We spoke with Kelbly sponsored professional racegun shooter and rifle builder Garrison Pratt about his shooting, reloading and load development methods and gear.
We Talk with Garrison
What shooting disciplines do you practice or compete in?
When I first started in long range, I was primarily shooting in F Class (FTR), but over the years and me joining the military out of high school, that focus changed to practical precision matches similar to the PRS/NRL events. Today, I still compete in those events, but more focused on two man team and field style matches.
How did you get started in reloading your own ammunition?
In all honesty, it was out of a need more than a fun thing to try. I wanted to be competitive at the national level within FTR and it wasn’t going to happen with factory ammo… So, I spent the money on the cheapest reloading set up I could buy, which was a Lee kit, and started asking a ton of questions to the older gents on the firing line. Over time, a ton of insight from the old timers, and years of fiddling with wildcats, I’ve landed on the set up I have now.
What is your main goal with reloading?
With me, that’s a two sided question. If you’re looking at it from the F Class/Benchrest side of my brain, it’s all about accuracy and consistency. I want deviation in velocity to be minimal, and the load to walk the waterline on the target. What I mean by that, is if you’ve ever seen an F Class target, they are rings that get smaller and smaller from the outside in. The waterline is the center line of those circles… If I’ve built a load that walks the waterline, then it stays on (or close to) that center across the target, which means I can get away with a less precise wind call because I have wiggle room in the horizontal. If the load doesn’t walk the waterline and has vertical deviation, when I make a bad call (Yes I said WHEN, everyone does..), that could potentially be the difference between an X and a 10, or a 10 and a 9… In todays F Class/Benchrest communities, the guys competing at the top are winning and losing by singular points and X’s. I want my load to be forgiving so it doesn’t bite me in the ass when it matters.
With PRS/NRL, its slightly different. There’s one thing that people seem to forget… Generally in these matches we’re shooting at minute of man targets, not an F Class X ring… You can get away with a whole lot more. Target sizes are fairly generous compared to other forms of shooting. The most commonly used target you’ll probably see in the PRS/NRL, is generally a 66% IPSC or similarly sized, at 500– 750yds (Roughly)… Within those yardages, that’s over 2 MOA in the vertical and close to the same in the horizontal… That’s a lot of real estate… I agree that when we load, we should always be looking for the best combination, and I want utter consistency… But… I don’t agree that chasing F Class accuracy in the PRS/NRL is a necessity. An edge hit is still a hit.
What sequence do you follow when reloading virgin brass?
When it comes to virgin brass, every single piece goes through a neck mandrel die straight out of the box. I know all of us have seen multiple dented necks from shipping. Next, I usually deburr the primer pockets. This all depends on brass manufacturer. Lapua and Peterson do a great job, but there’s plenty of other companies on the other side of that coin… After deburring pockets, I may grab a couple pieces and check where the shoulder is at with a comparator. This just gives me an idea of how much blow forward I might get regarding the shoulder. Not necessary, but it’s quick and I like knowing. Next, I chamfer and deburr the necks. With PRS/NRL rifle brass, that’s pretty much as far as I go regarding virgin brass before my normal reloading process.
Regarding F Class virgin brass… That’s a little bit more in depth. The same general process is used, but I add in weight sorting, trimming, primer pocket uniforming, and I may even check a couple pieces for case capacity. Every single round that I build for an F Class chamber, I want to be as close to exact as I possibly can. Consistency breeds accuracy.
What sequence do you follow when reloading fired brass?
First, I always toss my brass into a simple tumbler with corn cob media. Nothing special, just trying to get all the match dust and crap off of it. Next, I’ll decap with a universal decapping die and set get the brass into reloading blocks. After that, each tray gets sprayed down with Hornady’s One Shot or I may use dry lube to prep them for heading into the FL sizing dies. The brass then goes through the FL die with the correct neck bushing and checked periodically with a comparator to make sure I’m getting the correct shoulder bump that I like to be at. For me, that’s two thou. Some people do less, some people do more, but one thing you’ll never hear me say, is that all I did was neck size. Never. Ever.
With sizing complete, it goes into a separate tumbler, still with corn cob media, and tumbled again. I don’t like having residue from One Shot on the case, so I choose to tumble it. You don’t have to, it’s just my personal preference. From tumbling, the primer pockets get checked for debris such as media stuck in the flash hole, or excessive carbon build up. It’s very rare I use a primer pocket cleaner, but sometimes it’s necessary.
The brass then gets chamfered and deburred necks, and set off to the side to be primed. I still use a traditional hand priming tool for PRS/NRL brass and the same type of priming tool for F Class, but equipped with a pressure gauge so I can control which brass makes the grade. If the pockets are too loose (PRS or F Class) it’s either set to the side, or goes directly into the scrap bin. The ones set to the side I use for wildcat development fireforming.
After priming, the cases get set on the granite plate which is the powder section of my benches, and I begin to set up my scales for whatever powder/weight Ill be throwing. I use a combination of different scales, but my go-to’s are the Auto Tricklers over a Sartorious. In my opinion, the Sartorious and FX-120i setups are overkill for practical matches, but I can’t deny the consistency or speed.
Once powder has been thrown, they head over to arbor presses for seating. I seat mainly with chamber style dies due to the consistency and concentricity. Plus they are, in my opinion, so much faster than seating on a regular press. After coming out of the die, I check every single round for seating depth. I know a bunch of people right now are rolling their eyes, but I’m anal about seating depth. That may just be the riflesmith in me, but I want it to be on the number.
Finally, I check a couple pieces in my rifle to ensure everything’s good to go (Firing pin removed from bolt). Nothing worse than getting to a match and your brass won’t chamber because you didn’t bump the shoulders enough, or seat the bullet far enough back.
Do you anneal your brass and why?
I do, but not as often as others might. I generally have it annealed every 5 – 7 firings. Reason for that is, I build all of my rifles. I have wonderful sponsors, but I’m the one spinning the barrels and cutting the chambers. I know how tight of headspace I keep with each barrel that leaves my business. With my personal stuff, and the guys that I sponsor, each barrel has a tight tight headspace. What that means, is I can generally get more brass life out of that brass due to it not stretching like how a SAAMI spec chamber from a manufacturer might.
In my opinion, that gives me a little leeway with my annealing schedule, and so far I haven’t had any issues. Matter of fact, I had a previous lot of Lapua brass that lasted for 37 firings before finally giving up the ghost and finding the scrap bin. All that brass was on the 5 – 7 firing rotation. Good enough for me.
What caliber do you shoot with and why?
Hahaha! The danger in owning your own shop, is every time you get curious, a new reamer is ordered and another barrel is spun. For the time being, I have 3 rifles I rotate within the practical matches. 6x47L, 6.5x47L, and 25x47L. See a trend? Haha, I’m a big proponent of the x47 cartridge. Super consistent, forgiving as all get out, and easy to tune for. There’s gonna be a bunch of guys disagreeing with me regarding the 6×47 because its so called “finnicky”, but I will argue till I’m blue in the face on that topic.
Speaking of the 6x47L, that’s my main squeeze right now. Very, very happy with that cartridge.
In the hunting world, which I’m surprised I have spoken more of, its very rare that you’ll find me with any calibers other than a 7MM. Right now my hunting rig is chambered in 7 SAW II and I’m working through getting it fleshed out. I’m chasing velocity right now, which I don’t condone, but I like knowing where the limit is with my stuff.
In F Class, for Open I have a rifle chambered in 284 Win AI. That barrel will probably be coming off and sent to retirement to be replaced by a standard 284 Win when I make the decision to go back to shooting more F Class stuff.
What does your reloading equipment consist of?
Various L.E Wilson chamber type seating and FL dies. A couple Harrell’s custom made dies for weird calibers, and a couple random other dies that hardly get used anymore.
A super simple Redding Big Boss II single stage press basically just for decapping and bumping, and a Redding T-7 set up for basically the same as the Big Boss, but that’s generally used for customer loading.
Mitutoyo Digital Calipers with Whidden Gunworks comparator tools. Headspace, and Overall Length.
(3) K&M arbor presses
(2) FX-120i’s equipped with the GEN 2 Auto Trickler
(1) Auto trickler over a Sartorious
I’m currently waiting on two of the new Auto Tricklers. Those will probably go over Sartorious’s as well.
(2) RCBS Chargemaster Lites
(1) Frankford Arsenal Intelladropper
(2) Frankford Arsenal tumblers
(2) K&M Hand Priming tools
Forester Trimming setup
Inline Fabrication mounting brackets and accessories (risers, plates, wall racks, etc). These things are awesome and help me keep things organized.
I’m probably missing a ton, but there’s a lot to keep track of. Readers looking at this should understand that quality ammo can be made with much less, but I own a business and do a lot of custom load development. These are just the tools that make it much easier and faster for me. You don’t have to go full tilt to build good ammo.
What load development method do you use to find a new load?
I haven’t really done too much load development in the F Class realm for a while, so I’ll tailor this towards the practical side. I use a simple 10rd velocity ladder test that some people call the Scott Satterlee method.
I’ll make a general decision on what powder and starting charge to run, then add .2 of a grain for every successive shot. In my option, it’s the easiest most effective way to get within a node quickly and not waste projectiles. First 10 rds, I’m mainly looking at velocity with my magnetospeed. As the pressure/speed comes up, I write it down next to the grain weight in my book. When I see a flattening of the speed/pressure curve, I’ll put a bracket next to the two, or three, grain weights that are involved. That tells me when I go to look at the data back in the shop, where I need to poke around a little.
Say the chart shows 37.0gr and 37.2gr have a bracket next to them. The next time I go out to the range, I’ll load 5 in the middle of those charges (37.1gr) and test only for consistent velocity in that potential node. If it stays consistent and shows me a velocity I’m happy with, I’ll move to the next step. If not, it’s back to the data book and seeing if there was another bracket annotated. If there isn’t one, I decide on a different powder and start again.Seating depth wise, that all depends. I generally start at 10 thou OFF the lands and back it off further and further in 3 thou pushes until I find the sweet spot. I also kind of cheat and use reamers that I know are generally going to shoot in that 10 – 15 off zone though too. Sometimes it pays off to be the judge, jury, and executioner haha.
Do you do load development before, during or after barrel break in?
I’ll do initial seating depth during the before stage along with choosing a low initial powder charge to fireform brass in that chamber. During the “break in”, I’ll check initial velocity, but understand that those numbers will change as the barrel wears in. I will say though, I do choose a velocity node while the barrels speeding up. I’ve yet to find one barrel that has had an issue with me doing it that way. After the velocity node is found, I start my seating depth test previously stated.
I generally don’t touch the load after I’ve found it. The one thing I may do, is extend the bullet as the throat wears. Don’t get this confused with chasing the lands… I’m not changing the depth every 100 – 150 rounds like some of those guys do, I’m just adjusting it every so often (5 – 600 rds), and minimal amounts.
At what MOA or Grouping size do you stop load development?
For practical, I’m done messing with it when it consistently shoots within a quarter MOA multiple times and is flat across in the horizontal. Cold bore, Hot, after waiting 10 min, after waiting an hour, etc. It’s then taken to distance and shot to each target’s waterline. If after adjusting the Kestrel it lines up and stays flat on those lines, I pack up. The load is written down in the rifles notebook and the recipe isn’t altered until the barrel starts to show signs of slowing down. Then I may add a little more powder to bring it back to velocity for a bit, or I may just let it live in the slower range until it dies eventually. This all depends on the group sizes. If it slows down and starts to open up, that’s a pretty good sign its time to call your smith and get a barrel in the lathe.
What components does your rifle and optics that you currently use, consist of?
Here’s a quick rundown of my main rigs:
Action: Kelbly’s Black Bear Tactical SA (6x47L)
Barrel: Lothar Walther USA (Straight 1.25”)
Muzzle Brake: Kelbly KLAW (Big Boy size)
Stocks/Chassis: Manners PRS 2 w/o mini chassis
Trigger: Bix N’ Andy Tac Sport Pro 2 Stage
Optics: Zero Compromise 4-20
Rings/Mount: ADM Recon SL
Action: Kelbly’s Prometheus S/A (25x47L)
Barrel: Lothar Walther USA (AMU)
Muzzle Brake: Kelbly KLAW
Stock/ Chassis: Cadex Defense Field Competition
Trigger: Bix N’ Andy Tac Sport Pro 2 Stage
Optics: Zero Compromise 4-20
Rings/Mount: ADM Recon SL
Action: Kelbly’s Atlas Tactical S/A (6.5x47L)
Barrel: Lothar Walther USA (Straight 1.20”)
Muzzle Brake: Kelbly KLAW
Stock/ Chassis: Manners PRS 1 w/o mini chassis
Trigger: Bix N’ Andy Tac Sport Pro 2 Stage
Optics: Zero Compromise 4-20Rings/Mount: ADM Recon SL
How often do you clean your rifle and barrel?
Practical: Every 3 matches or 600rds. Whichever comes first, and usually just enough to get the carbon out of it.
F Class: After every match, and a complete cleaning process to get everything out and down to bare stainless.
What barrel cleaning equipment, products and procedure do you use?
I’m a huge proponent of making my life easier by using good products that actually work, so I stick with Thorough Clean/Thorough Flush, in both my practical and F Class rifles. I used to use JB Bore paste, which I still do every now and then, but switched the Thorough set up about 2-3 years ago. Great product.
I always use a bore guide fitted for my action/chamber along with high quality nylon brushes and bore rider jags. Spend the money in this department, it pays off in the end.
Generally with my PRS style rifles, Ill run a wet patch down the bore and let it set for a couple minutes. After the time has passed, I’ll push a couple dry patches down and take a look to see if it needs the Thorough Clean, which is a paste, or if I can get away with just getting the carbon out. Most of the time, I’ll just run a wet patch, followed by dry patches, then another wet followed by a couple more dry and call it a day. I don’t necessarily spend a bunch of time on my practical guns, I just want the carbon out so it doesn’t build up. I like to keep the copper in the barrel until it absolutely has to come out, which the barrel will usually tell you by vertical stringing in my experience.
Regarding the F Class rifle, that’s a completely different animal. The best way for me to describe the process, is to forward y’all over to the Winning In the Wind Youtube channel. I don’t personally know him, but his process for his rifles, is eerily similar to how I treat mine. Great info on there.
What do you feel is your biggest factor resulting in your consistency?
Not allowing myself any breaks when it comes to load development. I take it very serious whenever I load for a new barrel or a customers rifle. In my opinion, if you’re not holding yourself accountable during developing a load, and then the subsequent load after, you might as well just buy factory ammo. If the barrel tells me the seating depth is a certain number on the comparator, then that’s where I want to be. Not longer, not shorter, the number is the number until its time to adjust. Same with powder charges. I want to try and get the same velocity every single time…granted that’s not completely feasible, but I can sure as hell try.
Are there any other points you may want to add?
Absolutely. After reading all of this, and getting a glimpse of how I approach reloading, I want to stress the fact that you don’t have to have all the nice things to build really consistent ammo. Hell, I’ve been beaten many many times by guys reloading on simple Hornady LNL kits with beam scales. It’s all about how much attention to detail you put into your process, how well you document the components along with measurements, and how much effort your willing to exert. Reloading is a time consuming and slightly labor intensive activity that is fairly expensive to get into…why waste that money by doing a half-assed job?
And for the love of God…stop chasing velocity! Every barrel is different. Listen to YOUR barrel and stop keeping track of what others are doing. If the rifle is an absolute hammer at a slightly lower velocity, then be grateful. You found a node that’s softer on your equipment. Take the data, go to the range, and LEARN YOUR RIFLE. You will become a better shooter, waste less money, and have far fewer headaches.