Tuning 22 Dasher and Advanced Reloading Methods
A while back James Phillips set out to build a rifle for the Annual Hickory, NC Ground Hog Shoot. Working with Mike Bryant, he ended up with a rifle that was more than just a first-rate varmint-slayer. His Bryant-smithed 22 Dasher turned out to be one of the most accurate rifles ever made. Competing in registered IBS 600-yard matches in the fall of 2004, James set three IBS world records with the gun, earning top marks for both Score (55-5X) and Group (1.174″). Veteran long-range shooters tell us that a gun that can group in 1.25″ at 300 yards should be competitive. Well, James beat that–at double the distance. James’ amazing 1.174″ 600-yard group works out to 0.19 MOA. To do that at more than one-third of a mile is a major achievement. In our interview with James, he explains many of his shooting and reloading secrets–techniques that have “raised the bar” in the long-range accuracy game.
The 600-yard distance is a new discipline in long-range Benchrest. 2004 marked the first year of IBS- and NBRSA-sanctioned competition. Recently, the IBS posted its first official World Records at 600 yards. Four 600-yard marksmen shot their way into the IBS Record Books in 2004: Greg Culpepper, Joel Kendrick, James Phillips, and Dave Tooley. James Phillips racked up three new IBS records: Light Gun Score (55, 5X, 1.507″), Heavy Gun Small Group (1.174″), and Heavy Gun Score Aggregate (200, 5X, 4.4853″). (To clarify, James’ 16-pound Dasher meets IBS “Light Gun” weight limits. However, he shot it in Heavy Gun (HG) class as well. The fact that James used a 16-pounder against much larger, heavier guns makes his HG class records all the more impressive.)
Perhaps the most amazing of James’ three records is his 1.174″ five-shot group, set on November 21, 2004 with the 22 Dasher. That works out to 0.19 MOA at 600 yards! The same day he drilled the 55-5X, 1.507″ group in Light Gun (LG) class, shooting the same rifle, but with a 6.5-284 barrel. One match, two barrels and two world records. We’d call that efficient shooting. And that small group will be hard to top. James explains: “I’d like to hope both the LG Score Record and the HG Group Record will stand for some time. The 55-5X Score Record may get broken with a smaller (tie-breaking) group. However I do think the 1.174″ Group Record will be tough to beat. Still, my goal is to break the one-inch mark at 600 yards next season.” We wouldn’t be surprised to see James shoot sub-inch at 600 some time soon. An engineer by trade, James assembles his match ammo with incredible precision and attention to detail. If it is humanly possible to sling five shots inside one inch at 600 yards, James may be the man to do it.
Components and Smithing
James’ rifle features a blue-printed Remington 40X action in a pillar-bedded Shehane ST1000 Tracker stock in Rutland Laminate.
The action was trued by Mike Bryant, who also bushed the firing pin, did the stock work, and chambered the 28″ Hart 1000-yard contour 8-twist barrel.
Mike told us this was one of the best 40X actions he’s seen–its dimensional consistency rivaled the best custom actions. James uses a 12-42X NightForce Benchrest scope, mounted in 30mm Kelby rings on high-rise scope bases with 20 MOA built-in elevation. The trigger is a Jewell HVR with safety.
|New IBS 600-Yard World Record
You’re looking at five shots in 1.174″, the best verified 600-yard group ever shot in registered Benchrest competition. We noticed that four of the five shots clustered even tighter. James told us: “Yep, they went in around .80″ for the four shots. I just can’t seem to keep all five in one knot–always have a flyer. My goal next season is to shoot five under one inch. I know I can do it. I’ve just got to catch everything just right.” In addition to the record Small Group, James set two other 600-yard IBS records last year: Light Gun Score (55, 5x, 1.507″), and Heavy Gun Score Aggregate (200, 5X, 4.4853″)
Link to 2004 IBS 600-yard Records
Load Data–The World-Record Recipe
You’ll find a full discussion of James’ load development process and reloading methods in the interview below. Every component of James’ match ammo is prepared with meticulous care. The moly-coated Sierra 80gr MK bullets are weighed, sorted by bearing surface length, AND tested with ultra-sound using a Juenke machine. James weight-sorts his Lapua brass to within 0.5 grains, and each case is neck-turned three times before its ready for competition. Annealing the brass every four firings helps keep neck tension consistent and the groups tight. Every charge is weighed on a balance-beam scale and hand-trickled to exactly 36.0 grains of Hodgdon H4350. This load, using Federal 205m primers, produced an Extreme Spread (ES) of 7 fps at 3414 fps muzzle velocity. Yes, that’s the ES, not standard deviation! James cautions that this is a very stout load and may not be safe in another rifle. Since this is a wildcat chambering based on a custom reamer, he asked us to put in an emphatic warning–you must NOT assume this is a safe load in a 22 Dasher you may build. He suggests you start at 32.5 grains and work up in 0.3 grain intervals. As a further caution, don’t even think of trying this load with naked bullets.
Pushing the Envelope of Long-Range Accuracy
PART I — Setting Records and 600-yard Competition
Q: Can you describe what it was like to set the record–both in the course of the string, and your subjective reaction afterwards–was it a sense of relief or surprise?
When the target crew came back, Bobby Greenway came over and shook my hand with a big smile and I was puzzled. Then Joel Kendrick came over and said I had just shot “one of the prettiest groups he’s ever seen”. I really thought he was messing with me. Then I heard others talking and I began to realize maybe I did shoot really well. I asked Bobby “just how small was it?” He said “Well, you could probably cover them up with a quarter.” I was skeptical, but he insisted, “it’s small, real small.” Joel came over and guessed it measured 1.2″. So I was a bit surprised and I asked them which target was it and they told me my last one and that’s the one I felt really good about. Once it was measured and posted it drew a crowd and the range-house talk began.
I’ll admit it was a good feeling when, after enduring so much criticism of my 3-shot group testing method and hearing people challenge the sub-1/4″ groups I’ve shot at 300 yards during load testing, I finally got my name and abilities recognized and validated. And it happened where it counted the most–at a registered match and on paper. I caught a lot of unkind flack in the past because of the very small groups I’ve posted on internet boards over the years. Some people couldn’t believe them so they claimed the groups weren’t authentic. I kept my head up and kept right on doing what I always did. I would post results on the internet not to brag, but mainly so others could learn from my testing and see what they could expect from a well-built custom rifle and tuned ammo. At times I wanted to give up and even quit shooting, but I stuck in there and it finally paid off. So I guess not only was I surprised, but I felt a great degree of relief and vindication as well.
Q: You set the record with the Shehane Tracker stock–how does it compare with the short-range BR stocks or varmint stocks you’ve tried.
I went with a Tracker for my stock since it was laminated and the design looked to ride the bags well, and sit true. I’ve not had the pleasure to use any other stock except for factory stocks and for me a good stock makes a world of difference in how the rifle reacts to recoil. Bill Shehane has been in this game for a long time and I trusted his low-profile design. Looking at Bill’s track record, including a 1000-yard Nationals win in 2004, he has done well with the Tracker design. So there’s no reason to re-invent the wheel.
Q: Do you do formal match practice–meaning do you specifically go out and try to shoot match targets with match time limits? In general, what is your general approach to match shooting/preparation? Do you load ahead of time or on site?
No, I don’t do formal match practice. When I go test my loads I pick the most ideal condition possible. This way I don’t have to worry with mirage or the wind. I’m not testing my skills, I’m testing for the best load. I do load my ammo before I leave and make sure it’s safe in the front with me and doesn’t get jarred around a lot. That might upset seating depths, since I use a light tension on my necks for seating.
Q: What’s your shooting style–Free Recoil or Hard-Hold?
I shoot between these two. I put a slight hold on the palm swell and don’t put my shoulder into the rifle. I let it slide back into my shoulder a couple inches. I don’t feel a firm hold is needed if everything is setup right and to me it would be hard to keep this hold the same thru five shots. I don’t even allow cheek pressure.
Q: One well-known 600-yard shooter says he can see 6mm bullet holes at 600 yards with his 12-42x NightForce. He thinks that gives him an edge. How important is the scope in 600-yard shooting?
As to optics… I can’t see my bullet holes at 600 yards using a NightForce 8-32x so to me that’s not important. Once you fire that first shot, all you want to do next is follow-up with four more with same hold and point of aim. If you could see that bullet hole it would do no good to adjust for it at that point–you’d just risk opening up the group. The main goal here is to take that last sighter shot with ten seconds to go and then put the next five shots down range as quickly as possible before conditions change. The scope should have 1/8 MOA clicks in order to help center your bullets on target. To me the 1/4 MOA click will do, but if you’re not centered 1/4 MOA clicks are problematical. A quarter-moa at 600 yards is 1.57″. That’s bigger than my record group size so you can see the issue, particularly in score shooting. A scope that can get all parallax out while keeping a sharp image of the target is vital as well. The NightForce is good in that respect.
Q: How does one make world record-setting ammo? What is your load development process? Do you test a variety of powders first, and then fiddle with seating depth, or the reverse?
First, it always seems when I build a new rifle there’s never any good load data for the chambering so I’m forced to develop my own. What I did here with the 22 Dasher was start with what the 6BR guys were using. Then I knew I had to go slower due to the 22′s reduced bore diameter to case capacity ratio when compared to a 6BR. So my first choice was H4350. I tested it and IMR 4350 with same load and primer side by side and found the Hodgdon grouped better and gave better velocities, so I stuck with H4350 from the start. I got lucky on this one I do believe. I also seated the bullet on the lands as I always do and worked my charges and then played with seating depth to find what it liked. Seemed that it liked to be in the lands about .010″, so that’s where I kept it.
Q: Are you looking for a specific velocity, or max accuracy? Do you believe there are accuracy “nodes” at specific velocities?
I do believe that there are velocities–I call them plateaus–where a cartridge likes to shoot and I look for that and I try to get the most velocity I can without pushing it to the max. Some seem to think I’m on the ragged edge with my current velocities, but I don’t think so. I haven’t seen any of the classic pressure signs yet. I have not put my strain gauges on the action to test for pressures, as I really didn’t want to do that to my action. I do have an Oehler 43 that lets me test pressures and check for real BC with down-range acoustic monitors.
Q: Do you tune your loads to the conditions?
I also have a Davis weather station. I check for barometric pressure temps, wind, humidity, dew points and so forth. I log everything during my load testing. Perhaps I push the data-sampling a few levels beyond others (maybe a bit too far for some folks), I spend a lot of time at the computer running tests and analyzing my loads with my chronograph readings and my weather station readings to help me fine tune. This really gets to be complicated process and if one lets it go too far, you can get data overload. It took me several years to write a program that interfaced with my Oehler and weather station to allow me to see exactly what I can do to adjust for a condition. Once my data is entered, if I go to a different altitude I can punch in my load parameters and altitude and my computer calculates what changes I need to make to ensure optimal cartridge performance. It is a very complicated program and took a lot of trial and error to get it to work like I want it. I had some very intelligent ballistics guys and computer wizards help me get this program the way I want it.
Q: Do you use any special bore-conditioning treatment (mystery elixirs) to enhance accuracy?
I use only Montana Xtreme bore solvents and their bore conditioner, and never use a bronze brush. I always wrap a patch over my brushes. I feel I can get into the grooves and clean better with this technique. Seems there are as many ways to clean a barrel as there are words and everyone thinks his system is the best way. Since I have used the Montana Xtreme products, I’ve spent a lot less time cleaning, and I haven’t had to use Sweets or any sort of heavy-duty bore paste to remove copper.
Q: Why did you choose a 22 Dasher rather than a
6mm BR Improved for 600-yard competition?
When I had my 22 Dasher built at the time there were no registered 600-yard competitions. But I built it with the Hickory Egg Shoot in mind, a 100-, 300-, and 500-yard shoot that Larry Willis hosts each year in Hickory, NC. This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the Shoot and they’re giving out some serious prizes. What I wanted was something that was a bit more forgiving than my 22-243. It seemed that the 22-243 was very accurate but it was also temperamental when temperatures shifted 10 degrees and more. I conferred with Mike Bryant on what would be an ideal chambering. Mike told me he had a 22 Dasher reamer we could work from. So after doing some research on the cartridge design it was a go. I chose the 22 Dasher basically because the 80gr bullets have a high BC and can be shot at fast velocities. I figured this would work very well at 500 to 600-yard shoots. I was also looking to be able to fill a small case full of powder to further help the ES of a cartridge so that it would be more efficient.
Q: Some of us were surprised to see a world record set with a gun built on a “factory” action. Does this settle the debate as to whether a trued Remington action is “good enough”?
That’s a tough question. The only reason I used a 40x action was that I already had one. Would I build off a 700 action if I had to start from scratch? No. I feel the custom actions just give that added accuracy improvement over the lighter factory actions either through extra bedding surface or enhanced action strength/stiffness. Today the better customs have a lot to offer–such as different port configurations that can run strings more quickly. The ergonomics of a left-port right-eject can help you get the next shot off faster. Considering what a fully blue-printed Rem 700 costs compared to a good custom action, cost-savings alone is not reason enough to use a factory action if you are dead serious about winning. I’m fortunate with my particular 40X. It is no “ordinary” factory receiver. Here is a quote direct from my gunsmith, Mike Bryant: “James, I think your 40X is a pretty special rifle. I know that it’s as true an action as it can be. When I barreled it once, I screwed the action onto the barrel and ran a mandrel out the rear of the action and checked run-out on the mandrel behind the action and had less than .002″ run-out. I’ve done the same test on custom actions that had more run-out than that, but still shot very well.” So, going back to my world record–does that prove a factory action is good enough? Well, maybe, but only IF that factory action is as straight and true as a custom.
Q: We often hear claims that some box-stock RemSavChester will shoot “quarter-MOA all day long.” As one who has worked for years to develop ultra-accurate loads in expertly-smithed rifles, what do you think of such claims?
In all honesty I don’t think there is a gun out there that can shoot “1/4 MOA all day long.” There are just too many human variables involved with potential for error. We all have our good times when we shoot well and we will always have that one “super group” that got away, leaving us to wonder “how?” and “why?”. When I shot that 1.174″ group it was kind of a weird feeling–I turned around and looked at my girlfriend and told her “that felt perfect.” The gun just went back right every time–each shot went off right. It’s just a feeling that is very hard to explain, if you hadn’t been there and experienced it firsthand. I’m not sure if that is an answer you were seeking. I think it’s like when you do this enough, your time comes and everything just falls into place. The ironic thing about this particular day was that I had already broken one record with a perfect score in the Light Gun class and when we got ready for the Heavy Gun class I told some of the other shooters, “well let’s see what other records I can break with my favorite rifle”. I told them, jokingly, that I “saved the best for last.” Well on my last relay I told the guys “this is it–I’m going for the gold here” and hoped to break a record. Little did I know…
To be honest, I never dreamed of shooting such a group in 45-degree ambient temps with a load that was developed in warm 85-degree conditions–the same load I had used all year. Maybe I need to go back and look more at my load and see if there’s a sweeter spot a grain or so lower than what I am shooting. You see I’m always learning and looking for a way to improve–maybe something I had not seen before.
PART II — Reloading Procedures
Q: Have you experimented with various primers? Many people are saying the CCI 450s produce higher velocity with lower ES in the 6BR. Many of the X-course and F-class guys are using the Russian Primers now…
I have not tried any primers other than Federal, as right now my ES on this round is 5-7 fps so I hadn’t felt any need to go any further. I don’t think it is possible to do much better. I have always had great luck with Federal Match Primers and have stuck with them. I feel good load density–filling the case as much as possible–is key to low ES. This keeps the powder column much more regular and consistent than, say, if the case is only 80% filled. Right now I’m right at 100% case capacity. I look for the slowest powder first and work backwards to a faster burn rate if needed.
Q: Neck-turning–is it still worth the trouble?
I will always believe it is vital to turn necks for consistent accuracy. This is just another element that has to be done in my opinion. I turn my necks three times to make sure that everything is just the right size and all the material is removed for a absolutely uniform neck. I want that bullet to seat perfectly inline and release the same all the way around the neck. To do this takes time and care in prepping the cases to make sure that each case is exactly like every other. I also spin my cases on a Juenke machine and look for any variations in wall thickness throughout the case. When I sit down at the bench, all I want to worry about is my gun handling, not my loads.
I also anneal my cases after four firings and have found that annealing does shrink my groups as well. The day I shot my world records, my cases were fully prepped. I had annealed them, bumped them back, trimmed them to length, and chamfered the necks. Then I went back and re-weighed the cases and segregated them into lots by .3gr increments. So, those world records were set with brass that was as perfect as I could make it.
Q: Looking at your photos, it looks like you have three different K&M Turners. What is your neck-turning procedure, single-pass or multiple cuts?
I use a separate K&M neck turner for each caliber for which I turn necks. This keeps me from having to re-adjust them each time. I also have one setup to turn my necks .002″ shy of my finished diameter. This give me a smooth, clean cut. Once all the brass has been formed the first time, I go back and re-turn them to remove any brass flow that may have occurred. So my necks are turned three times. The first pass is .002″ over, the second pass cuts to final diameter, and then I make a final clean-up pass after fire-forming. This is how I do most of my cases. However, on my 22 Dasher I don’t turn the necks until after I fire-form the cases. I neck them down below the chamber specs and blow them out with pistol powder and wax then open the necks and turn them.
Q: Do you lube bullets/neck interiors prior to seating?
I shoot moly-coated bullets only in all my rifles and feel moly does help regardless of what others say about the moly ring at the throat. Moly is an inert substance and cannot build upon itself, as some seem to think. Also Moly can only attract moisture if it is in a jar open and it’s humid. It cannot attract moisture from a bullet or the coating it leaves inside a barrel. My chamber is a .248″, my necks are turned to .2465″ and I use a .244 bushing–that’s .0025 smaller than my loaded round. This way I have moderate bullet seating tension and the effort to seat the bullets is very slight. I do not use any lube. With moly-coated bullets and the .244 bushing, there’s no need in using any additional lube inside the necks of my cases. I don’t want to add any other potential problem–specifically the possible flyers lubrication might cause. That’s only a theory in my head, but why add another uncertain element to the process of accurate reloading?
Q: How does the Juenke sorting tool work? Can you quantify positive results from using it?
Basically, the Juenke machine reads off ultra-sound. If there is a void in the jacket of the bullet and/or core it will detect this. It sends a frequency down into the jackets and once it gets to the core it bounces back; this is determined by time basically and translates into points on the meter. The lower the point value, the more consistent the jacket. My match bullets are within two Juenke points. My sighters are within 3-4 points. Any bullets over 4 points are used as foulers. I use the same technique for my cases–my match cases measure 1-5 Juenke points, while my sighter and fouler cases rate 5-8 points.
Q: Do you weigh every charge? Can that make a difference?
I used to depend a lot on my RCBS powder dispenser and scales to give me accurate charges. Well, I had learned that they weren’t accurate at all. I bought myself an RCBS 10-10 scale and checked what was coming out of my powder dispenser on the 10-10 and found that if my digital scale was reading a charge of 36.0 grains it could actually be anywhere from 35.8-36.2 grains. This is far from being acceptable to me. So I then began weighing all my charges on my 10-10 scales and I will trickle to the exact kernel of powder to get my 36.0 grains.
When I started doing this my groups went from the high 3″ to 4″ at 600 yards down to the high 1″ to 2″ groups and an occasional low 3″ group. I went from placing in the top 15 to the top 5 (and usually top 3, “in the money”) just from this one change! Being exact on my powder charges has been the one thing that has improved my accuracy, and competitive placings, more than anything else.
For folks that don’t think .2 grains of powder makes a difference I proved that on paper and with my match results. I have since drawn the attention of many of the top shooters in long range BR with a 22 Dasher and they have come to respect its capabilities in the right hands. So… if you want to shoot better, check your charges on a good beam scale!
[Editor's Note: the powder dispenser James was using is an ealier model, not the RCBS ChargeMaster Combo (2005 model) we recently reviewed. The new unit is completely different, with faster output and an enhanced Load Cell. James and I also talked about using a digital dispenser in combination with a balance beam scale. This is actually what James does when using stick powders. James agreed that there is a place for the digital measure, because it allows you to throw 99% of your charge without cutting or jamming kernels. With stick powders, he uses his digital dispenser to throw, say, 35.0 grains. Then he trickles up manually to the kernel using the beam scale. With flake or spherical powders he throws a slight under-charge with a manual measure (it's faster than the digital dispenser and kernel-cutting is not an issue) and then trickles manually, weighing the final charge on the 10-10 scale. Until somebody comes up with a digital dispenser that can do better than ± 0.1 grain, James will go with his 10-10 for the final weighing. However, he is considering adding a Denver Instruments laboratory scale to his bench soon. This should give repeatable accuracy to 0.01 grain or better, and it will be much faster than the beam scale.]
PART III — General Thoughts About Shooting
Q: For someone with kids and family, with limited range time, what’s the best way to become a more accurate shooter?
To become a more accurate shooter, you must first believe in your gun and your loads. Without this you will always find some fault in something. You also have to believe that you can shoot well. Given the limited time available to all of us (whether we have kids or not), there’s always something that interferes, maybe work or maybe weather. My range time is my relaxation time as well. It’s kind of like I set myself free of everything around me and focus on one thing and that’s shooting the very best I can. So, whether it’s once a month or once every two weeks, make the best of the time you have. Pay attention to what is happening to your loads and believe in your chronograph.
Q: Many of the folks on this board are in the process of building their first custom gun. What do you think is the most cost-effective path to 1/4 MOA, considering that for many of these guys their most accurate rifle is a factory .223 or .308?
For a beginner’s first custom rifle, I would recommend something that is easy to load for and accurate without a lot of work involved. This I believe would be a 6PPC or 6BR. Both are very accurate and don’t require a lot of testing to find something that shoots very well.
Q: Some guys shoot 3-shot groups when load testing. Others prefer 5- or even 10-shot groups when settling on a match load. What’s your take on this?
Now here is where I have had many online debates on how many shots one needs to shoot. I shoot three shots and that’s it. I don’t see any need in wasting time on two more shots and the cost of powder and bullets to prove that a 1″ group is a 1″ group. If you shoot 1″ in three shots then two more won’t make it smaller. What I look for is a shot pattern. When developing loads, if a 3-shot group shoots a nice triangle this tells me the powder is working. Then you make adjustments to either open that triangle or make it smaller. If you have three shots strung out then the powder isn’t working and there’s no need to go any further as it will only magnify at longer distances.
Conversely, a nice triangle will stay that way even further down range. It’s then up to me to find out how to make the load shoot even tighter and this is done with powder charge and seating depth adjustments. I do double-check my loads with several tests of consecutive 3-shot groups in different elements after I have found what I liked. I want to make sure it is the right load with no doubt. I also trust my chronograph as well.
Along with small groups I want a small ES and a decent velocity. With the 22 Dasher, I was hoping for 3400 fps. When I found my 36.0gr load it was actually 3415 fps and I have had it up to 3470 fps with 0.5 grains more powder. (This is a compressed load no doubt–still with no pressure issues, however.) It shot well also but the numbers were not as good so I went with the numbers and the groups I had. The 36.5gr group was smaller but my ES was 18 fps so I went with the 36.0gr load, which had a splendid ES of just 7 fps. Other shooters may disagree, but I feel three shots are all I need for load development. I want to emphasize that I DO go back and verify my findings several times before I settle on my final load.
Q: What does the future hold for you? Will you continue to campaign the 22Dasher, or are you looking at other chamberings? Any new guns in the pipeline?
I will continue to shoot the 22 Dasher at matches and try to improve on my groups and score Aggregates. In all honesty I’d like to break a few more records with it. I’d like to go sub-inch at 600 yards. Maybe that’s the shooting equivalent of the four-minute mile. As to new guns in the future–yes, I have a few in the works. This spring I’ve been working with my new 6mm Dasher, built by David Tooley on a trued model 70 action. It took me a while to get the loads working, but once I had the firing pin bushed by Greg Tannel, I could get the velocities up to where it has started grouping well. It sports a Hart HV contour barrel and for now it will stay in the original H&S stock. My goal for this rifle is to use it at the Hickory Egg Shoot (first Saturday of April) and hopefully win that pricey new rifle they are giving away! Because the Hickory Shoot rules this year prohibit mechanical front rests, a narrow fore-end should work just fine with front sand bags or bipod.
Next I’m having Dave Kiff build me a 6XC reamer throated for the 115gr DTAC bullets and will have it for my switch-barrel 40x also for the Spring 2005 season. Then I’m having an entire rifle built off another 40x action I had trued by Mike Bryant. That will go in a Shehane Maxi-Tracker stock and be fitted with a Hart 1.450″ diam., 30″ barrel. This Heavy Gun will be chambered in Dave Tooley’s 30 BooBoo. Yep, there’s a lot of new stuff slated for 2005.
Q: If you could ask for one or two significant technical improvements in the hardware available for precision shooting, what would they be? Better optics, cheaper actions, better bullets?
With today’s custom actions and custom-made bullets and some of the finest gunsmiths in the world building our rifles, I’m really not sure if there is a single major hardware improvement that we can realistically expect. The current high-end scopes, particularly the NightForce, are outstanding. I do wish that Leupold would make a variable power scope with more magnification and 1/8 MOA clicks for us long-range shooters–something like a 20-45x perhaps. I’d ask Leupold to do them right from the get-go so we wouldn’t have to send them off to Tucker for fixing. I own a couple 8.5-25×50 LRT scopes and I feel the optics in them are as good as my NF scopes. It’s just that I could use a bit more magnification and I really need 1/8 MOA click adjustments.
Q: One of the other guys interviewed, Richard Schatz, says that it is important to keep the “fun” factor in shooting. Otherwise you lose your motivation and eventually your scores decline. What do you do to maintain a positive focus and not get caught up in the pressure to win?
I agree you have to be having fun in order to do well and succeed. If the “joy of shooting” disappears it’s time to back up, look inwards and see where you lost it. I came real close to this point myself. I can remember, just at the beginning of last year, I went to the range, sat down and began shooting and realized my motivation just wasn’t there. I thought maybe it was just a bad day, so I went back on a later date only to have the same experience. My heart just wasn’t in it anymore and it just wasn’t fun. I then posted every gun I owned for sale on the internet.
If it weren’t for my friends on the Go Go Varmint Go board refusing to buy them, and E-mailing or calling me to make sure I was OK (and not in financial trouble), and talking me out of making such a mistake, I probably wouldn’t be doing this interview right now. That’s how close it came. I think my problem was taking my shooting seriously for every hour and every minute I was at the range. Plus I was spending so many hours in my reloading room and going over printouts from my software program and studying each and every group fired. This even went on in my sleep as well. There was no escaping it. So yes…the fun has to be there. I think that the most important part of the whole sport is to have fun. And you should pass on any info you have found to the younger generation and help them to do well also.
Q: If there were one or two factors that you can identify for your success–the things that separate you from other shooters, what would they be?
My drive to do well is within me. When I sit down at that bench and the range officer tells us to insert our bolts and to commence fire, this is when I tune all out but one thing–to put my five shots down range as fast as I can and in the same point of aim each and every shot. Whether I shoot a 2″ group or a 5″ group, I sit back, study what I did, and analyze how to make it better the next relay.
At that bench during competition, I’m in what I call my “bubble”. Nothing and no one around me are in my mind or sight. I’m fully focused on those five shots at that moment. Everything has to be in rhythm at the bench, meaning it all has to flow smoothly from squeezing the trigger, to allowing the rifle to recoil just right, to opening the bolt and loading the next round and pushing the rifle back into position for your next shot. When this is done correctly it all feels like one single motion that never stops until that last shot is fired. To do this you have to be focused and do the very best you can. To me that’s the key to being successful. If you can do this, then everything else follows its course and you will have your day of glory.
One other thing–if I see someone is having a problem or is unable to get his shots on paper I’m there to try and help. I don’t sit back and think well I don’t have to worry about him beating me. That isn’t what this sport is all about. I don’t want to win by shooting with a guy who doesn’t know what’s going on. I want to win and or do well on an equal field of shooters.
[NOTE: The Editor want to extend special thanks to James for his time and effort. It took multiple phone calls and email sessions to prepare this interview and James was always helpful and patient. I've personally learned a great deal from James about precision reloading and load development. It comes as no surprise to me that James earned a spot in the Record Books.]
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