I have been reloading metallic cartridges for a little over three decades and at this point in my life have used quite a bit of differing equipment. Redding Dies are no stranger to me, and my last die purchase about ten years ago was a set of their .44 Magnum carbide dies.
A rekindling of interest in precision rifle shooting quickly made the acquisition of another set of dies imperative. I don't jump when making a purchase, following the Seven-"P's" (Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance) and carefully research the product and all of the competitors' offerings before making a final decision. This methodical concept was applied here as well.
I was only torn between a selection of the Redding "S" type die or the full boogie Competition Bushing Neck Die Set for about five minutes. The latter, in .308 Winchester won based on a little more versatility in setting adjustments for both the cartridge's neck sizing and overall length. This is known to be a major contributing factor towards establishing accuracy, especially through a basically factory tactical rifle like my Remington 700P-DM.
Delivery of a package from Redding and a frenzy of box ripping revealed the standard green plastic case with twenty injection molded case receptacles in the case lid. Popping the lid open and peeking inside caught my breath like a kid at Christmas morning. Three dies and two Allen keys for locking rings and seating stem "zeroing" sat nestled inside. Each die is held securely in place via integral notches and two studs are there for retaining shell holders secure while in storage, or in transit to the range should you test ammo on the fly.
Also included is a well written set of instructions on exactly what to do to get these gems operational. Subtleties like thoroughly cleaning all three dies, Neck size/ decapper, Seating and the Body size, to remove the tenacious rust preventive before setting them up.
Fifteen minutes later the dies were clean and I began to scrutinize them rather carefully for flaws. To my limited understanding of machining the Redding Dies are visually very well made, all external finishing was flawless, knurling on the die body and locking rings was evenly pointed up, yet not sharp enough to puncture or remove skin with use. The alpha-numeric stamping around the dies' circumference was all to even depth, and the "micrometer type" adjustment knobs were very legible with white lettering and "hash" markings clearly standing out on the blued background. These markings on the knobs' circumference are from 0 to 50 (in .005" increments) per rotation for major and .001" for minor adjustments for each hash line.
All internal parts are very well fitted and only the very necessary minimal clearances exist inside the die bodies. The initial set up and calibration of the dies in my reloading press presented no difficulties and I really like the micrometer feature over conventional dies that have been used in the past. The ability to record cartridge lengths on a notecard with Hornady 168 gr. A-Max, Berger 175 gr. VLD, and Hornady 178 gr National Matches and simply redial for the specific projectile while fine tuning a load is reaching towards handloading Nirvana. Even so all handloads are still carefully checked with a dial caliper.
Next question what the heck is a size bushing? Redding produces a variety of neck size bushings from .185" to .340" in .001" increments. To me, they bear a very distinct resemblance to drill and fabrication bushings used in various industrial applications. A specific sized bushing (diameter is neatly etched in the top) is inserted into the neck size die after removing the stem assembly. The rule is to measure the neck of the loaded rounds and then subtract .002" to .003" from this diameter, giving what is hoped to be the optimal uniform fit of projectile, case neck and dynamic tension.
My one small difficulty was determining which of the neck sizing bushings would best fit my .308 Winchester needs and a quick E-mail to Pat Ryan, Senior Engineer at Redding, made the choice simple. I obtained the .335" and .336" neck bushings in steel, and a .337" bushing in the Titanium Nitride finish. The matte gold TiN finish is supposed to make neck sizing more efficient and the enhanced surface hardening minimizes wear and tear over time.
It seems to be worth the extra couple bucks to me over the conventional bushings based simply on enhanced corrosion resistance in humid environments. Starting with the .337" bushing, I set the neck size die up to full length size the neck and have left it at that setting. There will be time to tinker with the smaller diameters later on down the road.
Having had very good results with Talon's White Feather .308 ammunition, I wanted to try and produce a comparable reload if it could be done. Replicating this ammo for practice sessions may be easier than following the Food Channel's Emeril Lagasse making his Louisiana Firecracker Shrimp, a starting dose of 43.0 grs. incrementally worked up to 43.9 grs. VihtaVuori N-540 powder, some decent brass (I used once fired Talon .308's), Sierras 175 gr. BTHPs, and Federal match primers crammed together in the Redding Competition Seater die for an overall length of around 2.800" which was the measured average of the 200 rounds of White Feather previously obtained for evaluation, and BAM its done! (NOTE: All loads were carefully developed for use in this specific rifle and may not be safe in any other).
I have since made a switch to Federal Gold Medal brass, Hodgdons Varget powder started at 40.0 gr. and slowly worked up to 44.0 gr. which has provided a slightly more cost efficient round with what seems equal ballistic and flight characteristics out to 200 yards. The overall length has also been increased to 2.825" taking maximum advantage of the detachable box magazine length.
These first attempt handloads had both case neck and bullet run-out checks with a Sinclair Concentricity gauge and was well within what I'll call very reasonable limits at less than (+ or -) .003" total spread over the first 100 rounds constructed. Many of them gave readings of much less on the indicator dial. This was accomplished without reciting any of the bench rest Mantras, neck turning the brass, or doing anything else particularly exotic.
An excellent tip passed by Pat Ryan was to rotate the round 90º in the shell holder between the start of bullet seating and the completion of the act. I dunno, linear concentricity or something like that I suppose, but it seems to work pretty darn well with this particular set of dies.
The first Vihtavouri powered pseudo-White Feather load CBS shot went right to point of aim @ 100 yards and a chronograph check revealed that the velocities 2693 fps and 27 fps spreads were pretty good for a very first try. The averages of ten five shot groups ran .668", the largest .833" the smallest in the .370's. I can't make any claims on improved accuracy over previous reloads with this rifle as these are the first rounds loaded, but it is certainly a good start.
If you are contemplating the purchase of a set of top of the line reloading dies for use in a conventional press I would recommend taking a very serious look at the Redding Competition Set. For as in the human form, "A rifle are what it eat!"