Reloads vs. Fac­tory Ammo

We pit hand­loads of 6.5 Creed­moor against fac­tory ammo to see which one wins

American Survival Guide - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By E. Don Smith

We pit hand­loads of 6.5 Creed­moor against fac­tory ammo to see which one wins.

Avid reload­ers can eas­ily for­get that many man­u­fac­tur­ers are pro­duc­ing high-qual­ity match ammo at good prices th­ese days. Not every­one is in­ter­ested in reload­ing, and frankly, it is a la­bor of love for most of us. When you count up all the time and money one spends reload­ing, it’s enough to make you won­der if it’s re­ally worth it or not. If you have ever at­tended an NRA long-range ri­fle match at 600 to 1,000 yards or a benchrest ri­fle com­pe­ti­tion, you will see that al­most 100 per­cent of the top com­peti­tors are us­ing hand-loaded ammo. But is it nec­es­sary for the av­er­age shooter? That is the ques­tion we will an­swer as we take a deep dive into reloaded am­mu­ni­tion ver­sus a cross-sec­tion of fac­tory of­fer­ings to see if there is a real dif­fer­ence in ac­cu­racy. The equip­ment list that it takes to pro­duce true high-pre­ci­sion rounds starts with ba­sic items such as a reload­ing press, dig­i­tal scale and dies (bush­ings), along with case-clean­ing and prepa­ra­tion de­vices. In ad­di­tion to those more ba­sic items, a high-pre­ci­sion reloader must also add case an­neal­ing, a case trim­mer and a con­cen­tric­ity gauge, as well as a neck-turn­ing tool. How­ever, it doesn’t stop there—one also needs to de­ter­mine the op­ti­mum over­all length of their cham­ber. In ad­di­tion, most of us mea­sure a wide range of case and bul­let di­men­sions, all of which re­quire sev­eral spe­cial­ized mi­crom­e­ters and calipers. Once mea­sured, the cases and bul­lets are sorted by weight, neck ten­sion, in­ter­nal ca­pac­ity, etc. This list of equip­ment, alone, can eas­ily cost thou­sands of dol­lars; and it’s all done to im­prove the ac­cu­racy over offthe-shelf ammo.

The Test­ing Pro­to­col

There are many ways to test the ac­cu­racy of a ri­fle, such as three-shot groups, five-shot groups or even larger groups, and all th­ese meth­ods will yield a dif­fer­ent an­swer. So, when mea­sur­ing the per­for­mance of your am­mu­ni­tion or ri­fle, be re­al­is­tic and use equip­ment that is ca­pa­ble of sup­port­ing the ri­fle in a way that is ac­cu­rate, sta­ble and re­peat­able. For this test, I used a coax­ial front rest and a rear sand­bag to en­sure I was get­ting the most-sta­ble plat­form pos­si­ble. It’s not prac­ti­cal to ex­pect a fac­tory lightweight ri­fle to hold a tight group for 10 or 20 rounds due to heat buildup. There­fore, I de­cided to use five-shot groups and a dis­tance of 100 yards. Of course, this ri­fle is ca­pa­ble of shoot­ing dis­tances in ex­cess of 1,000 yards, but re­peata­bil­ity at th­ese ranges is at the mercy of wind and other en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors. So, I did all the group test­ing at 100 yards—but I also shot the ri­fle at 500 yards to con­firm the data.

Reload­ing

Be­cause my goal is to com­pare fac­tory am­mu­ni­tion to

hand­loads, I per­formed ba­sic reload­ing of the fired brass. Ini­tially, I started with both La­pua, which uses a small primer, and Hor­nady brass, which uses a large primer pocket. On the first fir­ing of the brass, I omit­ted this data from my cal­cu­la­tions and treated the first shot on the new brass as fire-form­ing. Then, I used the ex­cel­lent Red­ding bush­ing reload­ing dies to bump the shoul­der .002 inch from their ini­tial fired length. I then used the sub­se­quent fir­ings as data suit­able for in­clu­sion in the test. This en­sured the brass was formed as closely as pos­si­ble to the cham­ber in this bar­rel. I in­tended to feed ammo from a mag­a­zine; as a re­sult, I was lim­ited to a max­i­mum over­all length of 2.8 inches so I didn’t seat the bul­lets close to, or into, the lands—as would

be done on a tar­get ri­fle that does not use a mag­a­zine.

Com­po­nents

One of the great things about reload­ing for the 6.5 Creed­moor is the wide range of com­po­nents that are avail­able. Bul­lets range from 85 grains up to the 147-grain Hor­nady ELDM that I tested. How­ever, the real sweet spot is from 120 to 147 grains—that is, if your ri­fle has the cor­rect twist rate to sta­bi­lize th­ese longer bul­lets. I used the fol­low­ing bul­lets as I at­tempted to an­swer my reload­ing-ver­sus-fac­tory ammo quandary: La­pua Sce­nar, 123 grain; Hor­nady ELDM, 130 grain; Berger VLD, 130 grain; La­pua Sce­nar-l, 136 grain; Berger Hy­brid, 140 grain; Hor­nady ELDM, 140 grain; and the Hor­nady ELDM, 147 grain.

For brass, I rounded up the two most pop­u­lar brands on the mar­ket—hor­nady and La­pua. Hor­nady uses a stan­dard large ri­fle primer, while La­pua opts for the small primer used in most benchrest ri­fle cal­ibers. When us­ing a case that houses a large ri­fle primer, there is a lit­tle more ig­ni­tion than with a small ri­fle primer. There­fore, many NRA long-range and PRS (Pre­ci­sion Ri­fle Se­ries) com­peti­tors use small-ri­fle mag­num primers when us­ing La­pua brass. Per­son­ally, I also use the CCI 450 small-ri­fle mag­num primer in my long-range com­pe­ti­tion gun, so that is what I used on all the La­pua brass. Then, I used the al­ways-ex­cel­lent Fed­eral GM210M Gold Medal primer in the Hor­nady brass. Fi­nally, for pow­der, I picked sev­eral of the most pop­u­lar pow­ders avail­able, in­clud­ing Hodg­don H4350 and Var­get, Aliant Reloder 16 and Reloder 15, and Vi­h­tavuori N550 and N540. Var­get is a lit­tle fast burn­ing for the heav­ier bul­lets, but if you stick with it on 130-grain and lighter, you will be fine. Of course, there are other pow­ders and other bul­lets avail­able, but when you fac­tor in the var­i­ous charge weights to test, my choices had to be lim­ited to keep the num­ber of rounds fired to a man­age­able level. Other great choices I did not test are IMR 4350, Reloder 17, IMR 4451 and Hodg­don Hy­brid 100V.

The Ri­fle

Of course, ammo can­not be tested with­out a ri­fle, so I opted to use the new Sav­age Model 10 BA Stealth cham­bered in 6.5 Creed­moor. The Sav­age BA Stealth has a fac­tory-blueprinted ac­tion and a chassis that is ma­chined from a sin­gle piece of alu­minum, which makes for a lightweight and sta­ble plat­form to sup­port the ac­tion. One thing I re­ally like about this ri­fle is that it comes from the fac­tory with a 24-inch (1-8-inch twist) fluted bar­rel that is al­ready threaded for a suppressor. If you are shoot­ing a 6.5 car­tridge and plan on do­ing any long-range work, the 1-8inch twist is ideal, be­cause it sta­bi­lizes the longer bul­lets that have the higher bal­lis­tic co­ef­fi­cients needed to go 1,000 yards and be­yond. There is plenty to like with this Sav­age plat­form, in­clud­ing the AR-15 butt­stock and pis­tol grip that al­lows you to change them out if you pre­fer a dif­fer­ent style. As on all Sav­age ri­fles, this one uses the float­ing bolt head. The float­ing bolt helps the bolt face align with the bore and keeps the car­tridge square to the cen­ter­line of the bar­rel. An­other plus is that this model Sav­age uses the ad­justable Accutrig­ger that al­lows you to tai­lor the trig­ger break to your lik­ing.

Was It Worth It?

In the data above, I am only re­port­ing the re­sults for the “best” loads I tested, so many of the home-brewed ver­sions were not as good as the fac­tory ammo. Also, you will no­tice that some of the load data sac­ri­fices ve­loc­ity for ac­cu­racy com­pared to the name brand ammo. As al­ways, the de­ci­sion to load your own de­pends on many fac­tors, and only you can de­ter­mine which is best for you. If you en­joy reload­ing and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, you can usu­ally im­prove the ac­cu­racy or ve­loc­ity (some­times both) over fac­tory ammo. Nev­er­the­less, as my data shows, there are many man­u­fac­tures mak­ing ex­cel­lent am­mu­ni­tion that is suit­able for most any ap­pli­ca­tion.

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