‘Tips and Tricks’ . . . Preparations for a ‘Ladder Load Test’

Set-up for success…

Ladder Testing can be done in many ways, the original method I read about many years ago was…I thought, over complicated and required too many carefully prepared rounds to get where I wanted to go, so…I shortened and modified that ‘old school’ method so I could get to the meat & taters without so much effort, and in many cases so many trips to the range.

This ‘Tips and Tricks’ installment is not about how I think you should conduct your test; rather, it’s about how I have streamlined the process so that I can get the maximum benefit from the records that I create as I progress along. First, I want to get to the range with everything I need to do the test with the minimum amount of confusion…there are times when someone will come up to the bench and start a conversation about your rifle or ask what your doing…you can’t act like a smuck and say, “Don’t bother me, I’m busy.” So, being courteous, you engage them, and within a few minutes you are able to turn back to the bench and get back to the task at hand…can you do that? Yes, but…you have to have prepared yourself for this before you got there. I can look at this box of rounds and go back to where I left off before the distraction…

'Tips and Tricks' . . . Preparations for a 'Ladder Load Test' 3

It takes a few minutes to set the ammo box up like this, but if I drop it and everything goes sideways I can put it back together in a moment and get back to the task. Notice that I’ve used a marking pen to color the primers…another reason for that is when I get back to the shop to review, I can look at the primers to determine whether or not I am getting into a high pressure area. I wouldn’t bother to load more ammo in this series of tests that would continue in that direction. This particular set-up is what I call a ‘preliminary ladder test’, starting with .5 grain increments…I am looking for potential ‘nodes’ where I will go again with .3~.1’th grain increments to fine tune and get right on the node. I let the group tell me first how close I am to getting a ‘one holer’ or ‘cloverleaf’…thus I save many a repetitious shot.

Log everything you can…don’t rely on memory…

One of the practices in Ladder Testing is to go slowly and avoid heating the barrel. I use the time that I used to impatiently wait between shots to get information logged on each and every shot…using this page to plot each shot by number and to note whether I threw the shot or not…

'Tips and Tricks' . . . Preparations for a 'Ladder Load Test' 5

Notice that there’s a column for the velocity of each round…my chronograph is set up 10′ ahead of the bench, far enough that the muzzle blast doesn’t affect it and yet close enough so that I can read the display also. The amount of information you have access to at the range is incredible…why not keep track of it all?

100 yards down range, this is what I see…

Take your Ladder target prepared, don’t depend on the target butts to have fresh cardboard to tape your target onto…you need a target backer that will show you any indications of the round ‘yawing’…you want to see fresh clean round holes down here…

'Tips and Tricks' . . . Preparations for a 'Ladder Load Test' 7

Notice that there’s a target here for the first two rounds…I usually start with a clean bore and don’t want to influence the Ladder Test with that condition, but at the same time I am interested in where exactly those first two ‘sighter rounds’ impact. It’s never very far out of the group, it’s always very close and in the same place with my Rem 700 VS. The reason that I can say that is because my rifle has shown me this time and time again throughout all the various loads I’ve tested over the years.

This log set was prepared for testing jacketed projectiles and I didn’t anticipate the need for larger targets for that reason…if you are working with cast projectiles I would suggest using a 10″ target for each load increment. At times one of your casts may include an inclusion or air bubble and it’s not uncommon to see a much more ‘open group’ as you work your way through the series of load increments. Either way, all this information goes into a 1″ binder for each rifle I work with…I can look back over the years and see all the tests that I’ve done and that helps to streamline your testing process also.


“Good luck out there Boys…take it easy, be careful…don’t hurt yourselves!”

c h a r l i e

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Tried to find that log notebook at Midway, but failed 🙁

Uncle Jim
Uncle Jim

Very strategic , like the primer thing but pictured you sticking a barrel in someone’s nose if they bothered you at the range. ????


As usual, Charlie gets on point with clear, concise information. Much better than my “no blown primers or split cases” logs. Thanks for the share.

Eagle Eye Shooting
Eagle Eye Shooting

Great article Charlie. Love the idea of marking your primers. Do you happen to have a download link for that Data sheet and mind sharing? I like it’s format. Tried searching for but none peaks my interest like this one


Now there is an organized chap……….it all makes perfect sense Charlie, good post!