Do I Measure by O.A.L or Ogive?

Updated: May 17

What's up reloaders!

Welcome back.

Do I measure by O.A.L or Ogive? the answer's complicated. Let's break this down and explain the parameters.

What is the overall length of a cartridge?

O.A.L and C.O.A.L are the same, in which it defines the cartridge measurement from being at the base of the case to the tip of the projectile. O.A.L stands for Overall Length, while C.O.A.L stands for cartridge overall length. You can find these two used interchangeably in load manuals. Furthermore, your C.O.A.L used in relation to seating depth can drastically change your accuracy, pressure, and velocity.

To dumb down that last sentence for the new guys, had a great explanation,

"The primary effect of loading a cartridge long is that it leaves more internal volume inside the cartridge.  This extra internal volume has a well-known effect; for a given powder charge, there will be less pressure and less velocity produced because of the extra empty space.  Another way to look at this is you have to use more powder to achieve the same pressure and velocity when the bullet is seated out long.

  In fact, the extra powder you can add to a cartridge with the bullet seated long will allow you to achieve greater velocity at the same pressure than a cartridge with a bullet seated short."

Figure 1: Picture from Berger Bullets

"When you think about it, it makes good sense. After all, when you seat the bullet out longer and leave more internal case volume for powder, you’re effectively making the cartridge into a bigger cartridge by increasing the size of the combustion chamber. Figure 1 illustrates the extra volume that’s available for powder when the bullet is seated out long.

Before concluding that it’s a good idea to start seating your bullets longer than SAAMI spec length, there are a few things to consider."-

To highlight on the few things to consider when seating your bullets father than SAMMI standards are:

1. Magazine restrictions: So, you might notice, if you are a .223 loader who uses some heavier grain projectiles in AR platforms, that the projectiles tend to be pretty damn long. As a result, you will not be able to seat your bullets longer because of magazine restraints. However, if you want to single feed the projectiles individually that is definitely an option. In my honest opinion, a pain in the ass on the flip side.

2. The length of your throat: The length of your throat will ultimately determine how long your projectile can be hanging out and about. When chambered with super long projectile sticking out, you will come in contact with what is known as "lands" inside the chamber of your firearm. This is where you will meet noticeable resistance. which brings us to our main topic, Ogive.

Here are the components you will need first to perform Ogive measurements. A bullet comparator kit, a modified case to the cartridge you are reloading for, a length gauge and a set of calipers.

A quick note on the length gauge: You should get the straight gauge for bolt action rifles and the curved gauge for Ar-15 style rifles. However, I have used the straight gauge with ar-15 style rifles. It's just a bit harder.

Now that you have those tools, let's talk about using Ogive to your advantage.

C.B.T.O or commonly known as cartridge base to ogive is exactly what it sounds like. Measuring from the base of the cartridge to the "shoulder" of the projectile.

However, there are three different types of Ogive shapes: Secant, tangent, and hybrid.

Picture from

Now, I want you to take a handful of your projectiles and start measuring them from the base of the projectile to the tip. You will find that they vary in length. If you don't find that, just sit tight for a second.

When manufacturers make projectiles on massive scales, unfortunately, they cannot trim the meplat, or in other words, the tip to the same standards. These variations are unwanted. But wait, theirs more! Even the Ogive can be inconsistent as well from lot to very little though. The whole goal of handloading is making better ammo then what is available from the factory. A lot of individuals will argue that a few thousandths off doesn't really matter. However, until I see statistical data and actual proof, not just simulated data showing that those few thousandths different among the projectile won't affect accuracy, then I will stop sorting them by the same standards. Until then, I am using this to my advantage.

But I digress, back to the topic.

"Which is better if projectiles are inconsistent, OAL or Ogive?"

I'd still say Ogive. If you remember, if you are simply reloading to SAAMI specs which is indicated in your manual, let's say for .223 for this scenario, at 2.260", you are not allowing yourself to add more powder into your case. The longer the projectile is seated out of the case, given that you aren't into the lands, it will allow you to add more powder which translates to greater velocities at the same pressure as one that is seated shorter with less powder. I am not advocating that you shouldn't follow reloading manual guidelines for how much powder you should use, but, I am simply stating that you will gain more velocity.

The other big takeaway is that since there is variation in lengths of projectiles when seating off the OAL method, you will get various amounts of bullet jump. In other words, your bullet might be 0.015" off the lands, then 0.023" off the lands and so forth. Since Ogive tends to be the most accurate out of the two, it is advised that you measure by Ogive for utmost accuracy. However, some projectile manufacturers have higher quality match grade bullets that will be the same length, I'd still advocate you should use the Ogive method for your loads. You will learn in a second how to load by Ogive.

Furthermore, even though Ogive can vary lot to lot, within that lot that you are using Ogive will be super consistent. Therefore, you will be able to adjust your C.B.T.O. However, comparators are not alike, even from the same manufacturer. Different hole diameters will result in them contacting the bullet at different locations. However, as long as you are using the same comparator as you always use, you will be good to go. Just pay attention to what you are doing.

Now that you have an idea of what OGIVE is, how do I measure it?

1. Take your modified case and your length gauge and thread them together.

2. Take the intended projectile you want to hand-load for, and place it inside the case. Make sure the inside rod of the length gauge is loose at this point so the projectile can drop into the brass case.

3. Carefully insert the modified case into your barrel.

4. Start to slowly push the inside rod of the length gauge until you feel the projectile hit the lands of your rifle. At this point, you want to make sure that you are touching them, but do not want to be forcing the projectile. Do this very gently. You will feel the projectile stop when you hit the lands.

5. If the projectile get's stuck, you know you pushed too hard. do the process again.

6. Now that you are touching the lands, tighten the screw at the end of the length gauge so it will keep track of what length you'll need. I recommend doing this a couple of times so you get an exact measurement. make sure your measurements are consistent, just in case you might have pushed the projectile in too far.

7. Connect the comparator to your calipers and re-zero with the comparator gauge on them. Make sure you have the right diameter of fitting in the comparator for your diameter projectile. If you do not know which fitting to use that is provided, reference the back of the box that will tell you exactly which one to use.

8. With the modified case and projectile inserted in, measure the round with the comparator.

9. Write that length down. You will then subtract from that length, from the desired length that you require. "Well, how much should I subtract from the lands?" The answer is that "there isn't a predetermined distance from the lands. Bullet jump is mostly dependent on Ogive shape."-Jake Alphamunitions. Remember the three types of Ogive: secant, tangent, and hybrid. "So, during load development, once the first OCW ladder is completed, you should run a second ladder with variations on seating depth to tighten up the groups."-Alphamunitions To ease your questions a bit, if you find that your C.B.T.O is 3.007", you will subtract from that number.

For example: you like 0.020" off your lands, so you will subtract from 3.007".....3.007"-0.020"

10. Make a ladder test, and measure each round by the Ogive method.

This may seem like a lot of work but it is totally worth it.

As always, shoot straight, be safe, and happy reloading!

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Blake has been writing reloading articles for three years and helping out within the community to further enhance reloading education. In his free time, he works within the community to help out new hand-loaders by educating them on the many variables that come with this wonderful hobby. His passion is solely based on educating others so that they may pass on that information to future generations, keeping the art of hand-loading alive.

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