operated progressive presses for the beginning handloader. This type press requires one to manually advance the shellplate after each handle stroke. An advantage for beginners is that nothing happens at any station until the loader wants it to. This helps users avoid problems from clearing malfunctions without noticing that the shellplate has advanced itself. (Read Previous USAMU Article on Manual Progressives.)

The next, more luxurious type progressive press advances the shellplate automatically whenever the handle is cycled. [Editor: This is also called an “Auto-Indexing” Progressive Press.] Typically, each stroke automatically sizes and primes a case, operates the powder measure (if used) and seats a bullet. Some also have case feeders that automatically put a new case in the shellplate with every cycle. Others require the loader to insert a case each cycle. With both types, the loader usually puts a bullet on each sized/primed/charged case.

[CAVEAT: While our Handloading Shop has several progressive presses, ALL of our powder charges are thrown/weighed by hand. We do not use powder measures on our presses. Our progressives are used for brass preparation, priming, seating, etc., but not for fully-progressive loading.]

The manually-advanced press can be a boon to beginners, but as one gains experience it can be a mixed blessing, depending on one’s style. If one pays close attention to every operation and loads without distractions, the manual press is very reliable and allows full scrutiny of each round as it is loaded. However, if one easily drifts into day-dreaming, or isn’t focused on paying careful attention at all times, the manual progressive can be a bit of a liability. The opportunity for forgetting a powder charge, leading to a squib load, is ever-present. [Editor: A lock-out die can help reduce the risk of a squib load, or a double-charge. See below.]

The automatically-advancing progressives help prevent this by ensuring a powder charge will be dropped each time the handle is operated. Experienced handloaders often appreciate this feature due to the savings of time and effort. Individual preferences between the two press styles are influenced by several factors. These include one’s comfort with more- vs. less-complicated mechanisms, how often one changes calibers (case feeders often must be converted, in addition to dies and shellplates), how many rounds one loads annually, relative ease of changing primer mechanisms from small to large, etc. Automatic progressives and their caliber conversion kits tend to be significantly more expensive than manual progressives and caliber conversions from the same maker.

One USAMU handloader, who likes simple, bullet-proof machines and maximum efficiency when converting presses, owns two manually-advanced progressives. One is set up for large primers, and the other for small primers. He can change calibers in the twinkling of an eye. As he loads for many different calibers, this fits his style. Another handloader here is just the opposite. He loads for a few calibers, but in larger quantities. He much prefers his self-advancing press with case-feeder for its speed. He makes large lots of ammo in a given caliber before switching, to improve overall efficiency. His caliber conversion kits are more expensive than those for the manually-advanced progressive, but he uses fewer of them.

Whichever type one chooses, it is VERY important to buy quality gear from a manufacturer with a long, well-established track record for quality, durability and good customer support. Avoid jumping on the “latest, greatest” model until it has a proven track record. For example, this writer knows a loader who got a brand-new, expensive, self-advancing model press some years back, shortly after its introduction. As is too often the case these days, the manufacturer released it before all the “bugs” were worked out.

Better Safe Than Sorry — the RCBS Lock-Out Die
RCBS Makes a “Lock-Out Die” that senses the powder charge. This will halt the Progressive press if you have a double charge, or an undercharge. Your Editor has the Lock-Out Die on his RCBS Pro 2000. It has “saved his bacon” a half-dozen times over the years. It can be used on Dillon and Hornady progressives as well as RCBS machines.

It would not fully seat primers to the correct depth. No amount of adjustment, extra force, or fiddling would do better than to seat primers barely flush with the case head. Any inattention could result in a slightly “high” primer, protruding above the case head. It created a risk for slam-fires, particularly in semi-autos without spring-retracted firing pins, such as the M1 or M1A. In desperation, he had a machinist buddy study the problem and machine a new part to correct it. No dice. Its engineering didn’t permit full primer seating, even with extended parts. He now wishes he’d heeded his shooting buddies’ advice to stick with the “tried and true,” reliable performer they all used.

Whichever press one selects, see if the maker has a kit or list of commonly-replaced parts. Having needed springs, pins, etc. on hand in the rare event that one breaks or “goes missing” can save the day when one is busy loading for a match! Another tip for improving one’s overall loading efficiency (rounds loaded with minimal set-up/tear-down time) is to plan one’s handloading by primer size. For example, if your machine is set to use small primers, load all the calibers that you intend to that take small primers, before converting the press to load large-primer calibers.

In our next chapter, we’ll discuss peculiarities of progressive loading for rifle cartridges, with remedies for problems such as excessive cartridge-case headspace variation when sizing, tips for ensuring best powder charge consistency, and so on. Until then, be safe, and good shooting!

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August 15th, 2021

Tech Tip: Better Viewing with Magnifier for Balance Beam Scales

RCBS 10-10 Scale

When he measures his loads or sorts bullets by weight, Forum Member Boyd Allen often employs his trusty RCBS 10-10 balance beam scale (although he does have handy digital scales as well). He finds that the balance beam scale works predictably, time after time, and it doesn’t suffer from the drift and calibration issues that plague some of the less expensive electronic scales on the market.

RCBS Balance Beam scale 10-10

To make it easier to see the balance point, Boyd has adapted a magnifying glass with a mirror. This makes the end of his balance beam easier to view from his normal position on the bench. Boyd explains: “This set-up uses a cheap magnifier with positioning arms that was probably designed to hold and magnify small objects while soldering them. I think that it came from Harbor Freight many years ago. The mirror lets you look at the scale as if is was at eye level, and of course the magnifier makes the image easier to see.”

If you have a balance beam scale, we suggest you try this simple enhancement. We predict you’ll find the magnifier speeds up the process with enhanced assurance of your load weight.

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