Blue Box Surprise
Marcus O'Dean thought he'd check some test handloads for consistency and was knocked sideways by the results.
When I first started my 6.5 Creedmoor experiments, high-end ammo was pretty expensive, particularly if you really just wanted it to supply fire-formed brass for the purpose of handloading. I duly bought 100 rounds of 140gn Federal PowerShok ammunition at my LGS for a very reasonable price. I did a very brief accuracy test with it alongside some developmental loads with 140gn Woodleighs and 140gn Hornady Interlocks and, almost disappointingly, the factory load beat the handloads for accuracy, while not matching its own velocity claims by some 50fps.
I have only shot one animal with the Federal ammo, a little fallow doe, and I have never seen an animal drop so instantly, but it was promising nonetheless.
Some time ago I bought some Speer 140gn HotCor bullets and, getting them home to measure them for consistency, I was really surprised at how consistent they were in diameter and base-to-ogive measurements. Before Covid was a thing, I took some Speer “pluck-a-load” handloads to the range and shot a seven-round rapidfire match (35 seconds duration) on a machinegun nest target at 300 metres with my Howa Varminter, using a bipod(hate them) and my left hand under the butt. The shots all went into a group four inches wide by two inches high. “Crikey!” was what went through my mind.
Throughout months of lockdown I was not shooting and thought I'd take a break from handloading, preferring to walk, meditate, do weights and refresh myself by taking a break from most things “gun', apart from editing a hunting magazine five days a week, that is. Then just-superseded Hornady LNL Electric Powder Measures came on special, so I bought one, because Nick Harvey swore by his. Now I had to test it. What to do? Load up some 6.5CM hunting rounds. That's what.
Now I had recently bored out my Lee seating die stem to match the Berger 130gn VLD ogive, close as possible, at any rate. This would give me better base-to-ogive consistency on loaded rounds – and it did. Dramatically.
Now the Speer HotCor ain't got no sleek VLD target ogive, no sir-ee! Nevertheless, I loaded up two lots of four rounds, differing by 0.5 grain per batch, because I was skating at book maximum and just wanted to get the smallest velocity spread when I shot them for consistency, not accuracy.
At this stage it is worth mentioning that the Federal PowerShok brass was beautifully finished, but heavy! Averaging 179 grains per case, while my Jagerman brass was 156gn average. I set to annealing the federal brass with a candle flame, cleaned them off, uniformed the primer pockets (which did not need much if anything) trimmed to minimum factory length, chamfered the necks, collet neck sized and ran the now outside lubed necked brass through my Redding body die to bump the shoulder back a few thou'.
As I ran the cases up into the die for every operation, I rotated them once or twice before completing the downstroke in my Lee Classic Cast press – all in the interests of minimising runout.
I primed the cases with my Lyman E-Zee Prime hand priming tool, doing the rotation trick when seating the primers as well – couldn't hurt, eh?
I threw sub-maximal charges from my powder thrower, trickled them up to weight on the Hornady and check-weighed them on my RCBS 10-10 balance beam.
Cases charged next and I worked the seating die down until I had my desired OAL. Then I seated the bullets, once again rotating the case once or twice while completing that operation.
Finally, I gave them all a light crimp with a Lee Factory Crimp Die.
I then thought, “Why don't I measure the rounds base-to-ogive (BOG) length with my digital micrometer and Hornady bullet comparator attached and then compare them for consistency?”
I did and nearly fell off my stool. All eight rounds came in under plus-or-minus one thousands of an inch BOG measurement.
At this point I thought I might measure their runout on my RCBS Casemaster Gauging Tool on the case neck and the bullet ogive. All case necks bar one were within one thou' (one being out by 2.5 thou) and the bullet ogives were all within one
Now those measurements, particularly the case neck runout were only partly due to the stepped approach in running my press through sizing, seating and crimping, but the infinitessimal bullet runout was all the bullet – these HotCors, with a good load behind them, will group very well at any reasonable hunting distance – they have the tolerances of very good target bullets, in my brief experience. And the Federal cases may deliver slightly lower velocities due to reduced internal volume, but they will, I believe, deliver great shot to shot performance and durability, delivering many great performing handloads per case.