Not only a master F-Open shooter, but Keith Also enjoys teaching others as has a great Youtube channel called Winning in the wind, teaching other shooters his techniques, and is an official NRA Master Team Coach.
We Talk with Keith
What shooting disciplines do you practice or compete in?
I compete in F-Open as my primary discipline. From time to time, I shoot some other disciplines, but that is not competition, more of a distraction.
What are your most notable shooting achievements?
I co-held the US National Record for 20 shots at 1000 yards, 200-17x before my teammate Norm Harrold bettered the record. I’ve placed on the podium of 5 separate National level events in a very short period of time including the last 3 consecutive US F-class National Championships.
I am currently “Distinguished” according to the NRA, the highest honor a competitor can receive. Despite all of that, my primary shooting job is teaching and coaching. I am wind coach for a National level F-Open team, which has earned me the honor of being designated as a Master Team Coach by the NRA.
How did you get started in reloading your own ammunition?
I started reloading not long after I started shooting high-power rifles and shotguns. When I was younger, I shot shotgun competitively, and the need for hundreds upon hundreds of rounds per week for practice made reloading a cost-saving measure.
What is your main goal with reloading?
Today, I reload solely for the purpose of being able to tailor my ammunition for the best precision and accuracy.
What sequence do you follow when reloading virgin brass?
From the moment of opening the box, I am evaluating the brass. I’m checking for burrs around the flash holes, primer pocket depth consistency, neck wall consistency, and the overall condition of the brass.
Once I have finished looking it over, I expand the necks with a mandrel style expander. This irons out the necks to a round shape, and allows me to control the neck tension for the first firing. Since many of my chamberings are tight-necked, I turn the necks at this point. After expanding and neck turning, I decide if any attention is needed for the flash holes and primer pockets. If they need a little touch up, I do that, otherwise, I leave them alone.
If the brass needs significant changes to the shoulder, or has been necked up or down from its original form, I anneal the brass before firing. This seems to assist in getting the brass formed nicely.
I fire-form every case, regardless of whether the chambering matches or not. The intention is to work harden the case head before exposing the case to maximum pressures. The goal for this loading is to use a safe load that is in the 50-55k psi range. The result of this, when done right, is extended case life.
What sequence do you follow when reloading fired brass?
When I first get the brass home, I give it a couple of hours in the tumbler with corncob media. This knocks most of the powder residue and carbon off before annealing.
Annealing is next, done with an AMP.
Following annealing, I resize with a full-length sizer with the expander removed. I use one-piece dies to ensure concentricity. I immediately trim the case to length on a Giraud trimmer. This is done in a single motion to save time.
After sizing, for select cartridges (284 Win), I expand with a mandrel to push the donut out and ensure I have consistent internal neck dimensions to support bullet seating.
After sizing, the brass goes back into the corncob media for another tumble to remove the resizing lube.
After tumbling, the flash holes are verified clear with a toothpick, and the primer pockets are cleaned.
Before priming, I lubricate the inside of the necks with NeoLube no. 2 (284 Win and 7 Violator). Other cartridges don’t require this step.
I prime carefully, ensuring consistent primer crush on every primer. Powder is dispensed by an Autotrickler V4 attached to my A&D FX120i scale.
Bullets are seated with Wilson dies in an arbor press.
Do you anneal your brass and why?
I anneal every firing for my match brass. It both extends the case life and helps ensure a consistent shoulder bump when sizing. For other uses, like hunting, I don’t bother.
What caliber do you shoot with and why?
I shoot a lot of different calibers, for different purposes. My main squeeze in F-Open is the 284 Winchester. It is the right balance between shootability and performance.
What does your reloading equipment consist of?
People laugh when they see my loading setup. They seem to be expecting something modern and expensive. I resize on an RCBS Rockchucker II press that I bought second-hand 20 years ago for $50 US. My sizing dies are standard, one-piece Redding dies wherever possible. They are inexpensive and work well. I control shoulder bump with Redding Competition shellholders. I trim cases with a Giraud trimmer. It is my nice piece of equipment…
Powder charges are created by an AutoTrickler V4 on an FX120i scale. Bullets are seated in simple Wilson dies (non-micrometer type).
What brass, powder, bullets and primers do you use or prefer?
I really prefer Lapua brass. This isn’t for any other reason than my familiarity with it and my chambers being designed around it. For powder, I am always chasing something new. I’ve used nearly every medium burn rate, temperature insensitive, powder made in the 284. I really do see that we will not be able to obtain desired powders in the US very soon. I am continually working to understand the breadth of powders that will work well in my match rifle. The same applies to primers. I prefer Wolf KVB-7’s, but the US government banned imports of that primer several years ago. As I reach the end of my supply, I am now testing alternative primers to find which ones will best replace the KVB-7.
What load development method do you use to find a new load?
I shoot 100 yard groups for powder charge first. I have had very limited success with OCW (ladder) methods. I identify likely candidates for my match load, then take those candidates to 600 and 1000 yards to see which shoots best. I chronograph everything, using that as a data point to help me identify better loads from the 100 yard candidates. This assumes I already have experience with the bullet I’m using. If I’m using a new bullet, I start with a low, safe charge and do a rough seating depth test first. Having the seating depth correct can reduce the muddiness of the results of powder testing.
Following powder testing, I return to 100 yards and fine-tune my seating depth and tuner position.
Do you do load development before, during or after barrel break in?
After, always after the barrel settles down. I may shoot a match with the barrel with a “guess” load to get it worn in enough to do final load development. Having shot the same exact chambering and rifle design for 9 years now, I have pretty good guesses on that initial load. Even then, I don’t go to important matches with a guess. I like to “know” what I’m getting into.
At what MOA or Grouping size do you stop load development?
I never stop. Every match is an opportunity to evaluate performance and improve on it. My standards are .25 MOA for big matches. If I can’t obtain that at 600 yards prior to the match, I change components until I can get there.
What components does your rifle and optics that you currently use, consist of?
I use a little of this and a little of that.I have barrels from every barrel manufacturer in the US, and I run both a Kelby action and a Barnard action. The one that shoots the best is the primary, and the other, the backup. I am currently evaluating quite a few optics choices, but my rifles currently wear Nightforce scopes. I find that there is very little difference between manufacturers once load development is done.
How often do you clean your rifle and barrel?
I clean every 100 to 150 rounds. I get nervous going any farther than 150, despite the fact that I’ve never had a rifle stop shooting well due to fouling.
What barrel cleaning equipment, products and procedure do you use?
I use Boretech Eliminator for carbon and copper removal when the barrel is new. As fire-cracking progresses, I get more aggressive, using JB bore paste exclusively near the end of the barrel’s life. I use bronze brushes, and reverse them in the bore. Having my background in engineering gives me the confidence to understand what will and what won’t damage my barrels. Oddly enough, my barrels continue to shoot better as they reach the point where other competitors remove barrels for being “worn out.”
What do you feel is your biggest factor resulting in your consistency?
The biggest factor in consistent match performance is the ability to work with what you have. I have won quite a few matches with rifles that shot quite poorly. Not giving up is the key, always fighting for the middle. Knowing how to make your situation better is a great skill to have. Whether that is making a change to the seating depth or changing the charge, knowing what is going wrong, and finding a way to fix it is the key. It doesn’t hurt to have good shooting strategy either. The best tuned rifle, fired at the wrong moment, or pointed in the wrong direction, misses just as badly as a poorly tuned one.