If you read part one (Case Prep) and have made it this far, you know I have a matched and prepped set of cases that are ready for the next step in the reloading process. In this part weíll discuss reloading data, component selection, and components assembly.
It is now time to select the components that will make up our test rounds. The key to selecting components for successful reloads is having access to good reloading data. There is plenty of reloading data offered on the Internet from the major component manufacturing firms as well as individuals that have websites of their own. This is all fine and dandy, but in my opinion nothing will ever replace a good current edition hardcopy, reloading manual. The manual you select should depend on the bullet you plan to shoot or what is available in your area. The over-the-counter wholesaler where the majority of my components are purchased carries a wide selection of Hornady, Sierra, and Nosler products. But for some reason they do not sell one Speer bullet or manual. When asked why, the owner told me that Speer does not sell well in that area. So if your components selection is limited by such a factor, you may want to steer clear from buying a manual that has a bunch of data you cannot utilize.
For projectile manufactures Sierra, Nosler, and Hornady all make good manuals. Right now I am using the latest Hornady offering for the majority of my loading data. Not only because it provides good reference for all their bullets with a wide variety of powders for each, but because I have had great luck with Hornady bullets and use them in nearly every caliber I reload for. If I were to choose a manual published by a powder mixer, it would be from Hodgdon. Not only does there manual have data for a variety of bullets using their own brand of powder, but it also has data for other powder manufacturers. Not only will a good manual provide a wealth of reloading data, they also cover steps in the case preparation process, bullet selection, ballistics tables, and other reloading related topics.
Because I have chosen to follow through the steps in finding a load that will shoot well in my latest toy, the New England Firearms .22 Hornet mentioned in part one, Iíll start by looking up the published data for this caliber. Most of the time when searching loading data, it is for a T/C Contender barrel chambered for a rifle cartridge. Because we handgunnerís are a goofy bunch, it is important to look at the correct section of the reloading manual to obtain data. The .22 Hornet cartridge is a good example of what I mean. It is chambered in both rifle and handgun configurations. For most .22 Hornet data I look into the handgun section for loads to shoot in my 10" Contender; but this time Iíll look into the rifle section.
The .22 Hornet is not the only caliber chambered in both rifle and handgun. As handgun actions get stronger and shooters get more power hungry, it is getting increasingly more common to see larger caliber such as 30-06 Springfield (and much bigger) chambered in handguns. These larger capacity cartridges require the use of slow burning powders to reach peak performance in rifles. When fired in handguns carrying much shorter barrels, the slower powders give sub-par performance that includes low velocity and poor accuracy. A slightly faster powder will give a much more efficient burn and provide a better combination of velocity and accuracy. It also works the opposite way with handgun cartridges that are chambered in rifles, such as the .44 Magnum. It is usually loaded with a fast burning powder that burns well in short barrels. When loaded in a rifle configuration, slightly slower powders work best. This is why it is imperative that you look at the correct section of the reloading manual to obtain the proper data.
It is a guarantee that the longer you reload ammunition, a selection of manuals will collect on your shelves. As you experiment and try new bullets and powders, you will find yourself getting more manuals. You will also get more because loading data changes. Each lot of powder varies slightly from the previous so powder companies are always adjusting the loading data to match the new batches of powder.
The next step I take in starting with a new cartridge is to select a bullet. It is important to know the purpose you will be using the cartridge for along with its effective range. Because my test subject is a .224" caliber rifle, the bullet selection is expansive. Keeping the scope limited to the selection that is offered in the Hornady manual, there are still a variety of choices. Because Iíll be using the .22 Hornet mainly for varminting, I need the bullet to be accurate and frangible. The maximum effective range for this round is about 200 yards or less when used on groundhogs. For bigger game such as coyotes, the .22 Hornet is still an effective round but I would limit the range to around 150 yards. But again, keeping the bullet selection to that offered by Hornady and adding the requirement that it be potent on critters I decided to first try the 40gr V-Max. This is a polymer tipped, spitzer style bullet with a boat tail. I shoot a lot of these through my T/C Super 14 .222 Remington and Savage 12BVSS .223 Remington. They shoot well in both of those calibers and are super explosive on critters.
The .22 Hornet is an odd caliber in that some bullet manufacturers make a pill created specifically with it in mind. The "Hornet" style bullets made by Sierra are a stubby, round nose soft point with a thin jacket that will reliably expand at low velocities and are available in 40 and 45 grain. If I have difficulty getting the V-Maxís to shoot accurately Iíll be sure to try some of those during testing. But for now I have an ample supply of the V-Maxís and will give them the first chance before buying more bullets. It should also be noted that for this specific caliber, the barrels were at one time drilled for two different bore diameters. All of the newer Hornets are drilled with a .224" bore diameter. A few of the old .22 Hornets were drilled with a .223" bore diameter. There are still some of these firearms and bullets around so be sure to find out which bore diameter you have and select the correct bullet.
Now that the bullet has been selected it is time to choose a powder and primer. Looking at the data listed for the .22 Hornet in the rifle section of the manual and 40gr V-Max bullet, it shows that for testing the ballistic technicians used a small rifle primer. This is another uniqueness to the .22 Hornet that not many other cartridge have a problem with. Most manuals list small rifle primers for this caliber and I have no idea why. Most pistol calibers like the .38 Special and .357 Magnum shoot powder charges greater than the .22 Hornet yet use a small pistol primer. The flame from a small rifle primer is much too hot in my opinion for such as small cartridge like the .22 Hornet. Decent accuracy can be obtained using them, but when switched to small pistol primer it is almost a guarantee that groups will shrink. I read an article in Shooting Times a year or so back that discussed loading for the .22 Hornet and in their testing changing from the small rifle to small pistol primer cut the groups in half. In this case, changing from a small rifle to small pistol primer does not create any danger. The primers are the same dimension in diameter and depth with the only variance is the small pistol primer has a milder flame. Doing it the other way and substituting a small rifle primer when a small pistol primer is called for could create problems; the stronger flame of the small rifle primer would initially ignite more propellant in the case and increase pressure. And when pressure is increased beyond that which is safe, bad things can happen! For my testing I went with a CCI 500 small pistol primer.
Now to choose the propellant that will ignite behind the 40gr V-Max. The Hornady manual lists several powders for the .22 Hornet. Of those shown, I have H110 and Winchester 296 on my shelf. When choosing a powder, I look for the one that lists the highest velocity and if I have it, that it what Iíll try first. If I donít have it Iíll go to the next highest velocity reading see if that powder corresponds with something I have. So far I have not yet had to go any lower than that to choose a powder. If you are starting out fresh and your powder supply is rather skimpy, buy a pound of the powder that the manual lists the highest velocity and will best cover the range of bullet weights you plan on trying. Using this method has not steered me wrong yet. This time H110 got the nod simply because it and Winchester 296 listed at the same velocity and I happen to have a fresh pound of H110 that I have not yet used.
Per the Hornady manual, the maximum charge of H110 to use with the 40gr V-Max is 11.8 grains. DO NOT start at this powder charge. Just because it is listed as maximum in the manual does not mean it is safe in the firearm being loaded for. A good rule of thumb to use when starting is to reduce the maximum listed charge by 10% and start from there. With the Hornet using so little powder, 10% sounds like a good bit but is a mere 1.2 grains. Some large cartridges like the Ultra Mags would barely even notice a variation of this amount but in the Hornet it is enough to go from a starting load to maximum.
When developing a load for this cartridge, it is wise to increase from the starting load in very small increments. As a general rule of thumb, any cartridge that has a maximum listed load of fifteen grains or less, I reduce it ten percent and go up in 2/10-grain increments. For rounds having fifteen grains up to twenty-five grains maximum charge, I go up in 3/10-grain increments. If the maximum listed charge for a cartridge is over twenty-five grains, I go in .5-grain increments. In the rare occasion that I do load development for a cartridge using over fifty grains of powder Iíll jump to loading in full one-grain increments.
So since the Hornady manual lists a maximum charge of 11.8gr of Hodgdon H110 powder for the .22 Hornet, reducing that ten percent (which comes to 1.2 grains) gives a starting load of 10.6 grains. From here Iíll load three rounds at each powder charge starting at 10.6 grains and going to the maximum of 11.8 grains. This will give a batch of seven loads to shoot for this particular combination of components; 10.6gr, 10.8gr, 11.0gr, 11.2gr, 11.4gr, 11.6gr, and 11.8gr. If you are working with a firearm that you have not previously fired before, it is a wise idea to load a few extra rounds of your lightest load to use as sight in rounds; I like to load ten of the starting load. This is enough to sight in as well as get used to shooting the new firearm. Now we have a plan of attack; the components have been chosen and the loading increments have been calculated. This is the same load development plan that I use with every cartridge that I test.
Up until now no tools have been used. The reloading dies, shell holder, and dial calipers, all which were used in the case preparation steps, will be put to use again in a short while. The new tools needed for actually loading the prepared cases include a priming tool, powder scale, powder funnel, case tray, and powder trickler.
Now it is time for the disclaimer!!! It is VERY important to have a clean working area that is free from distraction from this point forward.Primers and powder can be a dangerous combination if not handled properly and carefully!!!
There are several types of priming tools available to reloaders; some presses even come with an attachment that will seat a fresh primer immediately after the spent one has been removed. This is fine if using the Lee Collet dies that require no lubrication for rifle cases or when using carbide-sizing dies to load pistol rounds. With any other type of sizing die, the cases will need tumbled to remove the case lube before they can be primed. Even when using the Lee Collet dies or carbide dies I prefer to tumble the cases before priming, this will also clean the inside of the case from any powder residue. Priming in a separate step also allows for the cases to be inspected for split necks or other defects. For seating primers, I like to use the tool made by Lee Precision or Hornady. Both tools use a shell holder very much like one used for case sizing. And as with sizing, it is very important that it be the correct size. If it is not, the case could be off center and not allow the primer to be seated properly.
With the proper shell holder in place, dump the primers into the tray then give it a gentle shake side to side. The grooves in the tray will flip most of the primers over so that the anvil (non-shiny side) is up. If a few are still shiny side up, gently flip them over with minimal contact from your hand. Believe it or not, the oil from your skin can deactivate primers. You canít tell this from looking, but you will know one is inactive when the trigger is squeezed and you are greeted with a "click" instead of "boom." After they are all anvil-up, put on the tray cover and we are ready to seat a primer.
Take a prepared case and slide it into the priming tool shell holder. At this point it is very important to where safety glasses and keep the case mouth pointed away from you. Now, gently and slowly squeeze the handle. You will feel mild resistance; this is from the primer being pushed into the pocket. The priming lever should be squeezed to the point that it stops. At this point, release the handle and slide the case from the tool and inspect the primer to make sure it is properly seated. In order to gain optimum primer sensitivity, the primer must be seated firmly to the bottom of the primer pocket. If the primer is flush with the casehead, it is properly seated. This is a step that is not to be rushed. Now proceed with priming each case and check to make sure they are seated correctly. After priming, I like to set my cases into the case tray with the primer up. This lets me ensure that all my cases have been primed.
If when priming, the priming lever suddenly becomes hard to squeeze before the primer is fully seated then stop! Release the handle and attempt to slide the case from the shell holder. Two primers stacked on the seating stem can give this feeling. If you can remove the cartridge from the shell holder, chances are that this was what happened. If you cannot remove the cartridge, hold the tool so that no primers will spill and carefully remove the tray cover. Slide the shell holder and cartridge from the priming tool and inspect the bottom side of the shell holder. Sometimes a primer can tip on its side and seat sideways into the pocket; it is rare but does happen. If this happens, very carefully put a dab of penetrating oil (or other type of solvent) onto the anvil side of the primer and wait a few minutes. This will deactivate the primer. Take a small screwdriver and carefully pry the primer from the pocket. When removed, thoroughly clean the case inside and out to remove all traces of oil.
After the cases have been primed it is time to set for powder disbursing! This is where the powder scale, case tray, and trickler come into play. It is very important to zero the scale before attempting to weight powder. There are many differing scales on the market, but they basically fall into two categories; balance beam and electronic. Iím not going to delve into describing each, how they work, or into zeroing them. Iím not that familiar with all the different types to do such an analysis. I can say though, my RCBS balance beam scale has not failed me with all the thousands of charges that have been weighed on it. Whatever you choose to go with be 100% sure to exactly follow the instructions that are included with it to zero the scale before use. A weight check set is also included with many scale sets. The instructions should also include directions about setting the scale for the powder weight.
When zeroed then set for the starting charge weight, Iíll proceed to the next step. Since there are going to be seven test loads with three rounds at each powder charge, twenty-one cases are set into the case tray. I set them three deep and seven rows wide starting with the weakest load on the left. Donít know why but this is the way I have taken to setting up to load test rounds, maybe because we read from left to right, but it seems to work for me. Next I take the powder trickler and slowly pour the top of it about ĺ full of propellant.
With the powder pan set of the scale, I take a small scooper (a spoon will work here but the ones I use are supplied with each set of Lee dies) and scoop a small amount of powder from the trickler. Then slowly dump it into the powder pan. If the scale shows that too much powder has been dumped, pour it back into the trickler and take a smaller scoop. If the scale shows the charge is too light, turn the knob on the trickler to gradually trickle more powder into the pan. Do this slowly until the scale shows you have reached the desired weight. If the scale is electronic the digital display will show the powder charge. If using a balance beam, wait for the beam to settle and the line of the beam to align with the mark on the scale housing. If it does not line up, add or remove powder as needed. It takes some practice, but over time you will get the hang of pouring, adding, and removing powder to get to the correct charges.
There are faster way to dispense powder, but when starting I find that it is best to do things simple. If you are lucky enough to start with a fancy electronic scale and dispenser combination, great! Those work by keying the desired charge weight into the dispenser. The dispenser and scale are optically connected by a light beam that reads from the scale to the dispenser and tell the dispenser to stop when the desired charge is reached. Powder measures are also a great way to measure powder and charges cases much faster than weighing each charge. When doing load development I always weigh each charge but after I have settled on a certain load, Iíll throw charges with my RCBS Uniflow II powder measurer.
After the first few cases have been charged with the starting powder weight, adjust the scale to measure 2/10 grain heavier and proceed with the next set of three cases. When all the test rounds have been charged with powder it is time to move onto the bullet-seating step.
For this you will again need the shell holder and dial caliper, in addition the seating die and bullets. The shell holder will be installed just as it was when the cases were sized during the preparation procedures. Before putting the die into the press, I like to thread the bullet-seating stem completely out of the die. From here I measure its length then rethread it into the die and snug the locking nut in the middle of the seating stem adjustment range. Instead of using a primed and loaded case for this step, I like to use an unprimed case and make a dummy round. This round will be used to later re-set the die if I would adjust it to load another bullet style. I keep the dummy rounds in the box with the reloading dies.
With a case set in the shell holder, I thread the die partially into the press. Now set a bullet on top of the case and raise the press ram slowly and thread the die into the press until it comes into contact with the bullet. Now lower the ram slightly, turn the die in an additional turn and raise the ram again to partially seat the bullet. Lower the ram completely and measure the loaded round. The over all length (OAL) for the 40gr V-Max in the .22 Hornet is 1.810". At this point the dummy round should be much longer than that measurement. Set the experimental case back into the shell holder, thread the seating die one full turn deeper into the press and raise the press ram then re-measure the loaded round. Repeat this process until the OAL begins to approach that which is listed in the manual. When the OAL is within 0.100" snug the die locking ring. Now it is time to refine the adjustment process using the seating stem until the OAL is in right on with the measurement specified in the loading manual.
Now proceed with seating bullets in the test rounds. Be extra careful to put the round back into its place in the loading block so as not to get them mixed up. Getting test loads mixed up in the loading block can be frustrating. If that happens, all the bullets will need pulled from the mixed up rounds, powder dumped then reloaded. If a top end load would get mixed in with the starting loads, the potential is there for damage to the firearm or even worse cause injury to the shooter.
After seating all the bullets, be sure to properly label them so when you get to the range you will remember which rounds are starting loads. When I go to the range, I may have several firearms that Iíll be doing load development for. It may even be several months from the time loads are assembled until I get the chance to shoot them. If I donít have the ammo boxes properly labeled, it would be very easy to forget the specific loads for each gun. I like to write the loads on a sheet of paper and tape it to the inside of the ammo box. It gets even more important to keep rounds labeled if you have two firearms chambered for the same cartridge!
This along with the first article has covered the entire loading process from buying brass through putting the finishing touches on loaded rounds. At this point the only thing left to do is shoot the test loads. Because shooting test loads can be a very involved process, it will come in the final installment. As with the first article, the final page has a list of all the tools used up to this point so that when you go to buy a beginners reloading kit or piecing together your first set of tools, you will have an idea of what to look for.
Summary of Tools Needed
Tools used in the case preparation steps that are needed again: