April 2010 Cover Page

April 1876  

The Rifleman's Journal

A Collection of Articles Dealing with Rifle Accuracy Topics

This Month
The Story of Creedmoor
Concentricity in Reloading
National Match Ammunition

15 Cents  

Reloading: A Few Concentricity Questions

Reloading: A Few Concentricity Questions

I have been reading the thread on sizing, and your article on the Rifleman's Journal, man my head in spinning. I was hoping you could give me some advise, as always highly valued coming from yourself. I have a Remington R5 that I shoot in 600 yd. and 1000 yd. matches in a factory gun class.  I want the straightest brass I can get using Lapua brass and Sierra 175's. Could you give me a die recommendation for a .308 with a factory chamber? I have Redding standard die set, and a Type S full-length bushing die with the correct bushings, and a Redding comp seater. I had been using the Lee collet set, but I did not like the way it left my brass looking. I'm just looking for the best I can get with non-turned brass and a factory chamber. Do I need to buy the Redding comp. neck die then run in a body die to bump?

Look forward to your reply when you get the chance.


Hi Mark,

The dies you have are perfect, no need to buy anything else. The body die, in my opinion, became obsolete when they brought out the Type S die, it's essentially the same as a body die with a bushing. Let's look at each factor, then get to a solution.

Your factory chamber neck is probably pretty large, I suspect it's between 0.342" and 0.345", measure a few fired cases, add 0.001" to the average and that's a good indication of the chamber neck size.

Lapua brass is relatively thick, usually close to 0.015" at the neck. Your loaded rounds are probably 0.337" to 0.338" diameter, is that correct?

If your loaded rounds are about what I estimated, then a sized neck in your standard FL die should measure about 0.335". That's after being sized down to somewhat smaller than that dimension and being popped open by the expander ball.

Let's think about the Type S bushing die for a moment. Assuming for the moment that your chamber neck is 0.344", fired brass is 0.343" and you would like to get to 0.335". That's a reduction of 0.008" which is best done in two steps to maintain concentricity. I would use a 0.338" bushing followed by a 0.335" bushing in the Type S die. Running the brass through the die twice shouldn't change the headspace or overwork the brass, there's no need for a second die.

If you happen to have a bushing type neck die, then you can use the neck die with the 0.338" bushing and follow with the Type S with the 0.335" bushing, but whether you use one die or two for the two step process, the outcome will be the same.

In my experience, the standard die will get you slightly better runout figures. However, the trade-off is that the brass might not last as long since you are working the neck more by reducing it below 0.335" (maybe a lot more) and using the expander to bring it back out to that size. Removing the expander is not a solution because then the neck will be too small and seating bullets will be very difficult and runout will actually increase - not to mention that the bullet has then become your expander so nothing was gained at all.

The ultimate solution is a standard die with the neck reamed to the exact size desired or maybe 0.001" smaller to allow for slight variations in brass. The downside to that is that you limit the use of that die to brass of a specific neck thickness. For instance, a die with a 0.335" neck would be useless with Winchester brass and one with a 0.331" neck for Winchester would over-work Lapua or Lake City brass.

If it were my rifle, I would use the Type S with two bushings and no expander. The concentricity will be acceptable, and that will allow you to experiment a bit with neck tension which may result in some accuracy gains. Small variations in concentricity, especially in a factory chamber, may not have a noticeable effect on accuracy. An added benefit to the bushing method will be increased brass life and at the price of Lapua, that's not a bad thing!


I've been reading this subject and have a few points I'd like to pass by you. I am doing this by PM just in case it's not valid. There is no point in skewing a good thread with a page full of comments on how this newbie, aka me, jumped in and managed to swallow both feet!

If I understand correctly, if you size brass without the expander ball in the die, you end up with brass that is concentric in its outside dimensions, i.e. the outside of the case is concentric with its longitudinal axis, but you end up with an irregular inside neck. If you run the die with the expander ball, you have a concentric inside neck but the irregularities are transferred to the outside portion of the neck.

Has anyone thought about mounting a cylindrical reamer to a sizing die? With the case neck being firmly held by the die, you would ream the inside neck to achieve the wished-for result, brass that is both concentric along its longitudinal axis and a concentric and round inside neck.

What is your opinion?

Hi Phil,
You have the concept down perfectly. In practice it isn't always as perfect as that because brass is springy, but that doesn't make the theory less valid. There are inside neck reamers but the only one I've seen that works with a die is a specialty unit made by RCBS. It's been a number of years since I've seen one, that might say something about it's real value. Wilson makes a reamer that is used with their case trimmer setup; the case is in the case holder which isn't quite as firm a setup as in a die, but better than the Forster which allows the case to move enough to align the reamer with the existing hole.

Reamers of any sort tend to follow the hole they're in, so reaming a neck with wall thickness variance will likely result in a thinner neck with the same variance. Outside neck turning, on the other hand, works based on the centerline of the case and is a much more precise method of eliminating neck thickness variance and is a real aid to concentricity and equal neck tension.

Nothing wrong with your question at all!

Thank you for responding to my query.

1. My understanding is that you use outside neck-trimming procedures once you have used a neck-sizing/FL sizing die.

2.  I also understand that many processes that require the neck-sizing button to travel in and out of the neck can/may induce that neck to be off-center. This may be because the thread cut into the die might not be perfectly centered or that the locking nut may/may not be at a 90 degree to the axis of the threaded shaft.

3.  I am not thinking of replacing the neck button in die processes; it provides an efficient method of processing brass for almost all reloading uses. I am more interested in pushing this reloading process to the next level. Take the following premise: you have a resizing die that does not use the expander button; you resize you brass using this die, which produces brass that is externally 'perfect'. This brass would then go through a process that ensures the inside diameter is correct for the projectile and neck tension that is wished for. Such a round would be, empirically, the perfect round to be inserted into a chamber.

4.  I understand, as per your comments earlier, that a reamer would try to reach a center according to the resistance to its cutting. How much deflection do you think a reamer would have with a support, say 1/2 in. from the casing mouth? I am of course thinking of a bearing supporting the reamer within 1/2 in. of its cutting action into the case mouth neck. The reamer would then be fed into the neck in a controlled fashion.

5.  I am still contemplating some tool that, within measurable values, can be axially centered to the longitudinal axis of the inserted brass's center.

I understand that all I am putting forward would mean additional work by accuracy reloaders. But the potential accuracy increase might be worth the development work. What do you think?

Hope to hear from you soon,



Let's take your questions and thoughts one at a time and see where we end up.  I've numbered them for easy reference.

1.  Yes, I outside neck-turn my brass and before doing that it is necessary to full length size it with a non-bushing die (unless the brass is unfired).

2.  The expander button is usually not held with an unyielding degree of rigidity and will follow the neck as it exits the case.  Lack of alignment or concentricity with the centerline of the die is not a major concern.  Also bear in mind that the case is a fairly loose fit in the shellholder and is unsupported at the time that the expander button is going through the neck.  Between those two factors, there is quite a bit of self-alignment in the action of the expander ball.  Accordingly, the expander ball is not a major contributor to case neck runout.  However, to the extent that it is a concern, an O-ring can be put under the locking nut for the expander stem and that will allow a bit more float to minimize any such effect.

3.  Typically, when using bushing dies, no expander is used.  The bushings are selected based on the neck thickness and the desired degree of neck tension.  Of course the neck thickness can be varied through neck turning and the bushings come in a wide range of sizes, thus allowing for very fine variations in neck tension.  Some people use a die with no expander ball and then set the ID by running a tapered expander into the case such as is used before neck turning.  I may be wrong, but I don't think this is a material improvement over the standard expander ball and it is definitely no improvement over a correctly sized neck and no expander.

4.  I don't think you can hold the neck reamer and the case with sufficient rigidity to prevent the reamer from following the hole.  Even in a lathe, a reamer will follow the hole in front of it, that's one of the focal points of a good setup in barrel chamber reaming, for instance.  Given the small scale of case neck reamers and the low rigidity of any tool with which you might hold them, as compared to a lathe, I'm not at all optimistic that it can be done without the reamer following the hole in the neck.  More importantly, I don't understand what could possibly be gained over conventional outside neck-turning which is a simple and proven method of creating uniform neck thickness and very concentric body/neck alignment.

5.  Consider that once the brass is outside neck-turned and then fired, you have the benefit of a 55,000 psi alignment tool to bring the centerline of the now evenly thick neck into alignment with the centerline of the case body.  The end result is limited only by differential expansion/contraction rate (springiness) of various points along the circumference and length of the case body resulting from radial case thickness variance and to a lesser degree by the springiness of various points of the neck itself.  However, these same factors would also limit the result with neck reamed brass (assuming reaming could be done to a satisfactory level of neck uniformity).   With good dies and procedures, they'll stay that way for the rest of their service life.  The idea of getting to the same end result by inside reaming seems to discount the value of the fireforming process in neck/body alignment along with overestimating the probability of being able to ream on center.

Phil, I don't like to just be a naysayer, but neck reaming was simply an early evolutionary step in the accuracy world on the way to where we are now - high precision outside neck-turning with readily available tools at a moderate cost.  What you're proposing will require expensive, one-off tooling with no potential to do a better job and a significant likelihood of doing a lesser job.  I enjoy thinking about these questions, it makes me really analyze what we do and why we do it and in this case, I'm convinced that outside neck-turning remains the best answer to the problem of uneven case neck thickness.  Thanks for the questions!


Reloading: Concentricity Tools

Concentricity Tools
by: German A. Salazar

There is no shortage of concentricity checking tools on the market today and it seems new ones keep coming to market so a quick survey of what we look for in a concentricity tool might be useful.  I don't intend to cover every tool available, after all, this is all done on my own time and budget!  However, I have three concentricity checking tools and a comparison of their features and ease of use might be useful for someone contemplating buying this type of tool.  The three tools are: the old Sinclair, which is a traditional V-block and dial indicator tool; the Bruno's tool, a high quality unit which has some interesting features; and the NECO tool which is really a very adaptable case checking tool, not just concentricity although we will limit this article's coverage to concentricity.

This article does not address the question of the accuracy effect of greater or lesser concentricity, that's a topic for another day (if ever).  We are simply concerned with the accuracy, ease of use, limitations and other features of the three tools covered.  It's up to you to decide which one, if any, is worth your time, money and effort.  I have all three and use them at different times for different projects; to me, all are worthwhile, but I'm a tool hoarder anyway.  Let's have a look at them individually.

Sinclair (old model)
The old Sinclair is a very simple, well made tool which is very intuitive in design and use.  Unfortunately it has been discontinued and I haven't tried the replacement model so I will focus on the old model of which there are thousands in use and sometimes appear for sale in the classified ads of the shooting sites. 

The tool consists of a V-block on which the cartridge case rotates, a back plate to keep the case in a fixed position and a probe-type dial indicator mounted on a support tower.  The case is rotated on the V-block while maintaining slight downward and rearward pressure to keep the base down and bearing against the back plate.  In practice this is very easy to do, requires almost no conscious effort and yields consistent results.  To adjust for different length cases or to go from checking case neck concentricity to seated bullet concentricity, you simply loosen a lock screw on the support tower, slide the tower to the appropriate position and continue.  If the indicator needs to be raised or lowered, it too is adjusted through a simple lock screw.  Really, this is the simplest possible tool to use and it works well.

There are a couple of points to watch out for with the Sinclair tool.  The first, which is common to all of these tools is to keep the V-block clean as it has a tendency to accumulate a bit of grunge and that can have a small effect on readings.  The other is that the smoothness and perhaps accuracy of the tool can be affected by irregularities on the case base, including from the primer.  I generally prefer to remove the primer with a decapping die prior to using the tool on fired but unsized brass.  If the case has some nicks and gouges on the rim, such as a semi-auto's extractor might cause, it's best to dress these down before checking runout.

The Sinclair is supplied with a 0.001" indicator which is accurate enough for our needs, but the lines on the indicator can be tough to read, after all, we're looking at movement of about 0.002" on average and those are small, closely spaced lines.  Any dial indicator with the right stem length can be substituted by the user and in some cases that might be worthwhile, especially if really precise readings are desired.  There are dial indicators with 0.0005" gradations that might make life a bit easier given the low total displacement we are looking at in the case concentricity inspection process.

I've always liked the fact that the old Sinclair tool does not support the neck of the case.  Intuitively, if we're looking at neck to case body concentricity, we should be holding one part and examining the other - or so it would seem.  That may not be entirely correct, as I've discovered, but it has a certain appeal and it isn't entirely wrong either.  In practice, the indicator probe resting on the unsupported neck does a good job as long as the pressure isn't excessive and the case is rotated with consistent downward and rearward pressure.  There's very little not to like about the old Sinclair tool, after all, it's simple, it works reasonably well and it's easy to adjust.  It wasn't too glamorous, but it sure didn't need to be discontinued.  I've used mine for over 20 years when checking new brass or die setups; it's quick, handy and has always been close by on the workbench.

I suspect that Lester Bruno doesn't need much of an introduction around here.  As one of the world's best Benchrest shooters, Lester knows accuracy and Lester's business is providing us will all of the things we need, large and small, to pursue our accuracy goals.  I'm a frequent visitor at Bruno's, maybe even the reason Amy put up that "No Loitering" sign, I don't know for sure...  Shortly after I posted the article on two-step sizing and concentricity, Lester suggested that I try one of the concentricity tools that he makes and sells.  Fair enough, I thought, a new tool and it looks very nice, let's give it a go.  To be honest, it seemd a bit pricey and compared to some other tools, it is - but I think it's worth the price for the use I give it and I'm glad I went for it.

Visually the Bruno tool is a gem, the anodizing is bright, the polished pieces are well done and it uses a high quality lever-arm test indicator with 0.0005" gradations which allows for very precise readings.  My first impression, however, was that it might be too small for some of the work I do, especially the .30-06.  It really looks like it's scaled for the 6PPC, or maybe I thought that because it comes from Lester.  Well, this was one of those ocassions when I was quite happy to be wrong, it easily handles the .30-06 and larger cases as you can see in the pictures.

Basic adjustment for case length is simple enough: loosen a lock screw on the tapered case mouth/bullet support and slide it to the desired location.  The more challenging part is moving the indicator to the new location.  The indicator is mounted on a tool post and while the holder is sufficiently adjustable, it is not easily adjustable.   Frankly, it takes a bit of work to properly locate the indicator, but once that's done (a matter of a few minutes at most) it will hold its setting perfectly.  The rear of the case is supported by two tapered posts.  In the middle there is a central tower with an interesting case support: a vertical rod with a contoured case-riding piece that presses lightly down on the case to keep it from tipping upward from the finger pressure at the rear - quite clever and effective.  The case mouth rides in a horizontal tapered post which also has a central hole in which the bullet tip rides when measuring runout on seated bullets.

Using the Bruno tool isn't very different from the Sinclair, you maintain a slight forward pressure as you rotate the case.  However, the design of the Bruno with the end of the case hanging in the air makes it much easier to turn it consistently through a rotation.  Bring the central case-rider to bear on the case tiny bit of downward pressure prior to starting; that keeps the case rotating smoothly but  there is no need to press on the post while actually rotating.   The 0.0005" indicator reads smoothly and really gives a better visual indication of runout than the 0.001" indicator that I have on the Sinclair.  In part this is due to the smaller, more precise contact point of the lever arm indicator used on the Bruno tool.  I should also mention that reading the Bruno is a lot easier since the indicator faces up, whereas on the Sinclair I have to crane my neck to look at the forward-facing indicator.  The Sinclair is a good tool that has given me many years of good service, but the Bruno is a better setup for real precision.

When measuring a seated bullet, the Bruno is simple and intuitive in use: adjust the length of the tip holder, set up the indicator to bear on the ogive and get to it.  I usually slip a Sinclair hex nut comparator over a bullet to make a faint mark right at the ogive to help me in determining where to set the indicator.  I then set the indicator tip about 0.010" behind the mark so that I am definitely on the bearing surface even if some of the bullets have a bit of variance.  It's a handy way to get set up consistently from one session to another.

Reading an empty case requres a little more effort, but not much.  When I began using the tool I was concerned because it consistently showed more runout on empty cases (fired or sized) than the Sinclair.  Not only that, but the readings were also kind of jumpy and didn't seem reliable.  After some examination I understood the reason for that behavior: the case mouths had small dings or burrs generated in the extraction and ejection process (my rifles have normal plunger ejectors with enough spring power to get the case out of the rifle).  These little dings and burrs don't ride smoothly on the tapered case mouth holder and cause the odd readings.  All it takes to cure that is a very light touch-up with a chamfer/deburring tool to get a nice, even chamfer and a quick rub on some fine steel wool.  Once the chamfer in the case mouth is even and smooth, the readings are in line with those of the Sinclair tool, although easier to read to a fine level of precision due to the finer gradations on the indicator and its horizontal mounting.  The Bruno tool has become my principal tool for checking the concentricity resulting from different die setups and for comparing the results of one loading process to another; I simply have more confidence in my ability to get an accurate reading from it.


The NECO tool is a very versatile case checking tool, a development of Creighton Audette's original design.  I've written about it before, covering what I consider to be its primary function: checking case body thickness variance (click here for the article).  I am perfectly satisfied with that use for the tool and have never before used it for checking neck or bullet concentricity.  However, the tool comes with a very detailed instruction manual that shows how to set it up for a number of different functions so I decided to give it a try.

Following the instructions to set it up for checking loaded bullet concentricity only took a couple of minutes.  Once that was done, I took a piece of factory ammo and checked the runout on the bullet, comparing it to the results from the other tools.  The NECO and Bruno tool gave the same reading on this piece, right at 0.0025" and it repeated well.  The Sinclair showed more runout and did so in an irregular, sort of bumpy manner.  I suspect that the case may be slightly irregular and all the contact in the Sinclair's V-block made it jump around.  I have more confidence in the readings from the Bruno and NECO in this case. 

The NECO shares some of the Bruno's virtues in being read easily from above as well as ease of case manipulation.  My old Craftsman indicator is a 0.001" model and not as precise as the one that comes on the Bruno, but it could be replaced easily enough.  The indicator that came on the NECO didn't funtion properly when I got the tool.  I sent it to NECO and they replaced it with one that works well but by then I'd mounted the Craftsman on it and it has stayed on because it came out of my father's tool box and is a nice reminder of him when I use the tool.

Case neck concentricity is the other half of our test and unfortunately, the NECO just didn't fare well at all here.  The instruction book doesn't show a setup for case neck concentricity checking and I think that omission was not accidental.  The picture at left shows how I arranged things for checking the necks with the sliding V-blocks arranged to reasonably support the case and the case mouth in the stepped stub.  However, I wasn't able to get consistent support from the front V-block despite trying various locations and using both sides of the block (it has different size V's on either side).  Readings were very jumpy, inconsistent and large, leading me to believe that the whole setup was moving and the readings were completely invalid.  I won't say the tool can't be set up for this purpose, but I wasn't able to do it and my interest in spending hours trying to figure it out is very low because I have the other two tools anyway and I prefer to leave the NECO set up for checking case wall thickness variance, a function for which it is uniquely suited.

Concluding Thoughts
After many years of service, I've decided to retire the old Sinclair and make the Bruno tool my primary concentricity tool.  It is simply a better made, easier to use, more accurate tool and those are the qualities I value in any tool.  I'll have to add a small step in prepping the case mouths when reading case necks, but I think that's a worthwhile price to pay for the increase accuracy and convenience.  The NECO will remain dedicated to case wall thickness checking and perhaps some more exotic things like case head squareness; regular concentricity checking isn't it's strong suit, nor does it need to be because it is so good at the other things that no other tool does.  I'm glad I stopped in at Brunos that day, though I must say that the fine for loitering seems to be increasing!

Related Articles
A Few Concentricity Questions

Basics: Chronographing Effectively

This article is another in our series intended for newer shooters or those trying the procedure described for the first time.  It is not an advanced guide to chronographing or to interpreting chronograph data (see February 2010 article); however, there are some tips in here that I believe will benefit shooters of all experience levels.  - GAS -

Chronographing Effectively
by: Germán A. Salazar

Chronographing ammo to determine it's velocity related characteristics is an important part of Highpower shooting, whether for across-the-course, prone or F-Class.  We are interested in determining the load's average muzzle velocity (MV), the extreme spread (ES) of the MV, and the standard deviation (SD) of the MV.  This article, which is intended to give some introductory advice on organizing yourself for a chronographing session doesn't cover the ballistic side of things, just the mechanics of setting up the equipment, how to effectively shoot for data and preserving data for useful reference.

One very important aspect of chronographing is the ability to compare data from one session to that generated at another session.  Therefore, we make some special efforts to create repeatable setups.  The first of these is to make sure that the center of the chrono screens is at the desired distance from the muzzle.  Ten feet is a typical distance and here you see Jason Christ and John Chilton setting up the screens with a tape measure.  The tape measure is good enough for this stage of the process, while it won't be exactly repeatable each time, it will be close enough as even the muzzle location will vary a bit throughout the test.  Notice that the screens are set on a sturdy tripod, you don't want a flimsy setup that will get knocked over by the wind causing you to lose time and possibly damage the chrono parts.  If the day really looks windy, a sandbag or two on the spreader bar of the tripod is helpful.

The chrono used in these pictures has a fixed screen distance; however many chronos, especially the pricier ones, can be set up with a longer, user determined, screen spacing.  While a longer screen spacing is an aid to more accurate readings, even a small variance in that spacing from the exact distance specified can have a significant effect on the indicated velocities.  Set up variance from session to session will, of course, mean that results are not comparable.  A tape measure is really not the best way to set screen spacing because it is a bit flimsy and real precision is needed for screen spacing.  It is better to use a rigid, carefully measured device such as a steel bar that you keep with your equipment. 

Consider the effect of setting the screens at 23" spacing instead of 24" spacing - you are at 95.83% of the specified distance, meaning your indicated velocity will be in error by 4.17%.  For a 3000 fps load, that means you would see 3125 fps indicated - quite a significant difference and one likely to cause you to rethink your loads, perhaps to your detriment.  A 25" spacing would cause that same 3000 fps load to read 2879 fps perhaps causing you to believe that an increase in powder charge would be safe, when in fact it might not be.  Be very precise in your screen spacing if your chrono allows variable spacing!

If you've listened to enough shooters talk about chronographing, you've undoubtedly heard some horror stories about shooting the chrono itself.  I've accounted for three chronos myself and those (expensive) experiences led to some of the tips in this article.  Believe me, it's easier than you think to shoot the pricey bits of a chrono!  The simplest way to avoid all this anguish is to have an aiming point right where you need it most: on the chrono screens.  We use a piece of masking tape about 2/3 of the way up the screens and put a black paster right in the middle.  Whether you're shooting with a scope or with iron sights, that paster will be visible and it's high enough to keep the bullet away from the electronics.

This leads us right to the next important concept: don't shoot at a target while chronographing.  I know that all the magazines show someone doing that and all your friends will tell you its not a problem, but those are the same friends who will tell you about shooting a chronograph.  When you're trying to line up on something 100 or 200 yards away, it's not too hard to forget to check where the bullet's line of flight really is and at some point...  A few extra bullets spent in shooting first through the chrono and then later on the target are a whole lot cheaper than a new chrono (or three).  Let's do one thing at a time and do it well.  There are even more reasons not to shoot on a target while chronographing which we'll cover later.

There aren't too many real secrets in the world of rifle accuracy, but here's a big one: the key to repeatable data in centerfire chronograph testing is a .22 rimfire.  We take the same Marlin 39 lever action and the same lot of CCI ammo to the range every time we chronograph.  The first thing that we do once the chrono is ready is to break out the Marlin.  Warm the barrel with a few shots into the berm, then fire a 10 shot string through the chrono.  Record the data in your notebook, this will give a very good reference source over time and will show tendencies in the chrono data that might be attributable to ambient temperature or other external factors.  Buy 500 rounds of a decent brand of .22LR and take it and the same .22 rifle to the range with you each time.  This is also a good time to make sure that the chrono is working, that the batteries and light are good and in general that there are no unexpected problems before you start firing all that carefully loaded centerfire ammo.

Here you can see John firing the .22 at the paster on the tape, note that there is no target downrage.  If your .22 data shows, for instance, an increase of 15 fps from last time and the temperature is 70 degrees and last time it was 40 degrees, you might reasonably conclude that your centerfire ammo is going to read a bit faster as well.  The percentage changes won't be exactly the same with the rimfire and the centerfire, but you'll get an idea of what to look for after a number of sessions.  Good data builds good judgment.

Next, record the data from the .22 string.  This should always be a 10 shot string to ensure reliability of the data.  Record Average MV, ES and SD in your notebook.  That notebook is your main reference and all your chrono testing should be recorded there by date.  Record ambient temperature, ammo lot number (eventually you'll run out), and all other pertinent data.  My sample sheet below doesn't have a couple of useful items: the location or the .22 rifle used.  I suppose because I always use the same .22 rifle and test at the same location that I don't think to record these things sometimes, but they are useful to record.

Here is a sheet from my notebook, you can see it begins with the date, .22 ammo data, temperature and a note about the light conditions.  After that comes the centerfire test data; but the .22 "calibration data" is an essential element of the test.

Now John's happy.  All the setup work and calibration are out of the way and he can get down to the day's business: testing that carefully prepared .308 ammo for his F-Class rifle.  John brought some pre-loaded ammo to test and also did some reloading at the range to refine his load a bit.  While the chrono has a printer and a tape is run for each test string, the notebook is always used to record the three essential elements of each load:  average MV, ES and SD.  Those little printer slips have a way of getting lost and confused, but the notebook should always be stored with the chrono.

I hate being left out of the fun!  I wasn't reloading at the range this day, but had three loads to test.  I was looking for a mild 155 gr. load for the .30-06 to shoot an upcoming 300 yard match so I took my turn at the bench. 

Now I'll tell you the other big reason not to shoot targets while chronographing, ready?  You really need to grip the rifle hard and pull it into your shoulder hard to get truly accurate and repeatable chrono data and that isn't really conducive to getting the smallest groups on paper.  We've seen the SD of a load double just by holding the rifle a bit loose while chronographing.  Hold hard and pull it into your shoulder, the data will be more accurate.  I wear my shooting coat when chronographing because 60 rounds of .308 or .30-06 into the shoulder without padding is no fun.  Be prepared with some form of recoil absorbing pad or coat.

Chronograph data is useful, but you can't really pick a load just from the data, at some point you have to shoot on paper to see what's happening.  Our test range is just 100 yards, but that is enough for initial testing most of the time, especially for loads intended for mid-range matches (300 to 600 yards).  I am not a benchrest shooter at all; I have no experience at it and don't really care to develop that experience.  I'd rather shoot prone with iron sights.  My simple theory is that if there is a meaningful difference in the loads, I'll see it when shooting prone with irons.  If I can't see a difference, then it isn't meaningful.  My initial testing is always done like that at 100 or sometimes 200 yards.  Once I narrow down the loads that have potential I'll shoot them in a few matches at 500 or 600 yards.  After a few of these "real life trials", I'll have a pretty good idea of what works best.

Here are the three loads I tested, increasing from left to right (the top target was a sighter).  Load 3 (2889 fps) was disqualified because it seemed to be a bit hot, I was getting a bolt click at the top of the opening stroke.  Between Load 1 and Load 2 I thought Load 2 (2862 fps) might be shooting a bit better.  However, since it was only 0.5 gr. below the one I thought was a bit hot, I've decided to shoot Load 1 (2835 fps) in the upcoming 300 yard match.  If I had taken my reloading gear to the range that day I would have tried an even milder load, something right at 2800 fps, maybe slower.  As it is, the match is next week and Load 1 will have to do.  Chronographing was useful in this case as it gave me an indication of how much velocity change to expect per grain of powder with this combination: roughly 50 fps per grain.  If I want to work with this combination of powder and bullet again, I'll have a better idea of where to begin my testing - and where to end it.  It also showed me that even for a mild load with a fair amount of air space remaining in the case, a low SD (7) can be attained with careful reloading practices.

The reason I mention these specific results is to highlight the fact that the while the chronograph is a useful tool, it is no substitute for good judgment.  For instance, one of the things you will often see is that as you increase a powder charge (and thus increase pressure) the SD of a load will decrease.  Some people take this to a dangerous level, ignoring obvious signs on excessive pressure and keep adding powder.  I can only say that they are deluding themselves if they think that a few fps more or a slightly lower SD is worth risking their hands and eyes for.  When you take the chronograph to the range, your good judgment must accompany it.

The last thing to remember is that chronograph results are just one element of the load evaluation process and it is always an imperfect process.  Gather data from all sources: load manuals, the chrono, the target, the way the rifle behaves, how the primers look, how the case extracts, and then apply your good judgment to come to a decision.  When in doubt, pick the lower of the two loads, the ballistic difference will be insignificant, the safety difference may be enormous.

And Now For The Rest of the Story...   Actually, a bit of discussion with Ray Meketa about this article.  I really value any sort of input from someone like Ray who has tremendous experience with all aspects of competitive shooting.


I read your latest blog re: chronographing. I'm not new to chronographing but I read it anyway thinking maybe I can still learn something. I was a little surprised at some of what I read.

My first chronograph was many years ago. It was a big black box that I hooked up to my truck battery for power. Only rich guys could afford screens. I shot through two tin-foil strips connected to terminals. When both strips were broken the lights started flashing. The sequence of the lights was recorded. A handy chart told me the milliseconds of elapsed time which was then converted to FPS using a slide rule. (No calculators back then either)

All of this is to tell you that I am not a newcomer to chronographing.

I still chronograph quite a bit as do most of my Benchrest shooting buddies. So, I was surprised to read that you do not recommend shooting at a target, because that is the way we all do it. That way you both chronograh and test for accuracy at the same time. Observing shot placement and its relationship to velocity is a very important bit of information and it is often surprising what is learned.

But, more importantly, I am at a loss as to why you feel that the way you hold a rifle affects velocity. Whether holding hard or shooting free recoil, there should be no difference. Holding affects grouping, obviously, but uniform holding from shot to shot eliminates most of the negative effects leaving very small differences that can only be seen with a fined tuned Benchrest rifle.

I'm not here to criticize or tell another shooter how to do things, or that my way is better, but I would like to learn how and why you arrived at the conclusion to not shoot at a target while chronographing.


Ray Meketa

Hi Ray,

This kind of discussion is exactly why I love the forums and the blog and all that. Far from being offended in any way, I really welcome this.

I learned not to shoot targets while chronoing from shooting the guts out of three chronos. Those of us who are less than Benchrest (capital B) type shooters often lose track of the height difference between sights and barrel, squirm on the bench, don't shoot from a consistent bench position, etc. After killing two chronos from the bench, I made a beautiful setup to hold the chrono low enough to allow me to shoot prone at the target through the chrono - there went chrono number 3! I might be a bad example of this, but since the article is aimed at the beginner, I suspect they're no better and a few extra bullets are cheaper than a new chrono. As they develop their skills, they may come to the same conclusion as you have and that's great. For myself, I won't do it anymore, I don't even own a chrono anymore, I just use friends' units!

As to holding hard, that might be a difference between a PPC/BR type cartridge and a .308/.30-06 type cartridge. I definitely see a big difference. But again, these aren't BR rifles and they don't slide consistently in the bags, they hop and jump and roll every which way. All that seems to affect consistency. A good BR rifle is almost like a rail gun by comparison.

This is a good discussion, I might add it to the blog piece if you don't mind.



I see one big advantage to shooting at a target is that you'd almost have to try to shoot your screens. If you set up your rests and position your rifle on the rests so that it's on target, returning the rifle to its original position after each shot should almost guarantee that you won't come close to shooting your screens.

It would benefit any shooter to learn to imitate Benchrest shooters when it comes to gun handling. I shot my first competition in 1954 (yes, I'm that old), had to give up pistol competition in 1985 and rifle competition in 1995. I would have to quit entirely if it weren't for Benchrest. I can honestly say that I learned more about ballistics, handloading, accuracy and gun handling in the 15 years I've been shooting Benchrest than in the previous 40 years. I used to view benchrest shooters as an odd bunch of guys who weren't real shooters. But I soon found out that most of them were like me - tired, worn out, former belly shooters who could still get into the positions but couldn't get out of them without a crutch. ;) ;)

And, Benchrest is not all 6PPC at point blank distance. Today, I shoot more long range Benchrest, and the rifles are boomers. My two right now are 280 Ackley and a wildcat 300 short magnum. Of course, I still shoot a PPC at 600 yards, much to the astonishment of younger guys who used to think it couldn't be done.


And then there's this.... 

Posted here  it bears a strong resemblance to the ones I shot!

History: US National Match Ammunition - Ray Meketa

The following article by Ray Meketa is an excellent history of U.S. National Match rifle ammunition from the late 19th Century through the 20th Century and even into the 21st Century; we are very grateful to him for sharing it with our readers.  We have previously featured Hap Rocketto's seminal work on this topic and Meketa's short piece on M118 Special Ball ammunition and this article continues in that vein.  Ray has done an outstanding job of preparing this article which was originally published in the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of the IAA Journal and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the International Ammunition Association, Inc.  For those with a greater interest in cartridge collecting, we highly recommend the IAA's website at www.cartridgecollectors.org .  Every picture in this article can be enlarged by clicking on it.

U.S. National Match Rifle Ammunition
By: Ray Meketa

The history of U.S. Military National Match ammunition is a long one, spanning more than 100 years, but its beginnings can be traced back even further. In the mid 1870s the newly organized National Rifle Association of America invited regular Army individuals and teams to participate in formal competition held at its Creedmoor Range in New York. Army marksmen were very interested and eager to compete but neither Springfield Armory nor Frankford Arsenal were able to supply arms or ammunition due to a lack of funding. The U.S. Civil War had left the country deeply in debt and the Congress was in no mood to approve appropriations for seemingly frivolous activities such as “target shooting.” And so, under the cover of producing an experimental “sniper” or “long range” military rifle for use on the wide-open far western frontier, the first such rifles and ammunition were manufactured in 1879. The rifle was the well known 45 Caliber Springfield “Trapdoor” with competition type modifications, including a vernier tang sight and a spirit level front sight. The cartridge was a specially made copper case, loaded with 80 grains of black powder and a 500 grain bullet. Unofficially called the Lengthened Chamber Cartridge or, officially, the 2".4 Case, the cartridge is known by collectors today as the 45-80-500 Sharpshooter.

It didn’t take long for the Army brass to realize that the issue rifle was just as accurate as the specially made, and expensive, Long Range Rifle. Additionally, any increase in accuracy over the regularly issued 45-70-405 cartridge was found to be attributable to the 500 grain bullet rather than to the lengthened case or to the 10 additional grains of powder. They concluded that any rifle that a soldier had to use in battle was good enough for target practice and ordered that future competition be confined to service guns and service ammunition. With less than 200 of the Long Range rifles having been manufactured, the project was terminated.

By the mid 1880s the purse strings were loosened and the Army initiated a program of regular target practice for troops in the field. Competition shooting was recognized as a legitimate military activity and the standard 45 caliber rifles and 45-70-500 service ammunition were used by Army teams in both national and international competitions. The military value of marksmanship was finally beginning to sink in.

In 1903, Congress established the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice (NBPRP) and the National Matches. At first limited to the military services using service rifles and ammunition, the program was soon expanded to include all members of the Armed Forces, National Guard, reserves, and civilians. The matches became an official function of the U. S. Government, first managed by the Department of War and later the Department of the Army. Competition consisted of both individual and team matches conducted at local, regional, and divisional levels, culminating in the National Matches at an appropriate range - now Camp Perry, Ohio. When competing in National Trophy (NT) or Excellence In Competition (EIC) Matches, cartridges would be issued on the line and no other ammunition was allowed.

The first matches held under the new programs included Army and Navy teams using the 30-40 Krag and service ammunition. The pre and post-1900 Krag ammunition, loaded with nitroglycerine based smokeless powder and cannelured 220 grain round nose bullets, was anything but match quality. It was nearly as wind sensitive as the 45-70, large groups at even the shorter distances were common, and constant cleaning was required otherwise fliers would occur with frustrating frequency. Many rifle teams continued to use the familiar 45-70-500 rifles, seeing no clear advantage in the new Krag rifles and ammunition. Dissatisfaction led to tests with different powders and bullets. Improved nitrocellulose type powders and smooth, un-cannelured, bullets helped to reduce barrel erosion, fouling, and group sizes. Barrels with different rifling types were tried. So called “Match” cartridges were issued several times between 1903 and 1907 but they were little better than regular service ammunition and, at times, even worse. These changes to improve the 30-40 were each partially successful, but even in combination they couldn’t transform it into a competitive cartridge.

The use of the Krag in competition was short lived. In 1903, the new clip-loaded Springfield bolt action rifle and the .30-03 cartridge were adopted as the Army standard. The cartridge used a new rimless case but fired the same 220 grain round nose bullet at velocities not much different from the old Krag. It was not a very good cartridge, often being out shot by the Krag. The cartridge was soon improved by loading a 150-grain spitzer bullet in a slightly shortened case at higher velocity, and the existing rifles were re-chambered accordingly. The Cartridge, Caliber .30, Model of 1906 was born.

An immediate effort began to develop high quality rifle ammunition and Frankford Arsenal produced the first match ammunition in 1908 (FA 2 08). The bullet was a cupronickel jacketed, un-cannelured, 150-grain, flat-based spitzer loaded to a nominal muzzle velocity of 2640 fps with Pyro DG powder in the new M1906 case. The 1908 National Matches saw the first use of the new M1903 Springfield Rifle using the new Frankford Arsenal ammunition. By 1909 virtually all existing records had been broken. A large share of the credit went to the new rifle and ammunition. A new era of military rifle competition was underway.

By 1909 it was decided to select future match ammunition based on competitive trials of samples submitted by the major commercial manufacturers and by Frankford Arsenal. The intent was to acquire the most accurate ammunition available while educating the manufacturers in the details of mass production of huge supplies of military ammunition. The prestige of winning was not lost on the likes of Winchester, Union Metallic Cartridge Co, United States Cartridge Co., and Peters Cartridge Co. The likelihood of contracts for millions of rounds of future production was certainly a big incentive for them to participate.

The first commercial contract was awarded in 1909 to the U.S. Cartridge Co. (USC Co 3 09). Those cartridges duplicated the 1908 Frankford Arsenal cartridges. In 1910 specifications called for the cartridges to be manufactured to service standards, using crimped-in bullets with cannelures. Tests showed that this resulted in a small loss of accuracy but it would be several years before this requirement was relaxed. The contract that year went to Winchester (WRA Co 2 10). Winchester won again in 1911 (WRA Co 2 11). No matches were held in 1912, and U.S. Cartridge Co. won again in 1913 (USC Co 3 13). This proved to be the last year of commercial contracts and all subsequent National Match ammunition was manufactured by Frankford Arsenal.

At the outbreak of World War I the United States remained neutral, but the hostilities soon led to a reduction or cancellation of most competitive shooting and match ammunition production. There were no matches in 1914. In 1915 and 1916, Frankford Arsenal produced special lots of regular 1906 ball ammunition that were designated for limited National Match use (FA ? 15 and FA ? 16). There were no matches in 1917 and only limited matches were held in 1918 using standard war-quality ammunition. 1919 saw the resumption of cartridge production for the National Matches, albeit nothing more than selected lots of service ammunition (FA 19). 1919 was also the first use of the FA 70 priming compound and the last year of the flat base, 150 grain, cupronickel M1906 bullets in competition. A new phase in the development of the Cal .30 National Match ammunition was about to begin.

At the end of WW I the Army had huge stockpiles of service ammunition on hand and the manufacture of new ammunition could not be justified - except for the National Matches. Thus, the matches became the testing ground in a continuing effort to improve competition cartridges in particular and military ammunition in general. Innovations and experiments with cases, bullets, powders, and primers would be the norm rather than the exception.

1920 saw a change of bullets when a 170 grain, flat base, cupronickel design was introduced. This was accompanied by a slight reduction in velocity and the first use of the new Dupont Improved Military Rifle powders (FA 20). In 1921 this same cupronickel bullet was tin plated in an attempt to reduce metal fouling and increase barrel life – this was the notorious “Tin Can” ammunition (FA 21 R). Loaded into conventional brass cases, the dissimilar metals tended to become cold soldered resulting in a measurable increase in bullet pull. This seemingly caused dangerous pressure spikes, and reports of an occasional wrecked rifle. It was later determined that the cartridges were as safe and as accurate as any other. The real culprit was the shooters’ unauthorized practice of applying a liberal coating of grease to the bullet; an old trick to reduce bore fouling and the need for frequent and time consuming cleaning. But by the time that was determined, the remaining Tin Can cartridges had been withdrawn and scrapped, and the arguments became moot.

During the early years there was no attempt made to specially mark or otherwise identify the Match ammunition. The best lots were simply designated for shipment to the National Match site. Less accurate lots were made available to National Guard units and to other organizations and clubs for local matches and for practice. Remaining amounts were placed in the supply system for use by troops in the field. 1921 was the first year in which individual National Match cartridges could be identified by bullet appearance (tin plating) and by observing the headstamp, as in FA 21 R.  The “R” indicated that the case was manufactured with a hard anneal specifically for rifle use in general and match rifles in particular. In later years more descriptive headstamps as well as boxes bearing the National Match label were used.

In 1922 Frankford Arsenal began loading National Match ammunition with a new bullet: a gilding metal jacketed, 170 grain, 6-degree boat-tail design (FA 22 R). Its use was more or less experimental and was aimed at improving ballistics at the longer distances as well as solving the metal fouling problems of the cupronickel jackets without resorting to tin plating. Even though a boat-tail bullet is harder to make, the ballistic advantages gained due to its shape amply justify any manufacturing difficulties. Another innovation in 1922 was the use of nitroglycerine-based Hercules HiVel #2 powder, an experiment that would last only three years. The 1923 cartridges were a duplication of the 1922 issue; only the headstamp was changed (FA 23 R).

1924 was a milestone year in National Match ammunition production. The bullet was changed to a 172-grain, 9-degree boat-tail; another experimental design evolving from Frankford Arsenal’s efforts to increase the long range effectiveness of light machine guns. The National Matches offered the perfect opportunity to evaluate various boat-tail angles and the 9-degree bullet proved to give the best performance of all that were tested. The design would remain the match standard for the next 58 years and the service standard (M1) until 1939. The 1924 ammunition was one of the most accurate match cartridges ever made, giving a 600-yard mean radius of only 2.26 inches, a record that would last until 1962. The case was also the first to bear the NM headstamp (FA NM- 24).

The 9-degree boat-tail bullets were manufactured in two styles, the 172 grain M1 (cannelured) and the 172-173 grain M1 Type (smooth). The M1 Type was used in 1924, 1925, 1929, and 1930 National Match ammunition production. The M1 bullet was loaded in 1928 and in all years between 1931 and 1940. After WW II, the M1 Type was used in all National Match ammunition. Even though most references list the pre-WWII bullets at 172 grains and the post-WWII bullets at 173 grains, they are essentially the same bullet. Lot to lot manufacturing tolerances will usually result in variances far greater than the nominal one grain official difference.

1925 marked the return to Dupont’s Improved Military Rifle (IMR) series of powder, an old standby that had proved superior to others. It would remain the standard until the last National Match cartridge left the line at Frankford Arsenal. No other changes were made (FA 25 R). No matches were held in 1926. In 1927 the remaining stocks of 1925 ammunition were issued. In 1928 selected lots of standard issue M1 ball ammunition were used (FA 28), but they proved to be so inaccurate that it was decided to resume manufacture of match ammunition for the following year. In 1929 a regular lot of National Match was produced. It had a crimped primer and a distinctive headstamp including three stars which shooters quickly dubbed the “Three-Star Hennessy” cartridge, a reference to a popular adult beverage of the day (FA * NM* 29*).

In 1930 a new non-corrosive primer was used in the National Match lot for that year (FA 30 R). The chemical composition of the pellet was such that more mixture was required than the Boxer primer cup could hold and so Frankford Arsenal turned to a Berdan type cup and anvil to accommodate it. During preliminary firing in preparation for the National Matches, the ammunition exhibited exceptional accuracy. However, when the matches began, it appeared to develop high pressure; therefore, in the interest of safety, it was immediately withdrawn. Another lot with a conventional primer was quickly substituted (FA 30). It was later determined that the pressure signs were actually the result of unusually high temperatures at Camp Perry but, as it was during the Tin Can cartridge episode, it was too late to correct an unwise hasty decision. The perfection of a non-corrosive primer would have to wait. Today, both the Tin Can and Berdan primed match cartridges are considered very collectible.

From 1931 through 1940, all ammunition manufactured by Frankford Arsenal intended for National Match use exhibited virtually identical characteristics: 172 grain, 9 degree boat-tail, M1 bullets at 2600 fps, loaded with IMR #1185 powder. The 1931 ammunition appears to be standard M1 (FA 31), and, except for 1934 when none was produced, all others bear the traditional National Match headstamp (FA 32 NM to FA 40 NM). It should be noted that match ammunition has to be manufactured in advance of planned events, but there were times when matches were cancelled for one reason or another, usually because of a lack of funds. Even though there were no National Matches held in 1932, 1933, and 1934, ammunition for those first two years was still manufactured and used in local and regional tournaments, and for practice.

National Match ammunition for 1941 was ordered to be loaded with the 150 grain M2 bullet; a change that would have been a giant step backward in accuracy. Fortunately, all work was quickly stopped because production of standard ball ammunition for military needs took precedence, and while there is some evidence that cases with the FA 41 NM headstamp exist, none have been found.

Except for a few local and regional events, most matches were cancelled from 1941 through 1952. When the full National Match program resumed at Camp Perry in 1953, there was no standard for match ammunition. One lot with the M1 Type bullet was loaded for slow fire matches, but for the most part, selected lots of M2 Ball were issued for the next four years (FA 53, TW 54, FA 54 and FA 55). Coming from war-quality stocks, accuracy was not very good (3 inch to 5 inch 600 yard mean radius).

In 1956 a small lot of special ammunition was prepared to commemorate 50 years of Frankford Arsenal production of the Cal. 30, M1906 (US FA 1906-56). Teams at the National Matches were issued the ammunition to compare with the current M2 Ball issue. Favorable reports led to the decision to the reintroduce Frankford Arsenal Cal. 30 National Match ammunition. 1957 was the first year of production of the new cartridge designated the T291 (FA 57 MATCH). Loaded with 48 grains of IMR 4895 behind the 173 grain, 9-degree boat-tail M1 Type bullet, it gave a muzzle velocity of 2640 fps. It was standardized as the M72 in mid-1958 (FA 58 MATCH). Some 1958 boxes will be found labeled as T291 and others as M72. Specifications for the 1959 and 1960 lots were unchanged (FA 59 MATCH and FA 60 MATCH). By 1960, production capacity at Frankford Arsenal had been so reduced that it could not satisfy the demand so the decision was made to transfer all production to Lake City. 1961 was the last year of Frankford Arsenal Cal. .30 National Match ammunition production and the first year of limited Lake City production (FA 61 MATCH and LC 61 MATCH).

In 1962 the manufacture of all Cal. .30 M72 Match ammunition was transferred to Lake City Arsenal, soon to be renamed Lake City Ordnance Plant. Between 1962 and 1966, two distinct headstamps were used: LC NM and LC MATCH. Those marked NM were manufactured with extreme care, special attention to detail, constant inspections, using the best bullets available, and loaded in quantity only after rigorous testing (LC 62 NM to LC 66 NM). Those marked MATCH were manufactured to the same specifications but without the additional care and testing and were placed into the regular distribution system for all other matches, training, practice and other uses (LC 62 MATCH to LC 66 MATCH). None of this is meant to imply that any of the National Match ammunition was made to anything but the highest standards for accuracy; all of it was extremely good but special efforts were taken to make some even better. The LC 62 - 66 NM ammunition was the most accurate Cal .30 National Match recorded to that date (average 2.16 inch 600 yard mean radius) but because test procedures were changed along with the transfer of manufacture from Frankford to Lake City, it may not be valid to directly compare accuracy results between the two facilities.

By 1965 the National Matches were dominated by the new M14 rifle and 7.62 MM cartridge. Production of the Cal. .30 National Match ammunition at Lake City was greatly reduced and the last lot of M72 NM officially designated for the National Matches was made and issued in 1966. Sufficient stocks remained for both the 1967 and 1968 National Matches. Production of M72 MATCH continued on a limited basis to fill the few requests for that caliber and to provide cartridges for practice (LC 67 MATCH and LC 68 MATCH). Many boxes of 1967 and 1968 ammunition can be found with the headstamp out of time with the box label indicating a desire to use up all remaining stock on hand.

When the 7.62 MM NATO was standardized in 1954, there was no Match loading among the cartridges. Starting in 1956, International and Olympic Match ammunition (T275) using the new case was developed by Frankford Arsenal. Adoption of the M14 rifle in 1957 made it clear that National Match ammunition in that caliber would be required to eventually replace the Garand rifle and Cal. .30 M72. The T275E4 cartridge was slightly modified to permit magazine use in the M14 and, in 1963, was loaded by Frankford Arsenal and Lake City Ordnance Plant as the XM118 (FA 63 MATCH and LC 63 MATCH). Loaded with the same 173 grain M1 Type match bullet as its predecessors, the first lots used WC 846 Ball powder which was then standard for the service ammunition and delivered 2550 fps velocity at 78 feet. The powder was soon changed to IMR 4895, the cartridge was adopted as the 7.62 MM MATCH M118, and full scale production began at Lake City.
Another name change took place in 1964, to Lake City Army Ammunition Plant. As it was with the M72, two headstamps and two manufacturing processes were used for M118 between 1964 and 1967 (LC 64 NM to LC 67 NM and LC 64 MATCH to LC 67 MATCH). All later lots of M118 bore only the MATCH headstamp (LC 68 MATCH to LC 82 MATCH), and can be found loaded with either IMR 4895 or WC 846. The accuracy of the M118 NM exceeded even the 1962 - 1966 M72 NM. The 600 yard average mean radius fell to a remarkable 1.82 inches. In 1965, Frankford Arsenal produced its last M118 National Match cartridge (FA 65 MATCH).

The M118 was an adequate match cartridge but there was no way to stop shooters from trying to improve it. Any changes to the cartridge were forbidden by the rules if the ammunition was being fired in the National Trophy or Excellence-In-Competition Matches; but when used in other matches, modifications such as breaking the waterproofing seal or even replacing the bullets were common. Altered cartridges with Sierra 168 grain MatchKing bullets came to be known as “Mexican Match” and the positive benefits of the changes were not lost on the Army. By the late 1970s word on the street was that a new official match cartridge with these same improvements was about to be introduced. The rumors were confirmed at the 1980 National Matches when shooters were issued boxes of the new prototype ammunition: 7.62 MM, PXR-6308, loaded with Sierra 168 grain hollow point match bullets to a velocity of 2550 fps (LC 80 SP). In 1981 the new cartridges were designated XM852 (LC 81 NM), and in 1982 adopted as 7.62 MM MATCH M852 (LC 82 NM and LC 83 NM, and LC 85 MATCH to LC 96 MATCH). M852 cartridges can also be identified by a shallow cannelure around the case a short distance above the base. The old reliable IMR 4895 was the only propellant used in M852.

Cases Headstamped LC 78 NM

When the M852 began rolling off the production lines, the M118 did not go away quietly. The last lot was produced at Lake City in 1982 but some remaining stocks with older headstamps were re-boxed with 1982 labels and lot numbers and issued for practice, and for match use when the new M852 was not available. Because the Judge Advocate General (JAG) would not permit the use of hollow point bullets in combat (the boxes of M852 are so marked) the Army found itself without a sniper cartridge. In 1982 the M118 was reintroduced as a tactical round with crimped and sealed primers, boxed as 7.62 MM SPECIAL BALL M118, and designated for sniper use, (LC 82) (see related article on Special Ball). By the time the JAG reversed his decision it was too late to use the M852 in the 1st Gulf War and snipers employed there were left with only the M118SB.

The long awaited M852 proved to be somewhat of a disappointment. The 168 grain bullet, with its short 13-degree boat-tail, was a modified International Hollow Point that gave very good accuracy out to 600 yards but was found lacking at longer distances where velocity went trans-sonic and suffered a significant reduction of accuracy. Sierra designed a new 175 grain bullet with a longer boat-tail at the time-proven 9-degree angle that overcame those deficiencies. Inspired by the USMC G4 ammunition, and financed by USN Special Ops, the new bullet was first loaded as a developmental round with WC 750 ball powder to 2700 fps (LC LR 95). This caused pressure problems when used in the M14 rifle in hotter climates and so it was eventually down-loaded to 2575 fps, to both reduce pressures and to match the trajectory of the older match cartridges and the sight settings of most match and sniper rifles.

USMC G4 Ammunition

It is now loaded as the 7.62MM LONG RANGE M118 (LC LR 96 to LC LR 09). Neither the boxes nor the cases bear any reference to match use; only the un-cannelured hollow point bullet suggests a National Match connection. ATK Lake City (Alliant Techsystems) advertising calls it the M118, 7.62mm, Special Ball: Long Range, which only adds to the confusion. It can be argued that it is related to the M118 and M118SB but it is, in fact, a completely new cartridge, a combination combat/sniper/match loading with un-crimped bullets and primers, loaded with Alliant Reloder 15 powder.

In the 1990s events occurred that would seal the fate of the M852 in particular and the National Match ammunition in general. The first was the increased use of the M16A2 rifle and the 5.56x45 cartridge as a competitive match combination. Second, because there was no official 5.56mm Match cartridge, a rule change permitted shooters to furnish their own ammunition for that rifle. In 1993, changes in match rules allowed all competitors to provide their own ammunition, either handloads, commercial loads, or National Match, at their discretion. This made government produced National Match ammunition less important than it had been in the past. Most matches not requiring issued ammunition found experienced shooters using their own match-quality handloads and new shooters using commercial offerings. While some shooters, even today, continue to use the current crop of M118 LR, they are in the minority and may soon disappear from the scene forever.

I have specifically listed those headstamps that a collector is most likely to encounter. But readers should be aware that others do exist. At least two lots of T291 cartridges with an LC 57 MATCH headstamp were manufactured and designated for practice. Additionally, Cal. .30 unprimed cases with LC NM headstamps and late 1970s dates, LC 78 NM, along with boxed M1 Type bullets, are well known. It’s believed that these components were furnished to the Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU) and the Director of Civilian Marksmanship (DCM) for sale to shooters wishing to hand load cartridges for use in matches.  Turning to the 7.62 MM, International match cartridges from 1958, 1959 and 1960 also carry the MATCH headstamp but they have no National Match association.

The National Matches are not the only high-power rifle tournaments held in the U.S. or overseas. Formal shooting competitions at the longer distances have been held for more than 150 years. Most are civilian and private or quasi-public in organization. In the past, U.S. military rifle teams and individuals participated in many of these events using arms and ammunition supplied by the Government. Between 1900 and 1960, Frankford Arsenal produced thousands of rounds of special match ammunition for Olympic, Palma, Pan American, and other International matches. Headstamps usually reflect the particular shooting discipline for which they were intended. The major ammunition manufacturers such as Winchester and Remington competed for government contracts into the mid 1920s and continue to produce special match ammunition, some of it hand loaded, to this day. Another U. S. Government entity, the Army Marksmanship Unit, created in 1956, produces both match grade rifles and ammunition for use by service teams and individuals that participate in both the National Matches and other events around the world. Describing these many and varied special match cartridges is far beyond the scope of this article and I leave that for someone else.

This article opened with a description of the lack of financial aid and political support for competition shooting and it ends on the same sad note. In 1996, public law reorganized the NBPRP and DCM into the Corporation for the Promotion of Rifle Practice and Firearms Safety (CPRPFS) and the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP). Now a public corporation, CPRPFS maintains only a minor relationship with the Department of the Army and reimburses the U.S. Government for all costs incurred in transferring government arms and ammunition to civilians. With little public interest and with no Federal appropriations to depend upon, program emphasis has shifted from the traditional National Matches to “serving youth through gun safety and marksmanship activities that encourage personal growth and build life skills.” Supported almost exclusively by the National Rifle Association and thousands of shooters, the National Matches will go on but it’s doubtful if we’ll see another Government cartridge with a National Match headstamp.

[I have shamelessly borrowed from the following references. Since most of the information is very objective, it was not easy to keep from crossing the line into plagiarism. After all, how many ways are there to describe a bullet or a headstamp? I also depended heavily on my own collection and notes from 50 years of competitive shooting, and remembrances of other shooters that I know. But, any errors or omissions are mine alone. And finally, an article such as this opens the writer to the double risk of including too much information, or too little. I hope I have struck a comfortable balance. rm]


Hackley, Woodin, Scranton - History of Modern U.S. Military Small Arms Ammunition, 1967-78
Hatcher, Major General Julian S. - Hatcher’s Notebook, 1947
Lewis, B.R. - The Cal. .30 Cartridge in Match Competition, 1969
Punnett, Chris - .30-06, 1997
Rocketto, Hap - A Short History of National Match Rifle Ammunition, 1995
Sharpe, Philip B. - Complete Guide To Handloading, 1937

All contents Copyright 2012 The Rifleman's Journal