Terry Thomas

Hand Loading Accuracy

                                    Hand Loading Accuracy


Before we start I would like to share my thoughts. I believe in having four firearms ready to go.


  1. Flat shooting hard hitting long range like my 7 MM Magnum.
  2. Slow moving high energy 0 to 250 yard scoped rifle like my 338 Winchester Magnum for timber hunting where long shots are rare due to visibility.
  3. Quick action hard hitting brush rifle with iron sites like a 30-30 shooting Lever Evolution bullets from Hornady.
  4. Accurate and fast action 22 rifle, my preference is a Marlin lever action.

No matter what your choices are or if your choice is for only one rifle to do it all that rifle does exist and your ability as a hand loader can make it do all of the above and more.


Accuracy load thoughts by the Numbers:


  1. First one must define the type of accuracy they are looking for. Let us say you want to shoot 1 ½ ” groups at 100 yards. This is easy enough done by just hand loading with care and can be achieved using many different powders. There are many different variables you must keep in mind, rifle twist to bullet length, lose bedding bolts, loose scope mounts and on and on. These items will be covered in future writings.
  2. Let us say you want a shot group of 3” at five hundred yards, now we are getting serious. First off let me confirm that a load that shoots 1” groups at 100 yards does not mean that same load will shoot 5” groups at 500 yards, if your rifle does shoot 1” groups at 100 yards and 5” groups at 500 yards you are truly blessed and that load should be all you will ever need for normal hunting conditions and or to impress a friend. But if your dream is a tighter group here are the rules.
  1. Know exactly what bullet weight you intend to use for both long range shooting and hunting and make sure the bullet you have chosen matches the rifle twist of the barrel or as close as possible.
  2. Know whether or not you want to use a crimp ring, I know that the ultimate accuracy will come from bullets that are not crimped, I however will not use loads without a crimp ring and with that said I am willing to sacrifice + or – 1” in my groups at 500 yards. When I hunt I really hunt and I want to be sure that after all that climbing and bouncing around when I reach for my shells everything is in tack.
  3. Select the bullet you intend to use. Look for bullets that give the best ballistic coefficient and have excellent terminal force, that hold 90 + % of weight retention and you are done.
  4. Select the powder and speed at which you want the bullet to travel. Be careful here and do not try to reach a load that is above the maximum pressure and you would be smart to stay at about 5 % below. Check the reloading data carefully, read the type of powders they recommend or that performed best for them, they spent a lot of money on developing the book and some of their insight is important. The trick here is to find the powder that gives the most speed with the lowest pressure and will fill the shell case nicely. I repeat the most speed with the lowest pressure and will fill the shell case nicely. A little bit of loose powder in the shell case is fine however to much room left over in the shell case is not good and bullet speed will suffer do to this; if bullet speed suffers so will accuracy.  

Okay now let us review. We have selected our bullet, we have selected are powder and we have selected our speed which means we have selected are starting powder weight. We are ready.


Rule # 1:


Accuracy comes from loads that have the minimal amount of speed deviation between shots, in other words if you chronograph 10 shots and high and low spread is let us say 75 fps different you need to change something you are doing. Be it primers first, then powder and last bullets. I know you ask why bullets, I will cover that a little further down the page.


Rule # 2:


Accuracy comes when all the components are as close to the same each and every time. Brass is from the same manufacture and trimmed to the same length, primers are from the same manufacture, bullets are weighed and confirmed that they all weigh within a few tenths of each other copper plated with lead core and pure copper bullets will deviate you can verify this yourself. Bullets that weigh in ½ grain + over the average 3/10ths you have decided on should be set aside. These bullets are still excellent to use and will shoot groups by them self and the point of impact will not change enough to really matter. But if you want to confirm accuracy everything must be as close as possible. Powder is carefully measured to exact charges. Exact and or as close as possible.


  1. Now that we have selected our bullet we need to do a few things.
    1. Your need to drop the bullet into the chamber so you can hold it tight against the land and groove of the rifling. I use a wooden dowel for this.
    2. You need to insert your cleaning rod in the muzzle end of the firearm with the blunt tip used to push patches through attached to the rod.
    3. Holding the bullet tight against the land and groove you need to slide the cleaning rod into the barrel until it bumps the nose of the projectile. Once this is done you have to mark the cleaning rod at the tip of the muzzle.
    4. All brass needs to be sized and trimmed to the exact length.
    5. Using one of those pieces of brass you need to seat one of your bullets into that brass to make a dummy round. DO NOT PUT A PRIMER AND OR GUN POWDER IN THE DUMMY ROUND OR YOU YOURSELF WILL BECOME THE DUMMY.
    6. The reloading data book will give you over all length for the round you have selected. Seat your bullet so that it is about 20 thousandths long. Now try and see if the dummy round will chamber and the action will close. If the action does not close remove the dummy round and seat it 5 thousandths deeper into the casing and repeat. Once you can close the action slide put the cleaning rod back into the muzzle and see if you can still see your original mark.


      Once you are this close a good rule of thumb is the nose of the projectile

      should be about 1/16 of inch back from the lands and groove. If you intend

      to crimp your round as I do you may find the crimp ring is not in the right

      place and that the bullet would need to be seated deeper into the brass

      which will make it farther from the land and groove. There is nothing you

      can do about this.

      You will have to except this and try your loads for accuracy.

      I recently went with Barnes bullets as the Barnes bullet has many locations

      to crimp, I like having that options and truth be known it will not be that

      many more years before every State requires the use of lead free bullets.

      You must also confirm the dummy round will work in your magazine,

      sometimes the over all length works for reloading but the loaded shell is to

      long for the rifle action. I encounter this in my Remington VTR 308 and I

      had to seat the bullets about .125 short of the lands and grooves, not

      exactly what I would have preferred but the accuracy was still excellent.

      On the other hand 160 grain Barnes in my 7 MM is only .050 and I still

      have a good ¼” of magazine space left, you never know until you confirm.


  1. Load 20 rounds with your first choice let us say 45 grains of IMR 4350. This is the load you have chosen and we need to start somewhere. You will use 10 of these for testing and may need the balance to test fire after cleaning.
  2. Load 5 rounds with the same powder only this time we will load ½ grain up and down from your starting load. Let us say 48.5 grains is the maximum listed in the reloading data manual. What you should be loading is 44, 44 ½, 45. 45 ½ and 46 grains each different load has 5 test rounds.
  3. I would recommend using some sort of shooting rest like a sled as the tiniest movement at the rifle rest will be huge at 500 yards.
  4. Once you are ready to shoot and everything is in place, nice day, calm winds you are ready. When establishing accuracy loads and or any type of shooting except during the hunt never fire more than 3 rounds per every 20 minutes. I know some of you have heavy barrels that allow you to shoot at will and the heat will not affect accuracy. Do as you like but if you are shooting a standard hunting rifle if you fire it until the barrel is to hot accuracy will deteriorate and I mean a lot.
  5. Fire a couple of rounds off target to make sure the barrel is free of solvents and oil. I never hunt with a clean barrel. I prefer to fire a couple of rounds before the hunting starts as that is the way I have created my loads and I don’t want any changes.
  6. Now fire your ten rounds of the original load, verify bullet speed, condition of fired brass, look for flat primers or  protruding ring around firing pin hole as these signs indicate excessive pressure. Measure shot group and document. Tape the holes and repeat with your remaining loads of different powder weights shooting 5 shot groups, measure and document. If by chance your starting load shows sign of pressure it would be wise to not shoot the loads that you have loaded with a higher powder charge. Best bet is to take them back to the man cave and pull them apart.

              A.  This is hard to call so you have to be alert. Depending on the caliber you are shooting some rifles foul quickly 
                    and this will affect accuracy. My 338 will shoot 5” groups at 500 yards for the first 6 to 10 rounds after that the
                    group size goes to 12” or more. I have to thoroughly clean my 338 after ten rounds then fire two test rounds and
                    continue my testing. On the other hand my 308 VTR loves to be shot a lot and thirty plus rounds slightly affects
                    its accuracy. My 270 and 7 MM have about a fifteen to twenty round tolerance before they begin to deviate. So
                    my advice is after firing ten rounds you thoroughly clean your rifle, all copper residue must be removed, fire two
                    test rounds and continue testing your loads.


    1. If the velocity of the fired rounds vary greater that 75 fps you would be wise to look at a different type of powder. Always check multiple reloading manuals as each one may give you a better idea as to the type of powder to try versus the bullet weight you have chosen.
    2. If the velocity spread is reasonable look at the load that gave you the tightest group. From that group let us say it was 45 ½ grains. Your next shooting test should consist of 5 rounds of each starting at 45.1, 45.2, 45.3, 45.4, 45.6, 45.7, 45.8, 45.9 from these test round you should find the load that works best for your rifle and only your rifle. If you found your favorite load and gave it to a friend to try you may discover the round will not chamber or the accuracy you so proudly bragged about could not be achieved. This is your rifle and your load, not to say it will not work perfectly for you friend but it was designed for you.

Remember this, a deer and or elk will not know the difference between a 150 grain bullet traveling 3000 fps versus a 180 grain bullet that is traveling 2750 fps.


What we as hunters are looking for are the most accurately placed shots, the greatest bullet weight retention with the greatest amount of energy to insure a clean kill.


Though the trajectory of a 338 Winchester Magnum looks on paper a lot like a rainbow and without a muzzle break it can be no fun to shoot it is an excellent choice for all North American game. With the high ballistic coefficient of the 225 grain bullet and its high energy values out to 800 yards or more it is truly an excellent choice. Check the stats as the 270 Winchester and the 7 MM are also excellent choices.


I own all of the above mentioned and respect them all, however when it comes time to hunt I just can not leave home without my 7 MM. Its accuracy and energy at long ranges make it my first choice ever time.


I know that once this is done you ask what will I do for the rest of my life, the answer is simple, start over with a different powder and bullet weight to try and achieve the best group you can. You may find that although you choose 150 grain bullet as the one and only you may discover that 180 grain bullet gives a tighter group than your original choice and has less wind drift and more energy down range.


Once you have convinced yourself you have the most accurate load you can achieve try shooting you most honored load from the sitting, kneeling, bipod and standing position. You will quickly discover how disappointed you are in that honored load. You will also note that the problem lies in the shooter and not the load. You will not have that shooting sled in the field and so this is what we do in our spare time, Practice, Practice, Practice.


There are many more things one can do to help create the ultimate long range load and some of these things are technical and time consuming. This article is for the average Joe who wants an accurate load he can trust to reach its objective effectively.


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