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Reloading Tips From The Top Precision Rifle Shooters

Reloading Like A Pro – Tips From Top Precision Rifle Shooters

I’ve surveyed the top 100 shooters in the Precision Rifle Series (PRS) for the past 4 years, and published what gear they’re running in my annual “What The Pros Use” series of posts. This year, I also asked a few questions about their ammo loading practices and how much they practice.

When handloading there are a thousand operations and details you can spend time trying to perfect. It’s easy to get caught up trying to do them all, or spending a ton of time focusing intently on a couple of aspects and completely miss other important steps. But I was interested to learn which steps these experts perform when they’re loading their own match ammo. What a sample size for a study like this … 100 of the best shooters in the country! I’m not sure anything like this has ever been published, so I hope you find it as helpful as I have.

How Many Top Shooters Handload?

Let’s start by looking at how many of these top shooters handload, compared to those that use factory match ammo or outsource their handloading to a custom loading service. The different colors on the chart indicate where the shooters finished. A black bar represents shooters who finished in the top 10, the dark blue is shooters who finished 11-20, and so on. Darker colors represent shooters that finished closer to the top, where lighter colors are farther from the top … but all of them finished in the top 100, so they’re all outstanding shooters.

Handload vs Factory Ammo

Around 90% of these guys handload their own ammo. At this level, super-consistent ammo is a must. One PRS match had an 800 yard cold-bore shot on a 0.25 MOA target! While that’s an extreme example, you can’t afford to have variance in your ammo if you need a first round hit on that target. Handloading is clearly the most trusted and proven route to get that level of performance.

But, there was one shooter in the top 10 who said they run factory match ammo, so it’s not an absurd option. Manufacturing tolerances and processes have improved significantly in the past several years, to the point where it takes a detailed and determined handloader to surpass what factories are turning out. Of those guys that weren’t handloading, here are the companies they trusted to provide them with match ammo:

Factory Match Ammo:

Custom Loading Service:

Reloading Tips from the Pros

Okay, now to the meat of what 90% of the guys were doing … handloading. I asked the handloaders a few questions, which centered on brass prep, bullet prep and sorting, and how they weigh their powder charges.

What steps do the handloaders perform during brass prep?

Precision Shooting Magazine published a Reloading Guide with a ton of great information. In the section on case preparation, Fred Sinclair says “This is where most of your time will be spent at the reloading bench, but the effort is generally well worth it.” Many veteran shooters believe quality brass is the foundation of great ammo.

Sinclair explains “The first step in case preparation is to obtain quality cases.” Sinclair says the goal of brass prep is for “our cases to be nearly identical prior to firing a shot.” So the more consistent brass you can start off with the better. That’s why so many of these top shooters run expensive brands of brass known for tight tolerances, like Lapua, Norma, and Nosler.

Brass prep is the most time-consuming part of reloading, and it’s often difficult to know if it’s worth spending the time on various operations. There are a few essential operations like sizing and trimming cases to length that are required for ammo to be functional. But there are a ton of additional steps you have the option to perform, and I wanted to know what steps these guys thought were worth doing when they were loading their own match ammo. And here are the results based on all the top 100 shooters that handload their own ammo:

Brass Prep Steps

Annealing Brass Cases

Annealed Brass CaseSurprised to see annealing so high up on the list? Almost 2 in 3 shooters said they anneal their cases. So why do they anneal? “When done right, annealing extends brass life and makes neck tension more consistent, something very important for accuracy. There is plenty of evidence that annealing works. Just look at your new Lapua brass – those rainbow colors on the necks are artifacts of annealing. And we know annealing can make your brass shoot better and last longer. Score Shooter of the Year Joe Entrekin has 40+ reloads on his regularly-annealed brass. The smallest 1000-yard 5-shot group ever shot in IBS competition was done with brass annealed after every firing,” explains a great annealing article on 6mmbr.com.

The Giraud Cartridge Case Annealer is a very popular machine for annealing your cases in an automated way. It starts at $470. Another option is using Copper Creek Ammo’s annealing service, where you send them your brass and they’ll anneal it for $25 per 100 pieces of brass. They offer a 3 day turnaround, so this is a great way to outsource annealing if you don’t want to make the initial investment in the tools to do it yourself.

Giraud Case Annealer

Neck Turning

Another popular step in brass prep was turning necks, with over half of the top shooters saying they turned the necks on their brass. In the Precision Shooting Reloading Guide, Fred Sinclair explains “Neck turning is simply a method of removing metal from the outside wall of a cylinder, which in this case is the outside surface of the case neck. It is basically a lathe operation which we can perform using a variety of tools available to the handloader. … Now the top 3 reasons for neck turning do not include making the case necks shiny and pretty. Turning case necks is definitely a requirement for tight neck chambers. Cases are also neck turned to create uniform expansion. Lastly, in cases formed from a parent cartridge there is sometimes a need to remove excess wall thickness.”

There are many tools available for turning necks, with the K&M Neck Turner and the Sinclair Neck Turning Kits being a couple good options. If you’re considering neck turning, I’d personally recommend getting a power adapter that allows you to turn the case using a drill instead of by hand. I believe I’m able to achieve more consistent necks using a cordless drill than by hand, and it saves time. But, others prefer handheld tools, so it’s just something to consider.

Power Neck Turner From K&M Precision Shooting Products

Other Brass Prep Operations

None of the other optional steps in brass prep were performed by the majority of the top shooters. 36% of the shooters said they clean the primer pockets on fired cases, and 20% said they uniform their primer pockets. Vibratory cleaners often won’t remove all the residue from the primer pocket, so that bit of grime can be something that drives OCD guys crazy. The Precision Shooting Reloading Guide explains “Variations in the depth and configuration of the primer pocket can and will alter the effect of the primer pin strike. If the firing pin strike is varied from shot to shot due to the depth the primer is seated, then it in turn will vary the primer ignition. This can vary the powder ignition thus resulting in different pressures and velocities. These erratic conditions can create shot dispersions which usually result in a vertical display on your target.”

Remember, these guys are engaging long-range targets in field conditions. This is very different from benchrest, F-class, high power, etc. The primary goal of these shooters is first round hits on steel targets, which typically range from 300 to 1200 yards. They are not shooting tiny groups on a square range with wind flags, but are in the field and may have to shoot from prone or other improvised shooting positions. The stages can sometimes be very “creative,” and the targets are typically 1-2 MOA from 300 to 1200 yards … so they must be precise, and usually only get one shot per target. Obviously there aren’t a lot of these shooters that believe primer pocket cleanliness or uniformity have a measurable impact on their ability to hit the target, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important in other disciplines. It simply means most of the top shooters in the PRS don’t think those steps are necessary for the type of shooting they’re doing.

Finally, just 12% of the shooters said they weight-sort their brass. You may be surprised to see that number so low, but understand most of these guys are intentional about starting off with good quality brass from the same lot. When you do that, it can dramatically decrease the need to weight-sort brass.

Interestingly enough, there were only 3 shooters in the top 100 that said they did all 5 of the optional brass prep operations (annealing, neck turning, clean primer pockets, uniform primer pockets, and weight-sort).

What steps do these handloaders perform for bullet prep?

Next we’ll look at what these top shooters do regarding bullet prep and/or sorting.

Bullet Prep Steps

One of the things that may not jump off that chart is that the overwhelming majority of these guys don’t do any type of bullet prep or sorting. They just grab bullets out of the box and load them. Context is important here. 79% of these guys are using Berger Bullets, which represent best-of-class, match-grade target bullets. Berger bullets are already extremely consistent, which is why most shooters don’t spend time trying to improve on what Berger provides out of the box.

Pointing & Trimming Bullet Meplats

You can see that the most popular step of bullet prep was pointing bullets, which 19% of the handloaders in the top 100 did for their ammo. One interesting point is that there were 7 shooters in the top 20 that said they pointed their bullets. That means 35% of the top 20 shooters pointed bullets, and only 14% of those who finished 21-100 pointed their bullets. That doesn’t mean pointing bullets caused those guys to land in the top 20, but it could simply be that the shooters in that top-tier are looking for any edge they can get and a significant number of them believe pointing bullets might provide an advantage.

“Pointing bullets” means they’re using a bullet pointing die to partially close the tip of a hollow-point bullet. Whidden Gunworks makes dies that are very popular for “pointing up” bullet tips. “The Whidden Bullet Pointing Die System is a tool designed to profile the tips of jacketed bullets to reduce aerodynamic drag, and enhance ballistic consistency among a set of bullets. Done right, the pointing process can increase the Ballistic Coefficient (BC) of bullets and thereby lessen the effects of crosswinds, reduce flight time, and maintain supersonic flight longer. Pointing is also done to decrease the variance in drag from one bullet to another, thereby reducing the expected vertical and horizontal dispersion among a group of bullets fired together,” explains 6mmBR.com.

Trimming and Pointing Bullets

Only 7% said they trim the meplats of their bullets, and that only included 2 shooters in the top 50. The meplat is simply the open tip on the nose of the bullet. “Trimming the meplats of a batch of bullets will, normally, make their BCs more consistent. That’s a good thing. However, meplat trimming shortens the bullet tip, increasing the actual meplat diameter. That, in turn, reduces BC by a few percentage points. So trimming meplats has both positive and negative effects. You do get less variance in BC, but you make your bullets less slippery (reduce BC) in the process,” according to 6mmBR.com. That is why it is common for people who trim meplats, to also point their bullets. By pointing their bullets they’re able to recover the reduction in BC from trimming.

Bryan Litz says “The benefit you are likely to see depends on how bad the bullets were to begin with, and how well you can shoot with your equipment and shooting style (prone, F-class, bench, etc.). As a general rule, you can say that if you’re already shooting very small groups, and you’re looking for that last bit of improvement, it may be worth the time to trim (uniform) your meplats.” When asked if you should trim and/or point the meplats, Bryan said “it depends on the nature of the meplats out of the box. If you have a box/lot of bullets with very small and consistent meplats, you’re unlikely to gain any noticeable advantage by trimming or pointing. However if your bullets have large but consistent meplats, then just pointing them will yield the best results. Finally, if our lot of bullets have meplats that are large and inconsistent, then it may be worth it to trim and point the bullets. The general approach should be to allow yourself the flexibility to decide on trimming/pointing based on the characteristics of your particular batch of bullets. As with many things, applying a blind do or don’t policy is probably not best when considering meplat treatments.

With all this talk about uniforming bullet tips, it’s easy to understand some of the perceived benefits of bullets with plastic tips like those in the Hornady A-MAX. Those bullets may present their own downsides, but they clearly address the issue related to uniforming meplats.

Other Bullet Prep & Sorting

Only 9% of the shooters said they weight-sort bullets, and interestingly enough … that didn’t include any of the guys in the top 20. There didn’t appear to be patterns showing that competitors did this more for one brand of bullets than another.

Finally, there were only 2% of shooters that coated their bullets. Nobody in the top 50 coats their bullets. Coating bullets is a controversial topic, and obviously most of these guys don’t believe it helps in this style of shooting. “Many shooters, particularly varminters and High Power shooters, believe that application of HBN, WS2, or Moly helps their shooting. High Power shooters are required to shoot long strings of fire with no opportunity to clean. Varminters typically fire a lot of rounds at very high velocities. If coated bullets can reduce copper and powder fouling that allows a varminter to spend more time hunting and less time cleaning. Some other shooters coat their bullets because they believe this reduces friction and heat in the barrel, which should, theoretically, extend barrel life,” explains 6mmBR.com.

What steps do these handloaders perform for weighing powder?

The precision of powder charge is another thing some OCD handloaders spend an exorbitant amount of time and money trying to perfect. Here is the exact question I asked these guys on the survey:

How detailed are you at LOADING POWDER? (Select one)

  • I use a $500+ scale to weigh every powder charge (Prometheus, Sartorius, etc.)
  • I weigh every powder charge on a scale (a regular, consumer-grade model that cost under $500)
  • I just use a powder measure to throw charges

Here are the results:

Throwing Powder Charges

There were slightly more of these top shooters used a high-end, $500+ scale like the Prometheus or pharmaceutical-grade scales like those from Sartorius and others. One interesting note is that the shooters who placed in the top 4 were all using one of these really high-end scales. Beyond that, the distribution seen in the graph above was virtually identical through the entire group of the top 100 PRS shooters regardless of rank.

Prometheus Gen II Powder MeasureThe $500+ scales are typically capable of resolution and accuracy down to a single kernel of powder, or even better! Not one grain … one kernel. A single kernel of Hodgdon H4350 gun powder (which 73% of these guys use) weighs between 0.02 and 0.03 grains. 0.02 grains = 1.3 milligrams. So if you purchase a milligram scale, you should be able to weigh down to the nearest kernel. I’ve heard rumors of guys in other shooting disciplines slicing powder kernels to get even finer increments. I’d be shocked if any of these practical/tactical shooters are going to that extent, but there is always a handful of people that take everything to the extreme. If you’re reading this (or writing it), you’re probably that guy at times! 😉

The Prometheus is an automated dispenser and high-end scale in a single unit. If a guy is using another type of high-end scale, they will often use a consumer-grade combo dispenser/scale to throw a charge that is 0.1-0.2 grains short and then transfer that to a high-end scale with a powder trickler that can dispense one kernel at a time to fine-tune and finish the load (video of that in action).

Almost 1/2 of the handloaders said they weighed every powder charge using “a regular, consumer-grade model that cost under $500.” The most popular model is likely the RCBS ChargeMaster 1500 Powder Scale and Dispenser Combo. RCBS says the scale is accurate to +/- 0.1 grains. The average dispense time is around 30 seconds, so I’ve seen a lot of guys running two or three ChargeMasters side-by-side to speed up their loading process.

Here is a look at what a really nice setup might look like, with multiple RCBS ChargeMasters, a high-end Sartorius ENTRIS64-1S Analytical Balance, and a Dandy Powered Auto Powder Trickler:

Precision Rifle Powder Scale Setup with Dual RCBS Chargemasters

Only 4% of the top PRS shooters said they “just use a powder measure to throw charges,” and that didn’t include any of the guys in the top 25.

Summary

I hope this gives you an idea of how these top shooters handload their ammo, and what they think is worth spending time on. These guys shoot in multiple matches each year, and might blow through 200+ rounds in a single match. And to be competitive at this level, you typically have to spend a lot of time practicing as well. I actually asked them how many rounds they thought they’d shoot out of a precision rifle in 2015 (including practice and competitions), and here is how they answered:

Rounds Shot Per Year

You can see most of the top 100 shooters in the PRS fire 4,000 to 6,000 rounds per year. Around 1/3 of those might be in competition, and the rest would be practicing at the range, honing their skills. I know a few of them have a “trainer rifle,” which is virtually identical to their match rifle (same stock, action, scope, etc.), but chambered in something like 223 Remington. They may use a setup like that to practice positional shooting using factory ammo. So while they may not handload all 4000-6000 rounds, it still adds up to a load of time spent in the shop handloading.

They have to be pragmatic in their loading, and try to optimize for speed where they’re able to without sacrificing precision. But aren’t we all always trying to strike that balance? Hopefully this gives you an idea for what some of the best shooters in the country are doing for their own match ammo. It’s certainly hard to argue with their results!

About Cal

Cal Zant is the shooter/author behind PrecisionRifleBlog.com. Cal is a life-long learner, and loves to help others get into this sport he's so passionate about. Cal has an engineering background, unique data-driven approach, and the ability to present technical information in an unbiased and straight-forward fashion. For more info, check out PrecisionRifleBlog.com/About.

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74 comments

  1. I think an article on bore cleaning techniques and products used would be very interesting and valuable. Thanks for a great job!

    • That’s a great idea, Rick. I’ll jot that down to consider if we do a survey like this again in 2016. I’m glad you found this helpful.

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • Another article of great help & value!

        Any info regarding best method to get a easy & precision cartridge “coal” length reading and the best tools to use for this measurements.

        I spend a lot of time working through this process to accomplish a good load some times.

        Thanks again.
        D.Waters

      • Hey, Dolan. Do you mean measuring the COAL of a loaded round or trying to measure the optimal COAL for a particular chamber?

        Thanks,
        Cal

      • Custom chambered rifles.

      • For the bullet seating depth, I’ve used a Hornady OAL Gauge. Another method I use is to just seat a bullet in a case, and color the bullet black with a sharpie. Then I chamber the round, and extract it. If the bullet doesn’t have marks on it from the rifling … then I seat it out a little further, and repeat until I find the lands. Personally, I prefer the bullet to be “kissing the lands.” That has a lot of definitions out there, but I prefer the bullet to have marks on it when I extract it … but barely. I never want to risk the bullet getting stuck in the rifling when I try to extract it. I find that I’m able to find that balance, but I’m not sure these guys are taking that risk. A lot of them are probably seating bullets very close to the lands, but not touching them.

        Hope this helps!

        Thanks,
        Cal

      • I actually think this would be interesting to read as well. I have always done the army’s recommended cleaning for the m24 system (freely available online). But I was always curious, how many actually do a proper barrel break-in? Who is using bore pastes? Etc.

      • Jonathan, I’d bet it surprised you how informal the barrel break-in was on most of these rifles. I know a couple of these guys, and they just don’t pamper their rifles like lots of us. One of them told me to clean the barrel really good when you first get, then shoot the crap out of it. He won this thing one year, so it’d be hard to argue with his results!

        Jim See is in the top 10 every year (6th in 2015), and he wrote a great article on barrel care (including break-in and routine cleaning). It’s about the best resource I’ve found on the subject. You can find that here: http://www.longrangehunting.com/articles/rifle-barrel-break-in-1.php

        Thanks,
        Cal

    • Good suggestion, Cal seems to have covered almost everything else.

  2. Another excellent article Cal! Keep up the great work and thank you for your contribution to the sport! Happy New Year!

    • Thanks, M Saban. This was my favorite content from the survey of the pros this year. Glad you found it interesting as well.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  3. Cal,

    First. Happy New Year! Wow what a great article and as always you’ve backed it up with objective data. It is truly a significant difference. It will definitely become a part of my reloading routine.
    Thanks for all the great research you have shared with us this past year. My best to you and your family for 2016.

    • Thanks, Mike. Glad to hear you like my approach. I’m just trying to present the facts as objectively as possible, and leaving my own opinion out of it. I know this is the kind of info I like to read, so I’m thrilled there are other guys out there that appreciate it. And a happy new year to you as well!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  4. I read every scrap of information in these blogs concerning rifles, (no pistols in the UK?)
    The tips and tricks I ‘ve found in these blogs have helped increase my accuracy with my Remy/ AICS .308w by at least 20%, shown by my position in my shooting clubs league, shooting out to 600yds.
    This year ,2016, I will be competing out to a 1000yds.
    Thankyou and keep up the good work.?

    • That’s awesome, Paul. Congrats on the huge improvement! Stepping out to 1000 yards will be a lot of fun. Anything beyond about 400 yards starts to get you in a whole different league of shooting, where you have to really pay attention to a lot of different factors … but that is amped up even more at 1000 yards! Any errors in fundamental marksmanship, shooting position, ammo consistency, and other factors will surface at that point. The margin for error on the shooters part just shrinks a little more … but it is a lot of fun. I have a private range just a few miles from my house with steel targets from 100-2000 yards, but I find myself shooting in that 600 to 1200 yard range most often. That’s awesome you have a place to do it. I know of lot of guys struggle to find ranges with that kind of distance. It’s sure a lot of fun!

      Best of luck to you!
      Cal

  5. Another very interesting article Cal. Thanks

  6. Cal, it would have been great to know what SD and ES the shooters are running in relation to their method of measuring powder charges. Thanks for all the hard work this season.

    • That’s a great question. I may ask a question like that if we do this survey again next year. From what I’ve heard most of the guys are running SD’s from 6 fps to 12 fps. There are a few guys lower and a few guys higher. I personally know the most current batches of Hornady 6.5 Creedmoor factory ammo are producing 15-18 fps SD’s. I’ve shot thousands of rounds of it from a few different batches, so I’m super-confident that represent the average over the past 6-12 months of production. And there were 3 guys in the top 100 running that factory ammo, so I guess you could do that and still be consistent.

      The photo of the reloading bench setup at the top of the article with the Prometheus scale is a good friend of mine’s that lives nearby. He is able to consistently get very low SD’s with very little effort (I think it’s typically 3-6 fps SD over 10 shot strings). Then the powder setup at the bottom of the article with the 3 RCBS ChargeMasters and the Sortorius pharmaceutical scale is another good friend of mine that lives nearby. He is able to achieve that same level of precision with that setup. I’d expect the guys using the high-end, $500+ setups are getting similar results.

      I personally use a simple RCBS Chargmaster setup, and I try to be really detailed … but typically I’m in the 10-15 fps SD range with that setup over a 10 shot string. I can’t remember ever being in the single digits, but it might have happened before. If you think about it, that scale is capable of +/-0.1gr, which is +/- 5 kernels of powder. So an extreme case would be that there is 10 kernels of powder different between two loaded rounds, but the scale showed you the same exact number. So it makes sense that you might not be able to get down into the single digits with that setup. I know a few guys have mods to the RCBS ChargeMaster that will make it more accurate, and I haven’t applied any of those to mine yet. So I’m not saying it’s impossible … I’m just trying to give you my experience.

      I was surprised to see there were guys just throwing charges from a powder measure. There were very few of them, and none in the top 25. I believe that is causation and not correlation, but I can’t prove that. I actually would imagine they may be using highly modified powder measures, and even then I bet they periodically weigh the charges to spot check. It’d be hard for me to believe they could achieve under 15 fps SD’s with that kind of setup, but I definitely don’t know that. It’s just a guess.

      One article you might be interested in is How Much Does SD Matter? It’s a post I did a few months ago that analyzes the impact different SD’s will have on your hit probability at long range. It uses a Monte Carlo simulation to model uncertainty from various sources. It’s the same software Bryan Litz uses in his books to model that kind of stuff, but I’ve customized the scenarios and inputs to be more directly applicable to this style of shooting (cartridges, distances, target sizes, rifle precision, etc).

      I know this isn’t exactly what you were hoping for, but I’m just trying to tell you what I can. I will jot down a note to consider adding a question about SD and ES if we do this survey again in 2016.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  7. Great job Cal! I’ve been looking for this article since taking the survey as I figured this is where you’d be going. information like this is extremely valuable for new shooters so if your a new shooter come on out, there are no “secrets” to success.

    One thing comes to mind on the primer pocket cleaning, I bet a bunch of guys are using stainless media like myself which cleans them by default, a nice benefit…..I would not clean them otherwise.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks, Curtis. That means a lot coming from one of the top shooters themselves. I really appreciate you having that view and a heart to help new shooters. I think one of the biggest things that determines whether a sport grows or not is how they welcome new people. Some do it well and some are a little hostile towards new people. I’m obviously pretty passionate about this stuff, and I’d love to see more people get into this and see it grow. That’s what drives all the time I sink into this. So it’s good to hear that some of the pros have that same mindset. I certainly appreciate you taking the time to take the survey. I get contacted by people all the time telling me how much it helped them.

      This was definitely the set of questions I was most excited about on this years survey. I really think it’s the first time anything like this has ever been published, at least to my knowledge. With so many world-class shooters represented, it is an outstanding sample size with meaningful results. I know it’s going to influence my handloading, and I bet it does for literally thousands of other shooters as well.

      And thanks for the tip about the stainless media. I didn’t realize that would get that stuff out. I’ll have some on order within the hour!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  8. Once again. Excellent write up. Thanks!

    • Thanks, James. This was my favorite post since the muzzle brake tests several months ago. I thought it had a lot of helpful info, which hadn’t ever been published before. It’s just so rare to have a big group of world-class precision rifle shooters to survey. I know I learned a lot, and I’m glad you found it helpful as well.

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • Hey on a side note. My family traveled from Houston to Lubbock, Denton, Ft worth on a college visit last weekend. That part of Texas vastly uninhabited I can see why many of top shooters live in that area. Many places to shoot. Here in Houston 1-3 hours to a good area.

        Thanks again.

        James

      • Yeah, Lubbock is a pretty desolate place. Wide-open and flat, with very few trees. Some people say that’s ugly, but it sure lends itself well to long-range shooting! I’ve been to one public range in Houston that I think had shots out to 300 or 400 yards, but I remember it was difficult to even find a place within an hour with that kind of distance. Beautiful place with a ton of trees … but dang it, those get in the way of a long-range shot! 😉

        Thanks,
        Cal

  9. Outstanding work. Thank you!

  10. Cal,
    Another great article on a topic of great interest as I try to improve my long range shooting capability. Thanks for your efforts and Happy New Year.
    You referenced the Precision Reloading Guide. As the link provided suggests, getting a copy of this out of print reference is difficult at any kind of reasonable cost. Even in today’s digital and online world, I struggled greatly trying to get a copy until my wife got me loaned copy through the local library exchange program from a library in another state. If your readers have similar problems they may want to go this old fashion route too. I thought the manual was well worth reading and worth the effort to get it.

    • Agreed, Mike. I bought one a few years ago, and after I read it I ordered 2 more for friends. It just cost $20-30 off Amazon. But now that it’s out of print, they literally sell for hundreds. I wish I’d have bought a few more when I had the chance. I thought I lost mine at one point. I was really depressed. At this point I’ve scanned in a lot of it, because I reference it so often. It’s a GREAT resource. Precision Shooting Magazine was so great for the shooting community. Man, I wish they were still around! It’s funny how we’re still scrapping for stuff they published! That just shows the contribution they made to the shooting community. If I write for another 20 years, I’d be thrilled if I end up making 1% of big of an impact on the shooting community as Precision Shooting Magazine did. They just really helped further the sport, and bring people along on the latest stuff. They were very data-driven too, which I obviously love. Bryan Litz’s new series of books on Modern Advancements In Long Range Shooting will help fill the void, and if there really is a demand from the market for this … other sources will pop up as well. It’s just funny that we’re still trying to find stuff that they published. I’ve read several books on handloading, and it’s the best one I’ve found.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  11. …great article, just what I needed…

  12. Would be great if all the charts were stratified (grouped by overall finish). If you need help parsing the data, just shout out. I’d be happy to help.

    • I appreciate the offer. All of the ones that aren’t stratified are because there is nothing interesting there. I chose to do simpler graphs if the same patterns were present through the entire ranks. Sometimes that can be distracting, and if it isn’t adding value … then I try to cut it. Hope that makes sense.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  13. Fortunately, library books scan just as well as purchased books. I agree that the manual is a great reference and I would have been more than willing to part with reasonable money to get it. Hope some publisher releases the manual again in the future so I can have an official copy.

  14. Nice information!

    A suggestion I would have for the next time would be to add a table with a row for each shooter and a column for each step with ‘Always’/’Never’/’When Needed’ or some kind of color code in each box. This would show the various combination of steps each shooter does and you could maybe also put info like their neck tension, runouts, SD and ES in the last columns.

    Information about the brass cleaning method would also be useful (Stainless steel, walnut/corncob/ultrasonic). As would neck preparation. Do they leave the old carbon in? Do they polish the inside of the neck with steel wool or apply a dry lube? All good questions.

    • Hey, Kris. I’m with you … I’d LOVE to see that data myself. But, these guys will never go for it. That’d take them a while to fill out, and I already have a couple guys in the top 100 who refuse to take the survey. I feel like I’m constantly trying to strike the balance between getting useful info from these guys to help the rest of us, and at the same time not piss off the best shooters in the country by asking too many questions. It’s a balancing act, and it seems like some of the shooters already find it invasive, and hundreds of my readers always asking why I didn’t gather some other piece of info that they really wanted to see. I’m just trying to provide what I can.

      I’d bet a lot of shooting using standard corncob vibratory cleaners, and at least as many others use stainless steel media in a rotary tumbler. Some probably use an ultrasonic. I’d bet virtually none of them polish the inside of the neck with steel wool or apply a dry lube.

      I agree they’re all good questions, I’m just not sure these guys are willing to answer all of them. Hope you understand. Just trying to provide what I can.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  15. Thanks for the great article Cal. I’m pretty new to PRS (it will be my first year competing) but I’ve followed your website for the last couple of years.

    When I saw how many of the top PRS shooters were neck turning and annealing, I was honestly a little surprised. I had always associated these steps with benchrest shooters going for tiny groups, not tactical shooters whose hit rate is affected by so many other factors like wind calls and the stability of improvised positions. Then I remembered your post on caliber choice where you showed a large number of shooters were shooting 6mm calibers, primarily 6×47 lapua and 6mm creedmoor. Could the high rate of neck turning and annealing simply be reflective of the high number of shooters using wildcat cartridges, where such procedures would be important after necking down their 6.5mm counterparts, rather than an indication that top shooters felt that going through the work of turning and annealing could give them an edge in tactical shooting (independent of 6mm conversions)?

    • Hey, Jerry. I’m so glad to hear you’ve found my content helpful. Just trying to document stuff as I’m learning. I’m still fairly new to this stuff myself.

      Jerry, don’t get too caught up on advanced handloading stuff. You’re absolutely right. Most points are dropped from wind calls and stability of improvised positions. I promise if you spend time working on those two things, you’ll score higher than if you spend that same time annealing and neck turning. Now, when you get to the level that these guys are at (which is ridiculous … I mean you can’t believe how well these guys can shoot), then they’re looking for any little bit of performance they can pick up and annealing, neck turning, pointing bullets, etc. might be able to help them pick up one or two targets per match … and that matters at this level. I promise I personally drop more points because of bad wind calls than I’d pick up if I did all those steps with benchrest detail.

      And it could be related to wilcatting brass, but not entirely. There is 6mm Creedmoor factory brass available, and many of these guys were running that. I went back and looked at the data just for the guys that were neck turning, and there were 9 shooters using 6.5×47 and 8 shooting 6×47 Lapua. There were 11 shooters using 6.5 Creedmoor and 11 shooters using 6mm Creedmoor. So there doesn’t seem to be a strong correlation there. But it’s an excellent question! It definitely made me go dig!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  16. Excellent as usual Cal!
    I haven’t used a trickler. I set my dispenser, then I have one piece of brass with powder in it set in a die case (so it doesn’t get mixed in). I’ll roll it between my fingers over the tri-beam scale and the kernels will drop one at a time. I don’t see how more expensive gizmos would do a better job.
    Thanks again!

    • Hey, Andy. If it’s working for you, I always say “don’t try to fix happy.” Sometimes we can go completely overboard on gear. Maybe more than sometimes. 😉 Keep it simple!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  17. Great article… the one i was really looking out for this year. Thanks again for putting your time into collecting this information for us all.

    I too am very curious about the cleaning techniques the top 100 use (i.e. stainless steel, vibratory, ultrasonic), and the dry media lube inside the neck. You are probably right though Cal in that I doubt most will do dry lube inside the neck.

    I’m also very curious for those in the top 100 who anneal, what order they do their annealing. Before or after cleaning… and if anyone anneals after sizing (I doubt many do this at all).

    • Those are great questions. I actually wonder about the order of operations myself. The best handloader I know has been working on a manual for 3-4 years now, and he told me he was putting the final touches on it when I talked to him at the first of this month. I’m really excited to get my hands on that. I’ve seen him get SD’s of 3 fps over 10 shot strings with several different cartridges. He’s been in this game for 15-20 years, so that might give some indication of what veteran precision shooters are doing. I’ll probably do a post about it once it’s officially released.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  18. very well written I like how you objectively look at what is being done in order to be successful in todays competition shooting atmosphere.

    Question: Do you know where and how to buy a Prometheus powder charge and reloading scale? You have a nice reference though I have not found where to purchase.

    • That’s a great question! You know, the guy that makes them doesn’t want to do a website or give out his info because he takes a lot of pride in word-of-mouth sales. Essentially how he wants to sell them is when you see one in action, and decide you want one … just write down the number off the front of the machine. I can appreciate that approach … but it makes it hard for guys like us to actually buy one. But guess what? I found a picture of one online and was able to zoom in enough to get the phone number! 😉 Here you go: (425)239-9100

      Thanks,
      Cal

  19. Cal, have you ever considered surveying how far (or close to) off the lands the top shooters are loading to? I wonder if we would start seeing some common denominators here, (like the majority loading .010-.015 off for example) especially with the Berger bullets. Could be very revealing. Certainly would add a new dimension to consider. Thanks!

    • Hey, Mike. That’s a great question. I’m not sure what these guys do, but I’d assume they’re seating close to the lands to start off with. I’m not sure how deligent they are to continue to seat that bullet out further as the lands erode. Some probably do that, and others don’t. I haven’t seen it make much of a difference if you’re using Berger Hybrid bullets, which is what the majority of these guys are using. Those don’t seem to be as sensitive to seating depth like some other designs are. But, it would be interesting to look at what these guys are doing there. Thanks for the suggestion.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  20. Great article. Always interesting to read about reloading when it has a realistic and down to earth approach to the subject. What works and what is a waste of time.
    When it comes to muzzle velocity a question comes to my mind.
    Do you have any knowledge of what chronographs the shooters prefer? Is there a brand or model that is more common? I have three different chronographs my self, and they rarely give the same velocity even if I place them back-to-back.
    Maybe some time in the future you could cover that topic? Brands compared and tips and techniques to get reliable and consistent readings? Thanks

    • Vidar, I believe I can definitely tell you what the best chronographs out there are … I’ve tested a ton of them. The MagnetoSpeed and the LabRadar are the most accurate technologies out there, and they DO agree with each other. I’ve fired hundreds of rounds of them, as well as an Oehler 35P all at the same time … and the MagnetoSpeed and LabRadar are the ones. I slightly prefer a LabRadar, because you don’t have to connect it to the barrel and it’s quicker to setup. With it I can measure every round that I send down range. It uses Doppler Radar to track the bullet, and takes very precise velocity measurements at 5 different distances and uses those to reverse engineer what the velocity was at the muzzle. I have mine configured to measure the velocity at 15, 20, 30, 40, and 50 yards. It gets all 5 readings consistently. Neither the MagnetoSpeed nor the LabRadar are based on light … so they both get FAR less errors than any chronograph I’ve ever used, and I’ve used a TON of them. The MagnetoSpeed gets a reading EVERY time. I’m never seen it miss one. I’d say the LabRadar gets them 98% of the time. Most light-based chronographs aren’t close to those numbers. Perhaps they are in ideal conditions if the stars align just properly, but honestly they’re just finicky. Personally, I’ll never setup a light-based chronograph again. These new technologies are a refreshing change of pace.

      By the way, I’ve never got any of those products for free or even discounted … or any other chronograph for that matter. I’ve paid full retail for every one of them. So if I sound like a fan boy, it’s because they’re AWESOME products … not because this is a paid advertisement! 😉

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • Cal, I’ve heard that the LabRadar sometimes has problems if there are nearby shooters, say on a range line, picking up nearby muzzle signatures. Have you used the LabRadar in a crowded rifle range and has this been an issue for you?

        I’m thinking about getting one. Currently using a Magnetospeed V3, which I really like except that it hangs off the muzzle and causes my groups to open up (from 0.5 to 0.75 moa). So the idea of a device that doesn’t touch the muzzle is really appealing to me as I can test both velocity and group size at the same time.

        Thanks!

      • Yes, you’re absolutely right. That is the downside of the LabRadar … although it isn’t a complete deal-breaker. If it does pick up someone else’s bullet, you can easily identify that muzzle velocity and delete it from your string. But, if you are at a range with a lot of other shooters firing around you … I’d go with the Magneto Speed. I like the LabRadar for my application, but I have a private range and often times it’s just me out there. The idea of chronographing EVERY round without it affecting the groups and being able to literally get it setup in about 30 seconds is AWESOME. The crowded rifle range is the only downside I’ve experienced … other than it sucks the batteries dry. But when you spend $600 on a chronograph … $20 every 3-4 months on batteries isn’t the end of the world either. Bottom line is I couldn’t be more confident in the numbers it’s giving me. I test a lot of stuff, and just have to KNOW my muzzle velocity. I feel like I KNOW it beyond the shadow of a doubt with my LabRadar. But the Magneto Speed isn’t far behind it. It’s very accurate, but has those other downsides that I like to avoid. As for all other chronographs … they suck. I wish it weren’t the case, because I’ve bought several of them … but it’s just the truth. I’ve learned the hard way!

        Thanks,
        Cal

      • Hi. Thanks for the good reply. I couldn’t agree more with the problems light-based chronographs causes. I have used ProChrono and Shooting Chrony, and IF they gives a reading…its almost 100 fps difference between them. Then I bought the acoustic based SuperChrono. A small and compact unit, that gives readings every time. Problem here is that if it’s of my line of sight with just a few degrees, I get some wild readings.
        If the LabRadar is as good as you say, its well worth the money. Thanks.

      • Cal,

        Thank you for the valuable information you provide.

        I just watched the following video from Labradar https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFfGp3CYAr8 about minute 6:00 talks about a trigger level setting that addresses using the unit near other shooters at a range. Have you experimented with these settings while at a range and still had other shooters trigger you unit?

      • Mike, I’m fortunate to have a private range … so I don’t really have the problem with it triggering when others are firing very often. Lots of the time I might be the only one shooting when I have it out. But it’s good to know they’ve tried to address that issue, because I’d think at a public range that would be a real problem. Thanks for chiming in and letting us know about that video.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  21. Ok, so I’ve read most of your “What the pro’s use” articles. Here is a question about reloaders. What reloaders are the pro’s using? RCBS? Lee? Hornady? Etc.? I am going to purchase a reloader, but want to spend my money on one that will be worth the money, but also don’t want to break the bank. I’m a paramedic, not a millionaire. So any reasonable suggestions would be appreciated.

    • Hey, Jay. That’s a great question. I assume you are asking what reloading press they’re using … or maybe reloading dies. I bet a lot of these guys are using Dillon presses, RCBS Rock Chucker presses, Redding presses, and Forster COAX presses. There may be some using Lee or Hornady, but I’m not sure those are as popular among this precision crowd or not. I just haven’t seen precision rifle shooters I know using those presses.

      As for dies, I’d be the majority use Redding competition dies, or some type of custom die like those from Whidden.

      That stuff can get pretty expensive. For a guy on a budget, I’d go with an RCBS Rock Chucker Press and Redding Competition Die Set. I realize the Redding dies are expensive, but they’re what I would buy. Personally, I think they’re worth the money. I’ve measured a lot of rounds, and the Redding dies just produce very consistent and concentric ammo. They also provide fine-tuned adjustments so you don’t overwork your brass. Dies matter more than you might think.

      Best of luck to you!

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • May I give my 2 cents. Ask yourself what degree of precision do you want in a press? I started with a very, very OLD Texan. Good but very clunky.

        Go Redding press. Big boss 2. 2nd would be the RCBS rock chucker.

        Don’t get a progressive unless you are shooting 1000 rounds every few months. Single stage presses are just fine.

        Ok bullets go with lee. Want tight tolerances? I agree with Cal. Redding or whidden. Spend the money once and don’t regret it.

        I already learned my lesson. Lee is ok for general reloading but not precision.

        I am not a pro, but have managed not to blown myself up.

      • James, that sounds like some very practical advice to me. This post certainly focuses on the super-high-end precision reloader, and much of this isn’t “necessary” for most applications. It honestly may not be “necessary” for this! It’s hard to quantify what the ROI is for various steps or equipment. But I appreciate you chiming in with some practical advice. I personally don’t own this high-end equipment, and tend to get along fairly well. But I’m also not able to compete at the level that these guys are … so it likely just depends on your application. I do think it’s my shooting ability that is holding me back more than my reloading equipment or practices. I think spending more time practicing at the range would have a far more positive impact on my performance than any of this high-end equipment. But that’s just me. Thanks again for the comments!

        Thanks,
        Cal

      • Thanks to both of you guys. That’s some good solid info and I truly appreciate it.

  22. I’m a little surprised as to the number that actually do reload, it’s great though. Thank you for sharing this information!

    • Cal, with a single stage press, do you know how the PRS guys are setting their primers?

      What are they using?

      Thanks

      Joe

      • I’m not sure, Joe. The really OCD handloaders I know use hand tools to prime, even if they have super-high-end equipment like the Dillon progressive presses. They prefer to “feel” how firmly the primers are set, and often in presses you loose the kind of feedback you can sense with a hand tool. That is what I do personally as well. I’m sure there are lots of these guys who do that, but I couldn’t say what the majority of them are doing. Hopefully this at least gives you something to go on.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  23. This Blog is outstanding. I have really missed Precision Magazine. Keep up the good work. I have been reloading since I got out of the Navy in 69. Annealing I do not remember that being in the PS Reloading Guide but was covered in the magazine. The most important facture was keeping the bullet perfectly aligned with the bore. And visual check the bore for erosion. Keep up the good work.

  24. Did Flat Line stop making g he 200r. (198 gr.)? I haven’t seen them around.

    Thanks

    • I’m not sure. It looks like they’re still available on their website: http://www.warner-tool.com/#!product-page/c1u5r/f5393518-a3c7-d81d-f784-ae2c230039eb

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • good job !

        Induction Annealing Brass… is goog or is bad ?

      • All early indications I’ve heard are that induction annealers are great. Some of the most serious shooters I know are using them. It is more precise than open flame, but my question is … does it matter? The induction annealers I’ve seen (or induction mods to existing system) are about $500 more than flame-based annealers (so about $1000 total). I know guys getting 3 fps SD’s consistently with traditional flame-based annealers, like the Giraud … And those cost $480 and they’re mostly automated. So what exactly are you hoping to improve by going induction? It seems more safe. An open flame around gun powder and primers sounds bad, so you have to watch that. But, I’m skeptical there is a measurable improvement when it comes to ammo quality. I thought about buying one recently, but am sticking to Giraud’s traditional annealer for now.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  25. I am getting a 6.5 creedmoor and i was wondering what brand dies do the pros use because there are so much to pick from.

    • That’s a great question, Tyler. I don’t have data on that exact piece of info, but the veteran guys I know typically use Redding Competition dies or Whidden Gunworks dies. I’d be shocked if those two didn’t represent the majority of what the top 100 shooters use as well. But I’ve been surprised before! I’ve also heard a few guys say good things about Forster dies, but I haven’t used those personally.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  26. It would be interesting to break down Number of Rounds per year. I think you could break it down into three categories…

    (1) Number of Match-caliber rounds shot during matches.
    (2) Number of Match-caliber rounds shot during practice / testing.
    (3) Number of sub-Match-caliber rounds (.22LR, .223, essentially trainer rifles) shot during practice.

    • I’m with you. That would be interesting, but I’d bet many (if not most) of these guys wouldn’t know or be willing to answer that in such a detailed way. Often our appetite for data is probably a little larger than what people are willing or able to provide.

      But, I did ask how many rounds out of a “precision rifle” … so I doubt any of those guys included 22 LR in those numbers. I could be wrong, but I bet most of these guys were talking about centerfire rounds. I’d bet most of them actually shot 800-1200 rounds through the course of the season at PRS matches, so that would fall in #1. Hope that helps some.

      Thanks,
      Cal