Wildcatting: Tool Time
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- Last updated: 10/01/2018
To many, the thought of reloading is a chore and they just can’t be bothered. But there are many bits of kit and techniques that can improve factory, as well as reloads, that are worth investing in. Making the best ammo you can becomes a pleasing obsession; believe me!
Most factory ammunition is loaded to a standard cartridge overall length (COL), so the bullets of differing weights and styles sit at differing lengths from the commencement of rifling. This is fine for the average rifle but accuracy can be crucial on this precise bullet length to rifle land placement.
One easy technique to improve factory ammunition is to use a kinetic bullet puller along with a seating die to match the calibre and an AOL gauge (average overall length).
Step 1 Insert AOL gauge into chamber and accurately measure (with callipers) the overall length from the case’s base to ogive (bullet body) where the bullet contacts the rifling.
Step 2 Place your factory cartridges into a kinetic bullet puller and tap briskly as per instructions on a hard surface. It should move the bullet out of the case a small amount. Repeat until this length is more than the rifling contact distance measured earlier.
Step 3 Place this lengthened cartridge into the seater die adjusted to the AOL you have already measured and noted, then reseat the bullet to this distance, so that it just contacts the rifling.
Step 4 From this point onwards you can reduce the COL to increase the ‘jump’ from bullet to rifling. I.e. 5, 10 ,20, 30 thou off lands.
Step 5 Shoot groups for each new OAL to tune your new factory load for the best accuracy in your rifle.
A word of warning if using monolithic (solid copper) bullets like Barnes, Hornady GMX and Nosler E-Tips and some Berger VLDs, it’s better to be 50 to 70 thou off the commencement of rifling!
This applies to factory and reloads and it is a quick fix for eliminating odd ammunition that is out of true. Factory ammunition is loaded on an assembly line and sometimes, due to irregularities in the components, loading dies or neck thickness variations of the case the cartridge might not be concentric, with the bullet canted. It is often only small, but it is enough sometimes to start the bullet’s journey down the barrel at an angle and thus impair accuracy.
The Sinclair Concentricity Gauge can measure cases all the way up to 50 BMG, so is very versatile. It measures run-out by rotating the loaded round by resting it on two sets of bearings that are set in anodised aluminium blocks. There is an indicator tower, which gives precise measurements for vertical and horizontal adjustments of the dial indicator. The blocks are designed to accommodate dial indicators with standard 0.375” mounts. This is great for factory ammunition too, but I use it for checking if I have buckled a case neck when reloading, which may not be obvious from a visual inspection. It is also essential to check the neck, especially after necking up or down during making a wildcat round.
A flash hole de-burring tool is designed to be inserted through the case mouth and uses the web of the case or case mouth to locate the cutter into the primer hole. A few turns are then given to produce a small chamfer on the inside edge of the flash hole, removing any burrs when the primer hole was made. The rationale is to insure a proper, uniform ignition of the primer, so that the flame is spread in as uniform a radiation as possible to ignite the powder charge at the same time. Flash hole deburring is a onetime operation and best used on brand new cases.
This is a small but very important tool for the accuracy-conscious custom rifle shooter. Most uniformers are precision ground carbide tools with at least five cutting flutes for smooth, flat uniforming of the bottom of the primer pocket. There is a shoulder ground into it that butts up against the primer pocket to manage a uniform depth to SAAMI specs. They come in various sizes for small and large rifle primers. The aim is to make sure that the pocket that the primer sits in is perfectly square without rounded edges to the bottom faces, otherwise the primer will not seat to the correct depth. This can cause irregular ignition and is most noticeable when a case is stood up on a flat surface and rocks, as the primer is sticking out. When chambered, a protruding primer will cause the head of the case to sit deeper and on ignition the case will back out of the chamber to fill the bolt face, which will stretch and thin your cases.
I have a Sinclair bullet collimator that allows you to quickly and accurately sort bullets by base to ogive length. It has a heavy granite base to allow free standing use on a loading bench. You have a dial indicator attached to a secure rod and a lever control allows easy insertion and removal of bullets into the comparators. These are calibre-specific and can be ordered as single or multi-calibre units. The first model has holes bored and throated for .224, 6mm, .257, 6.5mm (.264), 7mm, and 308 calibres and the second model is specific for .172, .204, .224, .270, .308, and .338. Simply pop in the single bullet to be measured in turn and any length differences are easily indicated as a differing value on the dial indicator. It is very simple and accurate to use and ensures 100% same length bullets, which will improve accuracy.
This headspace gauge set allows reloaders to measure changes to the headspace of cartridges with digital callipers. You have differing bushing sizes for each calibre, which insert into the Hornady Lock-N-Load Comparator body, which in turn attaches to your calliper blades. You can then measure the differences between fired and re-sized cases, which allows you to accurately adjust your sizing dies for a correct fit into the rifle’s chamber. It is very handy if you set your resizing dies too tight and so your cases are resized too small, which will lead to excessive headspace and stretching when fired. The Hornady Lock-N-Load headspace gauge measures cases from the head to the datum line on the case shoulder and you have five bushing sizes that allow you to measure the headspace on most bottleneck calibres. These bushings are available separately, so you can buy which calibre suits your rifles.
This is probably the most crucial part of any custom reload, as if your rifle’s chamber uses a non- standard neck dimension i.e., a tight neck, then you will need to turn it down. This not only removes excess brass from the neck to allow a proper fit to release the bullet on firing, but it also removes irregularities in the neck thickness from manufacture or case manipulation. If the neck has more brass on one side than the other, the tension, i.e., the amount the case grips the bullet, will be uneven and therefore won’t enter the rifling correctly! This is especially important if using a wildcat calibre, which has been necked up or down from a parent case and so the neck can be stretched or thickened with ridges or bulges inside, which should be removed.
I have used a lot of K and M neck turners for my wildcat loads, and although they are adjustable, I tend to buy one and once it is set to the correct neck turning depth, I leave it and buy another one for a different cartridge. In that way, I know it is set exactly where I left it. They have a separate neck turning pilot that is calibre specific and is easily changed to fit inside your new case neck after it has been expanded to that calibre. This way, any unwanted excess brass around the neck from swaging down in calibre can be removed. This is achieved by a cutter at 90 degrees to the piloted shaft and is adjustable to cut as fine as 0.0001 inch at a time.
Just a few ideas and tools I use to get the best from my factory ammunition and reloads that do not take much time to use and cost too much. A final piece of software is Quick Load and Quick Target, which allows you to build any calibre on your PC and check for best powder type/ weight, barrel length etc safely and is well worth the effort!
Norman Clarks Gunsmiths 01788 579651 Precision reload kit, K&M, Sinclair
Hannam’s Reloading 01977 681639 Gauges and reload kit
www.brownells.com Sinclair and K&M
Edgar Brothers 01625 613177 Hornady Lock-n-load
JMS Arms www.jmsarms.com Quick Load and Quick Target www.quickload.co.uk