RLP 045 - Load Workup for .223

Tonight the guys are discussing the question from Mark Hookam, that he has posted on the Reloading Podcast Page:  


  • “So, I have a Remington 700 VS in 223 with a Shilin Trigger, Leupold VXIII scope, that I used for prairie dog hunting years ago. I want to develop a load for it. Where do I start? Try a bunch if different bullets? Try a bunch of powders? Try a bunch of seating depths? Ladder Loads? I need a show on what steps to start on.”


    • First of all Mark, we think this is an EXCELLENT question, sir!
    • Jim’s first response is “So you want want to develop a load for your Remington 700 with a .223 Remington Chamber?”
      1. Well, if you really want to spend a PILE of money, and time, and effort, and bullets, and powder, and primers, you can start out with the first of about 200 powders, nearly 200 (if not more!) bullets of assorted brands, about 30 different brands of headstamped brass, and finally about 6 or 8 brands of primers, you’re in luck. You can have the headaches of all of those various combinations, and you’ll need about 30 years of time to find what you want…
      2. First of all lets narrow things down a little. I have some show prep that indicates that you’re mainly interested in seeing exactly how accurate your ammo can be made in your gun. That’s a very good start.
      3. Next, I have information that says you have a quantity of brass that’s been fired in your gun already. That’s great, but I have a few questions first? Is it all the same headstamp? (same brand?) If so better and better.
      4. Then have you resized, deprimed, tumbled, trimmed all five hundred to the same exact length, deburred (inside and outside) the case mouths?
      5. Here’s where it gets really “hairy,” Mark: Have you weighed your cases? Segregated them until you have a quantity of brass that weigh within one (01) grain of each other?
      6. Next is case capacity, as in have you measured the amount of water each case can hold within a half of a grain of each other (0.5 grains), and segregated those cases until you have finally arrived at the final quantity of brass that are as exactly the same as it is humanly possible to make? By now you might have about three cases left out of the original five hundred (500.) I know, Jason knows, and Mike knows, that’ll make you pull your hair out, or at least turn it gray...
      7. Remember this is merely brass preparation...
      8. No…? Welcome to the Club friend. Most of us can’t, don’t or won’t bother to expend that much effort, but there are some accuracy buffs that will.
      9. Okay then, the one thing you need to do, and it is a MUST, is separate and segregate by headstamp.


  1. Since you already have a rifle (Remington 700) to work with, let’s try and see what bullet weight we can match to your rifle. You’ve said that you think it’s a 1 in 12 twist rate let’s confirm that rifling twist.
    1. Rifling twist is pretty easy to measure. All you have to do is get a tape measure, or a 12 inch ruler/yardstick, a felt tipped pen that’ll leave a semi-permanent mark on your cleaning rod, the aforementioned cleaning rod, either a cleaning patch eye, or a nice closely fitting cleaning jag (the pointed tip kind.)
    2. fit the cleaning jag or patch eye with a tightly fitting patch as if you were going to clean the rifle. Then take the ruler/yardstick and the felt tipped pen and make a mark about 18 inches long on the length of the cleaning rod, and a second and MUCH smaller mark on your rifle’s receiver end where the bolt goes in (if you have a cleaning rod guide for your rifle that would be a more ideal place to make a marking). Either way that’ll be your index marking.
    3. Then after making sure the rifle is unloaded, remove the bolt, and start very gently feed the cleaning rod past the chamber and into the rifling, you’ll feel it tighten up, as per normal. Meanwhile you should be trying to match up your linear marking with the index marking on the cleaning rod guide/receiver end of the gun.
    4. Once you get the two markings matched up, now make a marking perpendicular to the linear marking on the cleaning rod, and at the end of the rod guide/receiver. Begin feeding the cleaning rod and tight patch into the barrel, and you’ll see the rod begin to rotate with the rifling. Once the rod does a 360 degree rotation, and the two markings (linear and index) rotate into alignment? Make a second marking perpendicular to the linear marking.
    5. Once the second perpendicular marking has been made, slowly and carefully withdraw the cleaning rod, and patch, completely from the rifle. And then measure the distance between the two perpendicular markings. They should be about 12 inches apart in Remington 700’s. What this means is that you have a 1 turn in 12 inches rifling twist rate. However that’s not guaranteed. Only your measurement can determine for a fact what it is… If the perpendicular markings happen to be 10 inches that would mean 1 in 10 twist rate, 9 inches apart would be 1/9 twist. etc...


  1. The US Army has done extensive research on what rifling twist rate works well with various bullet weights, so we’re going to take advantage of their work and I’ll make a general statement that will, of course, have exceptions. Faster twist rates seem to work better with heavy for caliber bullet weights. I.E. 1 in 7 seem to work for 90 grain bullets, 1 in 8 likes 77 grainers, 1 in 9 likes 62 grains, and so forth… There’s a pattern here that you can take advantage of Mark. You have a Remington Rifle that I’m going to make a guess-timate and hazard a statement that you have a rifling twist that should work well with the bullets you indicated you wanted to use.


  1. Now that you’ve decided on what bullet weight you want to work with? Again I have reliable information that stipulates you’re interested in using a forty grain pill/bullet… Now that narrows things down a lot! Out of 39 bullets from Sierra Bullets they list only four (04) bullets in the grain weight of 40… By the same token Hornady lists only three bullets of the same weight… See how we’re beginning to narrow things down? But we’ll pause on bullet selection for the moment, but we’ll get back to it, rest assured.


  1. Here’s where we can “cheat” and narrow things down, considerably also: Some, (no not all!) of the Reloading Manual Producers will indicate in their tables what was the most ACCURATE load recipe they tested. I know that the Speer Bullets manual #14 does not, but by the same token Lyman Products did in fact indicate such information in the Reloading Manual issue number 48. So you’re now taking advantage of the knowledge, money, and time the Reloading Manual producers have invested. So you’ve narrowed down the powder and primer by using the Reloading Manual information...


  1. Next criteria is velocity, since you’re using a rather light for caliber bullet weight, I hope it’s safe to assume that velocity is secondary to your criteria? Forgive me, but here comes another side bar.
    1. Why the side bar? Simple: Velocity is directly related to barrel length.
    2. Barrel length? What is your barrel’s length, and better still how do you safely measure it?
    3. To safely, and correctly measure barrel length, first make sure that the rifle is unloaded (again!) put the bolt back in the receiver, close the bolt, then take that self-same cleaning rod, wipe off all of the markings you’ve made, (have you written down that rifling twist rate in your notebook you have for your Remmy 700?) back to measuring barrel length, very carefully and very gently ease the cleaning rod into the MUZZLE END of your barrel until you feel it touch the face of the locking bolt, make another perpendicular marking on the side of the cleaning rod, carefully withdraw the cleaning rod, and with the tape measure measure how far you inserted the cleaning rod into the barrel end of the gun. Whatever this distance might be, is considered to be the length of  your barrel.


  1. What velocities are reasonably expected? That’s information that can be gleaned from your reloading manual(s.)
    1. Speer #14 Manual lists a 40 grain bullet velocity ranging from a MAXIMUM velocity of 3557(!) fps all the way down to reduced load of 2134 fps…


  1. Now in three pages of notes, we’ve narrowed your choices down, and we’ve narrowed them down a lot… However the real world has an ugly way of interceding whether we like it or not… And that would be in the form of shortages and availability. You may well not be able to buy that WW-748 that seems to work so well in the books, or those fabulous WW Small Rifle Bench Rest Primers…! What do you do? Be like Gumby… Always be flexible! In other words, study your choices and make notes as to what powders and primers are similar. Then buy the materials/supplies that come closest…


  1. Notice I’ve said almost nothing about actual reloading the ammo yet…? This is the world we live in, Mr. Hookam. It’s the way things are, and this is how I have learned to narrow things down. You make a choice based on education, and work within those parameters.


  1. Now that you’ve already gotten your brass prepped, you’re off to a pretty good start. My suggestion to you is that you start with a ladder load procedure. The way I do them is that once I’ve settled on a partial formula/recipe the only thing I have left to work on is the powder quantity. I use a spreadsheet that a friend wrote up for me, and I’m going to share a copy of it with you, and the general public that read these show notes.
    1. for the sake of simplicity and brevity of this podcast let’s assume that you’ve settled on:
    2. Bullets: Sierra .224 dia. 40 gr. Hornet (Sierra brand) Varminter part number 1200
    3. Powder: WW-748
    4. Primers: CCI Small Rifle (Bench Rest) #400 (BR)
    5. Brass: Your choice has already been determined and is up to you, friend.
    6. The spreadsheet that has the desired ladder loads in it, already: Ladder loads
    7. Please note that the spreadsheet is VERY MUCH public, and it can be viewed by anyone that knows about it… Or has the link as you do now. They just can’t edit it… If anyone wants their own editable copy you or they need to contact me at: flemingjim1953@gmail.com
    8. Now you’ve got all the information that you need to narrow down and create your very own ladder loads. All you need to do is load up 20 rounds as per the listed loads with RED background and yellow text.

Please note that I’m making the assumption that you already have a good grasp of sound reloading practices, etc… I haven’t begun to get into Advanced Reloading Techniques. (neck turning, primer pocket squaring, reaming necks, weighing case capacities, etc…) Just make it a point to practice good basic reloading techniques and you should get the rewards you’re looking for. Or at least come a lot closer to where you want them to be.


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