Many years ago when I was getting back into hunting after a prolonged break (due to further education, learning a new language, a travelling ministry, raising a young family and living in different Canadian Provinces) I purchased a still in its grease Brazilian Military Mauser chambered in 7 x 57. As I recall, the cost was $75 in a downtown Toronto “army surplus” store. When cleaned up from the original grease it was packed in, it was perhaps the most beautiful rifle I’ve ever owned. And that included the overall workmanship, bluing and handsome walnut full-stock.
I hadn’t yet become a handloader, nor was a scope setup possible without mutilating this beautiful piece of art work and mechanical engineering. So, because I wanted to hunt deer with it, I bought some CIL (Canadian) 7×57 Mauser ammo in 160gr, went to a gravel pit and sighted it in as best possible from an offhand stance into a piece of cardboard from about fifty yards. At the time, that seemed adequate for deer to one-hundred yards, more or less. That is until I found myself in a closely wooded area with a running buck that went on its way with nary a hair out of place! I couldn’t focus on the buck at 80 to 100 yards and the iron sights at the same time!
<Today, shooting a right-hand bolt action repeater with a scope is normal. In fact, I can work the action faster than on a left-hand bolt action. That was my CZ550 in .458 Win Mag.
There were at least a couple of problems! The most apparent being my blind right eye (a childhood accident). Nonetheless, I’d learned early on to use rifles and shotguns from my left side so didn’t consider that a major handicap. And the second problem being the long radius between rear and front sights that didn’t allow me to focus on both at the same time while also trying to pick up my target. We need two good eyes to do that! Then there was a measure of astigmatism in my left eye that caused me to wear glasses. I knew that if I intended to be a serious hunter of game, I needed a rifle with a scope. So, the two matters coincided that would solve the focus problem as well as knowing bullet trajectories.
I traded for a rifle on which I could mount a scope and became a handloader. That was another ex-military rifle chambered in .30-06, which was soon traded for a slightly used sporting M70 in .30-06 that resulted in me becoming not just “a handloader” but a dedicated one as a researcher and student of many rifles and cartridges, and a tester of powders, primers, cases and bullets. Hunting got me into this game, but science has kept me going for over forty years.
The main challenge, of course, for the dedicated handloader is finding what is the ultimate best among all those possible combinations of powders, primers, cases and bullets — and all in a single rifle! And if several rifles are involved, we multiply costs, time and work by that number. So this subject is presented to give some guidance where need may be felt or wanted.
With the multiplicity of newer powders and bullets, and if we include recent cartridges and rifles, all of that only adds to the potential challenge of coming up with a “best load” for a particular rifle in the hands of a relatively inexperienced handloader. Of course, “advanced handloaders” are also looking for new information and techniques that might provide better results for a stubborn rifle, or give further insights on resolving nagging issues.
The term “advanced handloaders” was used in reference to my reloading journal on .45-70s. A top ballistic engineer of a bullet making company commented to me: “Don’t they all think they are advanced handloaders?” Be that as it may, any of us could still be in a process of discovering what works “best” in a given rifle and cartridge for a perfect result in ballistic performance and effect on game. I tried a new powder in my 9.3 x 62 that was suggested by a friend that had not yet received public recognition in the media. I tried it, and it proved to be THE powder for my rifle and hunting loads that I’ve come to depend on for “best” results. But…
WHAT IS BEST?
What do we mean by “BEST” in a reloading/hunting context? The answers are still to come in several presentations.
BEST for a significant number of shooters/hunters is primarily dependant on perceived accuracy whether or not other aspects of ballistics are achieved.
About a dozen years ago, the talked about cartridge in sales and media was the historic 9.3 x 62 Mauser. At that time I bought my first (and only). Handloading data was skimpy or nonexistent from the usual sources, so I used knowledge gained from several years of handloading a .35 Whelen, .350 Rem Mag and .375 H&H, all of which responded very well to the use of RL-15. And the ballistic results in my Tikka T3 Lite in 9.3 x 62 was adequate, but not outstanding by any stretch. I also gave H414 a fair try with stellar accuracy but poor velocities in my estimation in making comparisons with former experiences in the .35 Whelen et al. So I settled in with 3/4 MOA from the 286gr Hornady at just a tad over 2400 fps….
That seemed “normal” from the vaunted 9.3 x 62 Mauser. On the net, others were praising their results in accuracy — even posting pics, giving data EXCEPT muzzle velocity! Hmm…
Matters were beginning to look a bit gloomy for this handloader with larger expectations. So I pushed matters to the limit in the use of RL-15 and attained 2460 fps and very good accuracy! Great! My mood was improving… until summer followed spring. As summer temps climbed so did pressure. But PSI became erratic with the accuracy following suite!
So, what is meant by “BEST” loads for hunting purposes in a particular rifle?
The “load” of RL-15 that produced +/- 2400 fps was consistently accurate but only adequate (minimal) for BG to about 250 yards. Was that my honest expectation in buying the 9.3 x 62 when I went looking for another .35 Whelen that was a capable 400 yard moose gun? And, I’d turned down a .338 RUM in favor of the Mauser at the same store, at the same price and time!
So, again, what is meant when we talk or write about “best loads” for a particular rifle and cartridge combo?
At this stage of acquired knowledge, I will be firm in MY expectations of ANY handload for a particular rifle that I own and under my control — the details of which will be expressed in upcoming articles.
I consider the following order to be logistical:
- The Purpose
- The Rifle
- The Cartridge (chambering)
- The Bullet
- Muzzle Velocity (and recoil)
- The Powder, Primer and Case
- Testing for MV and Accuracy
- Harvesting of game
Consciously, or unconsciously, all of the above is involved in determining a “best load”, or loads. Small groups of three or five at 100 yards or metres is only a part of that process if the intent is the clean harvesting of a game animal or predator under all potential hunting conditions.
Til the next…