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Load Development: Part One

SUMMARY: Repetitive, round-robin Ladder Testing with multiple charge weights can reliably identify those loads which deliver minimal vertical dispersion at long range.

Editor’s Note: In this article, Jason Baney explains methods that can help long-range competitors shoot smaller groups, and test more efficiently, saving on components and barrel life. Jason is one of the top shooters at the Williamsport Club. In 2006, shooting a 15.6-lb 6BR, he won the Heavy Gun Division at the Williamsport World Open. Jason describes his Ladder-Test system for finding the optimal load for long-range matches, i.e. the load with the smallest vertical dispersion. With loads validated by ladder-testing, Jason has shot 4 of the 17 smallest 1000-yard Light Gun groups at Williamsport over the last three years. Others using this technique have likewise had great results, in some cases cutting their long-range vertical in half. While the Ladder Test method is primarily used to divine optimal charge weight, it can also be used to find the best seating depth or brand of primer.

long range load development ladderIntroduction — Benefits of Ladder Testing
After several months of waiting on your gunsmith, your shiny new rifle is finally done. You have your dies and brass and youre ready to see what it can do. Now it’s time to get to work and find out what load that rifle likes to shoot. Load development can be very frustrating for many people depending on their methodology. It has been frustrating at times for me as well, as I have tried many different approaches over the past ten years or so. This article explains my most advanced and efficient method, which has given me the best results. It may even save you some money, components, and range time.

Does this process work? Absolutely. Using my ladder-testing methodology, I developed loads that produced less than 2″ of vertical at 1000 yards (using Berger 105gr bullets) for three shots. CLICK HERE to check out my 1000-yard test targets.

Ladder Test Defined
What is a ladder test? A ladder test is, fundamentally, a method of testing a load combination using continuous increments while looking for a cluster of consecutive shots showing similar points of impact (POI). Usually the powder charge is adjusted incrementally while noting/tracking the point of impact variations in the vertical plane, and looking for plateaus on the target. The idea being that your best load will appear where several sequential, incremental charges impact in nearly the same place on the target. Basically you are trying to visualize a “sweet-spot” in the barrel harmonics by using the bullets impact on a target.

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