Reviews of shooting and outdoor sports gear.

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.

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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.

 

It’s simple: In normal form a bipod will be about 1/2 way between the muzzle and the butt of the rifle. By adding a BipodeXt from Accuracy Solutions you’ll move your bipod forward by from several inches to a couple feet. This takes the pivoting load off of the fulcrum and puts it all to one side of the fulcrum meaning that it takes a larger effort on the butt side to make the a change in the muzzle direction than it used to. You could even (and I do) extend your bipod out a few inches (or quite a number of inches on <24″ barrels) in front of your muzzle making the system as rock stable as it could possibly be. Just to ram the point home I’ve included videos of me talking about and using it on multiple rifles.

Here’s how stable it is: I don’t carry toe supports for my rifle anymore. I don’t need them. Ever again. The video below is using a BDC reticle which is sensitive to hold by its very nature. I got my 2nd highest .223rem score with the BDC on it only because I had the BipodEXT on it too.

I could spend all day telling you about every detail and if you want me to, drop me a line at ballisticxlr@gmail.com and ask me. If on the other hand you’re willing to accept that someone that knows what they’re talking about is telling you that with one gadget your groups will shrink, your hits will increase, your misses will decrease, you’ll have more fun and you’ll not have to spend a HUGE amount of money to get there from here. Usually I’d call that snake oil but it’s not and I’ve taken a year of using the thing to be 100% sure. It doesn’t even matter what position you want to shoot from, the BipodeXt will help you get more stable when properly utilized. It can’t not because trigonometry is what its leveraging (pardon the pun) and you can’t make real numbers work 2 ways in 1 equation. 1 equation always yields 1 answer.

So, now I can say without a hint of gun writer contrivance or the slightest prevarication that this is the best 300-500 bucks you’ll spend on your long range shooting rig. You will thank me later. If I didn’t know it’s helping me I wouldn’t take the extra effort to hump it around all day at my monthly precision rifle match (it’s a hiking match, any weight reduction is good). I leave the thing on my rifle full time because there’s no good reason to remove it given the benefits I get from it. I’m sure you’ll see things the same way in very short order.

You can see the stability I’m getting from that bipod position being so far in front of the usual position at the mid-point of the rifle. Geometry doesn’t lie.

Announcing: Something New From BallisticXLR….

We’re launching something new and exceedingly powerful. A product the likes of which no long range precision rifleman has ever had at their disposal because we’ve never made something this badass before. This is a tool so otherworldly powerful that until now only governments and large multi-national corporations had the wherewithal to fund creating such a thing. Now, we’re about to release it to the masses. The most dangerous piece of work to be created since Wikileaks was launched. Do you like arguing on gun forums about minutae? Do you love researching your next cartridge recipe more than you like your kids? Are you a hard core dork like me and you just love numbers and math? Are you a data geek? Are you an accountant or statistician at heart and you just have to calculate a coefficient of variation because you’ve already calculated the standard deviation and you don’t want that data to go to waste? Man! Do I have something for you.

There’s so much in the new BallisticDLR spreadsheet that it would be impossible to list it all. In fact, I’m probably never going to list it all but we will have videos launching soon going in to excruciating detail on how to use and get the most out of this new and unique in the world tool.

This new version is meant to be used as not only a source of primary ballistics data but as an analytical tool for you to evaluate potential choices and analyze the effects they’ll have on your shooting before you spend the money on those choices. We spent literally years perfecting this latest addition to the BallisticXLR family of products, most of that work donated by a single person working in their own time. What has been created is the single most epic analytical engine for long range shooters ever created. If you like automation and whizbang cool features this is the version for you.

Don’t get it twisted though. This is not a replacement for BallisticXLR or BallisticPRS. It is its own thing:

  1. BallisticXLR is meant for use in the field and is properly meant for people with lightly to moderately varying conditions in which they shoot and where speed isn’t the singular overriding consideration but precision is. This version is specificially engineered to print out nicely on 8.5×11″ US Letter pages or A4 pages or half-sheets with a little bit of manual work.
  2. BallisticPRS is at home where speed is absolutely paramount and for those shooters who’s area of operations could literally be anywhere in any conditions. This version is specifically designed to be able to be used for US Letter or A4 size full sheet pages or 2.75″ x 4.75″ arm-board carrier cards or half-sheets with a very little bit of manual work.
  3. BallisticDLR is an all encompassing analytical engine and ballistics package in one. It’s most powerful features allow direct comparisons between multiple gun/load combinations and deeply enlightening statistical analysis of past performance and future results. While not optimized for single or multi-page printing with perfected pagination it will print on A4 size or US Letter though margins and other settings may need to be adjusted. BallisticDLR is the first and only BallisticXLR product that is meant specifically to be used primarily on a computer rather than to use to print something that doesn’t require any electricity. Owners of BallisticDLR should probably own a copy of BallisticXLR or BallisticPRS as well.

Ready for some pictures? I am. Play that sad sad song you like while you look upon the place where I grow my ballistics, lay thine eyes upon the glory of the numbers and know in your soul that you are in possession of the ultimate power: The power of knowledge.

Long Range Cartridge Direct Comparison
Multi-Session Muzzle Velocity Variation Analytics

Calc Form Pro – Ultimate AutomationDynamic Calc Form – Simplify Your Data Inputs

New Simpler Calc Form Layout
100yrd Secondary Functions

Classic Extended Data

100yrd Primary Functions – NOW With Humidity!

Updated 10 & 100 yrd/m Hasty Tables
Oodles of built-in MVV curves

 

Store and Compare Multiple Rifles/Loads

 

The launch is official as of April 28, 2019. We’re still setting up some last minute details like instructional videos and other media to make this easy on you and us. Pricing will be similar to existing products and support pricing are also similar.

Enter The BallisticXLR Accessories Store

Fresh from the creative mind of Meccastreisand, we have iPhone and Samsung Galaxy phone cases with ballistics data printed right on them. The BallisticXLR A-FEDS (Auxiliary – Field Expedient Data Set). It’s not just some cheesy inkjet print job or a junk sticker that’ll come right off. These products use Thermal Dye Sublimation to transfer the image to the item which means that the image is inextricably PART of the item.

High temperatures and high pressures are used to literally fuse the dye into the substrate. You’d have to destroy the item to damage the data. We have cell phone cases, water bottles and travel mugs already worked up and tested. Those are properly field grade.

Custom ballistics data emblazoned on the back of a rubberized iPhone or Samsung phone case. If your app dies, you’ve got a backup right there waiting.
BallisticXLR Data Emblazoned on an aluminum water bottle. Perfect for the field. Available in brushed aluminum or white.

Next up we’ll be bringing out T-Shirts, ball caps, sweaters, mouse pads and whatever else someone might want. T-Shirts will have the DOPE printed upside down on the front so you can simply look down to your chest for your ballistics data, even with complex firing solutions in play.

Ball caps are right on the heels of the T-Shirts. Ball caps will contain a quick data sheet. These are meant for use by your spotter. The spotter gets a range and vector to the target and usually has to look in a book. Why not just look at the shooters hat. Shooters usually turn ball caps around so they don’t get swatted by the scope on recoil. Well, that’s a perfect place for your spotter to read your DOPE from and they can do it from their peripheral vision.

Other accessories are in initial test production now. We’ve got mouse pads with reticle subtends on the way. Sweaters and hoodies with ballistics data are coming in the next few days.

To make a purchase: https://shop.spreadshirt.com/38346/?noCache=true or email your request to ballisticxlr@gmail.com and we’ll have a price and lead time to you usually same day.

Who has two thumbs and a big smile on his face? This guy!

It just doesn’t seem to matter what I feed this rifle. It’s only ever made 1 group over an inch and the rest have been closer to half an inch. This isn’t just 3-shot groups. It’s 10-shot groups rapid fire or slow fire and 5-shot groups and 3-shot groups. It’s just a laser beam. Just look at these groups. Those are all 10-shot groups!

Left to right 43.5, 44, 44.5, 45.5, then down one for the 45 grain load. The few flyers were all called and were the shooter’s fault.

The barrel came from Columbia River Arms, formerly Black Hole Weaponry and it’s a gem. It’s a 26 inch 8 twist on an MTU contour. The chamber is quite tight netting necks that are exactly .243″ inside diameter after firing, meaning that my brass doesn’t grow much and working of the necks is minimal. I set it up for zero headspace too so the brass should last a good long time with the Ackley case’s propensity for not stretching (especially not stretching like a .243Win is prone to doing.) If you want a drop in that’s just a laser beam, you need to call up Columbia River arms and have them cut you a barrel based on their .243AI reamer. I’ve never seen anything like this in a drop in barrel. Carl Caudle has a bunch more reamers that are equally nice. All it takes is a phone call and a credit card.

I got my Ackley loads dialed in. Started with .080 jump on the 108 grain ELD-M bullets. Started with a 43.5 grain charge of RL-23 and moved up in half-grain increments to 45.5 grains. Never showed any pressure signs and the velocities were just slightly above where I’d set as a goal. The big deal was a definite signal that the case likes to be full. SD’s were up around 35fps at the bottom but at 45.5 grains everything trimmed out and I landed with 5fps SD’s across a 10 round string with a group .6″ across done rapid fire. Velocities are right at 3170fps and temperature seemed to have little effect on them from 60F to 90F so it’s a match ready load.

I’ve got a match next weekend and I’m going to use the .243Ackley. Look for a pretty high score this time. Yes, I shot the .223 as well but that’s another story. Loads need more work. Popping primers is not competition ready.