NBRSA 1K Winner Jerry Tierney
Prone Master Takes BR World by Storm with .284 and 6.5-284
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Though relatively new to the 1000-yard Benchrest game, at the recent 2005 NBRSA 1K Nationals, Jerry Tierney proved he's among the very best. Shooting a straight .284 Win (7mm) in Light Gun, and his wife's 6.5-284 F-Class rig in Heavy Gun, Jerry posted an impressive six-point composite score to win the coveted Skip Talbot Memorial Trophy. Along with the bronze Talbot Trophy, Jerry captured the overall two-gun championship, and earned first-place awards for 6-target LG Score, 6-target LG Group, 6-target HG Score, 12-Target Two-Gun Group, 12-Target Two-Gun Score, and HG Small Group (6.030"). In our interview with Jerry, he shares some of his vast knowledge about a myriad of subjects, from wind-reading to reloading. We wish to thank Berger Bullets for sponsoring this article, and building those great 7mm 180gr VLDs.
|Interview with Jerry Tierney
Editor: Jerry Tierney has been shooting for over 40 years and is one of the leading figures in long-range shooting. A self-declared "iron-sight prone guy", he competes mostly in the full-bore and Palma disciplines, but he recently turned his attention to 1000-yard and 600-yard benchrest. He dominated the 2005 NBRSA Nationals, with a convincing victory, due in no small part to superb wind-doping skills. (See photo for all the awards he won at the 2005 Nationals.) A former computer engineer with IBM, Jerry is an extremely bright guy who takes a systematic approach to the sport. He makes decisions based on hard data. He does some things many shooters would consider radical (such as cleaning very infrequently), but he always has the data to back up his methods. He is a forward thinker who isn't afraid to depart from conventional wisdom if he finds a better, simpler way to do things. His knowledge of every aspect of shooting and reloading is vast. Yet he was eager to share everything he has learned over the years. It was a privilege to work with Jerry on this story. Take your time and read the interview carefully. There are many, many things Jerry reveals that will help you shoot better and build more accurate loads.
Q: How long have you been involved in competitive shooting, and how did you get started in the sport?
A: I started competitive shooting about 1964 by joining a gun club; we were primarily deer hunters who wanted to improve our shooting skills. I shot a lot of different disciplines. At the old Trailmaster Rod & Gun Club in Sunnyvale, CA, we had a monthly multi-gun shoot, with 50-yard rimfire rifle, 100-yard centerfire rifle, 25-yard bullseye pistol, and shotgun. It was very competitive and I learned a lot about position shooting because the rifle stages were all four positions. I managed to win a time or two.
Q: What various disciplines have you shot in the past? What is your primary focus these days?
A: I've shot most of the disciplines at one time or another. Started competitively in small-bore rifle and In a couple of years moved to High Power rifle and long-range prone. I left High Power rifle competition in 2000 to concentrate on the prone shooting. I have added benchrest and some "F" class just to be shooting more.
Q: What is your favorite distance and discipline and why?
A: Actually I like the full-bore shooting. I enjoy firing from many different yard lines and the challenging aspect of pair firing.
|The big advantage of the 7mm is barrel life. I know of one 284 that is still shooting very well with over 3000 rounds. My barrel has about 1650 right now. I shot out three 6.5 barrels at around 900-1200 rounds. I fully expect this 7mm barrel to go well past 2000.
Q: We'll cover this in more detail later, but it was clear that your wind-reading skills were a key to your NBRSA victory. How has your shooting background enabled you to become so good at reading the wind?
Most of the ranges on the west coast are quite windy and firing on them enough times will make you a good wind reader. I put in a lot of range time, shooting as often as three days a week. I try to shoot in the most difficult conditions. A lot of the wind-reading just comes from experience. When I've shot at a range many times before, there's a lot of stuff I can anticipate from experience. And of course it helps to have good high-BC bullets like the Berger 180s.
Q: Do you have any mentors for long-range shooting?
A: What I did was I looked at everything the best shooters did. I tried to pick the best habits and procedures that would fit me best. If you observe the top shooters you pick out their best points. Pretty soon you get a composite of the best features of many guys, that can fit your style of shooting. Jack Sicola was a great shooter in 60's and 70's--his high-speed shooting was great, he was extremely fast, but real steady. He was the one who told me "Did you come here to shoot, or come to write in a book?", so now I don't plot my record shots--just my sighters. Middleton Tompkins was also a big influence on my long-range shooting.
Q: How do the skills you've developed for prone/sling shooting carry over to bench rest, and do you recommend that BR guys start shooting high-power or prone matches?
A: Good marksmanship skills apply no matter what discipline you are shooting. I highly recommend that the bench rest shooter take up "F" class shooting--the reason being that you get feedback on each shot you fire, which will improve your wind-doping skills.
Q: Your wife Barbara is also a heck of a good shooter. Do you have any thoughts about shooting as a husband and wife team? Do you have any advice for guys who want to get their spouses or girlfriends involved in rifle shooting--such as "make sure she gets the prettiest rifle?"
A: We really do enjoy shooting with each other. When we shoot in the same match, the real competition is between us and I seem to loose 95% of the time. My advice for the guys is not to teach you wife or girlfriend how to shoot unless you like being beat all of the time (just kidding). [Editor's note: In these matches, Jerry is usually shooting prone with sling, while Barbara shoots F-class with front rest. Jerry tells us since Barbara often shoots a virtually perfect score, this makes him train harder. At the recent California Long-Range Championship, Jerry won the 3x600 Prone Competition with a 598-31X. Barbara won the 3x600 F-Class title with a 600-44X. She was never out of the 10-Ring.]
Q: I've often seen that women do really well in shooting when given the chance--partly because they have less "ego" involved and they follow instructions very well and learn quickly. Is this your experience?
A: Those are a couple of points that make the women good shooters. If you tell them that the bullet will be in the ten ring every time you shoot, they believe you and expect that to happen. They just don't know shooting is difficult (as us guys know). That seems to remove most of the match pressure from them.
Q: You were an engineer for many years with IBM. I've noticed you keep meticulous logs for your reloading and range results. Do you think having an engineers' attention to detail helps with precision shooting? How important is the record-keeping to your success?
A: I think it helps a little, keeping track of wind zero and round count through the barrels. I do plot most of my sighters, but not my record shots. I don't like to be writing in a score book and losing sight of the wind changes. Good record-keeping of course helps you select optimal match loads, and it helps you evaluate whether things you do during the reloading process really make a difference. I've found the records very useful for judging primer lots, for example.
|Winning the NBRSA 1000-Yard Nationals--How It Was Done
Q: That was a very dominant performance at the Nationals. What two or three things do you feel were most important for the success you had?
A: The most important thing was I had no gear problems, both rifles were shooting well. Sacramento being my home range, I've been shooting 1000 yards here for about 14 years. Another factor was the luck of the draw, I didn't have a real bad relay. Two of the relays had our more normal wind conditions with some interesting let offs.
Q: Did you have a strategy in the match, or was your goal just to survive Day 1 and shoot steady thereafter?
A: I shoot for the center, meaning I shoot for score more than for group. I was also watching the conditions carefully between every shot, as I was reloading.
Q: How would you describe your mental focus during record fire? Do you get into a zone so to speak, where you're able to tune everything out?
A: Absolutely. A big part of shooting is the mental game. I do have one "Zen" thing I do. I try to approach every practice session as if it were a big match. Conversely, I try to think of every big match as if it is practice. That way you don't get stressed out.
Q: You were one of the few people shooting a 7mm (in light gun). Do you think that gave you any kind of advantage?
A: Not much, if anything, the 7mm helps a little in keeping them in the center for score. I do think the 7mm has some advantages in vearing headwind situations.
Q: How would you compare the 7mm with the 6.5-284 you shot in Heavy Gun?
A: Inherent accuracy was very close, both guns shoot good. The 7mm performs better in a headwind. The 7mm recoil is quite a bit more than the 6.5, but I use a thicker pad on the 7mm to compensate for that. The big advantage of the 7mm is barrel life. I know of one 284 that is still shooting very well with over 3000 rounds. My barrel has about 1650 right now. I shot out three 6.5 barrels at around 900-1200 rounds. I fully expect this 7mm barrel to go well past 2000.
Q: Watching some of the other shooters, your approach to the match and bench "pacing" seemed to be different. Some other guys were firing as fast as they could. It seemed you were watching the conditions and picking your shots quite a bit more?
A: During the sighting shots, I was firing into different conditions and making notes of the wind values. During the match firing I would hold off or sometimes change the scope windage to fit the conditions I saw during the sighting period. High BC bullets can't over power Mr. Wind.
Q: This was just your 3rd or 4th BR match according to Ed Eckhoff. Do you think this shows that prone/Palma shooters could be successful in the BR game?
Yes, as long as the wind blows.
Q: What about barrel cleaning? Did you shoot the whole match without cleaning?
I did not clean either gun for the three days, the Light Gun had 62 rounds and the Heavy Gun had 99 rounds. This last weekend I shot the California Long-Range Championship with the .284, winning the last two iron-sight matches at 1000 yards and the rifle had 117 rounds without cleaning. I finished second overall.
|Tierney's Views on Barrel Cleaning--Why Less Is More
Your editor asked me about my cleaning procedure. My response, half in jest, was that "I don't have one." This is controversial I know, but I do a LOT less barrel cleaning than most people do. I typically run a lot of rounds through the barrel before cleaning, and I rarely use a brush.
In a multi-day match, with all the rifles I shoot, I'll almost always wait 'til the end of the match before cleaning. Only if I experience something unusual, then I'll go ahead and clean. Most of the time, I do NOT brush. I'll use Shooters Choice, wet patches, one wet, two dry. Occasionally I'll use a nylon brush, maybe every third cleaning--about every 300 rounds. On a Palma barrel I'll go up to 500 rounds between cleaning, so that might mean 2000 rounds between brushing. I've developed this cleaning regimen based on my observed match results. I've found that my X-count peaked with the Palma rifle at the fourth or fifth match (about 200-300 rounds). Once I get about 200 rounds through the barrel, the X-count seems to climb for about 150-200 rounds then levels out. And then I'll clean at about 400 rounds.
On the 6.5-284 and .284 I'll clean after a double match, so I'll clean every 100-150 rounds. I haven't needed to use JB on the throat. I'm not a fan of moly or putting any abrasive cleaners in my barrel. When I do brush, I use nylon and I'll remove the brush after it exits the muzzle. I agree with the smiths who say that many barrels are ruined by improper cleaning. I've seen crown damage because of bad cleaning rod procedures. I do advocate taking the brush off at the end of the muzzle to protect the crown. And, as long as we're stirring controversy here, I don't uniform primer pockets, I don't ream flash-holes (other than deburring Win brass), and I don't religiously scrape out the primer pockets after each firing (I will if they're real dirty). I've tested and I have not been able to demonstrate these processes deliver better accuracy or better scores."
|Wind Reading--Unlocking the Mysteries
Q: At the NBRSA Nationals, your wind-doping skills contributed to a convincing win. Are there any "secrets" you can share as to what you were doing?
A: There are no secrets, I share what I learn with everyone--even when I was shooting sighters. I try to shoot sighters in different conditions and make note of those conditions. That's why I believe wind zeros are important. A no-wind zero means that I'll be in the middle of the target in a total calm. When I start out I'm always set up with a no-wind zero. Then I look at the wind conditions and estimate what the first wind is worth. I'll crank in what I think is there--you want to have the windage in before shooting the first sighter. In High Power we have about three minutes of wind in the target to play with, with the BR it's about two minutes--so if you don't crank in windage to start you'll be wasting sighters. Most of my rifles will shoot well after the second shot, then I shoot 2-3 shots to verify the conditions I'm seeing. Then I like to put a shot in with about 15 seconds to go. And then when record fire begins I like to look at the conditions and I pick the log data for the sighter that is the closest and I'll move the scope to that position.
Q: What is your strategy with sighters?
A: With my sighters, I am trying to map all potential conditions. I try to get a sighter for every condition I see. In particular, I'm looking for min and max wind. If I know the min and max during my string, I'll have a good score. If I can have those two parameters down, I can usually shoot well.
Q: Do you react to wind changes or try to anticipate them?
A: Wind will have both velocity and angle cycles. When I can find a repeating pattern, then I have an advantage--I can actually anticipate the wind changes. On occasion, I've had scores that were way above other people's because I'm shooting on what I think will happen, not in the current condition. I'm trying to get ahead of the wind. If I'm one-half MOA off center and I think the wind is still changing per my prediction, I'll make a full one-MOA change.
We're real careful in looking for these cycles. That gets back to the min/max thing. You feel comfortable playing in those cycles between the min and max. If I get NEAR the max I get very cautious and I really don't like to take more than one shot at or near MAX because it may be going the other way.
Q: How do you adjust to changing conditions?
A: If it's a small change I'll hold maybe out to the edge of the blue--no more than 6-7" on either side before I start clicking the scope. From shot to shot, and while I'm loading, I'm looking at conditions after EVERY shot. As a result, I'm holding different on each shot. Seldom do I hold the same for each shot. I look at specific flags on our range. Our wind flags are set high, closer to the actual trajectory of the bullet, not close to the ground like short-range BR flags. I'll check the 600-yard flag and look at the 1000-yard flag for big angle changes. At Folsom (site of the Nationals) the 1000-yard flag can show an angle change that the other flags might not show.
Q: In addition to flags, what else are you watching?
A: It's not just one thing you're looking for, it's a lot of different things. The more information you see out there, the better your guesses will be. Some ranges you can get good info from dust-splash in the impact area. A lot of places will give swirls or dust-devils. Grass can give you an idea of velocity changes. I don't worry too much about temperature changes, but I watch the clouds for light conditions more than anything, especially when shooting irons. I prefer to shoot with clouds or without the clouds. I hate to shoot when they're coming or going. I'll try to get a sighter both with the clouds overhead and with clear skies.
Mirage can help you dope the wind. Depending on the range, I use the mirage, but I don't dope solely off the mirage, unless it's very light. I feel more confident when the flags and the mirage are reading the same way. One is usually delayed over the other. I wait for the mirage to catch up, usually it is delayed over the flags. As far as wind indicators goes, a lot depends on the topology of the range. On a new range, I'll often walk through the range--the hills and valleys all make a difference.
Q: If the flags are inconsistent (in angle or velocity or both), how do you make the call?
A: Probably just from prior knowledge, based on knowing what is typical at that location. In Coalinga the flags were pointing at each other, but I had two minutes right windage on and that was mostly local knowledge--I'd seen the conditions before. Again, that's what those sighters are for--hopefully you'll have that condition in your sighter string.
Q: Do you wait for prevailing conditions?
A: I'm looking for a range to shoot in, this might completely reverse and come from the other side. What I don't want to do is shoot during changes or reversals. When you get a complete reversal from left wind to right wind that's when I'll wait out the conditions. I don’t like to shoot when the wind is in the process of switching directions.
The worst wind to shoot in is the little fishtail coming at you or from behind you. If you look at a wind chart, a shift from 4 o'clock to 2 o'clock is not nearly as dramatic as from 1 o'clock to 11 o'clock. If the wind is coming near head-on, a little shift left to right gives you big value changes. When we get to headwinds and tailwinds, the mirage often shows the changes much better than the flags.
Q: Most 1K BR shooters try to get all shots downrange before the conditions can change. How do you feel about that?
A: I also try to shoot as fast as I can. However, I'm watching the wind flags while reloading. I'm looking at everything out there--I'm looking for a change out there, something that looks different. I will definitely wait on any shot if I see something different. If conditions are moving back and forth, I'm moving with them. I'll stop and wait if I see a really different condition.
Q: How do sighters in 1K Benchrest compare with sighters in Palma or F-Class?
A: The only difference is we have unlimited sighters at 800 in Palma, but at 900 and 1000 we only get two sighters. So I'm hoping to see two different conditions. If I get two Xs in the same condition, I feel I've wasted one of my sighters.
In Palma all the shots are being marked. In Benchrest the sighters are more critical because that is the only time you get feedback about the wind conditions. So, with my sighters, I want to sample as many conditions as possible. I then try to match them with what I see occurring during record fire, so I have a sighter as a reference point for how to hold or click. For example, if I logged a sighter in a 5 mph left condition, if that condition appears during record fire, then I have a baseline.
Q: Since you can't see shot impact during a 1K Benchrest match, how were you making decisions from one shot to the next during record fire?
A: I would correlate what I'm seeing with the sighter data, trying to pick the closest corresponding sighter. If you see something brand new, then it's a guess. I'll click what I think is correct and then I'll go.
Q: Temperature changes--how do they affect bullet trajectory, and is there a way to compensate for this?
A: Normally if the temp change is less than 10 degrees I don't worry too much. In the short periods of record fire that we shoot you won't get a 10+ degree temp change. The temp-related elevation change that can occur in actual string duration is pretty tiny. But I will check my vertical zero with each course of fire. But even from 60 degrees to 80 degrees it's still in the 10 ring on a prone target.
Q: You've mentioned that the 7mm bullets seem to perform better in headwinds. Perhaps you could explain this? How do head- and tail-winds alter the shot?
A: I've never had a good explanation. I've heard a couple of theories. Some people think the 7mm's added weight helps. About four years ago, my 6.5s didn't perform too well in headwinds in a series of matches. The headwind-induced elevation was my downfall. For example, in six 1000-yard matches I dropped 24 points to elevation but just one point to wind. It was a time when we had a lot of headwinds and very little sidewind. The 6.5 was unpredictable--I was losing them both high and low. I don't think I was fouling out. I started cleaning and it didn't improve it.
After getting the 7mm I haven't encountered the exact same conditions yet. In Sacramento we do get some real funny turbulence on an angle change and we'll get an elevation variance if we shoot too soon. The 7mm handles that better in the few cases we've seen so far.
Q: Normally, will you click in changes to your scope or do you hold off?
A: I do both. If you ask John Brewer he says I'm doing it wrong. John holds off almost 100% of the time. It's more a habit from my prone shoting--I'm more comfortable aiming for the middle of the target. When shooting iron sights, once you go away from the center it's hard to re-establish your natural point of aim. Basically I click with the irons, so why not click with the scope? But I do hold off for quick changes, out to the Nine Ring with no problem. I'd rather click than hold off to the edge of the target. I shoot better if I'm holding closer to center.
Q: You use Palma numbers for your wind corrections. Maybe you could explain that.
A: On a Palma gun, I use one minute per MPH of change. So, with a 10 mph, 9 o'clock wind, I'd use 10 MOA. With the flatter-shooting 6.5-284 or 6BR Improved I'd use 6 MOA, and 5 MOA with the 7mm. If you run ballistics charts you'll get numbers very similar to this.
Q: Bill Shehane, 2004 1K Shooter of the Year, said "the wind is your friend", meaning that difficult conditions are really the means by which a smart shooter can separate himself from the competition. Do you agree--would you rather shoot in variable winds than in a calm (as this plays to your strengths)?
A: I agree, I use the same quote. I go out there rooting for the wind to blow. But the fish-tail winds give me the most trouble. A head-wind flipping back and forth left/right, left/right. Every once in a while you run into conditions that are so erratic that it's better not to shoot. But I don't mind shooting in high velocity winds. Usually I can work well up to about the limits of our targets. Much over 20 mph and the 2x4s break off our targets.
Q: Mirage is a mystery to most of us. Can you give us a short run-down on how you identify mirage features, what they tell you, and how you deal with it?
A: It's hard to talk about mirage, because it's something you see, but there are so many components and it's constantly changing. First, you can't talk about mirage without talking about humidity. In the Midwest and other high humidity areas you're looking at totally different kind of mirage, compared to dry air western areas. You need to read that a little different.
I use mirage as a secondary wind-doping resource. Winds can be gauged pretty accurately up to about 10 mph by watching mirage. In lower speeds you see more ripple. As it picks up it seems like the waves flatten out, travel more quickly along their vector, and the distance between high points is shorter. You can see 1-2 mph wind changes if you know what to watch for. We've often found the best place to watch the mirage is right above the target or on top of the number boards.
People say "Never shoot on a boil". I agree in part, because boil usually alters elevation. However, if I see a pure boil, it means I have a no-wind condition. So...if I can get a sighter in on that condition, I'll go for it.
One good trick for mirage is to use a spotting scope. Align the spotting scope into the wind until you see a boil, and that will show you the true angle of the wind. Leave the spotting scope at that orientation and anytime you don’t see the boil it means you have an angle change. We've done this successfully at team matches.
|Tools of the Trade -- Jerry's Accurate Arsenal
|7MM 284 (Light Gun)
BAT action, Jewell trigger set at 1lb.
30" Krieger, 8.5 twist med. Palma taper
.277" x .284" barrel chambered with a Riles reamer
McMillian "F" class stock
Gunsmith: Scott Riles; scope/iron sight rail, Jack Davis
Wood stock and bedding for both: J. Tierney
Rear sight: Warner #1
Front sight: Scott Riles
Prone scope: Leupold 6.5-20X
BR scope: NF 12-42X BR
Weight: BR - 16.63 lb., prone - 12.5 lb.
Match Load: 54.0gr H4831, CCI BR
Bullet: Berger 180 VLD
|6.5-284 (Heavy Gun)
Panda Action, Jewell trigger set at 10 oz.
Broughton 6.5 MM 8 Twist 5C 32" barrel
7.97 Contour .2637" X .2559"
Robertson "Speedy" F-Class stock
Gunsmith: Alan Warner WTC
BR Scope: NF 12-42X NXS
Scope rail, trigger guard by WTC
Weight: 18.5 lb.
Match Load: 49.8gr H4350, CCI BR
Bullet: Sierra 142 MK
Q: Stocks--For Bench use, how would you compare the McMillan F-Class stock to the green and black Speedy stock? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each?
A: Both shoot well. The Robertson/Speedy is smoother on the bags--it tracks very nicely, as well as any stock I've ever used in fact. The McMillan can be a bit springy but moving it forward about four inches on the front rest helped a lot. In other words, set the rest 4" back toward the action. The McMillan grip is comfortable. Both stocks work well for bench or F-Class use.
Q: You shot really well at the NBRSA with a relatively light-contour barrel on the blue rifle. Is there any advantage to the Palma taper other than weight?
A: The contour is a medium palma taper. It was selected just for the light weight. I'll have to say, it does shoot awfully well for a skinny tube.
Q: What's the procedure for switching the barreled action from the blue gun to your wood-stocked prone gun. Does this cause zero problems?
A: It's easy. Just takes two or three minutes and there are no zero problems.
Q: Should other folks follow your lead and shoot the same barreled action in 1K BR AND prone matches? Or is it better to have a dedicated rifle for each?
A: I'd suggest having a dedicated rifle for each. I've put heavy barrels on both of the wife's rifles, so the blue .284 is the currently the only rifle that makes the NBRSA Light Gun weight.
Q: Tell us more about the 7mm. Why do you use Bergers for BR and the Sierras for your prone rifle? Is the .284 Win case ideal for the 175s and 180s?
A: I bought 1000 of each and I can't tell which shoots better. I'm using the Bergers for BR as there is not much chance that you'll need to unchamber a round in a BR match (the Bergers are loaded into the lands). The Sierras are loaded about 0.020" short of the lands and are safe to unload if I have to wait out a change in Prone (you don't want to leave a loaded round in a hot chamber too long).
Q: If someone was choosing between a .284 and a 6.5-284 which way would you steer them?
A: If you can handle the heavier recoil of the 284, that's the way to go. From what I've seen the 7mm offers maybe 2.5 - 3X longer barrel life than a 6.5-284.
Q: Many of the F-Class guys say they prefer Right Bolt, Right Port actions. Most of the 600-yard and 1K BR guys seem to prefer RBLP or RB twin port. What's your view on port location?
A: I've never used a RBLP. As for the twin port on my 6BR Improved, I don't care for it that much.
Q: You've got a NF Benchrest model on the blue gun and a NightForce NXS on the 6.5-284. Do you have a preference between the two? How important is side focus? Do you shoot at max power most of the time, or do you dial down for mirage?
A: We have three NF scopes: 8-32X NXS NP-R2, 12-42X NXS CH2, and a 12-42X BR NP 2DD. I prefer the Benchrest model with NP 2DD reticle. I don't see much difference on the side or front parallax adjustment. Powerwise, I use between 30 and 42X.
|Load Development and Precision Reloading Methods
Download Jerry's Data Files: CLICK HERE to download a .Zip archive with Jerry Tierney's load data, component list, and field testing results for 180gr Bergers, 175gr SMKs, 162gr Amax (all 7mm), plus his 6.5-284 data and 6BR Improved data. (Archive contains seven MS Word files.)
Q: Record-Keeping--You keep extremely detailed records, both for load development and for matches. Do you log every round you shoot?
A: Only when load testing, but I do keep track of the rounds through each barrel. I also log my sighters during matches so I can correlate the conditions observed for each sighter. As I've explained, I try to have sighters for all the wind conditions that I'll encounter--from min to max, the full cycle.
Q: What is the benefit of keeping such detailed records?
A: The main reason is when you get old you can't remember what load was for which rifle. Also I share all of my load data with anyone who would like it. Sometimes it takes quite a while to find the best load. I also use the data to determine whether certain reloading procedures are beneficial or not, and to test primers or load. If something unusual happens I go back to the records--for example if I start seeing more elevation than normal of the zeros are changing radically. Checking the records also gives me early warning if the barrel starts to go.
Q: What do the records tell you about the accuracy of your rifles? Are they all sub-inch at 300 yards?
A: The records tell me that all of my rifles shoot better than I do. Among the different rifles most of the non-vld bullets are grouping between 0.200" and 0.300", a couple of 0.1's and the smallest group with the 6BR was 0.085". This leads me to believe that I am the limiting factor. I tested my #2 Palma rifle at 300 yards and the five-shot group measured 0.667" and this is my worst-performing rifle.
Q: At what distance do you do most of your load testing?
A: Powder and primer testing is first done at 100 yards and later at 1000 yards. All of the new barrels are tested at 100 yards first to select the loads for further testing at 1000 yards. I like to do final testing at 1000 because it is easier to do at my range and it gives me a lot more information. However, I do test for groups at 300 and 600 all the time. 300 yards is a good minimum distance to get meaningful information, particularly with the VLDs. When I'm testing at 100 I'm looking more for Muzzle Velocity and SD than anything else. At 100 I'm just looking for pressure signs, a preliminary test, to get some good candidates for further testing.
Q: What is your procedure for identifying a match load--do you try for a particular velocity first, then tinker with seating depth for accuracy?
A: When working with new barrels in a caliber that I've shot before, I'm looking for the smallest group in certain velocity range. I do check seating into and out of the lands to see if there is a difference with all of the load candidates for long range testing. Testing of the VLD bullets at less than 300 yards is a waste of time (IMHO). For example, I found a that a VLD load that shot the biggest group (0.7") at 100 yards, also shot the smallest group (3.00") at 1000 yards. So you can't just rely on 100-yard results.
Q: How important is the chronograph to your load testing and practice?
A: I test every 8-lb jug of Varget for velocity, and then adjust to achieve the correct MV needed for my Palma rifles. I do some chron testing at 1000 yards for primer lots and all of the 100-yard testing is done across the chrono. I eventually test all the powders I use, but I'm particularly concerned with Varget because I'm pushing the .308 close to the max. We push 'em pretty hard in the Palma guns. The reason for checking is that we've seen big velocity variances with different batches of Varget. Varget really varies from lot to lot. Over the years we've had to modify the Palma load up to two full grains to get the same velocity. By contrast, with 4350s and 4831 you see a little variation, but it's usually well within the safe range.
I do a final chronograph test of my selected long-range load where I fire 20 rounds at 1000 yards, checking group size, ES, SD, and MV. At my range, the firing point drops off quickly so I can actually chron prone as well as from the bench. I use the Oehler 35 P, always set at 15 feet from the muzzle. (I've found if I put it closer, muzzle blast can affect the results).
Q: We understand you sort both your brass and bullets before loading. What's your procedure?
A: VLD bullets are checked for both weight and base-to-ogive length as they are loaded into the lands. The Sierra bullets are checked for weight only as I jump all of the Sierras. I do sort brass by weight--I'm not sure if it helps. I also sort my loaded rounds by weight and then fire them in order from high to low, normally in 500-round lots. The weighing of the brass helps this process. Weight-sorting the loaded ammo finds any rounds that got too much or not enough powder (more of a safety check).
Q: How do you prepare your .284 (7mm) cartridges. Do you start with 6.5-284 cases?
A: I use both Winchester .284 brass and Lapua 6.5-284 brass, in different barrels with slightly different chambers. One reamer is for Winchester .284 brass. With those cases, the back is so tight that the new brass has to be run through a Small Base Die just to chamber and then a 7mm mandrel is run through the neck. The other reamer is for Lapua 6.5-284 brass. For those cases, I expand with a 7mm mandrel run through the neck. The Win-brand brass gets the inside flash hole deburred. I don't uniform the primer pockets. Both brass types are trimmed to length and chamfered. (I use a Giraud case trimmer.) Then load and fire!
Fired brass is run a couple of hours in a tumbler before resizing, lightly lubed (with Midway spray-on lube) and resized, run though the trimmer and tumbled again for a couple of hours. I sometimes clean the primer pockets (but not every time). I prime using a bench-mounted RCBS APS strip primer. This is the best priming system I've ever tried. I keep telling people that, but nobody seems to believe me.
Q: What dies do you use for the 7mm and 6.5-284?
A: I use a Redding body die and Redding bushing neck-sizing die. For the .284 and 6.5-284, body sizing and neck-sizing are done as separate operations. I neck-size with a bushing that gives about .002" tension. For the 6.5-284, with Lapua brass, I size the necks to .292", my loaded round is .2935". After firing, the neck is .295". I'd like to add that I load differently for the .308. With the Palma I use the Redding Type S Full-length bushing die. This sizes the body while a bushing sizes the neck, all in one pass.
Q: Do you measure for concentricity, use a Juenke machine or do anything unusual?
A: The seating process and the resizing process are checked for concentricity, normally the run-out is around 0.001". No I don't use a Juenke or any exotic tools.
Q: The Hoovers number their cases and shoot them in the same sequence each time. The idea is that if, say, shot #3 goes out of the group each time then you can cull that piece of brass. What's your take on that method?
A: We use over 6000 pieces of brass, so numbering each case isn't practical. But I have tossed some brass that shot way out of group in front of the firing line.
Q: You run an improved version of the 6BR with a 40° shoulder--What method do you use for fire-forming?
A: For the first 100 cases I tried a little Hi-score 700 with cornmeal and a little crisco on top. But it smelled bad and made a lot of noise in the garage. Now I use the false shoulder method. It works very well for fire-forming, and loads at 600 shoot just as good as the second firing. I've tried just seating the bullet very long, this worked most of the time, but there were some that failed to fire. The first lot of brass was neck-turned after fire-forming, the next lots were turned before fire-forming. I typically turn the 6BR necks about .0015". This is to get neck-wall consistency, not to fit the chamber. I size to .266", my loaded round is .268" at the neck, and after firing the necks are .2715." So, figuring for some springback, I probably have at least .004" neck clearance, maybe more.
Q: For the 6BR Improved--What dies do you use?
A: For seating I use a Redding 6BR die. For sizing, I have a custom Newlon bushing die cut with a reamer about 0.002" smaller than the chamber reamer.
Q: Do you full-length size your 6mm and/or 7mm cases every time?
A: With the 6BR Improved and 7mm, I resize just enough that I cannot feel the case when closing the bolt. After shooting I select a dozen or so cases. If I don't feel resistance while closing the bolt, I'll just neck-size with bushing. I'll only bump as needed. And when I do full-length size, I'll adjust the die up or down each time to just get the minimal resizing I need.
Q: Low ES and SD are vital to keep vertical under control. Do you have any special tricks for achieving low ES, such as turning the necks multiple times, or using an internal neck lube?
A: I don't use internal lube and I don't have any special tricks. I get low ES by using a good lot of primers and by controlling the neck tension.
Q: Meplats--Do you uniform the meplats like David Tubb does?
Q: Moly vs. Non-Moly--Do you ever use moly or Danzac-coated bullets? What are the pros and cons?
A: I never use Moly. There are way too many misleading statements both pro and con for me to make a comment on bullet coatings.
Q: Annealing--Some guys advocate annealing their cases regularly. What's your view?
A: I don't anneal. I suppose if you fire the same brass many times, it would help. I never shoot my cases enough that I needed to do it. The only cases I've ever annealed were the nickel-plated .308 cases. These had very stiff necks and annealing helped.
Q: You use a Prometheus machine to throw powder charges. Have you observed improved accuracy or reduced vertical since acquiring the Prometheus? Is it worth the money?
A: Did I waste my money? I don't know, I could have gotten the same accuracy with a Denver Instrument scale for half the price. I have gained a bit in output speed though. I'm running about 10 seconds or a little less for the powder charge.
|Caliber Selection, Markmanship, and Gun-Handling
Q: You also compete with a 6BR Improved and your .308 Palma gun. Which is your favorite gun to shoot and why? Do you use a different technique with your 6BR Imp vs. the heavier-recoiling .284 or .308?
A: I like shooting the .308 Palma rifle, it offers more of a wind-reading challenge. The 6BR IMP is shot different, with its lighter recoil the 6BR can be kept in the shoulder whereas the .284 is taken out of the shoulder each shot.
Q: Caliber choice--is 6mm the way to go at 600 yards?
A: The 6BR Improved is very comfortable to shoot. I've shoot a lot of 6mm at 600 yards and a lot of .223 at 600 with similar results. Every cartridge I shoot now can perform very well at 600 yards. It's just a matter of how much recoil you can deal with. My .308 does really well at 600 yards. The .223 and 6mms are more comfortable and they don't tire you as much. I think that's the main thing, but of course the high-BC calibers will have a little less wind drift.
6mm is kind of ideal for 600 yards. It seems to really shine at that distance. Every 6mm I've tried at 600 has shot really well. I went to the 6mm route in about 1990, just about the time when they started producing good bullets.
Q: Has the game evolved to the point where you need to have a 'golf bag' of rifles and pick a different caliber for each distance?
A: I think I'd be more worried about the guy who has one rifle. I do think a 6BR might give a slight edge at 600 yards. Maybe at 600 yards the 6BR would be a little tighter and a little more comfortable. Speaking mostly of F-class and 600-yard benchrest, I could shoot it with two rifles or one rifle. The F-Class match rules are still evolving. It's unclear whether they will allow multiple rifles. In the full-bore open-caliber matches I could shoot that completely with my 7mm, from 300 yards to 1000. But then I've shot an 80gr .223 pretty well at 1000--but you're right at the limit. You got to run some very high pressure to get good accuracy and good performance from a .223 at 1K.
Q: You won the Cal State 3x600 prone and your wife won the 3x600 F-Class. You were shooting 107s in a 6BR Improved and she was shooting DTAC 115s. How did you choose the bullets?
A: I have an 8.5 twist and my barrel won't shoot the 115s, but I would shoot them if I had a faster twist, seeing how well my wife's Broughton shoots. I feel the velocity loss with the 115s is more than made up by the BC gain, so I'll go to the 115s when I change the barrel. I've got about 3000+ rounds on my current 6mm barrel, but I've already got a Hart 7-twist ready to put on.
Q: Why go with the 6BR Improved vs. a standard 6BR?
A: Added velocity. The other advantage is that you can run lower pressure. I've got up to 20 loadings on some cases and I've measured them and they didn't grow at all. I think that 40 degree shoulder helps. The brass is extremely stable after fire-forming. Now that I have 600 cases, I've never worn out a 6BR Improved case after fire-forming.
Q: You have a lot of experience shooting the 155gr .308s in Palma rifles. How do you compare the .308 with the .284 in a prone rifle?
A: The poor old 155s need about twice the windage. Other than that I don't see a lot of difference in recoil when I sling up and shoot prone. There's some difference but not a lot. The .284 gives more a push rather than the sharp recoil of the .308. On the bench I notice the difference in recoil. But when I'm slung in tight in position I don't see a lot of difference.
Q: Much of your success can be attributed to plain old hard work. How often do you get to the range?
A: I probably shoot 150+ days a year, year-round. Monday I shoot with the BR guys (practice--we'll go out and shoot a few targets, 5-shot groups and a couple 10-shot, this is when I do a lot of load testing), on Tuesday we shoot 300, 600, 1000 prone with various rifles (usually the gun slated for the next match). On Tuesday I compete with the wife, all three distances. Some times we'll shoot a 600-yard match--no sighters, 10 shots. She wins most of the time. She shoots F-class and I'm shooting prone, slinged up. I'm shooting almost against a perfect score every time so it gives me incentive to work harder.
Q: When practicing, do you try to duplicate match conditions--i.e. shooting with flags, completing your shots within a time limit?
A: Yes I do that, almost always. This makes you put more emphasis into your shooting. I practice the hard stuff, and train in the worst conditions I can find. You want to put pressure on yourself in training. I reverse the pressure role. Mentally, I try to treat the practice like I'm shooting the Nationals, and when I'm shooting an important match I try to treat it like a practice. That way, when you're in competition, you don't feel pressure anymore.
Q: We have many prone and high-power shooters who frequent the site. What 3 or 4 gun-handling tips do you have for prone shooters?
A. First, try not to look through the sights for more than a few seconds at a spell--five seconds or less on actual site picture. Your first sight picture is usually the best. Once you get a good site picture, don't keep trying to improve it--shoot it. About 3-4 seconds is about the max I'd hold a sight picture. Then I'll look away, blink, do a lot of breathing. Breathing pumps a lot of oxygen into the eyeballs. Second, don't move around a lot when in firing position. Some guys change position too much. I like to establish my left elbow and pivot around that, and work on that to get a natural point of aim. When you have the natural point of aim, you'll be pointing at YOUR target. You don’t want to be muscling the rifle on to the target.
Third, some guys are not shooting with enough sling tension. They can get the rifle in and out of their shoulder too easily. If they can move the butt in and out too easily, they probably don’t have enough sling tension. Tension cuts down the wiggle and you'll get a little less vertical. Lastly, you need a good shooting cadence with repeatability in loading, aiming, and shooting. Try to do the same thing with every shot.
Q: For someone who wants to get started in long-range shooting, what are your recommendations as to caliber and discipline?
A: It's up to the shooter. Benchrest, F-Class, whatever. However, if you're thinking about prone or high-power, the learning curve is steeper. If you go into F-Class then you can learn a bit of everything pretty quickly. F-Class is probably the easiest and quickest discipline to get a handle on, and it will probably be cheaper than prone shooting--you don't need coats and spotting scopes. If you are shooting long range, no matter what the discipline, the most important thing is learning how to read the wind.
Q: Bottom line, 7mm vs. 6.5-284, what's your opinion? Should the US F-Class team switch to the .284?
A: My advice would be that the Team should get a few rifles of both and shoot them against each other for a long period of time and see which does perform better. Have a lengthy shoot-off and compare results. Then it won't be a matter of opinion, it will be based on results.
If it was for me, I'd take the 7mm. For my wife, it would be a 6.5-284, because the recoil is less. The benefits of the 7mm are the high BC, but equally important is the barrel life. If the 6.5-284 outshot the 7mm, barrel life wouldn't be that important. Accuracy is MORE important than barrel life. But when the accuracy is equivalent, barrel life would be the deciding factor.
Q: At the CA Long-Range Championships, you missed out on first-place by just one point. That must have been disappointing. How do you deal with that kind of situation? What advice do you have for competitors to deal with the stress of close competition?
A: I don't stress over that kind of thing. In fact, at the CA Long-Range Championship, Dennis Flaharty ran out of ammo during his last string. I was the guy who ran out to his truck to get him some more ammo. On that last shot, he got a 9, and won the match. If it was two inches lower, I would have won. But that's OK with me. The people I compete with I've known for years. They're my friends, we shoot on teams together, we give a lot of support to each other. If I can help my fellow competitor, I have no problem with that.
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