Nothing compares to shooting the Savage 110 BA chambered in the .338 Lapua Mag. I absolutely loved the lines of the gun, and after researching different shooting platforms, I believed the Savage 110 BA offered the best combination of precision shooting, cost, and tactical design.
I am a fairly experienced shooter, but I still had to get use to easy trigger pull and absolutely deafening concussion of the gun. One particular day I was trying out different hand loads to find the most accurate/cheapest hand load. Between all of my guns, I shoot 400-800 rounds per week, and I wanted to get a solid 100 rounds in a week on this rifle. During this test, I left my hearing protection off – I highly recommend you never make this mistake. My ears rang for 2 days.
A typical round for the 338 Lapua Mag is between $3 – $8 per bullet for factory ammo. I knew with this was a gun I would have to reload, but I figured it would be as easy as reloading the .308 Winchester. It might be for most guns chambered in the .338 Lapua Mag, but for the Savage it is a different story.
I bought 160 rounds of PPU 250 grain factory loads along with 60 rounds of Lellier & Bellot match grade ammo. From this I sighted in the gun and generally got use to reloading. I figured I would reload this brass, and should be able to get my cost per round down ~ $0.67 per round.
After my first reloading, about half my cases were sticking in the gun. I was trying different powders and projectiles looking for the cost/accuracy combination I wanted. It was really pissing me off to have so many stuck cases though. As a reloader, I have had the occasional stuck or split case, and even a squid jamming the barrel with a projectile stuck in it, but I have never had this many stuck cases.
If you look online, you will find many forums discussing the same issue, and I never found a definitive answer. Typically you will read these solutions:
1) Send the gun back to Savage and have the headspace reset and chamber polished.
2) Get rid of all the old brass, and purchase Lapua Mag brass.
3) Bump the the shoulder back and make sure the brass is trimmed.
Testing Solutions To Fix Stuck Cases
First, I emailed Savage. I described my problem and asked for any solutions. Savage is known for great customer services. They responded very quickly, and offered to ship my gun back to the factory for free to review/correct the issue. They did not have any other solutions. No reloading tricks or tips or even ammo to use, but they were more than happy to pay to ship the gun back so they could look at it. To me, this was my last choice.
Secondly, I ordered 100 rounds of Lapua Mag brass to try out (spent about $270 for 100 cases). I also wrote the company about my issue asking if they had any experience with this problem. They wrote me back very fast with a detailed email of how their brass is built and why I might be experiencing this issue. From their response I learned they use a much harder brass than most competitors, and this prevents extreme deformation.
My first reloads on Lapua Mag brass shot perfectly.
My second reloads, with a normal neck sizing, worked perfectly as well.
The test will be in the 5-7th reload, and I will update this when I get there.
I can say the the Lapua Mag brass, so far, solved the issue of cases sticking in the neck. I highly recommend their brass, and in the future with precision rifles, I will skip buying cheap ammo to reload and just buy their cases.
How I Solved The Sticking Problem With Non Lapua Brass
While the Lapua Brass does seem to solved the problem, I still wasn’t satisfied. I really didn’t want to throw away 220 brass cases worth a couple of bucks each.
I am a mechanical engineer by trade, so I researched how to solve my issues. This is not meant to teach a person how to start reloading, but rather, the steps an average reloader (like myself) can take to fix this issue.
To give you an ideal of my set up, I use a Hornady Classic Lock-N-Load press with Redding Precision Dies.
My approach was to put the case back to factory specs to see if that helped.
My first step was to buy the “Lyman Case Length Headspace Gauge-338 Lapua Magnum”. This allows you to set the headspace to factory, rather than the dimensions of the gun (a technique used for accurate shooting on reloading brass).
Secondly, I annealed the brass. Annealing the brass actually helps make the case safer and more resilient (longer case life) when the round is fired. The science behind it is fairly straightforward. With most metal annealing (heat treating) heat is applied to a metal to make the metal stronger. But annealing brass is a little different. For brass, the annealing process actually increases the metal’s ductility — a technical term for “stretchability” or softness. As brass is bent, hammered, or shaped, it becomes harder and more brittle. This is what happens to a cartridge case when the neck is formed and during firing. The annealing process restores the ductility of the case by reducing internal stresses in the brass, making it easier to stretch under pressure rather than crack or stick.
Many reloaders believe the annealing process also helps them squeeze a little more consistency out of each round. Annealing each case during the reloading process also extends the life cycle of that case, allowing it to be reloaded many more times than a non-annealed case.
To anneal my brass, I simply turned the neck under a torch flame while counting to 3 slowly. The ideal is not to make the brass red-hot or glowing, but rather to get a blue/grey look on it under the flame. 3 seconds worked perfectly for me. After the “temperature” to anneal has been reached (measured by the 3 seconds), I placed the brass in a bucket of water.
Next, I would do a full case sizing. I adjusted the die back a quarter turn, sized then used the headspace gauge to test the size. Make sure you wipe the wax off of the case before using the guage.
As I sized, I simply increased the die in 1/8 of a turn till I had the case sitting perfectly in the headspace gauge. I used calipers to make sure it was flush and not up a few thousands.
After this step I proceeded as normal. I used a sonic case cleaner, then tumbled my brass to get it shiny. I measured and trimmed each cased that needed it. I added my magnum primer and my favorite load.
Just in case you are interested, my favorite load is 92 Grains of Retumbo with the .338 Diameter Proctile 225 Grain Super Shock Tip With Cannelure from Hornady. This combination gives me the cheapest cost per round at $0.671 per shot, while shooting a 1/2 MOA at 100 yards and just over a 1″ MOA at 300 yards. I am an above average shooter, and not an expert, so I will take that grouping any day.
For my test I took 10 cases that had stuck and I had to hammer out with a brass cleaning road and completely reworked them.
At the range, all 10 shot perfectly.
On the second reload, several did stick.
To solve this, I went back and did the same process over. I annealed all 10 again, and put them back to spec. I followed all of my steps again.
These 10 all shot perfectly as well.
Annealing cheap brass and doing a full length resize is exactly what you have to do with the softer commercial brass on the market. Going forward I will use Lapua Brass as I buy new cases, but I will shoot my cheap brass for practice as well. The annealing process is very fast, and from what I have read I should get 20-30 (maybe more) shots per case, even with the full case resizing.
I will update as I shoot and test more. I am curious to see how many reloads I can get out of this brass before it cracks. I haven’t decided when I will anneal the to Lapua Brass. Probably when one of them sticks.