A Must-Read Site re Loading for Optimal Performance
A big hat-tip to AS for the link to Dan Newberry's Optimal Charge Weight Load Development website, which is now added to the "Shooting Resources" collection in the left margin. Take your time to go through and read all of the great information and processes assembled by Mr. Newberry - you won't be sorry!
But before you do that, take a few minutes to read his statement of principles from the site, as I think you will recognize a kindred spirit:
Where I'm coming from...
I'm not, nor will I likely ever be a benchrest shooter. My angle is the practical rifle, and by that I mean a rifle that you're going to be likely to have during the occasions when you may actually need a rifle. The rifle is one of the most integral and vital implements of our freedom in America, and it's a wonderful tool of survival. Toward that end, 1/2 MOA (minute of angle) accuracy is what I strive for.
There are big differences between a benchrest rig which shoots tiny "bugholes" and the practical 1/2 MOA rifle. Rituals and routines which are religiously followed in pursuit of that last (near infinitessimal) group reduction are fine for benchrest, but completely unnecessary for the practical rifle. I don't advocate the use of any shooting aids that you won't be likely to have in the field with you. Shooting jackets, mitts, matts, wind flags, heavy front rests and such are fine for games, but if you cultivate a dependence on these things you'll find yourself at a severe disadvantage in the field.
I do like the Harris bi-pod system, and have found sub MOA accuracy easily achieved out to near 800 yards in some cases when shooting from prone off the Harris bi-pod. A small rear bag (which could be the corner of a pack or even your balled up fist) is all that is needed to make a reasonably precise shot at any practical range. If you choose not to use the Harris bi-pod and opt instead to simply use your field pack as a rest, I won't argue with that. Many excellent riflemen do just that.
Meticulous case preparation is far less a necessary step when using the Optimal Charge Weight load. If you've properly developed your OCW load it will tolerate small pressure differences brought on by slightly odd cases. So unless you see huge burrs obstructing the flash hole, or your case necks are so out of square that it's obvious, you probably do not need to do anything but size, check the case length, prime, charge, seat the bullet, and shoot. I've shot some of my tightest groups at extended ranges with plain old vanilla unprepped Winchester brass which was simply
drawn from the bag, run through the sizer, checked for proper length, and loaded...
The practical rifle and the benchrest rifle are worlds apart. The philosophies behind each are worlds apart. The dispositions of the folks who use these rifles can be (but don't necessarily have to be) worlds apart. Look at the benchrest rig as a "rail dragster," unbeatable at what it is designed for, but of little or no use for anything else. The practical 1/2 MOA rifle is the one you have with you. It's the one you will want to become most profficient with. It is the rifle that may be called upon someday to ensure your or your family's survival. That's a tall order and a solemn role, but a good practical rifle in the hands of a rifleman can deliver just that if need be.
Americans--and others around the world--have turned to the rifle time and time again to ensure their soverignty and survival.
While I enjoy loading for and shooting many different rifles, the .308 Winchester most closely defines the practical rifle. The cartridge is more than capable of doing anything you've got any true need of doing with a rifle, and it's
abundant in supply. Other rifles may be more "fun" but the .308 is a "business cartridge." A hunting rifle in the 7 pound range with a decent 3 to 9 or fixed 4 or 6 power scope chambered in .308 is about as useful a rifle as you may ever own. This said, I don't currently own such a rig! But I submit my model 70 Winchester in .270 win with its 3 to 9 Redfield scope as a reasonable facsimile.
When choosing a practical rifle, stick with the common cartridges. The economic landscape can change overnight. You don't want to find yourself scrounging for ".327 bee-mashburn-ackley-whizz-whopper" at a time when supplies of even the most common cartridges are spent or being rationed. I'm not a "dooms-dayer"--don't get me wrong--I'm just one who likes to be prepared for the worst, while always hoping for
I'm a firm believer that every able-bodied American man and woman should have some knowledge of how to make long shots with an accurate rifle. The man of the family should have a good rifle and know how to hit what he's shooting at. Training the younger folks when age appropriate is of extreme importance in my opinion.
You need not spend a small fortune on a nice long range rifle to get a good one. Savage produces some wonderfully accurate rifles which are capable of 1/2 MOA right out of the box. These can be had for under 500 dollars in most instances. By "long range" rifle I mean one which can be depended on to hit a 5 gallon pail at 800 yards every time once you know what you're doing. Such a rifle might weigh 11 to 12 pounds with its heavy barrel and 10 power or larger scope. This too can be considered a "practical rifle," by the definition given earlier.
For those with a tighter budget, look at the NEF (Harrington & Richardson) single shot break action rifles. They make these in heavy barrel configuration, and sub-MOA accuracy can be wrung from them with only a bit of prodding.
Another extremely accurate and wonderful rifle is the 1896 Swedish Mauser. With mine, using its iron sights, I can hit that aformentioned five gallon bucket at 800 yards many more times than I miss it. These are chambered in the venerable 6.5 x 55 cartridge, and if you're good enough with the iron sights you'll not even need to scope the rifle. Current (Feb 2004) pricing on these is about 275 dollars for a really nice one; you can get a functional "Swede" for around 200 bucks. Don't overlook them. The only disadvantage is you'll have to keep your own stash of 6.5 x 55 cartridges ever available since this cartridge is not always easily found "over the counter."
It is easy to get lost in the yammer of rhetoric from all of the folks who are trying to be helpful out there. One will tell you one thing, another with seemingly equal credentials will tell you just the opposite. It's hard not to be confused on the issues of what you need and don't need. How much should I spend on a scope? Is the Redfield JR scope mount any good? Do I need to neck turn my brass? Will the NEF single shot rifle do? Should I get a primer pocket uniformer? Is the 30-06 better than the .308? And so on...
All I will tell you is that you must first define what it is that you want to accomplish with your rifle. Once you have a clear vision of your goals (but perhaps more importantly your needs) then you'll have a better idea of the specific
equipment and the necessary things you must do to reach that goal. Find others who share your basic goals and understandings to compare ideas with; those of other stripes will merely obfuscate.
I will close by saying that I encourage you to pursue the 1/2 MOA practical rifle route. That's where I believe we all need to be. Don't avail yourself of equipment and gadgets which you wouldn't be likely to have in the hunting field. I know more than a couple excellent bench shooters who are afraid to take a shot at a deer beyond 150 yards or so; they are without their usual creature comforts. (Don't get me wrong--it's good to know one's limitations. Injuring game by carelessly taking shots is certainly "unsportsman-like conduct").
Practice field position shooting. Practice a lot with a scoped .22 long rifle. Practice prone shooting without the mat, heavy rest, flags, and such.
This is the route to becoming a true rifleman.
My thoughts, my opinions...