Developing your load

The process of load development has two specific objectives. The first is to establish the optimum safe load for a given bullet weight – powder – primer combination. The second is to obtain optimum accuracy. The safe optimum load can vary from rifle to rifle. Working up loads should always be undertaken after consulting one of the manuals published by leading bullet and powder companies.

Load development can be enhanced by the use of a chronograph. These are simple to use and are readily available for a reasonable price. They are an excellent investment. The muzzle velocities published in reloading manuals are specific to particular test rifles, bullets and atmospheric conditions. Variations such as chamber and throat dimensions, barrel length, and different bullet profiles can have significant effects on velocities. Only an accurate chronograph will establish the true velocities achieved for any given load in any given rifle. It will also establish shot to shot consistency – a prime factor in developing the best loads. Test different powders as necessary until the optimum load is found.

It is also true that the best load is not necessarily the maximum load. Frequently best accuracy is obtained before the maximum is reached. Barrel life, brass life and recoil are other factors to consider. Note that only one brand of brass should be used when developing loads. Different brands can have different capacities and can produce different pressures.

This first part of load development can be done with virtually any brand and type of bullet of a given weight and caliber. 

The second objective of load development is accuracy. For the target shooter, accuracy and ballistic efficiency are the sole aims. A hunter, however, is also looking for the best bullet performance for a given application, be it on varmints or big game.

In recent years there has been a virtual explosion of new projectiles on the market. In 30 cal. alone, there are over 350 different bullets on sale encompassing various brands, weights and styles. Premium bullets with features such as bonded technology or monolithic construction offer outstanding performance on game. Premium performance, however, usually comes with premium price.

Projectile Warehouse Development Packs offer a practical and economic way of testing a variety of different projectiles. Each sample pack contains 20 bullets. This is sufficient, if used wisely, to determine if a particular bullet is going to work in a particular rifle.

The first task is to remove, as much as practical, all other variables, so that it is the bullet alone which is being tested.

Cases should be sorted so that test loads use cases of similar firing history, which are sized and trimmed uniformly. This alone is a Pandora’s Box of variables, with some handloaders taking extreme measures to ensure uniformity; others may be more casual. Any effort made, however, will be rewarded with more reliable bullet testing.

Cases should then be loaded with identical primer and powder combinations which have already been optimised in stage one of load development. We advise starting with reduced loads and working up.

Use the twenty sample bullets to fire four five-shot groups. The only variable which should be deliberately introduced is seating depth. With the exception of target rifles, which may have different parameters, seat the first group of three at the maximum length permitted by the magazine, but still just off touching the rifling lands (i.e. approx. 0.010" inches or 0.25mm). Seat subsequent groups of three incrementally deeper by additional 0.020" or 0.5mm steps. Clearly mark each group of three cartridges and record the results.

If a rifle normally shoots 1 MOA, and all the test groups are over 2 MOA, that bullet is not compatible. If however, it produces sub- MOA groups then it is worthwhile investing in a whole box for more exhaustive testing if desired.

As previously mentioned, if the reloader has access to a chronograph, the test results can be recorded. Different bullets of the same weight in front of the same load can produce significant variations. Precise knowledge of muzzle velocity allows modern ballistics programs to be used to best advantage.

The final element of good testing is rifle ‘hygiene’. Even the best loads in the best gun will perform poorly if the barrel is excessively fouled with powder and copper residue. In order to consistently compare different bullets, each twelve bullet test should start with a clean barrel, with particular attention to copper fouling. Prior to commencing the test, several fouling shots should be fired, using a generic load. This will prevent the ‘cold, clean barrel- first shot flier’ syndrome, which could ruin the first test group.

The combinations available when seeking the ‘perfect load’ are virtually limitless. Instead of having to discard or store partial packets of leftovers, Projectile Warehouse Development Packs allow the reloader to enjoy economical access to a great range of bullets.
The more you experiment, the closer you will get to perfection.