Bryan Litz with his F-TR Nat’l Championship-winnning rifle, and the man who built it, John Pierce.
Bryan Litz knows something about bullet shapes and dimensions. He’s the chief designer of many of Berger’s projectiles, including the successful line of Hybrid bullets. Bryan also understands how bullets actually perform in “real world” competition. Bryan won BOTH the Mid-Range and Long-Range National F-TR Championships this year, a remarkable accomplishment. With Bryan’s technical expertise combined with his shooting skills, few people are better qualified to answer the question: “how should I sort bullets when loading for competition?”
Bullet Sorting Strategies — OAL vs. Base to Ogive
At the 2015 Berger Southwest Nationals, Forum member Erik Cortina cornered Bryan Litz of Applied Ballistics. Erik was curious about bullet sorting. Knowing that bullets can be sorted by many different criteria (e.g. weight, overall length, base to ogive length, actual bearing surface length etc.) Erik asked Bryan to specify the most important dimension to consider when sorting. Bryan recommended sorting by “Base to Ogive”. Litz noted that: “Sorting by overall length can be misleading because of the nature of the open-tip match bullet. You might get a bullet that measures longer because it has a jagged [tip], but that bullet might not fly any different. But measuring base to ogive might indicate that the bullet is formed differently — basically it’s a higher resolution measurement….”
Need name-brand bullets? Here’s a way to save 10% on Nosler, Sierra, Hornady, and Speer Bullets. Here’s how it works — this weekend only (August 28-31, 2015) Wideners.com is offering 10% off ALL Nosler, Sierra, Hornady, and Speer bullets in stock (some other bulk-brand bullets are on sale as well).
NOTE: Widener’s says “The discount will not appear on the website or on your order at checkout but will be applied when we process the order”. We suggest you print out your order and compare that with the actual charge(s) on your credit card to ensure that Widener’s did, in fact, apply the 10% discount. As they say: “Trust, but verify“. The Sale ends at 5:59 am Eastern Standard Time 8/31/15. That’s very early in the morning on Monday so we advise you to place your orders before midnight, before you go to bed on Sunday, 8/30/2015.
Sale Tip from EdLongrange. We welcome reader submissions.
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Lapua, the Finnish maker of premium cartridge brass, bullets, and ammunition, has created a new Lapua Club for Lapua’s customers and product users. By signing up for the Lapua Club, you can get access to “members-only” data. In addition, by registering multiple products, you can get rewards such as Lapua hats and holsters. For each product registered you’ll also get a chance to win instant prizes or a Grand Prize Whitetail Hunt.
How to Sign Up for the Lapua Club
Join the Lapua Club by scanning the QR code on your 2015 Lapua ammunition box, Lapua cartridge case box, or Lapua bullet package. Use your mobile phone to read the QR code on your Lapua package(s), or go to http://www.club.lapua.com/en/campaign/lapua-club/ and directly type in the code. (NOTE: Packages that do not have a QR code may have a card in the box with the QR code.) By registering your package(s) you become entitled to exclusive Lapua Club member benefits.
NOTE: Lapua recommends that customers register each cartridge package separately. The more products you register, the more Lapua gear you can get:
By registering 5 products or more you can qualify for a Lapua Cap.
By registering 10 products or more you can qualify for a Lapua Holster.
Lapua notes: “If you have purchased multiple cartridge packages, you should register all of them separately. Each package code … gives you a chance to win instant prizes and take part in our main [contest]. Whether or not your package codes won an instant prize, each of them will also compete for the grand prize: a ticket to the Lapua White Tail Hunt 2015 event.”
Register your Lapua Products by entering the QR code on Lapua product packages.
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How do you build better (more precise) ammo drop tables? With radar, that’s how. Barnes Bullets is using Doppler Radar to develop the drop tables for its new Precision Match line of factory ammunition. The Doppler radar allows Barnes to determine actual velocities at hundreds of points along a bullet’s flight path. This provides a more complete view of the ballistics “behavior” of the bullet, particularly at long range. Using Doppler radar, Barnes has learned that neither the G1 nor G7 BC models are perfect. Barnes essentially builds a custom drag curve for each bullet using Doppler radar findings.
Use of Doppler Radar to Generate Trajectory Solutions
by Barnes Bullets, LLC
Typical trajectory tables are generated by measuring only two values: muzzle velocity, and either time-of-flight to a downrange target, or a second downrange velocity. Depending on the test facility where this data is gathered, that downrange target or chronograph may only be 100 to 300 yards from the muzzle. These values are used to calculate the Ballistic Coefficient (BC value) of the bullet, and the BC value is then referenced to a standardized drag curve such as G1 or G7 to generate the trajectory table.
This approach works reasonably well for the distances encountered in most hunting and target shooting conditions, but breaks down rapidly for long range work. It’s really an archaic approach based on artillery firings conducted in the late 1800s and computational techniques developed before the advent of modern computers.
There is a better approach which has been utilized by modern militaries around the world for many years to generate very precise firing solutions. Due to the sizeable investment required, it has been slow to make its way into the commercial market. This modern approach is to use a Doppler radar system to gather thousands of data points as a bullet flies downrange. This radar data is used to generate a bullet specific drag curve, and then fed into a modern 6 Degree of Freedom (DOF) [ballistics software program] to generate precise firing solutions and greatly increase first-round hit probability. (The 6 DOF software accounts for x, y, and z position along with the bullet’s pitch, yaw, and roll rates.)
Barnes has invested heavily in this modern approach. Our Doppler radar system can track bullets out to 1500 meters, recording the velocity and time of flight of that bullet every few feet along the flight path. Consider the graph below showing a bullet specific drag curve referenced to the more common G1 and G7 curves:
Neither of the standard curves is a particularly good match to our test bullet. In the legacy approach to generating a downrange trajectory table, the BC value is in effect a multiplier or a fudge factor that’s used to shift the drag curve of the test bullet to try and approximate one of the standard curves. This leads to heated arguments as to which of the standardized drag curves is a better fit, or if multiple BC values should be used to better approximate the standard curve (e.g., use one BC value when the velocity is between Mach 1 and Mach 2, and a different BC value when the velocity is between Mach 2 and Mach 3.) Barnes’ approach to creating trajectory tables is to generate bullet-specific drag curves, and use that data directly in a modern, state-of-the-art, 6 DOF ballistics program called Prodas to generate the firing solution.
Story tip from EdLongrange. We welcome reader submissions.
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If you wonder how ammo is made, starting with raw metal, check out this video from Hornady. It shows how bullet jackets are formed from copper, followed by insertion of a lead core. The jacket is then closed up over the core with the bullet taking its final shape in a die (a cannelure is applied on some bullet types). Next the video shows how cartridge brass is formed, starting with small cups of brass. The last part of the video shows how cases are primed and filled with powder, and how bullets are seated into the cases, using an automated process on a giant assembly-line. CLICK Link below to watch video:
“The overturning moment MW tends to rotate the bullet about an axis, which goes through the CG (center of gravity) and which is perpendicular to the plane of drag….
Ruprecht Nennstiel, a forensic ballistics expert from Wiesbaden, Germany, has authored a great resource about bullet behavior in flight. Nennstiel’s comprehensive article, How Do Bullets Fly, explains all the forces which affect bullet flight including gravity, wind, gyroscopic effects, aerodynamic drag, and lift. Nennstiel even explains the rather arcane Magnus Force and Coriolis Effect which come into play at long ranges. Nennstiel’s remarkable resource contains many useful illustrations plus new experimental observations of bullets fired from small arms, both at short and at long ranges.
Shadowgraph of .308 Winchester Bullet
A convenient index is provided so you can study each particular force in sequence. Writing with clear, precise prose, Nennstiel explains each key factor that affects external ballistics. For starters, we all know that bullets spin when launched from a rifled barrel. But Nennstiel explains in greater detail how this spinning creates gyroscopic stability:
Here’s a great search service that can help you locate hard-to-find ammunition and reloading components — while saving money in the process. Ammoseek.com monitors more than a dozen online vendors — checking current pricing and available inventory, for pistol, rifle, and shotgun ammunition. Need .45 acp ammo for your 1911? Just select “.45 ACP” from the “Quick Seek” list on the right. Likewise you can find .223 Rem and .308 Win Rifle ammo with one click.
Find .22 LR Ammo Quickly
Looking for hard-to-find .22 LR rimfire ammunition? Well AmmoSeek makes it easy — you don’t even have to enter any search words. Simply click on the highlighted links for AmmoSeek’s 22LR Page.
Use Ammoseek.com to Find Reloading Components Too
Ammoseek.com also lets you search for reloading components, including powder, primers, brass, and bullets. This is a huge time-saver. You can instantly check a dozen or more vendors to see if a particular type of powder is in stock. Likewise, you can quickly check for primer availability. If you have a big match coming up and are short on primers — this could solve the problem.
Story Tip by Boyd Allen. We welcome reader submissions.
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At the 2015 Berger Southwest Nationals, Forum member Erik Cortina cornered Bryan Litz of Applied Ballistics. Erik, the F-Open winner in the 600-yard Mid-Range match, was curious about bullet sorting. Knowing that bullets can be sorted by many different criteria (e.g. weight, overall length, base to ogive length, actual bearing surface length etc.) Erik asked Bryan to specify the most important dimension to consider when sorting. Bryan recommended sorting by “Base to Ogive”. Litz noted that: “Sorting by overall length can be misleading because of the nature of the open-tip match bullet. You might get a bullet that measures longer because it has a jagged [tip], but that bullet might not fly any different. But measuring base to ogive might indicate that the bullet is formed differently — basically it’s a higher resolution measurement….”
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.
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Applied Ballistics has just announced Ballistic Performance of Rifle Bullets. This new book is chock full of “mission critical” data on hundreds of popular projectiles. This latest reference book from Bryan Litz contains live fire test data on 400 modern rifle bullets. The data pages contained in this book are similar to the 225 bullet data pages found in Applied Ballistics for Long Range Shooting. The Ballistic Coefficient data is based on live fire testing methods which are repeatable within +/- 1%. If you’re looking for “rock-solid” info on the ballistic performance of today’s most popular rifle projectiles, this work is the definitive print resource. Scroll down to see a sample page from the new book.
Visit the Applied Ballistics Online Store to pre-order your copy and save $5. Note: Pre-orders are expected to ship and arrive at USA destinations in time for Christmas. Retail price is $54.95, with a $5.00 pre-order discount.
More about the Book
“Modern rifles have reached an unprecedented level of accuracy. In many cases, the weak link in the chain of hitting targets is the trajectory modeling, which is based on bullet performance,” stated author Bryan Litz. Unfortunately, shooters can’t always rely on advertised Ballistic Coefficients (BCs) being accurate. Slight errors in BC modeling can be the cause of missing your target. Furthermore, a meaningful apples-to-apples comparison of bullet performance is not possible when the BCs are determined differently by various brands.
This book provides highly accurate ballistic performance data for 400 modern long range bullets from .224 to .408 caliber. By employing a common testing method for bullets of all brands, shooters are provided with consistent and accurate performance data which can be used to compare and select bullets, as well as to calculate accurate trajectories which put your shots on target at long range. It is claimed that the BC data is accurate (and repeatable) to +/- 1% for all bullets tested.
Detailed stability data is also included which can be used to determine suitable twist rates for bullets in various environments.
View Sample Page from Ballistic Performance of Rifle Bullets:
NOTE: This is a reference book which contains mostly data pages. There is a single chapter in the beginning which talks about how to use the data. For a more thorough understanding of the science of external ballistics, readers are referred to: Applied Ballistics for Long Range Shooting (2d Edition).
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For years, many shooters have coated bullets with Moly (molybdenum disulfide) or Danzac (tungsten disulfide or “WS2″). The idea was to reduce friction between bullets and barrel. In theory, this could lengthen barrel life and extend the number of rounds a shooter can fire between cleanings.
Moly and WS2 both have their fans, but in the last couple of years, some guys have switched to Hexagonal Boron Nitride (HBN), another dry lubricant. The advantage of HBN is that it won’t combine with moisture to create harmful acids. HBN is very slippery and it goes on clear, so it doesn’t leave a dirty mess on your hands or loading bench. Typically, HBN is applied via impact plating (tumbling), just as with Moly.
HBN Results — Both on Bullets and Barrel Bores
Many folks have asked, “Does Hexagonal Boron Nitride really work?” You’ll find answers to that and many other questions on gunsmith Stan Ware’s popular Bench-Talk.com Blog. There Paul Becigneul (aka Pbike) gives a detailed run-down on HBN use, comparing it to other friction-reducers. Paul also discusses the use of HBN in suspension to pre-coat the inside of barrels. Paul observes:
We coated our bullets … how we had been coating with WS2. Now our bullets have a slightly white sheen to them with kind of like a pearl coat. They are so slippery it takes a little practice to pick them up and not drop them on the trailer floor. What have we noticed down range? Nothing different from WS2 other than the black ring on your target around the bullet hole is now white or nonexistent. Our barrels clean just as clean as with WS2. Your hands aren’t black at the end of the day of shooting and that might be the most important part.
Interestingly, Becigneul decided to try a solution of HBN in alcohol, to pre-coat the inside of barrels. Paul had previously used a compound called Penephite to coat the inside of his barrels after cleaning. Paul explains:
If Penephite was used because it was slippery wouldn’t HBN be better? … We called Jon Leist again, and talked to him about mixing HBN and 90% alcohol for a suspension agent to pre-lube our barrels. He though it sounded great but that the AC6111 Grade HBN would be better for this use. It would stand up in the alcohol suspension and cling to the barrel when passed through on a patch. We got some from Jonn and mixed it in alcohol 90%. We use about one teaspoon in 16 ounces of alcohol.
We started using it this fall and what we have noticed is that now that first shot fired out of a clean and pre-lubed barrel can be trusted as the true impact point. We use tuners so now I got to the line, fire two shots judge my group for vertical, adjust the tuner as needed or not, and after tune has been achieved go to my record targets. This use has saved us in time at the bench and bullets in the backstop.
You really should read the whole article by Becigneul. He discusses the use of barrel lubes such as Penephite and “Lock-Ease” in some detail. Paul also provides links to HBN vendors and to the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for the various compounds he tested.
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Quality .30-caliber bullets aren’t cheap. But here’s a deal that should make you take notice. Midsouth Shooters Supply has major-maker 175gr HPBT bullets in 500-count lots for just $99.01. That’s right, ninety-nine bucks for FIVE hundred 175-grainers from one of USA’s leading bullet makers. (Clever boys can probably figure out the source).
If you need match-grade .30-caliber bullets for your F-TR or tactical rifle, this is a very good deal — you’re effectively paying just $19.08 per hundred. We haven’t seen these kind of prices on .30-caliber bullets in a long time. If you’re interested, act soon — quantities are limited.
NOTE: These over-run bullets are also listed as OEM blem. That means there may be some cosmetic flaws, such as water spots or discoloration. But they should shoot fine.
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“This new series is heavily based in experimental ballistics, and takes a ‘Myth Busters’-type approach to many of the questions and problems faced by modern long range shooters,” stated Litz. Volume I of the series is scheduled for release in late July, 2014. The book will cost $39.95, but you can pre-order now for $35.95, a 10% savings.
Bryan adds: “Anyone interested in the underlying science behind shooting can benefit from this book. We address the important questions… How much does faster twist affect MV? How does stability affect BC from the muzzle and downrange? What chronographs are capable of high accuracy and precision? What characteristics should you look for in your long range rifle and optic set up? What new gadgets are being developed to enhance long range shooting?
New Book Features Extensive Live-Fire Test Results
Bryan tells us: “The book spotlights state-of-the-art technologies (and methodologies) in long range shooting. New equipment and old ideas are explored using experimental, live-fire testing. Extensive test results are reported in an easy-to-understand way. Among other things, our tests explore the effects of twist rate on muzzle velocity, BC (supersonic and transonic), precision, even spin rate decay for various rifling profiles as they are tested experimentally.
Chronographs and Optics Are Tested and Compared
Litz’s new book traces the evolution of modern rifle, bullet, and optic design. Results from chronograph comparison tests are presented, showing the strengths and weaknesses of available commercial chronographs. High-tech instrumentation such as laser rangefinders and wind measurement devices are explained in detail by contributing author Nick Vitalbo.
The New Book Puts Theory into Practice
We asked Bryan Litz how this new book differs from his previous treatises. Bryan replied: “My original Applied Ballistics for Long-Range Shooting book explains the fundamental elements of external ballistics. It’s the academic background which all future work relies on. The new book, Modern Advancements in Long Range Shooting, covers the ongoing development of equipment and ideas. We explore things like twist rate effects, modern rifle and optic design, and some of the high tech instruments which are being used to enhance the effectiveness of long range shooting.
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Many of our readers have been interested in learning how modern bullets are made. While a “boutique” bullet-maker, supplied with appropriate cores and jackets, can craft bullets using relatively simple hand dies and manual presses, factory production is different. The major bullet-makers, such as Barnes, employ huge, complex machines to craft their projectiles on an assembly line.
Modern hunting bullets are made with a variety of sophisticated (and expensive) machines, such as Computer Numerical Control (CNC) lathes, giant multi-stage presses, and hydraulic extruding machines that draw lead ingots into lead wire. Barnes offers an “inside look” at the bullet production process in a series of videos filmed at its Mona, UT factory. We’ve embedded four videos from the series here. These videos can also be viewed on the Barnes Bullets YouTube Channel.
Milling Slots in TSX All-Copper Bullet
This video shows how the slots (between the drive bands) in the TSX all-copper bullet are cut. The slots reduce the bearing surface that contacts the rifling. This helps reduce friction and heat, extending the life of barrels used with all-metal, drive-band bullets:
Varminator Bullets Produced in Jumbo Transfer Press
Here is the transfer press used in the production of Varminator and MPG Bullets. The process begins with a giant spool of flat copper material. The copper is stamped into jackets and eventually the formed Varminator bullets are ejected one by one into a bucket.
CNC Lathe Turns Bullets Automatically
In the video below, a Bar-Feed CNC crafts mono-bloc bullets from metal bar stock. Barnes uses a small CNC lathe to turn .50-caliber bullets from brass bar stock. We’re not sure which bullet is being made in this video. The material looks to be sintered metal. In the close-ups you can gold-colored shavings from when the machine was previously used for CNC-turned brass bullets.
Accuracy Testing in 100-yard Tunnel
Barnes regularly tests bullet samples for accuracy. In the video below, a Barnes technician loads sample rounds and tests them for accuracy in a 100-yard tunnel. The rounds are shot through a special fixture — basically a barreled action connected to parallel rods on either side. This allows the testing fixture to slide straight back on recoil (see it move back at 1:07-08 minute mark). Note how the tester actuates the trigger, which is oriented upwards, just the opposite of a normal rifle. The technician taps the upward-pointing trigger shoe lightly with a metal rod. Could this upside-down trigger orientation be useful in benchrest shooting — perhaps with railguns? It could make for an interesting experiment.
Story suggestion by EdLongrange. We welcome reader submissions.
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Along with his gunsmithing and barrel-making enterprises, Clay Spencer of Spencer Rifle Barrels operated a very successful bullet-making business. Clay’s bullets are in high demand by top competitors. Clay has made a variety of bullet types, from a 52gr .22 caliber up to a 118gr .30 caliber, with four different 6mm bullet types (65gr, 68gr, 95gr VLD, 103gr VLD). All his designs have proven themselves in competition. In particular, the 103-grainer has won many matches and set a few world records in the process.
If you have ever shot Spencer bullets you know how good they are. Unfortunately, the era of Spencer-branded bullets is coming to a close. Clay has decided to sell his bullet-making operation. The good news for shooters is that Clay’s bullet-making expertise will be passed on to a new owner/operator, Tom Jacobs, who will employ Clay’s bullet dies and presses to carry on the tradition of Spencer bullets. Clay’s bullet designs will now be produced in Missouri by Vapor Trail Bullets. Here’s the official announcement:
Vapor Trail Bullets is pleased to announce the acquisition of Spencer Bullets. Clay Spencer, long known for his world record-setting, hand-made bullets, has sold his bullet-making equipment and personally trained Vapor Trail Bullets owner Tom Jacobs in the manner and methods to continue this successful tradition. The bullet making operation has been moved to Spickard, Missouri. Vapor Trail Bullets looks to expand the product line while continuing to produce the bullets Clay Spencer is known for. For bullet orders please contact Tom Jacobs at 660-748-8111.
How Custom Bullets Are Made on Hand Presses
If you’ve ever wondered how custom, match-grade bullets are made, here are images of bullets being made in Clay Spencer’s shop. The images show bullet cores being seated and bullets being “pointed up”. These same presses (modified RCBS Rockchuckers), dies, and other tools have been moved to Missouri to be used by Vapor Trail Bullets.
Story tip by EdLongrange. We welcome reader submissions.
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When we first ran this story a while back, it generated great interest among readers. By popular request, we’re reprinting this story, in case you missed it the first time around. — Editor
Precision shooters favor premium brass from Lapua, Norma, or RWS. (Lake City also makes quality brass in military calibers.) Premium brass delivers better accuracy, more consistent velocities, and longer life. Shooters understand the importance of good brass, but many of us have no idea how cartridge cases are actually made. Here’s how it’s done.
The process starts with a brass disk stamped from strips of metal. Then, through a series of stages, the brass is extruded or drawn into a cylindrical shape. In the extrusion process the brass is squeezed through a die under tremendous pressure. This is repeated two or three times typically. In the more traditional “draw” process, the case is progressively stretched longer, in 3 to 5 stages, using a series of high-pressure rams forcing the brass into a form die. While extrusion may be more common today, RWS, which makes some of the most uniform brass in the world, still uses the draw process: “It starts with cup drawing after the bands have been punched out. RWS cases are drawn in three ‘stages’ and after each draw they are annealed, pickled, rinsed and subjected to further quality improvement measures. This achieves specific hardening of the brass cases and increases their resistance to extraordinary stresses.” FYI, Lapua also uses a traditional draw process to manufacture most of its cartridge brass (although Lapua employs some proprietary steps that are different from RWS’s methods).
After the cases are extruded or drawn to max length, the cases are trimmed and the neck/shoulder are formed. Then the extractor groove (on rimless cases) is formed or machined, and the primer pocket is created in the base. One way to form the primer pocket is to use a hardened steel plug called a “bunter”. In the photos below you see the stages for forming a 20mm cannon case (courtesy OldAmmo.com), along with bunters used for Lake City rifle brass. This illustrates the draw process (as opposed to extrusion). The process of draw-forming rifle brass is that same as for this 20mm shell, just on a smaller scale.
River Valley Ordnance explains: “When a case is being made, it is drawn to its final draw length, with the diameter being slightly smaller than needed. At this point in its life, the head of the draw is slightly rounded, and there are no provisions for a primer. So the final drawn cases are trimmed to length, then run into the head bunter. A punch, ground to the intended contours for the inside of the case, pushes the draw into a cylindrical die and holds it in place while another punch rams into the case from the other end, mashing the bottom flat. That secondary ram holds the headstamp bunter punch.
The headstamp bunter punch has a protrusion on the end to make the primer pocket, and has raised lettering around the face to form the headstamp writing. This is, of course, all a mirror image of the finished case head. Small cases, such as 5.56×45, can be headed with a single strike. Larger cases, like 7.62×51 and 50 BMG, need to be struck once to form a dent for the primer pocket, then a second strike to finish the pocket, flatten the head, and imprint the writing. This second strike works the brass to harden it so it will support the pressure of firing.”
Thanks to Guy Hildebrand, of the Cartridge Collectors’ Exchange, OldAmmo.com, for providing this 20mm Draw Set photo. Bunter photo from River Valley Ordnance.
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Federal has created an award-winning Bullet Breakdown Video (below) that demonstrates how various hunting bullets perform in ballistic gelatin. This and other videos are found on Federal Premium Ammunition’s YouTube Channel. The Bullet Breakdown Video features four bullet types used in Federal Ammo: Nosler Ballistic Tip; Sierra GameKing; Trophy Bonded Tip; and Barnes Triple-Shock X-Bullet. (Note: you may want to turn down the volume before playback.)
Federal’s high-resolution, slow-motion video-graphy helps demonstrate which loads are the best for specific uses. The ultra-slo-mo footage provides a detailed view of each bullet penetrating ballistic gelatin blocks. These blocks closely mimic animal tissue and clearly display performance characteristics.
“The Bullet Breakdown Video is a great tool for hunters trying to decide on ammunition type,” said Federal’s Jason Nash. “Properly preparing for the hunt is crucial-and not all bullets are made the same. The bullet is the one link between hunter and game and can be the difference between success and failure. This video helps show hunters how different bullet construction affects terminal performance[.]” For more info, visit www.FederalPremium.com.
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Hornady’s annual Get Loaded™ redemption program has become one of the company’s most popular promos. The 2014 Get Loaded™ program offers a lineup of quality reloading tools and accessories that qualify buyers for either 500 or 100 free bullets (from a list of ten bullet types).
Buy Hornady Gear, Get Free Hornady Bullets
Here’s how it works — if you buy Hornady reloading gear, you can get free bullets. Purchase a Hornady Lock-N-Load® Ammo Plant, AP Press, Classic Kit, Classic Deluxe Kit, Precision Reloaders Kit, or Hot Tub Sonic Cleaner from January 1 through December 31, 2014, and you can receive 500 free bullets. Purchase Custom Grade Die Sets, or the Lock-N-Load® Case Prep Trio and receive 100 free bullets. Application is required. CLICK HERE for more details.
In our article on Bullet Coating we covered the basic principles of applying dry lubricants to “naked” bullets. This article covered the three main coating options: Molybdenum Disulfide (Moly), Tungsten Disulfide (WS2 or “Danzac”), and Hexagonal Boron Nitride (HBN or “White Graphite”). All three compounds can be impact-plated on to bullets with relative ease, using inexpensive equipment. Moly is still the most popular choice, but many more shooters are considering HBN because it is ultra-slippery, it is less messy, and it offers some advantages over Moly or WS2.
After we published our Bullet Coating feature, many readers asked for more info on HBN. Some current moly users had questions about switching over to Boron Nitride. Forum member Larry Medler has published an excellent web article discussing the process of applying 70nm HBN using plastic jars and a Thumler’s rotary tumbler. If you are working with HBN currently, or plan to experiment with Boron Nitride, you should read Medler’s HBN-Coating Article.
After coating some bullets for his 6XC, Medler seems “sold” on the merits of HBN. Larry writes: “The coating process is much better than Moly — no black mess. My coating process times are the same as for Moly. Three hours of tumbling in the corn cob and three hours of tumbling in the steel balls with 3.0 grains of hBN Powder. The bullets look something like sugar-coated donuts when I dump the jar of steel balls with the freshly coated bullets into my sieve to separate. The coated bullets wipe clean to the touch with a little towel rub down and remain very slippery. So far I am very pleased with my coated bullets’ smoothness and appearance.”
Field Tests Are Very Promising
Interestingly, Larry’s HBN-coated bullets are shooting flatter, with tighter vertical, than his moly-coated bullets. Since he has also pointed the tips of this batch of bullets, it’s not clear whether the reduced drop is due to the pointing or the HBN coating, but the results are certainly encouraging: “I have shot the HBN-coated bullets a couple of times now at 600 yards and everything seems to be okay or a lot like Moly. Funny thing is the HBN-coated bullets are shooting higher by 7/8 MOA. I have to check the speed and see if it has changed enough for that POI change. Good news is I had a string of 15 shots with less than 1.5 inches of vertical which is the best I have ever seen with my rifles. Is that due to the hBN or bullet pointing?”
Photos courtesy Larry Medler, All Rights Reserved
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Looking for quality, name-brand projectiles at a bargain price? Then check out the Hornady Bulk Bullets Specials at Grafs.com. Currently, Grafs.com has a variety of popular Hornady rifle and pistol bullets on sale. Get one hundred 75gr .224-caliber BTHP bullets for just $16.99 (Item #HRN2279B). If you favor .30-caliber cartridges, you can get one hundred 110gr FMJ bullets for $18.99 (Item #HRN3017B).
Your Editor just ordered some .45-caliber 185gr SWCs for his S&W 1911. These .451-diameter Hornady-made FMJ bullets are $19.89 per 100 bullets (Item #HRN45137B). Round-nose 230gr .45-caliber FMJ bullets are also offered for $22.39. If you shoot a 9mm pistol, you can order 147gr FMJ bulk bullets for just $15.99 per 100 (Item #HRN35597B). These prices are comparable with the cost of cast lead bullets from other vendors. When you consider that many indoor ranges no longer allow non-jacketed lead bullets, you may want to get some Hornady bulk bullets from Grafs.com while supplies last. NOTE: the stated prices include shipping after one flat handling fee of $7.95 per order.
Product tip from EdLongrange. We welcome reader submissions.
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