We spend a lot of money on this sport, and if you’re active at bigger matches, a decent portion of that budget goes towards match entry fees, hotel, gas, rental cars, airfare, food, etc, while attending those big matches. We all want to go to a big match and do well, don’t we? Why else would we spend that time and money, and do things like, I don’t know…. practice? And yet, many of us travel to those matches with a big weak link in our shooting bags, and many times we do it cause we’re just flat out cheap!
So, with the match season getting into full gear, and with folks approaching their first or second big match of the year, it seemed like a great time to discuss a subject that everyone seems to be thinking about around this time of year: Match Ammo!
In the end, your match grade ammo should not really differ all that much from your usual, run of the mill stuff that you run in practice and at local matches. In all cases, you should be running a bullet that shoots accurately in your gun, and your load should perform properly (feeds, works the gun like you want it, etc). None of those factors should change with your match ammo – in fact, its not really a great idea to change anything about your load selection before a big match. The differences in the match grade stuff are simple – quality control and verification, and attention to consistency. Here are some steps that I take to insure my match ammo is going to go bang every time I pull the trigger at a big match…
Cases – I use lightly used brass for my match ammo. If I were made of money, I’d use new brass. Well used, worn brass is certainly more efficient on the cash angle, but things start to change in the brass that make it undesirable. Primer pockets loosen, and brass work hardens, leading to the risk of high primers (primers backing out under recoil – I had it happen at the ’07 Double Tap) and to case failure problems. I shoot my new brass in practice, so I can pick it up and keep it separated easily from the used stuff. I may shoot that same brass again in another practice session or two. At that point, it becomes match brass, or it goes in the “used brass” bucket to be shot at local matches and practices only.
Bullets – I double check my bullet weight and overall length before starting to load with a new lot of bullets. I keep notes on these things – if they differ from the last set much, I’ll know to keep an eye on chrono results.
Powder – I always make sure I’m loading match ammo with a lot of powder I’ve done previous testing and shooting with, to insure that I don’t have an unknown there. Powder never lives in my powder hopper – it always goes back in the container. I speak from hard experience here, too – that powder can soak up water from the air, and in effect, becomes less energetic per weight. Ask me how I minored at A6 in ’99 some time…
Loading the ammo – I generally clean the press before starting to load match ammo. This helps in keeping the press operation consistent and smooth, and that leads to more consistent ammunition. I double check my powder charge, load a couple of rounds, and then check OAL, crimp, and primer depth on those rounds. If all that checks out, I load my ammo smoothly, focusing on seating the primers fully (I load on a 550 – this applies to any press that you manually control primer seating depth) and making a consistent, smooth motion on the handle. If any problems crop up along the way, I err on the side of caution and discard any suspect rounds (or put them in a “practice only” bucket).
Checking the ammo – after loading, all of the ammo gets checked in a case gauge to insure consistency. In the past, I’ve recommended using the barrel from your gun instead of a gauge – Bob Londrigan recently pummeled me into submission on this issue using logic and facts, and I’ve changed my tune. The gauge is going to be tighter and rounder than your chamber, so it will reject more frequently than the barrel, its easier to find long cases (the round will project past the base of the gauge and this is hard to judge against the hood of the barrel), and there’s no freebore cut on the gauge, so any odd bullets or rounds that are overly long will also get caught. While gauging, you can also check for high primers by running your finger over the primer (the same step verifies the case is of an appropriate length – anything sticking up and feeling bumpy goes in the reject bin).
Boxing the ammo – traditionally, this is where I’ve checked for high primers, and I still do. I stick 100 rounds in an ammo box, and run my finger down each row, feeling for high primers, and overly long rounds (ie, ones that stick up significantly above the others in the box). Then, I mark the ammo so that I know its mine, and move on to the next box.
Chrono and function check – I’ll take a random sample from the match ammo I’ve loaded, and chrono it to be certain that it still performs the way I think it should be. That is, it makes major with enough room to spare, and it runs the gun properly. If the ammo fails at the chrono, its not a huge deal – I just need to load more, and recheck it. This means I should be loading my match ammo well in advance of the match it will be shot at, doesn’t it???
If all of that goes well, I should have no ammo related issues at the match, and that’s one less thing I need to be concerned about. When you think about it, most ammo related jams require at least .75 seconds to clear, and sometimes quite a bit more. With most stages averaging around a 10 hit factor, that jam costs you 7.5 match points, which can change your match position significantly at a big match. Don’t throw points away just to be cheap or lazy. Major match ammo is cheap relative to the rest of the time and money that you spent to attend the match – give it the respect it deserves, and set yourself up for the best possible match result. Load your ammo like you care about it, and it’ll always take care of you when it counts – under the clock at the big match!