There is nothing worse than ordering a new item only to find out that you didn’t get everything you need when it gets there. Reloading machines are definitely in the category of products that need supporting products to be useful. Did you get all the caliber conversions you need? What about a scale? Dial calipers? Even if you already have a lot of the tools you need it’s still a good idea to make sure you didn’t forget that one gadget that you just have to have to make it all work.
If you’re thinking about getting a reloading machine and need a little guidance as to what to get with the machine (it’s all about accessorizing, right?) we have interactive guides to help you make the right choices. Of course you can always call to talk to one of our helpful representatives at 800-223-4570 but if you would rather work through the process online before making your decision we have these interactive guides to help you.
Tactical precision rifle shooting has been called the fastest growing “new” shooting sport in recent months, but competitions have been around since the mid-1990’s. Competitive tactical rifle matches back then usually had less than 40 competitors, focused on fundamentals of marksmanship, most competitors ran bolt-action rifles in .223, .308, or .300WM, and if there was a prize table, it was very small by today’s standards.
Rifle matches have definitely grown with current events hosting upwards of 150 competitors. The calibers have also adapted over time as ballistic coefficients improve. Nowadays most shooters participating in competitions around the country are using either 6.5mm (for example: 6.5×47 or 6.5 Creedmoor) or 6mm (6×47, 6XC, 6mm Creedmoor) variants. A majority of the top names in the sport reload their own ammunition to ensure they have the most accurate rounds possible. Depending on the caliber, you’ll find Sierra Bullets, Nosler, Berger Bullets, Barnes Bullets, and a variety of others on their reloading benches.
Originally, many of the stages or evolutions in early competitions took their lead from actual law enforcement and military sniper events. Tactical rifle matches were one of those outlaw shooting sports, like 3 Gun, that grew organically in the days before social media. As people gained interest, the match directors became more and more creative. We began to see a variety of props from boat platforms, simulated rooftops, barricades and shoot houses; basically any prop a match director could hammer together with left over 2×4’s in their garage over the course of a weekend. It’s not unusual to see targets anywhere from 7 yards out past 1,760 yards. Targets inside 100 yards are predominantly paper and could be a ¼” dot all the way up to a 5” shoot-n-c.
There are currently two national point series: the Precision Rifle Series (PRS) and the National Rifle League (NRL). Both points races have Finales at the end of the year to reward and recognize the best of the best. The Precision Rifle Series was created in 2012 by Rich Emmons and Kevin Elpers with the help of a group of their friends who all had the same goal in mind: making this style of precision rifle shooting more popular. Since then the PRS has continued to evolve and gain momentum each year. The Series changed ownership in 2015 and with that came many changes that have actually helped make that original goal attainable.
With CORE Shooting Solutions and K&M Precision Rifle Training Center both based out of the Southeast, the growth of the PRS in that part of the country has been fast and noticeable. Almost half of the bolt gun matches currently listed on the PRS website can be found in this part of the country as well as a very competitive field participating in local one day matches. The other half of the PRS matches are scattered around the country with several in Texas, Washington, and the Midwest.
Starting with the 2016 season, the Precision Rifle Series added several different divisions. Some of those have continued into the 2017 season. Open division covers all competitors shooting a variety of calibers with no limit to their gear or optics. Basically, Open is a run-what-ya-brung division. The tactical division was created with military and law enforcement shooters in mind. That division is limited to .223 and .308 calibers only and has strict limits on bullet weight and muzzle velocity. The production division was designed with newer shooters in mind and has limitations on the cost of the factory rifle and optic. This year is the inaugural year of the PRS Gas Gun Series as well. It will be run in conjunction with the Bolt Gun Series, but scores are kept separate.
The season opener at CORE was dominated by Tyler Payne, who has shown to be quite a force behind both a bolt gun (he was the 2016 Overall Season and Finale winner) and a gas gun with his background shooting 3 Gun competitions and as a member of the United States Army Marksmanship Unit.
The Precision Rifle Series Gas Gun Series will have several divisions: Open, Heavy Tactical, and Light Tactical. Each division has rules governing what is allowed. The Precision Rifle Series has rulebooks for both the Bolt Gun and the Gas Gun series available on their website. Both the PRS Gas Gun and PRS Bolt Gun series have season rankings based on a shooters best three match scores. In the 2015 PRS Bolt Gun series season, a new tradition was started of reserving spots to recognize the top shooters in additional categories. For 2017 those categories are Military/Law Enforcement, Ladies, Seniors, Juniors, and International Competitor Class. Essentially, it reserves a spot for the top three in each of those categories should they fail to qualify by points. Trophies are given at matches to the top finishers by points, the top military/law enforcement competitor, and occasionally to the top female competitor.
This the first year of the National Rifle League and is the brainchild of Travis Ishida, Ian Kelbly (of Kelbly’s Rifles) and Tyler Frehner. The NRL has six matches, scheduled predominately in the Southwest, with a Finale at the conclusion of the season. The NRL Finale will be held the weekend prior to the 2018 SHOT Show in Las Vegas. The NRL is a 501c3 non-profit that has stated education and continued growth of the sport are their main goals. This series uses a shooters best two scores for final ranking going into their Finale. One NRL specific award that deserves mention is the League’s Sportsmanship Award. Special recognition is made to one person at each of the events throughout the season for displaying exceptional sportsmanship throughout the course of the weekend-long competition.
To participate in a one-day or two-day event, the minimum required equipment would be a rifle chambered in any caliber up to .30 caliber that is capable of consistently impacting a 1” dot at 100 yards, a scope with at least 10 power magnification, and ammunition. Many rifle manufacturers have taken notice of the tactical rifle community and have started making rifles specifically for the PRS/NRL crowd. Ruger Firearms has done a stellar job of making an affordable, accurate, right out of the box rifle with the Ruger Precision Rifle. They offer four different calibers. Last year they introduced the RPR in 6.5 Creedmoor and .308Win. New for 2017, Ruger added .223Rem and 6mm Creedmoor to their caliber choices. This was the rifle maker of choice for a majority of the PRS Production Division in 2016. At any competition around the country, you’re likely to see a variety of rifle manufacturers represented from Surgeon Scalpels to Accuracy International. If you have patience and some extra money, you could follow a lot of the bigger names in the sport and have a custom rifle built on the action of your choice. Surgeon Rifles, Defiance Machine, Stiller Precision Firearms, and Kelbly’s Inc. are just a few of the custom actions available for purchase. There are lots of options when considering a custom build. A quality gunsmith can help guide a new shooter through the myriad of choices to fine tune what will work best for the shooter.
Having a scope with a reticle and turrets that match (either Mils or MOA adjustments) is highly beneficial. What the shooter dials on their scope to compensate for elevation and wind should match what can be held using the lines in the reticle. Other long range shooting sports like F-Class and Palma may utilize minute of angle (MOA) adjustments, however a majority of the shooters in the both the PRS and the NRL use Mil’s (milliradians) because we need to make rapid adjustments under tight time frames. Unlike the BDC (bullet drop compensation) reticle predominately used in 3 Gun and hunting, precision rifle shooters benefit more from tactical style reticles like the Horus H59 or similar. Basically, the reticles used in tactical precision rifle shooting have a lot more information contained in them with the ability to confidently hold for both elevation and wind to make first round impacts at great distances. Each scope manufacturer has a variety of reticles to choose from in both MOA and Mil. In the end, it comes down to what the shooter will be more comfortable using because that will be the key to successful target engagements.
Quality ammunition is available for purchase, but most of the precision rifle crowd chooses to reload their own for competitions. There are two main beliefs behind reloading your own ammunition; it is cheaper to reload than to buy commercially available ammunition and the belief in greater accuracy with hand loads. Reloading allows the precision rifle shooter to fine tune their loads with higher BC (ballistic coefficient) projectiles with the rifle powder of their choosing which can lead to much more accurate rounds down range. When checked over a chronograph, hand loads tend to shoot much more consistent speeds that result in much smaller standard deviations (SD) and extreme spreads (ES) from round to round.
The next big question that comes up multiple times on every forum and group is what caliber to choose. For training, the folks you see on the top of the leaderboard are probably using .223Rem’s or .308Win’s so they don’t have to worry about shortened barrel life in their competition rifle. Because both of those calibers have extremely long barrel lives, they are perfect rifles to use for practice. Most 6mm and 6.5mm
barrels last between 2000-3500 rounds before they need to be replaced compared to over 10,000 rounds through a typical .308Win. The preferred cartridges in the sport tend to lean more towards 6mm or 6.5mm variants. The higher BC’s available combined with the velocity of these rounds make them softer recoiling options that buck wind better allowing for more consistent and accurate follow up shots than can be made with a .308Win or .300WM.
That’s the lowdown behind competitive tactical precision rifle shooting. The sport is still heavily grassroots, but as it gains popularity more and more local ranges will start holding club level matches. As previously stated, many of these matches borrow from law enforcement and military engagements, but also could be helpful for hunters looking to fine tune their long range skills. You’d be hard pressed to find a more helpful group of shooters as all are more than willing to loan gear, help with questions, and walk a new competitor through stages.
About the author
Regina Milkovich is a competitive rifle shooter, trainer, writer and blogger. She picked up her first rifle in 2009 and started shooting competitively the next day. Regina’s held the title of top lady in the Precision Rifle Series since the creation of the PRS in 2012. Regina has won many state-level precision rifle competitions in the Southwest and is the only female to win a national-level Precision Rifle Series competition when she took 1st place overall at the NorCal Tactical Bolt Rifle Challenge in April 2016. She has worked in police communications for almost 20 years and is currently the Communications Supervisor of a police department in a suburb of Phoenix, AZ. When she’s not practicing, competing or working, she’s mentoring newer shooters who’ve taken an interest in long range shooting.
Over the years I’ve shot a variety of revolvers and most of them have been stamped as being a .357 Magnum. I don’t play games that require “Magnum” loads so I generally shoot something shorter with a reduced power loading that is easier on the hands and the wallet. Lately the go to loads have been in Short Colt cases. The cases are just a bit bigger than a 9mm with a rim on it and they go in and out of my S&W 627 easily. So far I haven’t noticed any problems but I have heard many a wise old sage posit that there will be a deleterious impact upon accuracy due to the vagaries of “bullet jump.” Bullet jump is the bullets leap across the vastness of the cylinder as it leaves the case and makes its journey towards the chambers throat. I picture Evel Knievel attempting to jump the Snake River Canyon when I think of this. There is my bullet poised upon the precipice, eager, ready to face an uncertain future. It didn’t work out for Evel Knievel, I’m hoping my bullets have better luck.
Okay, enough dramatic humor. It’s pretty obvious that I think “bullet jump” is a bunch of hooey. At least as far as accuracy out of my revolver is concerned. I understand that there may be different forces at play when we are discussing rifle accuracy and the distance off of the rifling. For this test we are talking about a .38 Special at 1.155” vs. a .38 Short Colt at .765 case length. Sure the Short Colt is visibly shorter but we are talking about .39 of an inch and I just don’t think it is going to make a vast difference in that minuscule amount of time that the bullet is in the cylinder making it’s way towards the throat.
The plan is to load the same projectile over the same sort (but not amount) of powder and the same kind of primer but in the appropriate cases for each cartridge. I’ll use a .38 Short Colt and .38 Special for the test. Each one will be fired at 15, 25 and 50 yards from sandbags. Each load will be using published data. According to the manuals these loads should yield similar velocities from each of the 2 different loaded rounds.
The gun I am using in the test is a no dash S&W 686. It is an awesome gun but it does have that factory front ramped sight that I have a hard time seeing (this marks the end of the excuse making section). The 686 has had an action job and has been cut for full moon clips. For this test I did not use the moon clips.
First up I tried a batch of .38 Specials loaded into Starline Brass and topped with an Armscor 158gr fmj. I set my target at 15 yards and shot the gun from sandbags. After the shooting was done I had a 2” group with a flier. Without the flier it was 1.5”. Then I loaded the 686 with 38 Short Colts and fired 6 rounds at 15 yards. This time I had ANOTHER FLIER that bumped my group size up to 2.5” but without that flier I had a nice 5 shot group inside of 1.5”. I also notice that at all distances my Short Colt rounds did string sort of diagonally whereas the Specials were more of a cluster.
At 25 yards the 686 kept all 6 of the .38 Specials in a nice 2” group with no fliers. The .38 Short Colts, or the guy pulling the trigger, fell a bit short here and came in with a group of about 3.25” with a lot of diagonal stringing. This is still well within the A zone of the USPSA target I was using but the stringing may be due to the “bullet jump” from the .38 Short Colt cases. At least there were no signs, at any distance, of key holing or other deleterious results.
50 yards is where the “bullet jump” crowd seems to feel that the Short Colt will reveal its weakness. I hate to tell you that for me, on this trip to the range, it didn’t happen. At 50 yards with my crummy eyesight and the hard to see factory front sight (please refer to paragraph 4, sentence 2 for my excuse making section), the 38 specials went into a 6” group. At that distance I can’t really call anything a flier. I’m sure better shooters than I could shrink that group with the same gun and ammo but I think I’m seeing the results I want from this. Then I shot the .38 Short Colts at 50 yards and had to chuckle. I got a 5” group with 5 of the shots in or touching the A zone. I don’t think “bullet jump” is hurting me on that one.
So a couple of hours at the range and a little time at the reloading bench and I have the answer that I was looking for. If I’m not hitting what I’m aiming at I can’t blame “bullet jump.” Maybe the “trigger nut” is to blame?
One final note, I did drag the chronograph to the range just to make sure I was comparing apples to apples velocity wise. I didn’t record the data but both cartridges made USPSA minor with a little room to spare. Now, from looking at those pictures I need to adjust my rear sight just a smidgen. I’m also getting some unburned powder in the .38 Special (note the suet on the fired cartridge in the picture up above) so I’ll have to work on that too. Oh well, that’ll have to happen on the next trip out.
I’ve read a plethora of arguments on internet forums regarding USPSA’s adoption of Pistol Caliber Carbines (PCC) in their matches. Just to be clear we are not talking about Multi-Gun matches here. We are talking about the standard “pistol” matches. The quotes around “pistol” are there because the “P” in USPSA doesn’t stand for “pistol” it stands for “practical” and I know that more than a few people got kind of hung up on that. Whichever way you fell in those debates the fact is that PCC is here, though some clubs are not allowing it as of yet. I, for one, was in favor of the change. I mean what’s not to love about a gun that holds 30+ rounds, has little felt recoil, and is capable of hitting targets pretty easily out to 100 yards or more?
Well some people have found things they don’t like in that scenario with velocity of the bullets being one of them. I read a comment from a long time competitor, and NROI certified official, that he was concerned about the “rifle like velocities” of these PCC guns. I am not trying to single him out because he isn’t the only one and I guess that for some people it seems logical to assume that there is a large increase in velocity. I’ve read numerous posts in which someone believes that shooting a 9mm out of a carbine will see dramatic increases in velocity. I wanted to dispel that notion so I headed to the range with some guns, ammo, and a chronograph.
While I was packing for the range it occurred to me that I needed something with a bit more oomph than my 9mm steel loads so I also packed an open gun that I happen to have around. It is in .38 Super Comp and I thought it would make a nice contrast to the 9mm steel loads I had made. The gun was built on a Strayer-Voigt Inc. frame and, while it may be an old gun, it still runs USPSA major power factor loads as well as it did when it was new.
I also brought along a Springfield Armory XD(M) 5.25” in 9mm, which is my go to gun for steel matches. I knew going into this that the ammo I am shooting out of this gun MIGHT, just maybe, be making USPSA minor. Even though it’s a steel load I do like to make sure those knockdown targets go down. The gun itself is fairly stock with the exception of a Powder River trigger kit and a Pistol Gear magwell.
The final piece of the puzzle is the Pistol Caliber Carbine. I built this one myself using a Palmetto State Armory lower that takes Colt style 9mm magazines. These magazines are basically a modified Uzi mag that holds 32 rounds of 9mm. It also has the PSA Hybrid Bolt Carrier and a Wilson 1:10 barrel. Hogue furniture and a POF-USA drop in trigger, both generously donated to matches I attended, round out the rifle build.
The ammunition for the 9mm pistol and carbine used a 124gr fmj from Armscor, Federal small pistol primers and once fired brass. The 38 Super open gun used a 115gr fmj from Montana Gold, Winchester small rifle primers, and new Starline 38 Super Comp brass.
Once I found a spot at the range I set up my CED chronograph and did a little shooting. First up was the XD(M) 5.25″ in 9mm. Three shots averaged 1027 fps. Not exactly cooking but plenty fast enough for steel matches that don’t have a power factor.
Since we are talking power factor I ran the numbers on that and came up with a 127 power factor. Not too far over the minimum power floor for USPSA minor but it will definitely make it.
Next up we take a look at that 9mm Pistol Caliber Carbine and see how much, if any, increase in velocity we see.
Three shots with the PCC came in at 987 fps. Wait, what’s that, 987 fps? But that is slower than the XD(M) 5.25″? How can that be? Well in all seriousness there are several factors at play here. The bore on the PCC could be tighter, looser, rifled differently, etc… so there are variables. Chamber dimensions could also come into play.
I’m sure they are both SAAMI spec chambers but, who knows, they could be on different ends of the specs. Barrel length could certainly play a role in this as well. A hotter load may have shifted the results the other way. Either way, in the end, the carbine was throwing that load downrange 40 fps slower than the pistol. Which leaves me with some work to do at the reloading bench. 122 power factor is NOT going to cut it. I will definitely have to check the manual and see how much more powder I can stuff in there to get the speed up.
The final act of this PCC story is the open gun. I knew going into this that the SVI would be fast and loud but I had never shot this particular gun. It belongs to a friend who has often offered me the use of it but, until now, I had always declined. I’ve owned, and shot, open guns many times but the concussive force they emit, along with the extremely loud report, is always a bit of a surprise when I fire that first shot after so long away from one.
The three shot average came in at 1511 fps for a power factor of 173.7. Plenty of room to
comfortably make USPSA’s 165 major power factor. Also around 500 fps faster than either the PCC or the XD(M). Does the open gun have “rifle like” velocity? No, not really. 1500 fps is nothing to sneeze at but it is more like .357 magnum velocity instead of say 30-30 velocity. To get there we would need to speed things up to well over 2000 fps and I don’t think anyone is interested in that except, of course, 3-gun competitors who are ACTUALLY shooting a rifle and not an overgrown pistol.
So, I think it is safe to say that “rifle like” velocity is definitely off the list of complaints you can make about PCC. I’ve heard other complaints but I don’t want to get into them in this article. I will say that ALL competitors need to keep the rules of safe gun handling in mind at ALL times. Just because your rifle is slung it does not become a “dead stick” as some would put it. Respect everyone around you and lets all try to have a good time at the range.
Reloading your own ammunition is not a task where creativity comes into play. We are working with components that, when used correctly, can be used to create ammunition that is as good or better than factory offerings. As an added bonus we can frequently make this ammunition at significantly lower costs than comparable factory offerings. There is, however, an element of responsibility that cannot be ignored. We have to follow safety procedures. We have to follow the “recipe” for the load we are making. We have to use “best practices” at all times. Sound ominous? Continue reading “How much crimp?”