Loading for Every Rifle

Federal Punch expanded bullets

Handloading isn’t simply loading ammunition for matches or varmint hunting.

Handloading isn’t always producing the least expensive rounds for range use, either, nor loading the most expensive precision components purely for accuracy.

Handloading is a balance between economy, precision and availability. Tactical development means loading your own rounds in order to give you an advantage.

Handloading may mean ensuring a steady supply of top-quality ammunition that is match-grade consistent from round to round.

I see shooters coming to handloading as a means to an end, and that end is more shooting. The recent ammunition shortage gave many of us a jolt.

With a sizeable portion of our disposable income earmarked for training, we were left with more cash than resources. The loads we normally use were sometimes unavailable.

Ammunition of less than top quality gained a foothold in the market, simply because it was all that was available.

I admit that a number of new companies rose to the occasion with good quality loads, but the situation was buyer beware.

Shooters spoiled by the easy availability of ammunition realized that their lifeline could be cut more easily than they thought.

There was also a shortage of components, including primers, that cut into a loading program.

Borrowing a phrase from my Scot ancestors might have me yelling “never forget” with “never again” more appropriate.

I have never relied upon factory ammunition exclusively and never again will I rely upon factory ammunition as strongly as I once did.

Remington 700
Remington’s semi-custom rifle with Hogue stock proved superbly accurate.

Finding a Balance

I realize I am flying into the face of common wisdom. Factory ammunition is more accurate and effective than ever, but this ammunition is also more expensive.

Quality gear isn’t inexpensive, but proficiency at arms is purchased with a different coin. Gaining proficiency and sustaining the edge takes ammunition.

The best means we have of guaranteeing our ammunition supply is to load our own. The tools are straightforward and not terribly expensive.

Once you reach a certain point you have amortized the investment and begin saving real money. Or to look at the situation another way, you will spend the same amount of money, but shoot more.

Another factor is stringent control of your ammunition supply. You have control over every component from primers and brass to bullets and powder.

One caliber may be sensibly downloaded and another maximized, but you will be able to achieve consistent results that are seldom matched by mass-production methods.

This guarantees your training supply. I am certain most of you have chosen a precision loading for your rifle, but how many rounds do you really have in the gun locker? 40? 400?

What if the company discontinues the load? There is also the opportunity to tailor a load to your exact needs and your own rifle.

Quality firearms often prefer one load to the other, but a true accuracy load in one rifle will seldom give poor performance in another.

There is always a certain sweet spot for performance that may be exploited by a careful handloader.

With sound loading practice and careful acquisition of resources, it is no problem to keep your rifle supplied with quality ammunition.

Two Cartridges for Loading
Powder selection, bullet choice and care in loading are a recipe for accuracy.

Self-Loader vs. Bolt-Action

I recently upgraded my primary rifles and engaged in a prolonged load-development program for each.

On the face of it, the rifles are very different, with one self-loader and one precision bolt-action rifle, but the load practice was the same.

The self-loader demands full-length resizing, but load development otherwise was nearly parallel. I have condensed the results with both rifles into a single report.

The first rifle is a Springfield Victor .308 rifle. This rifle has proven both reliable and accurate with a modest amount of firing with factory loads.

The second is a Remington 700 Tactical Rifle. This is a good rifle with much to recommend. The majority of load development centered upon this rifle.

Since I do not have a Brinks truck full of money following me around to purchase factory ammunition, it was important to work up a useful handload.

I would search for economical and accurate loads that gave good results in not one, but both, rifles.

There were considerations that were difficult, but not insurmountable, to manage. The bolt gun could use cartridges that were neck-sized only.

This is a personal decision, as neck sizing pretty much only means that the loads are limited to that rifle only. Self-loaders do not enjoy the long brass life a bolt-action rifle may.

I have found that good results are had when the cartridge case is resized to the shoulder, if not full-length resized, with bolt guns,  but loading for several rifles demands full-length resizing.

I have also used the small base RCBS dies for self-loaders, but in this case, I found that standard dies worked just fine.

As for the vaunted advantage of resizing the cartridge in the neck only for use in bolt guns, this only works for the first three or four loadings.

After that, you will have to begin full-length resizing the case. Every loading made-up for the Springfield Victor has to begin with a full-length sized cartridge case.

Springfield SAINT AR-15
Self-loaders demand more care and attention to detail in ammunition selection.

When you are loading for accuracy, consistency is important. This means the brass and primers should be carefully chosen and consistent throughout the project.

This type of loading demands a systematic approach to each particular component. An advantage is that the .308 Winchester is a flexible and versatile cartridge.

Any number of components are available in bullet weights from 110 to 200 grains. Good results may be had with quality components coupled with premier powder and primer combinations.

I was looking for loads accurate enough for meaningful practice in the bolt-action and for practical accuracy in the self-loader.

I first verified the accuracy of each rifle using proven loads, including factory loads from Hornady and Nosler. These two are among the finest accuracy loads available from the factory.

While I am confident in my handloads, these factory loads supplied a baseline of performance and a basis for the procedure. I also fired Winchester white box USA loads to confirm function and accuracy.

The Springfield rifle would be fired on tactical courses, while the Remington would be fired on precision courses, each being equally important and demanding.

I have managed to accumulate a good supply of once-fired Winchester brass, primarily from the USA brand. Never be embarrassed to ask friends to save their brass!

Public ranges often have buckets of brass that has been discarded by shooters. You will have to purchase some brass, but carefully husband your brass supply and you will not be caught short.

As for bullets, I began with proven combinations that give good results. The Nosler Custom Competition bullet in both 155 and 168-grain weights proved to be among the most accurate for my use.

For hunting, an important consideration, more than one Hornady bullet was tested. For the self-loading rifle, the least expensive bullet was often used.

Hornady Bullet For Loading
Hornady’s SST is a first-class choice for accuracy and expansion.

In the semi-auto, there is a narrow band of performance for good function. A load that worked the action without battering was the goal. This type of program takes a lot of shooting.

I fired three-shot groups for accuracy, took a deep breath, exhaled, and began again. Accuracy fell into a narrow spectrum.

While there was a difference in accuracy with certain loads, and the Springfield Victor is accurate for the type, this rifle is not going to turn in 1 MOA with anything I have loaded.

Had I not added a Wilson Combat trigger to the rifle, I would have never achieved the results I enjoyed. At 1.4 to 2.0 inches, the rifle is accurate enough.

The Remington 700 is highly capable with a number of loads, turning in 1.0 MOA and a select number a bit less. 1.0 MOA is mediocre for this rifle.

While the practical difference may not be applicable in most situations, as range increases the more accurate loads show a greater advantage.

The true value of accuracy is zero. A perfectly accurate .308 Winchester rifle will fire three rounds into 0.3 inches.

The standards of accuracy we rely upon are really a radius of dispersion.

Differences In the Loading Program

When assembling loads for the self-loading rifle, I could not load bullets to just touch the lands as it is possible to do with the bolt gun.

HK 91-type rifles and the Spanish CETME as well, as a product of the roller-cam action, can give misleading readings on headspace.

I used the Forster headspace gauge with extreme care and get good results with such rifles. The Victor is a tight rifle, probably as tight as possible in a self-loader.

In the Remington, there is more leeway in adjusting the overall length of a cartridge. However, you have to be especially careful, as either program may increase pressure.

As an example, seating the bullet to just touch the lands will increase pressure, as the bullet has no free jump to the lands.

However, seating the bullet more deeply than standard will do the same thing.

Long-seated bullets may not fit into the magazine, and hopefully you will discover this situation at the range, not during a deployment.

It is best not to chase a small advantage and keep cartridges at a standard overall length (OAL). As a preliminary, I tightened all of the furniture in either rifle before firing.

The Remington rifle set in its Hogue Overmold stock perfectly and did not need any adjustment.

Hornady Bullet Expansion
Hornady offers first-class choices for hunting. Performance cannot be faulted.

I searched my loading manuals and various contacts in the industry for loading data and pet loads. A tip, use the freshest date possible.

When the factory puts out a certain run of ammunition, they call it a ‘lot’. We should do the same.

This is the lot with a certain can of powder, and this lot is loaded with lot number #1234 of Varget, and so forth.

Powder sometimes burns slightly differently in different generations. Bullets may differ in performance from lot to lot, especially if the purchase is separated by years more than months.

If the load proves suitable, powerful enough and accurate, put up a ‘lot.’ I am an enthusiastic handloader, but I make life no more difficult than necessary.

Once I discovered a load that posted an honest 0.6 MOA with the Remington consistently, I adopted this load to the exclusion of all others.

There is little point in searching out a load capable of better accuracy than I am able to hold. Likewise, once I reached a certain point in the Victor, the goal was met.

After 40 years of handloading, I have begun to have questions about sorting brass. I do it, it seems beneficial, but if it is truly important, I cannot prove it.

However, you have to be careful in this caliber. Military brass usually has a thicker case wall that results in less powder capacity.

As an example, a Lake City brass cartridge might hold 55 grains of water, while a Federal cartridge case might hold 57.

It stands to reason that less powder capacity in the military brass would give greater pressure and also higher velocity with the smaller powder charge.

You cannot mix and match brass, but you must separate the military-type from commercial brass.

For the most part, commercial brass seems the same dimensionally, but never neglect to reduce your powder charge 10 percent when working with a change in a major component such as the brass cartridge case or the bullet.

Good bullets and brass are essential, but it seems that the powder charge has the most bearing on accuracy. The powder charge and primer seem to be the sweet spot for accuracy.

Be careful, be certain you have consistent powder weight, and use a primer that ignites the powder consistently. As for cartridge case life, I found little difference between Winchester and Federal.

Each is good for about eight loads with moderate-pressure loadings. In some cases, the primer pocket became loose after only five loads with heavier-pressure combinations.

The CCI 250 primer seems to give the best powder burn. The .308 Winchester is not suited for heavy charges of slow-burning powder, so Magnum primers were not needed.

man Shooting Remington 700
The Remington 700 rifle proved accurate off of the benchrest.

Powder Selection

Powder selection was not difficult. I used powders that have performed well in the .30-06 Springfield in both bolt guns and the Garand.

It is one thing to experiment with the half-pound or a certain powder you have on the shelf and declare the results pretty good.

However, when it comes time to get off the wallet and resupply, you may get more serious and hope you have recorded your accuracy results.

Economy is also a reason to carefully check which powder performed best with a minimal charge.

There is no super powder that will outperform the others by a compellingly significant measure, but some are better than others. I concentrated on the Remington.

If a load gave promising results, I full-length resized brass and tested the same load in the PTR. After a time, the best loads were isolated.

As I approached a maximum load, accuracy seemed to improve. I have seen this occur before.

I achieved slightly superior accuracy at one point, but backed off the powder charge one half (.5) grain to preserve safety and long case life.

I enjoy accuracy, but longevity of the rifle and the shooter are treasured.

I managed to find a small amount of Lapua brass at one point, and with the Hornady SST bullet, I found the most accurate combination in the Remington.

In the Springfield rifle, the 168-grain Nosler bullet over Varget powder gave good overall results as a good combination of versatility, effect, accuracy and availability.

Quite possibly a different combination might work better for you in your personal rifle, but by the same token, I would wager my loads will not be dogs in your rifle, and that’s the end of the story.

Remington 700 Testing (16-Inch Barrel):

125-Grain Sierra JSP 100-Yard Velocity Three-Shot Group

Powder Charge Velocity Group Size
49.5 Verget 2760 fps 1.0 Inch
48.5 Varget 2640 fps 0.9 Inches

130-Grain Barnes TSX 100-Yard Velocity Three-Shot Group

Powder Charge Velocity Group Size
47.5 Verget 2580 fps 0.75 Inches

150-Grain Barnes MRX BT 100-Yard Velocity Three-Shot Group

Powder Charge Velocity Group Size
44.5 IMR 3031 2500 fps 0.8 Inches

150-Grain Hornady FMJ 100-Yard Velocity Three-Shot Group

Powder Charge Velocity Group Size
44.0 IMR 3031 2508 fps 1.5 Inches

Springfield Victor Testing (16-Inch Barrel):

150-Grain Hornady FMJ 100-Yard Velocity Three-Shot Group

Powder Charge Velocity Group Size
44.0 IMR 3031 2544 fps 2.5 Inches

165-Grain Hornady SST 100-Yard Velocity Three-Shot Group

Powder Charge Velocity Group Size
42.0 Varget 2388 fps 0.4 Inches

168-Grain Nosler 100-Yard Velocity Three-Shot Group

Powder Charge Velocity Group Size
45.0 Varget 2594 fps 2.0 Inches

175-Grain Sierra Match 100-Yard Velocity Three-Shot Group

Powder Charge Velocity Group Size
43.0 Varget 2590 fps 1.65 Inches
43.0 IMR 2680 fps 1.5 Inches

.308 Winchester vs. 7.62 NATO

As most of you realize, there is a difference between the 5.56mm NATO and .223 Remington, and between the 7.62 NATO and the .308 Winchester.

Most of the difference is theoretical, as the factory will not produce one load that might wreck one rifle or the other. Just the same, some caution is demanded.

The military versions generally have longer chambers, and they are still ok. They will work with just about any ammunition that may be fitted into the chamber, as was the intent.

But since the chambers are cut longer, they also work with more brass than the tighter commercial chamber. Commercial .308 Winchester brass is traditionally not as thick-walled as military brass.

The worst-case scenario would be a hot handload put up in commercial (thinner) brass that allowed the brass to stretch in the 7.62mm NATO chamber.

Although many .308 rifles look militaristic, they are often set up for the .308 Winchester.

Use caution and common sense, and do not haphazardly use a load in one rifle that was worked up to the maximum in another.

Reduce the charge 10 percent in the beginning and watch for pressure signs, such as a flattened or smoky primer and sticking cartridge cases.

Have you ever tried handloading? Have any tips? Let us know in the comments section below!

About the Author:

Wilburn Roberts

When Wilburn Roberts was a young peace officer, he adopted his present pen name at the suggestion of his chief, as some of the brass was leery of what he might write. This was also adopted out of respect for families of both victims and criminals. The pen name is the same and the man remains an outspoken proponent of using enough gun for the job.

He has been on the hit list of a well-known hate group, traveled in a dozen countries and written on many subjects, including investigating hate crimes and adopting the patrol carbine. He graduated second in his class with a degree in Police Science. It took him 20 years to work himself from Lieutenant to Sergeant and he calls it as he sees it.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (5)

  1. Usually a rolled up bag.

    Sometimes sight the rifle in moving the scope knobs off hand

    After fifty years it gets better.

    I use a fixed brace at 200 yards after all if I shoot on game i wont have much of a brace

    A rolled up bag works well for me

    too late to change now but younger shooters should really start with a better system

  2. The little Original Lee Loader, if you have a rifle in which it ismade is an incredible bargain. Add an inexpensive scale and four (Lee) convenience tools (Lee chamfer tool, Lee primer pocketcleaner, Lee case trimmer) and you can re-load for any decentbolt-action and often for lever and pump guns. You can alwaysadd second Lee Loader in a different caliber, still using thesame accessory tools. Rarely is it necessary to use a pressand full-length re-size.Doc D

  3. I appreciate the technical effort to share with those of use that flat out have no clue – speaking for myself anyway. I’m hoping you have either already written or plan on writing the same for handgun loading. As someone who is clueless and not having enough money to even budget, I do know the “value” of obtaining the necessary equipment and proper techniques – including safety. Worse, all you need to do is go to Congress’s Legislation page to find out how dire things truly are or can be if Democrats get into office. This is not a political statement – but fact. There have been so many out right bans or further harsh restriction Bills proposed that I couldn’t list them if I wanted to. They are trying to attack the Second Amendment any way possible. This time, going after ammo by proposing we obtain a license to purchase! They are going after the AR-15 by name, including every single semi-automatic firearm with the same characteristics BY NAME! I realize this is a tangent from “loading” – but I’m just backing up the author when he mentions the difficulty in obtaining ammo off the shelf – and the need to look into the skills necessary to reload. As usual, they’re going after the honest law abiding citizen and not doing anything to deter the criminal. Thanks for your help.

  4. What everyone forgets is barrel harmonics. Not too long ago, several manufacturers even sold rifles with “barrel weights”. One thing that reloaders can do is to create a load that matches the harmonics of the rifle they are shooting. Having the barrel muzzle at the “nodal point”, for every shot, goes a long way to having every bullet going into the same hole on target.

    Another advantage is when getting new shooters to use new/different guns. A reduced power load is a great teaching aid.

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