October 6th, 2019

Sunday GunDay: Chris Nichols’s 600-Yard Light and Heavy Guns

IBS Benchrest Chris Nichols Heavy Gun Record HG aggregate north carolina
Chris Nichols with potential world record (1.297″ 4-Target Agg) Heavy Gun Targets!

Report by Bart Sauter, Bart’s Custom Bullets
Chris Nichols is one of the best 600-yard shooters in the game. This 2019 season he compiled one of the most impressive mid-range benchrest seasons ever. Check out the stats — Chris’s nine-match, Two-Gun Group Aggregate (Agg) for the year is 1.983″! That’s under two inches average at 600 for 72 record targets fired in competition. Many 600-yard shooters aspire to shoot a single, 4-target Agg that measures 1.983″, but doing that for 72 targets is amazing!

And of the nine matches Chris shot, he took SIX Overall Two-Gun wins — a 67% win ratio. And in the process Chris also shot what is possibly the smallest 4-target Heavy Gun Agg ever recorded — 1.297 inches. Hey readers — that Agg works out to 0.206 MOA average group size — well under quarter-MOA for four, 5-shot groups at 0.34 MILES (600 yards)!

IBS Benchrest Chris Nichols Heavy Gun Record HG aggregate north carolina
Chris with 0.665″ group at 600 yards. This is the smallest HG group fired in the IBS in 2019.

The Equipment: 6mm Dasher Light Gun and Heavy Gun
Chris likes to run 1.550 stainless steel Bat “B” actions, Jewell triggers, Brux or Bartlein barrels. He prefers wooden stocks as he feels they produce a better resonance for Long Range rifles. Chris has his own stock design crafted by Johnny Byers. Imagine a Wheeler LRB stock front half mated with an McMillan ST 1000 rear section and you have Chris’ stock! It features a Wheeler-type, 4″-wide fore-end with an ST 1000 low-comb profile in the back. Both Light Gun and Heavy Gun sport Vortex 15-60x52mm Golden Eagle scopes mounted with Harrell’s double screw tall rings. Chris does NOT use either muzzle brake or tuner.

IBS Benchrest Chris Nichols Heavy Gun Record HG aggregate north carolina
Here is Chris at his home range with his Light Gun (17 lbs. max).

Chris Nichols’s Heavy Gun is a true heavy coming in at around 42 pounds. It was responsible for the HG Agg of 1.297″ (potential new world record). His season-long aggregate with his Heavy Gun was 1.861″ for 36 targets! This rifle has similar components as his Light Gun, except the barreled action rides in a barrel block in a McMillan HBR 50 BMG stock.

IBS Benchrest Chris Nichols Heavy Gun Record HG aggregate north carolina

Both rifles ride a top of a Sinclair competition rest with a Protector DR Flat Top rear bag. When Chris goes to HG gun he simply switches tops (made by Daniel Greenlaw) on his front rest to accommodate the larger forend. As Chris says ,” This keeps things simple and exactly the same. ” Just the way he likes it.

Reloading for the 6mm Dasher
Chris’s load choice for both LG and HG is Hodgdon Varget pushing 105gr Berger VLDs. He uses CCI 450 primers, seated with an old Lee hand primer. When it comes to reloading, Chris likes to keep things as simple as possible. “If people saw me reloading they’d probably laugh!” Chris revealed that he doesn’t anneal or clean his cases. He just sprays them down with Hornady One Shot Case Lube, resizes, then runs a brush down the necks, and cleans the primer pockets. The only cleaning his cases get is when he wipes the lube off of them. Chris WILL trim and chamfer as needed.

Chris says seating consistency is critical — he uses a K&M Arbor press with force dial indicator. I asked if there were certain numbers he looks for when seating. Chris replied, “I’m only concerned with consistency and not a certain number, 5 pounds or 60 pounds. It doesn’t matter as long as they are the same. I take what the brass gives me.”

Tuning the 6mm Dasher for Record-Setting Accuracy
I asked Chris what was special about his Dasher and how he kept it tuned and so competitive? His reply is something all shooters should pay careful attention to: “[Success] starts with having a good reamer, bullets and barrels. But more than that, it’s KNOWING your Cartridge, KNOWING your bullets, and KNOWING your barrels! I’ve shot it so much I just know what to do. I’m comfortable with it. I know how to get it to shoot and when it’s not, I have a pretty good idea how to get it back in tune. Once you know your equipment, then you can learn how to get the most out of it.”

IBS Benchrest Chris Nichols Heavy Gun Record HG aggregate north carolina

Chris has a range at his house and he tunes at 300 yards. He looks for consistent, 300-yard 5-shot groups of 0.600″ or less! He wants to see nice round groups! Not groups with four in and one out or vertical strings. Chris starts by finding “touch” (to the lands) then he moves the bullets .002″ off the lands and begins tuning. Chris has found that usually somewhere around .008-.012″ off the lands is where his Berger 105gr VLDs shot best. I asked Chris what’s the biggest factor contributing to his success? He said, one big thing was that he can do his own work. That’s a huge advantage.

Look for Accuracy First, Velocity Second
Early on Chris had it in his mind that for a 6mm Dasher to shoot best he needed to achieve a certain velocity range — 2990 to 3030 FPS. The problem was he wasn’t paying attention to what the target was telling him. He’d get to the speed he was looking for but the accuracy wasn’t there. Once he started slowing the speeds down and giving the barrel what it wanted, then the accuracy came! Also with the slower speeds came better consistency.

Chris Nichols’s Tuning Tips for 6mm Dasher:

• Take consistency over speed.
• Only change one thing at a time and run it to the ground.
• Every barrel is a little different, so give it what it wants.
• Pay attention to what your target is telling you.
• Don’t be afraid to REDUCE your powder load.

Chris Nichols’s Advice for New Shooters
Chris says the best thing a new shooter can do is align themselves with knowledgeable people, and if they will talk, listen! Next, be ready to buy the best equipment or be ready to buy it twice. Chris also says: “Don’t cheap-out on sighters. Sighters need to be just as good as your record rounds.”

In the Beginning — Learning the 600-yard Benchrest Game
Chris’s shooting career began in 2012. His first win came in 2014. He was shooting beside guys like Sam Hall, Larry Isenhour, Mike Hanes, Jeff Godfrey James Coffey, and Chad Jenkins, who are very tough competition indeed. He said when he won he was ecstatic and he’ll never forget it! That first trophy had him feeling like he’d just won the Nationals! Chris shot a 6BR for the first two years of his career, before switching to the 6 Dasher. I asked him why he switched? He said, “guys were starting to shoot the Dasher and winning with it!”

I asked Chris if he had a mentor and he said, “not really”. He learned by watching the guys who consistently finished Top 5 at matches and occasionally asked them a question. Not two questions, just one! Chris didn’t want to push his luck by asking too much. Then Chris would take that information and test it and apply it to his own shooting. Chris says, “he learned mainly by the ‘school of hard-knocks’. The good thing about learning that way is it sticks with you!”

Chris Nichols 2019 600-Yard Win List and Statistics

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April 30th, 2018

Amazing Accuracy — Sauter Shoots 0.282″ Group at 600 Yards

Bart Sauter IBS .282 World Record Group benchrest H4895 600 yards heavy gun
World Record group shot by Bart Sauter in IBS 600-yard Match on April 21, 2018 in Memphis, TN.

0.282 inches, 0.04 MOA… at 600 Yards. Simply amazing…

What can we say… this 0.282″ 5-shot group 600 yards represents one of the most impressive feats of rifle accuracy in history. Shot in competition, this five-shot group at 600 yards easily fits inside a dime with plenty of room to spare!

Bullet-maker Bart Sauter recently shot this 0.282″ five-shot group at a 600-yard IBS match. Yep, you read that right — 0.282″ at 600. Most shooters would be happy with that group at 100 yards. At 200 it would be remarkable. But at 600 — it is truly amazing. Readers, 0.282″ at 600 works out to 0.04 Minutes of Angle (MOA). Not point four MOA, but point ZERO four MOA, and it was all in the TEN RING for a 50 score. Even measured outside edge to outside edge, that group is just 0.525″, so Bart’s group will easily fit inside a dime (0.705″ diameter).

Bart Sauter IBS .282 World Record Group benchrest H4895 600 yards heavy gun

Bart Sauter IBS .282 World Record Group benchrest H4895 600 yards heavy gun

Sauter’s amazing 0.282″ 50 group smashes the existing IBS Heavy Gun 600-yard record, a 0.404″ shot by John Lewis way back in 2008. It also happens to beat the existing IBS Light Gun group record — the stunning 0.336″ by Rodney Wagner in 2013. (A group many said could never be bettered). Bart’s group will be a new score record too — many 50s have been shot before, but the group size is the tie-breaker, and no one has ever shot smaller at 600 than Bart.

Sauter Smashes IBS World Records with Stunning 600-Yard Group

Report by Boyd Allen, IBS Vice President
On the 21st of April, at the beautiful Memphis Sport Shooting Assn. 600-yard benchrest range, bullet-maker Bart Sauter made history. About 11:00 O’clock with 12-15 MPH switchy winds, Bart Sauter waited for his chosen condition and then ran five shots into an incredible 0.282″ record-breaking group, with a score of 50. Shot in Heavy Gun Class (with his Light Gun), this combination of group and score bettered the previous HG group and score records with sufficient margins that their records in both categories are virtually guaranteed. The previous group record, a 0.404″, belonged to John Lewis and stood for ten years. The previous score record was 50/.513 (group size being the tie breaker) shot by B.J. Francis last year. Bart’s target was 50/.282.

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To put it in perspective Bart’s record has the equivalent angular dispersion (MOA) of a .04″ group shot at 100 yards. (Bart’s exact MOA is 0.0448) But consider that crosswinds have roughly 36 times more effect at 600 yards than at 100 yards (by the “Rule of the Square”).

Record-Setting Cartridge and Load with Bart’s Own 105gr Bullets
Bart shot a 6mmBR Ackley Improved (6BRA) wildcat cartridge with an 0.272″ neck. This is basically the 6mmBR Norma with a 40° shoulder. The neck is long like the parent cartridge, not short like a 6mm Dasher. Bart was shooting his own 105 grain, 13 Ogive VLD bullets. He calls this new bullet design “The Hammer” (for good reason). Bart’s Hammer 105s were loaded in Lapua brass with Hodgdon H4895 powder and Wolf primers. Bullet tips were trimmed on a Giraud bullet point trimmer, but not pointed. Bart feels that there is too much potential for damaging bullets during pointing, so he does not point his match bullets. Bart had his LabRadar chrono on the bench during the match. Velocities were 2970-2975 fps with single-digit ES.

Record-Setting Rifle — IBS Light Gun Shot in Heavy Gun Class
Bart’s rifle features a melonited BAT B action, with a 26″, 1:8″-twist, HV contour James Lederer barrel, fitted with a Mike Ezell tuner. The Jewell trigger was set to 1.5 ounces. On top was a March 40X in BAT rings. The initial build was by Mike Moses, with chambering by Dean Stroud, and final (glue and screw) bedding by Billy Stevens. The handsome wood JB 1000 stock (3″-wide fore-end) boasts an aluminum keel added by Alex Wheeler after the initial build. Bart said that it only took him 15 minutes to adjust the keel so that the cross hairs did not wiggle on the target when the gun was pulled back a full 2 ½ inches. Bart is definitely a fan of the adjustable keel.

Bart Sauter IBS .282 World Record Group benchrest H4895 600 yards heavy gun

Bench Equipment and How Rifle Was Shot
Bart used a Farley Coaxial front rest with soft leather Edgewood front back sprinkled with baby powder. In the back was a Protektor Model DR rear bag with Cordura ears and no added lube (not needed with aluminum keel) borrowed from Mike Moses. Bart shot the rifle lightly pinned between his shoulder and the fore-end stop. Interestingly, Bart kept his Labradar chronograph on his bench throughout the day, and recorded velocities during the record group: 2970-2975 fps with single-digit ES.

Bart Sauter IBS .282 World Record Group benchrest H4895 600 yards heavy gunReloading Equipment and Methods
After firing, cases are annealed with a Benchsource flame annealer. The inside of the case-necks are brushed with a nylon brush (no lubricant is used). Cases are sized with a custom Whidden Full-length sizing die (with bushings), and a cut-down Wilson micrometer seater that was originally made for the Dasher.

Bullets are seated with a 21st Century Shooting Hydro Bullet Seater, used with the Wilson cut-down Wilson seating die. This state-of-the-art arbor press boasts a hydraulic seating pressure cylinder and gauge. During seating, the force gauge reads about 27.

The powder charge is first thrown from a manual measure and usually trickled onto an A&D 120 FXi magnetic force restoration scale using an Adams automatic trickler, but this time Bart had to settle for his old RCBS trickler because the drive band of the Adams auto-trickler wore out.

Brass Prep — The chamber is a 0.272″ no turn. Bart lightly skims the necks AFTER the first firing just enough to achieve batch to batch uniformity in neck thickness. He uses a .266 bushing which gives him .003 neck tension.

Pre-Loading vs. Loading at the Range
I asked Bart if he pre-loads, or loads at the range. Unexpectedly his answer was “Both…depending”. Bart will identify his “in tune” velocity at his home range and then pre-load that load before the match. However, Bart takes all of his reloading equipment to the match, and if the conditions are such that his pre-loaded ammunition does not give the velocity he wants (as revealed by the LabRadar), he will load at the match.

Another test that he feels is important is to be able to pass a bullet all the way through the neck of his fired cases. Bart thinks that even if the shank of a seated bullet does not directly contact a doughnut, that doughnut can have a negative effect on accuracy.

Bart Sauter IBS .282 World Record Group benchrest H4895 600 yards heavy gun

Bart has brought short range benchrest know-how to 600-yard competition. He uses a full set of short range flags, shown above. At last year’s Nationals, at the same Memphis range, Bart was one of the only shooters with a set of flags. Now other 600-yard competitors are following suit.

Final Throughts — The 6BR Ackley vs. 6mm Dasher
Given its prominence, it is inevitable that comparisons be made between the 6mmBR Ackley Improved and the Dasher. On this subject Bart told me that, based on his experience, he is a “Dasher basher”. He believes the Dasher can be finicky, and has a tendency to flip shots out of the group. For Bart, the 6BR Ackley has been a lot easier to work with and more predictable.

Below is a test target Bart shot at 100 yards. The load yielding the smallest 3-shot group, measuring 0.092″, was the load Bart took to the match. As you can see, the positions of the various load adjustments did not change on the targets. Bart said that that is the kind of positive compensation that he likes to see.

While Bart does most of load testing at short range, he can shoot out to 500 yards near his home. He says his record-setting gun has produced multiple 500-yard, 3-shot groups in the “three-quarter inch range” when testing in calm conditions. That’s 0.14 MOA for three shots. At 500…

Bart Sauter IBS 600 yard record bullets benchrest 0.282 600-yard best ever

Congratulations to Bart on His Great Shooting
Finally, I would like to add my congratulations to Bart Sauter for this spectacular group. I also want to thank Bart for generously taking the time to share the details of his load, reloading methods, and rifle components. Bart has shown that applying some short-range benchrest techniques to the mid-range game can produce remarkable results.

Bart Sauter IBS .282 World Record Group benchrest H4895 600 yards heavy gun

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