Load development - Part 1

The reloading of ammunition has really taken root over the past number of years, particularly amongst hunters.  In the past the reloading of ammunition was mostly done by target shots.  The main reasons for the reloading of ammunition are affordability and the wide selection of reloading components, which in turn enable shots to reload tailor-made ammunition with an optimal performance in a specific rifle. 
The development of a load for a specific rifle is, however, often easier said than done! There is no easy technique and time on the shooting range is inevitable.  The time on the shooting range should, however, be approached in the correct manner in order to ensure that the cost saving objective of reloading ammunition does in fact realise. 
Various load development techniques are in use.  These techniques vary from shooting 5 rounds in 0.5gr increments from the minimum to the maximum load as recommended by the gunpowder manufacturer to using the QuickLOAD programme to identify a guide load. A 5 shot grouping exercise is normally a time consuming and expensive process since the shot will have to shoot at least 10 groups of five rounds, with even more groups thereafter in order to refine the results of the best groups.  The human factor and environmental factors also play a role during the group shooting sessions. QuickLOAD on the other hand is becoming more and more popular amongst reloaders.  The problem is, however, that very few reloaders really understand how the programme works and the requirements for determining a safe guide load for your rifle.  One calculation error with QuickLOAD can have catastrophic consequences.  Nevertheless, QuickLOAD specialists are available who can do the calculations at a cost on behalf of the client. Many a shot has been helped in this way, which emphasises the cost and time-saving advantages of QuickLOAD. 
This article will focus on a safer method for the average reloader, namely the Incremental Load Development method, developed by the Frenchman, Creighton Audette. Reloaders talk about the ladder or sweet spot-method. This method works well and in addition to the standard method, this article will explain a confirmatory method which will assist the reloader in identifying the correct shot in the sweet spot bundle for group tests. 

How does the ladder method work?

The point of departure is usually to purchase the correct components for your rifle.  The choice of bullets, primers, brass manufacturer and propellant is normally a subject in its own right, but not the focus of this article.  It is, however, important for the reloader to ensure that all components meet the required specifications and manufacturers' recommendations for the specific calibre for which the load will be developed.
Following the above, the minimum load for the selected bullet and type of gunpowder as recommended by the powder manufacturer, will be the point of departure.  Load one bullet with the minimum load and thereafter one bullet in increments of 0.2gr or 0.3gr.  As a rule 0.2gr increments are recommended for calibres smaller than 6mm and 0.3gr for calibres larger than 6mm. However, you may find the right answers much faster by using 0.2gr increments. Suppose the recommended minimum load is 40gr, then the successive loads will be 40.2gr, 40.4gr, 40.6gr etcetera, until the maximum recommended load is achieved.
Each of these rounds will be shot at 300m by aiming at the same marker on the target every time.  Should the magnification of your telescope not necessarily be suitable to shoot at 300m, 200m would also be acceptable. The reason for the 300m is mainly to distinguish better between the vertical distribution of the rounds on the target.  It is therefore important to carefully mark every round on the target.  
The challenge of walking 300m to the target to mark the shot every time has also been overcome in a number of innovative ways.  Some shots make use of a video camera which records the process and which allows the shot to indicate the shots at his leisure by watching the video.  Others mark the bullets by colouring them, using different coloured permanent markers.  Each bullet hole can be identified by linking the colour to the load concerned.  However, it remains important not to rush the process and to allow the gun barrel to cool down between shots.
The objective of this exercise is to evaluate the vertical distribution of the shots and to identify the areas where shots bundle or where the vertical distribution is small. The theory is then that three or four loads of the shots in the bundle should be selected, whereafter five rounds of each chosen load is loaded. These loaded rounds are then shot over 300m, after which the best load can be identified, based on the smallest group.  Three shots as a group test can be regarded as sufficient but a human error or the influence of environmental factors may results in uncertainty about "that one" shot.  It is therefore better to use at least 4 shots to make sure of a group.