New Stock from McMillan – the A6

A6 Atlas1

McMillan A6 stock with Graphite shell and molded in Woodland Carbon Ambush camo, adjustable cheek rest, and spacer system to adjust length of pull (LOP). Atlas Tactical action; 6.5 Creedmoor Bartlein medium Palma barrel cut to 24″; Badger M5 bottom metal; Nightforce ATACR 7-35x56mm scope 

The A6, which has been rolled out in time for Shot Show 2018, is similar to the iconic A5 in many respects, however, the fore-end has a squarer profile making it ideally suited for PRS/NRL type barricade shooting.

Squared fore-end on the A6 stock

A6 Atlas-Bartlein

You can see in this image how the flat fore-end affords the A6 added stability on any flat surface or barricade

Since this is my first 6.5 Creedmoor (no jokes please), I have been chronographing a variety of factory loads. With a Bartlein medium Palma profile, 1:8″ twist cut to 24 inches, on a 50F degree morning at sea level, factory ammunition results were: Hornady Match 147 ELD averaged 2,670 fps; Hornady Match 140 ELD averaged 2,726 fps; and Federal Berger 130 Hybrids came in at 2,829 fps. The 140s seemed to group the best, but still early days and more testing to come. Will also be working up some hand loads  with the Berger Long Range 140 grain BT Target in Peterson brass, when I get back from Shot Show.

6.5CM Ammo


More to follow



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The Importance of Measuring Cartridge Headspace – Part 2

By Mark V. Lonsdale

As a continuation to the series of reloading fundamentals for rookies, we will take a look at the importance of measuring headspace and accurately bumping the shoulder on your brass. But keep in mind that this article is a “why to” not a “how to.” The how to will come in the instructions with whichever measuring system you decide to go with, plus a reputable reloading manual.

The tool to measure the headspace or shoulder position markets under a number of names – shoulder bump gauge, precision mic, or cartridge comparator – but each does basically the same thing. They give a measurement from the base of the cartridge to a predetermined spot on the shoulder. So, why do you need to know that?

A comparator allows the shooter or reloader to do a number of things:

  1. Measure the headspace of factory or reloaded ammunition to ensure it is within spec for safe and reliable use. If the case is too long it simply will not chamber, and if it is too short, it will not headspace correctly, may not fire, or may result in a case separation.
  2. Quantifies the chamber headspace in a particular rifle by measuring the headspace of fired cases from that chamber. After firing, a cartridge fire-forms to the size of the chamber.
  3. It will ensure that you are getting the minimal shoulder set-back when setting up your reloading dies.

This last one is probably the most important for the reloader. By minimizing the set-back of the shoulder, you are limiting the expansion or stretching of the case during firing, improving consistency and accuracy, and extending the life of the brass. So the cartridge comparator also serves as a diagnostic tool to ensure the rifle chamber is within specifications, and to gauge if the sizing die is set-up correctly.

As an example, if you measure the shoulder on once-fired brass from a rifle chamber that is reamed to spec, you will find that the headspace will measure “0” on an RCBS Precision Mic gauge. This is because the case has fire-formed to the length of the chamber.

New factory match ammunition may read minus three on the same gauge. In other words, the shoulder is three thousandths (0.003”) shorter than the spec chamber. This is so that it will chamber correctly. After firing, that case will be fire-formed to the chamber so should have moved the shoulder forward to match the actual size of the chamber.

Now, after you have run a fired piece of brass through your sizing die you may find that you have pushed the shoulder back ten to twenty thousandths (0.010” to 0.020”). This is too much. So now you can adjust the sizing die up to bump the shoulder back just enough to chamber in that particular rifle without any issues. Once you are getting the required amount of bump on your bump gauge, you can lock the die.

Whidden Shoulder BumpWhidden shoulder bump gauge inserted into dial calibers 

So for optimum accuracy and case life, the goal is to set the shoulder back the minimal amount while still enjoying reliable feeding. But if you own several rifles of the same caliber, and you want your reloads to function flawlessly in all your rifles, then you will need to set the shoulder back from the shortest chamber. This way it will cycle in all rifles.


Hornady collet system

There are a number of options for measuring headspace and shoulder set-back.

  1. One of the more common methods, and least expensive is a collet or bump gauge that fits in a standard set of dial or digital calibers. Hornady and Sinclair are popular and the collets are quite affordable. The most expensive part is an accurate set of calipers, which every conscientious reloader should own.
  2. Another option is the RCBC Precision Mic set specific to each common caliber. These are very handy but a little slower than using calipers. Cost is around $50 depending on caliber.
  3. The top shelf option is a Cartridge Comparator from Dave Manson Precision Reamers. This system consists of an indicator stand with a base, datum blocks, and plunger-type dial indicator. Once set-up it is very accurate and efficient to use. Check out

RCBS Precision Mic system

Dave Manson Cartridge Comparator dial indicator stand 

These three systems are not only used to measure headspace and shoulder set-back, they are also be used to measure overall length and seating depth for bullets. For more consistent accuracy, you will generally want to load your bullets longer and closer to the lands than most factory ammunition. You will often hear shooters talking about 0.015” off the lands or a jump of twenty thou – meaning that the ogive of the bullet is 0.020” back from the lands. However, if you are feeding rounds from the magazine for hunting or competition, then you will be limited to an overall length (OAL) that still fits in the magazine.

Finally, as you get into reloading, and in particular reloading for precision rifle shooting, the more you need to quantify actual measurements and tolerances. Don’t think of this as a painful chore. Once you really understand the advantages of reloading, and see the proof on the target in your scores and the tight groups, you will find precision reloading to be as enjoyable as the shooting (well, almost). There is something very satisfying about producing high quality rifle ammunition.

For additional reading, study the introductory chapters in the reloading manuals from Berger, Sierra, Hornady or Speer. There are also some excellent books such as Handloading for Competition; Extreme Rifle Accuracy; or Prone and Long Range Rifle Shooting.

308 375 CT

On left, 308 Win with the Berger 185 grain Juggernaut loaded long. On the right, 375 CheyTac using the Cutting Edge 352 grain bullet. Both loaded into Peterson match grade brass 


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Rifle Reloading 101 – A Primer for Beginners – Part 1

By Mark V. Lonsdale

Warning: Hand loading ammunition is a potentially dangerous activity that requires serious consideration, training, and attention to detail. It becomes even more dangerous if the individual is inattentive, drunk, or easily distracted.

It cannot be overemphasized that, for someone getting into reloading, SAFETY is #1. Lack of common sense or fundamental knowledge can lead to dangers not only on the loading bench but also on the range. A not uncommon error is double charging a cartridge which can literally turn a gun into a hand grenade. Another danger is not loading any powder into a cartridge so that the primer alone pushes the bullet into the barrel but not out the other end. So if a second round is fired, the barrel can rupture with disastrous results for not only the shooter but also bystanders.  Just Google “exploding guns” and you will see the results.

Lesson Learned: Take reloading seriously!  


Individuals get involved in reloading for one of two reasons, economy or accuracy. For some, it can be both. When I was a competitive IPSC/USPSA shooter, I was shooting 200-400 rounds per day of .45 ACP so began reloading for cost and consistency. At that time, no one made factory 200 grain H&G ammunition, plus I was able to adjust my loads to make power factor. At the same time I was also shooting high powered rifle and sniper matches, so hand loaded .308 Win and 300 WinMag for accuracy, knowing that even the best factory match ammo was not as accurate as my own reloads. To this day, I hand load primarily for accuracy and continue to experiment with bullets, powders, and primers to find optimum loads for long range shooting.

So the first decision for the aspiring hand loader is economy or accuracy, since the equipment and requirements are quite different. If you are loading for cost and quantity then you will probably go with a progressive press that can crank out 600 to 1,000 rounds per hour. These are usually the 9mm and .45 ACP pistol shooters and .223 Rem AR shooters who are shooting hundreds or even thousands of rounds per month.

For the precision rifle shooters, the question becomes, “how much precision?” A shooter banging 2+ MOA steel plates does not need the same level of precision as a benchrest shooter looking for one-hole groups, or F-Class Open competitor shooting 5-inch X-rings at 1,000 yards. Similarly, PRS shooters may be shooting 250+ rounds per event, while F-Class and F-TR only shoot 60-70 rounds. So the higher volume shooters may opt for progressive presses and powder throwers, while the hard core precision shooters, seeking ultimate accuracy, will opt for a single stage press and hand weighing every load.

Bench 111817

Low budget loading bench for rifle reloading set up with a single stage RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme. From left to right – powered chamfer and deburring tool, loading block and funnel, powder measure, scales and trickler, press with dies, primer press. 

For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the shooter who is new to medium or long range rifle shooting but does not want to commit the many thousands of dollars necessary to be competitive on the national stage. This is the average guy or gal who has $1,500 invested in the rifle and scope but is interested in better accuracy than factory ammo plus a cost saving. Keep in mind that there are only a few calibers that have factory match-grade ammunition, such as .308 Win. .223 Rem, and 6.5 Creedmoor. All the others have a plethora of hunting ammo but not precision match ammo.


To expand on the cost saving, if you already have a good supply of once fired brass, then you can reload for about 50 cents a round – most of that being the cost of the bullets. This is at least half what you would pay for a box of 20 factory rounds, and even more for premium hunting ammo. But this does not include the initial outlay for the reloading equipment. An RCBS starter package with all the basics and a single stage press runs around $350. This includes press, scales, powder measure, priming tool, primer flipper, lube pad, chamfering tool, funnel, loading block, and a manual, but no dies. A progressive press alone could be twice that.

There is also a significant price difference between a basic entry level RCBS reloading die set ($40-$70) and Redding match-grade dies, bushing dies, and seating dies with micrometer adjustment ($180-$280).

Left: Redding 308 Win match-grade dies; Right: 308 dies alongside Whidden .375 CT dies for ELR shooting

If you are getting into extreme long range shooting (ELR) then you will definitely want to hand load for both accuracy and cost savings since a box of 20 factory rounds runs upwards of $140.00. Loading .375 CT, using quality components such as Cutting Edge bullets and Peterson brass, will run around $7.00 per round, but once you start reloading the used brass then the cost goes down. There is also the added cost of custom dies which could run $400.

Left: 308 Win Peterson brass and Berger bullets. Right: .375 CT Cutting Edge bullets and Peterson brass


To begin with, let’s look at the basic requirements for reloading. First is a press, and even with a single stage press, such as the Rock Chucker Supreme, a shooter can load 50 rounds in one to two hours, depending on how much case preparation he or she chooses to do. With the press, and at a minimum, you will need a sizing die that also decaps the spent primer, and a seating die to seat the new bullet. In between those two steps, case sizing and bullet seating, you will seat the new primer and load powder into the case.

A tumbler is another essential for cleaning the brass and there are several relatively inexpensive ones on the market. I tumble my fired brass before resizing so that I am not carrying dirt and carbon into my sizing dies, and then again after sizing to additionally clean up the brass and the now empty primer pocket.

Additional small hand tools that are useful for case prep include a primer pocket cleaner and a case neck chamfering tool to debur the neck mouth. A kinetic impact type bullet puller is also a handy item to have available. A powder measure and an accurate set of scales are also essentials. Keep in mind that the less expense powder measures throw by volume not weight so may throw charges a few tenths of a grain either side of the ideal charge. To correct for this, when I am hand weighing powder charges, for example 44 grains, I will set the powder measure to throw around 43.8 grains then use a powder trickler to bring it up to exactly 44 grains on the electronic scales. I than hand pour that into the case with a small funnel before seating the bullet.

Left: Electronic scale and powder trickler. Right: Manual primer press 

To seat the primers, several presses include a priming accessory, but I prefer a separate primer press. This gives more control and a better feel to this critical step.

As you begin shooting your brass a number of times, it will be necessary to measure the over-all length of the brass after sizing since it will stretch. At this point it will be necessary to invest in a set of digital calipers and a case trimmer to trim the brass back to spec.

When selecting loading components, it is necessary to decide if you are loading for hunting or target shooting, and what is the optimum bullet weight for your rifle. Faster twist barrels favor heavier bullets and slower twist the lighter bullets. For example, the .308 Win 150 and 168 grains fly well out of a 1:12 or 1:11 twist barrel, while 185s and 190s prefer a 1:10 twist barrel – but those are just broad examples. The preferred way to establish which bullet weight and velocity your rifle performs best with is to run your own tests on the range.

308 Win. rifle with a Bartlein 1:10 twist barrel set up for 185 grain and 200 grain Berger bullets. Atlas action, McMillan A5 stock, Nightforce ATACR scope 


The next step, before beginning reloading, is the most important – educate yourself on reloading procedures and safety. The general recommendation is to get a good reloading manual from the likes of Sierra or Berger and study all the early chapters. Then go to the individual caliber that you are shooting and look up the bullet weight and load recommendations with various powders. To simplify matters, seek advice from someone who is an accomplished reloader and is shooting the same caliber as you.

The other alternative is to go on line to review the myriad of videos on YouTube. Look for the ones from reputable professionals in the industry, not just Joe Schmo in his basement.

The next step is to come up with a routine for your reloading. This is important for quality, consistency, and safety. Accuracy is the product of uniformity and consistency, so you need to be doing the same thing every time. This will also prevent missing a critical step. My preference is to do everything in batches of 100 cases, all the same brand and same number of firings (1x, 2x, 3x, etc.)

The following is a simplified loading procedure for a beginner, without getting into all the additional steps used by high level competitive shooters.

  1. Sort, select and tumble 100 cases. If you are using new cases such as Peterson or Lapua then the first 3 steps are not necessary.
  2. Lube, full length size, and decap 100 cases
  3. Tumble again to remove case lube and clean primer pockets
  4. Inspect cases, check primer pockets, and chamfer necks
  5. Prime 100 cases
  6. Set and adjust the seating die into the press
  7. Set powder scale for desired load
  8. Throw or hand weigh loads into 10 cases then seat bullets for 10 rounds
  9. Repeat loading 10 cases at a time until all 100 are loaded
  10. Place loaded rounds in a plastic ammo box and label with bullet, powder weight, and COAL


Loading powder into ten cases at a time and then seating the bullet 

The additional steps common to higher levels of precision reloading include weighing cases and projectiles into batches; turning the necks, annealing, and checking for wall thickness and concentricity. While these are important at the national level, they are not essential for just cranking out ammunition that will consistently go sub-MOA, provided you are using quality components and are diligent in the basics.


A few Safety Tips:

  1. Organize your reloading bench in a clean, safe environment away from any naked flames or small children
  2. Don’t accidentally mix components for various calibers. Put all the powders and primers from one caliber away, before beginning with a new caliber
  3. Don’t get distracted when reloading. There is too much risk of throwing a double charge or no charge at all, resulting in the risk of bursting the chamber or a bullet being lodged in the barrel
  4. Wear safety glasses when dealing with powders and primers, especially when seating primers
  5. Don’t force anything. If you have to force it, you are probably doing it wrong
  6. Be patient, methodical, and take your time to do it right
  7. Carefully inspect all your brass after cleaning and before loading for any deformities or cracks. If in doubt, throw it out
  8. Keep written records of the number of times you have reloaded each batch of brass, the powder charges used, and the cartridge over all lengths (COAL). You will also want to track the muzzle velocities and relative accuracy of each load for future reference
  9. Start at the lower recommended loads and work your way up. Do not start at the max recommended powder charge
  10. Clearly label your ammo boxes with the bullet weight and powder charge – for example, 185 grain Berger Juggernauts, 44 grains of Varget, COAL 3.030”

308 375 CT

.308 Win. on left, .375 CT on right. The larger case volume of ELR calibers use three times as much powder as the more conventional cartridges, and even more for the 50 BMG shooters. 

Final word of advice, talk to other shooters who are competent reloaders. You will find they are more than happy to share their knowledge and experience. And don’t think of reloading as a chore. You will actually come to enjoy the process of making your own ammo and seeing the improved results on the target.

Stay tuned for the next installment


Posted in F-TR, Mark Lonsdale, Precision Rifle Shooting, Reloading, Rifle Shooting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

LabRadar Simplified

By Mark V. Lonsdale

For those who are intimidated by technology, here is a shooting range Quick Start guide to the LabRadar. Once you become familiar with the functionality, you will find the LabRadar to be quick and easy to use.

The LabRadar does not come with the white numbers on the left. These were added to make the text easier to follow

Once you have loaded the batteries and have the LabRadar aimed at the target, push button #1 to turn it on – you will see a blue light. Push #2 and it will ask if you want to start a new series. Push #3 to accept the new series. Push the Arm button (#4) twice – the light will turn orange. Begin shooting. Each MV will show up on the screen. When you are finished with the series, push and hold the Arm button (#4), 2-3 secs, and a summary will come up on the screen. You will see average MV, highest, lowest, ES and SD, etc. Push #2 when you are ready to begin a new series and follow above instructions.

Labradar A5 Atlas

Be sure to read the instructions that come with the LabRadar, but I have found this placement works well. Once I became familiar with the operating parameters, the only time I miss a reading is when I forget to hit the Arm button. 


When running a muzzle brake, position the LabRadar so that it is not in the muzzle blast zone 


Posted in ELR, F-TR, Mark Lonsdale, Precision Rifle Shooting, Rifle Shooting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

ELR Central World Record Event



 Las Vegas, NV – Sunday, 21 Jan 2018

Location:         Front Sight Range, 1 Front Sight Road, Pahrump, NV 89061

Time:               Registration: 0600-0700         Range Brief: 0700

Morning Relays: 0800-1000   Afternoon Relays: 1400-1600

Awards Dinner: 1800 – 2000 at Pahrump Valley Winery

Entry Fee:        $50.00

Registration, contact: (231) 468-1231

RULES (Rev 10)

The following rules have been established to standardize the requirements for a recognized ELR Central World Record attempt, while managing 50 shooters in an efficient manner. Multiple shooters will be on the line simultaneously, waiting their turn to shoot. The order of shooters will be selected randomly prior to the beginning of the relay.

  1. The World Record will be 3 out of 3 direct impacts on a 36-inch square plate with no practice shots or sighters.
  2. One rifle per shooter for both attempts. Two shooters cannot share one rifle.
  3. Shooters will not shoot their rifles within 4 hours of this ELR World Record attempt; except for a 100-yard confirm zero.
  4. No limit on caliber, cartridge or bullet. No restriction on optics or aiming devices.
  5. Rifle weight limit of 50 pounds including anything attached to the rifle (optics, bipod, sling, etc.) No heavy Rail Guns or bolted down shooting systems.
  6. Shooters may have one spotter, and the shooter and spotter must stay as a team. Spotters can work with only one shooter for the day.
  7. Shooters are permitted to shoot and spot only once in a 4 hour period. A shooter from the first relay can spot for his spotter in the second relay so that both can shoot. Shooter and spotter cannot shoot in the same relay.
  8. There must be a minimum of 4 hours before shooters can attempt another World Record. For example, once in the morning, once in the afternoon.
  9. No more than two (2) World Record attempts in one day.
  10. The target will be 36 inches square. If there are hits on the target and there is a way to mark them on the monitor, it will be at the discretion of the Match Director to decide when the target should be re-painted.
  11. Targets will be located at distances from 1500-2500+ yards. Distance to the target will be announced on the day of the match and measured from the center of the firing line. The range will be verified +/- 5 yards with at least two (2) laser range finders.
  12. Shooters are still responsible for ranging their own targets from their shooting position on the line. ELR Central will provide rangefinders if shooters don’t have them.
  13. The Match Director will be impartial and will not coach or assist any shooters.
  14. The ROs will establish the shooting order and give range commands. The shooting order will be established by random draw.
  15. Shooting will be done from the any position, to include prone, sitting, kneeling or standing with a bipod or tripod. Shooters may have one rear bag to support the toe of the stock.
  16. Accommodations will be made for individuals with physical restrictions at the Match Director’s discretion.
  17. Shooters will be divided into relays. On command, all shooters and spotters in the relay will line up on the firing line behind their rifles and spotting scopes.
  18. There will be a time limit of 3 minutes per shooter once the individual command to fire is given.
  19. Once the shooter has been given the command to fire, no other person can assist or communicate with the shooter except the spotter.
  20. The next shooter on the line should be prepared to shoot immediately following the previous shooter and when commanded by the RO.
  21. “Impact” will be clearly announced by the Match Director or his designate for everyone to hear.
  22. Impacts on target must be a direct hit. Skip shots or ricochets will not be scored.
  23. Every attempt will be made to video all shooters for World Records. World Records must be witnessed and verified by 5 witnesses including the Match Director.
  24. Any existing record must be broken by at least 10 yards.
  25. If a shooter has a spotter, they will both be named as the “World Record Team.”
  26. If a shooter shoots without a spotter, he or she will be named as the “World Record Individual.”
  27. If more than one shooter scores 3 for 3 at a given distance, both shooters will hold the World Record until another shooter goes 3 for 3 at a longer distance.
  28. After a World Record setting performance, the exact range will be re-measured from the shooter’s shooting position to the target. The shooter’s rifle may also be weighed at this time to ensure that it is under the 50 pound limit.
  29. All shooters and spectators will be required to sign a liability release waiver.
  30. It is encouraged to pre-register and complete a waiver
  31. Additional administrative and range safety rules will be given at the pre-match range brief. Rifles will be cased or actions open with an empty chamber indicator flag.
  32. Match Director and ROs reserve the right to remove any shooter from the line and from the event for unsafe rifle handling.

ELR Central Personal Best Record Attempt

  1. If a shooter misses the first shot, he or she will be given two (2) more attempts to make an impact, but still within the 3 minute time limit. This will not be for record or certificate.
  2. Certificates will be awarded for making 3 for 3 impacts at the shooter’s longest distance. For example, 1500, 1600, 2000, etc.


Please contact the event organizer with any questions: Paul Phillips (734) 347-8024

Pauls Rifles







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What is the “Best Rifle?”

By Mark V. Lonsdale

As long as men have carried guns, they have been arguing about the best rifle, the best pistol, or the best caliber. Now with the proliferation of the internet, and Facebook in particular, seeing “What is the best rifle?” from rookie shooters has become a daily occurrence.

The obvious response should be “What do you want to use it for?” however, all too often the responses are either snarky sarcasm or a reflection of the ill-informed bias of an individual. If you ask an old codger for his opinion he will tell you a 30-06, or if you ask a guy who has just spent $7,000 on a custom rifle, he will preach the gospel of his rifle. You will also see groups of aficionados such as 6.5 Creedmoor nation, RPR owners, Tikka owners, Rem 700 owners, etc., who all have their own loyalties and biases.


Factory Rem 700 SPS .308 Win in a McMillan A3-5 fiberglass stock

So let’s see if we can give a more helpful response.

Application and biases aside, any firearm worth taking into the field should be reliable, well made, have a smooth action, and be accurate. If your life may depend on a particular firearm, it should be reliable above all else, and part of reliability includes quality manufacturing and quality parts. This would include personal defense firearms, military weapons, or rifles for hunting dangerous game.

For the competition shooter, whose life does not depend on the pistol or rifle, then he or she may be willing to sacrifice rugged reliability for extreme accuracy. An example would be a rifle built to extremely tight tolerances where any dirt or irregularity in ammunition would jam the action. But for IPSC, IDPA, 3-gun, and PRS competitors, they demand a balance of reliability and accuracy, knowing that a single malfunction will put them out of the top ten and out of the money.

So are all rifles well made? The simple answer is no. Apart from cheaply made rifles that are rough at best, there are also major name brand manufacturers who have allowed their quality control and quality assurance to suffer. Fortunately other factories have stepped into the precision rifle market and that competition always has a positive effect on new products. On the custom front, while there is now a significant number of riflesmiths turning out very high quality rifles, we still hear horror stories about self-professed gunsmiths who are little more than hacks and gun butchers. So do your homework.

This brings us to two valid axioms: “Caveat emptor – Buyer beware,” and, “You get what you pay for.”

Very rarely do the words “cheap” and “quality” go well together. Similarly, accuracy comes at a price. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve run into shooters on a public range claiming how they had just got a killer deal on a rifle or scope. With only one or two exceptions, their new rifles could not group 3 inches at 100 yards and the scopes and mounts were $30 worth of junk.

Back in the 1980s I could take a Rem 700 Heavy Varmint rifle, bed the action, float the barrel, and drop in a Jewell trigger and have pretty good shooter. Then, when I met Gale McMillan, I discovered the value of quality fiberglass stocks such as the M40A1. Things got even better when I met Robbie Barrkman of Robar Guns and he built me a custom sniper rifle, complete with a McMillan stock and slick NP3 finish on internal parts. I still have that rifle and it still shoots sub-MOA.

SR60D 1

Robar SR60D built for the author in 1986; built on a Rem 700 action, a match-grade barrel, bedded into a McMillan Baker Special prone stock. Badger M5 bottom metal with detachable magazine was added later. 

Fast forward to 2017 – I was exchanging emails this week with a very reputable rifle builder with an interest in having him build a rifle for me. Since I had an extra Rem 700 action and a Bartlein match-grade barrel, I asked if I could send these up and have him build a rifle. His response was that he no longer trued and blueprinted factory actions because it cost more to true the action than to just begin with a quality custom action such as the Kelbly Atlas. This made sense to me when I crunched the numbers, plus you were starting off with an action with features that a stock factory action simply did not.

A5 Atlas Bartlein 308

308 Win multi-purpose rifle built on a Kelbly Atlas Tactical action, Bartlein Heavy Palma barrel, in a McMillan A5 adjustable stock. Scope is the Nightforce ATACR 7-35x56mm

This also coincided with my own findings in recent years. My last four rifles were built on custom actions: a Kelbly Atlas Tactical action for a custom competition rifle; a Panda action for an F-TR rifle; a Stiller TAC 408 for a .375 CheyTac ELR rifle; and another Atlas Tactical for a 6.5 Creedmoor PRS rifle. Three things that all these actions have in common: they a very well built; they have extremely smooth actions; and they have all earned reputations for reliability, quality, and accuracy.

Xit-with-Phoenix (1)

Custom F-TR rifle built on a Stolle Panda action and McMillan XiT stock


Stiller TAC 408 action for an ELR rifle in .375 CheyTac. Image shows a .375 CT in comparison to a .308 Win round. 

Back to the topic of the best rifle.

Once the shooter has made a commitment to reliability, quality, and accuracy, then the question becomes, “What are you going to use it for?” Rifles are like any tools, in that there is always the right tool for the job. Just look in any hardware store for the proof – even the simple hammer comes in two dozen sizes and weights for various applications.

So if the answer is recreational shooting, then the choices are vast depending on range and accuracy requirements – 22LR plinking all the way up to 1,500 yard gong shooting. If it is for hunting, then the questions become big game or small game and at what ranges. There is a significant difference between small deer in a woodland environment versus big elk in Wyoming or grizzlies in Alaska. If it is for competition, then the question is what form of competition – NRA Highpower, F-TR, PRS, 3-gun, benchrest, ELR?

Is there one gun that can do it all – plinking, hunting, and competition? Yes, but within reason and with some compromise. There is a lot of versatility in a well-built .223 AR-15 or .308 Win bolt gun or match-grade gas gun. That said, the best rifles are the ones that are purpose-built for a particular use, but for example, a well build PRS rifle in 6mm or 6.5mm could also be used for hunting and long range recreational shooting.

ADM UIC Mod2 with Leupold

American Defense Manufacturing .223 topped with a Leupold 2-7x and a ADM detachable scope mount. 

For the rookie looking for a first rifle that will be competitive in a number of disciplines, and does not want to reload ammunition, then the choices would be .308 Win, 6.5 Creedmoor, or .223 Rem. Why these three calibers? Because there is a variety of affordable factory match-grade ammunition available from Federal, Black Hills, or Hornady. All three calibers are available in very accurate bolt guns or gas guns on AR platforms. Because they are military calibers, .308 Win and .223 (5.56mm) are the only calibers you can shoot in F-TR and PRS Tactical division, and both can also be used for hunting.

A3-5 NF 5-25x56

Highly versatile .308 Win rifle that could be used for PRS competition, hunting, or just recreational target shooting. Stock is the McMillan A3-5 adjustable and the scope is the Nightforce ATACR 5-25x56mm FFP

Once the shooter makes the decision to go with one of the more exotic high performance calibers such as 6mm Creedmoor, 6×47, 6.5 GAP, 260 Rem, and 28 Nosler, then he or she is committing to hand loading for optimum performance. Most medium sized deer or hogs can also be taken with these calibers. It is only when you step up to long range, open country, big game that the 300 WinMag and 7mm Mag come into their own.

Then there is the discussion of the best rifles for Extreme Long Range (ELR) shooting. Even the best shooters in ELR cannot agree on the best caliber or rifle, but there are some known facts to consider. Basically the ELR shooter is looking for the bullet with the best performance, in terms of ballistic coefficient and velocity, at extended ranges. And then building the rifle best suited to that caliber, chamber pressures and anticipated muzzle velocity. While a rookie ELR shooter can cut his or her teeth on 300 WinMag out to 1,500 yards, the game really begins with 338 Lapua Magnum, out to 2,500 yards, and quickly jumps to 375 CheyTac and 416 Barrett for 3,500 yards. Keep in mind that with each step up, the cost of rifles, optics, and ammunition can increase disproportionately. Where 300 WinMag may cost $1.50 a round, 375 CheyTac will be $7.00 per round.

High Country Stiller Action 375

Hill Country Rifles .375 CheyTac built on a Stiller TAC 408 action and McMillan A5 Super Magnum stock. 

To conclude, this article may have created more questions than answers, but hopefully more informed questions. After committing to quality and accuracy, the biggest consideration is the intended application and range; and it may be that there is more than one “best rifle” in your future. For most of us, we have lighter weight hunting rifles, heavier multipurpose rifles, bolt guns and gas guns, and really heavy competition rifles for F-TR and ELR. In addition, while a factory rifle may meet all your needs when you are starting out, as you seek more performance and greater accuracy you will gravitate to custom gunsmiths and custom rifles. You may also come to realize that purchasing a complete custom rifle from a reputable builder may work out more cost effective than trying to upgrade a factory rifle.

Finally, and at the risk of contradicting myself, there is a lot of wisdom in the old saying, “Beware of the man who only owns one rifle.” Why? Because he probably knows how to use it. So even if you own multiple high grade rifles, you will find yourself gravitating to the one that shoots the best. The most accurate rifle will invariably become your go-to rifle.


Posted in Extreme Long Range Shooting, F-TR, Mark Lonsdale, Precision Rifle Shooting, Rifle Shooting, Sniper, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kestrel 5700 Elite AB Simplified

By Mark V. Lonsdale

With new technology streaming into our lives every day, it can become a little overwhelming and intimidating for many. Fortunately we have had computers for 40 years and Smart phones for the past 15 years, so most have come to accept both the burdens and the benefits to our lives.

Just as the Smart phone has become indispensable to our personal and professional lives, so too have the technological developments for long range shooting. One such item is the Kestrel wind meter, which has evolved from a simple wind meter back in the 1990s to a highly sophisticated weather station and ballistics solver today. But with these multiple functions comes increased complexity.

A3-5 Kestrel

Scroll back to 3 OCT 2017 where TRS did a short article on how to collect the necessary data points to initially program the Kestrel Elite. In this article we will look at some very basic functionality. This is not a substitute for reading the Users Guide, but it will help to demystify the functions for a future owner.

Kestrel Numbered

The Kestrel does not come with these numbers, but they help to illustrate the basic functions. #1 is on and off. #2 is the Options button used to change screens or Exit a function. #3 is the Adjust left and right arrows to increase or decrease a value, for example target distance. #4 is the Scroll up and down arrows to scroll through the menu; and #5 is the Select or enter button. The Link logo indicates that the Elite has Bluetooth and can be matched to a Smart phone or iPad which makes for easier, remote reading in the field or on the range.  

Modes 3

The above images show the modes of the Kestrel. For the most part, once you have programmed your rifles, the screen on the left will show the rifle selected, in this case my Atlas 308 Win shooting Berger 185 Juggernauts. The top number is the come-ups for distance and the lower number is the left windage. The center image shows the Kestrel in Ballistics mode where it is most of the time, since you don’t need to know the wind speed, only the adjustment for wind. But by switching Mode to Weather you can get the actual wind values.



Once the shooters has selected Weather mode, just hit Select to be able to read the actual wind speed. Note that the Select button now becomes the move to Settings button. 

Atlas 3

New guns, or various loads for the same rifle, are entered through the Manage Guns menu. On the left it shows my Atlas 308 Win with Berger 185 Juggernauts with a muzzle velocity of 2710 fps, and a G7 BC of 0.284. As you scroll down you see additional info such as bullet weight of 185 grains, bullet diameter of .308, bullet length, scope height above bore, etc.

Over the next few months I will continue to add short articles related to the various ballistic technologies such as Kestrels, Garmin 701, Rangefinders, and supporting Ballistics Analytics. But if you have any specific questions, Applied Ballistics has online tech support, as do all the manufacturers. I will also post additional tips on the Tactical Rifle Shooters facebook page.

A5 Atlas Bartlein 308

The Atlas Tactical .308 Win mentioned in this article. It has a 30″ Bartlein barrel for 1,000 yard shooting, a McMillan A5 stock with 3-way adjustable butt-plate, Badger M5 bottom metal, and a Nightforce ATACR 7-35x56mm scope.



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The Beginners Guide to Long Range Shooting – Part 2. The Importance of Good Ammunition

By Mark V. Lonsdale

Author’s Note: This is not a how-to guide to reloading, but it will get the novice thinking about quality over quantity.

When competing at the national and international levels in many sports, first and second place are often separated by a fraction of an inch or a split second. Gold medals are won or lost by margins so small that high speed cameras and sensitive electronics are needed to determine the winner. Shooting is no different. Just try judging groups in a benchrest shooting competition.

In several longer range shooting disciplines, many shooters can shoot perfect scores, so the winner is often determined by X counts. In benchrest, groups are so tight it looks like one hole. Even in the speed shooting sports, where a single miss over a dozen stages puts a competitor out of the top ten, the winner is often decided by fractions of a second.

So what separates the national teams and champions from all the other shooters?

It is safe to assume that everyone’s rifle at the national level is a highly accurate precision shooting machine with a match grade barrel, custom fitted stock, fine trigger, and superlative optics. In practice sessions, most of the top shooters can hold the 10 ring consistently and rack up a high number of Xs — but can they do it on match day?

Kelly Derek

Kelly McMillan with current World Champion, Derek Rodgers, and his winning F-TR rifle in a McMillan XiT stock with Nightforce optics

To quote the world F-TR champion, “Matches are won in two places – on the loading bench and between the ears.”

As seen with many top athletes who “almost made it,” their physical conditioning was superb but their mental game failed them in the finals. Very good shooters can also succumb to match nerves by not performing well on game day under self imposed match pressures. (A good article for another day.) In this article we will look at winning on the loading bench and what constitutes good ammunition.

Simply put, if it ain’t accurate it ain’t good. This is true for rifles and ammunition. So assuming you have a rifle that is capable of 0.5 MOA accuracy, let’s focus on the ammo. A round of ammunition is comprised of four components: the case, the bullet, the powder, and the primer. All four are important and all contribute to accuracy. So what is accuracy?

As a teenager, my first shooting coach told me that, “Accuracy is the Product of Uniformity,” and that advice still resonates with me today. The key word is “uniformity,” often expressed as consistency, but consistency is also the product of uniformity.

MVL Accuracy

Uniformity in ammunition begins with each component and extends up to the actual hand-loading process and final product. Shooters who are serious about accuracy will take a box of 100 bullets and weigh them into lots, for example, the ones that are exactly 200 grains, the ones slightly under, and the ones slightly over. These will be kept in lots and loaded in batches to keep them all together. In F-Class and F-TR you shoot three sets of 20 rounds plus sighters, so it pays to have a uniform batch of 80 rounds for match day. PRS shooters shoot even more, with large matches requiring 200-250 rounds of good quality ammunition.

Peterson Berger

A winning combination for F-TR – Peterson match-grade brass and Berger Bullets 

The brass will also be hand weighed for consistency, inspected for any defects, and sorted into lots. This can be made easier by beginning with quality match-grade brass from companies such as Peterson or Lapua. But even with new brass you still need to debur and chamfer the necks inside and out, and some shooters will run a mandrel to make sure the neck is uniformly round.

When you begin reloading your fired cases, you will want to keep them in batches of 1x fired, 2x fired, 3x fired, etc. But as you shoot and resize the cases, the brass will extrude and elongate, requiring that you measure and trim the brass. Again, it will be necessary to debur and chamfer the necks for consistency.

For the ELR shooter, Peterson .375 brass and Cutting Edge bullets in 352 grains and 400 grains

As a novice or recreational shooter, it is not necessary to spend a lot of time on case prep for many forms of shooting. But as you get serious and progress from club level, to state level, to the national level, you will find yourself investing more time in case prep, neck turning, concentricity checks, and load development. Be assured that all the other top shooters are seeking that fraction of an inch advantage at 1,000 yards.

Primers are the least complicated part but serious reloaders will still experiment with different primers. Beginning with match-grade primers is a good start. Powder should be kept in a cool dry environment, but to get consistency requires staying with the same lot number. For example, if you buy powder by the pound, you will only get 160 loads for 308 Win and half that for magnum cartridges. So when you change to a new can you may be changing lot numbers and see variances in burn rate. Therefore you may have 10 rounds at one muzzle velocity and another 10 at a slower or faster velocity with powder from the new can. The obvious solution is to buy in bulk if you plan to shoot a lot, and competitive shooters shoot a lot, either practicing, in matches, or working up loads.

When measuring powder into the cartridge you have two choices – a powder measure that drops powder by volume every time you throw the handle, or hand weighing each individual powder charge. Again, you can get reasonable accuracy with a quality powder measure with a micrometer adjustment, but you will get more uniformity and consistency from weighing each charge individually.


Left to right: 308 Win Berger 185 Juggernaut, Berger 200 grain Hybrid, .375 CT Cutting Edge 352 grain, all in Peterson match-grade brass 

So how can you tell you have quality ammunition?

The first and obvious validation is the groups on target. If your loads are grouping under a half-inch at 100 yards, you are in pretty good shape. But it is possible to have good groups at 100 yards that open up at longer ranges. This can be attributed to variations in muzzle velocity. If there is a significant spread in velocity, then the group will open up vertically at longer distances – faster bullets hitting high and slower ones low. So in addition to tight grouping on paper, a reliable chronograph is essential for load development. It is also essential to have an accurate muzzle velocity for each rifle and load to input into ballistic analytic programs and your Kestrel.

Left: Labradar doppler chronograph. Right: Kestrel Elite with Applied Ballistics program

To conclude, if you begin with quality match-grade components you will have a high probability of producing quality ammunition. Factory match ammo is good for events requiring 1 to 2 MOA accuracy, such as steel plate matches, but for 0.5 MOA precision accuracy and ELR you will need to hand load your ammunition. And don’t think of hand loading as a chore or drudgery. There is a lot of satisfaction to be derived from producing very accurate rounds for competition or hunting, and especially for ELR shooting. Just be sure to keep a detailed log of your load development, powder charges, seating depths, cartridge overall lengths (COAL), groups, and muzzle velocities.

For actual instruction on reloading, invest in a good reloading manual, read the instructions that come with your dies and tools, and there’s no shortage of helpful, instructional videos on YouTube.


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Equipment Checklist for FTR

By Mark V. Lonsdale

In a previous article we discussed recreational shooters turning up at the range with no tools to tighten their scope mounts or action bolts. I’ve also been on the range when shooters had forgotten their ammunition or left other critical gear at home. For these shooters it is just an annoying inconvenience, but for a serious competitive shooter it can blow the whole match.

A5 Line Equipment

On the 600 yard line for a mid-range FTR match. Rifle is a Kelbly Atlas with a 30″ Bartlein Heavy Palma in a McMillan A5 fiberglass stock with 3-way adjustable butt-plate  

After driving several hours, spending money on a hotel, meals, and paying a registration fee, the last thing you want is to to find that you’ve forgotten something. And yet at every competition you will hear at least one competitor griping about something they forgot. Believe it or not, one competitor had even forgotten his competition rifle. The previous day at the range he had his .22LR training rifle in the same case he used for his FTR rifle, and at zero dark early, headed out the door for a match, he forgot to switch rifles. He just grabbed the case and headed to the range. This is why you need a pre-competition ritual of checking all you gear the night before.

So with this in mind, here is a checklist of essential and useful items.

FTR Competition Checklist

  • Rifle w/ scope and bipod (check torque on bolts and screws the night before)
  • Tools to adjust butt plate and check action bolts
  • Cleaning rod
  • Spare trigger
  • Rifle case to protect the rifle
  • Ammo in suitable ammo boxes
  • Chamber flag / empty chamber indicator
  • Ear protection (plugs and/or muffs)
  • Shooting glasses
  • Wind meter / Kestrel
  • Cart (where needed)
  • Rain cover for scope, rifle, ammunition

On the Line:

  • Shooting mat
  • Front bipod pad / board (and spare bipod)
  • Rear bag with extra spacer boards for sloping berms (Dead Bottom bag)
  • Small Clipboard for score card
  • Pen / Pencil
  • Timer / Stopwatch
  • Chair / stool
  • Spotting scope / scope stand

Comfort Items:

  • Hat and sunglasses
  • Rain gear
  • Sun block
  • Mosquito repellant (where required)
  • Small sweat towel
  • Water / Drinks
  • Snacks


Note: Special thanks to Derek Rodgers and Paul Phillips for the additional tips and input 


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New Rifle Checks & Pre-Range Rituals

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been on the range and run into a shooter who was having trouble zeroing his rifle, and often a brand new rifle. A good number of these were attributed to the scope being installed incorrectly, and in particular, loose rings or bases. It several cases the action bolts were also loose allowing the action and barrel to jump about in the stock. So let’s look at a few checks you should run on a new rifle, plus each time you clean the rifle, and before entering a competition or going hunting.

When you receive a new rifle, either factory or custom built, the first thing you should do is remove the barreled action from stock to ensure everything looks good and that the metal to stock fit is of acceptably close tolerance. If it is supposed to be aluminum pillar bedded, then check that the pillars are there. This will affect the toque values for the action bolts.

Aluminum pillars

Aluminum pillars in a McMillan A5 fiberglass stock

If the rifle has an aftermarket trigger such as Timney or Jewel, this is the time to set the trigger pull since it cannot be done with the rifle in the stock. Keep in mind that both of these trigger can be delivered with the trigger set at about 8 ounces, a fraction of what you may be used to with a factory 4+ pound trigger. For a Jewel trigger it is screw #3 in the instructions; for a Timney Calvin Elite it is the lower screw on the front of the trigger frame, but for either, be sure to read the instructions before making adjustments.

Timney CalvinElite 2

Timney Calvin Elite trigger mounted under a Kelbly’s Atlas Tactical Action

Next, replace the barreled action in the stock and torque the action bolts. I use 65 in-lbs for fiberglass stocks with aluminum pillar bedding. A factory wood or plastic stock without pillars would be considerable lower, 35-45 in-lbs, but check with the manufacturers before going gorilla on your action bolts. Next take a business card and run it the length of the barrel between the barrel and the forend to ensure that the barrel is fully floated. This also works to get any debris out of the forend channel in the field.

Using a business card to verify that the barrel is floated; (R) torquing the action bolts

Cycle the bolt and trigger to ensure everything is working as expected. Set the safety and pull the trigger to ensure that the safety works; then release the safety to see if the action fires. This has been a recall issue in the past, where rifles could fire when the safety was released.

At this point you can mount and torque the scope rail, rings, and mount the scope. (See last month’s article on scope mounting). Ensure that the scope reticle is perfectly vertical and plumbed to the rifle.

At the Range:

If the rifle has an adjustable cheek rest, set the cheek rest so that your eye lines up perfectly with the scope. Bore sight the rifle at 25 yards, then zero the rifle to shoot about an inch low at 25 yards. This should put you very close to dead on at 100 yards. Once you are zeroed at 100 yards, loosen the turrets and zero them out so that your elevation is “0” and windage “0.” If the scope has a bullet drop compensator, then set the elevation for “1” or “100.”

If you are a serious long range shooter, you will need to chronograph your chosen load in this rifle since you will need the muzzle velocity (MV), ballistic coefficient (BC), and scope above bore height to generate a ballistics solutions chart or input the rifle’s data into your Kestrel. Keep in mind that your printed data is only valid for the environmental conditions at the time and elevation when you zeroed the rifle.  Changes in temperature and altitude can have a noticeable effect at longer ranges, but the Kestrel will adjust your firing solutions for environmental conditions and wind.


The Kestrel 5700 Elite with AB ballistic firing solutions has become the standard for long range shooters and hunters 

Rifle Checks Prior to Competitions or Hunting

Any competitor or hunter who travels to compete or hunt will know the importance of checking bolts, screws, and zero after a long trip. Whether driving or flying, screws can vibrate loose and a scope can go out of zero, especially if some ham-fisted baggage handler decides to play shot-put with your rifle case or it falls off the conveyor belt. Many shooters will remove their scopes and hand-carry them, but this will also require re-zeroing at the first opportunity.

Since you cannot assume someone will have the tools you’ll need, here are a few suggestions for a small tool kit. When rifle shooting I carry a small collection of Allen wrenches and Torx wrenches to deal with scope rings, rails, bases, and turrets, plus a 1/2″ wrench for the scope ring bolts. With handguns, I carry Allen wrenches and screw drivers for sights and grip screws. Pennies and dimes also see a lot of action with the local shooters zeroing their slot-turret sporting scopes before hunting season.

Small tool kit with essential Allen wrenches, Torx wrenches and 1/2″ wrench


Just because a rifle is new out of the box or fresh from the custom rifle builder, you cannot assume that all screws and bolts are correctly tightened and torqued. And be assured, any looseness defeats the prime principle of accuracy – “Accuracy is the Product of Uniformity.” For a rifle/scope system to perform as expected, there can’t be any inconsistency in fit or torque values.  So provided that the rifle system and ammunition meet the standards of uniformity, then the rest is up to the shooter to do his or her part. Uniformity of grip, stock pressure, shooting position, and trigger control are of even greater importance than the rifle. A good shooter with a 1 MOA rifle will out shoot a mediocre shooter with a ½ MOA rifle.


Preparing a new rifle for F-TR competition. Atlas action, Bartlein 30″ barrel, McMillan A5 fiberglass stock with adjustable cheek piece and 3-way adjustable butt plate, Phoenix Precision bipod, topped with a Nightforce ATACR 7-35x56mm scope.


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