for Semi-Autos and Service Rifles
a separate section on reloading for service rifles? Arent
the procedures used to load ammunition for them the same as for
a more conventional bolt-action? In a word, no. There are enough
differences, quirks and concerns that the subject needs to be addressed
separately. Some issues relate to safety, others to reliability
and accuracy. Frankly, reloading for semi-autos is, and should be
considered, an advanced handloading activity. Our comments here
are intended primarily for shooters using semi-autos in NRA High
on sheer numbers of registered and classified shooters, High Power
rifle matches are the most popular competition in the United States.
Much of this popularity can be attributed to the types of rifles
used. The competition is divided into two categories: Match Rifles
and Service Rifles. The Service Rifle category, as the name implies,
is limited to the M1 Garand, the M14, the M16A2 or their commercial/civilian
equivalents. In the past, Match Rifle usually meant a bolt-action,
often a Model 70, modified for over-the-course usage.
This is no longer the case since the ascent of the M16/AR-15 family
of autoloaders in this type of competition. Many of todays
guns for the Match Rifle class are built on the M16 family of rifles,
or their larger cousins, the AR10 and SR-25s. These so-called space
guns are now in vogue.
for gas-operated semi-autos is a bit more demanding than the same
process in a bolt-action rifle. Considering the tremendous popularity
of Service Rifle competition in the NRA High Power game, more shooters
are entering this specialized reloading field every year. In the
end, the result should be the same safe, reliable and accurate
ammunition. Just how we get there will take a slightly different
basic as this may sound, a Service Rifle is not a Benchrest rifle.
Both of them are extremely accurate, and both are used in their
respective competitive venues. However, the requirements placed
on the ammunition are quite different. Many of the techniques beneficial
for a Benchrest rifle are of no value for a Service Rifle. Others
may be counterproductive, and some can even be dangerous. Well-intentioned
handloaders who fail to appreciate these differences face potentially
serious problems and a lot of frustration. We encourage you to read
and understand the differences involved.
ammunition, by its very nature, involves certain inherent dangers.
This is especially true for Service Rifles. Minimizing these dangers
requires some knowledge of the ammunition, firearms, and details
of the reloading process. Loading for Service Rifles, and for semi-autos
in general, present some unique challenges. Performing this type
of handloading safely requires some knowledge of how the systems
are an ever-present danger with Service Rifles (particularly with
the M1 and M14 family). A slam-fire occurs when a round discharges
as the bolt is closed. This can result in an accidental discharge
with no other damage, or it can virtually destroy the rifle and
injure the shooter. The deciding factor here is whether the rifle
is fully in battery. Unfortunately, most slam-fire incidents are
due to improperly assembled handloads, sometimes combined with poor
gun-handling techniques. A few simple precautions can decrease the
chances of a slam-fire.
all U.S. military Service Rifles utilize firing pins that rest freely
within the bolt. Referred to as a floating firing pin, it will actually
strike the primer lightly when the bolt is closed. This results
in a slight dimple in the primer, which is plainly visible if the
unfired round is extracted. This isnt a problem with military
ammunition because they use primers with thicker cups specifically
because of this. However, it can be hazardous with the more sensitive
commercial primers. The risk increases with high primers, headspace
problems, and poor gun-handling technique. These risks are covered
in greater detail elsewhere in this section. Please pay particular
attention to the sections about rifle manipulation, sizing and priming.
of Battery Fires
out-of-battery firing occurs when the bolt is not fully closed and
locked. This is less of a problem in the M16/AR-15 series of rifles
due to their bolt design, but it can easily happen with the M1 or
M14/M1A rifles. Several safety features are built into these rifles
specifically to prevent this from happening. However, these safeties
can be defeated, and the condition needs to be understood.
the case of original G.I. M1s, we are dealing with rifles that are
at least 50 years old. Most have seen hard service on battlefields
around the world, often in incredibly harsh conditions. Those that
have remained in the U.S. inventory (and were subsequently sold
through the DCM/CMP) often have been rebuilt at least once, sometimes
more. While the design is one of the best ever fielded, the safety
features are mechanical in nature. That means that out-of-spec parts
whether caused by wear, poorly manufactured (after-market)
parts or improper assembly can override these safety features.
This will become more of an issue as time goes by since fewer gunsmiths
will be thoroughly trained in the M1/M14 Service Rifles.
Manipulation and Its Role in Causing Slam-fires and Out of Battery
shooters, particularly those who have plunked down a lot of hard-earned
cash for a new Match gun, are inclined to be careful with their
thats good to a point. We need to remember that Service
Rifles were designed for combat conditions. They are robust, sturdy
and durable. They should be handled with care in regard to their
sights and bedded areas, and of course, always with an eye toward
safety. But they shouldnt be babied in operation.
Many new shooters find it a bit disconcerting to see and hear the
heavy slamming of the bolt as it is released to strip and feed the
first round from the magazine. That is exactly how they were designed
to operate, and any attempt to change it will cause problems. This
is most commonly seen in shooters attempting to ride
the bolt home by grasping the op rod handle and easing it forward.
Dont do it. Let the bolt slam home with its full force, stripping
the round from the magazine and chambering it in one swift motion.
often-attempted technique is to place the cartridge directly into
the chamber before seating the bolt. This poses two serious potential
problems. If the bolt is allowed to slam home on a cartridge that
is fully inserted into the chamber, there is a real possibility
of a slam-fire. This is rare with military ammo, but the potential
increases with reloaded or commercial ammunition. (The reasons for
this are covered more extensively in the sections on primers and
headspace.) The second potential problem can occur if the bolt is
ridden home slowly and allowed to seat. The bolt may not be fully
rotated into battery. This can result in an out-of-battery firing
and can be destructive to both the rifle and the shooter. Despite
the safety features built into the rifles to prevent this from happening,
they canand occasionally dofail. Again the solution
is simple; allow the bolt to strip the round from the magazine and
chamber with its full force.
is almost impossible with the M16/AR-15 family of rifles when long-range
ammunition is used. This is due to both the OAL of the ammo (which
is generally too long to fit a standard magazine), and the difficulty
of pushing a round down into a seated magazine through the smallish
ejection port. Fortunately, these rifles are less prone to such
slam fires than the M1/M14 series. The key word here is less;
they can still happen. Keep your hand away from the ejection port
when the bolt is released, and follow the recommendations concerning
priming and sizing. This should decrease the potential for trouble.
Some competitive suppliers, such as Sinclair, sell a special follower
for single-loading the AR family. They make the task a bit easier,
and we heartily recommend using them where applicable.
the M1 and M14 are concerned, a slam-fire or an out-of-battery firing
is an extremely serious occurrence. Stick to loading them only from
the magazine. While this isnt difficult with the M14, it can
be troublesome with the M1 and its en-bloc clip arrangement. There
are several aftermarket clips available that reduce the rifles
capacity, while still allowing the rifle to be fed as it should
be. At least two of these are intended specifically for the High
Power competitor: a two-round clip and a modified single-round clip
that stays in the rifle upon firing. With this clip in place, the
bolt locks to the rear after each shot, and the next round is manually
snapped into the magazine before releasing the bolt. When the stage
is completed, the clip can be unlatched from the magazine and will
pop out normally. We strongly recommend their use for safety and
because they make shooting the Garand a lot easier.
selection for the Service Rifle is yet another area where we deviate
from more conventional reloading. Specific cases, primers, powders
and even a narrow range of usable bullets make this an area that
requires more consideration than other action types. We have today
the widest array of available components that reloaders have ever
been blessed with.
the strict limitations imposed by the gas-operated action, this
is something of a mixed blessing. Service Rifles present a fairly
unique set of challenges for the reloader. Sometimes the requirements
to meet these challenges seem and in many ways, may be
contrary to each other. The nature of the gas-operated action dictates
how these systems operate and interact with one another makes these
selections considerably easier. Our goal here is to provide sufficient
information to make intelligent choices. Our goal with this section
is to offer a better understanding of how all these components need
to and do interact with one another when used in a gas-operated
semi-auto rifle. This knowledge will make the entire process of
handloading for such rifles easier, safer and less likely to damage
a valuable rifle.
if we dont already have enough to think about when reloading
Service Rifles, we need to make a few comments about the cases as
well. In bolt-action rifles, the cartridge case serves as little
more than a gasket, sealing the chamber and keeping gases from going
back through the action. Their feeding, extraction and ejection
cycles are, by comparison, exceptionally gentle. With the extreme
demands placed on cases used in Service Rifles, their selection
requires a slightly different set of criteria.
old standby, GI surplus brass, is still some of the best available
for reloading ammunition bound for Service Rifles. This is particularly
true where the M1 and M14/M1A are concerned. Its tough, properly
dimensioned and correctly annealed for use in a Service Rifle. But
there are still a few things to watch.
will occasionally encounter very appealing deals on once-fired 7.62mm
NATO cases. Almost without exception, these are cases that have
been fired in machine guns. With their generous chambers (and frequently
open-bolt operation), many of these cases are stretched or bulged
so badly that they can not be reloaded safely or cost effectively.
In the case of used military brass, the old adage that what
seems too good to be true, isnt, is good advice. Unless
the brass comes with a known pedigree, such as Match brass that
was fired in M14s, M24 or M40 sniper rifles, pass it by. Its
false economy to invest the extra time required to get this brass
to a point where it might be usable, or risk an expensive rifle
or your safety trying to save a few bucks on cases.
is at least one exception to this M852 National Match brass.
Originally loaded with Sierras 168 grain MatchKing, the M852
was originally intended for Match use only. As issued, the boxes
were clearly labeled Not For Combat Use. To reinforce
this point, the cases bear a rolled-in cannelure around the body
just ahead of the extractor groove. This is precisely the area where
most case stretching takes place, and the cannelure may weaken the
brass at exactly that point. Weve heard stories of this brass
suffering head separations at their first reloading, but have never
experienced it ourselves. This cannelure was dropped on later lots
and is entirely absent on M118 or M118LR ammunition. We recommend
these later batches as being preferable to the cannelured M852 brass
they are with so many other issues, the M16/AR-15 family of rifles
are less finicky about cases. Weve had excellent results with
a variety of military brass, and several commercial brands. The
biggest drawback to using the military brass is the required removal
of the primer crimp prior to the first reloading. Even this may
not always be a problem, as there are several sources that provide
once-fired military brass that has already been processed; that
is, sized, trimmed, primer crimp removed and polished. On the commercial
front, Winchester 223 brass has become a particular favorite among
Service Rifle shooters. By all means, take the time to talk to your
fellow competitors about their preferences and sources.
suitability takes on a different meaning with Service Rifles. To
most reloaders, a powders suitability equates to getting good
velocities at reasonable pressures. There are other issues to address
with gas-operated Service Rifles. Powder burning rates, in particular,
must be appropriate for the rifle. As contradictory as this sounds,
a load that gives significantly less than maximum pressures can
still damage the rifle if an inappropriate powder is selected. Thats
right. A perfectly safe load can damage the rifle. What were
dealing with here is port pressure. Service Rifles are designed
to function within both a set range of maximum chamber pressurelike
any bolt-action rifleand a given range of port pressure. This
is defined as the amount of pressure remaining in the bore as the
bullet passes over the gas port. Controlled by selecting a powder
with an appropriate burning rate, the object here is to cycle the
action at the correct speed. Excessive port pressure results in
the actions being violently slammed open, possibly damaging
it. This is particularly critical in the M1 Garand. With its closed
gas system and relatively fragile operating rod, choosing the correct
powder is essential to avoid damaging the rifle. Despite the robustness
of the M1, the operating rod is about as close as it comes to having
an Achilles heel. In this example, it is possible, indeed quite
common, for M1 Garands to be damaged with loads that are perfectly
safe as far as chamber pressures are concerned. This problem is
lessened in the M14/M1A family of rifles, but its still a
topic that needs to be addressed. Fortunately, it is a very easy
problem to avoid altogether. By sticking with those powders originally
used in military ammunition, with similar bullet weights and velocities,
port pressure problems need never become an issue. With the 308
Winchester/7.62mm NATO in the M14 family (or in M1 Garands rebarreled
to the smaller cartridge) or with the 30-06 in the M1, this means
sticking to those powders in roughly the same burning range as IMR
4895 or 4064.
M16/AR-15 family presents fewer issues in regard to this situation,
but still warrants some consideration when choosing a powder. If
in doubt, take the time to talk with other competitive shooters
or gunsmiths specializing in Service Rifle work. At this writing,
Hodgdons Varget and Alliants Reloder 15 are two of the
top choices for the AR-15. VihtaVuori N135 and N140 also have a
with powder options, Service Rifles also have a fairly narrow range
of bullet weights that can be recommended. Again, sticking to those
bullet weights closely approximating weights used by the military
will help sidestep most potential problems. In the M1 and M14 family
of rifles, bullets running from 150 grains on the light side to
175-180 grains on the heavy end will handle everything from reduced
course matches to 1000 yards. Working with bullets lighter than
these is perfectly feasible, as long as the powder selection still
falls within the appropriate burning ranges. Function is the bigger
concern here, and loads must be checked accordingly.
with powders, the M16/AR-15 series provide more latitude in bullet
selection. This is again courtesy of their more forgiving gas system.
Depending on the course of fire, bullets from 52-53 grains to 80
grains will serve quite well. For across-the-course shooting, most
competitors will use the 77 grain MatchKing at 200 and 300 yards,
and the 80 grain MatchKing at the 600 yard line. The 80 grain MatchKings
have also been used successfully at 1000 yards.
with powders, bullets and cases, some primers are better suited
to use in Service Rifles than others. Certain types of primers can
be eliminated, simply due to the nature of the cartridges and powder
charges (weight and type) involved. Magnum primers may be helpful
for ammunition that will be used in sub-zero weather conditions,
but will rarely be necessary for general shooting needs. The burning
rates of those powders used in Service Rifle cartridges, combined
with the charge weights used, simply arent that difficult
to ignite. Ball powders may be the one exception, but even in this
case are rarely an actual necessity. Standard primers are usually
the first choice for these guns and generally are the best place
or Match primers are favored by many shooters, with an eye toward
achieving the ultimate accuracy. Such primers generally contain
a somewhat milder pellet mixture that contributes to improved accuracy
potential. Some makes may also utilize a thinner cup to guarantee
reliability, although this is not always the case. The Remington
7 1/2 Benchrest primer, for example, uses a fairly thick cup. Sensitivity
can become an issue here and may increase the risk of a slam-fire.
The Federal 210M (Match) primers, a very popular choice among competitive
shooters, have developed a reputation for being rather sensitive.
While this may not be the case, Federal 210M primers have developed
a reputation as a potential source of trouble when used in Service
Rifles. Over the years, we have used literally thousands of 210M
primers in both M1 and M14/M1A rifles without incident. We feel
that the single most significant cause to such slam-fires can be
traced back to improper seating, not the primer itself.
1994, CCI began marketing a line of rifle primers specifically manufactured
to meet military specifications for cup thickness and sensitivity.
These are the No. 34 (large rifle) and No. 41 (small rifle) primers.
Their use in military-type rifles with floating firing pins should
decrease the possibility of a slam-fire as long as the pocket is
properly prepared, and the primer correctly seated. These are ballistic
equivalents to their respective Magnum primers. This extra energy
should ensure reliability in virtually any weather conditions, but
their real advantage rests with the reduced possibility of a slam-fire.
important as the choice of primer may be, its proper installation
is even more so. Our ultimate goal here is reliable ignition with
acceptable accuracy while eliminating (or as nearly as possible)
the chances of a slam-fire.
safety first; all other considerations secondary.
chosen the appropriate components for our particular application,
we need to take a quick look at case preparation for Service Rifles.
As with so many other facets of reloading for these guns, a few
steps are a bit different. Some of this material will be applicable
to reloading for other action types; some will not. Other phases
of the case preparation process pertain to the case itself, regardless
of what type of action it will be used in. A little understanding
of the process involved and why it is or is not necessary will clarify
the exception of Match brass, such as that produced at Lake City,
most military primers are crimped in place. This crimp must be removed
prior to the case being reprimed. Failure to do this makes the case
extremely difficult to prime, leading to the potential for high
primersa very dangerous condition. While there are several
tools on the market to correct this, Dillons Super Swage 600
is one of the best weve worked with. Whether with swage or
cutter, the remnants of the original crimp must be removed.
the primer crimp is a one-time operation, but keeping the pocket
clean is an ongoing process. The goal here is the same to
eliminate the potential for a high primer. Its rare that enough
residue would build up to prevent a primer from fully seating, but
it is a possibility. Keep a close eye on the primer pockets during
your case prep, and clean them if there is any question about how
well the next primer will seat.
length sizing is the only option in the Service Rifle world. Minimal
sizing does have its place in bolt actions, particularly where top
accuracy is the goal. It can also be used in some other types of
actions when reliability is not a top priority. However, anything
other than full length resizing is a potentially serious problem
with the Service Rifle. The case needs to be resized to the point
that it will enter the chamber freely, completely and with absolutely
no hint of resistance whatsoever. Failure to follow this simple
practice is an invitation to some major headaches.
most common problem is the failure to fully chamber the round. This
is troublesome at best. Considering the force with which the bolt
slams home, it can also wedge the round tightly enough in the chamber
that it is very difficult to extract without damaging the rifle.
In the worst case scenario, it sets the stage for an out-of-battery
firing when the trigger is pulled. Improper or insufficient resizing,
particularly when combined with a high primer, is also a leading
cause of slam-fires.
the oft-repeated advice that autoloaders, pumpguns and lever-actions
require small base dies, the Service Rifles may be the exception
that proves the rule. While its true that all of these action
types lack the powerful camming forces of a bolt-action, the more
generous chamber dimensions common to most Service Rifles are normally
compatible with standard dies. Please understand that this is a
general statement, and that there are exceptions to this. The point
is, you dont need to automatically go to a small base die
set. Most of the standard reloading dies produced by reputable firms,
such as RCBS, will resize fired brass properly to work in these
sizing is a popular technique among accuracy-minded reloaders and
frequently an effective way to improve accuracy. In essence, it
amounts to sizing only the neck portion of the case while leaving
the remainder of the shoulder and body untouched. This provides
that custom-fit of the brass to chamber that so many
shooters are working toward. Chambering a cartridge that has been
neck-sized will normally give some slight resistance to closing
the bolt. This is perfectly normal and to be expected when using
this technique. While its a minor detail with the powerful
camming forces of a bolt-action, this can be a serious problem with
a service rifle. It can cause a failure to fully seat and chamber,
effectively jamming the rifle. If the lugs have partially engaged,
this can be a very difficult stoppage to clear. Under extreme circumstances,
it can even lead to a slam-fire. The solution to these aggravating
and potentially dangerous problems is simple: Dont neck size
for semi-auto rifles. For any reason. Ever. Whatever minor accuracy
improvements are gained and there is not always an improvement
are more than offset by the problems that are going to occur.
Neck sizing is perhaps the best single illustration of a technique
that is beneficial for a bolt-action, but is dangerously out of
place in a Service Rifle. Stick to full length sizingALWAYSwhen
reloading for autoloaders.
turning the removal of brass around the outside surface of
a case neck to improve concentricity is another area where
well-intentioned hand-loaders can create problems for themselves.
While neck turning is a useful, even necessary technique for improving
accuracy in some types of guns, Service Rifles arent one of
them. Again, the requirements of cycling imposed by an autoloader
necessitate a different approach. In standard chambers, even those
commonly used in Match-grade Service Rifles are fairly generous
to facilitate proper feeding and function. With the attendant (radial)
stretching and subsequent reworking during the sizing operation,
necks will split in fairly short order. Thinning the brass too much
may also make it difficult to achieve and maintain proper neck tension.
This, in turn, leads to even more potential problems to avoid, such
as bullet set-back during chambering. Leave the turned necks to
Benchresters and varminters with tight-necked chambers.
physical act of repriming a case for use in Service Rifles is no
different than that of ammunition to be used in any other type of
action. That said, however, there are some areas to which special
attention must be paid. High primers where the dome of the primer
remains slightly above the case head after seating are always a
problem. In a bolt-action, single-shot or lever-action rifle, they
can cause difficulty in chambering, creating in effect an insufficient
headspace situation. In semi-autos, this condition becomes downright
hazardous. With their higher bolt speed and greater inertia, the
chances of a high primer igniting when the bolt drives home is greatly
increased. In the case of Service Rifles in particular, high primers
are far and away the leading cause of slam-fires. Slam-fires are
very rare in serviceable rifles using military ammunition. Handloaded
ammunition, unfortunately, is another story. Most slam fires can
be traced directly to certain errors in the reloading and
most often, the priming process. Since this is a phase that we have
considerable control over, this does not need to be the case. Some
additional cautions in component selection and preparation pays
dividends not only in accuracy, but also safety. The primary rule
to remember here is to never allow a high primer to get past your
final inspection and into the chamber of your rifle. The following
are a few basic points that deserve some added attention during
the priming process.
Ensure that the primers are always seated to at least 0.003
below the case head. The industry maximum seating depth is 0.008
below flush, with 0.006 below being ideal. This can be checked
with a depth gage or even with the tail of a caliper. After having
worked with a few, a remarkably adept feel can be developed
with the tip of your index finger. By lightly dragging your fingertip
over the head of a reprimed case, you will quickly learn to identify
the correct amount of dip present in a correctly seated
Primer pockets, particularly those of military brass, need to be
checked carefully and uniformed if required. Potential problems,
such as the remnants of a crimp, burrs or a pocket bottom that isnt
flat must be corrected. The goal here is to assure that the primer
can be seated below flush with the case head, resting squarely on
the bottom of the pocket.
Learn to feel the primer as it seats in the pocket.
Perversely enough, some of the least expensive tools are the best
in this regard. The Lee Auto-Prime hand tool is very inexpensive
but provides an exceptionally good value. It is used widely by competitive
Benchrest shooters, and in this example, works just as well for
Service Rifle shooters. Probably the best tool available is the
model available from Sinclair International. Either will provide
better results for match priming than any bench- or press-mounted
accessories. Avoid any tools that deprive you of the sensitivity
needed to feel the primers anvil stop against the floor of
the pocket. Most press-mounted priming accessories fall into this
Flash hole deburring, a common technique among accuracy shooters,
is viable for Service Rifle shooters as well. It is not a safety
concern and not a necessary step, but may improve accuracy for competitive
ammo. Considering the abbreviated case life caused by Service Rifles,
such time-consuming operations should be weighed carefully before
investing the effort. One option would be to perform this operation
on only those cases to be used for long-range ammo, where the results
are more tangible and the effort better justified.
selection for gas-operated service rifles is considerably more limited
than for bolt actions of the same caliber. In addition to the issues
of accuracy and velocity, port pressure is also a consideration.
Port pressure is defined as the amount of gas pressure remaining
in the system when the bullet passes over the gas port. It is this
pressure that provides the power to cycle the action. Most gas-operated
rifles are designed to function with a narrow band pressure. If
the pressure is too low, the action will not cycle completely. Too
high, and the action is cycled violently, leading to premature parts
wear and breakage. It is particularly important to understand this
last point, as it is key to understanding how a rifle can be damaged
by loads that are perfectly safe and within normal pressure
ranges. For the handloader, this means that suitable powders are
the M1 and M14 series, powder choices are fairly straight-forward;
use nothing slower than IMR 4320 as shown on a burning rate chart.
The use of anything slower than this will raise port pressure to
unacceptable levels and will eventually damage the rifle. As a general
reloading practice, avoid powders that are overly fast as they can
generate dangerous chamber pressures long before the case is reasonably
full. Two of the more popular choices have been IMR 4895 and 4064,
both of which were used in military ammunition for many years. For
those who prefer ball powders, Winchesters 748 is a good choice
and is quite similar to the ball powder used in many lots of Lake
City Match ammunition.
M16/AR-15 series offer a wider range of acceptable propellants.
Since they became the dominant Service Rifle in competition, there
has been a good deal of experimentation with the various powders.
Current favorites are Hodgdons Varget, Alliant Reloder 15
and VihtaVuori N140. The venerable 4895, in either Hodgdon or IMR
incarnation, is another popular choice. A little time spent talking
to your fellow competitors should provide a good starting point
as to whats popular (and readily available) in your particular
addition to the requirements of proper burning rate, theres
at least one other consideration that competitive shooters need
to take into account: powder compatibility. In this instance, were
not talking about a safety problem, but one that can greatly effect
accuracy. It also applies to any type of firearm, not just semi-autos.
Powder residue sometimes reacts very badly to a second powder being
fired in the same barrel without cleaning. In the course of a High
Power match, most shooters use different ammunition for at least
the 600 yard stage, since heavier bullets are normally used at long-range.
If the shooter was using a load of 4895 at the 200 and 300 yard
lines and switched to 4064 back at the 600, we may have a problem.
While it is not a safety issue, it frequently takes several shots
before the second load will settle down and begin shooting accurately.
If the powders were dissimilar, such as a double-based ball powder
followed by a single-based tubular powder (or vice versa), this
settling problem will be even more pronounced. With only two sighters
allowed in some matches and none in some others, this loss of accuracy
becomes a critical issue. If at all possible, try to find a powder
that works with both bullet weights and use it all the way across
problem isnt just restricted to match shooters either. Many
shooters have tested a variety of loads, including several different
types of powder at the same range session. If the rifle was not
cleaned when switching from one type to another, this may have manifested
itself as an accuracy problem. The shooter who is unaware of this
phenomenon would have most likely dismissed the later groups as
being less accurate than the first one tested. When several different
loads are being evaluated together, take the time to clean whenever
powders are changed.
selection is a common facet of almost any type of reloading but
becomes especially important when loading for the Service Rifle.
Aside from the normal considerations of the functions a case must
fulfill, the violent nature of the Service Rifles cycling
imposes some unusual requirements on the reloader. Steps and/or
techniques that are unnecessary when loading for other action types
can be beneficial, even required when dealing with a semi-auto Service
segregation should be done as a routine with any type of reloading.
Semi-autos or Service Rifles take this requirement to a new level.
Given their more finicky nature, they require greater attention
to detail than their manually operated cousins to function reliably.
At the very minimum, cases should be sorted by headstamp. Ideally,
they should be kept sorted not only by maker but also by lot and
number of firings. That is, they should be loaded as a single lot,
each and every time. The goal here is to make sure the entire lot
receives the same use and wear (the same number of firings, trimmings,
etc.), so it is easier to tell when to discard the batch. This also
removes the potential problem of mixed brass that should receive
different loads due to their internal volume.
conventional wisdom to reduce loads with military brass is familiar
to most reloaders and is generally good advice. The rationale here
is that the military cases tend to be somewhat thicker and heavier
than their civilian counterparts, which in turn reduces capacity
and raises pressures. This additional pressure normally requires
a one or two grain reduction from the loads shown in most manuals
or other data developed with commercial cases. While this is most
often the situation with both 308 Winchester and 30-06 cases, it
is less true with the 223 brass. We have found that military cases
often have significantly more capacity than several brands of commercial
brass. Again, take the time to do a side-by-side comparison of the
cases you are working with and adjust your load as needed. There
may be no need for such a reduction with the 223. Know your components
and keep them segregated accordingly.
sizing for Service Rifles is accomplished in exactly the same fashion
as it is for a bolt-action. There are a few points that need to
be addressed a bit more emphatically. Headspace, while important
for any other type of action, is absolutely critical in an autoloader.
When setting up a resizing die, the final adjustment should be made
using a chamber type headspace gage or one of the other multi-purpose
gages, such as the RCBS Precision Mic or the Redding Instant Indicator.
The regular use of such gages will virtually eliminate an entire
range of problems that stem from headspace related maladies.
Take a few extra moments to use these gages throughout the reloading
process both for the initial set-up and as a periodic quality
control check. Its time well spent.
trimming, probably considered the most onerous chore in any reloading
operation, is unfortunately a necessary task. There is nothing different
about the operation itself or the reasons for doing it in either
a bolt-action or a Service Rifle. That said, semi-autos have a tendency
toward greater case stretching than most other action types, and
trimming may be required more frequently. Because of the larger
quantities of cases so often associated with reloading for Service
Rifles, some thought should be given to ways of streamlining this
operation. In our own use, weve found the motorized trimmers
to be the best option. Two of the most popular among competitive
shooters are those made by Doyle Gracey and the Dillon 1200B trimmers.
Gracey operates exactly like a pencil sharpener. In use, full-length
sized and deprimed brass is inserted into the unit, just like a
pencil into an electric pencil sharpener. As the case stops on a
shoulder built into the shell holder, a set of cutters neatly trims
the case to length and simultaneously chamfers the neck. Its
fast, precise and very easy. While Doyle claims the unit will do
500 cases an hour, our experience has shown this to be a conservative
figure. If everything is laid out beforehand, it is easy to run
closer to 600 cases or more in an hour.
Dillon 1200B uses an altered sizing die, topped off with a high-speed
cutting motor. Mounted in a reloading press, the case is sized and
trimmed in a single stroke of the handle. While the process is fast
and accurate, the Dillon requires a bit more handling of the cases.
After trimming, the cases must be chamfered, and the neck tension
dealt with separately. On the positive side, it is not difficult
to size/trim upwards of 1,000 cases an hour with the 1200B. Either
of these units makes it fast and easy enough that cases can be trimmed
for every firing, as they should be for use in Service Rifles.
collet-type lathe trimmers offered by Wilson, RCBS, Redding, Forester
and others are all capable of doing a good job, but suffer from
being slow in operation. This applies to powered models as well
as those that are hand-turned. One advantage to this type of trimmer
is that several of them can be modified (with the appropriate additional
accessories) to perform other tasks, such as neck-turning. This
may be an advantage if the unit is used for other firearms (such
as varmint guns), but we cant recommend neck-turning for Service
we stop to consider the vigorous (read, downright violent) chambering
cycle a loaded round endures in a Service Rifle, it becomes pretty
clear it suffers abuse that would never happen in a bolt-action.
This is simply the nature of the beast. It needs to be dealt with
since there is no way around it.
are two distinctly different forces that need to be considered:
those that force the bullet deeper into the case, and those that
pull it out of the case. When the round is stripped from the magazine
and launched up the feed ramp, any resistance encountered by the
bullet risks having it set back deeper into the case. Due to the
abrupt stop the cartridge makes when the shoulder slams to a halt
against the chamber, inertia dictates that the bullet will continue
to move forward. This is exactly the same principle a kinetic bullet
puller operates on, and it works within a chamber as well. Some
years ago, we decided to examine this phenomenon more closely. During
tests here at Sierras range, we chambered a variety of factory
Match ammunition in an AR-15 rifle. This ammunition was from one
of the most popular brands in use today, loaded with Sierras
69 grain MatchKing bullet. To conduct the test, we chambered individual
rounds by inserting them into the magazines and manually releasing
the bolt. We then repeated the tests by loading two rounds into
the magazine, chambering and firing the first, and then extracting
and measuring the second round. This eliminated any potential variation
caused by the difference between a bolt that had been released from
an open position (first round in the magazine) and those subsequent
rounds that were chambered by the normal semi-automatic operation
of the rifle. Measuring the rounds before chambering and then re-measuring
after they were carefully extracted resulted in an average increase
of three thousandths (0.003") of forward bullet movement. Some individual
rounds showed up to seven thousandths (0.007") movement. Please
bear in mind that these results were with factory ammunition, normally
having a higher bullet pull than handloaded ammunition.
counteract this tendency, the semi-auto shooter is left with basically
two options: applying a crimp or increasing neck tension. The first
option, crimping, brings up some other issues that can be troublesome.
In general, crimping degrades accuracy. Most match bullets are not
cannelured (which also seriously damages accuracy potential), a
requirement for correct application of most crimps. Still, there
are taper crimp dies available from most of the major manufacturers.
Lee offers their Factory Crimp die as an alternative,
which seems to be one of the better options for those bullets without
a cannelure. That having been said, crimping is still, at best,
an occasionally necessary evil. Avoid it if at all possible.
otherand in our opinion, betteroption is increased neck
tension. This, in turn, leaves us with two more options depending
on what type of equipment youre using. The object of either
is simply a tighter grip on the bullet. Using conventional sizing
dies, (i.e., those utilizing an expander ball) this is accomplished
by reducing the diameter of the ball itself. This can be done by
chucking the expander/decapping rod into a drill and turning it
down slightly with fine emery cloth or a stone. The goal here is
to decrease the diameter two or three thousandths (0.002" to 0.003")
under bullet diameter. This is a trial and error process, and must
be done slowly. The end result is an expander ball that opens the
case neck up somewhat less than the as-issued item. This, in turn,
increases the grip of the case neck on the seated bullet.
better alternative to achieve the same effect is the use of a bushing
die, such as those from Redding Reloading. This is by far the best
solution, not just for Service Rifles, but for a broad range of
reloading applications. The basis for this system is a fairly conventional
sizing die, at least where the body and shoulder of the case is
concerned. In the neck area, however, the die is fitted with a removable
bushing. Available in .001" increments (as measured at the inside
diameter of the bushing), they can be matched with a specific batch
of brass to provide optimum neck tension. This tension can be increased
or decreased by simply moving up or down in bushing size. The one
drawback to this system, if it can be called a drawback, is the
absolute necessity of sorting cases and loading them in batches.
This, of course, is how virtually all loading should be done anyway.
the physical act of seating bullets for an autoloader is no different
than for any other type of action, there are some special considerations
again that must be taken into account. The most important is magazine
length. One of the most common methods of improving accuracy in
a rifle is to seat the bullets to an optimal length in relation
to that particular throat. This is rarely an option for the Service
Rifle, limited as they are in their magazine lengths. With the exception
of the 600 and 1000 yard stages, ammunition must be loaded through
the magazine. The requirement, of course, is that the ammunition
must be held to an OAL compatible with the interior dimensions of
the magazine. The problem begins when a single round is used to
set up a seating die, giving just enough clearance to allow the
cartridge to load into the magazine. Bullet lengths vary, routinely
by as much as .015" to .020" within the same batch. This is perfectly
normal and does not affect accuracy. This variation, however, must
be taken into account when setting up a seating die. The main point
to monitor is that the longest cartridge will still load and feed
through the magazine without binding.
ammunition is frequently set up to provide less of a jump to the
rifling and thereby improve accuracy. This has become even more
common since the M16/AR-15 rifles have taken over the High Power
scene. It is due to the long ogive bullets, such as the Sierra 80
grain MatchKing, used for the 600 yard stages. With their sharper
profile, they are much less forgiving of this jump to the throat
than the shorter ogive bullets used at the 200 and 300 yard lines.
Some method of locating the throat and then being able to set a
seating die accordingly is in order here. While there are several
gages on the market, most operate along the same lines as the Stoney
Point gage. We recommend these and use them faithfully ourselves.
handloaders, like it or not, are graced with the widest range of
gages since the advent of the metallic cartridge. These run the
gamut from highly useful tools that should be on every handloaders
bench, to others that only complicate or confuse the process. A
means of measuring case length and loaded cartridge length are the
bare minimum required for safety. Other, more esoteric units run
from ogive measurement to primer depth gages. The bottom line here
is take a hard look at the end result (and whether it really serves
a useful purpose) before you break out the credit card.
are an essential item for any reloader, but particularly so for
Service Rifle shooters. Varying case lengths can contribute to poor
accuracy, and those that exceed maximum length can dangerously raise
pressures. Calipers provide a fast and easy method to avert problems
with length issues. Vernier calipers are still available, but most
reloaders are probably better served by the newer dial or digital
models now available.
gages are another item that should be a high priority item for Service
Rifle shooters. Available from a variety of sources for around $20,
they are a fast, easy-to-use tool. They are essentially nothing
more than a minimum dimension chamber with a small step milled in
each end. The case is inserted into the gage, stopping on the datum
line of the shoulder. By examining the ends of the gage, you can
see any discrepancy in either case length or headspace. One of the
best uses for these gages is checking the initial adjustment of
sizing dies when a run of cases is started. As we previously stressed,
insufficient sizing and excessive sizing can be serious problems.
The case gage makes it simple to set the die correctly.
are several gages that accomplish this same task with the added
benefit of giving an actual dimensional reading. These are the RCBS
Precision Mic and the Instant Indicator from Redding. While differing
considerably in construction and operation, both accomplish the
same task. Each allows taking a measurement from a fired case to
determine how much the cases headspace lengthened upon firing.
When resizing cases, they allow the handloader to set the sizing
die to a precisely defined point. Again, getting this adjustment
exactly right when setting up the die is the ultimate goal for either
of these units, and one they accomplish quite nicely.
is a much recommended (and far under-used) step in the hand-loading
process. It becomes virtually essential where semi-autos are concerned
and should be a normal part of the reloading process. Fortunately,
there are several excellent tools available today. These are covered
in more detail in the Reloading section of this manual. While the
gages are a good idea for any reloading, they are a necessity for
the service rifles.
Load or Not to Load
spite of all the hard work that goes into its preparation, case
life can be brutally short in service rifles. In the M1 and M14/M1A
rifles, the cases should become suspect after just three or four
firings. This limited case life needs to be carefully considered
before sinking too much time in case preparation. Weigh time spent
versus tangible benefits gained to avoid wasting time at the reloading
bench. This gets back to the fact that loading for Service Rifles
is just plain different than loading for Benchrest rifles. Or just
standard bolt-action rifles, for that matter. The M16/AR-15 series
of rifles are considerably better in this regard because of their
different gas system design. Still, there are signs to look for
every time a case is prepped for its next firing. Excessive stretching
or thinning ahead of the extractor groove, often indicates an impending
head separation. Damage, either as dings or gouges in the rim or
extractor groove will cause feeding problems. Deep scratches, gouges
or dings created during the chambering/extraction cycles are cause
for scrapping the case. Loosened primer pockets (in addition to
being a clear sign of too much pressure) can cause serious problems
if they manage to drop an expended primer into the action. Again,
scrap the case. Trying to get more life out of tired cases
in any type of action is always false economy. It is, however,
particularly problematic with the Service Rifles. To avoid problems,
case inspection must be conducted with a brutal, unmerciful and
unsentimental eye toward the end result. Extensive case preparation
work should be weighed against this short life span and high attrition
point that drives home the need to gage during the reloading process
is that Service Rifle shooters tend to load fairly large quantities
of ammunition. There are few sights sadder than a shooter whos
loaded a thousand rounds or so, only to find out later that it wont
feed or function in his rifle. This is, unfortunately, far more
common than one might think. It is also completely avoidable. Take
the time to use your gages faithfully when setting up dies, presses
or other reloading equipment. Once the reloading process is under
way, stop occasionally and recheck the set-up again with the appropriate
gage. It really is just that easy to avoid all these headaches.
everything weve just covered, its easy to get the impression
that reloading for the Service Rifle isnt worth the effort.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact isexcluding
service team members who have their ammo provided for themmost
competitors reload their own. Our goal here is to make this an easier,
safer and more productive endeavor. The major point to remember
when stepping into this arena is that it is not the same as loading
for Benchrest, although accuracy is still a critical objective.
It is not the same as loading for your deer rifle, although velocity
is going to be a prime consideration. It is not the same as virtually
any other form of reloading. Take your time, pay attention to detail,
and recognize that this particular venue has some unique requirements,
and youll do just fine.