January 04, 2011
Lapua's reputation for precision products is demonstrated by the minimal weight variation in the 100-count lot of .22-250 cases.
Well, it seems that the shortage of reloading components is abating. The suppliers aren't as focused on filling backorders for existing SKUs and have found time to develop and/or add new items to their catalogs. During the past few months, I've tested some new brass, two new propellants, and nearly a half-dozen new bullets. And I'm expecting to receive more new components soon.
New Brass From Lapua
I first loaded Lapua brass about 20 years ago. I'd heard it was quality stuff; however, back then, I paid little attention to how consistent each case weighed or if the flash holes were precisely drilled or simply punched into the primer pockets. My records indicate those .308 Winchester handloads performed quite well.
Later I acquired a 6mm PPC Ruger Mark II target rifle, and I formed my first cases from Lapua 220 Russian brass. Again, my notes show that each piece weighed almost exactly the same. A couple of years back, while developing loads for a new .260 Remington Model 700 varmint rifle (with initially disappointing results), I resorted to necking up Lapua .243 Winchester brass. My groups improved significantly. Most recently, I've had excellent results shooting the updated .223 Remington Match cases. So when Lapua's sales manager called and asked if I would be interested in trying a new product, I was quite receptive.
The latest Lapua cartridge brass to be made available to handloaders is for the .22-250. When you open the box, the first thing you notice is the distinctive blue/brown discoloration on the case necks and shoulders. This residual oxidation is caused by the annealing process and visually demonstrates they have been made properly. Unlike most other commercial manufacturers, Lapua doesn't tumble and polish the cases after annealing just to make them shiny.
Prepping new instead of fired cases, of course, is a somewhat abbreviated process; however, I still partially neck size to "true up" the case mouths and then trim and debur each piece. If I'm really trying to squeeze out the best accuracy, I sort them by weight and countersink each flash hole internally to remove errant or malformed material. I usually recut the primer pockets to uniform depth just to be sure the primers can be seated consistently.
I soon determined most of these steps weren't needed to prep the .22-250 Lapua brass. I first sorted the 100 cases by weight using a couple of loading trays. The first one (and 18 others) weighed 160.6 grains. Every one ranged between 160.0 and 161.0 grains.
Next, I inspected the primer pockets and flash holes and found, as expected, nothing needed there. Then I measured a few pieces to see how much they'd need to be trimmed. The maximum case length for the .22-250 is 1.912 inches, and the recommended trim-to-length is ten thousandths less, i.e., 1.902 inches. The first few measured 1.903/1.904, so I continued to measure additional ones at random. I eventually measured the whole batch. They all measured between 1.902 and 1.905 inches with approximately 80 percent right in the middle.
Hummm€¦.there's no pressing need to trim them either.
While the cases were sorted by weight in the trays, I did notice three or four slightly out of round case mouths, so I necksized the whole batch and lightly deburred the inside of each case mouth. I mean, I had to do something to maintain my self-esteem, right?
I recently had developed new handloads using IMR-8208 XBR propellant in several cartridges including the .22-250, and Nosler recently announced a new series of lead-free Ballistic Tips for varmint shooting, so I ordered a couple boxes of the 35-grain, .22-caliber pills. When I asked about loading data, they suggested I use their data for the 40-grain conventional Ballistic Tip bullet but reduce the starting loads by 2 grains.
That advice worked for me--sort of--because they'd never had any IMR-8208 with which to develop load data. I had loaded Barnes's new 36-grain, .22-caliber Varmint Grenade during the earlier testing, so I used that data and safely worked up to 38.0 grains behind the new Nosler bullet. Velocities in a vintage Ruger Model 77 heavy-barrel rifle topped 4,200 fps, and most of my groups stayed under 0.75 inch.
I also tested other bullets and propellants loaded in the .22-250 Lapua cases with completely satisfactory results. So far, I've only loaded a couple boxes three times and have no plans to perform extreme life cycle endurance testing. I haven't seen any signs of distress yet and intend to continue loading and shooting this batch of brass simply for enjoyment and maybe also bust a couple of groundhogs this coming spring.
New Powders & Bullets
A few months back, I issued a flash report on new bullets coming soon from Speer and Federal. Well, I received some 180-grain, .30-caliber samples and tested them along with two recently introduced Nosler and Remington bullets. Check them out here .