June 16th, 2019

Precision Reloading for Handguns — Smart Tips from the USAMU

USAMU Service Pistol Handgun Tip Advice Reloading

The U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) fields pistol teams as well as rifle and shotgun competition squads. Consequently the USAMU’s Reloading Shop loads tens of thousands of pistol rounds every year. In this article, the USAMU’s handgun experts talk about reloading for handguns — with smart tips on how to achieve superior accuracy with 100% reliability. If you load for pistols, take the time to read this article, which offers important insights on COAL, primers, crimps and more.

USAMU Service Pistol Handgun Tip Advice Reloading

Optimize the Taper Crimp
One often-overlooked aspect of handloading highly-accurate pistol ammunition is the amount of crimp and its effect on accuracy. Different amounts of taper crimp are used with various handloads to obtain best accuracy. The amount is based on bullet weight, powder burn rate and charge, plus other factors. It is not unusual for our Shop to vary a load’s crimp in degrees of 0.001″ and re-test for finest accuracy.

USAMU Service Pistol Handgun Tip Advice ReloadingUse Consistent Brass
Brass is also important to pistol accuracy. While accurate ammunition can be loaded using brass of mixed parentage, that is not conducive to finest results, particularly at 50 yards. It is important for the serious competitor/handloader to use brass of the same headstamp and ideally one lot number, to maximize uniformity. Given the volumes of ammunition consumed by active pistol competitors, using inexpensive, mixed surplus brass for practice, particularly at the “short line” (25 yards), is understandable. However, for the “long line” (50 yards), purchasing and segregating a lot of high-quality brass to be used strictly for slow-fire is a wise idea.

Importance of Uniform COAL
Uniformity of the Case Overall Length (COAL) as it comes from the factory is also important to achieving utmost accuracy. More uniform case lengths (best measured after sizing) contribute to greater consistency of crimp, neck tension, ignition/burn of powder charge, and so on. Cartridge case-length consistency varies from lot to lot, as well as by maker. Some manufacturers are more consistent in this dimension than others. [Editor’s note: It is easy to trim pistol brass to uniform length. Doing this will make your taper crimps much more consistent.]

Primers and Powders — Comparison Test for Accuracy
Pay attention to primer brands, powder types and charges. Evaluating accuracy with a Ransom or other machine rest at 50 yards can quickly reveal the effect of changes made to handload recipes.

Bullet Selection — FMJ vs. JHP
Bullets are another vital issue. First, there is the question of FMJ vs. JHP. A friend of this writer spent decades making and accuracy-testing rifle and pistol bullets during QC for a major bullet manufacturer. In his experience, making highly-accurate FMJ bullets is much more difficult than making highly-accurate JHPs, in large part due to the way the jackets are formed. Small die changes could affect accuracy of FMJ lots dramatically.

The CMP now allows “safe, jacketed ammunition” in Excellence-in-Competition (EIC) Service Pistol matches, although wadcutter ammunition is prohibited. Thus, the option to use very accurate JHP designs simplifies the life of CMP Service Pistol shooters in pursuit of the prestigious Distinguished Pistol Shot badge.

Hopefully, these tips will be helpful to any pistol shooters interested in accurate handloads, not just “Bullseye” shooters. Small tweaks to one’s normal routine can pay big dividends in improved accuracy and make practice and competition more rewarding.

Stay safe, and good shooting!

Permalink Bullets, Brass, Ammo, Handguns, Reloading 2 Comments »
June 8th, 2019

High Power Champion Shows Speed with Tubb Gun and 10/22

Brandon Green World Shooting Championship 2015 high power championship 2013 2018

Brandon Green World Shooting Championship 2015 high power championship 2013 2018SFC Brandon Green is a shooting superstar. Green won his third NRA National High Power Rifle Championship last year at Camp Atterbury. He dominated the HP Championship cycle, finishing eight points and ten Xs ahead of his nearest competitor. Brandon also won the High Power National Championship in 2015 and 2013. And in 2017 he set a record at the CMP’s National Trophy Matches at Camp Perry. When he’s “on his game”, SFC Green is very hard to beat. He has no weaknesses, excelling at all positions, both rapid-fire and slow-fire.

Wicked Fast and Smooth…
Brandon Shoots Bolt Gun, Rapid-Fire

In this remarkable video, Brandon shows why he is tough to beat in rapid-fire. Using a Tubb 2000 bolt-action target rifle, Green displays amazing speed working the bolt and then immediately recapturing a rock-steady hold. Our reaction when viewing this video was: “Wow… this guy is beyond good.” We think you’ll agree. Anyone who has shot prone with sling should appreciate the remarkable skills which make Brandon one of the USAMU’s top shooters. Watching this man in action is like watching Michael Jordan in his prime. You’re seeing one of the very best ever…

SFC Brandon Green — 300m Rapid Fire Prone Training with Tubb 2000:

SFC Green at World Shooting Championship — The Need for Speed
While he’s a master of serious Across the Course match rifle shooting, SFC Green also enjoys speed shooting events. And he’s no slouch. Here’s footage of SFC Green at the 2015 NRA World Shooting Championship (WSC) in West Virginia. Brandon shows some serious speed with the little semi-auto. Brandon’s comment was: “10/22s are just too much fun!”.

Watch SFC Brandon Green speed through a steel plates stage with a Ruger 10/22:

Brandon Green World Shooting Championship 2015 high power championship 2013 2018

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May 10th, 2019

Fundamentals — Sight Alignment and Trigger Control

Marksmanship Fundamentals iron sights USAMU

This video from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit focuses on two key fundamentals of marksmanship: 1) Sight Alignment; and 2) Trigger Squeeze. This video can assist any Service Rifle or metallic sights shooter. The USAMU instructor explains: “You’ve probably heard a lot about fundamentals — Breathe, Relax, Aim, Squeeze… Well that gives a shooter a lot to think about. Here we teach two main firing tasks: 1) align the sights, and 2) squeeze the trigger without moving the rifle. This allows the shooter a much more simplified format.”

The following tips are transcribed from the video:

Task One: Sight Alignment
Sight alignment is the process of putting the tip of the front sight post, the rear aperture, and the shooter’s eyeball all on the same plane. It’s very important to maintain the tip of the front sight post centered in the rear aperture. Just .002″ of deviation can cause a miss at 300 meters. Allow your eye to do its job. While firing, the focus should remain on the tip of the front sight.

Task Two: Trigger Control
Your second firing task is [to] fire the rifle without moving it. This is done through proper trigger control. You’ve probably heard a lot of words about trigger control — “surprise break”, “snatch”, “pull”, “squeeze”… well we teach one thing here: “smooth”. No matter the speed at which I engage the trigger, it’s always going to be smooth. Imagine trying to pull the trigger straight through the rear of the buttstock, holding it to the rear while the gun recoils. It’s important to constantly engage the trigger, never letting your trigger finger disengage from the trigger while firing. This is achieved through natural trigger finger placement.

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May 7th, 2019

USAMU Shooter Breaks Records in Eastern CMP Cup Win

Sergeant SGT Benjamin Cleland USAMU CMP Eastern Games

Good Shootin’ Soldier!

U.S. Army SGT Benjamin Cleland recently won the 2019 CMP Cup at the CMP Eastern Games in Camp Butner, North Carolina. And in taking that impressive victory, the USAMU’s Cleland set a new CMP Cup Record of 2389-133X.

The CMP Cup, a 3-day course of fire, includes four stages: 20 standing shots at 200 yards in 22 minutes; two series of sitting/kneeling 10 shots at 200 yards in 60 seconds; two series of 10 prone shots at 300 yards in 70 seconds; and then 20 prone shots at 600 yards in 22 minutes.

Sergeant SGT Benjamin Cleland USAMU CMP Eastern Games

Cleland’s new Aggregate Record of 2389-133X beat out his own 2018 CMP Cup record of 2368-111X. What’s even more impressive, Cleland’s score tops the NRA Service Rifle Championship Record of 2386-128X, which the talented SGT Cleland himself set in 2018*.

More Great Performances by USAMU Shooters
SGT Cleland wasn’t the only USAMU hotshot at the Eastern CMP Games. Sgt. Jarrod McGaffic won the CMP Eastern Games’ EIC Match with a 491-21X. SFC Brandon Green won Silver at CMP Cup with a 3-day aggregate of 2385-118X. And SSG Amanda Elsenboss (below) finished as High Woman and 4th Overall in the CMP Eastern Games with a 2378-114X.

Sergeant SGT Benjamin Cleland USAMU CMP Eastern Games

CMP Eastern Games Cup Electronic Targets
The CMP Cup and Eastern Games are shot on Electronic Targets with portable wireless monitors.


* The NRA lists a “Service” record of 2396-181 set in 2009 by SFC Sherri Gallagher. But that was with a Match Rifle. SGT Cleland now holds both the CMP Record and the NRA Record for this Course of Fire with an actual Service Rifle. The USAMU explains: “SFC Gallagher’s record was in a different class, or category: Match Rifle. But since she is military, it may have been labeled as a ‘service record’ and caused confusion. SGT Cleland’s records mentioned above were all in the Service Rifle class, or category. The 2389-133X is the new, 2019 CMP record for this course of fire. In 2018, at the same CMP course of fire, he set a record with his 2368-111X. So he broke his own CMP record this year. However, also in 2018, he set the NRA Rifle Championship record by shooting a 2386-128X. It’s the same course of fire but in an NRA match, so technically, a different “record” since CMP and NRA keep separate records.”

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May 4th, 2019

Cartridge “Efficiency” — Factors to Consider from the USAMU

USAMU Handloading Guide Facebook cartridge efficiency

Efficient cartridges make excellent use of their available powder and case/bore capacity. They yield good ballistic performance with relatively little recoil and throat erosion.

USAMU Handloading Guide Facebook cartridge efficiency

Cartridge Efficiency: A Primer (pun intended!) by USAMU Staff

Each week, the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) publishes a reloading article on its Facebook Page. In this week’s article, the USAMU discusses cartridge case efficiency and its benefits. While this is oriented primarily toward NRA High Power Rifle and Long Range (1000-yard) competition, these factors also apply to medium/big game hunters. Assuming one’s rifle and ammunition are accurate, key considerations include ballistic performance (i.e., resistance to wind effects, plus trajectory), recoil, and throat erosion/barrel life.

Efficient cartridges make excellent use of their available powder and case/bore capacity. They yield good ballistic performance with relatively little recoil and throat erosion. A classic example in the author’s experience involved a featherweight 7x57mm hunting/silhouette rifle. When loaded to modern-rifle pressures, just 43-44 grains of powder pushed a 139gr bullet at 2900 fps from its 22” barrel. Recoil in this light rifle was mild; it was very easy to shoot well, and its performance was superb.

An acquaintance chose a “do everything” 7mm Remington Magnum for use on medium game at short ranges. A larger, heavier rifle, it used ~65 grains of powder to achieve ~3200 fps with similar bullets — from its 26″ barrel. Recoil was higher, and he was sensitive to it, which hampered his shooting ability.

Similarly efficient calibers include the 6mm BR [Norma], and others. Today’s highly-efficient calibers, such as 6mm BR and a host of newer developments might use 28-30 grains of powder to launch a 105-107gr match bullet at speeds approaching the .243 Winchester. The .243 Win needs 40-45 grain charges at the same velocity.

Champion-level Long Range shooters need every ballistic edge feasible. They compete at a level where 1″ more or less drift in a wind change could make the difference between winning and losing. Shooters recognized this early on — the then-new .300 H&H Magnum quickly supplanted the .30-06 at the Wimbledon winner’s circle in the early days.

The .300 Winchester Magnum became popular, but its 190-220gr bullets had their work cut out for them once the 6.5-284 and its streamlined 140-142gr bullets arrived on the scene. The 6.5-284 gives superb accuracy and wind performance with about half the recoil of the big .30 magnums – albeit it is a known barrel-burner.

Currently, the 7mm Remington Short Action Ultra-Magnum (aka 7mm RSAUM), is giving stellar accuracy with cutting-edge, ~180 grain bullets, powder charges in the mid-50 grain range and velocities about 2800+ fps in long barrels. Beyond pure efficiency, the RSAUM’s modern, “short and fat” design helps ensure fine accuracy relative to older, longer cartridge designs of similar performance.

Recent design advances are yielding bullets with here-to-fore unheard-of ballistic efficiency; depending on the cartridge, they can make or break ones decision. Ballistic coefficients (“BC” — a numerical expression of a bullet’s ballistic efficiency) are soaring to new heights, and there are many exciting new avenues to explore.

The ideal choice [involves a careful] balancing act between bullet BCs, case capacity, velocity, barrel life, and recoil. But, as with new-car decisions, choosing can be half the fun!

Factors to Consider When Evaluating Cartridges
For competitive shooters… pristine accuracy and ballistic performance in the wind are critical. Flat trajectory benefits the hunter who may shoot at long, unknown distances (nowadays, range-finders help). However, this is of much less importance to competitors firing at known distances.

Recoil is an issue, particularly when one fires long strings during competition, and/or multiple strings in a day. Its effects are cumulative; cartridges with medium/heavy recoil can lead to shooter fatigue, disturbance of the shooting position and lower scores.

For hunters, who may only fire a few shots a year, recoil that does not induce flinching during sight-in, practice and hunting is a deciding factor. Depending on their game and ranges, etc., they may accept more recoil than the high-volume High Power or Long Range competitor.

Likewise, throat erosion/barrel life is important to competitive shooters, who fire thousands of rounds in practice and matches, vs. the medium/big game hunter. A cartridge that performs well ballistically with great accuracy, has long barrel life and low recoil is the competitive shooter’s ideal. For the hunter, other factors may weigh more heavily.

Cartridge Efficiency and Energy — Another Perspective
Lapua staffer Kevin Thomas explains that efficiency can be evaluated in terms of energy:

“Cartridge efficiency is pretty straight forward — energy in vs. energy out. Most modern single-based propellants run around 178-215 ft/lbs of energy per grain. These figures give the energy potential that you’re loading into the rifle. The resulting kinetic energy transferred to the bullet will give you the efficiency of the round. Most cases operate at around 20-25% efficiency. This is just another way to evaluate the potential of a given cartridge. There’s a big difference between this and simply looking at max velocities produced by various cartridges.”

Permalink Bullets, Brass, Ammo, Reloading 6 Comments »
April 27th, 2019

Introduction to Auto-Indexing Progressive Presses

USAMU Progressive Press auto  self-advancing

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

Progressive Loading Presses — Self-Advancing Shellplate Type

USAMU Progressive Press auto  self-advancing
Photo courtesy UltimateReloader.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April 23rd, 2019

Precision Handloading for Pistols — Tips from the USAMU

USAMU Service Pistol Handgun Tip Advice Reloading

Each Wednesday the USAMU offers tips for handloaders on the USAMU Facebook page. This article from the “Handloading Hump-Day” archives should interest pistol competitors, an any shooter who enjoys getting the best possible accuracy from their fine pistols. In this article, the USAMU’s experts share key tips that can help optimize your pistol ammo. Follow this tips to produce more consistent ammo, that can shoot higher scores.

Optimize the Taper Crimp
One often-overlooked aspect of handloading highly-accurate pistol ammunition is the amount of crimp and its effect on accuracy. Different amounts of taper crimp are used with various handloads to obtain best accuracy. The amount is based on bullet weight, powder burn rate and charge, plus other factors. It is not unusual for our Shop to vary a load’s crimp in degrees of 0.001″ and re-test for finest accuracy.

USAMU Service Pistol Handgun Tip Advice ReloadingUse Consistent Brass
Brass is also important to pistol accuracy. While accurate ammunition can be loaded using brass of mixed parentage, that is not conducive to finest results, particularly at 50 yards. It is important for the serious competitor/handloader to use brass of the same headstamp and ideally one lot number, to maximize uniformity. Given the volumes of ammunition consumed by active pistol competitors, using inexpensive, mixed surplus brass for practice, particularly at the “short line” (25 yards), is understandable. However, for the “long line” (50 yards), purchasing and segregating a lot of high-quality brass to be used strictly for slow-fire is a wise idea.

Importance of Uniform COAL
Uniformity of the Case Overall Length (COAL) as it comes from the factory is also important to achieving utmost accuracy. More uniform case lengths (best measured after sizing) contribute to greater consistency of crimp, neck tension, ignition/burn of powder charge, and so on. Cartridge case-length consistency varies from lot to lot, as well as by maker. Some manufacturers are more consistent in this dimension than others. [Editor’s note: It is easy to trim pistol brass to uniform length. Doing this will make your taper crimps much more consistent.]

Primers and Powders — Comparison Test for Accuracy
Pay attention to primer brands, powder types and charges. Evaluating accuracy with a Ransom or other machine rest at 50 yards can quickly reveal the effect of changes made to handload recipes.

USAMU Service Pistol Handgun Tip Advice Reloading

Bullet Selection — FMJ vs. JHP
Bullets are another vital issue. First, there is the question of FMJ vs. JHP. A friend of this writer spent decades making and accuracy-testing rifle and pistol bullets during QC for a major bullet manufacturer. In his experience, making highly-accurate FMJ bullets is much more difficult than making highly-accurate JHPs, in large part due to the way the jackets are formed. Small die changes could affect accuracy of FMJ lots dramatically.

The CMP now allows “safe, jacketed ammunition” in Excellence-in-Competition (EIC) Service Pistol matches, although wadcutter ammunition is prohibited. Thus, the option to use very accurate JHP designs simplifies the life of CMP Service Pistol shooters in pursuit of the prestigious Distinguished Pistol Shot badge.

Hopefully, these tips will be helpful to any pistol shooters interested in accurate handloads, not just “Bullseye” shooters. Small tweaks to one’s normal routine can pay big dividends in improved accuracy and make practice and competition more rewarding.

Stay safe, and good shooting!

Permalink Bullets, Brass, Ammo, Reloading No Comments »
April 18th, 2019

Smart Reloading: How to Set Optimal Case Neck Tension

USAMU handloading Neck Bushing Die tension springback interchangeable bushings

Each Wednesday, the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) publishes a reloading “how-to” article on the USAMU Facebook page. A while back, the USAMU’s reloading gurus addressed a question frequently asked by handloaders: “How much neck tension is optimal, and how should I select a neck bushing size?” The USAMU offers a straight-forward answer, suggesting that hand-loaders start with a neck bushing that sizes the neck so that it is .003″ less than the loaded outside diameter with bullet in place. From there, you can experiment with more or less tension, but this is a good starting point for many popular cartridge types.

USAMU Reloading

Determining Optimal Case-Neck Tension

This week, we examine determining the correct case neck tension for optimum accuracy. Our method is simple, but relies on the use of case sizing dies which accept interchangeable neck diameter bushings graduated in 0.001″ increments. (Those readers using fixed-diameter dies with expander balls aren’t forgotten, however. Methods of tailoring these dies for proper neck tension will be found below.)

In our experience across many calibers, sizing case necks 0.003″ under the loaded-case neck diameter usually yields excellent accuracy. In other words, the sized case neck expands 0.003″ when the bullet is seated.

USAMU handloading Neck Bushing Die tension springback interchangeable bushings

USAMU handloading Neck Bushing Die tension springback interchangeable bushingsBushing Choice for Optimal Sizing
Over the years, we have periodically experimented with increasing neck tension to possibly improve accuracy. In testing with machine rests at 300/600 yards, accuracy often deteriorated as neck tension increased; thus, 0.003″ expansion (from sized neck to loaded neck) is where we usually start.

Using the .260 Remington as an example, our loaded cartridge case necks measure 0.292”. Simply subtract 0.003” from that, and use a bushing that sizes necks to 0.289” (after springback). There are exceptions — sometimes, brass may be a bit soft or hard. Some case necks might need, say, 0.001” more tension, but in general, this works well.

This .003″ standard of neck tension works very well for single-loaded, long range cartridges. Depending on your caliber and firearm, it MAY also work very well for magazine-fed cartridges. If this neck tension proves inadequate for your purpose, one can increase neck tension as needed while monitoring for possible accuracy changes.

Special Considerations for Coated Bullets: If you are using moly-coated bullets, this significantly reduces the “grip” of the case neck on the bullet, and you can expect to have to tighten your case necks accordingly — particularly for magazine-fed ammunition. In any event, we do not crimp rifle cartridges, and advise against it for accuracy handloads.

Tips for Using Expander Balls
Many savvy handloaders avoid the use of expander balls in high-accuracy reloading, if possible. These can stretch cases and/or disturb the concentricity of the case neck vs. case body. If using a die with an expander ball, tapering both ends of the ball and polishing it to a mirror finish can significantly reduce these effects. (Special carbide expander ball/decapping stem sets are available for this as well.)

The typical dies used with expander balls are intended to take any cases the user may find, and size them down well below the ideal “spec” to ensure any cases will give good neck tension. The necks are then expanded up to provide heavy to medium neck tension as the expander ball exits the neck. The brass is over-worked, leading to premature work-hardening, and seated-bullet concentricity may suffer. However, the cartridges produced are perfectly adequate for most handloaders. Those who seek finest accuracy generally prefer not to over-work their brass if possible.

Another Option — Custom-Honed FL Dies
There are companies which offer to convert one’s standard dies to accept neck bushings, and that gives excellent flexibility. Another, more “old-school” approach, is to have the neck of one’s FL die honed out to the desired diameter for sizing, based on one’s case neck thickness. The expander ball may then be reduced until it barely touches the case necks after sizing, or it may be eliminated entirely. However, once performed, this modification is permanent and leaves fewer options than the bushing route, if one later changes case neck thickness.

Those shooters who turn their case necks for optimum neck wall thickness uniformity, or for a tight-neck chamber, will want to take the reduced neck wall thickness into consideration. For example, when setting up a 7mm match rifle to use a standard hunting die without an expander ball, the slightly thinner necks resulted in a perfect 0.003″ reduction in the fired-neck diameter. The result was a low-cost die that fit with custom precision and yielded excellent, match accuracy!

Permalink Bullets, Brass, Ammo, Reloading 3 Comments »
April 10th, 2019

Match Etiquette: Be Prepared, Know the Rules and Course of Fire

Match Etiquette USAMU Course of Fire Rules SFC Norman Anderson CMP Rulebook NRA

Match Etiquette USAMU Course of Fire Rules SFC Norman Anderson CMP Rulebook NRA

Don’t Be “That Guy” (The Bad Apple on the Firing Line)

By SFC Norman Anderson, USAMU Service Rifle Team Member
You know the guy, he’s still talking at the coffee jug when his preparation period begins, then his magazines aren’t loaded when the command “STAND” is given, and finally, he doesn’t know the rules when he argues with the block officer as his target comes up marked “9 and No”. Although this guy might be the highlight of the “after match” activities, he is the proverbial bad apple on the firing line. With this example fresh in your mind, let’s go over how not to be “that guy”.

While the sport of High Power shooting is a hobby for most, all are passionate about performance throughout the day. In order to achieve your maximum performance each and every day, it is essential that you conduct yourself as a professional competitor. As a competitor, you have a personal responsibility to know the course of fire as well as the rules and procedures that apply to it and to be prepared to follow them. Knowing this will not only make you a better competitor, but it will enable you to resolve situations with other targets besides your own. So what does all this mean? I’ll explain…

Know the Course of Fire
Know the course of fire. It sounds easy enough, as we all shoot plenty of matches, but it’s more than that. If you think about it, how many people in the pits, for example, do not really know what is happening on the firing line? This leads to targets being pulled early during a rapid fire string or missing a shot during a slow fire string. In cases like this, the result is the same, delays in the match and upset competitors. To avoid being “that guy,” it is imperative that you stay tuned to the events as the day progresses. When you are at the range shooting a match, be at the range shooting the match.

At any firearms competition — be sure you know (and understand) the course of fire.
CMP Match Etiquette

Match Etiquette USAMU Course of Fire Rules SFC Norman Anderson CMP Rulebook NRAKnow the Rules
Now, let’s discuss rules. As you have probably heard more than once, the rulebook is your best friend. Here is why. I can virtually guarantee that most competitors know some of the rules based only on the old “this is how we do it at home” adage. The funny part of that is, the same green NRA rulebook and orange CMP rulebooks are used to govern High Power matches all over the country.*

It is vital that all shooters be familiar with the rules as they are written, not with “how they are applied at home”. This creates consistency and continuity in how matches are conducted, from local club matches to state tournaments to National Championships. Knowledge is power when it comes to scoring targets under contention, what to do in the case of a malfunction, or even how to file a protest correctly. These rules are in place for a reason and it benefits everyone to both know and operate by these rules.

Maintain Composure and Humility — Exhibit Good Sportsmanship
One aspect of competing that cannot be forgotten is bearing. As I mentioned earlier, you must be prepared for both good and bad to happen. All too often we all see “that guy” (or that “that guy’s” gear) flying off of the firing line in disgust. Remember that we all must maintain our composure and humility in all conditions, not matter what happens. After all, it’s just a game. To put it into perspective, if it were easy, attendance would be a lot higher. Sportsmanship must be displayed in an effort to keep from ruining the day for all those around you. It doesn’t cost anything to smile, and smiling never killed anyone. So turn that frown upside down and keep on marching, better days will come.

Like a Boy Scout — Always Be Prepared
Lastly, I would like to cover preparedness. Being prepared goes beyond simply having your magazines loaded and a zero on your rifle. It means approaching the firing line, knowing what you are about to do, being ready for what is going to happen (good or bad), and being ready for the results. If you approach the firing line to merely shoot 10 shots standing in your next LEG match, you are not going to be pleased with the result. You must be prepared mentally and physically, not only for the next stage, but also the next shot. By being prepared physically (equipment ready), you give yourself peace of mind which is an essential part of being prepared mentally, and by being prepared mentally, you are less likely to become distracted and are more likely to maintain focus for each and every shot.

Conclusion — Informed Competitors Make for Better Matches
The culmination of these efforts results in a shooter that knows how to be ready for success on the range, but also and perhaps more importantly, a shooter who knows what it means to be a competitor. When you have a range full of competitors who know and follow the rules and proper match procedures, the match runs smoothly, everyone shoots well, and a good time is had by all. In the end, isn’t that what it’s all about?


* After this article was originally written, the CMP separated its rules into two different Rulebooks:

The 2019 7th Edition of the CMP Competition Rules for CMP Games Rifle and Pistol Matches governs all CMP-sanctioned matches for As-Issued Military Rifle and Pistol events including Special EIC Matches that are fired with As-Issued Military Rifles or Pistols.

The 2019 23rd Edition of the CMP Competition Rules for Service Rifle and Service Pistol governs sponsored and sanctioned matches for Service Rifle, Service Pistol and .22 Rimfire Pistol events, including National Trophy Rifle and Pistol Matches, Excellence-In-Competition (EIC) matches and other CMP-sanctioned competitions.

This article by SFC Norman Anderson originally appeared in the CMP First Shot Online Magazine.

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March 27th, 2019

USAMU Tips for Using a Progressive Reloading Press

Accurateshooter.com USAMU progressive press reloading

Each Wednesday, the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) publishes a reloading “how-to” article on the USAMU Facebook page. In this article, the USAMU’s reloading gurus help you avoid potentially disastrous mistakes with a progressive — such as double powder changes. The USAMU experts caution that: “beginners would be better served by starting on a single-stage press”. That said, owning a progressive makes sense if you shoot more than 100 centerfire rounds a week. If you own a progressive press, or are thinking of buying one, you should read this article.

USAMU Reloading

For those interested in progressives, we’ll examine different key features among the types and relate them to handloading processes. The first, and simplest, type is the manually-advanced progressive. The shellplate holds the several cartridges being processed with each stroke of the handle. On these presses, the loader must manually advance the shellplate after each handle stroke.

While this obviously slows production vs. a press that cycles the shellplate automatically, this feature does have advantages though. (The disadvantages follow shortly.) No case is advanced to the next station until the operator deliberately does so – which is especially helpful for the new handloader.

Problems that arise during loading can be diagnosed and fixed without fears of some “extra” operation happening unnoticed with cartridges at the other stations. Beginners NOTE: one way to positively prevent this risk is to remove the cases from each press station when a problem emerges, before beginning diagnosis. Usually, however, experienced loaders omit this step as a time-saving measure, being confident in their understanding of the loading machine, process and the appropriate remedy.

Progressive press reloading ultimate reloader USAMU

If all cartridge cases are left in place, the operator must monitor what’s happening at each station. For example, raising the press ram twice may result in a double-charge of powder. With rifle cartridges, this usually results in a massive powder over-flow, alerting the loader to the problem. With pistol cases or small rifle charges in large cases, such an over-flow isn’t guaranteed. [Editor — one way to be sure you don’t have an overcharge or undercharge is to use a Lock-Out Die — see below.] The manually-advanced progressive keeps all operations under the loader’s control at all times. This is intuitively easier for the beginning loader to understand and to operate with confidence.

However, this same characteristic can be problematic if the loader isn’t paying 100% attention to what they are doing during routine operation. Some new handloaders apparently aspire to load progressively while daydreaming and paying little attention to the operation. Their plan is to feed components in, like feeding potato chips to a monkey, while good ammo drops out at the other end. Unfortunately, such an approach may likely result in something other than “good” ammo dropping out at the end…

Forgetting to cycle the shellplate when appropriate will cause problems. As with all handloading, distractions MUST be kept to a minimum for safety purposes. Never watch TV, talk with friends, or have other distractions (such as a rambunctious pet or child) in the room when loading. Avoiding distractions will do much to ensure that one produces consistent, high-quality ammunition, free of defects. For example, when a case doesn’t line up correctly with the case mouth expander or powder drop tube, a difference in “feel” often alerts the loader to correct the problem without ruining a case. If one is interrupted or becomes distracted, be certain to examine ALL cases in the shellplate before resuming loading.

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

Other advantages of the typical manually-advanced progressives are that they are usually simpler in design, with fewer moving parts to get out of adjustment. This appeals to the mechanically dis-inclined! Caliber conversion kits are usually cheaper and take less time to install. This especially benefits the enthusiast who reloads for a wide variety of calibers.

However, many popular manually-advanced progressives have fewer die stations than the higher-end, auto-advancing machines. One item that is very useful when actually dispensing powder on a progressive press is a cartridge case powder-level sensor. This warns if powder levels in each case are too high or too low; however, it does require a die station of its own.

This condition (incorrect powder charges) often results from powder (especially extruded rifle powder) “bridging” in the powder measure. That is, one charge doesn’t fully empty into its cartridge case. This leaves some extra powder hanging up in the measure to join the normal charge in the next case. With some extruded powders, this can be quite obvious without a sensor. However, the sensor can detect small variations that would not be obvious to even an experienced, attentive operator. Considering the machine’s potential to use a powder sensor in addition to one’s other customary dies is a wise idea.

Similarly, pistol shooters are best served to seat bullets and crimp cartridges in separate operations. This should be taken into account when selecting a progressive press. Whenever loading fully-progressively, choosing powders that dispense very easily, e.g., ball/spherical or very fine-grain extruded powders, can help keep charges quite uniform.

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February 23rd, 2019

Six Great Guidebooks for Pistol Shooters

Pistol Marksmanship training book
Jessie Harrison — one of the greatest female pistol shooters on the planet. In the video below, Jessie offers good tips on safe handgun mag changes.

One of our Forum members asked: “Are there any good books on pistol marksmanship? I’m looking for a book that covers techniques and concepts….” Here are six recommended titles that can make you a better pistol shooter. These books run the gamut from basic handgun training to Olympic-level bullseye shooting.

Pistol Marksmanship training book 1911 race gunGood Guidebooks for Pistol Shooters
There are actually many good books which can help both novice and experienced pistol shooters improve their skills and accuracy. For new pistol shooters, we recommend the NRA Guide to the Basics of Pistol Shooting. This full-color publication is the designated student “textbook” for the NRA Basic Pistol Shooting Course.

Serious competitive pistol shooters should definitely read Pistol Shooters Treasury a compilation of articles from World and National Champions published by Gil Hebard. You could work your way through the ranks with that book alone even though it is very small. It is an excellent resource.

If you’re interested in bullseye shooting, you should get the USAMU’s The Advanced Pistol Marksmanship Manual. This USAMU pistol marksmanship guide has been a trusted resource since the 1960s. Action Shooters should read Practical Shooting: Beyond Fundamentals by Brian Enos, and Practical Pistol by Ben Stoeger. Brian Enos is a well-known pistol competitor with many titles. Ben Stoeger is a two-time U.S. Practical Pistol shooting champion. Last but not least, Julie Golob’s Shooting book covers pistol marksmanship, along with 3-Gun competition. Julie holds multiple national pistol shooting titles.

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January 28th, 2019

How to Prep Mil-Surp Once-Fired Brass

USAMU Brass reloading tip

The U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit publishes reloading “how-to” articles on the USAMU Facebook page. One Wednesday “Handloading Hump Day” post covered preparation of once-fired 5.56x45mm brass. This article, the first in a 3-part series, has many useful tips. If you shoot a rifle chambered in .223 Rem or 5.56x45mm, this article is worth reading. And visit the USAMU Facebook page for other hand-loading tips.

This week, Handloading Hump-Day will answer a special request from several competitive shooters in Alaska. They asked about procedures for morphing once-fired GI 5.56mm brass into accurate match brass for NRA High Power Rifle use. The USAMU has used virgin Lake City (LC) 5.56 brass to win National Championships and set National Records for many years. In this 3-part series, we’ll share techniques proven to wring match-winning accuracy from combat-grade brass.

Preparing Once-Fired GI 5.56 Brass for Reloading (Part 1 of 3)
Assuming our readers will be getting brass once-fired as received from surplus dealers, the following steps can help process the low-cost raw material into reliably accurate components.

1. Clean the Brass
First, clean the brass of any dirt/mud/debris, if applicable. Depending on the brass’s condition, washing it in a soap solution followed by a thorough rinsing may help. [This step also extends the life of the tumbling media.] Approaches range from low-tech, using gallon jugs 1/2 full of water/dish soap plus brass and shaking vigorously, to more high-tech, expensive and time-consuming methods.

2. Wet-Tumbling Options (Be Sure to Dry the Brass)
When applying the final cleaning/polish, some use tumblers with liquid cleaning media and stainless steel pins for a brilliant shine inside and out, while others take the traditional vibratory tumbler/ground media approach. Degree of case shine is purely personal preference, but the key issue is simple cleanliness to avoid scratching ones’ dies.

Shown below are Lake City cases after cleaning with Stainless Media (STM). Note: STM Case cleaning was done by a third party, not the USAMU, which does not endorse any particular cleaning method.

If a liquid cleaner is used, be SURE to dry the cases thoroughly to preclude corrosion inside. One method is to dump the wet brass into an old pillow case, then tilt it left/right so the cases re-orient themselves while shifting from corner to corner. Several repetitions, pausing at each corner until water stops draining, will remove most water. They can then be left to air-dry on a towel, or can be dried in a warm (150° F-200° F max) oven for a few minutes to speed evaporation.

3. Inspect Every Case
Once dry, inspect each case for significant deformation (i.e., someone stepped on it), damaged mouths/necks and case head/rim damage. Some rifles’ ejectors actually dig small chunks of brass out of the case head — obviously, not ideal for precision shooting. Similarly, some extractors can bend the case rims so badly that distortion is visible when spinning them in one’s fingers. These can be used for plinking, but our match brass should have straight, undamaged rims.

Dented case mouths are common, and these can easily be rounded using a conical, tapered tool, [such as a .223 expander mandrel. A dummy 7.62 or .30-06 cartridge with a FMJ spitzer can also work.] If most of your brass is of one headstamp, this is a good time to cull out any odd cases.

4. Check the Primers Before Decapping
Your clean, dry and inspected brass is now ready for full-length sizing, decapping and re-priming. Historically, primer crimps on GI brass have caused some head-scratching (and vile language) among handloaders. Our next installment will detail efficient, easy and practical methods to remove primer crimp, plus other useful handloading tips. Until next week, Good Shooting!

NOTE: The USAMU Handloading (HL) Shop does not RE-load fired 5.56 brass. We use virgin LC brass with our chosen primer already staked in place. However, our staff has extensive personal experience reloading GI brass for competition, which will supplement the Shop’s customary steps. In handloading, as in life, there are many ways to accomplish any given task. Our suggestions are note presented as the “only way,” by any means. Time for loading/practicing is always at a premium. Readers who have more efficient, alternative methods that maintain top accuracy are invited to share them here.

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January 22nd, 2019

Mental Game — Thinking Your Way to Success

praslick emil usamu mental training game marksmanship

SFC Emil Praslick III is now retired from the U.S. Army, but he left a great legacy as one of the USAMU’s greatest coaches and team leaders. A highly-respected wind expert, Praslick also was known for his ability to help his shooters master the “mental game”, which is so important at the highest levels of competition. Here is an article from the CMP Archives in which Praslick explains how to focus your mind to achieve greater success.

Thinking Your Way to Success by SFC Emil Praslick III (Ret.)
Why does it seem that the same small group of shooters wins the majority of the matches? Within the Army Marksmanship Unit’s Service Rifle Team, the same effect applies. On a team filled with uncommonly talented shooters, the same two or three are consistently at the top of the final results bulletin. What is the difference among shooters who are technically equal? Confidence. A confident shooter is free to execute his shots without the fear of failure, i.e. shooting a poor shot.

Negative thoughts (can’t, won’t be able to, etc.) will destroy a skilled performance. The mind’s focus will not be on executing the task, but on projecting fear and self-doubt. Fear is the enemy, confidence is the cure.

Emil Praslick III

How does a shooter on the eve of an important match (the President’s or NTI, for example) attain the confidence needed to perform up to his potential? A pre-competition mental plan can assist in acquiring that positive mental state. The plan can be broken down into a few phases.

Build a feeling of preparedness. Developing and executing a plan to organize your equipment and pre-match routine will aid you in feeling prepared on match day.

Avoid negative and stressful thoughts. Focusing on “winning” the match or shooting for a specific score (like making the “cut” or making the President’s 100) can cause undue stress. Good shooters focus on aspects that are within their control: their sight picture, their sight alignment, their position. Each shot should be treated as an individual event.

Train stage-specific tasks during your practice sessions. Instead of shooting matches or practice matches only, include some drills that focus on your problem areas. Training in this manner will assist your level of confidence.

As part of your pre-match routine, imagine yourself shooting perfect shots. Visualize getting into the perfect position, acquiring a perfect sight picture, and perfect trigger control.

Emil Praslick mental game advice

Let a feeling of calm and well-being wash over you. Spend a few minutes alone thinking positive thoughts. Many shooters use their favorite music to help build the mood.

Once you develop your pre-competition mental plan, stick with it. Through your training you will develop the physical skills to shoot higher scores. The confidence you will need to apply them in match conditions will grow as you develop into a complete shooter; both physically and mentally.

Click HERE for More USAMU Shooting Tips

The USAMU’s article archives are a great resource for competitive shooters. Click HERE for more excellent instructional articles by Emil Praslick and other USAMU Coaches and shooters. You’ll find articles on Wind-Reading, Fitness, Equipment, Shooting Positions, Shooting Techniques, Match Strategies and much more.

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January 1st, 2019

Primer Pocket and Flash Hole Uniforming Basics

Reloading Case Prep Flash Hole Primer Pocket

The U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) has published a series of reloading “how-to” articles on its Facebook Page. This post explains how to uniform primer pockets and remove burrs in flash holes. These brass prep operations can help ensure greater consistency, shot after shot. Visit the USAMU Facebook Page for other, helpful handloading tips.

Primer Pocket and Flash-Hole Conditioning

This week, we’ll address a question that frequently arises: “Do you uniform primer pockets and deburr flash-holes?”

As we tailor our handloading methods to the specific needs of each instance, the answer, not surprisingly, is “occasionally!” Generally, the USAMU Handloading Shop does not uniform primer pockets (PP) or deburr flash holes (FH) of our rifle brass. That’s not to say we’re against it — rather, it reflects the very high volume of ammunition loaded, the fact that very few cases are ever re-loaded for a second firing, and the types of brass we use. However, as a need is perceived, we DO deburr flash holes (of which, more later.)

As to the type cases we use, many thousands of our long-range 5.56x45mm cases come to us from the arsenal with the primer of our choice pre-installed and staked in per their usual practice. Obviously, we could not uniform either FHs or PPs on this live-primed brass. However, after careful sorting, inspection and preparation, we do obtain match-winning results with it. Regular readers have seen photos of some of the tiny 1000-yard test groups we’ve fired with weight-selected domestic brass which had neither Primer Pockets uniformed nor flash holes deburred.

Reloading Case Prep Flash Hole Primer Pocket
Figure 1 shows a fired, deprimed 7.62×51 case with primer residue intact. In Figure 2, the primer pocket has been uniformed to SAAMI specs. Note the shiny finish — evidence of the metal removed to uniform and square the primer pocket.

Shooters who reload their brass several times may decide to uniform PPs and deburr FHs, especially on their “300-yard and beyond” brass. Unlike us, they will be using their cases many times, while the operations are only needed once. Also, most handloaders only process a relatively moderate amount of brass compared to our 20-thousand round lots. Having high quality Long Range (LR) brass helps. Many of the better brass manufacturers form their flash holes so that no burrs are created.

Still, it does pay to inspect even THESE manufacturer’s products, as occasional slips are inevitable. Very rarely, some of these makers will have a significant burr in, say, 1 per 1000 or 2000 cases, and it’s worth catching those. Recently, we began processing a large lot of match brass from a premier manufacturer, and were startled to find that every case had a burr in the FH — something we’d never before seen from this maker. We then broke out the FH deburring tool and went to work.

Reloading Case Prep Flash Hole Primer Pocket

For those who do opt for these procedures, note that various tool models may have adjustable depth-stops. Pay attention to the instructions. Some flash hole deburring tools which enter the case mouth, not the primer pocket, depend on uniform case length for best results.

Does It Really Make a Difference?
It can be difficult to truly verify the contribution to accuracy of these procedures, particularly when firing from the shoulder, in conditions. Members of this staff, as individual rifle competitors, do often perform these operations on their privately-owned LR rifle brass.

One could ascribe this to the old High Power Rifle maxim that “if you think it helps, then it helps”. Another thought is to “leave no stone unturned” in the search for accuracy.

However, an extremely talented World Champion and Olympic Gold/Silver medalist commented on his own handloading (for International competition, which demands VERY fine accuracy). He noted that he did seem to see a decline in accuracy whenever he did not uniform FH’s, deburr FH’s and clean primer pockets before each reloading; however, with the wisdom of decades’ experience, he also remarked that “It could have been that I just wasn’t shooting as well that day.”

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December 29th, 2018

Got Vertical Fliers? Check Your Firing Pin and Ignition System

USAMU Handloading vertical dispersion ignition rimfire accuracy firing pin
Top to bottom – Remington firing pin assembly with ISS, Tubb SpeedLock alloy-composite system without ISS (current versions have dual, opposite-wound springs), and Remington short action firing pin assembly without ISS.

The U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit regularly publishes technical articles on the USAMU Facebook page. One informative USAMU article covered mechanical issues and related ignition irregularities that can cause vertical fliers even with good ammunition in an otherwise excellent rifle. We highly recommend you read this article, which offers some important tech tips.

USAMU handloading hump day

Vertical Dispersion: Mechanical/Ignition Issues?

Poor or inconsistent ignition has long been known to be one of the “usual suspects” when one encounters vertical fliers that just shouldn’t be there. By having a sense of some of the basic principles involved, and a few basic areas to check, the shooter may avoid colsiderable frustration, not to mention time, expensive loading components and barrel wear.

USAMU Handloading vertical dispersion ignition rimfire accuracy firing pinIs your well-built rifle of high-quality components plagued with vertical fliers across more than 1-3 handload combinations? Consider the bedding, crown and scope/sight mounts. Are they correct? If so, then you might check for ignition issues before boldly undertaking an extensive, expensive, and quite possibly fruitless quest for the “magic handload”.

SEEING IS BELIEVING: While the author had been aware for many years that poor ignition should be considered and ruled out when dealing with vertical fliers in an otherwise-excellent rifle, actually seeing the problem and its almost instantaneous cure really drove the lesson home.

He was working with a “dot” rifle – a .22 LR match rifle that really stacked bullets into little piles at 50 yards and beyond. With one lot of ELEY Tenex, it produced consistent “bughole” groups at 50, but with another, selected lot of Tenex, similar groups were regularly ruined by single, vertical fliers that did not appear in other rifles. Rather than spending days burning up expensive, select ammunition looking for “magic lots”, he contacted a well-respected rimfire gunsmith and explained the situation.

Without so much as batting an eye, the highly-experienced ‘smith tore into the rifle’s action, and quickly found the cause(s) of the problem. He discovered a demonstrably weak firing pin spring, plus a chip out of the face of the firing pin where it contacted the cartridge rim.

After replacing and tuning the offending parts, the rifle immediately began shooting tiny, bughole groups with the previously “unacceptable” lot of Tenex. Centerfire rifles can also benefit from ensuring positive, consistent ignition. A wise riflesmith is literally worth his weight in gold!

So, what are some issues we as shooters can inspect in our rifles to help determine if ignition woes could be part of our problem? At the club level, ask yourself if that “experienced” Remington, Winchester 70, or even Springfield-based match bolt gun you’re using is still running its’ original 40-80 year-old factory striker spring? If so, a new replacement is cheap insurance against current or future problems. (And BTW, it might be best to stick to the normal, factory-spec spring weight. A super-powerful spring can cause vertical, just as a weak one one can.) Along with that, a routine check for proper firing-pin protrusion is a quick preventive measure that can rule out potential issues.

Other areas to consider are the centering and consistency of the firing pin’s operation in the bolt. Admittedly, with the increasing use of precision-machined custom actions, this is becoming less an issue every day. Below is the firing pin assembly from a custom BAT action:

USAMU Handloading vertical dispersion ignition rimfire accuracy firing pin

However, particularly with factory actions, a very quick and easy check is to remove the bolt, let the firing pin go forward, and look at the firing pin tip through the firing pin hole. Is the tip off-center in the hole, and possibly striking it as it moves forward? Is the hole out-of-round or burred from being struck repeatedly? If so, a trip to the riflesmith is likely in order.

Similarly, machining issues in the bolt/firing pin system can lead to rough and erratic firing pin movement, in which the firing pin drags against an internal surface of the bolt. In high-quality rifles these issues are relatively rare, but not unheard-of, and it takes mere minutes to rule them out. It may be worthwhile to remove the cocking piece/firing pin/spring assembly and look for any unusual gouges, dings, peening, burrs or signs of abnormal wear.

This task is especially easy with Winchester 70s, Springfields, and the similar Mauser 98s, involving little more than the push of a button and unscrewing the cocking piece assembly. This is just one of the many reasons these tried-and-true actions have earned such a loyal following in the field, among hunters who must maintain their rifles away from a shop.

USAMU Handloading vertical dispersion ignition rimfire accuracy firing pin

Particularly with older rifles, watch for and remove excess grease (or even Cosmoline!) from both the firing pin assembly and inside the bolt. This can help improve firing pin speed and consistency. Other bolt-action designs may need a take-down tool or other measures.

As part of this inspection, AFTER ENSURING THE RIFLE IS UNLOADED, slowly cock the rifle, dry-fire, and repeat several times. Listen carefully near the action for inconsistency in the sounds it generates. Does the striker falling make the same sound each time? Do you hear or feel grinding upon operation? If so, where?

Be sure to check the operation of the cocking piece (bolt shroud), firing pin within the bolt shroud, the cocking piece cam and the rear of the bolt body where the cocking piece cam operates. As with our examination for abnormal wear marks discussed above, look for marks indicating roughness or a possible need for light polishing. Then, clean and lightly grease the bearing surfaces while you’re at it.

Remington 700 bolt shroud and cocking cam
Rem 700 bolt cocking cam

These are relatively easy checks that shooters can undertake to perform a preliminary inspection on their own. Other mechanical issues can also cause ignition issues, chiefly centered around the action of the trigger, sear and sear spring. If these are suspected, a trip to an experienced, qualified riflesmith for diagnosis is recommended. We hope you find this information helpful! Join us again next week, and in the meantime, enjoy the shooting sports safely!

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December 27th, 2018

Chronos by The Numbers — Tips on ES, SD, and Sample Sizes

USAMU Marksmanship Unit Velocity Chronograph Testing Sample Sizes

The U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) regulary publishes “how-to” articles on the USAMU Facebook page. One informative “Handloading Hump Day” article covers chronograph testing and statistical samples. We highly recommend you read this article, which offers some important tips that can benefit any hand-loader. Visit the USAMU Facebook page next Wednesday for the next installment.

Chronograph Testing — Set-Up, Sample Sizes, and Velocity Factors

Initial Chronograph Setup
A chronograph is an instrument designed to measure bullet velocity. Typically, the bullet casts a shadow as it passes over two electronic sensors placed a given distance apart. The first screen is the “start” screen, and it triggers an internal, high-speed counter. As the bullet passes the second, or “stop” screen, the counter is stopped. Then, appropriate math of time vs. distance traveled reveals the bullet’s velocity. Most home chronographs use either 2- or 4-foot spacing between sensors. Longer spacing can add some accuracy to the system, but with high-quality chronographs, 4-foot spacing is certainly adequate.

Laboratory chronographs usually have six feet or more between sensors. Depending upon the make and model of ones chronograph, it should come with instructions on how far the “start” screen should be placed from one’s muzzle. Other details include adequate light (indoors or outdoors), light diffusers over the sensors as needed, and protecting the start screen from blast and debris such as shotgun wads, etc. When assembling a sky-screen system, the spacing between sensors must be extremely accurate to allow correct velocity readings.

Statistics: Group Sizes, Distances and Sample Sizes
How many groups should we fire, and how many shots per group? These questions are matters of judgment, to a degree. First, to best assess how ones ammunition will perform in competition, it should be test-fired at the actual distance for which it will be used. [That means] 600-yard or 1000-yard ammo should be tested at 600 and 1000 yards, respectively, if possible. It is possible to work up very accurate ammunition at 100 or 200 yards that does not perform well as ranges increase. Sometimes, a change in powder type can correct this and produce a load that really shines at longer range.

The number of shots fired per group should be realistic for the course of fire. That is, if one will be firing 10-shot strings in competition then final accuracy testing, at least, should involve 10-shot strings. These will reflect the rifles’ true capability. Knowing this will help the shooter better decide in competition whether a shot requires a sight adjustment, or if it merely struck within the normal accuracy radius of his rifle.

How many groups are needed for a valid test? Here, much depends on the precision with which one can gather the accuracy data. If shooting from a machine rest in good weather conditions, two or three 10-shot groups at full distance may be very adequate. If it’s windy, the rifle or ammunition are marginal, or the shooter is not confident in his ability to consistently fire every shot accurately, then a few more groups may give a better picture of the rifle’s true average.

(more…)

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December 23rd, 2018

TECH TIP: When and How to Use Bore-Snakes

Handloading USAMU Facebook Bore Cleaning

On Wednesdays, the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit often publishes a reloading “how-to” article on the USAMU Facebook page. One “Handloading Hump Day” post covered bore-cleaning, specifically the use of pull-through style bore snakes. Visit the USAMU Facebook page each Wednesday for other helpful tips.

Today, we’ll shift from handloading to rifle bore cleaning and maintenance, with information courtesy of the USAMU’s Custom Firearms Shop. We recently had some inquiries about bore cleaning, and this seems a good opportunity to share. After all, even the best handloads won’t yield their full potential in a poorly-cleaned and maintained rifle.

BORE SNAKES: MIRACLE REPLACEMENT FOR THE CLEANING ROD?
The experiences of both our firearms test specialist and this writer have given no evidence that proper use of a clean bore-snake will damage a match barrel. Of course, one does not pull the bore-snake at an angle to the crown when removing it — pull it straight out, parallel to the bore’s direction, to prevent crown wear over time.

USAMU Handloading facebook page bore snake cleaningBore-snakes are very useful for some applications (primarily a hasty, interim wipe-down). In [my] experience they cannot replace a thorough cleaning with a proper rod and brushes. While the experiment cited here involves rimfire, it may help illustrate. Several years ago, the writer used his new, personal Anschutz to investigate the bore-snake issue. It had been fired ~350 rds with match ammo and had had 3 typical rod/brush cleanings.

Next, starting with a clean bore, the writer fired 300 more rounds without cleaning in order to build up a “worst-case” fouling condition. Afterwards, the writer examined the bore with a Hawkeye bore scope. There was a uniform, grey film down the entire barrel, with some small, intermittent lead build-up at and just forward of the throat.

A new bore-snake was then wet with solvent and pulled through the bore. The Hawkeye revealed that the grey fouling was gone, and much of the visible fouling at the throat was reduced. However, nine more passes with the bore-snake, checking after each with the Hawkeye, revealed no further improvement in cleaning. The writer then cleaned with two wet patches, observed, then one stroke of a new, wet bronze brush, and one wet patch to clean out residue.

USAMU Handloading facebook page bore snake cleaning

The Hawkeye showed a significant reduction in fouling at the throat; it was virtually gone. A second pass with a wet bronze brush and a wet patch removed the remaining fouling. Scrubbing the bore further, checking to see how much fouling was removed, revealed no significant improvement. The reason for this test was to learn what’s needed to get (and keep) this Anschutz clean with minimal cleaning rod use — and thus, minimal risk of bore damage/wear. Leaving fouling in the bore promotes corrosion over time.

Obviously, this applies to a nice, smooth rimfire match barrel, using good, well lubed ammo. It doesn’t apply directly to the use of copper-jacketed bullets, which leave a stubborn fouling all their own. However, it does suggest that while the bore-snake can be helpful and a useful field-expedient, to truly clean a rifle barrel one will still need a good quality rod, bronze brush and solvents. [Editor: Add a good-fitting cleaning rod bore guide

SO, WHAT ABOUT BORE SNAKES FOR BARREL BREAK-IN?
The goal of barrel break-in is to fire each shot through a clean barrel, preventing copper buildup and allowing the bullets their best chance at burnishing sharp edges. Thus, it seems this purpose would be best served by one’s usual rods, brushes and rod guides.

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November 29th, 2018

AR, Garand, M1A — Six Rules for Gas Gun Reloading

Reloading for Service Rifles
SFC Lance Dement as featured in CMP’s First Shot Online.

The U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) has published a great series of reloading “how-to” articles on its Facebook Page. This post covers key factors to consider when loading ammunition for Match Rifles and Service Rifles, with a particular focus on self-loading “gas guns”. Visit the USAMU Facebook Page each Wednesday for other, helpful “Handloading Hump-Day” tips.

We offer some “cardinal rules” to help new gas-gun handloaders with safety and efficiency. These address both Match Rifle and Service Rifle versions of the AR15, M1 Garand, M1A, and M110. However, they can also improve safe reloading for many other auto-loaders such as M1 Carbines, FALs, SIGs, etc. The author distilled these principles many years ago to help focus on the essential aspects of these rifles.

RULE ONE: Service Rifles Are Not Benchrest Rifles
Gas-guns require a relatively loose fit between ammunition and chamber (vs. bolt actions) for safe, smooth operation. Many techniques, such as neck sizing and keeping cartridge headspace quite tight, are popular in the extreme bolt gun accuracy realm. However, they are of little value with Service Rifles, and some could even be hazardous. Before adopting a specialized technique, seriously consider whether it is appropriate and beneficial in a gas-gun.

RULE TWO: Never Compromise Safety to Obtain Accuracy
Example: If choosing a brand of great, but ultra-sensitive match primers offers possibly better accuracy at the risk of slam-fires in your design of rifle, don’t do it! You are issued exactly two eyes and ten fingers (best-case scenario). Risking them trying to squeeze 0.25 MOA better accuracy out of an M1A, etc. simply isn’t worth it.

Reloading for Service Rifles

RULE THREE: Tailor the Precision to Your Individual Skill and Your Rifle’s Potential
This has been addressed here before, but bears repeating for newcomers. If you are struggling to break out of the Marksman Class, or using a CMP M1 “As-Issued,” then laboriously turning the necks of your 600-yard brass is a waste of time. Your scores will improve much faster by practicing or dry-firing. On the other hand, if the reigning champions anxiously check your scores each time you fire an event, a little neck-turning might not be so far-fetched.

Verifying Load Improvements — Accuracy hand-loading involves a wide variety of techniques, ranging from basic to rather precise. Carefully select those which offer a good return on investment for your time and labor. In doubt? Do a classic pilot study. Prepare ammo for at least three or four ten-shot groups with your new technique, vs. the same with your standard ammo. Then, pick a calm day and test the ammo as carefully as possible at its full distance (e.g. 200, 300, or 600 yards) to verify a significant improvement. A little testing can save much labor!

RULE FOUR: Be Your Own Efficiency Expert
Serious Service Rifle shooters generally think of ammunition in terms of thousands of rounds, not “boxes”, or even “hundreds”. Analyze, and WRITE DOWN each step in your reloading process. Count the number of times each case is handled. Then, see if any operations can be dropped or changed without reducing safety or accuracy. Eliminating just two operations saves 2000 steps per 1000 rounds loaded. Conversely, carefully consider any measurable benefits before adding a step to your routine.

RULE FIVE: In Searching for Greater Accuracy with Efficiency, Look for System Changes
For example, instead of marking your 300-yard rounds individually to differentiate them from your 200-yard ammo, would a simple change in primers work? If accuracy is maintained, using brass-colored primers for 200 and silver for 300 provides an indelible indicator and eliminates a step! Similarly, rather than spending hours selecting GI surplus brass for weight and neck uniformity, consider splurging on some known, high-quality imported match brass for your 600-yard loads. Results should be excellent, time is saved, and given limited shooting at 600 yards, brass life should be long.

RULE SIX: Check All Your Primers Before Packaging Your Loaded Ammo
This seems simple and even intuitive. However, many slam-fires (which were much more common when M1s and M1As were the standard) are due, at least in part, to “high” primers. Primers should be seated below flush with the case head. The USAMU has addressed this at length in a previous column, but each round should be checked for properly-seated primers before they are packaged for use.

Reloading for Service Rifles

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November 5th, 2018

Basics of the Prone Position — Building the Position

USAMU Prone First Shot CMP
USAMU Prone First Shot CMP

The First Shot, the CMP’s online magazine, features a well-written article on Prone Shooting Technique by SPC Matthew Sigrist of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU). The article covers all the major points of gun hold and body position: hand position, elbow position, stock weld, buttstock placement, and sling position/tension.

Keep it Steady — The Elements of a Good Prone Position

Part 1 — Building the Position
By SPC Matthew Sigrist

Imagine the following scenario: You are at the last stage of fire in the National Trophy Individual Match, firing at the 600 yard line in the prone position and every point matters. What should you reflect on as you prepare to shoot this final string? As your eyes cloud from sweat, you realize that all you have to rely on is your experience and knowledge of the fundamentals.

During the National Trophy Individual Match, you will fire 60 percent of your shots from the prone position. This article will address the fundamentals of a good prone position and help you learn the techniques required to be successful in both the slow and rapid-fire stages of National Match competition.

This article will be divided into two parts. In part one, we will discuss the elements of a good prone position. In part two, we will cover the techniques you will in the rapid-fire and slow-fire stages.

The Fundamentals

The fundamentals are the building blocks of a position. Much like the framework of a house, a correct application of the fundamentals ensures a solid and stable structure. Since each person’s position will depend on their particular body build and shape, there is no “perfect position” that applies to everyone. Experience, practice and knowledge of the correct fundamentals will dictate the best position for you.

There are six key elements of any position. The purpose for these six points is to achieve a solid platform that allows for consistent sight alignment using the least amount of muscle tension.

    1. Placement of the Firing Hand (the hand that pulls the trigger)
    The firing hand needs to be placed high on the pistol grip. This high hand position will give you better control of the rifle. Combined with a firm grip there will be a reduced amount of hand movement when pulling the trigger. Wrap your thumb over the three fingers on the pistol grip (excluding the trigger finger). This will help isolate the movement of the trigger finger.

    2. Placement of the Non-firing Hand (the hand supporting the rifle).
    The non-firing hand should grip the handguard or stock in the flat portion of the hand between the thumb and forefinger. The fingers should curl naturally around the stock, but they should not grip it tightly. The position of the hand on the stock will depend on the physical size of the shooter. Generally speaking, taller shooters with longer arms will grip the rifle further out, near the sling swivel, while shorter shooters will need to pull their hand rearward. This is sometimes referred to as “short-stocking” the rifle.

    3. Stock Weld
    Stock weld is the contact that the face makes with the stock. It is important because it directly effects your sight alignment. Consistent head placement will help you achieve consistent sight alignment. The human head weighs an average of 8 to 10 pounds. The full weight of the head must rest on the stock. In doing this you achieve two things, a relaxed neck and reduced recoil because of the pressure of the head.

    4. Placement of the Rifle (the contact that is made in the firing shoulder)
    The rifle butt placement needs to be consistent. If this changes between shots, it effects your sight alignment and the effect of recoil. In the prone position the rifle will sit lower in the shoulder compared to other shooting positions. This allows for a more forward head and a lower position as a whole.

    5. Position of the Sling
    The sling should be high on the arm, above the bicep. This way the sling will have less leverage on the arm so it doesn’t cut off the circulation.


Demonstration of the placement of the firing elbow (left) and non-firing elbows (right).

    6. Placement of both the firing, and non-firing elbows
    A guideline for non-firing elbow placement is that there should be 1 ½’’ to 2’’ gap between your non-firing arm and the rifle’s magazine. (NOTE: this references the AR-15 service rifle) Your arm should be almost straight up and down; this will transfer the weight directly down the arm and not to the side (see picture above). Think of the firing arm as only a kind of kickstand, it doesn’t support weight it only holds the firing hand in position.

Variations of the Prone Position

There are two main variations of the prone position; open/spread legged, and bent-legged. The two types will be discussed below.

Open/Spread Leg Position

Demonstration of the Open/Spread Leg Position.

The first position is the open/spread legged position. This is when the shooter spreads their legs shoulder width or more apart. This allows for a more forward pressure on the sling and elbows. This position requires a tighter sling and solid elbow placement. The rifle should sit tight in the shoulder. With this position, your body will be farther behind the rifle compared to the bent leg position, allowing for minimum disturbance from recoil.

Bent Leg Position

Demonstration of the Bent Leg Position.

The bent leg position is when the shooter bends the firing side leg up towards the firing hand making the knee at a rough 90 degree angle to the body. The non-firing leg will remain straight and inline with the body. This will take pressure off the lungs and heart minimizing the pulse from the chest as well as easing the pressure on the lungs which will allow for easy breathing and control.

Summary

You now know the fundamentals of a good prone position, as well as the two types most commonly used. Extensive dry-firing will reveal which is the best position for you. If possible, have a friend take pictures of you in position. This will enable you to better diagnose and correct your errors. Remember, a position must be both fundamentally sound and comfortable. Practice frequently to learn your new position and to develop the conditioning required to endure long days on the range.

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November 4th, 2018

Girls Just Want to Have Fun — Jersey Girls ‘Rattle Battle’ Team

Camp Perry Rattle Battle NJ New Jersey Girls female National Infantry Team match

Girls just want to have fun. That was the case at Camp Perry this past summer during the National Trophy Infantry Team match (NTIT), more commonly known as the “Rattle Battle”. Among the many shooting squads was a talented team of young ladies from New Jersey — the Garden State Gunners Girls. CMP officials believe this is the first-ever all-female Rattle Battle team. Congrats to the Gunners Girls for being Rattle Battle pioneers!

Report based on story Serena Juchnowski, CMP Guest Writer
“I thought it would be a good promotion for the shooting sports to put together an all-girls team,” said NJ Garden State Gunners Coach Walter Bachmann. “This was the first year that we were able to do that… at Camp Perry.” During the 2018 National Matches, New Jersey fielded what, to everyone’s knowledge, was the first all-female team to ever compete in the National Trophy Infantry Team match. Coach Bachmann recounted that “Dick Whiting, the head coach from West Virginia, came to me and he said he was very upset with me because he’s been trying to do this for four years, and I beat him to it.”

Bachmann had been trying to get an all-girls team together for several years. In 2017, he finally had six female juniors on the team, but one was unable to attend Nationals, so 2018 was the year for them to do it, with six females able to attend and one aging out of the junior program.

While the teams for the National Trophy Team (NTT) match were determined based on skill, Bachmann split the team according to gender for the Rattle Battle. This was a decision that had been discussed and resolved by the girls themselves. For example, team member Shelby Falk “really loved the idea” of an all-girls junior team. Shelby viewed it as making a statement for equality: “Everyone’s opinion coming to the subject was very different… I just thought overall it was just a really good thing to do.”

Camp Perry Rattle Battle NJ New Jersey Girls female National Infantry Team match
Face paint is a Rattle Battle tradition for the Garden State Gunners – this year was no exception!

Camp Perry Rattle Battle NJ New Jersey Girls female National Infantry Team match
The Gunners Girls pose for a picture before the NTIT, aka “Rattle Battle”.

Garden State Gunners Girls Beat the Boys’ Team
The Garden State Gunners junior team started as a smallbore squad, but in 2008, the team took up centerfire shooting also. That was the first year the team traveled to Camp Perry with two girls and four guys. A decade later, the Garden State Gunners traveled to the Camp Perry National Matches with two teams — six girls and six boys.

Notably, though they had a few mag-related malfunctions, the Gunners Girls still managed to beat the New Jersey boys team (Garden State Gunners Red). The Gunners Girls concluded the Rattle Battle with a score of 592. Garden State Gunners Red finished with a score of 265.

Camp Perry Rattle Battle NJ New Jersey Girls female National Infantry Team match
The Garden State Gunners team hopes to make an all-girls Rattle Battle team a tradition, but it may be difficult with some girls aging out. Team members praised their coach, Walter Bachmann.

Gunners Girls Competitor Profiles
Firing members on the 2018 Garden State Gunners Girls Rattle Battle Team included Shelby Falk, Amy Flood, Sierra Loutraris, Jessica Peoples, Dorothy Speers, and Victoria Wheatley. Jessica and Sierra were the two swing shooters, each firing upon two of the eight Rattle Battle targets.

Shelby Falk is the one member of the New Jersey Garden State Gunners Junior Team that does not live in New Jersey. Falk, from Pennsylvania, joined the team since it is closer to her residence than the Pennsylvania-based junior High Power teams.

Amy Flood started shooting pistol at age 13 before starting smallbore after she found herself connecting more to rifle than to pistol. She still desired something different, finding her niche in 2015. Amy said of High Power service rifle, “I couldn’t have asked for something better, I love it.”

Dorothy Speers is aging out of the junior program this year, so this was her first and last chance to shoot on an all-girls junior team. Dorothy thought it was fun having an all-girls team but did not think that it warranted any extra publicity, saying, “If we start making a giant big deal out of it, it is almost like going backwards because we aren’t looking to be put on a pedestal for being girls with guns.”

Sierra Loutraris has been shooting High Power on the Garden State Gunners team for about two years. She noted that she has always casually gone to the range with her dad but had never shot High Power until she joined the team. Sierra thought it was a great idea as she “just wanted to be a part of something that could show other girls that you can do anything you want as long as you just go for it.” Though the newest girl on the team, Sierra has earned her spot as one of the top shooters on the Garden State Gunners.

Camp Perry Rattle Battle NTIT infantry team match
In the Rattle Battle, teams move as a group through multiple yardages (USAMU photo).

Jessica Peoples has been shooting High Power since March 2016, and after a “lot of time and a lot of effort,” has earned her Master classification. She was most surprised that an all-girls team had not been created sooner in other states which boast more junior shooter. Though she prefers a co-ed team, with “all personalities merging,” Jessica acknowledged that the “dynamic [was] different…we were significantly more organized, and the guys were a little more ‘tactical’ in their methods.”

Camp Perry Rattle Battle NJ New Jersey Girls female National Infantry Team match

Dorothy Speers noted that Coach Bachmann “deserves credit for a lot of things. He works really, really hard for us. I think it’s been a dream of his to have an all-girls team. [Bachmann is a] really big supporter of juniors shooting and a really big supporter of females shooting. Having an all-girls junior team has been a milestone for him, to put that together.”

Camp Perry Gunners Girls photos courtesy Steven Falk.

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