Top 20 Most Frequently Asked Reloading Questions
I get a lot of questions about a lot of things, but the vast majority have something to do with reloading. Some are repetitive, so I decided to list the top 20 most frequently asked reloading questions along with my answers to them.
Before you read these, please realize that I don’t claim to know everything about reloading. In fact, I’m constantly learning new things, and changing my mind about old things, especially when I take on a new cartridge or shooting discipline. My answers to these questions are based on my own personal experience and nothing else.
As is the case with everything I publish, I don’t care if you do it my way or don’t agree with me. I’m not trying to sell you anything. I’m skeptical by nature, and only interested in results. The answers to questions pertaining to process are born out of experience gained from reloading thousands of rounds, not a few boxes of specialty ammo. With an open mind and some discipline, they are easily tested for accuracy and compatibility.
I measured the maximum CBTO in my rifle, but I can’t seat the bullet that long because of my magazine length. What should I do?
Seat the bullet at the max COAL that will still function in your magazine, then see how it shoots.
My most accurate barrel spent the last half of its life shooting 140-grain Berger Hybrids and VLDs that were jumping .200” to the lands.
I measured the maximum CBTO in my rifle, but the bullets are almost falling out of the neck when I seat to the lands. What should I do?
Don’t do that. The most commonly stated rule of thumb is to have at least one caliber’s length of bullet bearing surface seated in the neck. I’ve broken that rule slightly with one cartridge, but not by much.
It could happen with any combination, especially when dealing with a factory rifle, but it seems to happen most frequently with light-for-caliber bullets. That’s not my thing. I go for the heavy bullets. If I want to sling lighter projectiles, I’ll drop down a caliber or two.
How much would you charge to make a custom modified case for me?
I don’t do that, but Hornady does!
I have runout in my loaded round. How do I fix that?
I don’t know. I don’t check concentricity anymore. I think it’s a waste of time.
I just bought a Redding Type S Sizing Die. It won’t size the whole neck like my regular sizing die will. What’s wrong with it and how do I fix it?
Nothing is wrong with your bushing die. It’s normal for a portion of the neck near the shoulder not to be sized. If you look down into the die from the top, you’ll see a shelf that supports the bushing. The thickness of the shelf, plus the slight bevel in the bushing, roughly equals the amount of neck that isn’t getting sized.
I use bushing dies for seven different cartridges now. In my experience, not sizing that small portion of neck doesn’t cause any performance issues.
Do you use a mandrel to set neck tension on sized cases?
Yes and no. I use a Sinclair expander die with a mandrel that’s .001” smaller than bullet diameter to set initial neck diameter on new brass. I used to run fired cases with dented necks over that same mandrel before sizing with a bushing die, too.
I don’t use a mandrel in a separate sizing operation for fired cases. I now use the expander button that comes with the Redding Type S sizing dies. The only reason I started using the expander was due to the volume of dented necks from practice sessions over a concrete surface.
I’ve also used bushing dies with no expander at all. It works!
Why don’t I get shoulder setback, or “bump” when sizing my brass?
It’s usually because the sizing die hasn’t been screwed down far enough to contact the shoulder of the case. It often occurs after the shellholder has barely contacted the bottom of the die. Give it another small clockwise twist. It doesn’t take much to go from none to too much, so proceed slowly.
Be sure to lubricate the case again before running it into the die. Consistent lubrication is important for consistent sizing, as is clean brass and a smooth die.
If you’re using a comparator to measure shoulder setback, you’ll notice that the case grows a little before setback. That’s because the die is forcing the main body diameter to shrink, which causes the shoulder to move forward slightly.
I want to start reloading for my new rifle. Do you have a starting load for 308, 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, 300 WSM, etc.?
No. I don’t shoot or load for any of those cartridges. I’ve published most of my loading data for what I do load for in one form or another.
How often do you trim brass, and what length do you trim to?
I usually trim brass after every trip through the sizing die. I rarely trim new brass. Be sure to base your decision on the need to trim using sized cases.
Reloading manuals list the maximum SAAMI case overall length, and often publish a trim-to length. The sized cases should never be left longer than the max published length, because the chamber will be cut close to the same dimension. A loaded round with a case neck that’s jammed into the end of the chamber can quickly cause big pressure problems.
Once I get my sizing die set up, I measure the overall length of several sized cases. I set up my trimmer to cut them slightly shorter than the shortest measured case, just enough to clean up the neck. If I run into a few that don’t get cut, I don’t worry about it. They’ll grow on the next firing.
Just like all other measurements, this one gets logged in my load book.
Whether or not I trim the case, I always chamfer the inside of the neck.
Why do you do all that work on fired brass? Why not just clean the brass with a wet tumbler?
I have no interest in wet tumbling. I don’t want to dry brass, and I don’t care what the inside of the case looks like. I’ve used vibratory tumblers with corn cob media for over twenty years. They work just fine.
Yes, I think the outside surface of the case needs to be as clean as possible before sizing. Very small batches of brass can be cleaned by hand, but it just makes sense to use a machine for large ones.
I’ve tried this, that, and the other thing. What should I do next to improve my load?
I don’t know. All I can do is outline in general terms what I do with my rifles. Every barrel is different. Be sure to keep good notes on what you’ve done, and the results on target.
Why don’t you do 10-shot groups during load development? I read on the internet that it’s the only way to ensure an accurate load.
Yeah, I’ve read that, too. I do 10-shot strings when it’s warranted, but it usually isn’t. I recommend tailoring the testing to the intended use of the rifle.
For instance, a long-range hunting rifle chambered in 338 Edge would warrant a three-shot group. An even better test for that rifle would be several cold-bore, one-shot “groups” fired onto the same target. A PRS competition rifle chambered in 260 Remington should eventually be proven with 10 shots.
I usually start with three-shot groups, with the thought that if it doesn’t shoot with three, why waste time and components? If it looks good with three, I’ll try five. Five-shot groups are what I use the most to prove and check accuracy now, even with the big boomers.
Do I really need a bunch of measuring tools?
Yes. At the bare minimum, I recommend an electronic caliper, comparator bodies, and inserts to measure CBTO and shoulder setback.
How often do you anneal brass? Do you anneal before or after sizing?
I anneal every cartridge I load for by the fourth firing, and generally anneal every cycle after that. I anneal prior to sizing, right after the fired cases come out of the tumbler. I use a Bench-Source annealer machine, and no, I’ve never tried another machine.
For a look at the Bench-Source, check out this VIDEO.
I have a hunting rifle that shoots lights-out, but the bullet I want to use for a special hunt doesn’t group well in it. What should I try next?
My first requirement for using any bullet is that it shoots well in the barrel. That’s because the first rule for good performance on animals is to hit them in the right spot. I don’t think you need special bullets to kill special animals. If I were going on a once-in-a-lifetime hunt, I would carry a rifle that I have complete confidence in. That confidence would come from firing an appropriate caliber bullet that consistently hits where I expect it to.
I don’t get emotionally attached to components. I use bullets from Berger, Hornady, Sierra, and Nosler. I’ve shot tiny groups and killed plenty of critters with bullets from each of those manufacturers. If one of them doesn’t shoot in a new barrel, I don’t waste a lot of time or treasure on it. I move on to the next one.
I’ve been reloading my whole life, but now I want to get into long range shooting. Do I need special dies to make special ammo?
I don’t think so. My favorite die combo for every cartridge I reload for is the Redding Type S FL bushing sizing die and Redding Competition seating die. Having said that, I’ve loaded ammo that shoots as well as I can with standard sizing and seating dies from a variety of manufacturers.
In what increments do you adjust bullet seating depth when tuning a load?
I start at .010” off the lands, and generally adjust that depth in .010” increments if needed. The smallest increment I would work with is .005”, but I rarely move less than .010”.
By what increments do you adjust powder charge?
That depends on the powder volume of the case, the powder burn rate, and the velocity of the load. I usually increase the charge in .5-grain increments when I’m climbing to the top of the pressure curve and decrease by at least the same amount when I see the first pressure signs.
I’ve tried .1-grain increments plenty of times, and always found it to be a complete waste of time. I like to move in .2 or .5 increments with the cases I load for.
At what distance do you shoot during load development?
I do all my target work at 100 yards. I have year-round access to it, environmental factors don’t generally affect the data, and I zero everything at 100 yards.
Once I’ve identified a load that looks good, I prove it at distance on natural targets or steel plates. I think punching paper is necessary, but boring. I try to get away from it as soon as possible.
When do you stop testing and start shooting?
As soon as possible! My standard requirement for a custom barrel is five shots into .5 MOA or less at 100 yards, with muzzle velocity extreme spreads of < 20 fps. If I’ll be using the rifle for long range work, I’ll test the load at the transonic range. If it holds its accuracy with low vertical dispersion, I’m done.
With our increased focus on PRS/NRL-type shooting, we now include more 10-shot group testing before signing off on a load.
I hope this list of reloading questions and answers helped someone. It would have been easy enough to expand the list quite a bit, but this one took five months to finish. If you email me one of these questions, you’ll be reading this after clicking on the link. Thanks for reading!