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Handloader on DVD
Rifle Magazine
March - April 2000
Volume 32, Number 2
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 188
On the cover...
Ross is holding a Westley Richard's, Deeley & Edge
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Rifle Magazine
Columns

Seating Depth and Rifle Accuracy


In my opinion, if you total all reloading factors: neck sizing, primer pocket fiddling, powder weight, case weighing, neck turning and all the other excessive compulsive traits pursued by some handloaders, they just might be as beneficial as paying attention to bullet seating depth. Put another way, you can do all those, almost whimsical, things done by benchrest shooters, while ignoring the bullet’s relationship to the rifling and still shoot improved-cylinder groups. I say almost whimsical because these fine details do work in the microscopic world of the benchrest competitor, a place where they use micrometers to measure groups. The rest of us, hunters and even varminters, should spend most of our worry-time on seating depth.

My first lesson about seating depth was both subtle and of long duration. I bought my first real varmint rifle in 1964. It was a Remington Varmint Special, .22-250 Remington. At the time and for many years after, my knowledge of handloading was minimal at best. Bulk powder (in paper bags from Hodgdon) was the rule and Hornady 55-grain softpoints were the bullet of choice. The best primers, like the powder, were the ones I could get a “deal” on. The Hornady bullets were best because they were accurate and because they killed coyotes more surely than anything I tried. What was important was the rifle hit almost anything I fired at; range was not a problem at least as long as it was under 500 yards.

I did not spend a lot of time at the bench shooting groups. When I missed more than twice in a row, it was time to check the zero, and more often than not, the wood stock would have shifted a bit. The rifle always shot .5- to .75-inch groups. Then, one day it would not quite make an inch. I cleaned the barrel. It must have needed it because I could not remember the last time I scrubbed it, but the groups did not change. Someone told me that it mattered if the bullets were close to the lands and that my barrel might have worn in the last few thousand shots. Okay, one full turn out on the seating stem and voila, .5 inch again!

From time to time over the next 30 years the disease would appear and the same turn on the stem would cure it. Finally, one more turn on the stem was too many; the bullet stayed in the seating die. Unscrewing the barrel revealed the ugly truth - it was smooth for about 9 inches.

Anyway, somewhere along that path, I fully realized that getting the bullets in the right relationship with the lands often controlled accuracy. My most recent encounter with super-accurate rifles has not been an      exception. These are long-range, fast-twist .22-6mm   improves using 80-grain Sierra bullets. When the bullets are seated off the lands, accuracy is ordinary. When they touch, it is very good, and when they fit at .030 inch crush . . . how about 2 to 3 inches at 800 yards!

The bottom line is some rifles like to hug bullets, others like some room and some are in between. There is a wonderful tool that makes the process mechanical and scientific, instead of cut and try. A Stoney Point OAL Gauge allows you to use a case and bullet to measure the relationship between seating depth and that individual bullet and throat. The measuring part of the tool makes identical measurements on loaded rounds, allowing you to precisely compare the engagement of the load with a known relationship between bullet and throat. With this you can determine what a rifle likes, measure   it to the thousandth of an inch and repeat it at will. The little tool is simply a necessity for the rifleman who reloads, especially if he wants small groups and minimal hassle. The OAL gauge is available from Stoney Point Products, 1219    N. Front Street, New Ulm MN 56073-0234; or you can visit its web site at www.stoneypoint.com.

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