Archive for December, 2020

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

Thursday, 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

Saturday, 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.