Tuesday Tech Tip – Labradar and Light Loads

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU

The training never stops and the goal is to learn something everyday. Yes, we have all learned that the radical left social democrats are willing to destroy our 1st and 2nd amendment rights (free speech and the right to bear arms respectively), but we have known that for some time. So let’s focus on shooting.

375 CT Labradar2

The Labradar is a pivotal part of TRS load development and competition preparation

Today I was doing load development with my Marlin 1895SBL 45-70 Guide Gun, and hit an anomaly that I had not seen. When doing load development for hunting or tactical rifles, I usually begin with proven factory ammunition to get a baseline muzzle velocity (MV).  In this case I began with the Hornady LeveRevolution 325 FTX that I had tested in the past. Three years ago I had tested several factory 45-70 ammunitions and the Hornady 325 FTX was the most accurate, but still kicks like a mule.

325 FTX


Top: Marlin 1894 .44 Magnum. Bottom: Marlin 1895SBL 45-70 Guide Gun 

Running a Labradar, the Hornady factory ammo logged an average MV of 1,887 fps and my handloads of 50 grains of IMR-3031 came in at 1,735 fps. The problem, and focus of this tech tip, began when I tried to chronograph some light practice loads.

I began by loading 41 grains of IMR-3031 with the hope of coming up with a load that was pleasant to shoot and chrono’ed around 1,500 fps. So you can imagine my surprise when I began getting readouts of 3,000+ fps, or no read-out at all, even though the recoil was considerably reduced. The only thing for frustrating than an “unable to read” on the Labradar, is a reading of twice what it should be. I had only 10 rounds loaded up with this light load so never was successful at getting an accurate MV.


Hornady 300 grain hollow points loaded down to 41-50 grains of IMR-3031 for light practice loads. Will be working up loads with VihtaVuori N130 and N530 in the near future.

Thinking about this conundrum on the drive home, I had an inkling of the problem, but shot off an email to Richard at Labradar just to confirm my suspicion. He promptly responded with the advice to set the Labradar on pistol mode for anticipated muzzle velocities below 1,600 fps. Problem solved. So I now have additional light loads loaded up and ready for the next trip to the range.

Conclusion – Tech Tip: Move your Labradar from rifle mode to pistol mode when chrono’ing rifle loads below 1,600 fps. This would include 44 magnum, 45 LC, or any other cowboy action shooting loads.

Stay tuned for future 45-70 load development with VihtaVuori N130 & N530


Labradar 45-70


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.243 Winchester – Peterson Brass and the Berger 109 Hybrid

By Mark V. Lonsdale

Growing up hunting, the .243 Winchester was one of the most popular light deer rifles. It was also a popular caliber for long range target competition shooting. The Sierra 107 SMK was the most popular 600 and 1,000 yard competition bullet, and is still a contender to this day. But this was before the 6.5 Creedmoor became the hot new kid on the block.


Robar SR60 built on a Sako action with a 24″ fast twist barrel. Stock is the McMillan M40 hunting and tactical stock. Scope is a Leupold Mark 4 M1 3.5-10x40mm

But be assured, .243 Winchester is still a handy light hunting rifle and long range tack driver. This week I dusted off my trusty Robar SR60 SAKO .243 Win to begin evaluating the Peterson .243 brass and Berger’s 109 Hybrid


Berger 6mm/.243 109 grain Long Range Hybrids loaded into Peterson .243 Win. brass


It is still early days, but the Berger 109 Hybrids are producing consistent sub-MOA groups as I work up a load. In the past I’ve found the sweet spot for the heavier .243 bullets around 2,850 fps. This is also the first time I’ve worked with the Peterson brass, but as expected, it is meeting all my expectations. I’m currently running Peterson brass in .308 Win., 6.5 CM, .338 Lapua, and .375 CheyTac with flawless results, therefore looking forward to their pending release of .300 WinMag cartridges.

Stay tuned for additional results from the .243 Win. testing



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The Ideal Truck Gun

By Mark V. Lonsdale

Warning: Be sure to check out state and local laws and ordinances when storing or transporting firearms in a vehicle.

Let’s first define a truck gun. For anyone who has worked on a ranch, it’s a handy rifle that can be used when needed to control pests such as coyotes or wolves. It is not your best long range hunting rifle or prized safari rifle, but a less expensive utility rifle. It is selected for a balance of size, caliber, economy, and rugged reliability, and one that you don’t mind getting a little beat up.

For those old enough to remember, in rural areas, 40 years ago, it was not unusual to see a gun rack in the back window of many pickup trucks. Teens could even take their rifles and shotguns to school so that they could go hunting right after school. Some high schools even provided secure storage for rifles and shotguns while the owners were in class. This was back when there were no “gun free zones” and no mass school shootings. Go figure!

Unfortunately society has changed, and not for the better. It is now unwise to have firearms in plain sight unless on private property or headed out to hunt. So a “truck gun” now is more a carbine sized rifle that is more easily hidden behind the back seat of a pickup.

Probably the most ubiquitous carbine for the past 100 years has been the 30-30 Winchester or Marlin – and these are still viable candidates. But given the choice, many shooters prefer bolt action rifles which offer a wider variety of calibers. Even though I own and use two lever actions, I still prefer a bolt action rifle for every day carry.

Without getting into an exhaustive list of rifles, Remington and Ruger both offer light hunting rifles with 20” barrels in a variety of common calibers. One consideration I give to a truck gun is the availability of ammunition anywhere in the country. Along with 30-30 and 30-06, and without getting into the belted magnums such as 300 Win Mag, the most common light rifle calibers are .308 Win, .243 Win, .223 Rem, and now 6.5 Creedmoor. We are talking ammo that you can buy at not only gun shops but farm supply stores, gas stations, and bait shops in many outdoor-centric rural areas.

Two rifles that meet my requirements for a truck gun are the Ruger M77 Scout in .308 Win. and the Marlin 1895SBL in 45-70. With a lifetime of shooting .308 Win. in the military, for tactical training, and in long range competitions, the handy 18” barreled Ruger Scout met my requirements for a rugged little rifle, complete with detachable 5 and 10-round magazines. It also reminded me of the WWII British .303 Jungle Carbine which I had enjoyed shooting in my teens. Topped with a scope the Ruger can reach out to 500 yards with ease, but is still primarily a short to mid-range rifle.

Ruger M77 Scout 308

Ruger M77 Scout in .308 Win. with both 5 and 10 round magazines. Scope is a Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm with CDS dial calibrated for 100-600 yards. Running Black Hills 180 grain AccuBonds.

For a saddle gun I first selected a lever action Marlin 1894 in 44 Magnum, but was less than impressed by the power and performance of what is essentially a pistol caliber. So when Marlin came out with the 45-70 Guide gun I was at the front of the line. The 45-70 is not a long range hunting cartridge, but inside 200 yards the Hornady 325 grain FTX bullets hit hard.  With the appropriate bullet it could also be used for any dangerous game from grizzlies to Cape buffalo.


Top: Marlin 1894 .44 Magnum. Lower: Marlin 1895SBL Guide gun in 45-70 with an intermediate eye relief Leupold scope. Both are a handy 36″ long  

An additional popular truck gun is one of the many “black gun” AR clones in .223 Rem. 6.5 Creedmoor, or .308 Win. If ranching on the border, or areas that may be frequented by drug runners, border smugglers, or pot growers, then the high capacity AR offers more rounds, plus a number of external options including scopes and light mounts.

To conclude, the ideal truck gun is like the ideal every day carry (EDC) handgun or knife. It should be ruggedly reliable, reasonably accurate, and of a convenient size to where it is not a hassle to take it everywhere. Most modern pickup trucks have enough room behind the back seat to stow a rifle or shotgun. Remember, never leave guns, wallets, handbags, laptops, cell phones, or other valuables in plain sight in an unattended vehicle. Finally, be sure you are in compliance with state and local laws and ordinances when storing or transporting firearms.


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The Importance of a Pre-Range / Pre-Shooting Ritual

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU

Over the years, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen fellow shooters and competitors perform poorly or blow a match because they forgot a critical piece of equipment or failed to prepare adequately. I’ve also lost count of how many times students have turned up at my precision rifle classes with a rifle that had not been zeroed and lacking the tools to zero their own scopes. This goes back to the old adage of, Poor Preparation and Planning Produces Poor Performance. In one case a shooter had driven across country for a competition only to realize he had left his rifle bolt on his work bench at home.

Every athlete in every sport has a pre-game ritual that he or she goes through before a competition. This ritual has both a practical value and a psychological value. The practical value is that no critical piece of equipment or procedure is missed, while the psychological value is putting the athlete in a winning frame of mind. Knowing that you have checked all the boxes, bolsters confidence in your readiness to perform.

This is the same reason that the military utilizes checklists for mission preparation and high risk activities, especially where every step can be mission critical. Consider something as mundane as checking the gas gauge. Whether it is a vehicle, a boat, or a helicopter, no one wants to get half way to the target only to run out of gas and become stranded in enemy territory.

Sample checklist page from the STTU Sniper Data Book

Whether for practice or competition, no one wants to turn up at the range only to find they have forgotten their bolt, ammo, or bipod. The same is true for a hunting trip. And the further one has driven to the range, competition, or hunt sight, the more frustrating a simple error can become. So let’s start with ensuring a rifle is ready to shoot.

M6 2018

All the screws and bolts that should be checked and torqued 

As soon as you take delivery of a new rifle there are four things you want to check. 1. All the bolts and screws are secure. 2. The scope is correctly mounted with the correct eye-relief. 3. The bolt and safety function smoothly. 4. The scope and rifle are zeroed at the first opportunity. All too many novice shooters have the gun shop do all this for them, but it is important that rifle owners know how to do all this for themselves.

Fix-it-Sticks and Pelican box with small tools essential to have on the range


Before headed to the range, ensure that you have all the tools necessary to check action bolts and scope mount screws, and that you have the Allen wrench for zeroing the scope turrets. In your range bag you will need your ear and eye protection, staple gun and staples, along with targets or patch materials. Lastly you will need ammo, a bipod, a rear bag, and a shooting mat. It is also a good idea to carry a cleaning rod in case you have to knock a squib load or debris out of the bore.

While rifle prep and zeroing is often done off a shooting bench, it is recommended that the zero be confirmed from the same position that one would use in competition or in the field. This is most often from the prone bipod position.


Team mate Derek Rodgers shooting prone, checking zero and muzzle velocity, prior to the 2019 King of 2 Miles 

When it’s time to shoot, there are two important rituals: 1. Setting up the shooting position; and, 2. Developing a firing solution.

An ideal shooting position is one where the shooter is in a comfortable natural position and the rifle can be aligned with the target in a neutral position. This means that when the rifle is on its bipod and rear bag, the shooter could take his or her hands off the rifle and it remains on target. This ensures that the shooter is not straining to hold the rifle on target. This is further confirmed by dry-firing a few times to ensure the cross-hair is not moving off target with each trigger squeeze. Two additional tasks of prepping the rifle are snugging down the friction adjustment on the bipod and ensuring the scope turrets are zeroed. The ammo and data book should also be placed conveniently near the bolt hand.

2019 Mark Lonsdale

.416 Barrett ELR rifle sitting “neutral” on a Phoenix bipod and rear bag. This rifle is built on a BAT action with a custom Bartlein barrel, McMillan Beast-2 stock, topped with a NF ATACR 7-35x56mm FFP MOAR scope. Firing solutions with Kestrel 5700 Elite with AB ballistics.  

Developing a firing solution begins well before moving to the line to shoot. Assuming that you already have your rifle data in your Kestrel 5700 Elite (bullet, BC, MV, twist, etc.), the firing solution requires several steps after accurately ranging the target.

  1. Calibrate the internal compass
  2. Enter the latitude
  3. Capture or enter the direction of fire (DoF)
  4. Capture or enter the direction of wind
  5. Ensure that the environmental functions are active (not locked)
  6. Spin your 5700 to clear and update the environmentals
  7. Capture the wind speed
  8. Read the firing solution

If you are “old school” and don’t use a Kestrel, or similar device for an accurate firing solution, then there are two things you need to be able to calculate – the distance to the target and the wind. Assuming that the rifle and ammunition meet the requirements of a “precision rifle” and the shooter has proven shooting ability, the two most common reasons that shooters miss the target are failure to accurately range the target, and failure to read the wind.

FCSA Targets

It is not possible to estimate ranges to these targets without a very accurate laser rangefinder. That is the science. The art is estimating the wind at those distances. 

When shooting at 100 to 300 yards, a shooter has considerable latitude when “estimating” range and wind and getting rounds on target.  But when shooting out passed 600 yards, range estimation needs to become more than just an educated guess, and out passed 1,500 yards it needs to be even more accurate. Fortunately modern laser rangefinders have solved the issue of range but reading wind remains a combination of art and science.


Take the time to make a checklist of what you need to take to the range. This becomes even more important before heading across country for a competition or hunting trip. For SWAT snipers, this checklist is an absolute necessity not an option.

See you on the range.


MVL Accuracy

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The Project Rifle – .375 H&H

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU

Whether for FT-R, PRS, long range, ELR, or hunting, every custom built rifle begins with a fleeting thought deep in the brain-housing group. Then it moves to a little online research looking for similar rifles, but not finding exactly what you envisioned.

At this point you have two choices: 1/ dump the whole project on the work bench of a custom riflesmith, or, 2/ begin collecting the component parts.


The first step in my next project rifle — a Stiller’s Predator magnum action.

The primary parts of a custom rifle are the action, the barrel, and the stock. Since one or more of these components may have one to six months manufacturing lead time, depending on their back-orders, it is best to order all three when you make the decision to pull the trigger on this project.

But before all that, the first mental exercise is to decide on the purpose for the rifle – hunting, tactical, or competition – and if the latter, what form of competition. Taking a look at what the champions are shooting will indicate the ideal caliber for that application. If for hunting, the type, size, and relative danger of game will drive the caliber. Once you know the caliber and ideal bullet weight, the next step is to select the action and barrel.

Rem 700 375 HH

This Rem 700 .375 H&H Magnum was the inspiration for my current project rifle. I’ve always kept a .375 H&H in my safe just on the off-chance of an invitation to head to the dark continent. But I sold this one to a local guy who had won a safari hunt in Africa. This got me thinking about the ultimate .375 H&H

Jack-Morin Rem700 375HH

The above Rem 700 .375 H&H fulfills its destiny in South Africa 

In the past few years I’ve had considerable success with Stiller’s Actions so selecting the Predator magnum long action was an easy decision. Similarly, I shoot Bartlein barrels in competition and prefer barrels a little on the heavy side, so after talking to Frank at Bartlein, I settled on a 24″ Bull Sporter contour. I also knew I wanted a fiberglass stock that would be stable in all weather conditions, so after looking at McMillan’s range of hunting stocks, settled on their Tactical Hunter. This stock was selected partly because it had an adjustable cheek-rest to facilitate moving between a scope and iron sights.

McMillan Tactical Hunter

The McMillan Tactical Hunter is available with or without an adjustable cheek-rest and in a variety of colors and camouflage. 

The other components of a custom rifle include the trigger, scope, scope rings, scope level, bipod, and sling – so stay tuned as this project comes together.


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Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25x56mm FFP

By Mark V. Lonsdale

Looking for a top quality scope for long range shooting? Check out the Leupold Mark 5HD – a truly awesome piece of glass for the serious shooter, complete with a lifetime warranty. 


Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25x56mm FFP with PR-1MOA reticle and 120 MOA or 34.9 MILs elevation range 


Leupold Mark 5HD mounted on a .308 Win. F-TR rifle. Atlas Tactical action with a 30″ Bartlein Heavy Palma barrel, 1:10″ twist, in a McMillan A5 3-way adjustable stock. Ammunition is Berger 185 Juggernauts in Peterson brass with Varget powder. 

The Mark 5HD is available in MOA or MILs with a variety of reticles. I’m running the Tremor 3 reticle in my MIL scopes and the newer PR-1MOA in my MOA scope.

Leupold PR-1 MOA

Leupold PR-1MOA reticle shown at 10X. With the Mark 5HD I do most of my shooting at 20-25X 


Leupold Mark 5HD with rock solid Mark 4 35mm rings 

For more information on the Mark 5HD, check out https://www.leupold.com/



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Reloading Tech Tip

By Mark V. Lonsdale

“Accuracy is the Product of Uniformity”

Looking for that added precision or tighter groups? Do you batch your bullets?

Even with match-grade bullets you will find a variance in weight ranging two or three tenths of a grain in either direction. Hunting bullets can have an even wide range in weights, but this is less critical since the precision/accuracy requirement is more forgiving.


One of the useful tools for batching bullets is inexpensive fishing tackle boxes or the screw and nail organizers found at hardware stores or online.

In the example above, I started with a bulk box of 500 Sierra 168 SMKs. You can see by the labels that these ranged from 167.7 grains to 168.2 grains. The variation is not important if you load and shoot these in batches. You can see by the empty compartment that I had just loaded all the 167.9 grain bullets. The reason there are two 167.9 compartments is the bullets were two different coloration so possibly two different alloys or production runs.

The bullets red labeled low left are ones that fall outside of the 0.5 grain range or have some other noticeable blemish. The ones that are exactly 168 or 168.1 grains I save for competition but there is no noticeable difference in group size between 167.8 and 168.2 as long as they are loaded into batches of the same weight.

Peterson 308 Berger185


Stay tuned for additional reloading tech tips.


MVL Accuracy Uniformity

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Sierra 195 TMK & VihtaVuori N560

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU

Whether it’s called social distancing, stay at home, or shelter in place, it doesn’t mean you can’t get to the range. With reduced air travel and postponement of competitions, I have definitely had more time to test bullets, powders, and loads that I don’t routinely use.

Shooting 1,000-yard competitions in the 1990s, my “go to” bullets for .300 Win Mag were Sierra 190 SMK and 220 SMK. In the last three years I’ve also been impressed with the Berger 185 Juggernauts and 215 Hybrids, but recently had the opportunity to test the Sierra 195 TMKs. These green tipped bullets have now found a permanent place on my reloading bench.


Very satisfying results with the 195 TMK bullets, VV N560 powder, and Peterson brass.


Half inch 5-shot group with 195 TMK 

Testing the 195 TMKs was also an opportunity to try VihtaVuori’s N560 powder. For those not familiar with this very versatile powder, it falls between H4530 and H1000 for burn rate, and is similar to H4831. It can also be used in multiple popular calibers including 6.5 Creedmoor.

20200621_VV N560

The 2020 VihtaVuori Reloading Guide has a maximum load of 75.3 grains of N560 behind the 190 HPBT for a MV of 2,947 fps, but did not have a recommendation for 195 TMKs. Out of a 24″ Bartlein barrel, 74 grains of N560 pushed the 195 TMKs at just over 3,000 fps and produced sub-MOA groups. However, in the past, I’ve always hit my best accuracy with .300 WinMag in the mid-2900s so will run the 195 TMKs with 72 and 73 grains of N560 next week.


.300 WinMag test rifle used for ammunition testing. Barrel is a 24″ Bartlein Heavy Palma with a 1:10″ twist rate. Stock is the McMillan A6 with 3-way adjustable butt-plate. 

Stay tuned for additional testing



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Bubble Levels

By Mark V. Lonsdale

Is it important that your rifle is level when shooting? You bet! And the further you are shooting the more critical it is that your rifle has an anti-cant device.

Holland Level

High quality Holland’s scope level to fit scope tubes in 1″, 30mm, 34mm, and 35mm  


Holland’s 34mm scope level on a Nightforce ATACR mounted on a .375 CheyTac ELR rifle


Holland’s 35mm scope level on a Leupold Mark 5HD mounted on a 6.5 Creedmoor PRS rifle

These levels are available directly from Holland’s or on Amazon.






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Bix’n Andy’s Dakota Trigger

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU

Looking for a solid, no nonsense trigger for tactical or practical applications? You won’t be disappointed with the Bix’n Andy Dakota. I’ve been running one for over a month on one of my .300 Win Mags with flawless results.

As some of you know, last season I ran the awesome Bix’n Andy TacSport Pro trigger in my multiple award winning ELR .416 Barrett. As a pro shooter I could not ask for a finer competition trigger.


Competition winning Bix’n Andy TacSport Pro 

Mark Lonsdale Shooter 20190628

Ko2M ELR .416 Barrett built on a BAT action, Bartlein barrel, mounted in a McMillan Beast-2 stock, with the Bix’n Andy trigger

Now Bullet Central and Bix’n Andy have introduced a more robust, affordable trigger for every day use – the Dakota. I recently mounted this trigger in one of my .300 WinMags for evaluation – an easy trigger switch for a Rem 700 long action, plus the trigger can be mounted with or without the bottom bolt release. If you have a side bolt release, such as on a Stiller Action, then it is a simple matter of removing the two small Torx screws.

Dakota 300WM

Bix’n Andy DAKOTA with bottom bolt release on a Rem 700 long action. Mounting is a simple process of punching out two cross pins and replacing the stock trigger

Another convenient feature of the Dakota is the trigger pull weight can be adjusted without taking the action out of the stock. It can also be adjusted down to 1 pound for target shooting or increased for personal preference in the field. I have traditionally run my tactical training rifles with 2.5 pound triggers, so being able to run this trigger at 1 to 2 pounds makes it a pleasure to shoot.


Trigger pull weight can be adjusted without removing the action from the stock

From the Bullet Central web site – here are the features that make the Bix’n Andy Dakota trigger so special:

  • Fully Weather Resistant so that you can perform at your best no matter what mother nature throws at you.
  • Searless Design ensures simplicity and total reliability.
  • Single Stage trigger mechanism with a crisp release.
  • Rem 700 Model and all Rem 700 Style clone compatibility.
  • Ideal Over-Travel so that you do not interfere with the rifle’s position during fire.
  • Patented Ball Bearing Design with lifetime support guarantee.
  • Precision Machined Parts.
  • 1 lbs – 4.5 lbs (or 450g – 2,000g) Pull Weight for a wide range of adjustment.

For more info, go to https://www.bulletcentral.com/product/bixn-andy-dakota-trigger/

Stay tuned for additional field testing.



.300 WinMag being used to evaluate the Dakota trigger. This one is built on a Rem 700 action with a Bartlein barrel in a McMillan A6 stock with Badger M5 bottom metal and an Accu-Tac bipod. Scope is the Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25x56mm   

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