Handloading: The Rest of the Story

July 25th, 2021

In case anyone is wondering how that Model 70 shot those loads…

The rest of the story is that that Model 70 was the rifle that led me to handloading. I came home one day with a small paper sack containing a Lee Loader set in .243 Win, a single 100-count sleeve of CCI 200 primers, and a brown can (they were actually made of metal back then) of IMR-4350.

Probably like everyone who has ever pulled the handle on a reloading press, I was instantly smitten by the ability to craft my own ammo.

A couple weeks later, banging away at the dining room table, my young wife came out from putting our two toddlers down for the night and gave me “the look.”

“Do you really have to make all that noise?”

I looked up at her with a little smile. “Well, honey, they do make this thing called a press.”

And so down the rabbit hole I went. In time I moved on to loading lots of different calibers, in lots of different rifles and lots of different handguns. But handloading for that Model 70 taught me much. It was just a hunting rifle, of course. But, not being able to afford a target rifle, I competed with it in local silhouette matches. Between those matches, and simply the joy of building and shooting ammo with it, I put a lot of rounds down its barrel. After awhile, accuracy fell off. “Overbore” was a concept I was just learning about.

And, then, when a kid knocked it off the stand behind the line at a local match and broke the stock… I put it in the gun cabinet, where it remained untouched for 37 years.

A few weeks ago I took it outside and put six factory rounds through it. I was sufficiently intrigued with what I saw to wonder if, indeed, there might still be a little life left in the old girl.

I pulled the old Redfield Widefield 2-7x and replaced it with a Vortex PST Gen II 3-15x. My now much more “seasoned” eyes very much appreciate parallax adjustment.

I ordered a new stock for it. And I replaced the stock mounting screws with hex-head versions. And new bullets and brass, since apparently I discarded whatever old components I had, at some point.

I’ve got more sophisticated, more expensive, more accurate rifles. This is just a heartfelt little look-back-in-time project for me. But one that’s proving to be more pleasurable than I ever expected.

Handloading: Old School vs. New School

July 24th, 2021

The shot breaks clean, an echo from across the years.  As the rifle comes out of recoil the first thing my eyes see is the magnified image of the target.  Good.  The 90gr Scenar-L POI is not far from the POI of the 100gr Winchester factory rounds I have dialed the scope in with.

The scope zero will be fine for this ladder.

But then my eye shifts to the screen of the LabRadar.  In large numerals, ‘2675’ stares back at me.


My hand reaches across and extracts the card from the lid of the box.  No, I’m not dreaming.  The load should be making 2950 fps, and just over 50K psi.

One more glance at the LabRadar.  Four bars of signal.  That was a good read.

Mentally shrugging, I send the next two rounds.  They’re low too.

Working slowly up the ladder, the progression of velocity and pressure continues in lockstep.  Everything is orderly.  There are no surprises.  Other than that everything is between 200 and 250 fps slower than it should be.

Forty years ago when we wanted to develop a load, we’d spread out an assortment of loading manuals, pore over data for the exact bullet if we were lucky, or a close analog if we weren’t, and begin to narrow in on what might work.  Extrapolating all that data to our own rifle, we’d guestimate velocity and pressure.  Chronographs were around, but very few shooters had access to one.  The numbers written in the load manuals were our proxy.  The old three-ring binder that served as my handload log for so many years had countless “EV” – estimated velocity – references.

Then we’d head to the bench and put together what John Wooters called a pressure series.  What we today call a ladder.

A lot of really good ammo got made that way.  And a fair bit of not-so-good, as well.

Most of us never really knew what we had.  We could see groups, of course.  How accurate a load was.  And how it performed on game.  But when the book said the max load was x grains of y powder, and that load would give you this velocity at that pressure… you pretty much had to take it at its word.

The problem I’m having here, today, now – a series of loads, each performing a couple hundred feet per second slower than it should – would probably have gone undetected.  Shot at distance, the verticals would tell the tale.  But most of us would have just shrugged and concluded it was one more marketing-department-inspired ballistic coefficient writing a check that the real world could never cash.  We’d assume that our muzzle velocity was pretty close to that ‘EV’ we had happily written down.

Two things changed all that for me:  Affordable, accurate chronographs.  And QuickLoad.

Used together, they give shooters a glimpse into what historically has been a black box.  They give us insight into the actual pressures we are running.

In this case I was using an old rifle – the oldest centerfire rifle I own, a Model 70 in .243 Win, purchased new when I was a very young man – but not fired in 37 years.  But I would be using a new bullet – a Lapua 90gr Scenar-L.  And a new powder – Accurate 4350.  The dozens of loads I conocted for the rifle back in the day didn’t matter.  This was new in every way that mattered.

I model the loads I intend to build in QuickLoad, before I ever weigh the first charge.  If it’s a powder I’ve already calibrated, and the cartridge context is similar, I am entirely comfortable going straight to near-maximum load.  Or even a slightly over-maximum load.  Ladders are for finding accuracy nodes, not for discovering where the pressure limit is.

If it’s an uncalibrated powder/cartridge context, then you’re left with running QuickLoad defaults.  You do that knowing that what it tells you is going to be off, but will probably be in the ballpark.  My current Handload Log – now electronic – includes columns not just for “Predicted Velocity” and “Predicted Pressure,” but also for “Adjusted Prediction – Velocity” and “Adjusted Prediction – Pressure.”  Real world chrono data lets you tweak QuickLoad so that its predictions are reflective of what, in fact, you are going to get.

None of which is to suggest that load manuals no longer have a place.  To the contrary, they are gold mines of information.  The thousands of hours of ballistics lab hours that went into their making are simply priceless.

Lapua does not provide load data on their bullets.  The Berger 90gr Match BT Target bullet is very similar to the Scenar-L, though, and Berger’s max load for their bullet, using IMR-4350 (similar to A4350), is 42.6, producing 3033 fps.

Another analog is the Sierra 90gr TGK.  Sierra lists max for that bullet, using the exact same A4350 powder as I intend, at 43.7, producing 3140 fps.

So with those two book loads in hand as supporting evidence, I was entirely comfortable with QuickLoad’s (default) prediction that 43.0/A4350  would produce something in the neighborhood of 3100 fps at around 59,000 psi.  That was my max.

The whole ladder:

My dilemma here, then, the thing that gave me pause… was that adjusting QuickLoad so that it would match real world velocities involved much more than a “tweak.”

The primary mechanism QuickLoad uses for adjusting its results, for calibrating it, is an editable element called Burning Rate Factor.  Each powder is different.  When you select A4350, the program default is 0.3810. Adjusting it until the program predictions closely mirror actual chrono data requires bringing it down to the neighborhood of 0.3365.  That is a staggering amount of change.

But putting aside my squinty eyed look for a moment, and dutifully following my process, making that Burning Rate Factor change, makes that same ladder look like this:

The obvious inference from this view is that the reason my actual velocities were down is because I was actually running quite mild pressures.  And that there’s still plenty of room before approaching SAAMI max.

And, yet, Berger and Sierra would seemingly beg to differ.  Their 42.6 and 43.7 max, respectively, is difficult to dismiss.  Get it wrong and an extended-ladder max charge could look like this:

Sleeping on it, I wake knowing what I’m going to do.  Firing up the AutoTrickler, I quickly put together 21 fresh rounds:

New School!

RCBS Chargemaster 1500 – How Accurate?

May 9th, 2021

For a bunch of years now I have said that two things were game changers in my shooting world… the introduction of an accurate, reliable digital scale; and the accessibility of precise, easy-to-use chronographs.

Both of those, together, fundamentally changed how I approached handloading.

I’d now add a third – QuickLoad software.  But that’s a story for another day.

Like many here, I began loading ammo a long, long time ago.  And for most of us, that meant uncounted hours in front of an analog beam scale.  That 10-10 scale of mine saw yeoman service across literal decades, and never gave a lick of trouble in all that time.  When I open the door to my powder closet and see it resting there on the shelf, I cannot help but smile.

But I haven’t actually used it in years.  The day my Chargemaster 1500 showed up was revelatory.  And after using it for only a couple of loading sessions I knew I would never be going back.

For all its benefits of speed and convenience, though, the Chargemaster didn’t bring any improvement in precision – it came claiming the same 0.1 grain accuracy that its numerous analog predecessors had long offered.  It would be many more years before affordable technology would grant us the ability to look back and see what we had.

Nowadays, my scale of choice is an A&D FX-120i.  That’s not the only good scale out there, of course.  There are even better, pricier models available – the esteemed Sartorius comes to mind.  But the FX-120i strikes a good balance between price and performance.  And it’s popular among many serious handloaders (I say “serious” not as a slight to anyone who doesn’t choose it, but rather simply as a nod to its price point… I don’t know of anyone who would pay the coin for one if they weren’t pretty serious about their handloading).

More particularly, one of the benefits of a laboratory-grade electromagnetic force restoration scale like the A&D or the Sartorius is that it allows you to evaluate their older strain-gauge (or analog) brethren.  The much deeper levels of precision a lab balance offers – 0.02 grain in the FX-120i or 0.01 grain in the Sartorius – allow us to, finally, judge the efficacy of those older scales.

With that in mind, I decided to throw a few charges with the Chargemaster, weigh them on the A&D, and see what I got.  It’s an interesting experiment… the Chargemaster, after throwing its charge, sits there with a number painted on its LCD screen.  That number seems solid, resolute, unequivocal.  You very much have the feeling that that number is the number.

And then you lift the pan and carefully place it on the A&D…

The Chargemaster actually acquits itself pretty well.  Of 26 charges thrown, only one – the 10.72 gr charge in the third group – was outside its 0.1 grain spec, and that just barely.  The average throws are very close to the target weight.  And the standard deviation isn’t bad.

How about with a cartridge of higher capacity, using an extruded powder?

Again, the Chargemaster does a pretty good job.  Out of 20 charges thrown, only one – the 34.12 gr in the last group – is slightly out of spec. 

I think it’s mostly a good-news story.  The Chargemaster seems to reliably live up to its promises.  I still use mine occasionally.  Especially with larger capacity cartridges where a charge variation of some hundredths of a grain isn’t going to make much difference; or with loads where less precision is required.

One last twist, though… those of us who use QuickLoad know that you can (and should) tweak the Burning Rate factor in that software to dial in the particular powder lot you’re using.  What I’ll do as I run near the end of a current lot of powder is build a handful of rounds of a known load, using known primer and brass, using the old powder; then load an equivalent number of rounds using the new lot of powder.  Setting off those two groups in front of a chronograph will then give me a quick first baseline of where the new powder sits vis-à-vis the old lot.

But if you’re using QuickLoad to evaluate chamber pressures, you need a fair bit of precision.  So when I’m running that old/new powder exercise I’ll demand that all charges be within three ticks of the highest precision that the FX-120i is capable of – either dead-on, or 0.02 grain under, or 0.02 grain over.

With that in mind, I set up the Chargemaster to throw those requisite charges – five of the old, five of the new – and set to seeing how many throws it would take…

Looked at one way, this test is entirely unfair to the Chargemaster.  RCBS has never claimed anything other than 0.1 grain precision for that scale.  Holding it to an accuracy level of 0.04 grains seems a very high bar, indeed.  And yet the Chargemaster hit that level on ten out of 27 throws.

I’d call that good.

Loading the Berger 115 gr. FB HP

January 12th, 2021

I confess that when I began my journey with the .300 Blackout a few months ago I held a very narrow view of the cartridge.  Like many on the outside, I considered it to be a very effective short-range military/tactical/self-defense round.  One most prized for its heavy-bullet-at-subsonic-speed proficiency. 

The whisper in its predecessor’s name gave a clue.

Now, having spent at least a little time on the inside, I see a much different world.  The “little round that could” is actually quite astonishing in what it can do.  Or, let me turn that around… when I survey the landscape of things I might ever want a centerfire rifle to do, there’s not much I wouldn’t put on the back of the .300 AAC Blackout and not feel entirely confident about.

Among other things, my explorations of the Barnes 110 and 120 gr. TAC-TX bullets, some of which I’ve posted here, gave tantalizing hints at the accuracy potential buried deep in the round’s DNA.  That led me to wondering what an actual target bullet might do (albeit, from a hunting rifle platform, not a true target gun).

The Berger 115 gr. Flat Base Target bullets showed up a couple days ago.  Yes, it’s a hollow point design… but that’s for weight distribution along the projectile’s length, not for expansion in tissue.  If you’re going to shoot animals with it, shoot ‘em in the eye.

I have load manuals, from different sources, going back decades.  But never having shot a Berger bullet before, I don’t have a Berger manual.  Probably wouldn’t make any difference, anyway, as I don’t believe they have any .300 Blackout data in their manual.  And there’s none online at their website.

So I dropped a little note to Berger, telling them I had some ideas, but that I had their bullets on the way and would be happy to entertain any data they might have available.  A nice gentleman got back to me and said he’d pass along my request to their load development team, but that it would probably be two to four weeks before I heard anything.  My guess is they’ll confirm “sorry, ain’t got any.”

No worries.  The two Barnes bullets with which I’ve been playing are all-copper designs, a pretty big caveat.  But they bracket the Berger, weight-wise.  And the Sierra 125 gr. MatchKing is close by, as well.

Running some models in Quickload, and having already calibrated that software to the present lot of powder I’m using, I determine to go pretty quickly to the edge, rather than the more measured, slow walk that we usually employ.

The Berger is a short, little pill.  And the .300 Blackout has an abbreviated case neck.  So seating depth becomes the first question, one upon which everything else hinges.

Measuring five samples of the 115 gr. bullet, I find they’re reasonably close to the nominal length of 0.940” that Berger specs.  The longest sample is 0.944”… and that’s what I plug into Quickload.  (Quickload’s database is correct with respect to the Berger, but it is frequently wrong regarding bullet length.   And because bullet length directly affects seating depth, and because that affects pressure, it’s critical to get it right).

Dispensing successive powder charges of 20.0, 21.0, and 22.0 grains of W296 into a fired case, then dropping a Berger into the neck until it rests on that powder, I measure the prospective overall cartridge lengths.  What I’m assessing is how much of the bullet’s shank – the actual bearing surface – is held under neck tension, at 100% load density.

21.0 grains of W296 comes in at a 2.099” OAL – call it 2.1.  Quickload tells me the pressure with that load and that COAL would be just over 53,000 psi.  Pretty close to SAAMI max.  And looking at it, I decide I don’t want any less than that being held within the case neck.  So 2.100” becomes the farthest-out COAL I’ll go.  And, having said that, I wouldn’t mind having more of the bullet in the case neck.

Berger may not have any load data.  But Nosler does.  Nosler’s 110 gr. Varmageddon is a conventional flat-base, lead-core design, like the Berger.  Nosler shows a COAL for their bullet of 2.025.”  I don’t have a sample of the Nosler on hand to measure, but the Quickload database shows the Varmageddon at 0.920… 0.020 shorter than the Berger.  The Berger would run much higher pressures at a 2.025 COAL, versus my tentative 2.100, of course.  But maybe split the difference?  Add the 0.020 extra length of the Berger to Nosler’s seating depth / COAL and use 2.045” as my COAL?

Modeling that (2.045 COAL) in Quickload shows 20.0/W296 at just over 100% load density, with pressure 500 psi over SAAMI maximum.  Okay, so this is very nearly as far as I want to go.

I’ll stop here and observe that the reason I have honed in on load density is because more often than not that’s where we’re going to find best results.  Sure, we’ve all experienced the surprise of a nice load appearing on the lower part of our start-low-and-work-up-slowly ladder (which usually equate to lower charge densities).  And we’ve seen examples where a rifle demands max or higher-than-max pressures before it will perform (which usually equate to compressed charge densities).  But a good general rule of thumb, for most rifles, is that their sweet spot is most likely to be found somewhere not too far from that 100% load density threshold. 

That said, there’s no free lunch.  Seating your bullet deeper so as to maintain a high charge weight density means retreating from the lands in your bore.  The exact opposite of what you usually want to do.

All of which is to say… it’s complicated.  Some parts of this fascinating endeavor are a zero-sum game.  You optimize one aspect, at the cost of another.

The one thing that is not unclear with this little project of mine is that caution is needed.  Nosler shows 19.5/W296 as their maximum load.  And I’ll be driving a slightly heavier bullet, at charge weights a fair bit beyond what the Nosler ballisticians ran their’s.

The real question is… how comfortable am I with Quickload’s modelling?  For sure, this is the kind of load development I never would have done before the advent of that software and an accurate chronograph with which to validate it.

To “stack the tolerances” in my favor just a bit, I do two things.  I change my case capacity spec from 25.1 gr (the most recent sampling of Norma brass I’ve done) to a slightly more conservative 24.8 gr.  That means Quickload will show pressure, earlier.   And I add just a smidge more case capacity by extending my COAL to 2.050.

Satisfied with the models I show with those changes, I load fifteen rounds, three rounds each, in 0.2 gr increments, from 19.4 to 20.2 grains of W296.  Quickload predictions are:

  • 19.4 = 51,300 psi / 2334 fps @ 98.5% load density
  • 19.6 = 53,091 psi / 2358 fps @ 99.6% load density
  • 19.8 = 54,951 psi / 2382 fps @ 100.6% load density
  • 20.0 = 56,884 psi / 2406 fps @ 101.6% load density
  • 20.2 = 58,892 psi / 2430 fps @ 102.6% load density

And so off to the races…

  • Berger 115 gr. Flat Base Target bullet (SKU #30421)
  • Norma Brass (previously-fired once)
  • Federal Small Rifle primer
  • Winchester 296
  • Ruger American Ranch rifle (16” barrel).
  • 50 Yards
  • LabRadar Chronograph

Actual, versus predicted:

One more reminder, especially when playing with max and over-max loads… we tend to look at actual results such as I’ve posted above and see them as precise.  They’re not.  They’re averages.  There will be excursions both higher and lower.

No, I would not recommend this approach to handloading.  But, yes, I did some fool things as a kid.  And I’m apparently still doing them.

I do very much like this bullet and am looking forward to working more with it.

Barnes 110 gr. VOR-TX 300 Blackout Load – A Followup

December 24th, 2020

Well, Ben B. predicted what I would find.  And Dellet articulated why…

Dellet’s suggestion to run a more granular ladder series struck me as on point.  And so that’s what I did.  I loaded a second ladder, in 0.1 gr. increments, from 19.6 to 20.2 gr.  

With seven individual loads in the series, I dropped the round count in each to three shots in order to keep the total shot count reasonable.  

As with the original series, all charges were individually weighed on an RCBS Chargemaster 1500.  COAL was 2.250.  The test rifle was a Ruger American Ranch Rifle (RARR) with a 16.12” barrel.  And the range was 50 yards.  Chronograph readings were made with a LabRadar.  Ammunition – though not the weather itself – was approximately 70 degrees at the time it was fired.

As before, the first group was of the Barnes factory load.  Because the group from that factory load was so abysmal during the first series, I put five fouling shots – versus two in the original series – down the barrel before going to paper.  Yes, I know it’s de rigueur these days not to clean one’s guns between shooting sessions – to “let the gun tell you when it needs cleaning.”  I confess, though, to being old school in lots of things, and this is one of them.  My guns all get put away with freshly cleaned, freshly oiled bores.

That said, some guns need a few more rounds before they settle in, therefore the five foulers.

One other minor tidbit regarding the factory load… I found it interesting that the three previous record groups all came in at just over 2300 fps, notwithstanding their poor extreme spread and standard deviation numbers.  This time the muzzle velocity came in a touch higher.  Thinking about it… I went and pulled the boxes.  Sure enough, the first three groups were all from one lot; this last group was from a different lot. 

There’s a seductive compulsion to take that 3-shot group we just shot and compare it to the 5-shot effort a week ago.  You have to resist that.  They’re apples and oranges.  Group size and extreme spread never shrink with more rounds downrange.  They only ever grow.

But you can still see patterns.  In this case I’m actually more interested in the vertical dispersion from group to group than I am in group size.  And because of that I’m already rueing a bit my early decision to shoot at 50 yards rather than 100.  The information is still there at the shorter distance, but it’s a little harder to see.

But it all comes together back inside, the rifles (I put a few rounds through my No. 1 in .45-70, as well) cleaned and put away, sitting in the easy chair in front of the wood stove, with the laptop and the chrono data.

We’re never done with the shooting, of course.  The journey continues, on and on.  There will be more testing, more experimenting.

But in the meantime, 20.0 grains of Win 296 looks like a nice place to start.  Or to end.

Merry Christmas.

Replicating the Barnes 110 gr. VOR-TX 300 Blackout Load

December 12th, 2020

You don’t have to spend much time in the .300 Blackout world before you realize that the Barnes 110 gr. Factory load is extremely well thought of.  There is an awful lot of anecdotal evidence attesting to the round’s effectiveness.  Which probably shouldn’t surprise us.  Barnes has been making very serious bullets, for very serious people, for a very long time.

The only problem with the Barnes load is… finding it.  It is perpetually out-of-stock.  And if you do happen to stumble upon a retailer with a couple of hours worth of inventory, you’ll pay through the nose for it.

The kinda, sorta good news is that Barnes also sells the TAC-TX bullet that holds within it most of the magic of the factory load.  That bullet, as an individual component, is also perpetually out-of-stock.  But the kinda, sorta good news part is that, on the odd occasion when you can find any, the price is rather less awful.  So you can imagine my delight when the FedEx truck showed up a couple days ago with my long-backordered stash.

Working up a load for new bullet is something I never grow tired of.  And when you have an inventory of the actual factory load… you already have a very clear target, and a very clear measuring stick.

So that’s my initial goal.  To achieve comparable accuracy and comparable velocity to what Barnes themselves did with their factory version.  That’s not a particularly tall order.  But I’ve been surprised a time or two in my handloading career.  We will see.

Powder is easy.  I’ve already created loads for the Sierra 125 gr. Match King and Barnes own 120 gr. TAC-TX younger-but-bigger brother – bullets within spitting distance weightwise of what we’re working on now.  And I used Win 296 in both of those, with good results.  

IMR 4227 is also on my short list of powders to try.  A single-base powder has some benefits (and shortcomings) over a double-base powder like Win 296.  But 296 and I have a long history and I am very fond of that ball powder.  So that’s what we’ll roll with to start.

Next question is what range to load?  Start too low and you leave too much on the table… not to mention questions that remain unanswered.  Start too high and you can end up in the la la land of high pressures and all that comes with that.  I tend to be conservative until I have evidence – in my own guns – that all is well.  I hate whacking away with a bullet puller.

My starting bias is usually towards the bullet maker’s own load data.  I figure they know the behavior of their projectile better than most.

Here, Barnes doesn’t even list Win 296.  But they do list H110, so we’ll use that as a reference.

I’ll pause here and note that many folks claim that H110 and Win 296 are the same powder.  That notion has been out there for a very long time.  I have no idea whether it is true or not.  What I do know is that I have seen enough load data, from enough respected ballisticians, that differs enough between the two that it begs the question.

What’s not been challenged is that H110 and Win 296 are, if not identical… very, very close.  Using one as a reference for the other seems perfectly reasonable.

After looking at the bullet maker’s data, I like to survey similar weight bullets from other makers.  I’m looking for two things:  consensus and outliers.

Consensus suggests a well-trodden path that tells us we’re probably safe, and that we are likely to see predictable results.

An outlier can mean anything from an unusual oddity in the test environment to actual incorrect data.  If I can’t determine the reason for the anomaly – say a lab using a long-barrel universal test receiver, versus another lab using an actual gun; or a projectile with an unusually long or unusually short bearing surface compared to other bullets of its weight – I will discount the outlier. 

Hornady Load Data:

Nosler Load Data:

Sierra Load Data:

Hodgdon Load Data:

A few observations…

Hornady shows the same max load of 20.2 gr. of H110 as does Barnes, with very similar velocity.

Hornady used a significantly shorter COAL than did Barnes… 2.050 vs. 2.250.

Nosler shows a significantly lower max charge of H110 than does Barnes… 19.0 vs. 20.2.

And like Hornady, Nosler used a significantly shorter COAL… 2.050 vs. 2.250 (COAL matters because it speaks to bullet seating depth – a critical dimension in pressure/velocity).

Also of interest, Nosler shows their case capacity as 19.2 gr. of water.  That is a stunning outlier, 4-5 full grains less than most headstamps.  It is such an overt outlier – were it true their listed charge weight range would be way over-pressure – that I am inclined to dismiss it as a simple recording error.

Sierra shows a max load of H110 slightly higher than Barnes – 20.5 gr. vs 20.2.  But more importantly, in the same range.

And Sierra’s three 110 gr. bullets all come in, again, at shorter COAL than Barnes (1.970 and 1.845, respectively, vs. Barnes’ 2.250).  

Hodgdon shows a similar max charge of H110 (20.0) as Barnes, with similar velocity.

And, once again, Hodgdon shows a shorter COAL of 2.040 vs Barnes’ 2.250.  I’ll stop here and note, given the many other makes of bullets seated to a shorter COAL… that Barnes 110 gr. TAC-TX is an all-copper projectile.  A conventional bullet with a lead core will typically be shorter, all other things being equal.  And so the shorter COAL’s we see are something to note and be aware of, but are not a surprise.

The last couple of things…

Some companies average their velocity numbers.  Notice that Hornady’s numbers all end in hundredths.  And Sierra rounds theirs to the nearest 50th.  The real world is not nearly so clean, of course.  I’m not complaining – having velocities rounded up or down that way certainly makes presentation a little neater.  But it also tells us that there is a bit of error injected there.

And, similarly, most companies average their charge weights and resulting velocities across a certain weight class of bullet.  Hornady averages across five 110 gr. bullets.  Nosler across two.  And Sierra across three.  Again, it’s an example of making the presentation somewhat cleaner, at the cost of less accuracy.

Ultimately, there’s no magic to this.  You noodle over the various puts and takes, plot out the charge weights you think will work, based upon all the information you have at hand and the priorities for what you’re trying to achieve, along with your own personal experience with the gun you’re going to be using and its previous behavior with various combinations of components… and write down a tentative set of numbers.  In my case, I’ve decided to run a 25-round ladder, five shots each, in 0.3 gr. increments, from 18.5 gr. to 19.7 gr.

For many, then, it’s time to head over to the loading bench.  For me, there’s one last detour before I do that.

QuickLoad is not a magic bullet.  It’s not a panacea.  Used blindly or by rote, it can easily convince you you’re in a place very far from where you actually are.

But used thougtfully and with due care, it can lend great insight into what has mostly been a black box to us – what happens inside our gun between the time the firing pin hits the primer and the bullet exits the barrel.

This post isn’t about QuickLoad, so I won’t belabor the point.  Suffice it to say that once the software is dialed in, it can be remarkably predictive of what pressures your loads are producing, and their resultant velocities.

What I do is run a model for each of the charge weights in my ladder.  The results get added to my handload log under “Predicted Velocity” and “Predicted Pressure” columns.  And it’s only after those numbers fall into a range that I am comfortable with, and which meet my load objectives, that I head over to the loading bench.

Here is what QuickLoad shows for the maximum load in my ladder…

And, then, having carefully and lovingly crafted that ladder series, it’s down to the shooting.

All groups were shot at 50 yards.  So, yeah, that Barnes factory load on the left – the thing we’re trying to reproduce – is even worse than it looks.  

That said, the magic of the Barnes bullet is about its terminal effectiveness, not tidy little groups on paper.

Still, that group is awful enough that you probably should just blame the shooter.

The ladder series begins with the group on the right.

Most smokeless powder is temperature sensitive, to varying degrees, of course.  When testing loads I try and shoot within five degrees either side of 70 (farenheit) to minimize that factor.  When that’s not possible – like now, in December – I’ll leave the rounds inside my living room, close enough to the wood stove to stay nice and cozy, and retrieve each five round series one at a time.  That way they get sent downrange before they have time to move far off that 70-degree median.

Yes, it’s enormously convenient being able to shoot on your own property, mere feet from your front door! 

Now the Barnes factory load – the load we’re chasing – has a spec’d box speed of 2350 fps.  In three separate 5-shot strings, fired on three different days, this is what I get:

So although the extreme spread and standard deviation numbers are pretty sad, the load is consistently averaging just over 2300 fps.  

For the handloads, here are the stats from my chronograph, along with QuickLoad’s predictions:

The last two charges?

After completing the original ladder series and seeing the chrono results I was confident enough in the pressures I was running to take it up to the SAAMI maximum of 55,000 psi.  So the next day I loaded those last two charges, and shot them that afternoon.  Here is the print for that…

And, finally, here is what the Barnes factory load looks like when taken apart, compared to its handloaded brother…

The Barnes factory load is running 17.9 gr. of an unknown powder.  That powder is similar in appearance to 296, but is almost certainly something faster.  17.9 grains of 296 in a Barnes case does not generate enough pressure to make the ~2300 fps muzzle velocity that we see.

I would estimate the Barnes VOR-TX factory load is somewhere around 47,000 psi.

The handloads?  

I’ll probably end up doing some additional testing, but as a first point of departure I’ll probably settle on that 19.7/296 load.  The extreme spreads and standard deviations are all pretty dismal, but there certainly seems to be sufficient accuracy for what the TAC-TX bullet was designed for.  I would hunt with it in a heartbeat.

You can run it hotter, of course.  But the 50-70 additional fps you gain isn’t compelling enough for me to want to linger in that savage land.  Running max loads is kinda like carrying around a pet rattlesnake in your pocket… easily enough managed… until that hurried, forgetful day that it’s not.

As always, YMMV.

.300 Blackout – A Tale of Ten Loads

October 11th, 2020

You watch the videos with a kind of morbid fascination.  A city at night, lit by splashes of light.  Shouts and screams and movement and anger and chaos.  Fire around the edges.

The Kid is unwise is so many ways.  And yet it’s undeniable that when the matter is finally, irrevocably joined, he and his weapon rule the darkness, imposing a sudden, implacable justice upon the mob that sought to devour him.

Those of us who routinely carry weapons against the evil of this world inevitably look to the pistol.  A weapon compelling because of its size.  It’s small enough and portable enough that the burden of carrying it is judged acceptable.

Alas, its virtues end there.  Gunfights involving it are usually fraught affairs, challenged first by the difficulty in getting our bullet to go where we want.  And then, if we’re able to achieve that, having that bullet persuade the bad guy to change his behavior.  Those challenges together mean a tall order.  Like a batter at the plate, they usually fail more than they succeed.

Rifles?  Well, they’re long and they’re unwieldy.  They’re usually heavy.  And they require both hands to operate effectively.  Frankly, unless you’re walking in the woods, or in an environment where you expect to be shot at, carrying one is a pain in the ass.

But when the shit hits the fan and daylight turns to dark, when all your chips have been pushed to the center, the rifle brings a profound advantage.  It solves most of those two problems that burden the pistol.  Like Robert Redford striding to the plate, “Wonderboy” in his hands, the rifle suddenly changes everything.

Come now the PDW, the “personal defense weapon.”  A weapon that strives to split the difference.  A weapon that seeks to give us some of that portability that defines the pistol and lets it disappear into the everydayness of our lives.  And yet one that brings an actual rifle round to bear for when things go sideways.

The .300 Blackout lives at the center of that.  A purpose-built round designed for small rifles and short barrels.  Other calibers have tried, but mostly have been exercises in expediency over efficacy.  Ballistics is a hard mistress.

As usual, I’m late to the party.  I cringe when I think of how much ammo I could have bought, and the prices I could have paid for it, had I done all this a year ago.

But better late than never, right?  The Daniel Defense DDM4 PDW showed up a few weeks ago.  And I don’t know that I’ve ever been smitten, so fast.  

It took me a few hours to read through the gargantuan “Let’s talk PDWs” thread here (https://pistol-forum.com/showthread.php?41496-Let-s-talk-PDW-s).  But it was most enjoyable and I thank you gentlemen for that (sadly, I don’t recollect any of our friends on the distaff side taking part in the discussion).  I know most of you chose The Rattler for your own first toe-in-the-water in this niche.  And, of course, for a few of you, this wasn’t your first rodeo with small rifles and short barrels.  I look forward to your continued stories and experiences.

So, having now spent a few weeks exploring both a new firearm and a new caliber, I thought it might be helpful to share a little bit of what I have discovered.  Not much surprises me in the gun world anymore. But I did, indeed, encounter a few unexpected things with the .300 Blackout.

When I received the email from the boys in Georgia that my DDM4 PDW had shipped, I had precisely zero rounds of .300 Blackout in the house.  Had never even fired the caliber.  So began a mad scurry to try and scrape together at least a minimal inventory of factory loads.  As you might imagine, that ended up being something of a potpouri.  A potpouri I paid through the nose for.

I have not yet performed any rigorous accuracy testing.  My 5.56 AR’s wear ACOGs.  And my 7.62 battle rifles are topped with high-magnification variable scopes.  When the DDM4 PDW arrived I slapped on a Vortex Strikefire II – the only red dot optic I had in the house.  A Trijicon MRO in a QD mount will be arriving shortly to replace that.  Long story, short… I like magnified optics for any real accuracy work.  Once the MRO and its QD mount is here I’ll be able to pop that off and throw a scope on to test for accuracy.  In the meantime, the Vortex red dot has been adequate for chronographing loads and figuring out, in general, what is what.

I’ve dispensed with most of the fascinating data that comes from chronographing ammunition.  Things like shot-to-shot muzzle velocity, extreme spread, velocity decay, and kinetic energy can give great insight into a round’s performance.  But the numbers can get busy after a bit.  So I’ve narrowed things down to just three pieces of information:  claimed box speed, if the manufacturer listed it; actual muzzle velocity; and standard deviation.  Averaged across five-shot strings, with temps within five degrees of 70F.  

Muzzle velocity and standard deviation, in particular, tell us a great deal about a round, strongly suggesting both what terminal effects we can expect and how accurate the load is likely to be.

My DDM4 PDW checks in with a 7” barrel.  Those of you with shorter or longer barrels will have to adjust accordingly.  

We’ll start with some good news… the Barnes 110gr., load came to the party with some serious cred to uphold.  I’m happy to report that it measured up, registering both good speed – notably, the only load clocking north of 2,000 fps, albeit just barely – as well as good SD.  Its terminal effects are reputed to be excellent.  And because of all that it’s quickly become my go-to supersonic carry load.  It’s what I will zero my optic to, and will be the point-of-impact reference for everything else.

Team Never Quit is at least loosely associated with Marcus Luttrell of Lone Survivor fame.  I’d like to like their 125gr., load for that reason, if nothing else.  Alas, it came in with marginal speed and a marginal SD.  It’s good for plinking, but little else.

Winchester and Remington are both storied names, of course.  For many of us, there’s an assumption of a certain quality attached to their ammo.  Here, it’s a coin flip.  The Winchester 125gr., load made good speed, but with a pretty awful SD.  It’s plinking ammo.  The Remington 130gr., HTP load, on the other hand, with the Barnes bullet, brought decent speed with an excellent SD.  It would be my second choice for a supersonic self defense load.  And probably my first choice for whitetail deer, were I inclined to hunt large game with the .300 Blackout.

Freedom Munitions and Gorilla – two brands I had never shot before – brought the three middleweight offerings.  The 147gr., Freedom Munitions load was uninspiring, exhibiting good speed but with a moderate SD.  Plinking ammo.  The Gorilla 147gr., offering, on the other hand, gave slightly better speed, but also with an excellent SD.  Between the two 147gr., loads, it’s clearly the better choice.  It should make good target ammo.  And if I couldn’t get Barnes 110gr., or Remington 130gr., HTP I’d load up a magazine with this stuff and not feel terribly undergunned.

If the 147gr., Freedom Munitions load was slightly meh, their 168gr., HPBT Match round was anything but.  Good speed.  Excellent SD.  And a load, like the Remington 130gr., HTP, I’d consider as a second-tier self defense load.  If you’re debating between the two Freedom Munitions loads, their 168gr., offering is a much better round.

Finally, three subsonic loads bring up the caboose.  Subsonics matter in the .300 Blackout world, of course, because the caliber was designed with short barrels and suppressors in mind.  Want the quietest close-quarter, anti-personnel round possible, while still retaining a reasonable degree of terminal effectiveness?  A suppressed .300 Blackout, firing subsonic ammunition, is your answer.


The Corbon 220gr., load was the first subsonic I shot.  You know how when you trigger a shot and know instantly something is amiss?

Yeah.  You feel it in your shoulder and at your ears and, in my case, in the chronograph display staring back at me.

Corbon says their round makes 1040 fps.  They don’t specify what barrel length that’s from, but most manufacturers spec 16” for the .300 Blackout, so we’ll assume that.  So, yeah, we would expect a pretty good reduction when we light off their load through a 7” barrel.

But, crikey… 652 fps!  There wasn’t even enough energy to cycle the gun and feed the next round.  I was stunned.

Back inside, I quickly confirmed that all three boxes I had received were from the same lot.  I drafted a nice, little message and sent that off to Corbon, giving them that information, my results, and asking if they had any comment.  Crickets.

A few days later, my order of 200gr., Sellier & Bellot showed up.  The small, green box has kind of an old-school look to it.  Right on the front it says “tactical ammunition.”  They spec their load both in a 16” barrel (1060 fps) and 10” barrel (960 fps) – which is a nice tip-of-the-hat to real world usage.  And, alone among the ten loads I tested, theirs came with sealed primers.  Even their name has a kind of gravitas to it.  I really wanted to like it.

Alas, the bench doesn’t lie.  At 760 fps this load was notably better than the Corbon shit, but still well under what I’d consider minimum necessary velocity for anything going into harm’s way.  SD was good, though.  So if you want a really soft-shooting round that maybe will cycle your gun, while grouping pretty well, this one might be the ticket.

With two up and two down, my opinion of subsonic .300 Blackout wasn’t real high.  Especially after the rather mediocre performance its 125gr., sibling had put in, I didn’t hold out much hope when the Winchester 200gr., subsonic load showed up.  So it was a pleasant surprise when it proved itself to be head and shoulders above the Corbon and Sellier & Bellot loads.  At 913 fps it clocked good – which is to say, expected – speed for a subsonic load in a short barrel.  And it displayed a good SD.  Finally, we have a subsonic load capable of serious work!

Happy as I was to finally have a good subsonic offering, I still remained curious about the dismal performance put in by the Corbon load, and the not-quite-as-bad-but-still-sucky numbers put up by the Sellier & Bellot.  So I reprised all three subsonic loads, at the same time, with all shots happening within fifteen minutes of each other.  

Both the Winchester and Sellier & Bellot loads confirmed their previous performance, with very similar velocity and SD numbers.

The Corbon… geez, just when you think it can’t get any worse – 577 fps (versus 652 fps in the first series) and a SD of 38.36 (versus 25.78 the first time).  All from the same frickin box of ammo!  Far and away the most inconsistent factory ammunition I have ever come across.

One last thing and I’ll wrap this up.  Discreet Ballistics specializes in subsonic ammo.  Among other things, they ask you to specify your barrel length and twist rate when ordering – which suggests they are using different powders and/or different charges for those different barrel lengths.  That’s something a handloader would do.  But something almost never seen in the commercial world.  I hope it bodes well for their offering.  I’ll let you know when my order is fulfilled in a few weeks.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve explored a new caliber.  It’s kinda like that first dance with that pretty girl you had your eye on, back in the day.  Much to explore.  Much to hope for.  And much to learn.

Load:Claimed Box Speed (fps):Actual Muzzle Velocity (fps):Standard Deviation:
Barnes Vor-Tx 110gr., TAC-TX FB2350200418.58
Team Never Quit Training Ammo, 125gr. Matchn/a163534.18
Winchester, 125gr., Open Tip2185186453.13
Remington HTP, 130gr., Barnes TSX207517728.52
Freedom Munitions, 147gr., FMJn/a156329.28
Gorilla Ammunition, 147gr., FMJn/a15825.2
Freedom Munitions, 168gr., HPBT Matchn/a14826.98
Sellier & Bellot, 200gr., FMJ Subsonic1060 (16″ barrel)
960 (10″ barrel)
Winchester Super Suppressed 200gr., Open Tip-Range, Subsonic106091315.81
Corbon, 220gr. Subsonic104065225.78
Sellier & Bellot, 200gr., FMJ, Subsonic (2nd Series for Confirmation)1060 (16″ barrel)
960 (10″ barrel)
Winchester Super Suppressed, 200gr., Open Tip-Range, Subsonic (2nd Series for Confirmation)106090617.22
Corbon, 220gr., Subsonic (2nd Series for Confirmation)104057738.36

False Expectations

May 13th, 2020

As April turned into May, two hundred and four years ago, people across the northern hemisphere expected what they had always expected… the happy arrival of spring.  What they didn’t know is that the sudden eruption of Mount Tambora, a volcano in the Dutch East Indies the year before, would change everything. 

1816 came to be known as the year without a summer.  Winter held tight to its grip.  And even when it finally relented, it never let go entirely.  

Ponds and lakes in northern latitudes remained stubbornly frozen.  And even in more temperate regions, hard frosts continued into August.

Crops failed.  Food prices skyrocketed.  Famine spread across much of the globe.  Riots and mass migrations and wars ensued.  Millions died.

It was no one’s fault.  Human beings had simply stumbled onto one of nature’s countless haphazard twists of fate.

Now, here we are in another spring, a couple centuries later.  And as luck would have it, we’ve stumbled onto our own not-so-very-funny bit of whimsy from mother earth.

The hubris that we wield, the notion that we ever and always can control events, can bend the world to our needs, has been found wanting.

Remember how it all began, lo but a few short weeks ago?  

Remember “flatten the curve?”  

Remember “fifteen days to slow the spread?”

Alas, we’re only a few weeks in, but already it feels like a lifetime.  Already the wheel has turned, in ways that no one is grasping.

The good news about Covid-19 is that its lethality appears rather less than we had first feared.

The bad news about Covid-19 is that it is a remarkably nasty bug, with a stunning repertoire of ways in which to make human beings ill.  And it’s only just begun.

There was an illusion around all this.  A belief that if we just shuttered inside for a few weeks the pandemic would somehow just magically go away.  We could go back to our normal lives and all would be well.

That’s not how it’s going to be.

Covid-19 is almost certainly going to be with us for a very long time.  Sure, we might get lucky and one of the pharmaceutical companies might sprint to the finish with an early vaccine.  More likely, though, is that we’re still many months away from that happy day.

In the meantime, the disease will continue its slow and steady burn through human populations.  And all the self-isolation and social distancing and cloth masks that people wield with such fervent hope, like talismans held aloft against an angry god, will prove for nought.

Covid-19 will not release its hold upon our lives until one thing happens:  60-70% of us have become infected by it and have thus become immune.  Even then, we don’t know how long such immunity will last.  But the one incontrovertible fact in this whole disaster is that that herd immunity is the inflection point where things can once again begin to return to normal.

We can reach that point quickly.  Or we can reach that point slowly.  The one thing we can’t do, is somehow to avoid it.

The hope for many, of course, is that we simply hide in our darkened basements, wearing a homemade mask whenever we venture out for groceries – meanwhile holding to the fantasy that all those online deliveries, the daily mail, and the occasional interaction with our neighbor holds no threat – until a vaccine is available.  We all count on being one of the lucky ones.

Remember ventilators?  Remember all the talk a month ago about how we didn’t have nearly enough of them?  Remember all the angst and urgency to quickly build more of them?  Now, of course, hardly anyone mentions them.  Because now we realize that they don’t work.  If you go on a ventilator, chances are high you’re simply going to die on it.

And, of course, we argue.  Like children, we torment ourselves with pretend certainties.  We rage about staying “locked down” or “opening back up,” never quite realizing that it doesn’t really matter.  The math is, simply, the math.

There’s a very good chance that a year from now – next May – we’ll still be in this.  Covid-19 will still be the central actor in our world.

There’s an even better chance that ten years from now, when the first histories of our time are written, that Covid-19 will be only a footnote.  Simply the trigger that ushered in the greater calamity of our lives.

That is the real story. 

Does a Dystopian Future Await?

March 23rd, 2020

Everyone is focusing on the numbers, of course.  The number of cases.  The number of hospitalizations.  The number of deaths.

And this new world of “self isolation” and “social distancing” and suddenly-empty grocery stores certainly has everyone’s attention.  Who knew a roll of toilet paper would ever be cause for such rejoicing?

Alas.  People are staring in the wrong direction.  While angst over the lack of N95 masks and hospital ventilators is reaching epic proportions, a beast slouches towards Bethlehem.

Not to make light of Covid-19.  It will probably kill millions before it’s done.  But its lethality is modest.  And we already have a model for how this will likely go… the Spanish Flu of 1918.

Like that long ago pandemic at the end of World War I, Covid-19 will exact its pound of flesh not from a terrible lethality, but rather from its remarkable infectiousness.  Infect enough people in a population and you don’t need a high mortality rate to suddenly be in a very dark place.

But that is only the prologue.

Mention economics and finance and people’s eyes quickly glaze over.  So let me distill it all down to a single, historically inarguable premise:  human health and well-being is directly correlated to GDP.  I don’t mean there’s some kind of vague, abstract correlation.  I mean they are directly correlated.

And GDP is now headed dramatically, profoundly lower.  Probably lower than we’ve seen in decades.  And probably for a very, very long time.

When this is all over, far more people will have died because of what is coming in the economy than ever died from Covid-19.  And the survivors will inhabit a landscape littered with carnage and misery that is today unimaginable.

There will be suffering aplenty, for everyone.

I know the eyes are already growing dim, so I won’t belabor the point.  But for those wondering why I pose such a depressing vision, why – those of you already turning and waving at the talking head on television who keeps talking about the “V-shaped recovery” – why can’t that be our future?

Let me put it this way… if we human beings had collectively led economically prudent, rational lives – sober is the word that comes to mind – the financial effects of Covid-19 would still be beyond awful.  

But, no, we didn’t live that sober, wise existence.  There is hardly a society on earth which has not lived beyond its means – far beyond its means – for years and years.  Global debt-to-GDP reached 322% in the third quarter last year, with overall debt north of $250 Trillion.

Debt doesn’t matter… until the day it does.  

Debt seems innocuous when interest rates are staring at the zero bound.  And that’s the lovely fantasy we’ve all been living since… well, a very long time.

Here is what will happen:  governments around the world will soon implement epic, extraordinary “stimulus” measures.  Corporations – those selfsame companies whose officers repeatedly rewarded themselves over the last decade by ordering share buybacks, in order to juice their stock price, in order to trigger their bonuses and amplify the value of their stock options… all in lieu of building factories, hiring workers, or otherwise doing something productive – will be bailed out.  

Banks, already the beneficiaries of a rigged system, will get even more rigging.

Small and mid-size businesses will get something, albeit they will be shunned to the smallest teat on the pig.

Individual citizens will receive helicopter money.  Who won’t love those checks in the mail?

Modern Monetary Theory, the notion that a government can essentially spend as much as it wants, unconstrained by such inconveniences as tax revenues or fiscal deficits, will have its day in the sun.

Interest on debt of all kinds will be suspended.  Loan payments will be delayed.

Everything you can imagine to keep the edifice upright will be tried.  Anything to keep the illusion alive.  To keep the dancers on the floor.  Politicians from both parties will promise anything and everything.

But, then, in spite of these herculean efforts…

Layoffs will come, slowly at first, but then with shocking speed.  Unemployment will spike to levels never before seen.

Interest rates will rise, even as asset values of nearly everything else collapses.

Companies will go out of business.

Banks will fail.

What remains of commerce will turn ever more slowly.

Currencies will fail. 

Social unrest will make its appearance.  We can expect police and military crackdowns.

Citizens will demand that government “do something.”  Socialism will be embraced by those who today cannot imagine themselves on that part of the political divide.

Ultimately, there may be a financial reset… with a new currency, new national and international monetary plumbing, and perhaps a debt jubilee. 

If you were alive in the middle of November, 1929, you’d surely have breathed a sigh of relief that all that chaos up on Wall Street a few weeks ago had turned around.  You’d have no idea, none at all, of the long nightmare that actually lay in front of you.

None of this will happen quickly.  This will be a long, extraordinarly painful slog.

But it was a reckoning we had coming.  Covid-19 is simply the dagger that began the dance.


January 14th, 2020

The ground, cold and frozen the first few inches, is hard to cleave.  I have to alternate strokes, first a time or two with the mattock, then picking at the loosened soil with the shovel.  

Under the frost line it eases, the soil softer.  Or not.  My tears, hot in the December chill, fall wet into the growing hole.  When Ginny comes out after awhile I shake her away with a strangled “no.”  I’ll do it.


Life is funny.  We never really know how things will turn.  How the things we once imagined to be so damned important… turn out not to be.  Even while there are all these little things that smile at us, unbidden, as they float through our lives.  And when we eventually look back we realize that those were the only things that ever really mattered.

If there’s a blessing here, it’s that I knew.  This one time, I knew.

His life with us began in trauma, a long, cold, noisy airplane ride, alone.  When I saw him trembling inside the small cage as it descended the cargo ramp at Reagan National I was immediately struck by overwhelming guilt.  I knew instantly I would never again do that to a dog.

But 8-week-old puppies are nothing if not emotionally resilient.  As we walked back to the car, Ginny carried him in her arms.  He fell asleep in her lap on the long drive westward.  And when we arrived, now in full darkness, Ginny gently nudged the as-yet-unnamed little fellow awake.  Sleepily sniffing the ground in front of the house, his new domain, he pee’d on the grass.  The first of a million times he would do that.  Then the three of us walked inside.

Our home would never again be the same.


So how do you capture what it all meant?  And the answer, of course, is that you don’t.  You can’t.  There’s simply too much there.  To unpack it all would require another whole lifetime.

All I can say is that he was my best friend, ever.  That there aren’t words that even remotely begin to describe how much I loved him.  He had the gentlest soul of any creature – two or four-legged – that I ever knew.

Three weeks in, I’m still walking around in a stupor.  You seek normalcy.  But, save for the occasional motorcycle trip I’d go on, he was part of everything.  His presence intertwined with life itself.  So you turn your head and you expect him to be there.  And when he’s not, when you’re reminded, your chest tightens and you can’t breathe and the tears come once again.

And so I whisper what I used to always whisper when I’d head off to bed early and he’d come trundling upstairs and quietly pad over to the bed to nose my cheek, making sure everything was okay.

I’d roll towards him and stroke his head and touch his nose with my nose, murmuring “Daddy loves you.  Don’t ever forget that.”

And as he turned to leave, reassured, I’d smile at him and add “my sweet boy.”

A gallery of some of my favorite pictures…


And the last half-dozen pictures I took of him, during his last few days…