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Rifle Barrels – What The Pros Use

This post reviews the rifle barrels the best precision rifle shooters were using in 2014. The data is based on a survey of the top 50 shooters in the Precision Rifle Series (PRS). The PRS tracks how top competitors place in major rifle matches across the country. These are the major leagues of sniper-style competitions, with targets typically in the 300-1000 yard range. This is the 3rd year we’ve collected this data. For more info on the Precision Rifle Series and who these guys are scroll to the bottom of this article.

So here is the list of the most popular match-grade barrels among this group of elite precision riflemen. It includes how each of those performed in previous years as well.

Custom Rifle Barrels

Bartlein Barrels continued its winning streak in 2014. This year 30 out of the top 50 shooters were running Bartlein barrels. It takes the next 3 brands combined to just equal half as many as Bartlein had! They had over 3 times as many barrels represented as any other brand.

Benchmark Barrels made the jump from #4 in last year’s results to #2 in 2014. There were 9 shooters sporting Benchmark barrels among the top 50 shooters this year, which was a 250% increase from last year. There were several different gunsmiths represented within that number, which indicates that confidence in Benchmark Barrels is fairly widespread among precision gunsmiths.

Hawk Hill Customs made its debut onto this list in 2014 at #3, with four shooters using their barrels.

Krieger Barrels was a surprise at #4. In 2012, Krieger represented over 40% of the top competitors in the PRS, and that was cut in half in 2013 with just 19%, and that was cut in half again this year at just 6%. That means there was only 3 shooters who finished in the top 50 that said they were running a Krieger barrel. That is a surprising trend. Both Krieger and Bartlein started with approximately the same representation among these guys in 2012, but the stories obviously have diverged since then.

Divergence of Krieger and Bartlein Barrels

After those guys, a few other outstanding barrel manufacturers had 1 shooter represented within the top 50 PRS competitors in 2014:

Rifle Barrel Contours

This year I added a question to the survey asking about what barrel contour each shooter was using. Here are your results:

Most Popular Barrel Contours for Precision Rifles

You can see there were a lot of guys running Medium Palma and Heavy Palma contours. In fact, those two combined to represent just over 50% of the competitors.

Behind that were the super-heavy MTU and M24 contours, which have very similar dimensions. Those combined to represent around 30% of the top 50 shooters.

Behind those, there were four shooters running a Heavy Varmint contour, which has an even longer area on the shank before it starts to taper.

Then there were a couple shooters using other contours:

  • Desert Tech DTA Contour – The DTA SRS-A1 rifle has a proprietary switch-barrel design, which is pretty innovative. It’s one of the reasons they can maintain 1/2 MOA accuracy across so many calibers. Essentially the receiver securely clamps around the first six inches of the barrel. So the DTA contour has a whopping 1.75” diameter at the clamping area, 1” at the front of the chamber, and then it tapers to 0.875” at the muzzle. Their barrels are 26”, although they also offer some that are shorter.
  • Remington Varmint – This contour is also commonly referred to as a Sendero contour. This appears to be the only Sporter contour barrel used by these guys. Most prefer either the Palma contour or the straight taper of a Match/Target contour, over the swooping curved taper of a Sporter barrel.
  • Douglas #7 – There was also one shooter using a Douglas #7 contour, which is a little different than all the rest listed here. I believe it is similar to a Light Varmint contour, with a 1.2” diameter at the chamber and a target taper to 0.875” at the muzzle. However, it is only 3” before it starts to taper on the shank, where the Light Varmint contour is typically 5” before it tapers.

However, if you just look at the shooters who ended up in the top 20, you can see the top shooters were clearly preferred heavier barrels, which both Heavy Palma and MTU barrels being the most popular. 66% of the shooters surveyed who knew their barrel contour were using either a Heavy Palma or MTU barrel.

Best Barrel Contour

What is interesting is although there were more people running Medium Palma barrels than any other, only 15% of those ended up in the top 20. Compare that with the fact that 67% (6 of 9) of the shooters running an MTU barrel ended up in the top 20! Heavy Palma also had a good representation, with 50% (6 of 12) of the shooters running a Heavy Palma ending up in the top 20.

There is certainly a question about whether that is correlation or causation, which essentially is just saying did those shooters place higher because they were using heavier barrels … or did the best shooters happen to be using heavier barrels. 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. Regardless of how much it impacted the results, one thing is undeniable: in 2014 the best precision rifle shooters in the country are choosing Heavy Palma and MTU barrels.

Barrel Contour

Note: Although most of the contours dimensions are the same among all the manufacturers, that might not always be the case. The contours shown are for Bartlein barrels. I did notice the cylinder section at the breech of the Palma Contours varied some for the Krieger barrels (Krieger’s was 1/2″ shorter than what is shown here). There may be other minor variances among manufacturers.

Rifle Barrel Length

Another question I asked on the 2014 year-end survey is what barrel length each shooter was running. They were all between 22 and 28 inches, with the lions share at 26 inches.

Rifle Barrel Length

About 3 out of every 5 shooters were using a 26 inch barrel. Then 1 out of 5 shooters was using a 24 inch barrel, and the other 1 out of 5 was an outlier with a more exotic barrel length (essentially anything but 24 or 26).

But as I was looking at this data, I thought it might be more helpful to look at the most popular barrel lengths by cartridge, and not just overall. So here are the most popular cartridges used by these shooters, along with the number of barrels used for each one. To learn more about the most popular cartridges, check out the first post in this series, which is focused on that topic.

Rifle Barrel Length By Cartridge

You can see in the chart above that 26” barrels seem to be pretty popular, regardless of the cartridge. There are only a couple cartridges that were more evenly split among different lengths. One interesting thing I noticed was that out of the 6 shooters running a 6×47 Lapua, none of them were using a 26 inch barrel. That was the only one of these cartridges where a 26” barrel wasn’t one of the most popular choices. However, that is a small sample size and shouldn’t be seen as a consensus that a 26” barrel wouldn’t work well for that cartridge.

Barrel Fluting

Okay, I also wanted some hard data on a historically heated topic: Where these guys running a fluted barrel or did they opt for no flutes?

Barrel Fluting

You can see the results are staggering. I definitely didn’t expect this crowd to be so one-sided on this point. Only one guy out of the top 50 competitors for the 2014 Precision Rifle Series said he was running a fluted barrel on his rifle. Wow.

One of the guys represented here told me he just doesn’t flute the barrel because he goes through them so quickly that it seems like a waste of time and money. These guys practice … a lot. You don’t get to this level any other way. So their rifles may see more rounds in one month than most rifles do in a lifetime. So at least one of the shooter’s decision didn’t have anything to do with whether fluting affected accuracy or not, but that may not be representative of the majority.

Barrel Fluting

There are some people in the shooting community that do believe fluting affects a barrel’s accuracy in a negative way. In fact, Shilen Barrels refuses to flute their barrels. Here is what they say on the topic:

Fluting is a service we neither offer nor recommend. If you have a Shilen barrel fluted, the warranty is void. Fluting a barrel can induce unrecoverable stresses that will encourage warping when heated and can also swell the bore dimensions, causing loose spots in the bore. A solid (un-fluted) barrel is more rigid than a fluted barrel of equal diameter. A fluted barrel is more rigid than a solid barrel of equal weight. All rifle barrels flex when fired. Accuracy requires that they simply flex the same and return the same each time they are fired, hence the requirement for a pillar bedded action and free floating barrel. The unrecoverable stresses that fluting can induce will cause the barrel to flex differently or not return from the flexing without cooling down a major amount. This is usually longer than a shooter has to wait for the next shot. The claim of the flutes helping to wick heat away faster is true, but the benefit of the flutes is not recognizable in this regard until the barrel is already too hot.

Several months ago, I asked Shilen for any data they have to support these claims, but they never responded. So this smells like it could just be a strong opinion and theory, and may not be backed by any empirical data they’ve gathered.

But an article written by Tom Beckstrand in the 2013 edition of SNIPER magazine summarizes some tests that Accuracy International performed to determine whether fluting a barrel affected accuracy. Here is an excerpt from that article:

One design change that resulted from AI’s exhaustive accuracy testing and development of the PSR [Precision Sniper Rifle] is the removal of flutes from the barrels. Engineers at AI decided to isolate the barrel flutes to see what impact they had on accuracy. The engineers attached a laser to the rifle’s receiver, another to the barrel, and a third to the scope. All three dots were zeroed at the same point, then they started shooting the rifle. They discovered that, no matter which fluted barrel they used, the dots would diverge as the barrel heated. The dots from the devices mounted to the scope and the receiver would stay in place, but the barrel’s device would manifest a point-of-impact (POI) shift. The POI shift from the warming barrel greatly diminished when they used barrels without flutes.

Engineers determined that the flutes never heated evenly, causing the POI shift. I hope the results of this test gain wide circulation through the sniper and long-range shooting communities to help eliminate some of the ignorance that surrounds the perceived advantages of barrel flutes. Flutes are great for shaving weight, but this is the first test I’ve heard that provided empirical data detailing what happens when the barrel is fluted. This should be the death of the “they cool a barrel faster, so they’re more accurate” argument, listed among flutes’ virtues. Our goal is and should always be to mitigate the effects of heat; fluting exacerbates it.

The AI study seems like pretty convincing evidence. Once again, I requested research data from Accuracy International related to these tests, and have yet to see anything. That’s too bad. I’d like to see the data before I can have full confidence in that it was applicable across the board (regardless of rifling method, flute depth, number of flutes, length of flutes, barrel contour, etc).

Although these points are just one side to the argument, what is clear is the best precision rifle shooters in the country are not fluting their barrels (at least 98% of them). This is the first time I’ve seen clear results like this representing such a large sample size of elite shooters, and the results seem clear and compelling. But I’m sure the debate will rage on!

Meet The Pros

2014 Precision Rifle Series LogoYou 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:

Enjoy this type of data-driven information? That’s what this website is all about. Sign-up to receive new posts via email.

About Cal

Cal Zant is the shooter/author behind PrecisionRifleBlog.com. Cal is a life-long learner, and loves to help others get into this sport he's so passionate about. His engineering background, unique data-driven approach, and ability to present technical and complex information in a unbiased and straight-forward fashion has quickly caught the attention of the industry. For more info on Cal, check out PrecisionRifleBlog.com/About.

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47 comments

  1. Hi Cal, have any information step rotation that was used in the barrels and how much?

  2. It would be interesting to run a test on fluted barrels. I think the cheapest option would be:

    1. get a solid barrel (say 24″)
    2. run a 30 round group and calculate the std dev of it
    3. flute 2″ of it
    4. run a 30 round group and calculate the std dev of it
    5. repeat steps 3 and 4 until you have fully fluted the barrel
    6. plot the change in std dev over the inches of fluting

    since fluting isnt something that needs to be consistent or precise, it shouldnt matter if you flute sections at a time.

    • That sounds like a fun experiment. I’m not sure about fluting not needing to be consistent or precise though, but I’m not a gunsmith. I can appreciate the idea.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  3. just found your site. Luv it. Looking forward to more info in the future thanks a lot

  4. Question please:

    How much do you attribute the shift in barrels, calibers, actions, etc…to the ‘geardo/tech’ effect? I’ve always noticed within the shooting sports that when people start winning, other shooters switch to whatever the winners are using. This was obvious over the last two years in the big caliber migration.

    Thanks.

    • Well, there isn’t any objective data to answer that either way. Of course it’s plausible, but maybe less than you might expect among this class of shooters. While new shooters might be more susceptible to the “let’s do whatever the cool kids are doing” syndrome, at this level these guys are not only fierce competitors, but also know what they’re talking about. They’re EXPERTS AMONG EXPERTS. There are thousands of guys who shoot in rifle competitions … This is the best 50 in the country! Many are world-class gunsmiths themselves, and personally involved with the development of these cartridges. While they can be convinced with reason, I bet doing what everyone else is doing plays into this very little.

      The fact is, bullet design has changed significantly in recent years, and that is a major driver behind this. Plus, for steel target competitions you only need enough energy to move the target enough to call a hit. So it makes sense that you would use the smallest caliber that allows that, which means minimal recoil. With the high BC 6mm and 6.5mm bullets that have been produced in recent years, this isn’t all that surprising. These mid-sized 6mm and 6.5mm cartridges just makes sense for this game.

      Great question!
      Cal

  5. I am assuming Bartlein is sponsoring a lot of the guys that are in your survey, and Krieger is not?

    • I looked on the PRS website, and it lists which shooters are sponsored by which company. It looks like Bartlein is a sponsor for 6 shooters who ended up being ranked in the top 50. So that accounts for some of them, but that means are still 24 other shooters in the top 50 that they don’t sponsor. It doesn’t appear that Krieger sponsors any of these shooters.

      Great point though! It’s something I always keep in the back of my mind when I look at stuff like this. Ultimately both companies make outstanding barrels. It could be Krieger’s ridiculously long lead times that caused the shift. Or maybe some of these guys really prefer Bartlein. Your guess is as good as mine!

      Thanks,
      Cal

      http://www.precisionrifleseries.com/sponsor/profiles/view/bartlein-barrels.html

      • Both Krieger and Bartlein are exceptionally high quality, and I would happily shoot either. I am currently running a Krieger on one of my rifles, but would not hesitate to try any of the listed barrels in the survey. Just trying to point out that companies that actively sponsor shooters, will always have a hedge over companies that stay idle. I didn’t think about the lead times, but that does make sense. If you can’t get it you can’t shoot it.
        Ryan
        PS This Blog is the Bees Nees!

      • Thanks, Ryan. You’re absolutely right on this. I appreciate the comments.

  6. Rossi
    where did you gather this info palma contour is not used by benchrest shooters
    and palma contour is light so no need to flute the barrel
    and led times are the big factor
    how many people took part

    • Not sure where you got lost, but these are NOT benchrest shooters. They’re tactical shooters. I explain where the data came from in the first paragraph, and I give more context in the Meet The Pros section at the bottom.

  7. I Just wanted to say thanks! for this very informative and wonderful site. It is a wealth of knowledge and information! by the people who eat and breath long range shooting! thanks again. and keep up the great work! Gene C. Austin,Texas

  8. I love visiting this blog. The information here is gold.
    Could you sometime do some research on coated bullets?

    Thanks for all you work!

    • Thats a great idea, Shotty. I did some informal research a couple years ago, because I (along with a friend of mine) were trying out David Tubb’s HBN coating. After a lot of rounds over an Oehler 35p chronograph, we discovered that we couldn’t get our muzzle velocity SD down in the single digits with a bullet coating. So I run naked bullets. My friend was able to get his loads down to an SD of 3 fps running naked bullets, so it wasn’t his reloading practices. But, that doesn’t satisfy me as definitive, and it probably doesn’t you either. So maybe I’ll be able to spend some time on it in the future and try a few more coatings and try to present some clear data.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  9. I love this blog!! Thanks for your hard work on this.
    I would like to know if you by chance have any data on the Suppressor/Muzzle breaks and how that stacked up.

    Thank you again…

    • Hey Dave, glad you like the approach and content. I do have data on suppressors and muzzle brakes, and it will be posted within the next couple weeks. I’m working on what components they use next (i.e. bullets, brass, powder), but the post right after that will cover muzzle brakes and suppressors. There were a few changes on that front in 2014, so stay tuned!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  10. Interesting blog. Very. It makes me wonder, regarding the fluting topic, what other changes to barrel shape do to heating and accuracy. For example, the Remington vtr’s triangular-ish barrel.

    • Yes, sir. I thought the same thing! Or what about the hammer-forged barrels like those that Sako uses. How differently does those react when the barrel heats up? It’s an interesting science, and there doesn’t appear to be much info out there on it.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  11. Cal,
    Did you have data for the breakdown of barrel length for the top 10-20 shooters?
    Thanks,
    DRD

    • I certainly do. I’m not sure it makes sense to post in a chart with them grouped like I normally do, because the choice of barrel length is typically dependent on the cartridge. So I’ll just give you the full list:

      1. 26″ 6mm Creedmoor
      2. 26″ 6mm Creedmoor
      3. Unknown Length 6mmx47 Lapua
      4. 27″ 6mmx47 Lapua
      5. 27″ 6mmx47 Lapua
      6. 26″ 260 Rem
      7. 24″ 6mmx47 Lapua
      8. 26″ 6mm Creedmoor
      9. 26″ 6mm Creedmoor
      10. Only shooter who didn’t complete survey
      11. 24″ 6.5 Creedmoor
      12. 26″ 6mm Super LR
      13. 25″ 6.5×47 Lapua
      14. 26″ 6.5×47 Lapua
      15. 23″ 6XC
      16. 24″ 6mm Creedmoor
      17. 24″ 6XC
      18. 22″ 6mmx47 Lapua
      19. 26″ 260 Rem
      20. 26″ 6.5×47 Lapua

      Hope this covers what you were looking for. Let me know if you need anything else.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  12. Thanks for the great info. As far as barrel length is concerned, am I correct in assuming it doe not include the length of any muzzle brake?
    Thanks
    Phil

    • Great question! How people measure barrel length can vary, but I believe the most common way is from bolt face to muzzle crown. So that method would not include any muzzle device.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  13. I haven’t read all of the info so if it was mentioned forgive me. I’m curious to know why obermeyer barrels are not used? Boots does make a top notch barrel, right?

    • You bet! The most knowledgable gunsmith I know (a veteran for one of the big custom rifle builders) says great things about Obermeyer barrels. He had personally been trying to get an Obermeyer barrel for years, and was stoked when he finally got one on his rifle a few months ago.

      I’d have to guess it has to do with availability. Boots is a one-man shop, which definitely limits the amount of barrels he produces … especially when many elite military guys are bidding for his services as well. He tries to serve civilians too, but when demand is high and supply is low … it’s hard to get an Obermeyer barrel.

      Many of these shooters blow through a barrel in a year or less, so if the wait time is over a year … it’s hard to make that math work! 😉

      This is just my guess. Maybe someone else will chime in and enlighten us. It’s a great question!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  14. With regards to this article do you know which type of crown the shooter are using?

    • Sorry, Mike. I actually don’t know. That wasn’t part of the survey questions we asked. There were a ton of guys using GA Precision rifles, so I’d assume you could call and ask those guys. I’d be surprised if it wasn’t a standard “deep recessed target crown” … but that’s a guess. Sorry I couldn’t be more help.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  15. Any information on the barrel rifling. 4, 5R, 6, etc ?

    • No sir. That wasn’t a question on the shooter survey. I bet you could call Bartlein and ask what these guys are using. I’d bet it was 5R, but I don’t have data to back that up. I’m sure there are several types of rifling represented, but that’s my guess at the most popular. Sorry I couldn’t be more help.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  16. All Broughtons are copyrighted 5C® process barrels.

    • Thanks for the info Tim. Can you explain what your “copyrighted 5C process” is and why you think it is better?

      Thanks,
      Cal

  17. Do you have stats on what type of rifling each user had? For example, 5R vs 4-groove.

    • No sir, I don’t. I’ve asked several guys and all of the guys I asked were running 5R, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot running other rifling patterns too. Honestly, some of these guys may not remember what rifling they’re using. I know that might sound surprising, but at least one or two couldn’t remember their barrel length.

      A precision rifle gunsmith told me this just this last weekend: “Rookies talk about hardware, while veterans talk more about software.” He was just saying that as people get good at this sport they start to realize the knowledge and training a shooter has could be more important than the gear they’re running. Now, I believe good gear can make a good shooter better, but gear can’t make a good shooter … only practice can.

      I personally run 5R, because I think polygonal rifling is a good design. It’s supposed to reduce fouling, jacket damage, and gas blowby, which all sound like good things. I can’t say whether that stuff is true or not, but they don’t seem to be any worse in my experience.

      Gary Schneider is the man behind Schneider barrels, and he said his polygonal rifling (similar to 5R) represents around 90% of his barrel sales. He makes barrels for David Tubb, all of the USMC M40 sniper rifles, as well as for the Secret Service and others. So that’s about the only hard stat I have on rifling, but I hope this helps. Sorry I didn’t have more to share.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  18. Cal,

    Could you tell me which targets distance in these championships?
    I am ordering a rifle from Surgeon in a 6.5 Creedmoor, and I can choose the barrel length.
    I am going to order a 26′ one.
    Could you tell me the pros and cons in a long barrel instead a short one as 20-22?
    Your opinion is very important to me, since I found the surgeons info here and my order is based in your blog reviews and datas!

    Cheers and congrats for the blog again!
    Bruno

    • I can’t say for sure the exact target distances in this championship, but most targets are typically in the 200-1000 yard range for these competitions. I’d actually say 300-800 yards is where 75+% of the targets are, in my experience.

      The pros of a long barrel is higher muzzle velocity, which translates to slightly better ballistics. The Berger manual estimates that to be 25 fps per inch of barrel on the 6.5 Creedmoor. I actually wrote a whole post on the barrel length of a 6.5 Creedmoor that you might be interested in:

      6.5 Creedmoor Barrel Length & Muzzle Velocity

      The cons of a longer barrel are weight and maneuverability. That is especially true if you plan to ever run a suppressor on it. If you have a 26″ barrel with a 9″ suppressor on the end … you have a ridiculously long stick. You’re rifle is going to be 50″ long, which can be a little cumbersome.

      I’d also suggest you go check out this post that takes an objective, data-driven look at what increased muzzle velocity does to your hit percentage at long-range. It doesn’t have as big of a impact as you might think.

      How Much Does Muzzle Velocity Matter?

      I try really hard to leave my personal opinion out of the posts, but I’ll give it in the comments if someone asks. I’m currently building a 6.5 Creedmoor rifle myself, and I’m going with a 22″ barrel. So obviously you know what I really believe on this exact topic. I want to make clear that I’m absolutely not as good of a shooter as these guys. I shot with most of the top 50 shooters at a PRS match in March, and I got smoked! Dang, these guys are extraordinary shooters … almost supernaturally good. So I don’t want to say that I’m right and these guys are wrong for choosing a longer barrel. Their opinion should weigh more than mine. But personally, I just don’t think the 60-100 fps increase in muzzle velocity makes up for the added weight and decreased maneuverability, at least when trying to decide between a 22″ and a 26″ 6.5 Creedmoor. I’ve heard one of the guys who helped create the 6.5 Creedmoor say that 22″ is the ideal barrel length for that cartridge. I will run a suppressor on the end of mine occasionally, and that weighed into my personal decision as well. So that’s what I’d do … or more precisely, that’s what I’m doing. 😉

      Hope this helps! I haven’t ever heard someone say they regretted going with a Surgeon. If you can get past the price tag, they are exceptional weapons. I love mine. Glad you found the website helpful. Please share the website with your friends on Facebook, your favorite forum, and at the range.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  19. Thanks for this site.The information here is so helpful.Have a great day!

  20. Any idea why there were no Lilja barrels? What’s the thinking in the precision shooting community on them?

    Thanks,
    Jay

    • I’m not sure why more aren’t used … I just know they aren’t. There are some guys that swear by them, but they just don’t seem to be as popular among the tactical precision rifle crowd.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  21. Hello Cal,
    Do you have any numbers on what the shooters are using in 2015 ?
    Take care