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7mm Rem Mag Load Development Part 2: Audette’s Ladder Test

The first step in load development for my new custom 7mm Rem Mag started with gathering the real-world velocities I could expect out of three quality long range bullets I was considering. I then used those velocities to compare the ballistic performance between those three bullets, as well felt recoil during the test rounds. I eventually decided to pursure further load development for Berger’s 168gr VLD bullet over Hodgdon Retumbo powder because it struck the right balance for me between the competing characteristics (recoil, barrel wear, flat trajectory, low wind drift, ideal energy for medium sized game, etc). For more details on this first step, see my post about it.

After choosing the bullet, I used Hornady’s OAL gauge to determine the approximate bullet seating depth that would be just off the lands (.005″ – 0.010″ off the lands).  For my chamber, that was 2.770″ from the base of the loaded round to the ogive of the bullet.  Note: You should always measure cartridge overall length (COAL) to the ogive of the bullet, not the tip of the bullet.  Since I’m shooting a Berger VLD bullet (highly sensitive to seating depth), I will come back and fine-tune seating depth again after I settle into a powder weight … but for now, I just want it to be very close to the rifling.

My next step was to use Creighton Audette’s Ladder Test to identify a range of powder weight that show little sensitivity to minor changes in charge weight and/or pressure. Theoretically a range like that would allow a bullet to group even if a particular component varied slightly (e.g. primer was slightly hotter, neck tension wasn’t identical, there was .05 to 0.1 more or less powder in it, there was more/less bearing surfuce on the bullet, etc).

I’m purposely trying to stay in the mid-range of powder charges for the 168gr VLD for reduced recoil and barrel wear. You could definitely load the 7mm Rem Mag up or down more than what I’m showing here … but I felt like this range of powder charges was the right balance for me, because the ballistic advantage of loading it up a few more grains really isn’t that significant.

Here are the results of my ladder test. You should disregard horizontal dispertion. It was due to slight wind drift (targets were placed at 200 yards), because I used the same point of aim for each shot without holding for wind. With the ladder test, the things you want to focus on are vertical dispertion & muzzle velocities. After you settle in on a round, you can fine-tune grouping and figure out what adjustments you need to make for wind drift.

Audette Ladder Test Velocities for 7mm Rem Mag

Based on these results, its clear there might be a sweet spot somewhere between 69.6 to 70.0 gr of Retumbo.  I actually had a match come up before I could do further load development, and so I just loaded rounds at 69.8gr of powder based on these results.  Although I hadn’t ever shot that round past 200 yards and only had “theoretical dope” past that … I made it 80% of the way through that match before my first miss, and ended up placing 2nd.  The dope was good out to about 600, but beyond that I had a few misses. I also later fired a 0.188″ group with my first 3 shot group of that load.

Despite these stellar results, the ladder test isn’t the last step to load development.  Unfortunately it is very dependent on single shots, so results could be easily skewed by one outlier that had a hot primer, bad chronograph reading, or more/less neck tension or bullet runout.  Having said that, it’s still sometimes suprising how quickly the ladder test will help you zoom into an accurate load.

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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. His engineering background, unique data-driven approach, and ability to present technical and complex information in a unbiased and straight-forward fashion has quickly caught the attention of the industry. For more info on Cal, check out PrecisionRifleBlog.com/About.

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  1. According to the reload data I am able to find on this particular load, the recommendation is between 65.5 and 71.1 grains of powder. Can you tell me how you came to the conclusion to limit your initial loads to between 69.0 and 70.8 grains? I am having trouble finding powder and plan on using IMR4831 as I have a lot of it available. The range recommended for this powder is between 53.5 and 59.4 grains. I would like to limit my search rather than load bullets in .2 grain increments over this entire span. Do you have any suggestions. I plan on using CCI 250 primers (based on availability as well)

    • That is a great question, and caused me to do a little digging because honestly I can’t remember off the top of my head. I don’t believe the Berger Reloading Manual had been published when I originally did this. I remember looking at load data from several other manuals, and they seemed to be all over the map. Here is what I found:

      Sierra Reloading Manual
      168gr Bullet over Retumbo, Start: 69.0gr, Max 71.1gr

      Hodgdon Reloading Data Center
      162gr bullet over Retumbo, Start: 69.0gr, Max 73.5gr (compressed)
      170gr bullet over Retumbo, Start: 71.0gr, Max 75.0gr (compressed)

      Hornady Reloading Manual
      162gr Bullet over Retumbo, Start: 62.9gr, Max 70.1gr
      175gr Bullet over Retumbo, Start: 59.7gr, Max 65.4gr

      Since Sierra and Hodgdon both didn’t have a starting weight under 69.0 grains, that is what I set my start to. Then Sierra had a max of 71.1 grains, but Hornady had an even lower weight for their max load. So I set my max load to a somewhat conservative 70.8 grains.

      Ultimately, I’m not the kind of person who loads really hot to get a few more FPS out of my rifle. Hot loads can dramatically increase barrel wear and decrease brass life … not to mention be dangerous. So if you find yourself trying to eke out a little more velocity, you might be better served by picking a different cartridge that is more suited for the muzzle velocity you are targeting.

      If I were doing it again, I’d probably just pay attention to what Berger says on the matter. I have a lot of respect for those guys, and they are obviously testing against the exact bullet I’m using … a 168gr Berger VLD. Here is what their manual says:

      Berger Reloading Manual (Published AFTER I did this load development)
      168gr Bullet over Retumbo, Start: 65.5gr, Max 71.2gr

      Great question! Sorry it took me a while to dig up the answer for you. It caused me to go back in time and try to figure out what was going on in my own head … quite an adventure!

  2. i was new to reloading and became interested when I had a custom 7 mm rm built ( interarms action set trigger 1.8 lbs Mcmlllian stock 27″ bartlien barrel after reading about your build I learned an awful lot about reloading from your post. I’m just starting load development using 168 accubond lr bullets. Nosler brass fed 215 primers and starting with 67.1 gr h1000. Loaded 3 gr increments .035 off the lands . I load 3 of each grain end up with around 48 rounds and after a day at the range can be pretty sure I’ve the best load. Ive 3 questions. Is there a better/ faster way to to get to the best load. For that combo? How to know you in the right zone on seating depth if I change the depth do I need to start from scratch on load development. Last but not least when do we get part 4 5 shot development ………. You can’t leave us hanging. Thanks for your article. You are highly talented

    • Hey, Daniel. Glad you found this stuff helpful. This is the best approach to load development I’ve found. And on the seating depth, I usually find the best accuracy either really, really close to the lands or kissing the lands. Because I’m a tactical/practical guy, and not a benchrest shooter so I never jam the bullet into the lands. That can leave the bullet stuff in the chamber if you need to extract the loaded round without sending it. When I do my load development, I typically seat the bullet out incrementally until I can see tiny marks from the rifling all the way around the bullet. I always thoroughly check to see if it would ever get stuck in the lands, and if it doesn’t … that’s my spot. That’s what I call “kissing the lands.” I continue to check the seating depth about every 100-300 rounds, and will seat the bullet out further as the throat erodes. Ideally, I’d like it to always be kissing the lands or just off the lands.

      If you have more questions about this kind of stuff, you should check The Secrets of the Houston Warehouse article. It is one of the best articles I’ve ever read on the subject of handloading and world-class precision. Here’s one takeaway from that article that shaped my approach to this:

      One thing he stressed is that bullets must be precisely seated against the lands. He NEVER fired a single official screamer group when he was “jumping” bullets. All his best groups were always seated into the lands, or at the very least touching the lands. His practice was to seat the bullets so the engraving was half as long as the width of the lands.

      And sorry I trailed off on Part 4. The 5 shot development didn’t change a thing, and I got busy. I should go back and remove that so it’s less confusing. My bad.

      Hope this helps!

  3. Following Mr. Dan Newberry and your steps on this load development, I came up with real close results to your test!!!
    7 Rem Mag/Win brass/168 SMK/Retumbo load. CBTO 2.790 kissing lands COAL 3.357 kissing lands Fire-form win brass(hsm factory ammo)

    Headspace set at left at 2.111″
    Trim 2.490″
    Primer fed match 215
    Retumbo powder
    168gr 7mm .284″ SMK bullet

    OCW was found at 69.6 grains of Retumbo At 100 yards

    3 shots 69.3, .411″ moa,

    3 shots 69.6, .590″ moa,

    3 shots 69.9, .500″ moa,

    They all show real similar POI

    However I came across at my local shop with a box of Nosler 7rem mag brass and I would like to know how much powder do I have to reduce or add to my current OCW.

    Here is some data on my new nosler brass and current fire form win brass

    New unfire Nosler Brass

    Head space: 2.100″

    Trim length: 2.490″

    Internal H2O capacity: 85.25

    Empty brass weight: 218.4

    Fire-form Win Brass

    Head space 2.111″

    Trim length 2.490″

    Internal H2O capacity: 85.90

    Empty brass weight: 235.35


    • That’s pretty amazing. At this point, I’ve heard a few people say they ended up with very similar results. I do think this is at least some anecdotal support for Dan Newberry’s loading approach, and the fact that some loads shoot well across multiple different rifle platforms.

      Thanks for sharing!