August 19th, 2010

Whidden Shares Secrets of Championship Long-Range Rifles

John Whidden NRA Long Range championshipJohn Whidden of Whidden Gunworks used a collection of .243 Winchester and .308 Win rifles to win his third NRA National Long-Range Championship this week at Camp Perry. We had a chance to discuss Whidden’s winning guns during a long telephone conversation with John yesterday, as he motored back to Nashville, Georgia. John revealed some interesting facts about his long-range arsenal.

For the “Any sights, Any Rifle” and “Iron Sights, Any Rifle” stages of the Long-Range Championship, John used three different .243 Win rifles. He shoots the same load in all his .243s: Berger 105gr VLD bullets (moly-coated) with N160 powder and PMC (Russian) primers. The bullets are seated very long, with about .001″ neck tension, so the bullets “soft-seat” themselves into the rifling as he closes the bolt. This way he can use the same ammo in different guns and the bullets always find the same seating depth relative to the rifling. John uses a very stout load of N160 that drives his Berger 105s at about 3,300 fps. No that is not a misprint. John launches thin-jacket 105s at 3,300 fps and he doesn’t have an issue with bullet blow-ups. Moly helps keep the heat down, but John’s Broughton 5C (canted land) barrels are key. These are gentler on the jackets than barrels which have very tall or sharp lands.

Berger 105 VLD BulletsJohn shoots the Berger 6mm 105gr VLDs because they are a proven commodity that seem to work in a variety of barrels and cartridges: “We need something that is very reliable from an accuracy standpoint, match in and match out. The 105s are more reliably accurate over a range of different cartridges, barrels, and conditions. I’ve considered using the 115s, but I’ve heard mixed results. Across the whole range of variables, the 105s and 107s always seem to work for people but I’ve heard a lot of mixed results with the 115s.”

At 3,300 fps, the 105s deliver ballistics that are hard to beat, according to John: “My .243 shoots inside a 6.5-284 with 142s. Nothing out there is really ahead of [the .243], in 1000-yard ballistics unless you get into the short magnums or .284s and those carry a very significant recoil penalty. In the past I did shoot the 6.5-284. I went to the .243 because it had similar ballistics but had much less recoil. It doesn’t beat me up as much and is not as fatiguing.

With the .243… there’s no tensing-up, no anticipating. With the reduced recoil, I can break and shoot very good quality shots. I find I just shoot better shots with the .243 than I ever did with the 6.5-284.”

John’s primary “Any Sights” .243 is built on a Winchester m70 action, it has a Broughton 32″, 1:8″ twist 5C (canted land) barrel. This gun shot very well, but he did have a firing pin issue during the Remington Band of Brothers match on Day 1 of the Long-Range competition, so he was forced to bring out his back-up “Any Sights” gun. This features a Stolle Panda action, and Broughton 30″, 1:8″ twist 5C barrel. Both guns employ a Nightforce 8-32x56mm Benchrest Scope. John joked: “I’ve done a lot of hauling back-up guns across the country for no reason in the past, but this time it mattered a lot.”

For the “Iron Sights, Any Rifle” stages Whidden uses a .243 Win with a Gilkes-Ross action, Warner Rear Sight, and CG front sight with +0.5 diopter. As with John’s scoped .243s, this gun has an 8-twist, light Palma contour, Broughton 5C barrel. This is the same gun and 32″ barrel John used to set the Leech Cup record in 2008. It has about 650 rounds through the barrel. The chambering, as with his other “Any Rifle” guns, is a “plain vanilla .243 Win”.

.308 Palma Rifle Shooting 185gr VLDs with N140
Whidden’s .308 Winchester Palma Rifle is the same rifle we featured as our Gun of the Week Number 59 (photo below). It’s the same gun with the same barrel, a 32″ Broughton 10-twist with 5C rifling, light Palma contour. Round-count on this barrel is over 3000! John’s current .308 Win load is a very stout charge of N140 power, PMC primers, and 185gr Berger moly-coated VLDs. The brass is Lapua .308 Win with the standard large primer pocket/large flash holes. He turns his case-necks for a .333″ loaded round in a .343″-necked chamber, which was cut with the popular “95 Palma” reamer. As with his .243s, John loads his .308 ammo long and “soft-seats” his bullets with bolt closure.

John Whidden .308 Gun of the Week

John Whidden .308 Rifle

Barrel Selection is Key to Running 6mm VLDs at Very High Velocities
Given John’s success with the .243 Winchester at Camp Perry, we asked him why more competitors weren’t using this cartridge at Perry. The combination of great ballistics and moderate recoil seems hard to beat. John explained: “There were several other .243s on the line. Lamar Jones, my travel partner, shot a .243, and there were a couple other guys out there. But there are more 6.5s I think. If there were an equipment list, I would be pretty certain that the 6.5-284 would be the majority in the ‘Any Rifle’ category.”

Importantly, John explained that it takes the right hardware to run the heavy 6mm bullets at high velocities. Bullet blow-up is a risk. John told us: “At the velocities I’m running the 105gr VLDs in the 243s, barrel brand selection is really important. You absolutely have to shoot a barrel that is easy on bullets to run these velocities. To avoid bullet blow-ups at these speeds, you can’t shoot barrels that have the tallest and sharpest rifling, such as you find with some cut-rifled barrels. I’m still shooting the thin-jacket Berger VLDs. I haven’t even switched to the thick-jacket bullets. To do this you need a rifling solution that is kinder to the bullet. The point I’m trying to drive home is that barrel selection is a very important factor. If my barrels didn’t work we would have smoked a lot of bullets. But that’s not the case with the Broughtons. I haven’t blown up a .243 bullet through a Broughton barrel.”

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