Going Progressive — A final assessment

I just finished up my last major session with the Hornady Lock n Load Auto-Progressive before turning to my deer hunting loads. I thought I would give y’all an update. My goal over the summer was to start with 9mm to get my feet wet, switch to 357 Magnum and then finish off with 223 REM if everything else went well. This is not a formal review of the Hornady LNL AP. I am not nearly that presumptuous. Rather, I figured you would like to hear about my adventures with the LNL AP.

Let me begin by saying that most, if not all my problems ended were wrapped up in my goal of using cast bullets. More specifically, it was the use of tumble-lubed bullets. My original goal was to find a super-cheap way to shoot 9mm using the Lee 358-125-RF bullet. I had been tumble-lubing for a couple of years using a 45/45/10 mix of Liquid Alox, Johnson’s Paste Wax and Mineral Spirits. It worked fine previously, but in the quantities I was loading, the lube kept accumulating in the seating die. About every 50 rounds or so, I had to stop to clean the seating plug and then reset it for proper depth. The bottom line is that the thinest possible coat of tumble lube works. I was being overly generous. Before I try cast bullets again in the LNL AP, I plan on examining other lubing alternatives.

The other hitch was the adjustment of the PTX die. Some find this feature of the LNL AP impossible. I found it tricky. The Hornady LNL AP allows for 5 stations. Station 1 is always going to be Size and De-prime. #2 is Powder. #3 I used for the Powder Cop. #4 was bullet seat. #5 was Factory Crimp. The problem is where do you put the case expander die? Hornady sells Powder Through Expander inserts (PTX) so that case mouth expansion can happen as you are loading the powder. There are plenty of Youtubes already out there. I am not going to explain how to set a PTX properly.   My advice is to read and follow the Hornady manual to the letter and it works.

Changeover to 357 Magnum

Changeover from 9mm to 357 Magnum was not all that hard, and most of it was all first-time stuff. I ordered a pack of 10 Hornady LNL bushings and I spent a good deal of time getting the dies installed, but changing back a second time will be simple. Remember that if you use Lee Dies to keep a set of Hornady Lock Rings around. You need the extra bite, because Lee rings sacrifice a thread or two for the O-ring. Lee dies sit low in the Hornady bushings. I did not need to change out the lock rings with the RCBS 357 Magnum dies.

As I mentioned earlier, the big bugaboo with both the 9mm and 357 Magnum was the tumble-lubed bullets. Before I switched over, I loaded some 9mm with some Berry Hollow Base plated bullets. Those went through the press without a hitch. Ditto for the 357 Magnum. I had some commercial 158 grain hard-cast LSWC’s laying about. They had a nice blue lube ring around each bullet. They slid in just fine. I am not saying stay away from home-cast bullets. I’m not saying to stay away from tumble-lubed bullets. It’s just that for a beginning project, my tumble-lubed Lee 358-125-RF made things more difficult. With commercial bullets, I was finally able to achieve a 200 round-per-hour rate here and there.

When things go horribly wrong:

Every press has its idiosyncracies. The LNL AP is no exception. I had loaded about 500 rounds when things started to go bad. Before passing judgement on the LNL AP, remember this is a new press and a newbie operator.

The first sign of trouble for me was a couple of cases getting crushed by the PTX die. Next it was the primers not seating properly. It took quite a while to diagnose. It turned out the indexing pawls needed adjustment. There are these two little thinguses under the bottom of the press that control how far the shellplate travels in the downstroke and upstroke. These are not supposed to need adjustment. However, in my case, they did. Again, the manual is your friend. If you read what it says, it tells you exactly what to do. The problem for me was not fully understanding the problem. Along the way, I made some mistakes and at one point everything siezed up. I did not know what the problem was and I forced it a bit too much. The left pawl sheared. I guess this happens a lot, because Hornady gives you a spare pawl. My suggestion is that as soon as you break one, call Hornady and get one in the mail. The press has a lifetime guarantee. I didn’t call the first time and I regretted it. More on that later.

A nagging problem that I had with the press from the get-go was a flake or two of powder coming out of the case as it traveled between Stations 2 and 4. It wasn’t enough to effect the load. It just happened here or there. I was using Hodgdon Universal Clays, which is a light flake powder, a twin to Alliant’s Unique. The problem was that this powder accumulated and found its way under the shellplate. This problem came back to bite me later. My admonition is as follows.

1) The shellplate is held on by a large retainer bolt that needs to be tightened down just a hair beyond finger tight. It does come loose and needs to be watched. The normal reaction is to tighten it down more. Don’t.
2) Whenever there is a break in the action, it is fairly easy to remove the shellplate and inspect and clean underneath. Do so.
3) If you double-charge or have another reason to spill powder, get in under the shellplate and clean it out. Pay particular attention to the channel in which the primer slide operates.

I will also mention this little bit of powder slop is normal in all progressives and is more prevalent with flake powders. I tried Tightgroup, and it was a bit less so. With ball powder it was non-existant.

Changeover to 223 REM

Now for the second changeover– going from 357 Mag to 223 Rem. My goal here was to try and load 200 rounds of blasting ammo for our Mini-14’s. The changeover went smoothly overall. For this load I changed around stations #4 and #5. At #4, I put a Hornady Universal Expander Die set to put just a hint of a bell into the case mouth. I put the bullet seater at #5. My reason for the expander die was that I had small flat-based bullets, specifically 55 grain Hornady SP’s to load. I did not want the bullet to fall off, and I knew from loading on a single-staged press that boat-tailled bullet had a better chance of hanging on for the ride into the die. This was not the kind of expansion that you do with lead bullets. It is barely perceptible.

Right away, I was having trouble getting the primers to seat. At first I thought it was the pawls that needed adjusting again. No– wrong bunnyhole. It turned out that there were two things at play, but I trashed another pawl and a primer slide finding out. For one thing, the 223 cases were a fresh batch of once-fired brass I’d bought for the occasion. They were not military brass, but they had headstamps that I had never seen. Fix #1 was a matter of sizing and decapping on the Rockchucker and then running them through again using RCBS military crimp remover die to uniform the primer pocket.

Fix #2 was related to my admonition regarding not letting stuff accumulate in the channel that holds the primer slide. Gunk accumulates in that channel and it all gets pushed up to the end. Eventually enough gunk forms to keep the slide from moving all the way forward and this keeps the primer seater punch from coming up properly. There is a fine line here between rough working and catastrophe. Had a couple rough seatings and then the primer punch caught enough of the slide to make it shatter on the next down stroke. It does not take a whole lot of force to do it either. I also broke a pawl on that stroke. This was on a Sunday afternoon, so it was a matter of waiting until the next business day and calling the 800 number. No problems. An operator found me in the system and I had a package in the mailbox by mid-week. To reload is to break things. I’ve broken parts on Lee, RCBS, and now Hornady. The Customer Service folks are all three very gracious and generous. Hornady was the first to know me before my first call, and it comes from the online warranty registration.

So should I have listened to all the voices that said I was a dolt for not buying a Dillon? I’ve got less than 2000 rounds through the LNL AP. None of the problems were due to cheap plastic parts or shoddy workmanship. Most of the problems were due to the connection between the stool and the operating handle, and frankly I’ve known that was going since I turned 50. I just hope I can get a few more decades out of it.

So there I was, new parts in hand, and 200 rounds of 223 Rem waiting for me. I once had a fiance that told me life was perverse. It can be beautiful, but it won’t. She said that about a month before running off with my best friend. I had originally planned on using H4895 which is a stick powder. I cannot say the Hornady powder measure had “problems” with the sticks. However, I did sense there was quite a bit of cutting going on. I switched to BL(C)-2 and the ball powder cycled much more smoothly. Second, even with all the brass had been run through the military de-crimper, I was still getting rough primer seating.

1) Hornady should include a toothbrush in their list of required tools. I had cleaned out the channel during changeovers, but I had not cleaned it well enough. I finally used a little brake cleaner and a toothbrush to really give the end of the channel a good scrubbing. What I found was the first cleaning had failed to loosen an accumulation of dry lubricant, powder, and bullet lube that had impacted and solidified. I will now add this to my PM list at every changeover.
2) I used my RCBS reamer/deburrer to ream the primer pocket of the brass just a wee bit. I’ve had to do this before with mil-crimped brass. The RCBS de-crimper gets it almost all the way there, but it takes an extra .0001 or two to make the primers slide in.

The next 200 rounds did not exactly fly by. I was reaming the primer pocket of each round individually before I inserted it. However, the press functioned flawlessly. By the time I was done, I felt I had really seen the press do what it was designed to do. I was satisfied I had made a good choice.

My next step is to break it all down and store the Hornady LNL AP until the end of deer season. I am going to put the Rockchucker back on the bench and start loading deer rounds.

1) Yes, I could leave the LNL AP on the bench, but I designed the new bench specifically so I could interchange presses as needed.
2) Yes, the Rockchucker can be mounted right next to the LNL AP on my bench. In fact, I tested that out when I had to put the Rockchucker up for the 223 REM brass that needed the primer pockets uniformed.
3) Yes, I could do almost all my deer rounds for the coming year with the LNL if I bought the #1 shellplate. It handles 30-06, 308 Win, 25-06 and a bunch of others. However, when you’re loading batches of 20-50 rounds, a good single-stage press is still preferrable, at least the way I load.


Final  Thoughts

Did I make the right choice? Look, the Hornady LNL AP was a good hundred dollars less than a Dillon 550 and it has auto-indexing more like the 650. My buddy, SuperCore, runs a 650 and his big beef with it is that it takes forever to do a changeover. I have to say changeovers were not all that painful with the LNL AP. In fact, if you were to factor out all the one-time setup and all the newbie mistakes, I think you could probably get the LNL AP changed over in less than an hour. I plan to test that this winter. Is the Dillon better? Head to head with all the bells and whistles, the Dillon might be the better choice for someone who is planning on cranking out vast quantities of ammo at high speed. Without the brass feeder and the bullet feeder, I can do 200 rounds in an hour if all is setup beforehand. That is about all I wanted it for. So I would have to say that the Hornady LNL AP represents at very least a middle ground between a turret press and a high-volume reloader. It covers that middle ground at a lower price and the overall experience was not nearly as frightful as some of the horror stories I’ve read online about bottom-end progressives.

Price: I got my press mailorder from Grafs.com in the spring for $450 and it included a stool, free shipping, and 500 rounds of Hornady bullets. I saw the LNL AP on sale at Cabelas last weekend for $389, sans stool, with the same 500 bullet offer. I would have had to pay 6.5% sales tax on that and I do like my stool. The bottom line is the Hornady LNL AP is a good deal and a great deal if you shop. It does the job of a press costing much much more. I’m happy as a clam.










Squirrel Opener 2017

  Angus observed the KY Squirrel Opener this past weekend.





He’s always enjoyed a good squirrel hunt. Here’s a picture of him back in ’08.


Deer Camp — Maintenance Weekend

I’ve been busy since July. However, I did not have all that much to show for it. Finally, I’ve got something meaningful to report. This weekend was the first of a series of maintenance weekends at Camp. Some of it was long overdue.

The first project was the Jagende hutte. I built this blind back in 2003 from a packing crate and scraps of T1-11 siding. It has held up remarkably well, but the roll roof started to go a while back and it was time to replace it. SuperCore uses this blind a lot. He was out to help. Angus did all the hammering up on the roof for the stuff I couldn’t reach from the ground. It’s probably good for another 15 seasons.

Here’s the link to the article from 2003.  Angus has sure grown up!

The Jagende Hutte

I found a neighbor taking out a deck in his back yard and asked if I could have the wood. Another neighbor had about 40 foot of fence come down on him. I asked if I could have the pickets. SuperCore lent me his trailer, and I brought this all down to camp Friday night. The plan is to build a permanent blind for Angus at Lazy Boy, put some siding on Supercore’s blind at S-10 and build a new ground blind just behind the house to cover about 300 yards of pasture in two directions. The other project we intend to accomplish is a new tower blind overlooking Hootin’ Holler, but that will take a bunch of material we have yet to acquire.

Also on the plan was the first steps in our ladder stand renovation project. The stand at Campground had two blown welds just below the seat. Garbage pit and Newstand have fallen into disuse. Virginia is rusted beyond redeption and Blackberry has a rusted shooting rail. The plan is to:

  •  Replace Campground with a new stand.
  •  Pull Garbage Pit and NewStand out.
  •  Replace Virginia and BlackBerry with parts rummaged from the other stands

These are all Hunters View 15 foot buddy stands. The oldest is at Virgina. It went onto its first tree in 2001 and has been on two more since. It has now rusted beyond redemption. The others went up from 2003 to 2008. Hunters View went out of business long ago, so there are no replacement parts out there.


Eye Candy 2017

In the waning years of my association with D&DH, I asked the blunt question: are game cameras really worth it? The answers I got were surprisingly honest. What it came down to was that everyone loved the eye candy. However, you had to be fairly dedicated to it to get actionable intelligence.

The guy who had the best success was running 6 cameras per 100 acres and tending them several times a week. He admitted it was a hobby unto itself. The buck selection was rather paltry at our farm for a few years, but the herd started turning around about 4 years ago. Last summer, I started seeing decent bucks on my camera. The result was that in 2016 we all had our buck tags filled with nice mature bucks on the Opener. None of them were fellows I’d seen on the camera, but you could see a trend building. Of course you could also see it by glassing the pastures that summer or scouting the edges of those pastures in October. Sign was everywhere. We knew were were going to have a good season.

This year? The Eye Candy has been extremely good, but so have all the other signs. Here is a recent set of pics gleaned off the camera.

It comes down to two ways of looking at buck behavior. On the one hand, there is all this talk about buck sanctuaries and core areas. I will not dispute any of it. I have had some real chandeliers take up residence on my property over the years. However, they can be up and gone overnight. The other way of looking at the situation is to concentrate on the vagabond nature of bucks in the fall. They will cover miles in a day. Part of that is about chasing doe. A big part of it is their calorie requirements. The former view makes for the best magazine copy. Guys want to read about bucks taken in their lair. The latter view is all about making the doe groups happy and then turning around to make them bait. It is not nearly as sexy. It also makes hunting bucks easier, because it is easier to keep track of the doe herds. Either way, a camera on the property does generate some good pics once in a while.


New Ohio Deer Rifle Rules

There has been a change in what constitutes a legal deer rifle in Ohio.

From the ODNR Website:

Straight-walled cartridge rifles in the following calibers: New this year! All straight-walled cartridge calibers from a minimum of .357 to a maximum of .50. Shotguns and straight-walled cartridge rifles can be loaded with no more than three shells in the chamber and magazine combined.


Previously, there had been a laundry list of cherry-picked chamberings that look like somebody had gone through their closet and picked what they thought might kill a deer. This is a good sign. Ohio went three years under the previous rule with no ill effects to the herd and no circular firing squad among the hunters. Time to move it up a notch. Good work, ODNR!


Help Getting to My Stand

From 24hourcampfire.com

Help getting to my stand, please
TreeMutt Offline

Hello, I have a really good spot for Whitetail hunting on a ridge overlooking a hollow. The problem is getting to my stand.

I have about a two mile hike, then climb a low high wall, then up the hollow. I have gone in, at times in 10 degree weather, in just a T-Shirt, underwear and rubber boots with no socks, carrying my heavier stuff and socks, etc., and still always end up in a lather of sweat…I have seen deer spook on my back trail hours after I have passed. I have observed different reactions. Sometimes it’s comical, especially the reactions of young bucks. But one thing for certain is they all take some kind of evasive action. The deer seem to recognize my trail easier when the ground is bare. When there is a few inches of snow they don’t seem to notice as much. You’d think it would be the opposite.

There is no other way for me to get to this excellent spot except for the way I described.

I would really appreciate any advice on scent control in this situation. I have never been much for scent control sprays, etc and supposedly “scent proof” rubber boots don’t seem to matter, but am willing to try anything that the forum members might suggest. Deer down in the hollow never scent me when I’m up in my stand over looking the hollow but it’s getting there without leaving a scent trail that’s the problem. How can I minimize my scent trail.

Thanks for ant help….TD

I’ve got a 1/2 mile walk into my farthest stand. It’s mostly level ground. However, over the years, I’ve been in just the situation you describe. For the past 15 seasons, I’ve not had a problem with backtrail busts. I attribute my success to my shamanic baking soda method.
Shamanic Baking Soda Method

It is not original. I found this method about 30+ years ago in a magazine. This was before all the hoopla about scent control products. Scent Control in those days was still not accepted, and those who practiced it were doing it on a DIY basis.

You’re on the right track with keeping your outer layers off until you get in the stand. I use a nylon duffel bag with straps. It is important to eschew sweating at all costs. It buggers up your scent control and it can lead to hypothermia.

About a decade ago, I started studying the various catechisms associated with deer hunting. One of them was rubber boots. It dawned on me that rubber boots, even ones a decade old, can still be reeking of Naptha. Why don’t the deer smell the Naptha? It’s like the gas in your ATV and the oil in your gun– deer aren’t supposed to smell those either. Right?

What I found was that a modicum of personal hygiene and the use of baking soda did far more than rubber boots. A little dusting of baking soda before use and a little pinch in your socks were all that was necessary. I also stopped using heavily insulated boots, because they made my feet sweat when I was getting to the stand. Instead, I use boot blankets that I put on after I’m in the stand. They do a much better job. I wore insulated leather uppers for a decade. I’m now wearing Nylon.

Bottom line: use baking soda. Shower. Keep your outer layers bagged up until you need them. Don’t sweat.

Success stories? I’ve had big bucks coming down my backtrail less than an hour from my passing and were oblivious. I’ve also seen deer find my footsteps in the grass, stop, smell the spot and then wag their tail. Until very recently, I had taken all of my big bucks at close range with a bow or rifle. Some were from the ground.

In regards to cover scents, I used to be a major consumer of things like fox urine, skunk urine, and the like. I don’t think it did me any good. When I went to the baking soda, I tried to be as scent free as possible. The results were remarkable. With cover scents, the deer begin to associate the stink with hunter. You may think you’re being sly, but you’re not. You will be surprised when you try baking soda and find out what it is like to reduce your scent profile dramatically.

In regards to Fart-lok suits: I spent the better part of a decade debunking that crap. For hunters who still believe an over-priced rainsuit will help them kill deer, I’m selling an anti-telepathy hat and cover-scent gum.

One other thing: You did not mention what type of stand you have. Self-climbers are a huge problem when it comes to scent control, and especially if you carry it in and set it up each hunt. My success improved dramatically when I switched to pre-positioned metal ladder stands. I always find, no matter how hard I try, that I break a sweat getting into a stand, but climbing a ladder seems to be the least taxing. With self-climbers, I was usually soaked in sweat when I got to my proper height. I mention this, because I started carrying my outer layers in a bag about a decade before I switched to ladder stands.


Getting Ready for Season

Here it is, 4th of July weekend. I’ve got less than 19 weeks until the Rifle Opener here in KY. I am starting to make a list of what needs to be done.

First off, the time to establish a new salt lick for the year is probably over. I know a lot of guys who start putting out licks in September, but the deer’s desire for salt begins to wane about then. You really need to put out your salt in March. That is when deer will be starting to look for it. I added rock salt to me two licks just a few weekends ago, but these were already in place. I was just refreshing ones that had been around for more than a decade. I am not going to say it’s wrong to put out salt now or even later, but the benefit will be mostly seen next year. The peak of salt lick activity is in June around these parts. The best reason to put out a lick is to habituate the doe groups to using particular trails.

 Salt Licks–Now!

If I was going to pick the best time to pick up a new deer rifle, it would be just as season is ending. Usually January and February are the best times to find a new deer rifle, but nobody wants to think about it then. I say this, because stores want to reduce their inventory. My buddy clued me in that the best time to find a used deer rifle is at the big gun show just before Christmas. Guys are trying to sell off their guns to have money for presents. A lot of guys buy a new gun every year and sell it off after season. I have gotten a few like that over the years.

So shaman, so far you’ve said what this ISN’T a good time to be doing. What is?


I have found that the next 3 weeks are the best time to pick up deals on treestands, especially mail order. You may be getting last year’s inventory. You may be getting close-outs. However, who cares? They don’t go stale. Buy stands now.

I’d also be thinking about building stands, or at least getting your act together for building one. If I was putting together a new stand or ground blind, I would be using the time now to assemble the wood and screws and start pre-fabbing stuff for a setup in the first week or two of September.

Bow hunting

I’ve been off my bow since the 2007 season. My shoulder went bad. I generally did not shoot in the off season, but July was when I started to get my bow out and start thinking about what needed to be bought for the coming season. July was a good time to get my arrows made, buy a new rest or drop the bow off to have a new string put on. This is the month where you can still avoid the rush. I would also start a regimen of daily pulling an exerciser so strengthen my muscles so that I was ready to pull a bow in August.


I’m scouting really all year round. However, now is a good time to get out and get a feel for the deer. Unlike winter scouting, the deer sign is quickly obscured. So it is easier to determine exactly how many deer are around. In winter, a habitual trail may look like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow when it is only 4 or 5 doe making the tracks. Go back now, and see. You will be able to better discern how many individuals there are. I spend evenings glassing with my binoculars. The deer are contented and not very skittish.

I put out a game camera or two right now around the salt licks. It is a good way to count numbers and determine the overall health of your herd. I am not a big proponent of game cameras, but I do find the eye candy satisfying.

Ammunition and Reloading Projects

Go down to the ammo locker right now. Make an inventory of everything that needs to be replaced before season. If you are buying ammo, start looking for deals now. Your choices wane as it gets close to season, and the cheap deals on deer ammo really happen too close to season. The best time to shop for ammo for this season is just before the start of LAST season.

I haven’t shot factory ammo at a deer in this current century. For me, it is all about reloading. I have to figure out how much of everything I am going to need. I still have to find a pet load for my 25-06 and I have an 8mm Mauser to start on. However, I also have to figure out if I need to load up replacements for all the others. I usually start sighting-in about September 1. This year I have a new Progressive Reloader. I will have to get all my projects cleaned up with that before I pull it off the bench and start the various small runs of deer ammo that will get me through the season.

July 4th weekend has always been my favorite for working up new loads and trying out new rifles. It gives me a chance to really dig into a project in depth. If you’re asking me why I am not out there this weekend, it is because I am pretty well set for deer rifles right now. If I let the 25-06 and 8mm projects slide, I’ll still have enough depth on the rack to get me through the season. I have also been putting in a lot of time at the new Hornady Lock-n-Load AP. In the time it used to take to make 50 rounds of pistol ammo, I’m not able to crank out 200 rounds.


Start going through your kit and filling in any holes– literally and figuratively. Some time this month I’ll get my turkey duds washed in baking soda and put them away for deer season. Begin watching for good buys on insulated clothing, polypro underwear, socks, etc. They want to move this stuff out of the way to make room for this year’s stuff. Check everything for fit. The time to find out that you’re a 2X and not an XL is now. Patch holes. Mend broken straps.




Buck Weather

This is an interesting thread on 24hourcampfire.com

Favorable Rifle Season Buck Weather  

A lot of folks like snow and cold.  Here at Genesis 9:2-4 Ministries, the Shamanic Dream Team takes deer in a lot milder weather. Here is my answer:

As patriarch of camp, I keep the log. It’s in .XLS format, so it is easy to ask these sort of questions. What I’ll give you is bucks only. The doe results are far more variable.

Temp: 32F to 62F with the average being 40F

Conditions: Clear or Partly Cloudy. None taken in Rain or Snow (we’ve had less than 5 days with snow on the ground during deer season since 2001)

Wind: 0 to 17 MPH. 75% taken under 6 MPH. 33% Calm. 50% with wind S to NW.

Barometer: 29.54 to 30.61 with the largest number between 30.04 and 30.08. There is a 2-1 preference for rising barometers.

Time: 3/4 taken in the AM before 1000. The vast majority taken in the 8 O’Clock hour.

Moon: All phases. However, more seem to be taken while the moon is waxing.

This is the results for a 200 acre patch of heaven in SW Bracken County, Kentucky.

The peak of the rut was decreed years ago by Jake, the proprietor of the general store in Lenoxburg, KY. It was and is the largest deer processor in our part of the county. He set the official peak of the rut to be 10 AM of the Rifle Opener.

“You can’t rut when you’re hanging from a meat pole.” he said.

On a good Opener, Jake had to shut down intake at Noon on Saturday. If you were going to get your buck to Jake, you needed to be quick about it.

To distill this down, here in our patch of the Trans-Bluegrass:

It is beginning the second hour of legal hunting on the Opener. Temperature is 40 degrees. It will dip one more degree before the sun starts to warm you. The wind is calm, but you can hear the leaves rustling in the oaks on the ridge to the west. The sun has just cast your shadow on the ground for the first time this season. For the past few minutes, the shooting has been a continuous fusillade. You hear a heavy thudding in the leaves off to the south and east. Something is coming.


Countdown to the Rifle Opener










The clock is operating. We’re underway!



What’s the Best Factory Ammo?

Just a while back there was fellow asking me about ammunition for his deer rifle.

“What’s the best factory load?” he asked.

“For me,” I replied, “I’d say it was the 30-06 180 grain Musgrave round noses.”

“I’ve never heard of Musgrave!” he said.

“You probably wouldn’t.” I replied. “A boatload of the stuff came in from South Africa back in the 80’s. It was the one and only time I saw it.”

“What about now?”

“I haven’t bought ammo at the store since Clinton was in office.” I said.

You probably think this is going to be another shamanic paen to the benefits of reloading. If you do, then you probably know what I am going to say already and have not taken my previous recommendations. Either that, or you have already drunk the Kool-Aid and are patting your little green Rock Chucker and are confident you know what is coming next.

This is not that.

I think this fellow had a valid question and deserves a valid answer. What constitutes good factory ammo for deer?

Let me begin by analyzing why I answered with the 180 grain Musgraves. At the time I bought the stuff, I had only one deer rifle. It was a Remington 742 in 30-06. If you look back in my weblog, you will see many mentions of the rifle. I no longer shoot it. It is a long story. However, back then, like any beginning deer hunter, I thought my rifle was the best thing out there for deer.

The Musgrave stuff showed up at my local gun store about 1984. Jay, the manager, had it stocked up by the register. Prior to this, I had tried Remingtons and Winchesters in a variety of weights. What I noticed was that if I went out looking for ammo, I might find 150’s, 165’s, or 180’s in stock. They might be Remington Core-Lokts or Winchester Super-X, and I would pick up a couple of boxes and go shooting. I would expend the first box getting the rifle sighted-in and then get a season’s deer hunting out of the remainder. That was if I was lucky. Sometimes I would have to repeat this all a couple of times before I had enough ammo left to go hunting.

Part of this was availability and part of it was the vagueries of the ammo from lot to lot. Part of it was that I was not all that great a shot at this point in my career. I could have been holding inconsistently or not keeping a steady rest. The problem was I just did not know.

I bought a couple boxes of the Musgrave to try out. It worked like a charm in that old 742, so I went back to Jay and bought a case of the stuff. I think it was $3.99 a box or something like that. I took my first deer with it. I took a bunch of other deer with this stuff. I still have a few boxes left in the back of the cabinet.

A lot of folks hear reloading and they think it is all about shooting on the cheap. It is, but it isn’t. A lot of the “cheapness” is about reproducability. Once I have found a load that works in a deer rifle, I usually stick with it. In some cases, I have kept to the same load for 15 years or more. I have fewer rounds to crank off every year making sure the scope has kept its zero. Not worrying about lot-to-lot variations helps tremendously. I loaded out of the same 8# jug of H4895 for 10 years for most of my deer rifles and those of my sons. When something is off on a given day, it is more likely me.

Getting back to the original question: “What is the best factory ammo for deer?”

1) It is what shoots best in your firearm. Every rifle is different. Even rifles with consecutive serial numbers shoot the same ammo differently. The trick is to find what works best in your rifle.
2) It is the cheapest stuff that will get the job done. I never did shoot a $50 box of ammo. I think the most I ever paid was about $20. Deer are not that hard to kill. Anyone who claims differently is trying to sell you something. Forget all the fancy premium stuff. Deer will not know the difference.
3) It is the stuff that you can acquire easily and reliably. Most all of the manufacturered ammo is better at lot-to-lot consistency than it was in the mid-80’s, but there are still variations.
4) It is most likely the stuff that is in the middle of what’s commonly out there for that particular chambering.  Forget the stuff at the far ends of weight spectrum.

If I had to repeat what I did with the Musgrave ammo tomorrow here is what I would do. First I would hunt around for the cheapest load that shot well in my rifle. It might be Remington or Winchester or Federal. It could also be Sellior & Belloit or Prvi-Partisan. Either consult with your LGS or go online to a place like grafs.com and find that exact load and buy as much of it as you can afford. Get your deer rifle dialed in with that load and then hold onto that stuff as best you can. With the Musgrave stuff, I basically bought a 10 year supply at a 50% discount from what I was paying at Walmart for a big name brand.

There is another concept here that I will introduce at this point and that is the dedicated deer rifle. If all you have is one rifle, then there is the temptation to use it for target work and plinking at cans. You might loan it out to your buddy for the weekend. You might decide to let it rattle around in the truck all summer. If you are serious about finding the best ammo, then it is time to ask yourself if it is not time to dedicate one rifle to the purpose of deer hunting at the same time you are dedicating one load to the rifle.  Lastly: save your empties. Ten years from now you’ll be thinking about reloading them, and you’ll have a supply of 1-fired brass to last you for the rest of your life.