Reloading Ammo: Handloading for Long Range Accuracy

Reloading Ammo: Handloading for Long Range Accuracy
The author on the business end of a .338 Lapua ready to demonstrate his long range shooting skills at a 1,000-yard range. Photo <a href="" target="_blank">Massaro Media Group</a>
The author on the business end of a .338 Lapua ready to demonstrate his long range shooting skills at a 1,000-yard range.
The author on the business end of a .338 Lapua ready to demonstrate his long range shooting skills at a 1,000-yard range.

Of all the factors that come into play in achieving long range accuracy, ammunition is among the most controllable. This offers handloaders unparalleled opportunity.

We shooters have long been enamored with hitting distant targets.

The tales of military snipers, making impossible shots at equally impossible distances. Hunting stories in which the intended target was far enough away to measure the distance in city blocks. And the current trend in the hunting shows that game being taken at ranges in excess of 500 yards. All these can imply that it is simple to hit these distant targets.

Allow me to testify that it isn’t.

Long range accuracy requires precision equipment that is well tuned and proven, in addition to a skill set that takes quite a bit of time to acquire. Most certainly you must have a rifle capable of delivering the goods — it needs to be accurate — and optics that not only will give you the clarity and magnification necessary to connect, but that will stand up to the rigors of field conditions. But the ammunition, this is where the deal can be made or broken.

Factory ammunition (especially the match grade stuff) is better than it has ever been, and I’ve seen rifles that will shoot factory ammunition much better than any handload. But, the majority of my experiences indicate that a long-range rifle will shoot best with a well-tuned handload.

That said, a certain amount of care must be taken to achieve the hair-splitting level of accuracy required to hit a bullseye or cleanly take a game animal at longer ranges.

Ethics are a personal thing, and I have my own individual limits regarding how far I will take a shot at unwounded game. Under good conditions, meaning little wind or mirage, I try to keep my hunting shots to within 400 yards. There is unseen wind, energy levels that can fall off rather quickly, and other factors that can affect the bullet’s flight.

Paper is a different story, as the worst outcome from an errant shot is my wounded pride, but it can be a fantastic educator. You can easily get a feel for the level of accuracy required when shooting paper at 300, 400 or 500 yards.

If you’d like to try your hand at the long distance game, think about the game in reverse. Just as tiny variations in trigger squeeze and follow through can send a shot awry, tiny variations in ammunition get magnified at long distances.

Bullet weights should be checked on a balance beam scale, and the projectile separated into lots, using those that weigh the same within 0.1 or 0.2 grains. Cases should be of the best quality, consistently resized — whether full-length or neck sized is your decision — and trimmed to a uniform length.

Quality components are a must for long range accuracy. Norma case, for instance, make for a good starting point.
Quality components are a must for long range accuracy. Norma case, for instance, make for a good starting point.

Primers should also be the best you can get; I like the consistency of Federal Gold Medal Match primers in both Large Rifle and Large Rifle Magnum, but I would suggest some experimentation with different primers. I’ve seen a rifle or two, using identical components and powder charges, become a much better performer when a different primer was used. In the cases I recall a Remington primer was the answer, when a Winchester and CCI didn’t get the job done. Primers can be finicky creatures.

All of your powder charges should definitely be weighed. I know that there are many benchrest shooters that shoot tiny groups when loading by volume, but I feel the best accuracy comes from a powder charge of uniform weight.

Projectiles should have a good Ballistic Coefficient, so as to deliver the flattest trajectory and best defy the effects of wind drift. The long range game is the place where the compound radius ogive and severe boat tail will show their worth.

The chronograph will help you better predict the trajectory of your load. While the reloading manuals are a very valuable guide to predicting the long-range trajectory of your loads, a chrono will give you exact velocities.

I’d also recommend some really good reloading dies, like the Redding Competition Dies. These can give the most repeatable results when it comes to bullet seating, keeping the Cartridge Overall Length to a uniform dimension and minimizing bullet deformation. Measure all of your long range cartridges with a caliper, and set any that don’t quite measure up aside for practice, leaving only the best rounds for distant shooting.

I’ll warn you: the long range game can be addicting, and so can reloading for it!


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  1. I have a .308 Winchester, Zeiss Diavari-C 1.5~6 scope, and handloads that are always dead on out to 600 yards, and deer killing capable at that distance. I pride myself on killing with one shot, or not taking the shot at all, unless I am ABSOLUTELY sure I will only need one shot.
    That said, the furthest one-shot whitetail harvest I have made was 320 yards. That was not a hard shot because he was standing still, and a light wind in my face.
    I got an Elk at just past 125 yards, running, downhill, angliing away about 45 degrees- that was a much harder shot, but still a one-shot kill.
    Hasrdest still was a target at 1,000 yards with a .45-70 Gov’t, a 500 grain Postnell, and a case chock full of powder. Wind don’t matter so much with a heavy bullet like that, but holding still long enough to squeeze the trigger… that is no picnic. And we didn’t use scopes. We shot long range with iron sights, or Soule or Vernier tang sights- at least we did untill our eyes weren’t so good no more.
    That’s why my .30 cal hunting rifles has glass on them, but I still like a Buckhorn or tang/peep sight the best.


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