Guns + ammunition

Just after I started shooting I was listening to a couple of the old(er) timers bitching about their recent poor performance. One of them blamed the ammunition they were using. The other pointed out that while shooters often blame the grade or particular batch of ammunition, nobody ever credits their ammo when they shoot a particularly good card.

You might not think that your choice of ammunition would make such a difference. Pretty much like pipette tips, you might say, within limits a bullet is a bullet. I mean, yes, you’ve got your tips that come in bags so that you have to contaminate them yourself when you rack and autoclave them and you’ve got your ordinary racked tips and your plugged RNAse-free tips and tips that were packed by the lily-white fingers of virgins brought up on a diet of organic fava beans on a Pacific island, but essentially a pipette tip is a pipette tip. Except for the ones that stay on the Gilson just long enough for you to suck up 37.5 µl of incredibly rare primary antibody only to fall off halfway between one Eppendorf tube and the next, sending 5 years’ work down the drain but hey, never mind we get cheap tips because the lab tech is shagging the sales rep.

I mean, you’ve even got different calibres. 10 µl, 200 μl, 1 ml, 5 ml: that could almost be .22, .308, .38 Special and 50 cal.

Anyway, there are differences in quality of ammunition (or so the manufacturer claims) and as ever, you get what you pay for.

Before Joshua was born I was routinely shooting cards in the low- to mid-90s. Not brilliant, but getting better; and I entered into a winter competition. Handicapped of course; my team mate and I are up against people who have a similar average. Of course, then the man cub was born and I became chronically sleep-deprived and my averages dropped off to 90, 88 on a bad day. Not to worry—I figured that the man child will soon start sleeping through the night and then I won’t be so tired and I’ll be able to straighten up and shoot right again.

Laughing baby
Recent acquisition

Except… last week I was talking to one of the old(er) hands and I noticed that he was using some rather sexy looking black ammo, rather than the brass-cased entry level stuff I was using. So I asked him about it and he said that Eley were re-branding everything and that what he was using was anodized so that (he said) the round was more likely to leave the casing smoothly, without sticking at any point and therefore tumbling; resulting (he said) in more consistent shot-to-shot shooting.

He also said it’s good to use the same sort of ammo in a gun and as my recent acquisition was likely to have been using something a bit more than the entry-level stuff I might as well get used to it. And so even though I hadn’t yet collected said acquisition I thought that for an extra tuppence a round I might as well try out the sexy black stuff.

Man cub

So I went to the range officer and bought 50 rounds of the sexy black stuff; put up a card for the competition; and promptly shot a 96. That’s better than anything I’ve put down the range since summer, and only 2 off my best score ever. Now, I’m not claiming that the ammunition made the difference, but it was the only thing that has changed.

Tomorrow night I’ll be going down the range with my own rifle for the first time, and it’ll be very interesting to see (if I manage to adjust all the adjustable bits and get comfortable with her in time) to see if I can get a score that high again, using the sexy black ammo of course. What I should do in addition is the experiment: club rifle, new ammo; my rifle, old ammo—but frankly that sounds too much like hard work. Science has its limits, eh?

Wondering about the title? Try this…

About rpg

Scientist, poet, gadfly
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9 Responses to Guns + ammunition

  1. cromercrox says:

    Hey, bud, if you’d had a daughter your score would have gone over 100, no matter how sleep deprived you are.

  2. rpg says:

    Already got two. Didn’t help.

  3. cromercrox says:

    You might need to resort to my solution, then. I have installed a mantelpiece, on which is displayed an enormous and slightly rusty panga.

  4. rpg says:

    Perhaps I should place my bo next to it.

  5. Laurence Cox says:

    I instinctively doubt the explanation about the round leaving the casing smoothly. Your rifle has a rifled barrel, to impart spin to the round and each round has a copper driving band that is forced into the rifling. That is going to have far more effect than any momentary friction between the round and cartridge case. Incidentally, you are throwing away some of your data by just using a single figure, there is also the angular distribution of shots. Aiming errors should be uniformly distributed around the circle that defines each score; muzzle velocity variations should be in the vertical plane, while tumbling should be roughly uniformly distributed but with a bias downwards because of increased drag.

    Of course, you might have to shoot a large number of rounds to get statistical significance but, hey that’s just an excuse to get down to the range more often. 🙂

  6. rpg says:


    Yeah, I know the overall score is just one dimension–but don’t worry, I do examine each card to look for patterns. And last night, I have to say, my distribution was pretty much uniform around the circles (which ties in with my sleep deprivation shtick).

  7. CASteelyDan says:

    First, get a friend to load your rifle for you, not telling you which ammo he’s loading, and see if there is a difference. When you see that there isn’t, shoot the cheap stuff until you become skilled enough to recognize the limitations of your ammunition. Start buying Federal brand ammo, and save the casings until you start reloading, or trade the casings to a range-master for free targets and such.

  8. Bah. I was going to suggest that the appropriate blinded experiment was impossible, until CASteelyDan destroyed my thesis by coming up with the “loaded by a friend” solution. I guess you’d also have to avoid seeing the spent cases coming out of the breech as well.

    You could also, of course, have multiple different shooters try your gun, again blinded to both types of ammo… or with different guns, etc. etc. etc. And replicates.

    The sensible thing to do would be to have the company that makes the fancy rounds pay for this research. I suspect you could knock out a quickie grant proposal in your spare time?

  9. rpg says:

    In my oodles of spare time, yes.

    The ‘loaded by a friend’ thing would work. Wouldn’t matter about seeing the spent casings—you’ve already shot by then and followed through. Scoring is objective. The friend might have to also be blinded too, which might be difficult though—unless you allocate the rounds in a random fashion ahead of the detail.

    No other fucker is using my rifle, of course.

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