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The PRS Champion's Load Data & Reloading Process

The PRS Champ’s Load Data & Reloading Process – Austin Buschman Shooter Spotlight Part 3

This article is part of a series that is taking a deep dive with 6 of the very best precision rifle competitors in the world. We learn what gear they run and why they feel like those things give them the best chance of winning. They also share many shooting tips and strategies along the way! (View who the other shooters are)

This is Part 3 of the spotlight on Austin Buschman, the reigning Precision Rifle Series Season Champion & IPRF World Champion. He’s currently tied for 1st in the 2023 PRS season rankings (alongside Morgun King).

Austin Bushman PRS Champion and World Champion Rifle Shooter

Austin has clearly proven he’s one of the highest-performing precision rifle shooters in the world – so aren’t you a little curious about what his reloading process looks like?

Well, I can tell you from the start that Austin isn’t a guy that does it the same way as everyone else. He’s an independent thinker, and that could be most apparent in how he loads his ammo. This was a fascinating conversation! While Austin departs from several traditional methods used by most OCD reloaders – you simply can’t argue with his results!

While Austin was very gracious to share the details of his current reloading process with us, he did want to start with this disclaimer: “I don’t claim to know everything about reloading, and I learn new things every year that changes my reloading process.

Important: You should always reference comprehensive reloading manuals and start with the minimum recommended loads, and work your way up. Many of these shooters could be running “hot” loads, and just because the load is safe in their rifles doesn’t mean it will be in yours. There are a ton of factors that vary from them to you, including exact chamber/barrel dimensions, brass specs, reloading scales, powder lots, seating depth and tension, etc., so it’s critical to follow safety precautions. Failure to follow safe loading practices could result in severe personal injury (including death) or gun damage to the user or bystanders. The author has not independently verified the accuracy of the data and cannot be responsible for errors in published load data. Because this site and its affiliates have no control over the individual loading practices and/or components used, no responsibility is assumed by PrecisionRifleBlog.com, its author, affiliates, or Austin Buschman in the use of this data. The information is to be used at the sole discretion of the user, and the user assumes all risks.

Austin’s Complete Match Load Data

Austin has been shooting a 6mm Dasher for the past few years (read about his rifle setup) and shoots Berger 6mm 105 gr. Hybrid bullets in most matches. Austin has been using the exact same ammo load for several years.

“I’ve run this same load in at least 10 Dasher barrels and maybe even 15, and it’s shot great through all of them.” – Austin Buschman

He describes this as a relatively mild load compared to what others load (see all 6 Dasher load data from What The Pros Use).

Austin’s 6 Dasher Match Load Data

I tried to gather other small nuances of Austin’s load, like neck tension and bullet jump, and here is what he said:

  • How much neck tension do you use in your match ammo? Austin: “I don’t really know, but probably 0.004” if I was guessing – either 0.003” or 0.004”. Neck tension is on my list of things that I don’t believe matters, as long it’s tight enough that your bullet doesn’t fall out.” Austin will explain more about his view on neck tension later in this article. (Note: Neck tension refers to how tightly the case grips a bullet and is typically measured in terms of the diameter of the case neck with a bullet loaded in it minus the diameter of the case neck before the bullet was seated. So how much did the case neck diameter expand when you seated the bullet?)
  • How much bullet jump do you use? Austin: “I’m not sure. I really don’t ever change my seating die. It stays in my press, and I don’t touch it. I think my bullets are jumping around 0.030” in a brand-new barrel. It’s another thing in my list of things that don’t matter.(Not sure what bullet jump is? Read this.) Many shooters “chase the lands,” which means they are regularly adjusting their seating die to seat the bullet further and further out as a barrel’s throat erodes to maintain the same relative distance between the bullet and the rifle lands. But Austin never does that.

Ammo Performance

I asked Austin about the performance of this ammo in his match rifle in terms of group size and shot-to-shot muzzle velocity variation. Those are things that many of us precision shooters can obsess over, but Austin seemed to avoid getting tangled up in – which was very interesting.

  • Typical 5-Shot Group Size: 0.3-0.4 MOA. When I asked what his typical 5-shot group size was with this rifle, here was his response: “Are you talking about a 5-shot group size at 100 yards? I very rarely shoot five-shot groups and measure them. It’s hard to say what an average is because about the only time I go measure one is if I think it was an exceptional group and I want to take a picture of it. I would guess my average is very close to 0.1 mils.” Very interesting! 0.1 mil is equivalent to 0.34 MOA or 0.36” at 100 yards.
  • Average 10-Shot Muzzle Velocity Standard Deviation (SD): 7 fps. Most handloaders have a goal for their SD to be “in the single digits,” meaning less than 10 fps. Some want that to be even lower, or at least brag when they get 5 fps or even 3 fps (although most of those SDs I see posted on Instagram are typically over 3 or 5 shots, which is a meaningless sample size). Austin says, “A 7 fps SD is plenty good for precision rifle matches.
Austin Buschman Shoots from Pipe Barricade at PRS Match

I asked Austin if he ever tuned this load between matches or re-did his load development for a new barrel, and he simply said, “No. I’ve run this same load in at least 10 Dasher barrels and maybe even 15, and it’s shot great through all of them. My thought is that load development might matter in some scenarios, but we’re using very heavy barrels and very high-quality components. Those are the two things that I think matter a lot. Because we are using such heavy and high-quality barrels, and I’m using such good bullets, brass, and powder, I think even the worst load I could possibly come up with for a 6 Dasher would still be good enough to win PRS matches.”

Ammo Components

As Austin said above, he believes that using very high-quality ammo components is critical to him being able to produce match-quality ammo without having to do a lot of the tedious load development or reloading processes that other shooters do. So it makes sense that we start by looking at each of the ammo components he uses before we jump to his reloading equipment and process.

Alpha 6 Dasher Brass

Alpha 6 Dasher Brass

Austin uses Alpha Munitions OCD 6 Dasher SRP brass. Alpha’s “OCD” indicates that brass has their “Optimized Case Design with Optimized Case Head Technology.”

Here is a video that explains what that means, and some of the top shooters in the PRS share their experience with Alpha OCD brass in their 6 Dasher:

Austin’s said, “Alpha brass is super consistent,” which helps him skip a lot of the brass sorting and prep that many shooters do. More on that later in this article.

Berger 105 Hybrid Bullets

Berger 6mm 105 Hybrid bullets

Austin prefers to use Berger 6mm 105 gr. Hybrid bullets in competitions, but he said he occasionally shoots Berger 6mm 109 gr. Long-Range Hybrid bullets.

The 6mm Berger 105 gr. Hybrid bullet was released back in 2011 and has a G7 BC of 0.275 and a G1 BC of 0.536, which is fairly high for its weight. In 2011, this bullet represented a significant leap forward in long-range ballistics and was at least partially responsible for the rise in popularity of 6mm rifles. The Precision Rifle Series started in 2012, and I’d bet there have been more Berger 105 Hybrid bullets fired at PRS matches than any other bullet. Manufacturers have released many, many new 6mm bullet designs over the past decade, but the 105 Hybrid still has respectable ballistics compared to the latest bullet designs. While it isn’t as dominant of a bullet choice as it once was, it is the definition of a tried-and-true match bullet – which is why many pro shooters still trust the Berger 105 Hybrid on match day. Austin has clearly demonstrated that it is still capable of winning at the highest levels!

Some handloaders do a few extra steps to bullets in the reloading process, so I asked Austin if he did any of those:

  • Do you ever weight-sort bullets or cull outliers by weight or bearing surface length? No.
  • Do you ever trim bullets? No.
  • Do you ever point bullets? No.

Austin believes you can take Berger bullets straight out of the box and load them in the match ammo you’d take to the PRS Finale or World Championship. That’s precisely what he did when he won both of those matches last year!

Hodgdon Varget Powder

Hodgdon Varget Powder for Reloading PRS Match Ammo

Austin uses Hodgdon Varget powder. It is part of Hodgdon’s Extreme Series line-up, which is specifically formulated for reduced temperature sensitivity. That means you have minimal change in muzzle velocity from 30 to 100 degrees, which is not simply true for every kind of powder. Some powders might show a 50+ fps change in muzzle velocity difference between those temperatures, making it very difficult to hit targets over a long day of shooting.

Austin shared that he intentionally lets his powder acclimate to his local humidity. He lives in the Oklahoma panhandle, which has a relatively dry climate with an average of around 30% humidity. He’s noticed a pretty consistent trend when he’s comparing his load and velocities to guys in the eastern or southern U.S., where they have higher humidity. When powder dries out, it affects its burn rate, and you will typically see higher velocities, which is why Austin has noticed he may get a little higher muzzle velocity with slightly less powder than the guys in the more humid regions. But Austin said getting higher velocity isn’t the main reason he lets his powder dry out. Austin: “Well, one of the reasons is I’m lazy, and I don’t want to take powder back out of my powder hopper after I’m done loading. So if I’m just going to leave some of the powder in the hopper for long periods of time, I feel like I better let all of my powder acclimate to whatever humidity is in the atmosphere so it’s all the same, and I don’t have to worry about it.”

In Bryan Litz’s most recent book, Modern Advancements in Long Range Shooting Volume III, he dedicated a whole chapter to sharing some research he did on how powder humidity can impact your ammo consistency – and it was shocking! I’d say Austin’s experience aligns with the research data from Applied Ballistics. They tested ammo that was loaded identically, except half was loaded with powder acclimated to 5% humidity, and the other half was acclimated to 80% humidity. The Applied Ballistics research showed the difference in relative humidity of the powder alone led to a 195 fps extreme spread in velocity!

Primer: CCI 450 Small Rifle Magnum … and Others

Austin said most of the primers he’s used in his Dasher have been CCI #450 Magnum Small Rifle primers. This is the same primer that the majority of top-ranked shooters use in their ammo (see the data). The CCI #450 primer produces low standard deviations (SD) in muzzle velocity, meaning the ammo is very consistent shot-to-shot. I’ve also heard that this magnum primer doesn’t show signs of pressure as quickly as some other softer primers, so some guys may be able to run slightly higher pressures with it (not advised). What I do know is that my “What The Pros Use” surveys in the past have shown that top-ranked shooters choose the CCI #450 primer 5 to 1 over the next most popular primer (see the data).

Federal 205M Primers

Recently, Austin has been using some Federal Premium 205M Gold Medal Small Rifle Match Primers that he picked up from a prize table after a match last year. (He did want to throw in, “Thank you, Federal!”) He said in the past, he’s also used CCI 400 primers and Federal 205 primers, too. Austin explained, “I have never observed a precision or reliability difference when using these different primers, so I use what is most easily obtained. This is another thing on my list of things that don’t matter.

Reloading Equipment & Process

Okay, now let’s look at the equipment and process Austin uses to reload his ammo. Austin told me he shoots around 6,000-7,000 rounds per year out of a precision bolt-action rifle, and most of that is through his 6 Dasher. He doesn’t use a trainer rifle but always practices with whatever rifle he will take to the next match. There were times in the past when he fired up to 11,000 rounds in a year. He said he doesn’t ever shoot factory ammo, which means he reloads a lot of ammo! Austin has clearly spent a TON of hours at his reloading bench, which makes it especially interesting to hear what equipment he uses and what his process is.

Here is a quote from Austin that sums up his approach to reloading:

“In my reloading process, if I can’t think of a really good reason why something should matter then I usually test it and see if I can tell if it matters. And if I can’t replicate something that makes a difference to precision then I just cut it out of the process.” – Austin Buschman

Austin doesn’t do a lot of the brass prep that many obsessive reloaders do. In his experience, if you start with really high-quality components, those steps aren’t necessary to get ammo that is capable of winning a PRS match. I tried to document what he did or didn’t do through our conversation. I bet this might make a few of us question some steps in our reloading process. Honestly, I’d expect the shooting community to quickly dismiss a lot of his ideas as crazy – if he hadn’t just proven that you can win at the highest levels of the precision rifle sport with ammo made with these exact loading techniques. His results certainly make it hard to argue about!

Austin Bushman Team USA Rifle Shooter

Reloading Press: Lee 4-Hole Classic Turret Press

Lee 4-Hole Classic Turret Press

Austin uses a Lee Precision 4-Hole Classic Turret Press. It’s the only reloading press he’s ever had. He uses this same press for all of his brass prep/resizing, as well as seating bullets. He even seats primers using the Lee Safety Primer that is on the Lee press.

One of the real benefits of a turret press is that you can leave your dies screwed in and set up – rather than having to remove them to swap out for another die, then reinstall and reset the die later. You can have multiple turret heads set up for different cartridges and then swap the entire head out without having to reset your dies. You can see Austin is using this kind of multi-turret setup at his reloading bench:

Why you want a turret press for reloading precision ammo

I recently watched a video about the ZERO Reloading Press, and in it, Craig from Area 419 explains the error that changing and resetting dies can introduce into your loading process:

Craig Explains Benefits of Turret Press

The reason we like turret heads is you can set dies, and you can leave them there. A common way to induce inconsistency in your reloading process is the removal and replacement of a die. If you’re using any sort of threaded die management, be it a turret or a single stage, you’ve got error that comes from where that Class 2 course thread 7/8” die or 1 ¼” die is going to sit (where the male die is going to sit in the female hole). Changing and resetting that die is going to tend to give you some sort of different placement of that die – different height, different depth, different place indication in that hole. We want you to be able to set up the dies and leave them. That’s why we have been using around here, more often than not, the Redding T-7 Turret Press. We don’t like resetting dies.” – Craig Arnzen, VP of Sales & Marketing at Area 419

Brass Prep for Brand New Brass Cases

I started by asking Austin what he did before he loads brand-new brass for the first time:

  • Do you run your brass through a neck mandrel to set a consistent inside neck diameter? No.
  • Do you trim new cases before you load them? No.
  • Do you ever neck trim to get more consistent neck tension? No.
  • Do you uniform flash holes or primer pockets? No.
  • Do you weight-sort or cull any cases that were outliers in terms of weight or volume? No.

Austin: “No, you don’t need to do any of that with Alpha brass. It’s super consistent.

Austin only does one thing to brand new Alpha brass before he loads it: “I do chamfer the inside of the necks to avoid the necks damaging the bullets as they are seated. I don’t do this step again unless I trim the brass. To chamfer, I just use a VLD chamfer cutter chucked in a cordless drill.”

I asked, “Do you mean you would take brand new, unfired brass straight out of the box, chamfer it, load it, and then take that ammo to a match?” Austin: “Yep. I won 1 or 2 matches this year with virgin Alpha brass straight out of the box. Those matches were close to the start of the year, and I had got new brass at the beginning of the year and was still shooting through all of it for the first firing. The Alpha brass seems to perform exactly the same on the 1st and subsequent firings.” One of those matches he used virgin brass in was the Leupold Steel Classic PRS Match in Texas, which he cleaned – meaning he didn’t miss a single shot over two days! He hit every target over 176 shots! That was the first and only time anyone had ever cleaned a pro-level, two-day match. That seems to be pretty definitive proof that any extra steps in prepping new Alpha brass may be a waste of time!

Brass Prep for Fired Cases

Now, let’s say Austin just got home from a match and has 200 pieces of fired brass. What exactly does he do to that brass to get it ready to load again? Here is his process in a flow chart:

Austin Buschman Reloading Process Flow Chart
Fluxeon Annie Induction Annealer for Brass Cases Reloading

1) Anneal Case: Austin first uses a Fluxeon Annie Induction Annealer to anneal every case, and he does this every time he reloads a piece of brass. Annealing is the process of heating the neck and shoulder area of brass case so it regains its malleability, prolonging the life of the brass and increasing consistency. Traditionally, annealing cases was done with flame-based systems (often homemade), but in recent years a few commercial products were released that use induction, which heats the cases in an electrically contactless manner and can often be more precise and repeatable.

The reason I anneal every time is not for better precision,” Austin said. “I have not observed better precision down range from ammo that was loaded in annealed brass. I have found that annealing every time helps me get a very consistent neck tension and, more importantly, a very consistent shoulder bump when resizing. Having a consistent shoulder bump helps ensure that my ammo fits into my chamber smoothly and doesn’t cause me additional stress on the clock. Having rounds that don’t feed smoothly or consistently makes me get out of my normal bolt manipulation cadence, and it can break my concentration mid-stage when I need to be thinking about my next wind hold and how to complete the course of fire correctly.”

Short Action Customs SAC Alpha Dasher Modular Sizing Die

2) Full-Length Resize Case: Next, Austin uses a Short Action Customs (SAC) Modular Sizing Die to full-length size the case, and the decapping pin in this die will also remove the primer at the same time.

 “I like that the SAC die sizes just the perfect amount all the way down to the base of the case,” Austin said. Different brands of dies vary in terms of how much they size the case closer to the base. SAC says, “Our modular sizing dies sizes more at the base, and less at the shoulder compared to traditional resizing dies.”

Austin: “The SAC sizing die also has a neck/shoulder bushing, which seems like a cool idea.” A die bushing allows you to fine-tune or customize how much it sizes the neck of the case. Most other bushing dies, like Redding or Whidden, only have a bushing that sizes the neck. Often that means the neck bushing doesn’t size 10% of the way to the neck/shoulder junction. But, the SAC die bushing sizes the neck and shoulder with one integral bushing, so it sizes 100% of the neck.

Die Bushing Comparison SAC Modular Sizing Die Neck Shoulder Bushing
Bushing Die Comparison SAC vs Redding Neck Shoulder Bushing

Austin full-length sizes his brass using this SAC die and bumps the case shoulder back 0.003” every time he reloads a case. Austin: “I shoot a lot of dusty, dirty matches in Oklahoma, and if you get a little bit of dust in your chamber and your brass isn’t sized quite a bit, you just can’t always close the chamber on it.” When it comes to reloading ammo, Austin’s highest priority is reliability.

Austin uses a SAC neck/shoulder bushing that gives him about 0.003-0.004” of neck tension. Austin: “Neck tension is on my list of things that I don’t believe matters, as long it’s tight enough that your bullet doesn’t fall out. I haven’t done exhaustive testing on this, but I did try my same Dasher load with both more and less neck tension, and the only performance difference I could find was in reliability. If I use too little neck tension, it is easy to dislodge a bullet during handling, loading, or feeding. I never observed a precision difference downrange with more or less tension, so I choose to err on the side of more neck tension (0.003-0.004″). I simply can’t think of a reason neck tension would matter from a precision standpoint. I mean, we are lighting these rounds off with 55,000 PSI behind them, and I just don’t see how the force or slight friction difference of going from 0.002” to 0.003”, or 0.003” or 0.004” of neck tension even plays a part in the equation.” (Note: Neck tension refers to how tightly the case grips a bullet and is typically measured in terms of the diameter of the case neck with a bullet loaded in it minus the diameter of the case neck before the bullet was seated. So how much did the case neck diameter expand when you seated the bullet?)

Austin said he doesn’t have an expansion ball on his decapping pin on the sizing die. Austin: “A case just goes straight up into the SAC sizing die, so I’m just squeezing down the outside diameter of the neck, and then I seat a bullet shortly after that.” He doesn’t use a neck mandrel or anything else to set the inside diameter of the neck. Austin: “Nope, no expander or mandrel at all. The bullet sets the insider diameter of the case neck whenever I seat it.”

3) Trim Case Only After 6th or 7th Firing: Many shooters trim their cases every time they resize them or at least every 2nd or 3rd time they reload cases. This is another point where Austin diverges from the rest of the crowd. Here is what he said when asked if he trimmed cases to length after he resized them: “I don’t trim cases as frequently as most people. In fact, I can sometimes do several reloadings and maybe even a whole season without trimming my cases. That is just another step I don’t want to have to do it, so I usually don’t trim until I absolutely have to. I will sometimes measure a dozen or so resized cases and try to find the longest one, and then I’ll put that in my rifle and close the bolt. Then I’ll run a borescope down the barrel from the muzzle end and look at how much of a gap I have between the end of the case and the chamber. If it’s not close, I know I can go another firing without trimming my brass. I typically need to trim after 7 firings or something like that. I usually start out each year with 1,000 pieces of new brass, and a lot of times, I can make it through an entire season without trimming my brass, which saves me a lot of time. I usually shoot 6,000 to 7,000 rounds in a season, so if I start with 1,000 pieces of brass and can use it 6 or 7 times without trimming – then I didn’t ever have to do that step.”

Austin is not recommending that you assume that you can go 6 or 7 firings before you trim. He explicitly said, “I’d never recommend someone load cases that exceed the max case length.” You heard him explain that he is checking his case length. Austin’s dies have been set up so that he has minimal growth in terms of case length on each firing. Your rifle’s chamber, and your reloading dies/press are different than his. Check your length!

Important Info on Correct Case Length from Berger’s Reloading Manual:Each time you fire a piece of brass and resize it, it grows in length. Eventually, the case becomes too long to fit in the chamber. When this happens, the end of the case neck has nowhere to go when you chamber a round, and it actually crimps into the bullet itself thereby creating an excessively tight seal. This situation can cause gas pressures to skyrocket to dangerous levels, and serious injury or death could result.Bryan Litz, Berger Reloading Manual

4) Clean Case In Tumbler & Inspect Flash Holes: After Austin sizes his brass, he puts it in a vibratory tumbler with corn cob media and a little bit of polish (whatever the auto parts store has in stock). He explained that it’s mostly to clean off the sizing lube, but it will clean a little bit of the carbon out of the cases, too. Austin: “I don’t tumble my cases for a long time. I’m not trying to get it really shiny. Usually, after 30 to 60 minutes, it comes out without any case lube on it, and then I start loading it. Sometimes corn cob media gets stuck in the flash holes, but if you don’t tumble it for a long time, that only happens in 1 out of 20 cases. As I put them in my loading tray, I will glance at the flash holes to make sure there isn’t a piece of corn cob media stuck in there.” I asked Austin if he ever cleaned his primer pockets – and by now, you can guess his answer: No. 😉

Loading Ammo & Seating Bullets

So we covered Buschman’s process for brass prep; now, let’s talk about his loading process.

1) Seating Primers: Austin uses the Lee Safety Primer Feed that is integrated into his Lee 4-Hole Classic Turret Press to seat primers in his cases.

A&D FX-120i Precision Scale with Auto Trickler v4 for Reloading Long Range Precision Ammo

2) Measuring Powder Charge: Austin uses an A&D FX-120i Precision Scale with an Auto Trickler v4 to measure the powder for every round that he loads. This is an extremely popular scale/dispenser equipment combination for loading precision ammo. The A&D FX-120i Precision Lab Balance is capable of measuring within +/- 0.001 grams, which is 0.015 grains or roughly the weight of a single kernel of popular extruded rifle powders (like Varget). That means this professional-grade scale can measure powder charges that are accurate down to a single kernel of powder. There are other digital scales on the market that claim to be able to do that, but this A&D FX-120i seems to be the most affordable scale on the market that can do that repeatably and precisely. That is why a ton of precision reloading products from third parties have been designed for the FX-120i scale. The street price for the A&D FX-120i scale is around $700, so it’s an investment – but you also shouldn’t think your $50 or even $300 digital scale is in the same class. (Note: The A&D FX-120i scale + the Auto Trickler v4 together cost around $1,070.)

Auto Trickler v4 Close Up

The Auto Trickler v4 is a device that mounts onto the A&D FX-120i scale to automate the throwing of a powder charge. You connect the AutoTrickler to the scale with a wire that allows the Auto Trickler to know much powder has been dispensed. You set up and control the Auto Trickler v4 with an app on your phone (via Bluetooth). You basically type in the powder charge weight you’d like it to dispense, like “31.4” grains. The Auto Trickler will very quickly dispense around 31 grains of powder and then slowly trickle in the last few kernels one at a time until you have EXACTLY 31.40 grains of powder on the scale. The whole process takes just a few seconds.

Austin said he weighs his powder for every single round with this setup. A decade or so ago, weighing every single powder charge was a significant commitment, but this kind of setup makes it fast, easy, and extremely precise.

Forster Benchrest Seating Die Bench Rest BR

3) Seating Bullet: Austin uses a Forster Bench Rest Seating Die to seat his bullets.

Austin said he really never touches his seating die to adjust seating depth or anything. He simply leaves the die in his press all the time (a benefit of a turret press). He doesn’t even adjust his seating die when he switches between shooting a Berger 105 Hybrid bullet and a Berger 109 LR Hybrid bullet! He actually doesn’t measure or check the loaded cartridge length after he seats the bullet. He said he’s probably gone six months without checking the length of loaded rounds. He also said he had a bullet runout gauge but never uses it to check his loaded ammo. He does test his ammo at long range before a match, so his ultimate measuring stick is to see how the ammo performs at long range. If it still groups and lines up with his ballistics, he can safely assume it will perform well – just as it has for him, match after match and barrel after barrel.

Take-Aways

I know Austin’s reloading process has probably challenged most, if not all, of us. I’ll admit it challenged me! I do appreciate his fresh perspective. If this was coming from some random guy we ran into at the range, we’d all dismiss what he’s saying – but he’s the freaking reigning PRS champion and IPRF World Champion! He’s the only guy to ever clean a pro-level, two-day match! Sure, he doesn’t do a lot of the traditional steps many of us think are “required” to make precision ammo – but does his ammo seem to be lacking precision?!

Austin Buschman PRS Champion

A month ago, Phil Cashin (owner of Masterpiece Arms and a competitive shooter himself) interviewed Austin on the Winner’s Circle Episode 8. He spent around 30 minutes on that episode asking Austin questions about his reloading process – and watching Phil’s initial reaction to all this was entertaining! I know Phil personally, and he is more open than most shooters I know – but 30 minutes into the show, after Austin explained that he might not trim his cases over an entire season and that he doesn’t use anything to set the inside diameter of the neck, Phil started laughing and here is their interaction that followed:

Austin Buschman and Phil Cashin on The Winners Circle

Phil (laughing): “You know, it’s funny how we all get used to how we load ammo, and there are a couple of things that you’ve shared that make me cringe a little bit.”

Austin (with a grin on his face): “Well, if you keep asking me questions about reloading, you’re going to get some more cringe. I can promise you that!”

Phil: “But it’s working! I know a lot of people spend so much time trying to make their ammo perfect to get those ultra-tiny little groups. They feel like the rifle’s got to shoot a 1/8” group or in the 1s or 2s or whatever in order to have a snowball’s chance of doing anything in a match – which is not true! They spend all this time at the bench and focus on that rather than spending less time reloading and more time doing things that are outside to prepare for a match like practicing the fundamentals, etc.”

Austin: “My general theory on reloading is to do as little as possible and use good components. So the steps that I do are not necessarily to increase the precision of my ammo – but that I want my ammo to be very reliable. I think the precision of the ammo comes from using quality components. So if I can assemble quality components that are going to be VERY reliable – they’re going to feed, chamber, and extract – then I’m happy with that ammo. I think the precision comes from the bullets and the barrel and the brass and the powder.”

I hope you got as much out of this article as I did! If you’re like me, you are thinking about doing your own tests to see if some of the things you’re doing really matter or not. Let’s use the scientific method to figure it out! Maybe we should all be closer to Austin’s approach that he mentioned earlier in this article: “In my reloading process, if I can’t think of a really good reason why something should matter, then I usually test it and see if I can tell if it matters. If I can’t replicate something that makes a difference to precision, then I just cut it out of the process.

Coming Up Next

Part 4 will be the final article in my Top Shooter Spotlight on Austin Buschman. This last article will focus more on the mental and strategy side of the game, what skills separate the best shooters, his approach to improving, and other things like how he practices and how often he cleans his rifles. I’ve NEVER seen any content that shared in-depth on those topics, so I feel like it’s going to be enlightening. It was the most interesting part of our conversations for me! So stay tuned for that.

Join the PRB mailing list to be the first to know when the next article is published!

Other Articles From Austin Buschman’s Spotlight

This was one of a 4-part series that spotlights Austin Buschman, the gear he runs, and other aspects of his precision rifle shooting. Here are links to all of those articles:

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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28 comments

  1. Thanks Cal. Great info and perspective into his reloading process.

  2. I have been anxiously waiting for a followup article on your shooting tunnel. I’m trying to convince my club to build a tunnel. Do you plan to offer a followup article?

    • I absolutely will, PC. I promise. I was hoping to get all of my instrumentation installed before I did the follow-up, so I didn’t have to do another follow-up to the follow-up! 😉

      Thanks,
      Cal

  3. This is by far one of the best articles I have read on reloading. I’m going to quit chasing perfection and go back to simple steps!

    • That’s awesome, Ken. I appreciate you being open to trying something new. It seems like reloading can be one of those things that we can kind of get stuck in our ways or establish strongly held beliefs, so I wasn’t quite sure how this article was going to be received by people. Thanks for the feedback.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  4. Hi Cal

    Another great article, makes you think about what’s important. I reload 6.5 creedmoor not 6mm but I have some questions.

    He mentioned he uses two different primers, one magnum and the other a match grade primer. I found it odd that he used two very different primers and then stated “This is another thing on my list of things that don’t matter.“

    Auston shoots 6 to 7 thousands rounds a season and that’s a lot of shooting and therefore he collects a lot of data about his rounds, so he has come to believe several things we do don’t matter, maybe based solely on the number of rounds he shoots each season Austin made a very good assessment.

    Austin believes strongly in annealing, He stated “to anneal every case, and he does this every time he reloads a piece of brass.” I was wondering if you agree or disagree that every case needs annealing every time?

    Austin also doesn’t use top of the line reloading equipment, but makes a good point as to why. His die picks and reasons for using those dies was very interesting to read also.

    Thanks

    Paul

    • Hey, Paul. I appreciate the comments. Yep. He does switch between a magnum small rifle primer and a normal small rifle primer. I noticed that myself. I will say that in my experience, the difference between a standard and magnum small rifle primer is not as significant as a standard to magnum large rifle primer. I’d bet most reloading manuals would say you shouldn’t use them inter-changably … but clearly it is working for him. He used the CCI 450’s for part of last year (and a bunch of prior years), and Fed 205M this year … and he won overall last year and is tied for 1st this year. That was a bit surprising to hear though.

      With how many steps he skips or doesn’t believe are important, the annealing every time did kind of surprise me. But, I know if it is part of Austin’s very simplified and streamlined reloading process, he must really, really believe it is important. I had always thought of annealing from a precision perspective, in terms of consistent neck tension – and also prelonging the useful life of my brass investment. But neither of those are why Austin is doing it. He specifically told me today that he was doing it for reliability, to get a consistent setback on his shoulder and reliable neck tension. I’ve never thought about it from that perspective.

      Annealing your brass every reload is a commitment. Personally, I typically would do it every 2-3 loads. I use an Annealing Made Perfect machine and you have to handload them in there one at a time, so it’s just time consuming. I tried to buy one of their robots that automates the loading/unloading of the case in the machine – but I’ve looked for it about 3 times in the past couple of years and I’ve never found it in stock. I spoke to the owner in 2020 and they really locked New Zealand down, so he couldn’t get any out – and I’m not sure how many (if any) have made it to the US since that time. I did buy 1000 pieces of brass this year so that I could do my brass prep in larger batches, and not be crunched for time like I’ve been when I only have 300-400 pieces of brass. My hope was that 1000 pieces of brass would allow me to anneal every time. I’m still working through the first firing, so can’t say if that will help or not.

      If it wasn’t such a hassle, I’d probably do it every time. And now that Austin mentioned the consistent setback, next time I will measure to see if it’s less consistent for me when I don’t anneal. If it is, maybe I’ll do it every time too.

      One interesting thing is that a lot of people anneal for precision reasons, or at least to try to get more consistent muzzle velocities. Austin said he hasn’t seen ammo being more precise or more consistent velocity with or without annealing. Bryan Litz published some research he did on performance when it comes to annealing in Modern Advancements in Long Range Shooting Volume 2 (GREAT book, but the way). He was basically studying the effects of neck tension on muzzle velocity consistency (light vs heavy neck tension, and also annealed vs. not annealed). I have personally talked to Bryan about this study in particular, and it’s one of those where the results really surprised him. Real scientific research will often do that! Here is how Bryan explains part of the conclusion of the research:

      “We expect annealing to improve MV consistency for many times fired brass by keeping the hardness of the brass consistent for subsequent firing of the brass. However in our tests, we found that annealed brass performed no differently than un-annealed brass for 10 consecutive firings with the 223 Remington. For the 308 Winchester, we saw 10 consecutive firings of un-annealed brass show now loss of consistency. However this is not to say that annealing isn’t necessary. Suppose you had a cartridge such as the 243 Winchester that is sensitive to the level of neck tension (13 fps SD vs. 7 fps SD for light vs. heavy neck tension). Now suppose you start with brass that has 0.002″ neck tension and fire it many times till that neck tension fades to 0.0015″: or 0.001″. In that case, you could reasonably expect to see the SD creep up as the neck tension loosened on subsequent firings. In the future I hope to demonstrate this benefit of annealing, and perhaps map out those combinations of cartridge case, powder and bullets that can be expected to respond most favorably to annealing.”

      Isn’t that interesting?! The research data showed no advantage to annealing, although like any good research … it often introduces more questions than it answers.

      Bryan and I discussed how interesting it would be if I attempted to duplicate the exact test he did, and see if I reached the same results. I do hope to do that one day. There is a host of tests that he did in Modern Advancements Volume 2 that are like that, and would be very interesting to see if I got similar results doing the same research. I think that would certainly strengthen the case for the conclusions. Like Bryan, I would expect to see a benefit from annealing – but sometimes research shows us things we don’t expect.

      I agree that most of his equipment is the highest end stuff, but there a few things that he really splurged on … so I took note of those. The FX-120i scale and Auto Trickler v4 is over $1000. I use a Prometheus which I bought before the FX-120i scale and Auto Trickler came out … or I’d be using one of those. They are a fraction of the cost of my Prometheus and I think they can absolutely do everything my Prometheus can do.

      I also think you could argue that the SAC modular sizing die might be the best die on the market – or at least in the conversation for that. I’ve used a lot of Redding competition dies, Whidden dies, and custom dies – and the SAC die is nice even compared to thsoe. The neck/shoulder bushing is similar to a Tubb Custom 6XC die that I used a lot. I think it’s pretty ideal. And there are lots of other little cool things about that SAC die, too. Austin didn’t mention them, so I didn’t want to turn the focus of the article onto the SAC die … but things like the decapping pin being much beefier than a lot of dies. Probably more important is how they get improved concentricity. They basically looked at how a bunch of CNC machines and tooling worked to get things perfectly centered, and then designed the SAC die to use a series of shallow tapers, instead of course threads, to properly center and secure the solid decapping pin. They say that approach offers “unparalleled concentricity and repeatability.” If nothing else, I appreciate someone trying to take a novel approach and not just do what everyone else is doing.

      And I guess that’s why I really appreciate Austin’s approach. He’s an independent thinker, and he brings the scientific approach to see if he can actually measure if something matters or not … instead of just believing someone else when they say it “really matters” or “you’ve got to do X if you’re serious about precision.” Like Bryan said, often when you actually do the real research and apply the scientific method, the results will surprise you. You may realize that something you thought was critically important has no measurable impact. It always tests a researcher’s integrity whether they will publish stuff like that. I know I’ve certainly hesitated before I hit “publish” on a few things where the data didn’t seem to line up with what I expected. But that’s how we learn, right?

      Sorry for the long reply! Those were some thoughtful questions and a lot of this I had considered adding to the content, but decided to strike it. I guess you gave me an opportunity in the comments! 😉 Hope that was helpful.

      Thanks,
      Cal

    • Hello from Austria,
      Very nice ideas, how simple reloading could be.

      I can also say that the best components bring the best results without doing many finetuning. I could set some World Records in static 300m (ISSF) shooting and i run a gunstore.
      Every day i discuss with my customers, they will safe some money buying „cheep“ components, but you won‘t get the very good results (group size) doesn‘t mater how much Case Prep, sorting you will do.

      At the moment i‘m diving into PRS shooting and lucky me i found your Blog.

      Some words to the different primers.
      I did some testing (CIP certification) for my ammo i sell in my shop. Bit different caliber (7mm Blaser Mag) but i think it is interesting any way. The experienced man at the national CIP testing centre told me to test also standard LR primers instead of the magnum LR primers i used, based on the loading manuals. And the result was very eye opening, i got higher speed, LESS pressure and very interesting also more regularly ignition of the powder.

      Can‘t wait until you publish part 4!

      • Hey, Rumpler. I really appreciate your feedback and insight. I remember when I first got started, I was like many of your customers. I didn’t understand why I needed to invest in good brass, especially. It seemed like so much money to me. I mean I could buy once-fired Hornady or Remington brass so cheap! Sure, it didn’t all come from the same lot, but I thought maybe I could weight-sort it, neck trim, and uniform primer holes and flash holes and eventually it would all be virtually identical, right?! Nope! It doesn’t work like that. The truth is, if the brass wasn’t made in a super-consistent way … there is no amount of steps you can do after the fact to make it super-consistent. And I personally feel like brass is the biggest contributor to ammo consistency. Precise powder charge weight is also a big thing when you’re talking about consistent muzzle velocity, but brass is like the foundation of match-grade ammo. My day job is leading a home building company, and I can tell you from experience that getting the foundation right is the most important thing. You can fix a lot of things fairly easily in residential construction, but not the foundation. You can’t make mistakes there. It’s not a place to try to save costs. I’d bet on the homes we build we invest at least 20% more in the cost of the foundation than any other builder in our area. If you get that right, it avoids a ton of problems down the road. Brass is kind of like that.

        And I had a similar experience on the primer thing with my 7mm Rem Mag, actually. I used LR primers (not magnum), and got way more consistent muzzle velocities. I didn’t ever have any ignition issues until I got into cold weather, and then I had a few slow fires or hang fires. It’d go off, but there might be a 1/4-1/2 second delay between when the hammer fell and the round went off. I only noticed it when the weather was cold though, although maybe it was a particular batch of primers that I was loading during the winter months or something. It is an eery feeling when that happens, and I was using that same rifle to hunt … so I switched back to magnum primers for that gun.

        As an aside … I have been blessed to visit a lot of places around the world, but Austria is still the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen! I was there about 10 months ago, and the Pitztal Valley in Austria in late summer is just the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. Even when you’re standing there, it doesn’t even look real! Vienna is nice, but the Austria alps are one of my favorite places on earth!

        Thanks again for the comments!
        Cal

  5. Great article Cal. If you think about it Austin’s approach is very logical to his process. His performance will indicate if there is an issue. And he doesn’t go down as many rabbit holes as most.

    I have several hundred rounds of new Lapua brass in 6.5 cm, .308 and .223 Rem. My OCD won’t let me just load it up lol. I am curious though to see it it’s as consistent as Auston believes the Alpha is.

    Lee

    • I agree with you, Lee. That’s well said.

      And I’d bet the Lapua is equally as consistent as the Alpha brass. I’m not claiming it’s better, but I use both a lot … and I’d say those two brands are in a class of their own. As much as I want to say ADG or Norma or some else is in the same class, they aren’t. My load development this week proved that again!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  6. Thanks Cal, very interesting.

  7. What a great and mind-blowing article. All of your articles are so worthwhile. I think am typical of many of yuor readers in that we don’t have a ton of money to experiment. You have saved us a lot of time and money and helped me be more consistent and have more fun. Austin’s informatin and experience reinforces some of the things I have intuitively felt, but couldn’t confirm. Ideas such as chasing the lands didn’t make much sense to me. Anyway, thank you for your valuable service.

    • Thanks, Steve. That specific feedback means the world to me because that’s exactly why I invest the time in this. Thanks for taking the time to share that it’s been helpful. I appreciate that more than you know!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  8. Always great content and information Cal. Thanks! Did Austin mention his barrel twist and did you ask about his cleaning regimen?

    • Hey, Palmer. Thanks!

      Yes, his twist rate and all the other details about his rifle are in Part 1.

      I did ask him about his cleaning regimen, and I plan to publish those details in Part 4. That should be published in about a week or so. It’s the final article related to this spotlight on Austin, and it’ll basically cover a bunch of things related to his mental management, stage strategy, and other things that didn’t cleanly fit into the other 3 articles … like cleaning regimen. 😉

      Thanks,
      Cal

  9. Thank you for all the work to bring this to us!

  10. Great article Cal and thank you for all the hard work that you put in!

    • You bet, Mark! Thanks for making great products! I wasn’t surprised at all to hear that Austin was using your SAC Modular Sizing Die. So many clever things about that design. No wonder they are flying off your shelf!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  11. Cal,
    Loving this series! I don’t compete but really enjoy shooting and improving the precision of my process. (retired civil engineer showing through). I think the work you do for this is incredible.

  12. Hi Cal

    From your great article I got another question I could use your help with.

    I have been emailing SAC and seriously looking to purchase the SAC 6.5 creedmoor Modular Sizing Die with 289″ Bushing..

    My question to you is if I purchase this die will I really notice a huge difference over my Hornady match dies or should I be looking at other dies ?

    They want $325.00 US dollars for the die plus tax. To get it to Canada it’s approximately $500.00 Canadian dollars.

    Paul

    • Hey, Paul. That’s a good question – although it’s a pretty subjective one. It basically is asking, “Is It Worth It?” There is no one-size-fits all answer, and it largely depends on your personal circumstances and the intended application. Something is worth it if the benefit exceeds the cost – to you. If ‘it’s worth it’ largely depends on what money means to you. We all come from different circumstances. (I wrote a post about that.)

      But, I realize simply saying “It depends” is not helpful. So I’ll tell you my perspective. I have a drawer full of dies. When I first starting reloading, I bought the cheapest RCBS dies I could find, so I’ve got some of those. But, when I got into precision rifle shooting I have primarily bought Redding dies, with a few Whidden and other custom dies mixed in. I have no plans to upgrade all of my dies to SAC modular sizing dies. But, I used a 6mm Creedmoor as my match rifle for several years but recently switched to a Dasher once the Alpha OCD brass was available and I wouldn’t have to fire-form Lapua brass. When I made that switch, I did buy the SAC modular sizing die for my Alpha Dasher.

      I don’t expect there would be a measurable or statistically significant improvement from me upgrading from Redding to SAC dies, so to me it isn’t worth the cost or hassle. But, if it were a cartridge that I was doing a TON of reloading for (maybe 1,000+ rounds/year) – I might consider replacing it with a SAC. I do think I’ll probably start buying SAC dies for any new cartridges I start loading for in the future. The SAC modular sizing die does have a few improvements in their design that I think are clever, or that might result in a small improvements when either using the die (like less breaking or more enjoyable to use) or in the functionality of the resulting ammo (like sizing further down on the base). But, I wouldn’t expect that my groups would be smaller or muzzle velocity would be more consistent in any meaningful way.

      Now I don’t personally see Hornady dies as equals to Redding dies, but I really don’t have anything to base that on … so I admit that might simply be 100% bias and not fact. In my opinion, Redding and Whidden make some of the best mass-produced dies (and of course, I’d now include SAC in that group, too). But, I wouldn’t expect that upgrading your Hornady match dies to SAC would have a measurable or statistically significant improvement either. Let me put it this way: I would bet $1 if the average PRS shooter switched from Hornady match dies to a SAC modular sizing die, it wouldn’t result in one more impact over a two-day match. Any marginal improvement in ammo performance simply isn’t the weakest link or the reason for their misses. Now, if one of the top 20 ranked shooters were using a Hornady match sizing die or SAC die – I’d be very interested to know if they would think they might have 1-2 more hits over a two-day match. I doubt they would, but even a very small/marginal improvement for those guys in precision can sometimes show up on the target because of how consistent they are at managing the rest of the elements that might cause a miss.

      Hope that is helpful!

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • Thanks Cal

        Redding and Whidden dies are available in Canada everywhere. I have considered upgrading to one of them, but then your article got me looking at SAC.

        I have tried several cheaper die sets over the years but what I liked about the SAC Modular Sizing Die is the die function of sizing further down on the base. and pushing the shoulders back in place.

        This may sound strange but I simply want all my reloaded bullets to fit in my rifle as easily as store bought bullets do.

        Thanks Cal for all your answers to my questions, it really does help.

        Paul