August 03, 2005
Rick confirmed why law-enforcement agencies, competition shooters, and hunters shoot Black Hills ammunition by firing 13 different loadings of the .223.
Black Hills Ammunition (Dept. ST, P.O. Box 3090, Rapid City, SD 57709; 605-348-5150; (www.black-hills.com) has been putting ammunition together since the 1980s, and during that time it has established itself as a master of making highly accurate ammo in relatively small quantities. Small is relative because Black Hills produces many millions of rounds each year, just not in the quantity or variety that the major ammo companies produce. Rather, Black Hills's focus is on top-quality and specialty rounds.
The U.S. military recognized the outstanding quality of Black Hills ammunition and contracted with the company for its competition 5.56mm ammo as well as high-accuracy specialty rounds for military units engaged in combat. Law-enforcement agencies nationwide use Black Hills ammunition for training and other law-enforcement purposes. Discerning sportsmen across America shoot Black Hills ammo as well.
Loaded With Care
I've had the opportunity to visit Black Hills several times over the years, and what I have seen there is that basic handloading techniques are applied to ammo making, just on a larger scale than the average handloader uses to load ammunition. Black Hills ammunition is assembled with no less care than you apply to your own handloads. In many ways Black Hills ammo is loaded with even more care than most of us apply to our handloads. Do you inspect every primer, every powder charge level? Black Hills does. Do you reject every round that shows any sort of blemish? Black Hills does. Are your loads developed for a high level of shot-to-shot uniformity, accuracy, safety, and function reliability in a wide variety of firearms? Black Hills ammo is.
Black Hills assembles ammunition with all new components, including new cases, and packages them in a red box. In the .223 and four handgun calibers the company also loads once-fired cases, and this ammo is packed in a blue box. Whether the firm is loading new cases or once-fired cases, the care that goes into producing quality ammo is the same.
Components are selected based on a variety of parameters, including accuracy and shot-to-shot pressure and velocity uniformity. Black Hills co-owner Jeff Hoffman is not as limited in his powder and bullet selection as large companies often are. Components are chosen as a handloader might choose them: from all those available. One difference is that Hoffman has the advantage of pressure- and velocity-measuring equipment to help him determine what is really performing better and not simply what shoots best in a single firearm.
Individual components are then inspected and rounds are examined at every stage of the loading process. Even during the loading process, samples are checked for shot-to-shot uniformity and accuracy. All ammunition lots are labeled with a number identifying the inspector, the loading machine operator, the machine it was loaded on, and the date it was loaded.
With only this lot number, Hoffman can determine from records when a loading machine was set up, who set it up, who checked it after initial set-up, and how often it was checked by the supervisor during the ammo run. There is specific information on all components used and the periodic pressure and velocity checks conducted during each run. All dimensional information is recorded and available based on a lot number as well. Additionally, Hoffman himself checks tolerances on the loading machines on a random basis.
In short, Hoffman produces the best ammunition that he knows how to make, and the results are showing up in the many reports from law-enforcement agencies and from military contracts and success in competition.
Putting The Ammo To a Test
To put some of Black Hills's ammunition to the test, I fired a variety of .223 Remington ammunition in a couple different test barrels. I used two test barrels due to the wide range of bullet weights--from 50 to 80 grains--loaded in the .223 at Black Hills. A standard sporting rifle twist is 1:12 for the .223 Remington cartridge, a twist that stabilizes bullets originally designed for sporting use from 40 to 60 grains. The military and long-range match shooters prefer a heavier bullet in the 68- to 80-grain range. Here a quicker twist is needed to stabilize these heavier bullets.
For the 50- to 60-grain bullets I used a Wiseman 24-inch test barrel with a standard 1:12 twist. For bullets of 68 grains and heavier I fired the ammo in a Krieger test barrel with a 1:8 rifling twist. I also shot the 60-grain bullets in the quick-twist 1:8 barrel just to see if this twist held an advantage with the midweight bullet.
Based on a lot of shooting experience from a machine rest as well as from sporting rifles, I believe that accuracy in large part is a chance mating of a firearm with the vibrations it produces from a specific type of ammunition. The folks at Browning illustrated the concept with experiments conducted during the development of the BOSS. With the BOSS, a weight is added to the rifle's muzzle and the weight can be moved fore or aft on threads to alter a barrel's vibration. What was determined during the tests was that if a bullet exited the muzzle as the barrel was changing directions during a vibration cycle, the muzzle was more likely to be in the same place for each shot as each bullet exited. The firearm was adjusted for the ammo. Hence, any given load is more likely to be accurate.
Instead of adjusting the firearm, a handloader without the BOSS system can alter vibration patterns by approaching the issue from the standpoint of the ammunition, by adjusting a powder charge slightly or by varying bulletseating depth a bit. This is how handloads are tweaked to an individual firearm until they group well.
However, due to this factor of firearm individuality, it is a challenge to produce ammunition that shoots well in a wide variety of firearms. The truth is that not every firearm will shoot a given load well, not even a great load. A lot of factors influencing accuracy are specific to the firearm. Ammunition is only part of the picture, but at the same time I am the first to admit that there are loads that are inherently good loads and which tend to shoot well in a lot of firearms.
If you're shooting factory ammo and do not have the ability to tweak a load as a handloader does, one option is to simply try different factory loads until you find one that is compatible and shoots to your desired standards with your individual firearm. During this process of trying to find a good-shooting load, you will often find that in any given firearm some over-the-counter loads shoot terribly.
For an ammo manufacturer the trick is to produce ammo that is likely to shoot well. Even if every load does not shoot well in any one firearm, at least one loading should shoot well. As a test, a person could either fire a single loading in a lot of different firearms or he could shoot a lot of different loadings in a single firearm. Since most of us have only one firearm of a given caliber and type, I used the latter approach in shooting the Black Hills ammo. I simply used a second barrel to keep the firearm reasonably compatible with the bullet weights used.
To get a good average, I fired three 10-shot strings with each of 13 different Black Hills .223 loadings. Some of the loadings may have been the same with the exception of using a new case or a once-fired case. You can see the results of all this shooting in the accompanying chart. New cases are indicated by a "BHA" (for Black Hills Ammunition). Once-fired and remanufactured military cases are indicated by an "LC" in the chart; LC is also the headstamp on these cases, indicating Lake City Arsenal, where the brass originated.
Getting a good 10-shot group with no alibis is tough to do. There are stories of a single bullet that for no explained reason flies out of what might have been a tight cluster. This often occurs with a three-shot string and many times with a five-shot string. If you're lucky enough to fire a group without a flier, you can end up with a very tight group. However, usually what happens if another five or seven shots are fired to complete a 10-shot string, other bullets fill in the space between the main group and the flier to make a reasonably rounded group. Ten shots are a more reliable indicator when it comes to predicting what a load is likely to do in the future.
The problem with 10-shot groups is that when you report them, everyone thinks you aren't shooting very well or that the ammunition is not good because the group sizes are so much larger than three- or five-shot groups. Also, when we're firing three- or five-shot groups with a flier, it is only natural to assume that it was caused by a flinch or "pulling" the shot. Therefore, since the flier was our own fault, the tendency is to eliminate it from any reporting of group size.
This is one of the advantages of using a machine rest and the Oehler acoustic target system. The machine rest reduces the human element, and the Oehler target system precludes any fudging of group measurement. All shots are shown, groups are what they are, and alibis are not part of the system.
The Keys To Black Hills's Success
Part of the reason for the great success of Black Hills is the basic business practice of Jeff and Kristi Hoffman, company owners. Here is a nutshell description with a bit of background in Jeff's own words:
"We started over 20 years ago in a small rented building making remanufactured ammunition for local cops and a few dealers. I was a young cop too ignorant and inexperienced in business to know how badly the odds were against us and too stubborn to accept the possibility of failure.
"We did have a few things going for us. I had the full support of my wife Kristi, who is now my sole business partner. She believed we could do it. We had parents who backed us by sharing business experience and by being a model of what is possible with hard work. They supported our ideas and even took a risk financially to guarantee a small loan to start with since we had already been laughed out of every bank in town.
"I had ballistic knowledge and a love of the shooting sports imparted to me by my grandfather from the time I was old enough to listen to him. Most importantly, we had what some might call luck but is actually God recognizing when you are in need of a hand.
"We now have a crowded 16,000 square feet of manufacturing and supply thousands of loyal dealers across the country. We produce new ammunition for all four branches of the U.S. military, including all current contracts for 5.56 match ammunition. We supply ammunition to most of the U.S. firearms manufacturers and many custom gunmakers. Law-enforcement agencies nationwide rely on our ammunition for duty and training.
"We have been successful. Our recipe for success is to make ammunition the only way we know how, the best it can be, and further to treat our customers fairly and provide outstanding personal service. This simple formula has worked for us."
Evaluating The Test Results
After using this machine rest for several years, I have determined that a 1.5-inch 10-shot group at 100 yards or a 3.25-inch group at 200 yards is a good one. As you can see in the charts, I fired 41 10-shot groups with Black Hills ammo of all bullet weights. The ammo incorporated both new and remanufactured ammunition. Of these 41 10-shot groups, 36 of them were smaller than three inches at 200 yards; 31 of the clusters were 2.5 inches or less at 200; and 11 of them were less than two inches. Perhaps most impressive was the fact that five of the 10-shot groups were under 1.5 inches at 200 yards!
One of the groups fired with the 50-grain V-Max and new cases measured 1.4 inches. If I were inclined to eliminate a flier, I could eliminate a single shot and the group would measure 0.9 inch for the remaining nine shots. Another 10-shot string with the remanufactured 68-grain hollowpoint loading measured 1.3 inches. Eliminate the second shot from the group, and it measures 0.8 inch.
The Black Hills 50-grain V-Max loading shot so well from the machine rest that I wanted to shoot it in one of my favorite custom-stocked coyote rifles. This rifle began as an Interarms Mini Mark X. I fitted it with a Timney trigger, Dakota bolt shroud, and three-position safety. The rifle has a Dakota steel grip cap and a Neidner-style checkered steel buttplate. The sling studs are also from Dakota. The metal and stock work were done in my shop by Brad Elder. Larry Brace checkered the stock and rust-blued the barreled action. The rifle is topped with a Leupold 3-9X scope on a Redfield base and sports a 20-inch barrel. These basic actions and barreled actions are made in Europe and are currently imported by Charles Daly.
A five-shot group from the coyote rifle measured 1.25 inches with four of the five shots in 0.6 inch. I knew exactly when the shot went out of the group and called it. It was my fault, but even with the flier the group is plenty good for any coyote rifle and ammo. Instrumental velocity for the 20-inch barrel was 3211 fps at 15 feet from the muzzle.
Black Hills loads ammunition in a variety of calibers and bullet styles, both handgun and rifle, in red box new, blue box remanufactured, or top-of-the-line black box Gold rifle ammunition. Black Hills also has a great line of cowboy ammunition in appropriate calibers.
|SHOOTING BLACK HILLS .223 AMMUNITION |
|BULLET ||CASE ||OVERALL CARTRIDGE LENGTH (inches) ||MUZZLE VELOCITY (fps) ||STANDARD DEVIATION (fps) ||BALLISTIC COEFFICIENT ||200-YARD ACCURACY (inches) |
|Wiseman 24-inch Barrel, 1:12-inch Twist |
|50-gr. V-Max ||BHA ||2.250 ||3339 ||18 ||.234 ||1.40 |
|50-gr. V-Max ||BHA ||2.250 ||3344 ||17 ||.235 ||1.40 |
|50-gr. V-Max ||BHA ||2.250 ||3361 ||46 ||.233 ||1.70 |
|50-gr. V-Max ||LC ||2.247 ||3305 ||22 ||.233 ||1.40 |
|50-gr. V-Max ||LC ||2.247 ||3309 ||23 ||.233||2.10|
|52-gr. Match HP||BHA||2.190||3229||19||.203||2.40|
|52-gr. Match HP||BHA||2.190||3255||25||.203||2.20|
|52-gr. Match HP||BHA||2.190||3234||12||.203||1.90|
|52-gr. Match HP||LC||2.208||3330||18||.209||2.50|
|52-gr. Match HP||LC||2.208||3327||17||.209||2.40|
|52-gr. Match HP||LC||2.208||3325||26||.208||3.60|
|Krieger 24-inch Barrel, 1:8-inch Twist|
|68-gr. Match HP||BHA||2.211||2894||15||.271||1.60|
|68-gr. Match HP||BHA||2.211||2883||13||.273||2.10|
|68-gr. Match HP||BHA||2.211||2873||37||.271||2.40|
|68-gr. Match HP||LC||2.224||2907||21||.272||1.30|
|68-gr. Match HP||LC||2.224||2898||25||.271||2.80|
|68-gr. Match HP||LC||2.224||2897||35||.272||2.00|
|75-gr. Match HP||BHA||2.247||2827||14||.348||2.30|
|75-gr. Match HP||BHA||2.247||2834||17||.354||4.10|
|75-gr. Match HP||BHA||2.247||2826||13||.355||2.50|
|75-gr. Match HP||LC||2.242||2752||12||.350||2.50|
|75-gr. Match HP||LC||2.242||2744||13||.354||1.80|
|75-gr. Match HP||LC||2.242||2748||12||.356||1.50|
|80-gr. Match HP AMU||BHA||2.499||2879||9||.380||2.30|
|80-gr. Match HP||BHA||2.499||2863||12||.390||1.20|
|80-gr. Match HP||BHA||2.499||2866||13||.390||2.20|
|NOTES: Each line represents the average for 10 shots fired from a test barrel with the Oehler Model 43 PBL using Model 57 infrared screens on a 20-foot spacing. Velocities are instrumental at 15 feet from the muzzle. Group sizes are for 10 shots at 200 yards. Groups were recorded with an Oehler acoustic target. All remanufactured ammunition was with Lake City Arsenal brass as indicated by "LC." Newly manufactured ammunition is indicated by "BHA."|