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The story behind Winchester's Supreme effort.

The Story Behind Winchester's

It wasn't too long ago that the giant Olin Corporation adopted an overall policy known as "Total Quality Management," which urged all company personnel to view everyone as a customer and to strive to meet their consumer expectations by 100%. That's a considerable corporate goal, to say the least!

But when the Winchester Division of Olin was challenged by T.Q.M., it responded professionally with a new level of cartridge design technique, production quality, and performance accuracy. It's on your local dealer's shelf right now known as - Supreme. Some hunters will undoubtedly wave it off, thinking it's just more of the same ol' stuff in new packaging, but they're dead wrong! This new Winchester black-boxed Supreme ammo is indeed different; there's more to it than mere cosmetics. Lots of thought, time, theory, and testing went into the Supreme line, and I recently had a chance to tour the Winchester facility at East Alton, Illinois to get the story behind it.

The saga of Winchester's Supreme effort began several years ago when Mr. V.C. "Chuck" Coburn, Director of New Product Research and Development, and his staff sat down with key marketing personnel to define their goals for a high-quality line of hunting cartridges. Focusing on optimum field performance for over-the-counter ammunition that would rival, if not better, the performance of custom handloads, they gravitated toward the bullet's role and decided to design and entirely new family of Silvertips for the supreme big-game loads. They placed their emphasis on: A) superior accuracy, B) downrange ballistic efficiency for retained energy and a flat trajectory, C) positive controlled expansion on target, and D) a lasting finish that retains a fresh visual appearance even after long storage. Thus, Winchester didn't merely switch their former Silvertips when heating up the Supreme concept. Each is a new design.

The Silvertips used in Supreme ammunition, "Chuck" Coburn informed me in an introduction to the load's finer points, were finalized by using both a computer program developed for high-performance military ordnance and by extensive test and design optimization until individual items gave what the engineers and set goals demanded. This was accomplished by making prototypes on a bullet assembly machine, after which each specimen was checked for accuracy and retained velocity in the R & D 200-yard indoor range. Moreover, constant checks were made via ultra-speed photography which captured the bullets in flight and during impact with various media. Only after these tests met with joint acceptance did the bullets go into production for use in Supremes.

Essentially, the new Silvertips for Supreme ammo have been refined for improved aerodynamics and controlled expansion. Except for the .30-30, which happened to be a close-range proposition, anyway, they have been given boattailed bases to reduce the vacuum on their tails and streamlined ogives of the secant variety (rather than the tangent ogive). During early stages of development, it was found that an important consideration was the balance of the bullet's physical configuration and aerodynamic coefficients, meaning the length of the ogive relative to the length of the cylinderical bearing surface. A long, sweeping ogive could give a bullet high ballistic coefficient and sectional density ratings, but that could also reduce stability. Thus, the final Silvertip designs for Supreme big-game loads employ as much streamlining as possible for efficient exterior ballistics. But, they have also been designed for enhanced accuracy potential by the use of adequate bearing segments. These dimensions were worked out for each individual cartridge and bullet weight in hopes that the hunter would appreciate such specialization, and the engineers also worked out specific bullet seating depths to control the jump from case to lead.

To show how individualized these Supreme projectiles are, let's take a look at the .308 WCF and .30-06. These are popular with 180-grain bullets, and, since they're both .30 calibers, casual customers might think that the same bullet suffices for both. But they don't. I was shown that the 180-grain STBT used in the .308 WCF Supreme load has a slightly thinner jacket for more positive expansion at that round's lower velocity level, while the 180-grain STBT for the .30-06 has a thicker jacket to handle its higher speed. The .300 Winchester Magnum's STBTs are also specially designed for its high-energy impacts.

And if you'll bother to check the new Supreme Silvertips against those used in normal Winchester hunting ammo, you'll see that both the .308 WCF and .30-06 Supremes have significantly more streamlined shapes for aerodynamic efficiency.

Some new ground has been broken by Supreme loads. The .270 Supreme has a 140-grain Silvertip, a new weight in the Silvertip line and a relatively new concept in .27-caliber. Ballistically speaking, the 140-grain STBT is an extremely efficient projectile in .27 caliber. Its muzzle velocity (2,960 f.p.s. in a 24-inch barrel) approaches that of the .270's vaunted 130-grain bullet, while its retained energy at long range equals or betters that of the slower-launched 140-grain .270 slug. I've since chronographed the .270 Supreme's 140s above 2,900 f.p.s. from 22-inch sporter barrels, which is quite impressive since some brands of 130-grain commercial loads don't do much better. Thus, the 140-grainer is more than just a fill-the-gap or split-the-difference idea: its ballistic coefficient are such that it is tremendously stable at long ranges, giving the basic trajectory of the 130-grain bullet and the retained energy of the 150.

Once R & D people finalized what they believed to be optimum bullets for the Supreme project, it became necessary for production personnel to carry quality controls and tooling to new levels of precision. This was especially so in the production of bullet jackets, which are a key factor in any cartridge's eventual accuracy. For a bullet must have "balance" if it's to be a part of an accurate equation. This means a bullet's center of mass must be on the same axis as its center of form, as mentioned earlier. If there's more weight on one side of the center of form than on the other, a wobble can easily occur as the bullet spins in flight to carry the projectile off course and upset group tightness.

What this meant for production areas was that they'd have to keep bullet jacket (cup) wall thickness uniformly precise. If the jackets have uniform wall thicknesses and are concentric, the lead cores will automatically be on center. Tool makers responded with improved tooling for drawing uniform cups. Shedrick Foster, General Foreman of Bullet Assembly, explained and demonstrated the repeated inspection of bullet cups during production runs. Tolerances were closely held and, for each batch, plotted on graph paper so that the performance of machines could be traced. Any machine that tends toward an extreme in tolerances is shut down before it exceeds manufacturing parameters, and setup men check it out.

Once the cups are drawn to length, they are polished and lubricated in a tumbling operation. A protective coating is applied to give the final bullet a long-lasting shine that exudes freshness even after years of storage. Powder performance after storage? Don't worry about it. Modern powders are practically factory fresh after five years or more.

The bullet assembly press is a series of dies which start by accepting the polished and coated cup, and then it progressively does everything from start to finish, including canneluring and ogive formation plus Silvertip seating. Again, multiple inspections are made, and test firings are done at regular intervals.

Nothing different has been done to the brass and primers of the Supremes. Winchester has always prided itself on brass quality, and I learned that the primer-making department was off-limits to visitors. When the Supreme loads go into the loading process on Parker machines, which do one cartridge at a time, they are given powder charges worked out in lab tests for optimum velocity and accuracy consistent with safe chamber pressures. The loading machine is outfitted with sensors to insure proper powder levels, and when the sensor feels something is wrong, switches close down the operation.

Consistent with Winchester's concentration on bullet development and high-quality production, the most important step in the final loading process of Supreme ammo is the bullet seating step. Accuracy-conscious benchrest shooters emphasize straightline bullet seating for maximum load concentricity, meaning the bullet's center of form is aligned with the cartridge case's axis. The coaxial condition is extremely desirable, because it helps line up the bullet with the bore axis and has each succeeding load assume the same position in the chamber. Many commercial loadings have major bullet/case misalignments, but Winchester has set a goal of having minimal runout from perfect coaxial conditions.

One further change in the Supreme bullet seating method is the crimp. All Supreme loads are die crimped (which has also been termed roll crimped) so that the crimp bears evenly at all points and so that the bullet pull is uniform. This differs from collect crimping, which is employed with normal Winchester ammo and which does not exert the same pressure at all points on the bullet's circumference. A close look at Supreme ammo will show the neatly rolled die crimp which helps to provide concentricity and bullet support as well as a uniform, 360 degree grip.

And how does this all work? My own samples, fired before my trip to Winchester, indicted that Supreme loads came much closer to published ballistics than any other I've chronographed. This is refreshing, as many commercial hunting cartridges come in variously below published data, sometimes by hundreds of feet per second. Could it be that we've finally got a full line of factory loads that deliver their catalog specs? Seems so with Supremes.

What about accuracy? Any manufacturer puts his neck on the chopping block when it comes to accuracy, because each hunter has a different definition of the term and because each rifle is a physical law unto itself. Not all rifles vibrate the same; hence, a load thats is pinpoint precise in one rifle may be just so-so in another. The manufacturer's hope is that all his loads will do legitimate big-game groups in a wide variety of rigs.

In general, my results with .308, .30-06, .30-30 and .243 Supremes have delivered totally adequate groups for big game hunting, and they've been tried in several different rifles. I haven't beaten 1 MOA averages with random rigs, but they've easily held inside 2 MOA with some individual groups nudging 1 1/4 inches. A friend writes that .270 Supremes with 140s do just splendidly for him, and another correspondent claims that .30-06 180-grain STBTs in Supreme persuasion equal the best reloads he's yet developed. Another source tells me that .300 Win. Mag. Supremes do one inch reliably. Thus, if my mail is any indication, there is a high rate of satisfaction with the new Supreme loads.

Thus, Winchester Supreme ammunition are not the old-style Silvertips done up in a racy new box. The R & D efforts were substantial, as were improvements in dies, tools, and quality control. The new bullet designs are doing their things. And the practical hunter who doesn't give a hoot for all this technical stuff needn't worry about it in the least: that's all been taken care of by the people behind Winchester Supreme ammunition. All you've got to do is hunt up the ol' buck or bull, hold steady, and squeeze 'er off. The new technology built into Supremes will take care of the rest!

PHOTO : Winchester's Supreme ammunition sports newly designed bullets engineered for exterior ballistics efficiency and positive controlled expansion which gives shocking impact and deep penetration.

PHOTO : Shedrick Foster, General Foreman of Bullet Assembly, shows how bullet cups are constantly checked for uniformity of wall thickness to guarantee that the Silvertips will have their center of mass coaxial with the center of form.

PHOTO : Masses of bullet cups being polished and lubricated for final assembly.

PHOTO : Supreme ammunition is constantly tested in Winchester's indoor ranges for pressure, velocity, and accuracy. This technician starts a .300 Winchester Magnum round into the pressure gun.

PHOTO : These are the eight steps a Supreme Silvertip bullet goes through during final assembly. Improved technology helps ensure a well balanced bullet for greater accuracy.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Publishers' Development Corporation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Olin Corp.'s ammunition manufacturer
Author:Zutz, Don
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Dec 1, 1989
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