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Importance in primer selection in handloading can help sales.

Importance In Primer Selection In Handloading Can Help Sales

Many reloaders and dealers take a blase attitude toward primers--be they for handguns, rifles or shotguns. Reloaders pick up anything that's cheap or available; dealers stock whatever they can get a low price. I've heard lots of dealers make the foolish remark that, "It makes no difference what primers you use or how you switch `em; they all go BANG!" And, I've also heard more than a few casual shooters and hunters express the same naive opinion.

But the important point is that primers are variable factors that can play a definite role in (A) chamber pressure, (B) accuracy (grouping), and (C) patterning. Sophisticated shooters, experimenters, and lab technicians know for a fact--a positive fact -- that primer selection and switching does affect the performance of reloads. This doesn't mean that primer switching will invariably produce a smaller group, but it can happen with some surprising results. This past summer, for example, I was doing some accuracy work with the .30-06 and various ball-type powders from Accurate Arms, and the faster-rate powders were throwing rather sloppy groups at 100 yards with bullets of 110 to 150 grains. I knew the rifle I was using had much better tight-grouping potential, so I set about juggling some of the reloads. One of the manipulations was in primers. The Accurate Arms data booklet used Federal 210 Match primers almost exclusively, and as I have always leaned to magnum-force primers with ball-type powders, I began trying other "spark plugs."

The breakthrough came when I seated Remington 9-1/2 Magnum primers under those Accurate Arms ball powders. Groups that had been ragged and/or wide suddenly pulled together for 1- 1-1/2-inch groups at 100 yards. When I went back to standard-force primers in those same reloads, they flopped back to their original sloppy groups. Thus, the tighter groups with magnum-force primers weren't flukes" the Rem. 9-1/2 Magnums did, indeed, do something that altered accuracy performance.

The same thing occurred a few weeks ago when I was experimenting with a .225 Winchester varmint rig. The gun wanted to shoot pinpoint precise with IMR-4320 and 52-53-grain hollow points, but it just never pulled them all together into a clover-leaf cluster. Then, one day, I happened to run out of standard-force primers and substituted Remington 9-1/2 Magnums, a move that I had never seen discussed in handloading literature; for most data and rule-of-thumb reloading advice recommends just standard-force primers for the lesser charges of powders like IMR-4320 in smallish cases like the .225 Winchester or .22-250 Remington.

What happened popped open my eyes! With magnum primers aboard, my .225 reloads began punching groups you could cover with a dime and have change left over. That'll get a fox's attention! Moreover, the same rifle still exhibits the same tendency: when magnum-force primers are used in certain reloads, the groups tighten; when standard-force primers are reintroduced, the groups relax.

In the two examples just mentioned, I had accuracy improvements when switching from magnum primers to standard ones. But while working with a .357 Magnum snubby recently, I had the reverse occur. Going from a magnum-force primer to a standard-force cap turned it around. The load was an intermediate-power job assembled in .357 Magnum brass using 7.0/Red Dot and the 110-grain Speer jacketed hollow point. The first primers employed were the usual magnum-force detonators normally suggested for the lengthy three-five-seven hull, and my groups weren't small or symmetrical. At first I thought this was so because I'm not the world's most finely tuned handgunner, but how bad can you be when you revert to sand bags over at steady benchrest?

Having had experience with recalcitrant reloads and guns. I purposely began using different small pistol primers. When I got to the Remington 1-1/2 and the CCI 500, my 5-shot groups tightened and became quite symmetrical. That load of 7.0/Red Dot/110 JHP is the most accurate I've yet found for my S&W M66.

Although the following hasn't happened to me, I've heard of an incident where rifle experimenters also got improved accuracy from a 7mm Remington Magnum when they switched from the hot primers, such as the Remington 9-1/2 M and the Federal 215, and seated standard-force Remington 9-1/2s. Interestingly enough, the change didn't alter velocity in that 7mm Rem. Mag. when the loads were compared over a chronograph, the reason perhaps being that the 7mm Rem. Mag. is a relatively small bore and a lot of heat is trapped in the chamber to prompt adequate combustion regardless of the primer's potency with certain powders. In this case the powders were extruded; I'm not sure the same thing would happen with harder-to-ignite ball-type propellants.

The point is that trying different primers can sometimes influence the final grouping results from any given reload. (Note the use of the word "sometimes.") For, as said above, such changes aren't always forthcoming. I've spent sometime recently with a .308 Winchester, and I selected one control reload and fired it with every primer I could find in large rifle persuasion. After all that work, I found that particular .308 WCF didn't change at all. The groups were basically the same average size regardless of the primer. Thus, although primers can indeed make a difference, there will be times when they seem to change absolutely nothing. Therefore, don't slam the overall concept of reload manipulation just because some reloads don't respond to primer changes. There will be times when such alterations will make dramatic differences in gun/load performance.

Why would primers make any difference in accuracy? Isn't a primer's job to ignite the powder? And how can ignition/combustion factors influence accuracy?

To begin, the main difference between a standard-force and a magnum-force primer is in the length of its burning time. A magnum-force primer burns longer than a standard force and therefore tends to increase chamber heat variously depending upon the primer's own power, the powder involved, and cartridge case size plus bullet weight. As a rule of thumb, standard-force primers have been recommended for all rifle situations except those employing ball-type powders and those using more than fifty grains of slow-rate extruded powder such as IMR-4350, H-4831, and IMR-7828. In handguns, it has been common to see recommendations for magnum primers in all ball-powder reloads and all magnum-length cases. A lot or reloaders follow these generalities solely for the "safe of ignition", no thought being given to accuracy considerations.

But much in the way of fine accuracy comes from the way a load jibes with the vibrational characteristics of a rifle when it's under the force of chamber pressures. Sporting rifles may be made of steel, but they still vibrate when a powder charge is ignited by a primer and gas molecules suddenly hammer against the chamber walls like a hill-billy musician playing a musical saw. Likewise, handgun accuracy is in part dependent upon how a handgun rotates in a shooter's hand under recoil forces.

How do primers influence these vibrations and rotations? By the way they ignite the powder and create chamber pressures. A standard-force primer will generally produce a lower chamber pressure than a magnum-force primer, and this could develop the "gas shock" to the barrel's chamber end which, in turn, jibes with the individual barrel's vibrational characteristics for uniform vibes, shot after shot. On the other hand, the standard-force cap might deliver the gas-shock which isn't at all conducive for uniform vibrations in that particular piece of steel, and accuracy will suffer from erratic vibrations. Changing to a magnum-force primer, on the other hand, might run up quick, stiff chamber pressures which bring the individual barrel closer to its best vibration pattern for uniformity. Or, in some instances, the quicker jolt of chamber pressure from a magnum primer could have the reverse effect and inject greater irregularities in vibrations than the standard ones. You simply never know how they'll all work unless you try them, because each rifle is a physical law unto itself; for the molecular structure in each barrel can be different from that of any other barrel, even if the bore and cambering are identically cut.

In handguns, much in the way of accuracy is determined by the way a gun rotates upward in one hand as recoil sets in before bullet exit. On the longer handguns, some barrel vibrations may also play a role. And all these factors are triggered by the intensity of chamber pressure, which is traced to the primer's method of ignition.

I have no doubt but that the magnum primer's added heat gave my .225 the chamber pressure which jibed with the vibrational characteristics of that rig's barrel, thus giving smaller groups than the very same reload with a standard-force primer.

In shotguns, primers can sometimes influence patterns. Forceful setback in shotshells will deform pellets in the lower third or half of a shot charge, and those deformed pellets will tend to flare from the shot string or slow down quickly as they encounter air resistance. The use of a mild primer can reduce pellet deformation and leave more properly rounded pellets to fly straighter routes and remain inside the main 30-inch pattern while carrying good energy. The newest Remington 209 "Premier" primer is a mild cap, and I've had some of my best trap loads appear while using the Rem. 209P in connection with Green Dot. As a rule of thumb, the lower the chamber pressure for any given shotshell, the more pellets we'll find in the pattern; and the intensity of chamver pressure is of course heavily influenced by the primer's heat. (A bonfire will start slower if you use a match than if you use a flame thrower!)

How does this all impact upon your sales? By accepting the fact that primer selection and switching can, and often does, influence gun-load performance. Don't wave it off as too much of a fuss unless you've actually spent the years I've spent experimenting with primers and primer changing! Just because you handle primers doesn't make you an expert. You may talk the lingo, but what do you really know from first-hand experience to back up your claims that. "Primers are all alike?"

What you can do to help your own image and sales is realizing that here's a legitimate sales approach: when hand-loaders complain about accuracy or patterns, suggest that they try different primers in their reloads. As I wrote above, primers can make a difference. Always let your customers know that it doesn't happen every time, but that it has been known to occur enough so that primer manipulation is a definite step in the development of those "pet loads" which deliver the super performances handloaders like to brag about. Instead of selling somebody five boxes of the same primers, interest him in a box of two of several brands and make sure he tries them scientifically. When it comes to chamber pressures, the various manuals on your rack will prove that pressures change as primers are switched, and that should be enough to convince him--and you--that all primers aren't alike! Stock a variety so that interested reloaders can try them all, and if your customers are not aware of the role being played by the primer--tell them about it!
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Title Annotation:handloading of ammunition
Author:Zutz, Don
Publication:Shooting Industry
Article Type:column
Date:Aug 1, 1989
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