Powder Moisture Content — Did You Know?
Variations in moisture content change the burning rate of a powder and thereby chamber pressures and muzzle velocity. The moisture content of the Vihtavuori N100 and N300 series powders is usually around 1%, while the N500-series’ normal moisture content is 0.6% because of the added nitroglycerine.

So what difference does moisture content make? Here’s an example. In a test, a [Vihtavuori] powder sample was dried by heating it, losing about 0.5 % of its weight. Cartridges were then loaded with the dried powder and fired using a pressure gun. Chamber pressures and muzzle velocities produced by these special cartridges were compared to those produced by cartridges loaded with untreated powder. (The powder charge and bullet were of course the same in both sets of cartridges.)

After Powder Drying:
Pressure Increased 11% from 320 MPa to 355 MPa
Velocity Increased 2.6% from 2526 to 2592 FPS

Comparing results showed chamber pressures increased from 320 MPa to 355 MPa with the dried powder, and the muzzle velocity increased accordingly from 770 m/s to 790 m/s (2526 to 2592 FPS). And note, this is only one example, of one caliber and loading. The difference might be much higher depending on the cartridge and loading combinations.

Recommendation: Store powder below 68°F in 55-65% humidity.

What does this tell us? Well, it seems we need to forget the old saying “Keep your powder dry”! Instead, focus on proper powder storage, at a temperature below 20°C/68°F and humidity between 55 and 65%. Safe reloading everybody!

Tech Tip sourced by EdLongrange. We welcome reader submissions.

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Why You CANNOT Rely on the MV Printed on the Ammo Box!
When figuring out your come-ups with a ballistics solver or drop chart it’s “mission critical” to have an accurate muzzle velocity (MV). When shooting factory ammo, it’s tempting to use the manufacturer-provided MV which may be printed on the package. That’s not such a great idea says Bryan Litz of Applied Ballistics. Don’t rely on the MV on the box, Bryan advises — you should take out your chrono and run your own velocity tests. There are a number of reasons why the MV values on ammo packaging may be inaccurate. Below is a discussion of factory ammo MV from the Applied Ballistics Facebook Page.

Five Reasons You Cannot Trust the Velocity on a Box of Ammo:

1. You have no idea about the rifle used for the MV test.

2. You have no idea what atmospheric conditions were during testing, and yes it matters a lot.

3. You have no idea of the SD for the factory ammo, and how the manufacturer derived the MV from that SD. (Marketing plays a role here).

4. You have no idea of the precision and quality of chronograph(s) used for velocity testing.

5. You have no idea if the manufacturer used the raw velocity, or back-calculated the MV. The BC used to back track that data is also unknown.

1. The factory test rifle and your rifle are not the same. Aside from having a different chamber, and possibly barrel length some other things are important too like the barrel twist rate, and how much wear was in the barrel. Was it just recently cleaned, has it ever been cleaned? You simply don’t know anything about the rifle used in testing.

2. Temperature and Humidity conditions may be quite different (than during testing). Temperature has a physical effect on powder, which changes how it burns. Couple this with the fact that different powders can vary in temp-stability quite a bit. You just don’t know what the conditions at the time of testing were. Also a lot of factory ammunition is loaded with powder that is meter friendly. Meter friendly can often times be ball powder, which is less temperature stable than stick powder often times.

3. The ammo’s Standard Deviation (SD) is unknown. You will often notice that while MV is often listed on ammo packages, Standard Deviation (normally) is not. It is not uncommon for factory ammunition to have an SD of 18 or higher. Sometimes as high as 40+. As such is the nature of metering powder. With marketing in mind, did they pick the high, low, or average end of the SD? We really don’t know. You won’t either until you test it for yourself. For hand-loaded ammo, to be considered around 10 fps or less. Having a high SD is often the nature of metered powder and factory loads. The image below is from Modern Advancements in Long Range Shooting: Volume II.

4. You don’t know how MV was measured. What chronograph system did the manufacturer use, and how did they back track to a muzzle velocity? A chronograph does not measure true velocity at the muzzle; it simply measures velocity at the location it is sitting. So you need to back-calculate the distance from the chrono to the end of the barrel. This calculation requires a semi-accurate BC. So whose BC was used to back track to the muzzle or did the manufacturer even do that? Did they simply print the numbers displayed by the chronograph? What kind of chronograph setup did they use? We know from our Lab Testing that not all chronographs are created equal. Without knowing what chronograph was used, you have no idea the quality of the measurement. See: Applied Ballistics Chronograph Chapter Excerpt.

5. The MV data may not be current. Does the manufacturer update that data for every lot? Or is it the same data from years ago? Some manufacturers rarely if ever re-test and update information. Some update it every lot (ABM Ammo is actually tested every single lot for 1% consistency). Without knowing this information, you could be using data for years ago.

CONCLUSION: Never use the printed MV off a box of ammo as anything more than a starting point, there are too many factors to account for. You must always either test for the MV with a chronograph, or use carefully obtained, live fire data. When you are using a Ballistic Solver such as the AB Apps or Devices integrated with AB, you need to know the MV to an accuracy down to 5 fps. The more reliable the MV number, the better your ballistics solutions.

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Photo by Werner Mehl, www.kurzzeit.com, all rights reserved.

Most serious shooters can tell you the muzzle velocity (MV) of their ammunition, based on measurements taken with a chronograph, or listed from a manufacturer’s data sheet. (Of course, actual speed tests conducted with YOUR gun will be more reliable.)

Bullet RPM = MV X 720/Twist Rate (in inches)

However, if you ask a typical reloader for the rotational rate of his bullet, in revolutions per minute (RPM), chances are he can’t give you an answer.

Knowing the true spin rate or RPM of your bullets is very important. First, spin rate, or RPM, will dramatically affect the performance of a bullet on a game animal. Ask any varminter and he’ll tell you that ultra-high RPM produces more dramatic hits with more “varmint hang time”. Second, RPM is important for bullet integrity. If you spin your bullets too fast, this heats up the jackets and also increases the centrifugal force acting on the jacket, pulling it outward. The combination of heat, friction, and centrifugal force can cause jacket failure and bullet “blow-ups” if you spin your bullets too fast.

Accuracy and RPM
Additionally, bullet RPM is very important for accuracy. Nearly all modern rifles use spin-stablized bullets. The barrel’s rifling imparts spin to the bullet as it passes through the bore. This rotation stabilizes the bullet in flight. Different bullets need different spin rates to perform optimally. Generally speaking, among bullets of the same caliber, longer bullets need more RPM to stabilize than do shorter bullets–often a lot more RPM.

It is generally believed that, for match bullets, best accuracy is achieved at the minimal spin rates that will fully stabilize the particular bullet at the distances where the bullet must perform. That’s why short-range 6PPC benchrest shooters use relatively slow twist rates, such as 1:14″, to stabilize their short, flatbase bullets. They could use “fast” twist rates such as 1:8″, but this delivers more bullet RPM than necessary. Match results have demonstrated conclusively that the slower twist rates produce better accuracy with these bullets.

On the other hand, Research by Bryan Litz of Applied Ballistics has shown that with long, boat-tailed bullets, best accuracy may be achieved with twist rates slightly “faster” than the minimum required for stabilization. The reasons for this are somewhat complex — but it’s something to consider when you buy your next barrel. If, for example, the bullet-maker recommends a 1:8.25″ twist, you might want to get a true 1:8″-twist barrel.

Calculating Bullet RPM from MV and Twist Rate
The lesson here is that you want to use the optimal RPM for each bullet type. So how do you calculate that? Bullet RPM is a function of two factors, barrel twist rate and velocity through the bore. With a given rifling twist rate, the quicker the bullet passes through the rifling, the faster it will be spinning when it leaves the muzzle. To a certain extent, then, if you speed up the bullet, you can use a slower twist rate, and still end up with enough RPM to stabilize the bullet. But you have to know how to calculate RPM so you can maintain sufficient revs.

Bullet RPM Formula
Here is a simple formula for calculating bullet RPM:

MV x (12/twist rate in inches) x 60 = Bullet RPM

Quick Version: MV X 720/Twist Rate = RPM

Example One: In a 1:12″ twist barrel the bullet will make one complete revolution for every 12″ (or 1 foot) it travels through the bore. This makes the RPM calculation very easy. With a velocity of 3000 feet per second (FPS), in a 1:12″ twist barrel, the bullet will spin 3000 revolutions per SECOND (because it is traveling exactly one foot, and thereby making one complete revolution, in 1/3000 of a second). To convert to RPM, simply multiply by 60 since there are 60 seconds in a minute. Thus, at 3000 FPS, a bullet will be spinning at 3000 x 60, or 180,000 RPM, when it leaves the barrel.

Example Two: What about a faster twist rate, say a 1:8″ twist? We know the bullet will be spinning faster than in Example One, but how much faster? Using the formula, this is simple to calculate. Assuming the same MV of 3000 FPS, the bullet makes 12/8 or 1.5 revolutions for each 12″ or one foot it travels in the bore. Accordingly, the RPM is 3000 x (12/8) x 60, or 270,000 RPM.

Implications for Gun Builders and Reloaders
Calculating the RPM based on twist rate and MV gives us some very important information. Number one, we can tailor the load to decrease velocity just enough to avoid jacket failure and bullet blow-up at excessive RPMs. Number two, knowing how to find bullet RPM helps us compare barrels of different twist rates. Once we find that a bullet is stable at a given RPM, that gives us a “target” to meet or exceed in other barrels with a different twist rate. Although there are other important factors to consider, if you speed up the bullet (i.e. increase MV), you MAY be able to run a slower twist-rate barrel, so long as you maintain the requisite RPM for stabilization and other factors contributing to Gyroscopic Stability are present. In fact, you may need somewhat MORE RPM as you increase velocity, because more speed puts more pressure, a destabilizing force, on the nose of the bullet. You need to compensate for that destabilizing force with somewhat more RPM. But, as a general rule, if you increase velocity you CAN decrease twist rate. What’s the benefit? The slower twist-rate barrel may, potentially, be more accurate. And barrel heat and friction may be reduced somewhat.

Just remember that as you reduce twist rate you need to increase velocity, and you may need somewhat MORE RPM than before. (As velocities climb, destabilizing forces increase somewhat, RPM being equal.) There is a formula by Don Miller that can help you calculate how much you can slow down the twist rate as you increase velocity.

That said, we note that bullet-makers provide a recommended twist rate for their bullets. This is the “safe bet” to achieve stabilization with that bullet, and it may also indicate the twist rate at which the bullet shoots best. Though the RPM number alone does not assure gyroscopic stability, an RPM-based calculation can be very useful. We’ve seen real world examples where a bullet that needs an 8-twist barrel at 2800 FPS MV, would stabilize in a 9-twist barrel at 3200 FPS MV. Consider these examples.

MV = 2800 FPS
8-Twist RPM = 2800 x (12/8) x 60 = 252,000 RPM

MV = 3200 FPS
9-Twist RPM = 3200 x (12/9) x 60 = 256,000 RPM

Of course max velocity will be limited by case capacity and pressure. You can’t switch to a slower twist-rate barrel and maintain RPM if you’ve already maxed out your MV. But the Miller Formula can help you select an optimal twist rate if you’re thinking of running the same bullet in a larger case with more potential velocity.

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Here’s a little known fact that may startle most readers, even experienced gunsmiths: your barrel wears out in a matter of seconds. The useful life of a typical match barrel, in terms of actual bullet-in-barrel time, is only a few seconds. How can that be, you ask? Well you need to look at the actual time that bullets spend traveling through the bore during the barrel’s useful life. (Hint: it’s not very long).

Bullet-Time-in-Barrel Calculations
If a bullet flies at 3000 fps, it will pass through a 24″ (two-foot) barrel in 1/1500th of a second. If you have a useful barrel life of 3000 rounds, that would translate to just two seconds of actual bullet-in-barrel operating time.

Ah, but it’s not that simple. Your bullet starts at zero velocity and then accelerates as it passes through the bore, so the projectile’s average velocity is not the same as the 3000 fps muzzle velocity. So how long does a centerfire bullet (with 3000 fps MV) typically stay in the bore? The answer is about .002 seconds. This number was calculated by Varmint Al, who is a really smart engineer dude who worked at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, a government think tank that develops neutron bombs, fusion reactors and other simple stuff.

On his Barrel Tuner page, Varmint Al figured out that the amount of time a bullet spends in a barrel during firing is under .002 seconds. Al writes: “The approximate time that it takes a 3300 fps muzzle velocity bullet to exit the barrel, assuming a constant acceleration, is 0.0011 seconds. Actual exit times would be longer since the bullet is not under constant acceleration.”

We’ll use the .002 number for our calculations here, knowing that the exact number depends on barrel length and muzzle velocity. But .002 is a good average that errs, if anything, on the side of more barrel operating life rather than less.

So, if a bullet spends .002 seconds in the barrel during each shot, and you get 3000 rounds of accurate barrel life, how much actual firing time does the barrel deliver before it loses accuracy? That’s simple math: 3000 x .002 seconds = 6 seconds.

Gone in Six Seconds. Want to Cry Now?
Six seconds. That’s how long your barrel actually functions (in terms of bullet-in-barrel shot time) before it “goes south”. Yes, we know some barrels last longer than 3000 rounds. On the other hand, plenty of .243 Win and 6.5-284 barrels lose accuracy in 1500 rounds or less. If your barrel loses accuracy at the 1500-round mark, then it only worked for three seconds! Of course, if you are shooting a “long-lived” .308 Win that goes 5000 rounds before losing accuracy, then you get a whopping TEN seconds of barrel life. Anyway you look at it, a rifle barrel has very little longevity, when you consider actual firing time.

People already lament the high cost of replacing barrels. Now that you know how short-lived barrels really are, you can complain even louder. Of course our analysis does give you even more of an excuse to buy a nice new Bartlein, Krieger, Shilen etc. barrel for that fine rifle of yours.

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Why You CANNOT Rely on the MV Printed on the Ammo Box!
When figuring out your come-ups with a ballistics solver or drop chart it’s “mission critical” to have an accurate muzzle velocity (MV). When shooting factory ammo, it’s tempting to use the manufacturer-provided MV which may be printed on the package. That’s not such a great idea says Bryan Litz of Applied Ballistics. Don’t rely on the MV on the box, Bryan advises — you should take out your chrono and run your own velocity tests. There are a number of reasons why the MV values on ammo packaging may be inaccurate. Below is a discussion of factory ammo MV from the Applied Ballistics Facebook Page.

Five Reasons You Cannot Trust the Velocity on a Box of Ammo:

1. You have no idea about the rifle used for the MV test.

2. You have no idea what atmospheric conditions were during testing, and yes it matters a lot.

3. You have no idea of the SD for the factory ammo, and how the manufacturer derived the MV from that SD. (Marketing plays a role here).

4. You have no idea of the precision and quality of chronograph(s) used for velocity testing.

5. You have no idea if the manufacturer used the raw velocity, or back-calculated the MV. The BC used to back track that data is also unknown.

1. The factory test rifle and your rifle are not the same. Aside from having a different chamber, and possibly barrel length some other things are important too like the barrel twist rate, and how much wear was in the barrel. Was it just recently cleaned, has it ever been cleaned? You simply don’t know anything about the rifle used in testing.

2. Temperature and Humidity conditions may be quite different (than during testing). Temperature has a physical effect on powder, which changes how it burns. Couple this with the fact that different powders can vary in temp-stability quite a bit. You just don’t know what the conditions at the time of testing were. Also a lot of factory ammunition is loaded with powder that is meter friendly. Meter friendly can often times be ball powder, which is less temperature stable than stick powder often times.

3. The ammo’s Standard Deviation (SD) is unknown. You will often notice that while MV is often listed on ammo packages, Standard Deviation (normally) is not. It is not uncommon for factory ammunition to have an SD of 18 or higher. Sometimes as high as 40+. As such is the nature of metering powder. With marketing in mind, did they pick the high, low, or average end of the SD? We really don’t know. You won’t either until you test it for yourself. For hand-loaded ammo, to be considered around 10 fps or less. Having a high SD is often the nature of metered powder and factory loads. The image below is from Modern Advancements in Long Range Shooting: Volume II.

4. You don’t know how MV was measured. What chronograph system did the manufacturer use, and how did they back track to a muzzle velocity? A chronograph does not measure true velocity at the muzzle; it simply measures velocity at the location it is sitting. So you need to back-calculate the distance from the chrono to the end of the barrel. This calculation requires a semi-accurate BC. So whose BC was used to back track to the muzzle or did the manufacturer even do that? Did they simply print the numbers displayed by the chronograph? What kind of chronograph setup did they use? We know from our Lab Testing that not all chronographs are created equal. Without knowing what chronograph was used, you have no idea the quality of the measurement. See: Applied Ballistics Chronograph Chapter Excerpt.

5. The MV data may not be current. Does the manufacturer update that data for every lot? Or is it the same data from years ago? Some manufacturers rarely if ever re-test and update information. Some update it every lot (ABM Ammo is actually tested every single lot for 1% consistency). Without knowing this information, you could be using data for years ago.

CONCLUSION: Never use the printed MV off a box of ammo as anything more than a starting point, there are too many factors to account for. You must always either test for the MV with a chronograph, or use carefully obtained, live fire data. When you are using a Ballistic Solver such as the AB Apps or Devices integrated with AB, you need to know the MV to an accuracy down to 5 fps. The more reliable the MV number, the better your ballistics solutions.

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Bryan Litz has produced an informative new video on the subject of bullet stability. The video explains how stability is related to spin rate (or RPM), and how RPM, in turn, is determined by barrel twist rate and velocity. For long-range shooting, it is important that a barrel have a fast-enough twist rate to stabilize the bullet over its entire trajectory.

Detailed Bullet Stability Article
To complement the above video, Bryan has authored a detailed article that explains the key concepts involved in bullet stabilization. Bryan explains: “Bullet stability can be quantified by the gyroscopic stability factor, SG. A bullet that is fired with inadequate spin will have an SG less than 1.0 and will tumble right out of the barrel. If you spin the bullet fast enough to achieve an SG of 1.5 or higher, it will fly point forward with accuracy and minimal drag.”

There is a “gray zone” of marginal stability. Bryan notes: “Bullets flying with SGs between 1.0 and 1.5 are marginally stabilized and will fly with some amount of pitching and yawing. This induces extra drag, and reduces the bullets’ effective BC. Bullets in this marginal stability condition can fly with good accuracy and precision, even though the BC is reduced. For short range applications, marginal stability isn’t really an issue. However, shooters who are interested in maximizing performance at long range will need to select a twist rate that will fully stabilize the bullet, and produce an SG of 1.5 or higher.”

Berger Twist-Rate Stability Calculator
On the updated Berger Bullets website you’ll find a handy Twist-Rate Stability Calculator that predicts your gyroscopic stability factor (SG) based on mulitiple variables: velocity, bullet length, bullet weight, barrel twist rate, ambient temperature, and altitude. This very cool tool tells you if your chosen bullet will really stabilize in your barrel.

LIVE DEMO BELOW — Just enter values in the data boxes and click “Calculate SG”.

Top photo with bullet by Werner Mehl, www.kurzzeit.com, all rights reserved.

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