We wrote this article to see if we can open up some postings from some of the blog readers out there. If you would like to offer your two cents on how you go about developing a load, please feel free to post them on the blog for others to read. We are sure everyone will appreciate looking at other shooters approach to fine tuning a load.
Each handloader has different goals in mind for load development. Many shooters are trying to achieve the best accuracy they can regardless of velocity and the type of bullet they shoot. Other shooters, especially long-range shooters, may have a muzzle velocity number as a goal but more importantly a resulting terminal velocity which will determine the amount of wind drift they experience down range. These shooters are also concerned about bullet stabilization at long range. Usually benchrest, varmint, or prone long-range target shooters, will be highly aware of the external ballistics of their bullet with respect to what is happening down range. A silhouette shooter (IHMSA type) will demand accuracy but also be mindful of terminal energy at the target for knocking over the heavier ram silhouettes. Other handloaders, such as hunters, may be trying to reach a muzzle velocity or terminal velocity value for a particular type of hunting bullet so the bullet penetrates and expands properly on impact. Regardless, accuracy always remains a goal for most load development processes.
Regardless of the type of shooting you do, it is important to establish a goal for your load development. The goal may be pure accuracy, muzzle velocity, terminal velocity, or some combination of the above. If you are trying to develop an accurate load for 1000 yard shooting, it is not important how well the load groups at 100 yards but how well it groups at longer distances or how it bucks the wind. If you are a traditional benchrest shooter who shoots 100 yards and 200 yards, it is important to test your loads at 200 yards as well as 100 yards. You may find that one load will group better at 100 yards and another load groups at 200 yards. You might want to test various loads in windy conditions because one load may experience less wind drift than another.
When developing loads, we try to test basic loads in predominately calm weather and at temperatures close to the temperature range we will be using the final product in. If there is wind, try to shoot in a consistent crosswind if possible and by all means use flags if you have them. Watch changing light conditions as it can create vertical stringing that may mislead your interpretation of your groups. Change one variable at a time. If you want to try a different primer, then keep everything else the same. Same goes with bullet type, weights, seating depth, cases, powder type, charge, etc. It is much easier to see the results if you only change one thing. Start with 3 to 5 shot groups at shorter distances to see if a change you made looks positive or negative. Start with a quality bullet first, try a recommended powder out of your reloading manual, then experiment with different charges, different seating depths, primers, other powders, and lastly change the brass manufacturer or lot if you feel it will be beneficial.
Invest in a decent chronograph. It doesn’t have to have all the bells and whistles, just the basics. A chronograph is an invaluable tool for use during load development. Knowing the muzzle velocity will allow you to predict wind drift down range, bullet drop, and terminal velocity. Standard deviation is a good indicator of consistent performance but not always a true indicator of a load’s ability to group well. The chronograph can also be used to identify performance changes when switching to a new lot of powder, primers, bullets, or even cases.
While developing a load, recordkeeping is extremely important. Keep good records on firearms, components, seating depths, weights, powder measure settings, weather conditions (especially temperature and humidity), velocities, etc. Buy a logbook or create your own, but keep track of the data. It will serve you better than your memory regarding components you have tried when you come back to that particular firearm a year later.
As we stated earlier, the purpose of this article was to get readers to post some of their thoughts on load development and share them with other viewers. We encourage you to post any specific things you do that helps you in load development.