Where we are in 2017
Long Range shooting is expensive, 2016 brought us lower cost solutions like the Ruger Precision Rifle, the Savage Stealth or the chassis’d Howa rifle to get guys into shooting a precision rifle at distance. This opens up the sport and brings in a new group of shooters. So that means a lot of the same old questions. When I look at these questions I think, these guys are doing it wrong. You have to look at your Precision Rifle as a System, we have the Rifle, Scope, Shooter and Ammunition. Each one has a bearing on the end results.
One of the success stories of the Ruger Precision Rifle was the twist rate. Ruger recognized that most factory rifles were giving you the wrong twist rate to truly shoot effectively at long distance. For the 308 the rule was to use a 1-12 and assume the shooter will use the crappy 168gr bullet. That is one of the worst choices for shooting Long Range you can make. We have progressed so far past the design of the 168 is comical to even read about it. I get it, the 168 is a cheap solution for Long Range shooting, but trust me, Long Range Shooting is not cheap so stop taking this shortcut. To answer your question, the 175 will work in a 1-12, but part of the success of the RPR is the 1-10 twist rate. Companies reading this, please retire the 1-12. Minimum today should be the 1-11.25, if you want to make a Palma Rifle make a Palma Rifle but for everything else, retire it. The scopes today are so good, we have so many choices, it’s not worth obsessing over them. Stay in your budget and drive on.
So now you have your new rifle and scope, guys want to get consistent hits on target with it. So for 2017 we want to look at our ammunition as if you were the greatest shot on the planet and the deciding factor has nothing to do with your ability to shoot. Trust me though, you need a class, my brain hurts reading your terrible statements online. The videos are even worse, people, Follow Through is a fundamental. The fundamentals are the foundation, so please take the time to learn them. Now that it’s been said, our next piece in the puzzle is the ammunition.
We have two choices here, Factory Ammunition or Hand Loads ? This is important stuff that often gets overlooked or at least is very misunderstood as to what really matters here.
Factory Offerings for the New Shooter
308 Ammo has been around for a very long time. They do 308 right in so many ways it’s almost not worth reloading it. Take the Prime Ammunition 175gr Load. You want the heavier bullet with the 308, it’s much more desirable over the cheaper 168 in every way possible. Prime Ammunition is made by RUAG/Swiss P which is about as good as it gets. Out of every one of my rifles the Standard Deviation for the 175 factory load is no more than 9fps, accuracy wise, forgetaboutit, stellar. Anything below 10fps is a big win when it comes to factory ammo in terms of your deviation. Inside 1000 yards an SD of 20 is hard to see on target, so that gives you can idea of what to shoot for.
The reason we choose factory ammo is, first off, availability, second the time savings not having to reload and for some the start up cost. Many would rather walk in the shop, slap $30 down and be at the range shooting instead of spending their evenings in the garage reloading. A lot of people enjoy reloading, but just as many do not. There is a learning curve to reloading and for some guys they don’t want to invest the time or energy into it. I get that, so we won’t hold it against anyone.
In order to get the most out of your 308, using the 175gr factory load you want to be over 2600fps. That guarantees solid hits on target at 1000 yards, remember you shoot awesome so now the bullet needs to its part. So if your rifle and factory load is going at least that fast you are off to a good start. No reason to handload if you don’t want to. But this is what I would consider the bottom of the spectrum for guys wanting to do anything else outside of training or plinking with a precision rifle. On a scale of 1 to 10, we are talking a 3.
Enter the 6.5s
We have a lot more factory offerings for the 6.5 Creedmoor today and it’s usually cheaper than quality match 175gr 308 ammo. Yes you can find some Privi Partisan for $18 a box, usually 168, but it’s not the same. The 6.5CM has you beat in every direction. It’s not a fad, it’s reality. Ballistically superior with less recoil, oh, just trust me, every flavor of 6.5 is better than your 308. The exception to this rule is few and far between.
Hornady, Prime, Winchester, Desert Tech, the list is growing everyday with solid 6.5 Creedmoor ammo. My only recommendation here is to keep the brass and get into reloading. It’s great because if you need 6.5CM ammo you can find it on the shelf, but if you want to get peak performance out of your rifle you want to reload it. I have shot competitively with factory ammo, and the ease of having a case there waiting for you cannot be overlooked. Time wise its cheaper to order it.
I use a ton of factory ammo for training and demonstrations, but if I really want to be competitive in the next PRS Match I shoot, and that means Top 10, I have to reload. I can usually hover around the Top 25 with factory ammo, but to turn it up to 11, I need to reload. For many a Top 25 is good, but this only showcases why the bullet and Muzzle Velocity matters. I can increase my standings by fine tuning my load, that is what we call a Clue.
Everyday I get emails and private messages asking how I get such great results from factory ammo, simple, I practice.
Again, great cartridge, more and more factory loads available, from Prime Ammo, Federal, Black Hills, and even Hornady has gotten into the 260REM game. This stuff is nearly identical to the 6.5CM when it comes to using factory ammo. It’s in the reloads where it can potentially out shine the other guy with a 6.5CM. It gives you a tick more Muzzle Velocity with a heavier bullet, but generally has to be loaded longer which can cause an issue grabbing the lands. The 6.5CM and 6.5X47 are shorter for a reason, that reason, loading the bullet longer. I have just as many 260REMs as I do 6.5CM rifles and you can’t hardly tell them apart.
Super expensive, but Lapua does offer it in a factory load. It’s great to get you started, and to save up the brass for reloading but it’s slower than you want out of the box. You will not get the desired results for competitive shooting using the factory 6.5x47 ammo. The small primers can also be an issue with some of the heavier tactical rifles, so you have to be ready to adjust. If a $110 a box of 50 is okay with you, then by all means shoot the factory Lapua stuff. I do quite a bit as I am too lazy to reload it. But it’s not giving me the true performance of the round.
Everyday another company is offering a very good 6.5 load that you can buy off the shelf. And don’t forget you have options for a custom loads using companies like Copper Creek Ammo. Josh Lapin will custom load anything to your spec’s or he can default to a proven one that will eclipse the typical factory stuff, however it is not cheap compared to the alternatives. Paying someone to load it for your will definitely add to the cost. I will not deny, I like to pay these guys as my time is worth more than reloading 500 rounds. Today factory ammo is so good, in the context of what I am doing, I shoot it.
Enter the 6mm Creedmoor
The end of 2016 brought us factory Hornady 6CM, at the same low price as 6.5CM. This is great news to competitive shooters and hunters. While essentially a 243, it’s showing more favor thanks to the rebranding Hornady has done here. Heck even Ruger dropped the RPR in 243 in favor of the RPR in 6CM.
This competition load was used a by the guys at GA Precision for their team rifles, and my first time back to the PRS after an 18 Month lay off put me in 11th Place using a 6CM built by George Gardner at GAP. I picked up the rifle at the range on Thursday and shot it in competition on Saturday and Sunday and loved every minute of it. It’s point hit, point hit, point hit just faster than you read this.
Downside to 6CM is gonna be barrel life. It used to be barrel life and ammo cost, but now just barrel life. It's gonna be 1/2 that the 6.5CM. Barrels are replaceable so don’t sweat it, they make more everyday. Interesting side note, my 6CM is also a Gain Twist Barrel from Bartlein. Gain Twist barrels are better because a wider variety of bullets like them.
I shoot factory ammo a lot and I like it as it gives me instant flexibility to switch bullets. I can go from shooting a 130gr bullet, reach over, grab a different box now I have the 140 at my finger tips. No need to go home to reload it.
Today’s factory ammo is super consistent, I experience excellent accuracy, and I am not spending all my time behind a press. As much as I shoot every week, it’s not worth it for me to reload everything. Sure I keep my brass, but I always have some custom loads on hand to test with. When I need to reload I can, but factory ammo suits me perfect 75% of the time. Nothing in my training is going to be negatively effected by using factory ammo. I understand the limitations vs my custom loads and operate accordingly.
Do you Even Reload, Bro ?
Without a doubt handloads are gonna be better and that is what will make the difference in 2017.
The bullets are changing so that you can pick the very best balance of speed and weight to give you something no factory offering will. Some of these will need a specific twist rate, others can take advantage of the factory rifle barrels. It’s about the right tool for the job, and reloading tailors the load to your rifle, making it the perfect tool for the long range shooter.
Look at what Nosler is doing with the RDF Line of bullets. Improving the Meplat as if you pointed them yourself. This small change to a typical line of bullet weights has made a signification impact on the BC of the bullet. Nosler gets it, just like a Hornady did changing the tips of their line. It doesn’t take much to effect performance and our end results. With more and more companies using Doppler Radar they are seeing how and where things are falling off. That is why you are seeing these small but important changes to the bullet’s design.
Another step in the right direction for the 6.5CM crowd is the release of Lapua brass. Hugely popular with the most anal of reloaders, this equalized the argument between 6.5CM and 260REM. It’s now pretty much a wash between the two. You might still see a modest Muzzle Velocity gain with the 260REM but it’s within the margin of error. Now the question comes down to OAL, can you fit it in a magazine.
Consistency is key to Long Range Shooting,
When you are shooting long range and especially for guys who will go beyond 1000 yards, you want single digit SDs with their handloads. It’s all about consistency and that will do it. Most will focus on the BC of the bullet, which is one element of it, but that single digit SD has real bearing on the end results especially past 1000 yards. Inside your typical distances, inside 1000 yards, it may not show up as much, but outside it begins to matter. Vertical Spread is a buzz kill.
Reloading will also give you that extra 50fps - 100fps over the factory load and extend your range to the next level. BCs are a product of several factors, one very important factor is Muzzle Velocity. If you are 200fps slower than it was measured at, you are not gonna get that published BC out of your bullet. You need to understand how fast it was going when it was measured. Many will test and adopt their own BC value based on their system and load. This is like “truing” but a bit more detailed. Muzzle Velocity, Twist Rate, can be quite unique to your system so how the bullet reacts will vary. Defaulting to the published numbers when your speed are down or when your barrel is shorter will cause ballistic calculator issues. So test and true your BC based on your system. That will help confirm your actual MV too which is all data needed for ballistic solvers.
Picking the right powder to get higher velocities and lower pressures is something you can tinker with. It’s one of the reason I use powders like 2000MR for my heavy 308 loads. I can optimize the bullet, increase the weight and maintain velocities even out of a short barrel. Be sure to check out my reviews of the Warner Tool Flat Line Projectiles, a lot of details go into me shooting a 20 Inch Accuracy International Rifle to 1500 yards - consistently. Better bullets, better powder, same rifle with improved results. Don’t upgrade, adapt, improvise, overcome.
On to Better Bullets
So finally to the bullets, I can invalidate just about every argument for Cartridge A vs Cartridge B just by picking the right bullet. I mentioned the Noslers, the Flat Line Projectiles, guys are fond of the Bergers, and this last year gave us the new Hornady offerings. Bullets are changing, and changing for the better.
Long Range Shooting is expensive, so if your wallet is faint of heart you can stop right here. When I talk monolithic solids and better bullets I am really talking more money. For some it’s worth it, for others they don’t see the point. I get that, but these bullets are purposes built to exceed jacketed bullets in so many ways. It’s a game changer when you dive into them. While not all created equal, when they work, they work exceptionally well. One exception to the more money is the RDF line from Nosler. Very competitively priced, with improved numbers to behind it.
Let’s take my 2015 article, I briefly mention using better bullets to breathe new life into your 308. Well, you can do better than that thanks to guys like Dan Warner and the Flat Line Projectile. The advantages gained by going to a monolithic solid bullet cannot be understated. It’s the game changer when we have two people with the same level of competence and equipment. The better bullet will win, especially when the bullet is twice as good vs only a few percentage point better. That can be absorbed by target size. But when the difference is a BC increase of .15 G1 at a speed that rivals something 2 steps down in weight, The Shooter wins. With the Flat Line Projectile I can turn my 20 Inch 308 into a 24” 6.5 using a 160gr bullet loaded to Mag Length. That is crazy good. Sure it will cost more, but it’s cheaper than a new rifle. You also want to pick and choose your battles, this is not training or plinking ammo. It’s for when you want to get the most out your performance. Some precision rifle series are open, so the 308 shooter is competing against the guy with the 6.5SAUM. Using a solid with a BC of .6 or more will certainly help balance the field a bit. It may not be worth it to invest $5000 in a new rifle, but $500 in a bunch of new bullets can make a difference.
If you handload and you should consider it, try loading the 185gr Juggernaut with a powder like 2000MR instead of using a 175gr TMK. Spend a few bucks extra and immediately see the difference in your long range shooting. Heavier bullet, better BC and higher velocities, a recipe for success if I ever read one. I get 2700fps out of my 22” barrel with a 185gr Juggernaut. Pop over to JBM and put that in your solver and smoke it. You can easily compare the results on paper to help decide.
Shooting a 6.5, instead of the 140, increase the speed and use the 136 Scenar L. It’s super forgiving to load and the BC is roughly the same but with more speed behind it. More speed is good. If the BC is the same, but one load is going faster, that load wins at distance.
While Hornady has a factory Creedmoor load for the 147gr 6.5, I think reloaded you will see better performance out of it. It was mainly designed for the 6.5SAUM guys, so it will be heavy in a Creedmoor case, which translates to slow. I think this load should have been a SuperFormance one to keep the speeds up a bit. But we’ll see I have yet to shoot it in this offering, and I plan on testing it out as I shoot a ton of 6.5CM.
The ELR World Record Shooters
So every week there is a guy with a 375CT who is claiming a world record at 4000m. Yes they are doing some incredible stuff shooting at those distances. I will let you in on a secret, it’s all about the bullet. Everything else is just money, well money and a lot of sighter rounds.
At ELR distances the bullet and load are the determining factors. Loading the right bullet, with the right powder and getting that single digit SD is what you need to succeed at ELR distances, including these World Record Distances. To do it right you need to spend about $9 a round or more, loaded to exacting tolerances. Factory ammo while fun here, will not cut it.
I would spend all my extra time mastering the load vs doing anything else with the rifle. Heck I would practice with a 338 and only shoot my 375CT for record. In fact if you want to go that route, build two rifles, one for load development and one for record. Because it’s more about the load than the shooter.
A super high BC monolithic solid loaded right, and pushed hard enough will win the day. Standard Deviations at these distances will cause a miss. It’s why they shoot 10 and hit 2, or shoot 17 and hit 1, more so than the wind because they usually cherry pick the conditions. They know at 8AM or 6PM the winds are calm and will attempt the shots under the most favorable wind conditions possible. The variation is in the load, mainly cause they have a team of spotters helping call the shot. The load deviation is only known after the shot is fired so you cannot predict it without bringing that SD down as far as possible.
It’s all about the bullet… So don’t mistake getting lucky at any range for accuracy or consistency. If you can’t repeat it immediately and consistently it doesn’t count. Hit 1, miss 9 is not precision nor accuracy.
2017 Think about it beyond the Gear
You have the rifle it won’t change right away. That scope that costs $400 more then the one you are using is probably not gonna help you hit the target any better, but the load will. What bullet you are using and how fast you are pushing it matters. End results matter, the end result is measured by putting the bullet on target. It’s not about the paint job on the rifle.
Worry less about what “App” to use when you never shot past 400 yards, and more about what you are shooting and how. You can buy a certain amount of accuracy but precision is on you. I can shoot with a $4000 scope or a $1400 one and hit the target the same. Gear only gets you so far, it’s about the right load and the proper application of the fundamentals of marksmanship. That can mean a box of quality ammunition from a company like Prime, or it can mean a great custom load tailored to my rifle.
My last bit of advice, don’t fall into that cycle of endless load development. If your accuracy is 3/8th an inch at 100 yards and your SD is 5fps with a speed that puts you in the upper third, you are good. Speed kills, figure a Muzzle Velocity that will shoot in the heat, and not cause an issue, reduce your SD to a single digit, but once you hit that sub 1/2MOA zone call it day. Unless you are shooting Bench Rest. But if you are a field or tactical shooter, sub 1/2MOA Is fine. Field and Tactical Shooters are not group shooters, that is Bench Rest and F Class and they have a whole different set of rules and equipment to help them shoot tiny groups. Instead of spending every weekend yanking on the press handle doing load development, get it done and get out and shoot. I am far from an anal retentive reloader, but still manage to get the job done. The results will speak for themselves. Stay consistent and you will stay on target.
This has been Lowlight for Sniper’s Hide and welcome to 2017.
Shoot more, complain about the rest less.