Lapua just dropped a bombshell — multiple bombshells, in fact. Lapua just announced that it will be producing .221 Fireball brass and .50 BMG brass starting early 2014. This will be the first truly match-grade brass ever offered for the .221 Fireball. That’s great news for varminters, who can use Lapua’s new .221 Fireball brass “as is” or neck it down to .20 Vartarg or 17 Fireball. Tactical shooters can also use the .221 Fireball brass to make the .300 Whisper and 300 Blackout sub-sonic cartridges. At the other end of the spectrum, ultra-long-range shooters now have a new ultra-premium brass source for the mighty .50 BMG. This is potentially a “game-changer” for fifty-cal shooters who have had to “make do” with military surplus brass for the most part. Lapua says the new brass, both .50 BMG and .221 Fireball, should be in the USA by early April, 2014. Sorry, no pricing info is yet available.
Here is the Lapua Product Announcement for .221 Fireball and .50 BMG Brass:
New 180-Grain and 150-Grain 7mm Scenar-L Bullets
The other big news from Lapua is the release of two new 7mm (.284 caliber) Scenar-L target bullets. Recognizing the popularity of 7mm cartridges among F-Class Open Division shooters, Lapua will offer a high-BC, 180-grain bullet. As part of the “L” series, this new 180-grainer bullet should exhibit extreme consistency in base-to-ogive measurements and bullet weight. We expect this new 180gr projectile to be extremely accurate in the .284 Winchester, .284 Shehane, 7mm WSM, and 7mm RSAUM — popular chamberings for F-Class and long-range benchrest shooters. No BC information has been released yet, but we expect the BC number to be quite high, giving this bullet great wind-bucking capability. In addition to the new 180gr 7mm Scenar-L, Lapua will offer a new 150gr 7mm bullet. This is optimized for medium range competition in Silhouette and Across-the-Course competition. It should offer great accuracy, but with less felt recoil than its 180-grain bigger brother.
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For many guys, a 17 HMR is their “go-to” rifle for squirrels and small varmints. The 17 HMR is a great little cartridge — speedy and accurate. However, in recent months, 17 HMR ammo has been hard to find. Take heart guys, we’ve learned that site sponsors Graf & Sons and Powder Valley Inc. both have Hornady 17gr 17 HMR ammo in stock right now. This ammo is loaded with plastic-tipped 17gr V-Max bullets. Traveling at roughly 2570 fps (from a 22″ barrel), this little 17-grainer is ultra-effective on pesky ground squirrels and other small critters. On our squirrel hunts, the 17gr V-Max did the job out to 200 yards, no problem. Grafs.com sells the 17gr Hornady 17 HMR ammo for $12.99 per box of 50 (item HRN83170). That price includes shipping (after a single $6.95 handling charge). Powder Valley currently offers Hornady’s 17gr V-Max 17 HMR ammo for $11.30 per box of 50 (item HOR83170, shipping extra).
If you want to learn more about the 17 HMR cartridge, read our Gun of the Week Article on the subject. This two-gun shoot-out compares the performance of a Volquartsen 17 HMR semi-auto and a Ruger 77/17 bolt-action. Glen Robinson, the owner of both rifles, has done some serious comparison testing with both rifles, trying out a half-dozen varieties of 17 HMR ammo. The overall results may surprise you. The semi-auto outshot the bolt gun by a significant margin, with all types of ammo tested.
Comparing the Qualities of the Two 17 HMR Rifles
By Glen Robinson
While the Volquartsen proved to be the more accurate of my pair of 17 HMRs, I still enjoy owning both rifles. Each gun has its strong points and weak points.
Ruger Strong Points: From any angle, the Ruger 77/17 is a nice-looking rifle with classic lines. I like the gray-finish stainless barrel — it goes well with the gray laminated stock. With the addition of the aftermarket sear, the trigger is crisp and the bolt function is smooth. The action is strong and dependable. The conventional “open rear” action allows you to clean “normally” with a bore guide, cleaning rod, and patches/brushes. I feel I can do a better job of cleaning with the Ruger than with the boresnake on the Volquartsen. Ergonomically, the Ruger is easier to get down on because the stock is lower.
Ruger Weak Points: Accuracy is somewhat disappointing. The best 100-yard group the Ruger has shot was about 0.82″ and the gun averages well over 1.25″ for 5 shots. In fairness, I haven’t done anything exotic in terms of bedding the action/barrel, and I would expect that an aftermarket barrel, perhaps combined with a barrel pre-load (up-pressure) pad, could improve the accuracy.
Volquartsen Strong Points: The Volquartsen is a well-made, accurate, dependable rifle. The gun cycles very reliably and requires very little maintenance. To clean it, just pull a boresnake through the bore. The gun exhibits very nice machining, and the VX-5000 stock rides steady on a front sand-bag, even though it’s only about 1.75″ wide. Even without any tweaking the trigger is very good, and the pull weight is fine for varminting.
Volquartsen Weak Points: The VX-5000 stock is not ideal for bench work — the comb is a bit too high, though I like the feel of the vertical grip. This stock profile is really more suited for silhouette shooting, but this stock seemed to be the best option offered by Volquartsen that could be used for both paper-punching and varminting. The receiver design limits your options for barrel cleaning.
Conclusion — The Volquartsen Takes the Prize
Having shot both rifles extensively, if I had to pick one gun, it would be the Volquartsen. The Volquartsen is much more accurate and it offers much faster follow-up shots. For varminting the Volquartsen would be superior, no question about it. I’m happy I bought the Volquartsen and the VX-5000 stock. It is a fun, versatile gun that lives up to the accuracy claims.
Chances are that many of you have packed away your ammo and shooting supplies for the winter. Maybe you put your brass in a storage bin that might also contain solvents, old rags, or used bore swabs. Well, if you use any ammonia-based solvents, we suggest you separate the brass and ammo and keep it away from potential ammonia vapors. This is because long-term exposure to ammonia fumes can cause cracks to form in your brass. This can lead to case ruptures and possible injury.
This case-cracking phenomenon has been called Season Cracking, a form of stress-corrosion cracking of brass cartridge cases. Season cracking is characterized by deep brittle cracks which penetrate into affected components. If the cracks reach a critical size, the component can suddenly fracture, sometimes with disastrous results. If the concentration of ammonia is very high, then corrosion is much more severe, and damage over all exposed surfaces occurs. The brass cracking is caused by a reaction between ammonia and copper that forms the cuprammonium ion, Cu(NH3)4, a chemical complex which is water-soluble. The problem of cracking can also occur in copper and copper alloys such as bronze.
Season Cracking was originally observed by the British forces in India a century ago. During the monsoon season, military activity was reduced, and ammunition was stored in stables until the dry weather returned. Many brass cartridges were subsequently found to be cracked, especially where the case was crimped to the bullet. In 1921, in the Journal of the Institute of Metals, the phenomenon was explained by Moor, Beckinsale, and Mallinson. Apparently ammonia from horse urine, combined with the residual stress in the cold-drawn metal of the cartridges, was responsible for the cracking.
Don’t store ammunition (or brass) for long periods in a box or container holding ammoniated solvents:
The Australia Department of Defense (AUSDOD) has also explored the problem of brass cracking caused, at least in part, by exposure to ammonia. A study was done to see whether the amount of cracking (from ammonia exposure) varied according to the duration and temperature of the annealing process used on the brass. CLICK HERE to read AUSDOD Research Report.
Story idea from Boyd Allen. We welcome reader submissions.
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We know many readers have been searching high and low for components and high-quality ammunition, particularly for popular chamberings such as the .308 Winchester. Well Santa delivered something nice for you .308 shooters. Bullets.com received a large shipment of Norma-brand Tac .308 ammo. This is good stuff — Norma brass loaded with a quality 150gr Norma FMJ bullet. This Tac-308 ammo is now in stock and On Sale for $53.50 for fifty (50) rounds at Bullets.com. If you can find this elsewhere, you’ll pay $65.00 or more per box. And remember, you’ve got quality Norma brass that will last for many reloadings after the ammo is fired. When you consider the value of the brass for reloading, this deal is even more attractive.
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For many cartridge types, Hornady Superformance ammunition provides enhanced velocity compared to some other types of factory-loaded ammo. However, Hornady has found that there may be issues when Superformance ammo is shot in gas-operated guns with barrels under 20″, or with barrels fitted with suppressors. This is because the gas returning from the barrel port may cause the bolt to begin unlocking prematurely. Hornady has published the following information concerning the uses of Superformance ammo in direct impingment and gas piston self-loading rifles.
Internal Ballistics of Superformance Ammo in Semi-Auto Guns
Superformance™ ammunition is tested and is safely within SAAMI pressure guidelines. Gas operated (direct impingement or gas piston) firearms are perfectly safe to use with Superformance ammunition. However, Hornady ballisticians have conducted testing with a variety of guns (including guns equipped with suppressors), and our findings conclude that some systems work far better with Superformance ammunition than others.
It is recommended that to get the best functioning with Superformance ammunition in gas operated/gas piston semi-automatic or select fire guns, rifle length gas systems with 20 inch or longer barrel lengths are best for reliable firing and extraction. Any other configuration — particularly shorter barrels/gas systems — are best served with the installation of an adjustable gas system, ESPECIALLY if a suppressor is to be installed.
Due to the longer duration of peak pressure produced by Superformance, the post peak/declining port pressure at common carbine and mid-length gas port locations is still higher than that produced by standard propellant. This has a tendency to flood the system with a larger volume of gas, at a higher velocity, that tries to open the bolt of the gun too fast. It’s a timing issue. The cartridge case is still swollen from the application of pressure during firing while the gun is simultaneously trying to extract the cartridge case before it has had an opportunity to settle back to its original size, or more simply: the gun is still in the process or firing while it’s trying to extract the cartridge case.
If the firearm and the ammunition are not in sync, there can be what is commonly identified as “pressure signs” on the cartridge case. This is exhibited by the movement/marring of the head of the cartridge case, cratered primers, flat primers, ripped or ruptured cartridge cases, “popped primers”, and/or any combination of these effects. If any of these “pressure signs”; are apparent, stop firing immediately. If an adjustable gas system is installed, it is advisable to reduce the amount of gas flowing through the system by closing the gas port until the gun operates correctly.
With the installation of an adjustable gas system, gas pressure can be metered to a point that enough gas is applied to open the bolt, but at a slower rate to allow the cartridge case to return to its original diameter prior to the movement of the bolt, and thus allow for proper extraction.
Pressure VS Gas Port Location
Due to the longer duration of peak pressure produced by Superformance™, the post peak/declining pressure at common carbine and mid-length gas port locations is still higher than that produced by standard propellant. However, there is very little difference in port pressure between Superformance™ and standard propellants at the rifle length port location.
Superformance and Suppressors
The use of suppressors on rifles creates yet another dynamic in firearms design that is not commonly understood or communicated. Consider the suppressor on a firearm the same as a muffler on a car. The suppressor works as a filter for the gas (noise) that is escaping the barrel during firing. As a “filter”, it takes longer for the gas to leave the confines of the firearm, and thus, it creates back pressure. This back pressure, ESPECIALLY in a gas operated firearm forces an extensive amount of gas back through the firearm’s operating system that may create too much thrust too early during the firearm’s cycle of operation.
To counteract this back pressure, the use of an adjustable gas system is advised. By metering the gas system to ensure that it will cycle the firearm correctly and not flood the system with gas/pressure, the gun will work properly and will still benefit dramatically from the increased velocity potential of Superformance ammunition.
How much can you save reloading your own ammo? Well that depends on the cost of components and how much you have invested in your reloading gear. UltimateReloader.com has created a handy online Reloading Costs Calculator that lets you quickly compare the cost of reloaded ammo vs. factory ammo. Just enter the costs of powder, primers, bullets, and brass, and the Calculator will tell you the cost per round, per 20-rd box, per 50-rd box, and cost per thousand. Note — when setting the price of the brass you need to divide the initial cost by the number of predicted reloads. For example if you have 500 pieces of brass that cost $40/100 to buy ($200 total), but you get 8 reloads per case, then you put $25.00 in the Calculator ($200 total brass cost divided by 8).
True Reloading Cost Should Include Amortized Tool Expenses
Ah… but there is a catch. To understand the true cost of reloading, you also need to consider the costs of your tools and accessories, amortized over the tools’ loading lifespan. Let’s say you have $1000.00 invested in presses, dies, tumblers, measuring tools and other accessories, with a residual value of $500.00 (upon resale). If you load 5,000 rounds with those tools over their lifespan, you need to add $0.10 per round for tooling costs (your investment minus residual value, divided by the number of rounds loaded). The UltimateReloader.com Calculator does not include amortized tooling costs, but that’s something you can easily figure out on your own.
Excellent Resource for Reloading Videos
After you’ve tried out the Reloading Costs Calculator, check out the other content on UltimateReloader.com. This site features some of the best gun-related “how-to” videos on the internet. With sharp video and clear audio, the production quality is very high. If you use a progressive press (Dillon, Hornady, RCBS), you should definitely watch UltimateReloader.com’s videos — you’ll probably learn a new trick or two. In the sample video below, you can see how Hornady’s new Bullet Feeder works with its Lock-N-Load Progressive press.
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The days of the “ORM-D: Small Arms Cartridges” labels for ammo shipments are numbered. The Dept. of Transportation (DOT) is phasing out the current ORM-D ammo labels, replacing them with a larger striped diamond label that does not mention “Small Arms Cartridges”. This change is designed to harmonize U.S. shipping rules with United Nations standards. You can start using the new “Limited Quantity” diamond labels for ammo shipments right now, and they will be mandatory next year, as of January 1, 2014. You can continue to use the old ORM-D “Cartridges, Small Arms” labels until December 31, 2013. But starting on January 1, 2014, you MUST use the Striped Diamonds.
OFFICIAL UPS RULES — Elimination of ORM-D Classification
In an attempt to harmonize and align with international standards, the DOT has amended the 49CFR regulations regarding the ORM-D classification. Effective January 19, 2011, with the publication of the HM-215K final rule, the hazard class of ORM-D is being eliminated. Those materials may still be shipped classified as a limited quantity (“Ltd Qty”). In conjunction with ORM-D hazard class elimination in HM-215K, limited quantity ground shipments will no longer require shipping papers when prepared under the new rule. This includes those materials previously classed as Ltd Qty that required shipping papers via ground transport.
Ground Ltd Qty Marking
Air Ltd Qty Marking
NOTE: These illustrations are not true to scale. The actual default Ltd Qty Diamond label to be used for ammo shipments is much larger, about 5″ per side. A smaller 2″ per side version of the Ltd Qty striped diamond can be used on smaller packages.
There is a transition period for shippers to comply with the new classification, marking and labeling requirements. Until December 31, 2013 a limited quantity package containing a consumer commodity as defined in 171.8 may be reclassed as ORM-D, or until December 31, 2012 for ORM-D-Air material. UPS began accepting materials with the new markings effective April 1, 2011. Note: To be in compliance with TDG, Standard (ground) Ltd Qty shipments to Canada prepared under HM-215K require the verbiage ‘Limited quantity’ or ‘Ltd qty’ to also be marked on the carton.
Download OLD and NEW Label Formats
On the Parallax Curio and Relic Forum, a thread includes PDF samples of both the new Diamond Ltd Qty Labels and the current ORM-D Labels. The thread explains: “The good news is the new label doesn’t have any indicator that the package contains ammunition. The bad news is the new label is gigantic compared to the old ORM-D label. You are required to use one of the larger labels on one side of any package containing ammunition. If the package is too small for one of the larger labels then you are permitted to use one of the smaller labels instead. Because of the size requirement in the regulations, you only get two of each label on standard piece of printer paper.”
When neck-turning cases, it’s a good idea to extend the cut slightly below the neck-shoulder junction. This helps keep neck tension more uniform after repeated firings, by preventing a build-up of brass where the neck meets the shoulder. One of our Forum members, Craig from Ireland, a self-declared “neck-turning novice”, was having some problems turning brass for his 20 Tactical cases. He was correctly attempting to continue the cut slightly past the neck-shoulder junction, but he was concerned that brass was being removed too far down the shoulder.
Craig writes: “Everywhere I have read about neck turning, [it says] you need to cut slightly into the neck/shoulder junction to stop doughnutting. I completely understand this but I cant seem to get my neck-turning tool set-up to just touch the neck/shoulder junction. It either just doesn’t touch [the shoulder] or cuts nearly the whole shoulder and that just looks very messy. No matter how I adjust the mandrel to set how far down the neck it cuts, it either doesn’t touch it or it cuts far too much. I think it may relate to the bevel on the cutter in my neck-turning tool…”
Looking at Craig’s pictures, we’d agree that he didn’t need to cut so far down into the shoulder. There is a simple solution for this situation. Craig is using a neck-turning tool with a rather shallow cutter bevel angle. This 20-degree angle is set up as “universal geometry” that will work with any shoulder angle. Unfortunately, as you work the cutter down the neck, a shallow angled-cutter tip such as this will remove brass fairly far down. You only want to extend the cut about 1/32 of an inch past the neck-shoulder junction. This is enough to eliminate brass build-up at the base of the neck that can cause doughnuts to form.
The answer here is simply to use a cutter tip with a wider angle — 30 to 40 degrees. The cutter for the K&M neck-turning tool (above) has a shorter bevel that better matches a 30° shoulder. There is also a 40° tip available. PMA Tool and 21st Century Shooting also offer carbide cutters with a variety of bevel angles to match your case shoulder angle*. WalkerTexasRanger reports: “I went to a 40-degree cutter head just to address this same issue, and I have been much happier with the results. The 40-degree heads are available from Sinclair Int’l for $13 or so.” Forum Member CBonner concurs: “I had the same problem with my 7WSM… The 40-degree cutter was the answer.” Below is Sinclair’s 40° cutter for its NT-1000, NT-1500, and NT-4000 neck-turning tools. Item NT-3140, it sells for $12.95. There is also a 40° cutter for the NT-3000 tool, item NT-3340 ($13.95).
Al Nyhus has another clever solution: “The best way I’ve found to get around this problem is to get an extra shell holder and face it off .020-.025 and then run the cases into the sizing die. This will push the shoulder back .020-.025. Then you neck turn down to the ‘new’ neck/shoulder junction and simply stop there. Fireforming the cases by seating the bullets hard into the lands will blow the shoulder forward and the extra neck length you turned by having the shoulder set back will now be blended perfectly into the shoulder. The results are a case that perfectly fits the chamber and zero donuts.”
A while back, Forum member BigBlack had an experience at the gun range that reminds us of the importance of safety when shooting. He encountered evidence that someone had fired the wrong cartridge in a 7mm WSM rifle. The problem is more common than you may think. This editor has personally seen novices try to shoot 9mm ammo in 40sw pistols. BigBlack’s story is along those lines, though the results were much more dramatic. It’s too bad a knowledgeable shooter was not nearby to “intervene” before this fellow chambered the wrong ammo.
7mm-08 is Not the Same as a 7mm WSM
BigBlack writes: “I know this has probably been replayed a thousand times but I feel we can never be reminded enough about safety. This weekend at the range I found a ruptured case on the ground. My immediate thoughts were that it was a hot load, but the neck area was begging for me to take a closer look, so I did. I took home the exploded case and rummaged through my old cases until I found a close match. From my investigative work it appears someone shot a 7mm-08 in a 7mm WSM. Take a look. In the photo below I’ve put together a 7mm WSM case (top), the ruptured case (middle), and a 7mm-08 case (bottom).”
You can see from the photo what probably happened to the 7mm-08 case. The shoulder moved forward to match the 7mm WSM profile. The sidewalls of the case expanded outward in the much larger 7mm WSM chamber until they lacked the strength to contain the charge, and then the case sides ruptured catastophically. A blow-out of this kind can be very dangerous, as the expanding gasses may not be completely contained within the action.
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If you want to see how a muzzle brake really works, definitely watch this remarkable slow-motion video compiled by Proof Research.
This amazing video features a variety of firearms: suppressed 9mm pistol, .338 Norma rifle, .300 WinMag rifle, 12ga comp’d shotgun, plus an AR15 and AR10.
This Must-Watch Video Has Some Amazing Ultra-Slow-Motion Segments
Watch the ultra-slow motion segment at the 2:55 mark and you can actually see a .30-cal bullet spin its way through the muzzle brake, leaving trail of flame that blows out the ports. Interestingly, at the 3:10 mark, you can also see a bright “afterburn” ball of fire that forms a few inches ahead of the muzzle milliseconds after the bullet has left the barrel. Perhaps this is late ignition of unburned powder?
More and more shooters are “wet-tumbling” their brass (in liquid) with reusable polishing media, rather than using dry media in a vibratory tumbler. The “wet-cleaning” method works best with a rotary tumbler fitted with a water-tight, horizontal drum to hold your brass, cleaning solution, and stainless, pin-type media. The rotary tumbler of choice has been the Thumler’s Tumbler Model B Heavy-Duty. That is a great, sturdy machine, but now you have a more affordable option.
Frankford Arsenal has introduced a new “Platinum Series” rotary tumbler designed to clean cartridge brass with liquid and stainless media. We don’t have an official MSRP yet, but Grafs.com is listing the Rotary Tumbler at $180.99. This new tumbler should be available in early 2014 if not sooner. The watertight, polymer drum rides on four rollers which rotate the drum around its horizontal axis. Two filters are provided so you can quickly separate your brass and media. A built-in timer allows you to set tumbling sessions up to three hours. Frankford Arsenal says its new product will clean up to 1000 cases of .223 Rem brass. That’s impressive capacity.
How to Wet-Clean Your Brass in a Rotary Tumbler
On our main Accurateshooter.com website, you’ll find a comprehensive review of the STM system for cleaning cartridge brass with stainless media. To clean brass with stainless media, start with five pounds of small stainless pins sold by StainlessTumblingMedia.com. Place these along with a gallon of water, a little liquid cleaner, and two pounds of cartridge brass in a rotary tumbler, and run the machine for one to four hours. CLICK HERE for Brass Cleaning System Review
Forum Member Tests STM System
Our reviewer, Forum member Jason Koplin, purchased the STM media and a new Thumler’s Tumbler. He then tested the STM cleaning procedure on his own brass, including some extremely dirty and tarnished “range pick-up” brass. Jason was thoroughly impressed with how well the STM process worked — as you can see from the “before and after” photos below. Brass which looked like it was ready for the scrap heap was restored to “like-new” appearance. The process works equally well on both rifle brass and pistol brass. Jason observed that one surprise benefit of the STM cleaning procedure is a big reduction in noise. Jason said the water-filled rotary tumbler was much quieter than his vibratory tumblers.
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Get an inside look at the how ammunition is made with this step-by-step production guide from Hornady. The video begins by showing the stages in production of a lead-core jacketed bullet with exposed tip, such as the Hornady Interlock. Next, at the 1:38″ time-mark, the video shows how cartridge cases are made, starting with small brass cups (photo right). The brass is lengthened in a series of stages involving annealing, drawing, polishing, and the formation of the case head with primer pocket. Finally, at the 2:40″ time mark, the video shows how bullets and powder are seated into cartridge cases on the Hornady assembly line. In the final production stages, the completed ammunition is tested and packaged.
Watch Ammo Production Video
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