Ballard's .284 "Purple Haze" Shoots 200-13X at 1000 Yards
Other Guns of the Week > Has Charles Ballard created the Ultimate F-Class Rifle? With this impressive rig, Ballard recently shot a new National F-Class 1000-yard record, a spectacular 200-13X on the new, smaller 1K F-Class Target. In a very short span, Ballard and his rifle have racked up an impressive string of performances. Ballard won the NRA Long-Range Regional, setting the new National Record in the process. He also won the North Carolina F-Class Championship with the gun, and finished second to National Champion Bob Bock in the NSSC Long-Range Club Championship. Ballard even broke a local club record at 600 yards (also 200-13X) with his tack-drivin' .284. Ballard's "Purple Haze" rifle features superb components, including a BAT MB action, Nightforce 12-42 BR Scope, and a wickedly accurate 32" Broughton barrel.
NOTE: Charles Ballard always employs eye and ear protection when shooting. For these photos, he removed his safety glasses.
Building a Record-Breaking F-Classer by Charles Ballard
This rifle project began several years ago. My purpose was to find a cartridge that would launch the high-BC, 180gr 7mm bullets at competitive velocities for F-Class competition. I also sought barrel life that would be far superior to that of a 7mm WSM or 6.5-284. I read the article on 6mmBR.com about Jerry Tierney's .284 Winchester and the cogs began to turn. After speaking with Mr. Tierney at the 2006 US F-Class Nationals, I decided the .284 Win would be the chambering for the new gun, despite several shooters telling me I would not be able to obtain the desired velocities. Jerry said "go for it" and, as it turned out, the rifle delivered the velocity I wanted, plus extraordinary accuracy to boot. This gun has more than exceeded my expectations, winning matches and setting a new 1000-yard, single-target F-Class National Record (200-13X).
Rifle Specifications--All the Hardware My action of choice was a beefy 1.55"-diameter, round BAT MB, Left Bolt, Right Port. I chose this action based on BAT Machine's impeccable reputation. I also liked the fact that the MB (medium long front) action offered an extended front end. This would provide better support for a very long barrel and give more bedding surface. The action is topped with a stainless BAT tapered (+20 MOA) Picatinny scope rail. Housed in a polished, stainless BAT trigger guard is a Jewel trigger set at 5 ounces.
The barrel is a 32" Broughton 5C. The chamber was cut with a reamer made for Lapua 6.5-284 brass necked up to 7mm. It's throated for the 180gr Bergers. I selected a Broughton 5C because, as my gunsmith says, "They just shoot". This is a 1:9" twist, 1.250" straight contour for 32". Yes, that's a long, heavy barrel, but I think the length gives me a velocity advantage. On other guns, a 32" tube could cause the rifle to be front-heavy and out-of-balance. The stock by Precision Rifle & Tool has a 3"-longer fore-end which solves the problem. The purple .284 balances very well and tracks great.
Speaking of the stock, there was only one choice, a "Purple Haze" laminated F-class model from Precision Rifle & Tool. This stock features a fully-adjustable buttplate plus a removable cheek-piece with thumb-wheel adjustment. Most importantly, the stock features an extra-long, super-stiff, low profile fore-end. This design rides the bags better than any stock I have ever shot. The action area of this stock has been beefed up to house the large BAT MB action. The final component on this rifle is a 12-42x56 Nightforce BR with DD-1 reticle set in Leupold Quick Release rings.
Project Notes--Building the Ultimate F-Classer To start this project, I contacted Ray Bowman of Precision Rifle & Tool, PrecisionRifleSales.com. The first order of business was to get the action ordered, knowing how long it would take to get a BAT left bolt, right port action, plus scope rail, and trigger guard. We knew we wanted a Broughton 5C, but what twist rate? Based on the success I had shooting 210s in my 300 WSM with a "slower" 1:11" twist we opted to go with a 1:9" twist 7mm to shoot the 180gr Bergers. A dummy round was sent to Pacific Tool and Gauge to have a reamer ground to our specs.
Not shooting free recoil, I needed a stock that would fit me like a prone stock but track like a benchrest stock. Precision Rifle & Tool's F-Class stock fit this bill to perfection. Ray keeps Jewell triggers in stock so the only piece left to acquire was the scope. On the old F-Class targets I would have been content with a Leupold 8-25 LRT, but on the new target a scope with 1/8-MOA adjustments and high magnification is a must. I considered the Leupold competition scopes but ultimately decided on the Nightforce BR. The variable power and unobstructed DD-1 reticle of the NF were deciding factors.
Fast Turn-Around from Gunsmith Ray Bowman In late spring of 2007 all the parts had made their way to Ray’s shop. The first step was to cut the chamber and crown. When Ray chambers a barrel the phones are turned off and doors locked. All I know is what ever he does on that lathe behind closed doors is pure perfection. A few days later Ray invited me to visit his shop. Amazingly the buttplate was fitted to the stock, and the cheek-piece and hardware were installed. Ray informed me that by the end of the day he would have the pillars installed and the barreled action bedded. To secure the heavy barreled action, the action screws were replaced with larger socket-head cap screws. Finally the Jewell trigger received its final adjustment at 5 ounces. The barreled action and butt plate were removed and the bedding was taped off. Now the beautiful purple and black laminated stock was ready to receive multiple coats of gloss automotive clear-coat. After the clear-coat cured, the rifle was assembled and all fasteners torqued.
NOTE: Charles Ballard always employs eye and ear protection when shooting. For these photos, he removed his safety glasses.
F-Class Confessions: Setting a New 1000-Yard Record
It was about 103° F on the 1000-yard line in Butner, NC. The wind was running left to right, with 3-4 mph let-offs. But the velocity changes were pretty easy to read from the mirage. I dialed down the scope to 25-power and really locked into the mirage. I had tremendous confidence in what the mirage was telling me. This confidence put me in the zone.
I never picked my head up to look at the flags. As soon as the target came up and the spotter looked right, I broke the next shot. No hesitation. I probably shot the whole string in less than nine (9) minutes. At about round 15, I started thinking that this might be a record and the tension began to build.
In several previous matches I was clean through 15 shots and ended up dropping a point or two at the end of the string. Having been in this situation before it really made me concentrate on the last 5 shots. When the 20th shot came up a 10, it was hard to control my excitement. I came off the line with the biggest smile on my face you've ever seen. My hand was shaking so bad I could hardly sign my scorecard. After I turned in my card, I called everybody I knew. It was pretty special....
I can't take all the credit for the record. It's hard for me not to give credit to my .284 chambering as I feel it played a big part in setting this record. We've tested my .284 at 1000 yards against a 300 WSM and 6.5-284. Using three shooters, we shot all three guns at the same time so the wind effects were exactly the same. In this shoot-off, the .284 consistently shot 3 inches inside the two other calibers. Interestingly, at the NC State Championship, and at the NRA LR Regionals, three of the top five shooters used .284s built by Precision Rifle & Tool.
To hear more from Charles Ballard, click on the Video Playback screen below. In Video 2, Charles describes his mindset and emotions when shooting the record and immediately thereafter.
NOTE: Photo depicts duplicate "display" target with white markers showing bullet points of impact on record target.)
WARNING: The loads stated in this article may be TOO HOT for many .284 Win rifles. Always START LOW and work up gradually in small increments, looking for pressure signs. With 7mm Sierra 175s, Hodgdon's starting load is 52.0 grains of H4831sc.
Load Development and Accuracy Testing My philosophy on load development differs from many shooters. I don’t primarily shoot for groups. The only goal I have is to obtain the lowest ES and SD I possibly can. Holding elevation in F-Class is crucial. Uniform velocity gives me more consistent vertical point of impact. As we commenced load development, Jerry Tierney’s .284 Win load data posted on this website gave us a good starting point. We loaded 53.0 grains of Hodgdon H4831sc and shot one round, cleaned, shot three rounds, cleaned, then shot 10 rounds and cleaned. From this point we worked up in half-grain increments until pressure signs developed at 2950 fps. Then we backed the powder charge down until the bolt lift was smooth and the primers were nice and round.
Success: 2910 FPS with Ten-Shot ES of 7 and SD of 3 At this point I began working with different primers, neck tension and seating depth. After trying Federal 210m primers, CCI BR-2 primers, light tension, heavy tension, jamming, jumping, we settled on 56.0+ grains of H4831sc with CCI BR-2 primers. We ran about .002 neck tension with the 180s seated just touching the lands. This load gave us 2910 fps velocity with an Extreme Spread (ES) of 7 fps and a Standard Deviation (SD) of 3 fps over ten (10) shots.
NOTE: If you're skeptical of those single-digit chron readings, click on the Video Playback screen below to view Ballard test-firing a load that delivers an ES of 5 and SD of 2 for five shots. At the end he holds the Oehler Chrono up to the camera so you can view the readout yourself. Seeing is believing!
CLICK CENTER of YouTube Display (BELOW) to LAUNCH VIDEO
Houston--We Have a Problem I thought we had a load dialed-in, so I was fairly confident going to the North Carolina Long-Range State Championships. Let’s just say it didn’t go as planned. I encountered vertical, vertical, and more vertical. Turns out this was my fault. I had committed a big reloading "No-No". I had used the ball expander in the die to neck the cases up from 6.5 to 7mm. Big Mistake! The cases we had previously used for load development were first necked-up with Ray’s expander mandrel and then run through the Redding bushing dies. Lesson learned: use an expander when necking-up the brass! This step was performed on the cases for the next match and it corrected the problem, as I lost no points to elevation.
Surprise--Velocities Rise, So Load Must Be Tweaked After the NC State Champs, the gun went into hibernation for the winter. In February of 2008, NSSC held its annual winter Palma match. On Saturday my .284 was absolutely hammering, but Sunday I started noticing a hard bolt lift. Eventually, at the end of my last string, the gun blew a few primers. Luckily, however, it was still shooting very well. On the following Monday, we went back to the test bench and chrono. To my surprise 57.0 grains of H4831 was now shooting 2975 fps! That's way too hot. At this point the barrel had 439 rounds through it. I started calling anyone I could thing of to see if they had any idea what could be causing this problem. Nobody I spoke with had ever experienced this problem until I spoke with a very knowledgeable F-Class shooter named Andy Amber.
Andy informed me that this had happened to him with several rifles. For whatever reason, between 100 to 300 rounds, as the barrel gets broken-in, the velocity climbs significantly.. Andy told me if I loaded back to the previous velocity, in his experience, it would stay there. Andy was spot on. My load came back together with 54.5 grains of H4831sc. The Oehler consistently gave me readings of 2892 fps to 2902 fps with an SD of 4 fps using once-fired brass. New brass gave slightly slower velocity but better numbers: ES of 7 to 9 fps, and SD of 2 to 3 fps. All this data was duplicated on several occasions. This rifle now has 554 rounds through it, but only .003" throat erosion. The bullet was moved out .003" to maintain position relative to the lands.
How to Get Single-Digit ES: Ballard's Loading Methods
I'm very exacting in my loading procedures. I think that's why I've been able to build loads that consistently deliver single-digit Extreme Spreads with ultra-low SDs. Here's my loading method.
Case Prep: I start with Lapua 6.5x284 brass necked up to .284 with an expander mandrel. Next I sort the cases into one-grain lots, for example 194.0 to 194.9 grains, then 195.0 to 195.9 grains, and so on. After the brass is sorted, I chamfer the case mouths with an RCBS VLD tool. Any residual lube from case expansion is then cleaned out of the case mouth with alcohol on a bronze brush. Finally all the cases are run through a Redding Type 'S' FL sizing die with .312" neck bushing.
Loading Procedure: My CCI BR-2 primers are seated with a RCBS hand priming tool. Powder charges are dispensed and weighed with an RCBS ChargeMaster Electronic Dispenser, which is regularly calibrated with check-weights to assure accuracy. Then the 180gr bullets are seated using a Redding Competition Seating Die.
Processing Fired Cases: My fired cases are tumbled in walnut shell media, then cleaned off. Cases are full-length resized, but I bump the shoulders only .0005" (one-half thousandth). After sizing, the case mouths are cleaned with a spinning bronze brush.
IMPORTANT TIP: After 3 firings I will uniform the primer pockets and anneal the case necks. I found this very important in holding good elevation (minimal vertical dispersion).
CALIBER CHOICE: The Case for the .284 Win
Comparative Ballistics: 6.5-284, .284 Win, and 300 WSM For shooters who are not sold on the .284 Winchester, I give you a real-world ballistics shoot-off. We comparison-tested a 6.5-284 rifle launching 142 SMKs at 2975 fps, a 300 WSM rifle firing 210 Bergers at 2850 fps, and my .284 Winchester shooting 180 Bergers at 2900 fps. We had three shooters and each rifle was fired simultaneously with no-wind zeros on three separate targets set at 1000 yards. The shooters then exchanged rifles and we repeated the test a couple times. The 6.5 and 300 stayed consistently within an inch of each other. But my .284, with its high-BC Berger 180s, shot inside both the 6.5 and 300 by at least 3" every time. BC rules in the wind. I was sold!
Cost Comparison: .284 Win vs. 6.5-284 The cost of reloading the .284 Win is roughly $.07 more per round than that of the 6.5-284. The .284 uses a grain or two more powder than the 6.5-284, and 7mm bullets cost about $6.00 more per 100-count box. However, to truly compare the cost of shooting the two calibers you must figure in barrel life. My 6.5-284 barrel went south at 900 rounds. My .284 barrel now has 1,036 rounds, and by all indications it will shoot well to 3,000+ rounds. For cost comparisons sake, let’s use 1,200 rounds for the 6.5-284 and 3,000 rounds for the .284 Win. The average cost of a barrel, chambered and fitted, is $500.00. Using these figures, the barrel cost of a .284 Win is $.17 per round vs. $.42 per round for the 6.5-284. That's a $.25 per round difference, equivalent to a 60% savings for the .284.
OK, if we now net the barrel cost savings (-$.25) for the .284 with the higher cost of 7mm reloading components (+$.07), I figure the .284 Win costs $.18 per round LESS to shoot than the 6.5-284. Over the span of 3,000 rounds, that's a $540.00 savings.
Gun Handling and Recoil If there is a down-side to the .284 it would be recoil. Now don’t get me wrong, at 22 pounds with a decelerator recoil pad, the .284 is comfortable to shoot. The recoil difference between the 6.5-284 and the .284 is about the same as the difference between a 6x250AI and a 6.5-284. In the versatility section I will elaborate more on this subject.
Ease of Load Tuning Despite the issues I explained in the load development section with low initial velocities on new barrels, I would say the .284 is fairly easy to tune. The barrel with which I shot my record was removed after that match so I don’t put too many rounds on it before the Nationals. The new barrel on this rifle was tested using the same load. As with the first barrel, the second barrel yielded 2775 fps with a "starter load" of 53.0 grains of H4831sc. With only 11 rounds through the new tube, I shot a 600-yard match on June 22, 2008. I loaded 44 rounds using 55.0 grains of H4831sc. This load ran at 2825 fps. After my first string this load started hammering. I shot a 200-7X with no elevation change on my last string.
Multi-Discipline Versatility The .284 is my hands-down choice for shooting F-Class. I recently shot my first 600-yard benchrest match. I shot the .284 Win in heavy gun. In this match I found the first weakness in my beloved .284. On a bench you do notice the recoil. The 6mmBR pilots could run off five shots before I could shoot two. My groups were respectable: a four-group, 3.055" Agg. But, the added recoil of the .284, even with front and rear rests aligned, took me off target. All this being said, if a man wanted just one caliber for F-Class, long-range benchrest, and hunting, I would still suggest the .284 Win.
Ballard's Tips for F-Class Competition
In this section, Charles Ballard explains the basics of shooting an F-Class match, from the initial prep period to end of match. He covers sighter strategies and techniques for record fire, and he also explains, in detail, how he dopes the wind and judges hold-offs based on mirage.
Three-Minute Prep Period I spend the first part of my 3-minute prep period making sure my front rest and rear bag are in-line. This insures the gun returns to the same spot after recoil. After I am happy with my set-up, I take a position similar to that of a conventional prone shooter. My face rests on the stock and my shoulder is placed firmly into the buttplate. With the Right Bolt, Left Port action, I can shoot the entire match with minimal movement. The last segment of prep time is spent trying to dope the wind.
Sighter Strategies In a match with only two sighters, I'll make a wind call and try to hit the center with my first shot. In matches with unlimited sighters, I generally hold dead center with a no-wind zero and use the point of impact as feedback. If I feel there is a constant condition, I will click for the wind. This allows me to use the center as my primary hold. After I get the feedback I need from my sighters it's time to go for record.
Record Fire After record fire begins I shoot very fast, holding off for the wind. I'll make my wind call while the target is in the pits; if my previous shot went where I thought it would I will take my next shot as soon as the target stops. I predominantly shoot and adjust my aim based on mirage. If I have switching conditions, I will remove all wind from the scope, slow down, use the flags and mirage, still holding off. I do this because I have never had success waiting on a condition to come back.
Cleaning Procedures I do not clean until the match is over. This means I typically shoot 120 to 150 rounds on average between barrel cleanings. I quit cleaning every relay after reading Mr. Tierney’s article, but I would still clean on Saturday night after I got home. After getting in late one Saturday night, I forgot to clean my rifle. I remembered this as I was preparing to shoot the first relay Sunday morning. At the time I was shooting a 300 WSM. Well, guess what… that relay I shot a 200-19x, and the next relay I shot a 200-17x (these scores were on the old, larger F-Class target). I found that the 300 WSM's vertical really tightened up after about 50 rounds. The same has proven true of my .284 Winchester--vertical improves once 50 rounds are through the bore.
When I do clean, it's simple. I use Bore Tech Eliminator on three patches, then follow with a wet nylon brush. These steps are repeated until the bore is spotless. I then push one wet patch of Eliminator through the bore and leave it.