Reviews of Long Range Shooting gear, parts, etc…

6XC Load Development – Analysis Time


This little case seems to really like being as full as possible and/or run a little hard and put away a little bit wet if you get my meaning. We broke in the barrel with 15 shots but as you can see from the data below, around shot #6 things stabilized. By round 10 I had warmed up the barrel a bit and was vacillating between baking rounds in the chamber while I wiggled around trying to get a natural point of aim and firing quickly when I was already at a good NPoA.

All discussions of load data and charge weights come with the “don’t copy me and hurt yourself” disclaimer. Don’t just run my loads, work up to them. These are all on Norma brass, F210 primers, 115gn DTAC bullets and COAL at 2.8″.

Around shot #6 things pretty well started to stabilize. Inconsistently going between firing quickly and baking rounds in a warm-ish chamber widened the ES a bit around shot 11.

After grinding out the first 15 rounds to break in the bore and establish a zero; this was a BRAND NEW barrel after all, we took a little break and went to check the target. The new barrel shot to such a different POI than the prior barrel that it took quite a few shots just to get on steel at 100yrds. By round 10 we were on steel at what seemed like pretty close to POI=POA. Enough to move to the BoxToBench Precision 100yrd Load Development Target and dialed the zero in on the cold zero aiming point. 5 rounds at the cold zero put us at 15 shots and we were already seeing each set of 2 bullet holes (because: adjust, fire 2, adjust) either touching or very close to it. We’re pretty excited about the performance we’re seeing so far.

After the first 15 shots and letting the gun cool down I settled in to go for groups for record. Starting off we did the Coach’s match load (CML) which is 38.5gn of H4350. Then the RL-23 was run followed by N550 and IMR-4166. To wrap things up we came back to the H4350 and did the 39.5gn load then finished out our paper punching with 5 at 39 grains. After that I had 5 rounds left and wanted to drop a shot on the 900 yard target so we went up there and I rang the gong for 5 rounds of 38.5gn. There’s a called flyer (obvious) on 4 of the 6 aiming points. I wasn’t in the most stable position and I knew it.

 

My velocities are a solid 150fps above what Coach gets from his Enfield rifled barrel of the same length with the same load. Ok, to be completely transparent, it’s not EXACTLY the same load. We do actually seat the bullets about .120 deeper forn my new barrel than Coach’s barrel but I can’t see 150fps difference from that. This is the polygonal rifling in full effect. Less friction because you’re not engraving the bullet, you’re swaging then and then twizzlering them, if only ever so slightly.

So now on to the powder results. H4350 you see the curves change shape as you fill the case up. To my eye it almost looks like someone’s grabbed on to the right side and started pulling the string taut. Group sizes went down as powder charges went up but we’re talking about going from a .75″ group to a .71″ group to a .3″ group. The academic in me is crying out to be let loose with a scale and all of my reloading supplies to do a 1/10th grain at a time experiment. But, that’s expensive and I have other matters to attend to. The experienced rifle shooter in me says, “You do realize that any one of those is sufficient for the 1000yrd stuff you’re doing right?” The competitive rifle shooter in me says, “Take the 39.5 and let’s go home and load ammo before you change your mind again.”

This is Coach’s match load in his current barrel. Featuring a tight 10.87fps standard deviation from my gun and a not disappointing .75″ group this load showed promise. I just don’t want to tune it. In Coach’s gun this load runs 150fps slower, has a 32fps SD and turns in the same .75″ groups.
The group size collapsed on this load down to .4″ until I popped a flyer into it (which I called) that took the final group to .71″. 40fps ES is a bit on the broad side for me out of a 5 shot sample size. I could maybe do half of that. This load does suggest it might want just a little more powder.
When we give it 39.5 grains the dissonant came into harmony and it made a .3″ group with 2fps SD’s and 5fps ES. It’s running mild pressures and making within a gnat’s ass of 3,000 fps where I’d draw the velocity line anyway. 2900-2950 was our target and we’re there with a solid load.

Onward and upward. We still have loads to analyze. Everyone knows that after my experience with it in .243AI and 6.5x55AU that I’m a big fan of Reloader 23. It’s sloooooooow burning and has been returning impressive velocities with reasonable pressures from very heavy for caliber bullets in relatively long bores from very overbore cases… as you would expect it to do if you are at all familiar with Boyle’s Gas Law. We had no idea how much to start with so we did exactly what Coach did with it for my .243AI. We filled the case up to the body:shoulder junction, dumped it out and weighed it and put that much into 5 cases. It came out at 38 grains with no drop tube, just a funnel and a weighing pan.

Reloader 23 showed me with my .243AI that it likes a full case (I’m sensing a trend here with these slow burning magnum powders) and that it’s pretty hard to put enough into a 6mm case based on a .473 case head to blow the damned thing up if you’re seating to SAAMI/CIP lengths. 38 grains produced pretty nice velocity. A testament to the efficiency of the 6XC case setup. Still with 28fps SD’s, 66fps ES and a .68″ group of 5, it would “do” but I’d want to develop it more if I were to use it. We did find that RL-23 is a great option. Somewhere around 40 grains should give high 2900’s at reasonable pressures even when seating bullets deepish.

                                That right there is porn star sloppy.

Pressing on, we have N550. A double base NG/NC powder known for being a little temperature touchy after 90F and for being pretty darned expensive. 36.5 grains of N550 gave us a nice narrow 11.95fps SD’s on ES’s of only 29fps. Still a little tall but velocities were touching 2900 and pressures were VERY low. It also grouped a .2″ group of 5 shots. Oh man am I tempted to increase my powder budget by 25%. We figure we could fill the case on this stuff somewhere around 39 grains at 3,000fps. But, I don’t want to develop a load; much less an expensive one, if one jumps out at me and that H4350 load at 39.5 grains is hard to beat even with stupid tight groups.

             A lot of promise in this one. Super stable velocity potential.

Now we cross into “Coach style load” territory. So far we’ve been on the very slow side of the slow side of the rifle powder spectrum. Now we’re going to cross the street where the Beatles fans turn into Stones fans and start dragging their knuckles. Not really. Just making fun of coach. The defining line between a “Me” style and a “Coach” style of handload is I like my powder to burn all the way down the barrel giving consistent pressure all the way without a huge spike of pressure in the case itself. My way is easier on brass but harder on barrel throats because there’s more grit coming out of the case neck this way. Coach likes his pressure to form in the case, for all the combustion events to happen in that space and then to use the built up pressure. He also tends to jam bullets rather than jump them where I jump them at least a little bit normally.

Making a Coach style recipe means you know you’ll see pressure sooner or later in your experimenting. That being the case and the fact that there was no data for IMR-4166 (which is around Varget/IMR-4895 burn speed) we elected to hot-foot bloody educated guess it. I calculated that 37.5 grains was about the most we’d want to try and so we tried that. It came back hot enough to imprint my ejector hole on the brass so that’s at least 1 full grain too much juice. It did however make 3080fps with a 2fps SD and a 6fps ES for 5 rounds. Drop a grain or two and you’re right up around 2950-3000fps. What a smoker though! Too bad the pressures were simply too high.

      If it wasn’t running north of 70,000psi This would be my new load.

Below you can see the velocities as they came out of the gun during testing.  You can see it took about 5 rounds to season the bore and then it’s pretty much standard load development wavy gravy until you get to 2 very specific sections whose extreme flatness gives away that something very cool happened there and needed to be paid attention to.

So while N550 turned in the best group and ok SD’s, the extremely tight SD’s and the super tight group out of the 39.5gn load of H4350 has won the day. I might mess with bullet jump a little but really, I’m happy. Best not to waste barrel life.

On the topic of barrel life. Common wisdom is somewhere north of 1500 rounds but under 2000 before it’s smoked. Well that’s about a year and a half or 2 worth of life. That’s from a conventional Enfield rifled gun. I run Columbia River Arms polygonally rifled barrels which have been giving me very long barrel life and I used only HBN coated bullets for the last 1000 rounds (it’s at north of 1300 rounds now).

                     6XC Dimensions

My .243AI still runs like a laser. I only took it off because seating depth was longer than my magazine, but there’s plenty of bullet still in the case yet. I could take it another 500+ rounds if I was willing to single feed. Pushing 115’s at 3200 can’t have been gentle on it and the expectation was that by 1000 rounds it was going to look like 5 miles of rough road down the bore but it’s not. It’s smooth as glass still and makes tiny 1000 yard groups. So if we take this barrel life thing to mean the point at which the boat tail is up inside the neck of a loaded case when seated equals cooked, my .243AI will have gotten something like 2000 rounds before its death. Thanks to some combination of the HBN coating and the polygonal rifling.

Well then, I expect something like 4,000 rounds of life from my 6XC and something like 6,000 rounds from Coach’s since we’re giving his the Modern Sparts Systems Accuracy Oil treatment for its whole life. If I pull 4,000 rounds out of this barrel I’ll be surprised as hell. 3,000 rounds wouldn’t go amiss though and would be well representative of my real expectations.

How will it all turn out? Stay tuned to find out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Garmin Foretrex 701 With Applied Ballistics

 

Overall, I’ll give it 5 stars for quality. 3 stars for usability. 1 star for price. That’s a 3 star average but don’t let that conceal the fact that the quality of product, how reliably it does the job it’s to do, is 5 stars and that’s what you’re buying. A perfectly functioning bit of kit. Any negativity from here on out may as well be just the griping of some dude on the internet. Still there are gripes.

All in all I have the same complaint about putting AB in a GPS as I did about putting it in a Kestrel: Ballistics is a complicated business and user interface matters. You can’t shoe horn external ballistics into an otherwise simple gizmo and have a brilliant user interface. Yes, it works perfectly in every technological sense but it’s a pain to actually operate. I also think this gizmo is about the perfect confluence of form with a pairing of two functions as it pertains to long range hunters. You’ve got 1 gun, 1 load, 1 basic environment and 1 mission. You need a GPS and for it to be compact, durable and light. You should have good ballistics data too. So, good job Garmin and A.B. finding a decent pairing for purpose if not for sales volume.

If you’re my parents age you might actually remember when radios weren’t all that common as standard equipment in cars. If the wildly antique set of encyclopedias I grew up with were correct then it was some time around 1955 that they started to become common. So, you pretty suddenly had a car with a radio inside it. That was a pretty big deal at the time. Now cars are arguably more like radios that you drive around and the thing doing the job of the old school radios are much, much more than a simple radio receiver. For those considerably younger than me it might be easier to pick something temporally closer to home like when telephones suddenly lost their buttons and got big color screens, impressive processing capability and GPS. Telephones are now very sophisticated computers with telephones in them.

What that has to do with anything else here is that cars, radios, computers and phones were things that existed already and had served their purposes very well for a very long time before getting all, “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate.” The new capability mixture was not even on the same planet of use cases that the devices themselves were each originally meant to do so it was not a sure thing to change the landscape and become an absolute standard. The mixes were so far outside the old paradigms that it wasn’t known how things would settle out in the end. Things turned out interesting.

Cars weren’t things you’d expect to provide entertainment when they first came out. Cars were things you’d use to take you to entertainment. Similarly, telephones weren’t things you’d use to play video games. They were for making phone calls to your friends to arrange a trip to the arcade to play video games. Both cars and phones were for a very long time common and viable tools of social interaction. Nowadays, they seem like ways to self-separate from everyone else which is entirely the opposite situation. Both car stereos and smart phones were the initiation events of a whole new set of industries that popped up in direct response to the new consumer demands that would come from listening to anything you want to while driving or having a phone conversation and  playing Angry Birds at the same time on the same device.

When someone shoe horns some new capability into a previously more single purpose widget one really does have to reserve judgement on the soundness of the decision for a long time. You can’t really tell how people will adjust to this new model. It might just be the next great thing. I mean, cars and radios go together like formerly living animals and gravy. Video games on phones are a double-edged sword if anything but are almost universally popular with consumers. Cars and Phones now enable you to ignore the world around you in general more effectively than before but they also go farther and experience more if you elect to do so.

When I saw the Garmin Foretrex 701 I wondered which side it would end up on and figured it would end up just another gadget with Applied Ballistics shoe-horned in to an otherwise high quality if pedestrian device which is only related to the topic of ballistics at one side. Applied Ballistics on a Kestrel weather meter made a ton of sense on the surface and sold like hot cakes. I don’t know if a GPS will be that natural of a pairing nor do I predict the kind of market penetration that the A/B equipped Kestrels have. We’ll see. I’ve been wrong before.

For the purposes of this article I used the little gizmo myself around town and at a desk and then my coach and I took it to a proper long range precision rifle competition and my coach actually competed using it instead of his usual notebook full of written DOPE. I tested the ballistics and GPS features against other ballistics apps and GPS’s and found everything works 100% as advertised. That is no surprise. Garmin is a recognized world leader in GPS devices. They don’t mess those up a lot. Applied Ballistics is known to deliver accurate ballistics data when used correctly because, like every ballistics app, it uses known mathematical models which very accurately reflect reality. Those mathematical models have known levels of precision and those levels are very high. That’s why we use them. So, there’s really little room for either the GPS or ballistics calculation feature to fail to work as intended. What it all comes down to then is not the steak but the sizzle.

Form is very much a personal preference sort of thing and while the Garmin Foretrex 701 is in fact quite nifty, I have some distinct complaints and some compliments. I’ll itemize the good, the bad and the ugly bits but they break down to the following areas: Manual, Display, User Interface, Flexibility, Comfort, Speed, Includes, Ruggedness.

Manual: The manual comes with a font size suitable only to teenagers and those few people that have microscopes on their desk. Maybe I’m just old. They could have nearly doubled the size of the manual and the font and still fit it in the box and old eyes like mine wouldn’t gripe (that assumes that your Y chromosome allows the reading of manuals). The manual’s size is a minor gripe.

The content of the manual is not a minor gripe. It is very frequently unhelpful while you try to figure it out because little though important details are left out and pictograms are seemingly avoided where they’d be especially helpful. They’re left out all over the place. Basically, the manual seems to assume a ton of familiarity with the device rather than being an instruction set breaking down exactly how all the little features work. Honestly, if you’ve not been trained how to use it by someone/something else, I think you’ll end up calling tech support at some point. If you’re any part a luddite, get ready for a steep learning curve.

Display: The monochrome LCD displays are not high resolution. In fact, they have a dot pitch which is pretty coarse and the display is pretty small at about 2.5x the size of a postage stamp. This makes it so that old guys like me have to hold it at arm’s length to see some bits and right close to see other bits. What we see on the display isn’t visually appealing or always easy to digest either. I suspect it looked better on the story board. It just doesn’t read quickly in most views. The backlight really helped with up-taking the data for me. Somehow it was vastly easier to sort through and digest the info with the backlight running in the broad daylight for both me and my coach. Your mileage there may vary.

User Interface (UI): First off, the UI for all AB integrated products I’ve ever held has been simply horrid. That’s a personal opinion and should be salted by the fact that I’m a geek in my day job and have to deal with UI’s of varying usability all the time so I’m kind of hard on them. The LCD UI is simply about the least intuitive and most tedious I’ve encountered in any device since that all-in-one copy machine was put into my office that nobody has so far figured out how to use. The user interface is as un-intuitive as all get out. It took me nearly an hour to get all of my inputs in and there are several annoying little idiosyncrasies about how the UI works that drove me up the wall. One big annoyance: If you hold down on an arrow button adjusting a value it’ll start slow, then picks up a little then after a seemingly very long time it suddenly goes to warp speed. There’s no reason to have to hold down the button for so long for fast scroll to start working or for it to be quite that fast. 2-3 seconds is plenty. Warp speed is so fast that adjustment overruns were constant. What it amounted to in the end was a lot of time wasted adjusting up after adjusting down went too far too fast. Thankfully once set, it’s set and you won’t mess with it again.

Flexibility: Not bad really if you constrain that assessment to flexibility for very small changes. The tedious first-time setup still takes entirely too long, though slightly modifying a couple inputs isn’t too bad. I originally set it up for my PRS match load to verify that it would give exactly the same data as the calculators that I publish (BallisticXLR/BallisticPRS/BallisticDLR). That initial setup took entirely too long but altering the 2 inputs that changed for my coach’s gun/load combo though was reasonably fast and easy taking about one minute. If the differences in the loads had been more substantial (the loads are 200fps different and he uses MOA while I use MIL) this assessment would change because the UI is so slow to use for large change sets or large changes in a single variable.

Comfort: The non-elastic wrist strap that it comes with was apparently sized in Lilliput. I have small wrists, like really small, and the velcro strap was less than an inch from being insufficiently long to work on me. My coach has hefty wrists for a sub-6-footer and was barely able to get it on his wrist. It had to be pretty tight; tighter than one would wear a watch. Thankfully there’s an extension with elastic stretch to it in the box.

There is also simply no way that you can put this gizmo on your non-firing wrist and use it from a properly set up supported prone position. Once you reach for the toe support bag the Garmin is out of view. Putting it above your bicep is an option but not a great one as the viewing angle is then hard to read. You can’t set it so it sits on the side of the wrist stably either. The normal wrist card location simply doesn’t work well because the thing has a flat bottom. On the upside, the strap didn’t make wrists excessively sweaty or itchy which was appreciated. All in all, it’s actually quite comfortable to wear which I think back country hunters will appreciate. It’s just not easy to use while in a firing position.

Speed: Speed of use is not really there. It has a range card which requires you to scroll to get more than a handful of data rows. The scroll function isn’t super slick visually either. Using the GPS features on that screen was to me, infuriating. I think I do better with a large field of view, detailed views, terrain data and such that come with a much more advanced screen or a plain old paper map. If you were to want to use the ballistics functionality to calculate for a specific long range shot then I hope your target is dead already. If not, your target is going to get bored and wander away. Yes, the data presented will be accurate but it takes entirely too long to get there for really long shooting, especially if you’re wanting to adjust for non-standard conditions.

Includes: This one irked me. For a $600 gizmo, it doesn’t come with batteries. It only takes AAA’s so it’s not like they’re a big investment. Garmin could easily drop in a couple lithium ion AAA’s in the box and still make margin. Or if they’re feeling cheap, just a couple knock-off brand alkaline AAA’s. But none at all? Who thought that was a good idea. My wireless mouse came with batteries. The mini-flashlight you buy from the impulse purchase bucket at a gas station comes with batteries. My wireless security camera came with CR123 batteries. A $600 Garmin GPS with Applied Ballistics doesn’t? Ok, moving on… It is reportedly compatible with night vision goggles though which is pretty slick and suggests military use is already happening. Speaking of which:

Ruggedness: As I gather, it’s got a MIL-Spec rating for thermal, water & shock resistance so I think we can just stipulate to the ruggedness. Coach and I had that thing out in the sun all day bashing it against barricades and burying it in the finest of powder fine dirt and grit. It was subjected to recoil and a not gentle ride to the range in my gear box. I don’t know about the little twist lock for the battery compartment. I don’t know how that’s going to hold up long term but it very reliably keeps that battery door closed right now. The buttons appear to be meant to be water resistant however in the interests of not destroying something I was loaned to review, I didn’t dunk it in water to find out. I will bet a crispy dollar bill that’ll work in any machine that it’ll survive a long dunk and should have exactly zero problem with torrential levels of rain.

All in all, the thing is ferociously expensive and it works perfectly. That said, I’ve not hunted in a long time and even then, it was mostly under at rock throwing distance and almost all under 100yrds. For almost everyone else into long range hunting/shooting, this is probably a better idea than the Kestrel with Applied Ballistics by a long way. The average hunter isn’t going to change elevations on the order of several thousand feet but they will change position and distance from target. As much as this doesn’t get my juices going or excite me it does seem to make a ton of sense for hunters who even MIGHT take a long range shot on game. I think I would be superficially pretty excited if a model with a UI that was enormously better was available but the costs to that in reality in terms of battery life, durability and reliability would make me probably hate owing it. Rock, meet hard place.

 

Overview

Here at BallisticXLR we like to keep abreast of the movement in the firearms industry. This includes the latest in cleaning and lubrication products. Modern Spartan Systems has entered the market with cleaning and lubrication products which promise “green” technology, advanced chemistry, superior effectiveness and most interestingly, increases in muzzle velocity, reductions of group sizes and extending of barrel life. Well, we just can’t let an opportunity for a Pepsi Challenge like that go without tossing our hats in the ring.

We’ve gathered up a number of match rifles and plinking rifles. We’ve gathered defense pistols and target pistols. We’ve got trap shotguns and hunting shotguns. We’ve got high end optics, mid range optics and low end optics. We’re even bringing a cannon, a real antique Trapdoor Springfield and a new manufacture reproduction Sharps rifle in .45-70. We’ve got rimfire, centerfire and even fuse fired.

Test Protocols:

Variable Controls: We select a single load specification to complete each test with. Air temperature/humidity/pressure/wind are kept as stable as possible. Guns are not shot hot (when hot to the touch we take a break in testing to cool it off naturally)

MV Testing: We apply the entire MSS cleaning system as directed including conditioning the bore with Accuracy Oil. We compare pre-cleaning (dirty bore) velocity averages, standard deviation, coefficient of variation, minimum and maximum. Data is tracked and logged for each string as well as for each individual shot. Strings are 3-5 shots. 5 shots is the standard. 3 shots is used only where barrel heat becomes an issue during testing.

Accuracy/Precision Testing: We track group size for each string of fire during MV initial testing. After the barrels reach copper equilibrium and bench gathered data is of sufficient volume (where velocities and group sizes seem to stabilize and we have at least several 5-shot strings of velocity data post-treatment) we take the guns into competition because, hey, we are competitive shooters and that’s where the metal meets the meat so to speak. Match scores with MSS treated rifles are compared against past match performance (we have books full of our match scores).

Barrel Life: We have obtained 2 identical Columbia River Arms barrels chambered in 6mm XC. Both are chambered with the same reamer on the same lathe by the same gunsmith in the same week. Extra care was used in selecting a custom reamer and machinist gunsmith capable of the required precision to minimize tolerances like run-out. Both barrels are being put into existing match rifles. Both rifles will shoot the same load spec (this makes load development unnecessarily tricky but we’ll deal with it). Loads will use the same lot of brass/powder/primers/bullets and both will used only HBN coated DTAC bullets from David Tubb. One barrel will be treated with MSS’s system from the beginning, the other will not. After every 200 rounds we’ll re-clean & re-treat the treated barrel. On the control barrel we’ll clean every 200 rounds with Wipe-Out (which we prefer over Hoppe’s #9 & Sweet’s 7.62). We’ll track the barrel life via match scores, throat erosion pace, velocity retention and group size until we have a clear winner. We estimate it will take 1000 rounds to get to a usefully good answer.

Raw Data By Shot String Average:

6mm XC

7mm BR

6.5×55 Swede

.223 Remington

Raw Data Shot-By-Shot

Initial Results

What we see with the .223; which has the most shots through it since treatment, we see that MV’s have stabilized. Group size average during treatment was over 1 inch. After treatment group size for a 10-shot string was .7 inch. SD’s were dropped roughly in half. Minimum string velocity (a component of velocity extreme spread) increased substantially without a sympathetic change in maximum string velocity as well. A gun/load combination that was getting on my nerves is now showing signs of being a potential sweetheart.

What we see with the 7mm BR, the 6mm XC and the 6.5×55 Swede so far is very similar to what we saw during the early phases with the .223. A lot of volatility during the treatment phase followed by what appears to be (NOTE: APPEARS TO BE, these are early results, too early for real conclusions) some stabilization. What we have not seen are dramatic, sticky (meaning that the effect persists) increases in MV. If anything what we see are slight reductions in peak velocity and slight increases in minimum velocity. That’s an increase of consistency which any shooter would gladly take over any token velocity increase.

As you move up and to the right you’ll see progression. Groups at bottom and left are at the beginning of treatment. Top and right are end of treatment. L-.223,M-6XC,R-7mmBR

What we did see pretty universally (only the 7mm BR didn’t improve) is a reduction in group size. Could this be a rebuke of our blanket advice to avoid unnecessarily cleaning a rifle? Maybe. It could also be due to more consistent friction leading to more consistent harmonics. It could be the stars aligning. Part of that advice to clean as infrequently as possible is economics based. It takes a good number of shots (so far it’s looking like at least 5-10 and as much as 40+ in some cases) for a barrel to get to copper fouling equilibrium. Part of it is based on the notion that most rifle barrel wear out in the real world of sport shooters comes from overly aggressive and overly frequent cleaning. We do both. Our metallic silhouette rifles mostly get cleaned after every 100-200 rounds (except my red gun). Our PRS/prone guns historically get cleaned almost never… like every 400 rounds or so.

What do you think we’ll see as final results? Comment below!

Numbers don’t lie so if you want to see those numbers, scroll down and check ’em out.

Definitely seeing a velocity boost evolving during the treatment phase. Looks like SD’s are growing but we won’t know the long term trends on this for another week as there are more shots to fire. Treatment phase is 5 sets of 5 shot groups. Between each group we apply a very light coat of MSS Accuracy Oil down the bore on a patch wrapped around a brush. That pulls the carbon out pretty well and puts another layer of their crazy effective lubricating oil down the bore.

This test data shows 50 rounds of history gathered during bench-rested zero-checking, load development and grouping data collected over the last year with me not cleaning the bore at all on my heavily customized, Columbia River Arms barreled Mossberg MVP .223 followed by another 25 rounds of very recent history from last weekend’s testing with MSS’s cleaning system being used.

Avoiding much discussion of velocities we can look at group sizes. This rifle with this load has been a pretty consistent 1-1.5MOA rifle. It doesn’t like this load, never has, and that has annoyed me because it should be a killer load. During the testing and doing the Accuracy Oil re-application treatments I saw very consistently that the first shot was wild, then the 2nd-5th shots gradually closed in on each other finally ending with shots 4-5 stacking on top of each other. Overall group sizes started at 1.2MOA and by the end of the initial Accuracy Oil treatment plan had reduced to a very nice group under .7MOA with the last 3 shots touching and the first 2 just slightly off that cluster (could have been shooter error but I doubt it). This behavior was consistent from the first string to the 5th string. I have not cleaned the barrel after shooting. I did run a patch down the bore with Accuracy Oil on it though. Before shooting next time we’ll run a few dry patches down the pipe to make sure it’s completely dry and then we’ll see what happens.

Each string below represents a 5-shot set with statistics reported for the string. This load has slowly evolved over the last couple years with a little OAL and a little powder being added between string 1 and string 9. I stopped messing with the load spec after string 9 because I just wasn’t shooting the gun. Now I’m sticking with that practice while we finish up our testing. 75 rounds in to the testing we’re seeing definitely trend line activity but we’ll save the analysis and conclusion drawing until we have more data.

So what do you think? Will this trend continue? Will it even out? Will it reverse? We shall see.

Note: This is not one of my match loads. This is a load I never shoot in competition because it’s not been consistent enough. I’ve wanted to do a little more work on it because it’s a really mild load with long legs. I chose this load because it’s not a one-holer out of the gate so we have some room to see if MSS’s claims are worth taking seriously. So far, they’re at least intriguing.

Stay tuned!

I guess we could call this “The Log’a of the Saga”.
My coach and I are building new rifles for next years’ match season. We put a year on our last set of pipes and those wore well and got coach into the sport. The game we’re playing with these is styled after PRS but we have prone, obstacle and PRS classes available. Prone is prone only but you can shoot from obstacles if you want. Obstacle is PRS style but with more time than normal PRS matches would allow and usually simpler requirements for moving around the obstacles. PRS is short time and more complex courses of fire from the obstacles. We only get one shot at each target and it’s hit or miss. All this is done on a brutal course you have to walk and the winds are mostly unreadable.
We’ve been pulling top-10 to top-5 finishes very consistently as a team for the last year and we’re looking to try to dominate this year with nothing but top 5 finishes. Part of our strategy is; since we operate as a proper team, to have identically chambered rifles with identically performing loads so we can share rifles, data and the carrying of the load. We can share a rifle for each match and save half of the humping of rifles along the course as well as getting what amounts to a second shot at each target because of the sharing of the rifle. If the first shooter misses, we’ll know how far and why and be able to correct for the second shooter. It’s not cheating, it’s adapting. Nothing says we can’t share a rifle.
I got my ExactShooting.com (check these guys out, they’re amazing) custom sizing die with the custom neck bushings for 6XC. We tried that die on Coach’s existing rifle in 6XC but the combination of the gun being stupid accurate to begin with, the brass having a huge number of fires on it already and the barrel nearing the end of its life meant that we didn’t see any statistically interesting difference going from a Redding neck die to the Exact Shooting die. So, I got us 2 new barrel blanks and a new custom made chamber reamer and a big sack of new 6CX Norma brass from Tubb along with a big bucket load of 115gn HBN coated DTAC’s. We’ll be using an M24/MTU type barrel profile with a finished length somewhere around 25-26 inches.
My die came with a series of bushings which we spec’d for a chamber that requires very slightly turning the outside of the case necks and provides for minimum working of the brass between firing and sizing. We’ll also be running zero headspace to a new case. After firing we’ll bump the shoulders back .0005″ to assure smooth chambering with even bolt closure pressure. Neck bushing diameter selection lets us size the necks in .0005″ increments from .005″ neck tension to .003″ neck tension.
I dropped off the barrels and our actions to the gunsmith last week and went over yesterday to verify that everything was righteous. The smith had them set up with dual point indication on the lathes and showed me that everything mic’d out as it should. He showed me his lathe setup which was very satisfactory. With spuds in each end of the barrel set up on dial indicators I gave the chuck a spin and with the dial indicators set up 29″ apart we got 0 readable change on the dials (you could see a subtle shimmy but not enough to read). Ok, that’s up to snuff.
The barrels we’re using are from Columbia River Arms, formerly Black Hole Weaponry. They’re polygonal rifled 3-groove .243 pipes. I got my reamer from PTG and as it turns out, the pilot that came with the reamer is .002 under size so the first complication has already hit. These barrels don’t have conventional lands. In fact to the naked eye you can’t really tell at this bore size that it’s not a plain ol’ cylinder, so the bushing size issue was something that was anticipated. So, we begin the 3-4 week wait for a new set of pilot bushings if I can’t find another shooter to loan/rent/sell one to me.
In the meantime I need to figure out what theme my rifle will take on for this barrel. I could continue with the hot dog theme but I’m thinking Mega Man 8: Dr. Wily’s Island. I do something goofy with each rifle I build. So far I’ve done two coral snakes, a hot dog and a bowling ball. Weird finishes get in the heads of other competitors and make it easier to pick out my rifle from the racks full of nearly identical rifles whose only usual differentiating factor is the optic the owner put on theirs. Coach has the only rifle in the rack with a classic wood stock.
My Current Rifle (Hot Dog Gun):
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Coach’s Rifle:
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Mega-Man 8 Barrel & Chassis Finish:
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Version 10.3 is officially live. This much anticipated upgrade includes a new Loophole Shooting feature, an improved Calc Form, tons of minor formatting fixes and other improvements to make your long range shooting experience as rewarding and successful as possible.

NEW! Loophole Shooting Feature: In response to high demand the new Loophole Shooting feature has been implemented. This includes the required minimum vertical size of the loophole required to place a shot on target with the loophole placed 10 feet (3 meters) from the shooter. There is no other external ballistics application in the world that integrates this feature with your primary DOPE. At this time the Loophole data is only on the 100yrd/m increment Full Sheet tab. This is with the assumption that if you’re shooting from behind a loophole that you’ve got more time to set up your shots including setting up a sniper range card, justifying the extra data that’s on the 100m full-sheet tab compared to the 100yrd/m half-sheet tab. If there is sufficient demand we’ll add it to the 100yrd/m half-sheet tab in the next patch release.

Loophole Technical Details: The Loophole Shooting feature provides you a loophole size in inches or centimeters required to make the shot without hitting the edges of your loophole or the barrier it’s been created in. This feature requires careful measurement of your scope height. The level of precision required is now in the .0x inches zone but only if you plan to use the Loophole Shooting feature. If you do not ever need to use this feature then .1″ of slop in your measurement of scope height will be inconsequential.

Why Loophole Shooting: When BallisticXLR was partnered with the RexReviews project with TiborasaurusRex, Rex explicitly forbade providing this feature to the masses. Now that we’ve gone independent, we don’t have to withhold it anymore and in keeping with our custom of providing you the most capable system regardless of who might get upset about it, it’s now been released to the public. We are committed to providing continuous upgrades with new major features and minor features that are already planned as well as responding to the requests of those that use BallisticXLR.

Other Improvements: Major and minor improvements have been lavished upon BallisticXLR version 10.3 which, as our flagship product, it richly deserved. Some improvements include a simplified and improved Calc-Form, font size and color changes to make for easier reading in low light situations. We’ve put new Sniper Data & Shot record cards in to replace the older FM-23-10 derived versions. Quick start instructions on the inputs page have been clarified and simplified. Borders, colors, shading, contrast and may other elements of style have been tweaked to provide an improved user experience.

As always, the simple download is only $10. You should really consider getting a support entitlement as ballistics is a complex science and setting up a ballistics package as full featured as BallisticXLR can be a little daunting for the uninitiated despite our best efforts to make it as simple as possible. A basic Bronze support entitlement is only $50 and comes with a copy of BallisticXLR. We also have Silver and Gold support levels which increase the number of allowed support requests and reduce the maximum response time. All support entitlements also come with free upgrades for one full year! Don’t miss out on new stuff or 1:1 personalized help when you need it!

Existing Download-Only Customers: If you have purchased a download-only copy of BallisticXLR (does not include BallisticPRS or BallisticDLR) within the last 30 calendar days and would like the upgrade to Version 10.3, email ballisticxlr@gmail.com with your paypal transaction number & date of purchase and we’ll upgrade you free of charge.

Existing Support Entitlement Holders: If you purchased a support contract & download within the last 365 days you are entitled to a free upgrade to Version 10.3. To redeem your upgrade, email ballisticxlr@gmail.com with your paypal transaction number & date of purchase and we’ll upgrade you to Version 10.3 free of charge. This upgrade does not extend your support contract.

Epic scope. My only gripes (except the price point) are very minor quibbles in reality. Same perfect tracking, same great glass (actually some of the best ever in a USO), some real improvements in the turret setups. Some things are not so much improvements as changes but you can’t turn your nose up at a USO.

I’m running a .243AI set up by Columbia River Arms (formerly Black Hole Weaponry) about a year ago. It’s a pre-chambered drop-in with a pretty tightly necked chamber set up by CRA. I’ve got it set at zero head space so between that and the Ackley Improved case there’s zero brass growth after 4-5 firings.
It’s got just a touch over 1000 rounds down the pipe and appears to be going strong. So far I’ve only had to push the bullet out .010 and add .1gn powder to keep everything tight to my original load spec. I don’t know what kind of life the pipe has left in it. I’m running 115gn 6mm DTAC bullets at 3200fps with a modest charge of very slow burning powder (RL-23). Pressures are pretty mellow but it’s, for sure, burning that powder all the way down the barrel. This is evidenced by the fact that there’s just the tiniest bit of flash in the first chamber of my brake that’s visible in low light conditions.
Corey testing out the CRA barreled Hot-Dog Gun at 900yrds.
In a more conventional barrel I’d guess I’ve have between 100 and 300 rounds more life before it’s just not match grade anymore (based on a 1200-1500rnd life expectancy) but I would also expect substantially more throat erosion than I’ve gotten to this point if that were the case. I started with uncoated 108ELD’s and quickly went to HBN (hexagonal boron nitride) coated 115DTAC’s. The rebated boat tail and pointed tip on the DTAC’s pulls the BC up to .620 which puts me up to 1mile of supersonic range. So far it’s been as far as 1500yrds and proven itself very capable.
Out of the gate I was getting 10 shot groups like those below (these are fireforming and load development groups, the first loads out of the barrel). After a little refinement they settled down to repeatable .5-.7MOA across 10 shots with single digit SD’s (5fps across over 100 rounds loaded in 3 sessions). The thing has since then been ridiculously consistent. Once I found an optic I could deal with in matches (I hated the turrets on Vortex Razor 2’s, U.S. Optics ER-25 was just too damned big, SWFA 16×42 was too much minimum magnification, etc… nitpicky stuff) in the form of the U.S. Optics SN3 3.8-22x58mm with a custom made PRS oriented reticle and 35mm main tube, I really started to have some fun with it including punishing the rifle with 10 shots strings in 90 seconds on hot days (hey, that’s the stage on the match). I wasn’t going to take it easy on this barrel.
I crossed the 1000 round mark last month at a match and I’d thought the barrel might be toasted then due to some repeated and huge misses on otherwise simple shots. Turns out it was just me. I clearly did something wrong to make those misses. I know that because I went out again this month to teach a long range precision rifle class and demonstrated most drills and techniques with my .243AI. It started out by making a .5″ 5 shot group @ 100 yards. At the end of the class it got to be time to see what I could do under some performance pressure so I got right down into the prone with my Columbia River Arms barreled Savage 10FPSR, dialed the parallax on my U.S. Optics SN3 3.8-22×58, extended the Accuracy Solutions BipodEXT, set the Accu-Tac SR-5 bipod to 45deg forward and slapped a 6″ 900 yard 5 shot group on the steel rapid fire in direction shifting 5-15mph winds while the student body looked on.
I’m using 45.6gn of powder now. It started at 45.5gn of Reloader 23 in a very tight chamber with Hornady brass. By the book one should expect to see 3000-3100fps with 44-45gn of powder in a 24-inch barrel with 100gn to 105gn bullets. I’m getting 3200fps with 115’s and only 45.6gn in a 26″ barrel. I’d expect to see 25fps or thereabouts per inch of barrel after 24″ but certainly not 50fps per inch from barrel length alone and not with a heavier longer bullet. I’m also not even remotely pushing this round. I can go another 3gn of powder before even starting to flatten primers but 3300fps only serves to damage steel targets and is technically against the rules. 3200fps is max so that’s what I’m running. I already damage quite a few targets at 3200fps anyway so I don’t need any help in that department.
Hot Dog Gun in .243AI. A Savage 10FPSR with bits from MDT, XLR, Magpul, BipodEXT, Accu-Tac, U.S. Optics, Seekins, Weaver, and JP Enterprises. Painted to look like a Dodger Dog. Go Dodgers!

Typically as I wear out a barrel I’ll see it shoot fine, fine, fine, start to open up, plateau, fine at plateau, open up more, open up more, open up more and it’s all downhill from there. After the plateau if it doesn’t quickly plateau again it’s getting there and it’s time to start planning my next pipe. I’ve already started planning my next pipe, a 6XC to match an identical one we’ll put on Coach’s gun. Nonetheless, this barrel is still good. Question is, for how long?

I know from prior experience that I get a little longer barrel life from the polygonal rifling that CRA uses. I’ve not burned out enough to get a useful statistical value for how much longer but I can speculate. Right now, given the throat wear and grouping we’re getting on Coach’s existing 6XC; which is at 1500 rounds so far, and the expected life of that Shilen barrel being around 2200-2300 rounds, I’m estimating; and trying to be extremely conservative in that estimation, that I’ll make it to 1800 rounds or further before this pipe is really done for match work.

The difference between .243Win (right) and .243AI (left) is shoulder angle, body taper, performance, case life and barrel life. The loaded round has a 108gn ELD-M in it and 39.5gn of RL-23 for fireforming.

That’s almost 40% longer barrel life than I initially anticipated, if it gets there. We knew that the HBN coating on the bullets would help barrel life so I’m confident it’ll get to 1500. We knew the CRA polygonal rifling means no sharp edges for the burning powder plasma to ablate would help too. We knew the Ackley shoulder angle would keep the flame vertex inside the case neck and that that would help too.

It’s just with all those things helping, we have no idea where this train is going to stop. If I go on throat erosion alone, calculating how far until the boat tail is up inside the case neck, then I’m looking at almost 3000 rounds of barrel life. That’d be 230% of anticipated barrel life and I just don’t see that as being realistic given the amount of powder being burned and the rapidity with which I shoot in matches. I’ll get that barrel pretty hot sometimes.

Shooting stage 6 at my monthly match with Hot Dog Gun in its current form. Targets are on the opposite hillside from 300-700yrds away.

I get higher velocities than one might expect from less powder than one might expect. I get longer barrel life than one would expect. I get amazingly accurate and consistent performance than one might expect (especially for a drop-in pre-fit). The thing turned out sub-MOA groups with fire forming loads. It did not like 55gn varmint bullets at all though. No surprise on an 8 twist. The chamber on it is very tight. It’s meant for someone who’s willing to turn necks if necessary (my inside neck diameter on a fired case is .2435). Thankfully I don’t have to neck turn. Lucky me, everything just fits perfectly. When I ordered it I specified that I would not be put off by a possible requirement to neck turn brass if that were what their reamer would require.

Much of this situation was and is by design. When I initially decided I wanted a fast 6mm I found what my options were and then picked a chamber that would maximize performance, brass life and throat life. I picked a powder that would give maximum velocities without pressures being tall or a lot of flash. I picked projectiles that had very high BC’s and would be routinely available in boxes of 500 (including a primary and backup bullet). I set up a load that performs identically with both bullets and shoots to the same point of aim, just in case I’m unable to re-up on one I can use my backup supply of the other.  I bought all of the brass, powder and primers I expected to ever use in this barrel ahead of time (8lbs of powder, looks like I might need another 8lbs). Everything about the gun except the optic I’d settle on was decided before the barrel even arrived. Best of all, the barrel was set up to CRA’s rigorous standards which means it was done perfectly and it was under $400.

Hot Dog Gun before it was even painted. Getting some early long range testing done. Both Vortex Razor 2’s are now replaced with U.S. Optics glass. I just like USO. What can I say, they work for me.

So why am I building a 6XC now? Well Coach and I shoot together. It’s best if we have one set of ballistics DOPE and shoot the exact same load through identical chambers. It’s actually best if we share a gun but I like mine and he likes his. We find that when we can use drop and wind corrections from each other that we win more matches. Duh. If I run a stage and miss 2 of 7 shots on wind, I can tell him what the adjustments would have been and what the wind was for those misses then he can adjust accordingly and pick up those points and vice versa.

So, I’ve got 2 new barrels on the way from CRA, 27″ 6mm 8-twist unprofiled blanks which we’ll have a local gunsmith chamber, thread and profile for us in 6XC with a .267 neck (CRA doesn’t have a 6XC reamer or I’d have them do it). We’ll set them up for zero head space to minimize brass growth and then we’ll use my new ExactShooting.com Custom Collection sizing die to perfectly set the head space and neck tension of our reloaded ammo. We’ll be as close to shooting the same rifle as two guys can possibly get. If you want faster velocities, longer barrel life and one heck of an accurate barrel, you could do a lot worse than to drop Columbia River Arms a line.

.243AI Dimensions

6XC Dimensions

Red hat courtesy of spending OODLES of money with RedHat back in 2003.
Danie Joubert is a well known gunsmith and knife maker in South Africa. While I was there a mutual friend introduced us and we got to chat for a while. Turns out that Danie (pronounced Donnie) had whittled out a little gift for me in anticipation of our meeting. I don’t know why other than the extreme hospitality that seems endemic among the hunting/shooting community there.
Kydex scabbard and G10 grips. Not sure what exact kind of steel but it holds an edge well so far.
Danie usually crafts field grade to exhibition grade safari rifles and custom target/tactical rifles. At least one King of a country has a rifle in Danie’s safe waiting for delivery. Safari rifles are stuff that has to work just right every time or someone probably dies. In Africa, as you might have heard, everything bites. There are even a couple species of antelope that are notorious for attacking & killing hunters after being shot if they’re not put down hard right there. All the critters in Africa are tough. Tougher than American critters in my experience. I’ve never shot a deer in the chest and it take another step (well, with one exception but that was more opening the chest up than penetrating it, long story). I shot 2 springbuck in the heart and they both ran a little ways before dropping. The eland I shot and hit in the heart and both lungs walked 2km. The impala I liquefied the chest cavity of dropped but tried to get up for a solid minute.
It’s seen a little use but not much. Just enough to wear some finish down.
Anyway, Danie and I had a good couple hours long chat about rifle construction and how people use custom rifles there and at the end of the visit he walks in with this amazingly nicely made fixed blade and presents it to me. I was admittedly a bit floored by that. Then he says, “This is a working knife, so you have to use it. If you need to change a tire and you don’t have any other tools, this knife will do just fine.” So far it’s only been in the necks of a few critters (hey, you gotta put blood on it right) and cleaning the dirt from under my fingernails. I do now carry it in my backpack daily and on my hip when I’m in a place where a knife on my hip isn’t illegal.
Full tang goodness.

While I was in South Africa a few weeks ago I managed to pick up a new sizing die that’s made there. I actually got to meet the man behind the magic through an introduction by a mutual friend. I got to see and use the die I was extremely impressed. So impressed I had to have one. They have a standard (though still super precise) die for SAAMI/CIP chambers and a “Custom Collection” version for those of us with more persnickety requirements. I got the custom collection version made to my specs while I was in country. I also got to have a nice chat with Jaco, the man behind the magic, and have a nice long chat with him about how the things were made and some general chit chat. Turns out, the level of precision they craft these with apparently required a ton of effort just in building testing instruments so they could measure sufficiently precisely to hold their amazingly tight tolerances.
The box is nicely jointed and finished wood.
Inside everything is set in custom cut foam. Given the precision, cost and purpose, you’ll want to keep things orderly and clean and not bumping into each other.
All of the little bits from the die kit.
All the mechanical stops are in the die itself so it’s a little different to use than I’m used to but dramatically different. It does mean the die can move from press to press without readjustment of the die. One tiny bit of note, it’s not a standard 7/8″ die body. It’s a 1″-14TPI body so a different press bushing is on order for my RCBS Rockchucker and I’m having a local machine shop cut one of my Dillon tool heads for it.
The benefits for me are setting of neck tension & head spacing very precisely. It came with 5 neck bushings at .0005″ increments so I can now get consistent tension between lots of brass. Normally I neck size only until I have to bump the shoulder back but that causes issues with rounds that decides they won’t chamber without a lot of force to close the bolt. Slows me down in a match and breaks my concentration. There are click adjustments on the die for the shoulder bump which I’ve seen and measured to be extremely accurate. Want to knock the shoulder back .0015, 3 clicks. It works just that easily.
The cost is fairly high (retail is almost $600 shipped to the USA) but real precision costs real money. If I can’t magically be a better shot, I can pay to take a little more slop out of my ammo.
It’s a little different in how it works to other dies I’ve used in one nifty respect, the body sizing and shoulder bump happens first without touching the neck, then the neck sizing operation happens as its own part of the stroke and neck sizing depth is controlled by virtue of a shim pack that adjusts it in .0020″ increments.
They have a seating die coming out too which I’ve already asked for a copy of. I have a couple buddies using one of these already and they’re reporting very good things. As soon as my press bushing and tool head are done I’ll be doing a vigorous bit of comparison testing against my existing redding dies both in group sizes and dimensional consistency.