Well, the data is in for the 2014 “What the Pros Use!” For the past 3 years, we’ve collected data on the equipment the best precision rifle shooters are using. The Precision Rifle Series tracks how top shooters finish in major rifle matches across the country. The highest ranked shooters qualify to compete in the PRS Season Championship Match. This data is based on the gear those elite shooters used in 2014. For more info on the Precision Rifle Series and who these guys are scroll to the bottom of this article.
The previous couple years have shown a trend towards the 6mm caliber. Many were anxious to see if this was a fleeting fad, or a permanent evolution in precision rifles. 2014 gave a clear answer: 50% more shooters were using a 6mm than a 6.5mm. While there were a handful of competitors using a 7mm or 30 caliber in previous years, in 2014 100% of the top shooters were either using a 6mm or 6.5mm. Of the shooters who finished in the top 50 in the PRS, 60% were using a 6mm cartridge, and 40% were using a 6.5mm cartridge.
Here is chart showing the popularity trends for the 6mm and 6.5mm over the past 3 years, among shooters who finished in the top 50 each year. This makes it easy to see the clear separation that occurred this year. 6mm calibers have obviously become the caliber of choice for this style of long-range, precision target shooting.
Among the shooters who placed in the top 10, the 6mm was even more popular. It looks like there was only 1 shooter using a 6.5mm, and 8 were using 6mm. (Note: In case you notice 8+1 isn’t 10 … the 10th place shooter was the only shooter that didn’t complete the survey.) Among those placing 11-20, it was an even mix between the two cartridges.
When you look at all of the shooters in the top 50, you’ll see that the average finish is lower for those using 6mm cartridges. This was the same trend we saw in 2013, but it’s even more amplified this year. The average finish for shooters using a 6mm caliber was 22nd, and 30th for those using a 6.5mm caliber.
There is a question about whether that is correlation or causation, which essentially is just saying did those shooters place higher because they were using a 6mm … or did it just so happen that the top shooters chose to use a 6mm cartridge. You’d likely need random sampling and a larger sample size to be able to answer that definitively, so I’ll leave it up to you guys to debate. I bet these guys could be successful with either caliber … they’re outstanding shooters. What’s obvious, is the top shooters are moving to the 6mm caliber. It’s not like there are caliber sponsors influencing choices here. Each shooter has the freedom to pick whatever they want, and most believe a 6mm a cartridge gives them an edge.
Most Popular Rifle Cartridges
There was a new favorite cartridge in 2014, which was clearly separated from the rest: 6mm Creedmoor. 30% of the shooters who finished in the top 50 were using a 6mm Creedmoor! It was the most dominant cartridge in recent history.
The 2nd most popular cartridge overall was the 6.5×47 Lapua, followed closely by it’s 6mm sister, the 6×47 Lapua. Among the top 10 shooters, 4 shooters were firing a 6mm Creedmoor, and 4 were firing a 6×47 Lapua.
Behind those was the very popular 6.5 Creedmoor, then old faithful … the 260 Rem. The 260 Rem was the dominant cartridge a few years ago, and still has a sizable following among these shooters.
If you look at the average finish by cartridge, the 6×47 Lapua was at the top of the list. That just means on average, the shooters using a 6×47 cartridge placed higher on the leader board than those using other cartridges. Behind it was the 6XC, which also had the lowest average finish last year. 3rd in line was the 6mm Creedmoor, followed by the 6.5×47 Lapua, 260 Remington, and 6.5 Creedmoor. Not to beat a dead horse, but it’s interesting to note that the top 3 cartridges are all 6mm … and the bottom 3 are all 6.5mm.
Here is your list of the most popular cartridges among this group of elite shooters. Each of them was used by at least 3 shooters who finished in the top 50. These six combined to make up 91% of the cartridges used among the top 50 shooters.
Here is a side-by-side visual comparison of the top six cartridges. Thanks to AmmoGuide.com for allowing me to use their cartridge images.
There are a few modern cartridge design attributes common to virtually every cartridge created in the past 20 years:
- Steeper shoulder slope (around 30°). Older cartridge designs have a more shallow shoulder, typically around 20°. Cartridge designers have found a 30 degree has a lot of benefits. One is that it slows case growth, which means less trimming and longer brass life. Another benefit is the difference of how pressure builds with steeper shoulders, which can allow you to get the same velocities with less powder.
- Longer case neck (around 0.30″). Modern cartridges are designed with a longer neck to better support the bullet. This can promote concentricity and ensure the bullet is more perfectly aligned with the bore.
The 260 Rem is the only cartridge out of this bunch that doesn’t closely match these attributes. It has a 20° shoulder and the neck is 0.2595″. Does that mean it’s a train-wreck? Absolutely not. I just thought it was interesting to notice.
One other thing to notice is that the Lapua cases use a small rifle primer (both the 6.5×47 Lapua and the 6×47 Lapua), which the other 4 use a large rifle primer. Some believe the smaller rifle primer can deliver more consistent ignitions and therefore lower deviation in muzzle velocity. David Tubb has cited that “a detailed study of large and small rifle primers showed that large rifle primers worked best when the propellant charge exceeds 35 grains.” I’m not familiar with that study, and he didn’t cite any sources. All of these cases have a typical powder charge weight around 35-45 grains. I’ve also heard others say that the smaller primer pocket allows you to push these cartridges to higher pressures … but that doesn’t sound safe to me, and it likely isn’t recommended by Lapua. So there is a little debate surrounding the small or large rifle primers. I don’t have the answer, but it’s one more thing that differentiates these cartridges.
If you’d like to see the exact dimensions for these cartridges, click on the image below. I couldn’t find the cartridge dimensions for the 6mm Creedmoor, but the others are provided. Thanks again to AmmoGuide.com for allowing me to share these diagrams.
Meet The Pros
You know NASCAR? Yes, I’m talking about the racing-cars-in-a-circle NASCAR. Before NASCAR, there were just a bunch of unaffiliated, regional car races. NASCAR brought structure by unifying those races, and created the idea of a season … and an overall champion. NASCAR identified the top races across the country (that were similar in nature), then combined results and ranked competitors. The Precision Rifle Series (PRS) is like NASCAR, but for rifle matches.
The PRS is a championship style point series race based on the best precision rifle matches nationwide. PRS matches are recognized as the major league of sniper-style rifle matches. At the end of each year, the scores from around 15 different national matches are evaluated and the top shooters are invited to compete head to head in the PRS Season Championship Match. We surveyed the shooters who qualified for the finale, asking all kinds of questions about the equipment they ran that season. This is a great set of data, because 50+ shooters is a significant sample size, and this particular group are also considered experts among experts. It includes guys like George Gardner (President/Senior Rifle Builder of GA Precision), Francis Kuehl, Wade Stuteville, the GAP Team, the Surgeon Rifles Team, shooters from the US Army Marksmenship Unit, and many other world-class shooters. Thanks to Rich Emmons for allowing me to share this info. To find out more about the PRS, check out What Is The Precision Rifle Series?
Other “What The Pros Use” Articles
This post was one of a series of posts that look at the equipment the top PRS shooters use. Check out these other posts:
- Calibers & Cartridges
- Tactical Scopes
- Scope Mount
- Rifle Actions
- Rifle Barrels
- Custom Rifle Stocks
- Reloading Components (Bullets, Powders & Brass)
- Muzzle Brake & Suppressor
- Shooting Bags
- Rifle Sling