This post is about the bullets, powder, and brass the best precision rifle shooters are using. It is based on what the top 50 long-range shooters nationwide brought with them to the Precision Rifle Series (PRS) Finale a couple weeks ago. Target engagements for a PRS match can range from 25 to 1,200+ yards, but there is definitely a focus on the “precision” rifle part regardless of the range. For more info on who these guys are, and why you should care what they think scroll to the bottom of this article.
Here is a breakdown of the bullet manufacturers represented at this year’s finale. It also shows the numbers from last year’s season finale in the semi-transparent gray color.
Berger Bullets took an even more commanding lead at this year’s finale, with 2 out of 3 shooters firing Bergers. The addition in market share is largely due to many 6.5mm shooters adopting the 140gr Berger Hybrid. The 105gr Berger Hybrid was clearly the favorite among 6mm shooters last year, and it grew even more popular at this year’s finale as well. In fact, the 105gr and 140gr Hybrid bullets combined to represent 60% of all competitors.
There were 8 shooters using Lapua Scenar bullets, and one of those was using the new Lapua’s new Scenar L bullet. This new line of bullets from Lapua is less of a new design, and more of a change in manufacturing processes. Here is how Lapua explains the new Scenar L:
We have recently undertaken a major program to make these outstanding [Scenar] bullets even more accurate. Not a redesign in ballistics, but a refinement in all manufacturing steps. Using our state of the art manufacturing capabilities and decades of competitive experience, we have set out to tighten all measures and requirements, including our already famous quality control standards. Closer weight tolerances, tighter jacket wall concentricity standards, and greater uniformity in every dimension, starting from the gilding metal cup, lead wire and jacket forming, ending up to core-jacket assembly, boat tail pressing and tipping. Several new proprietary machines, manufacturing steps and advanced instrumentations combined to the Scenar L manufacturing line never seen before in bullet production.
5 shooters were using Hornady bullets, which is roughly the same number as last year. Most of those shooters were using a Hornady A-MAX bullet, but there was one using a Hornady HPBT bullet.
Sierra wasn’t as popular among the competitors at this year’s finale. There were 3 more shooters using Sierra bullets last year than there were this year. This could be due to the availability issues surrounding the DTAC 115gr VLD bullet, which used to be a popular 6mm bullet. This is a bullet designed by David Tubb, which Sierra produces according to his specifications. These bullets have not been available since early 2013, and Superior Shooting Systems (David’s company) still isn’t certain when they’ll get more in. I contacted them this week (Jan 16th), and they’ve been told Sierra should start production on more DTAC bullets within the next month or two. It’s uncertain at this point if any shooters would opt to use the DTAC bullet since the release of the extremely popular 105gr Berger Hybrid.
There was one finalist shooting a 7mm 180gr JLK bullet at last year’s finale, but there weren’t any shooters using JLK bullets at this year’s finale. In fact, there weren’t any competitors shooting 7mm bullets at all.
Most Popular Bullet Designs
The chart below breaks down the bullet the shooters were using in more detail by grouping them by manufacturer and bullet type. This includes all calibers and bullet weights.
You can see the Berger Hybrid design was very popular. The 34 Berger Hybrid shooters were using either the 6mm 105gr bullet or the 6.5mm 140gr bullet. 3 in 5 shooters were using one of those two bullets.
The Lapua Scenar was the only other bullet design with at least 10% of shooters using it. However, as the Lapua Scenar L bullets become available, there could be more shooters opting to use it in the future.
Best 6mm Bullets
The diagram below shows the breakdown of specific 6mm bullets used at this year’s finale, as well as last year’s.
The overwhelming majority used the 105gr Berger Hybrid. It was very popular last year, and even more so this year. 76% of all 6mm shooters were using it. The 105 Hybrid bullet is very aero-dynamic with respect to its weight. When the 105gr Berger Hybrid was released, it certainly did a lot for the 6mm. Some shooters finally saw the 6mm a viable option because of the outstanding ballistics you could get when using the 105gr Hybrid bullet.
Here are the muzzle velocities that the shooters reported for each 6mm bullet weight.
Best 6.5mm Bullets
The diagram below shows the breakdown of specific 6.5mm bullets used at this year’s finale, as well as last year’s.
The 6.5mm shooters were more split than the 6mm, but here once again the Berger Hybrid had the lion’s share. The 140gr Berger Hybrid was only used by 19% of shooters at the 2012 Finale, but it more than doubled that with 46% of shooters using it this year.
Lapua’s 139gr Scenar was the second most popular bullet, with 23% of 6.5mm shooters choosing 139gr Scenar. There was also one shooter using the 139gr Lapua Scenar L.
The next most popular bullet was the 130gr Berger VLD bullet, followed by the 140gr Hornady A-MAX.
Here are the muzzle velocities the shooters reported for each 6.5mm bullet weight.
For powder, I analyzed the data in a few different ways. First, there was clearly a favorite powder brand as you can see below. Almost every single shooter was using one of Hodgdon’s Extreme Series Powders. 96% is definitely the highest consensus of any product among this group. The shooters in this year’s Precision Rifle Series Finale use a wide variety of equipment and products, but it looks like Hodgdon Powders is one thing they agree on.
You may be wondering why everyone gravitates to the Hodgdon Extreme Series powders, All of the powders in that line have Hodgdon’s “thermally desensitive coating technology,” which has been proven to have significantly less temperature sensitivity and lot variation than other powders. The chart below shows the temperature variance found in H4350 for temperatures from 0 degrees to 125 degrees, compared to other similar powders. To read more about it, check out Hodgdon’s research data and comparison.
The chart below shows the breakdown of competitors by the powder they were using. I grouped it by caliber, because some shooters vary the powder selection based on the caliber, bullet weight, cartridge capacity, etc.
As you can see above, virtually all of the shooters were using the same powders, regardless of whether they were firing 6mm and 6.5mm bullets.
The chart below shows the overall percentage of shooters using each powder, at least those firing 6mm or 6.5mm bullets. It includes the breakdown for last year’s finale in semi-transparent gray, as well as this year in blue. There was one shooter using a 30 caliber cartridge at this year’s finale, and there were a couple last year using 7mm … but this excludes the powder selections for those shooters, since they were outliers among this group.
Hodgdon H4350 was by far the most popular powder among the top shooters again this year, with 3 out of 4 shooters burning that powder at this year’s finale. Hodgdon Varget was the only other powder among this group that a significant number of competitors were using. The number of shooters using Varget increased by 10% over last year.
Best Reloading Brass
Here is the brass the top 50 precision rifle competitors were using:
Lapua brass was most popular with Hornady brass close on their heels. Those two combined to represent 2/3 of the shooters. There were also a significant number of shooters using Winchester and Norma brass. And a handful of competitors went with Remington brass, Nosler brass, and SWA stamped brass.
Meet The Pros
The Precision Rifle Series (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 15 different matches are evaluated and the top 50 shooters nationwide are invited to compete head to head in the PRS Finale Match. The info below is based on the equipment those pros brought with them to the most recent finale. 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. 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 50 shooters in the country use. Check out these other posts:
- Best Rifle Calibers & Cartridges
- Best Long-Range Scopes
- Best Gunsmiths
- Best Actions
- Best Barrels
- Best Stocks
- Best Precision Bullets, Powders & Brass
- Best Muzzle Brake & Rifle Suppressor
- Best Shooting Rest Bags
Any idea what combination actually won?
Yes sir, Dustin Morris won overall this year shooting a 6XC. He used Berger 6mm 105gr Hybrids over Hodgdon H4350 in Norma Brass. His muzzle velocity was just over 3000 fps out of his 24″ barrel.
Cheers for that Cal…
Interesting to see the slower powder result…
Just interested what sort of distances the shoot was over with the 24″ (25 to 1,200+)???
Well, the ballistics for a Berger 105 Hybrid at a muzzle velocity of 3020 fps will go subsonic at 1359 yards. It goes transonic (approximately 1.2 mach, which is when the bullet MAY start to experience turbulence and become less predictable) at around 1200 yards.
I’ve personally talked to Dustin and he has ran a 6XC in a 22″ barrel then in a 26″ barrel, and now in a 24″ barrel. He said he plans to run a 24″ barrel again this year. I personally have a 6XC build at Surgeon right now and it is going to be a 24″ barrel, although the majority of guys (including David Tubb) run 26″.
What would you think would be the reasoning behind some folk running the longer barrels out to 30 & 32 inches?
VERY few run barrels longer than 26″, but the only reason you might would be trying to get the most muzzle velocity possible. There is a trade off between maneuverability/weight and velocity, and most people land at 26″ or less … but it’s all personal preference. I landed at 24″ because I’m plan to run a suppressor at least part of the time, which adds even more length. Plus I’ve talked to a couple 6XC shooters that said in their experience the 105gr Hybrids fly best around 3000 fps (plus or minus 50fps). I knew I could get that out of a 24″ barrel, so there was no need to go any longer. I know at least one top 10 finisher that runs a suppressor off a 26″ barrel, so it wouldn’t be a disaster. I also have good friends running 22″ barrels, but that’s more rare. It really comes down to personal preference and where you think the right balance is for maneuverability/weight and muzzle velocity.
And like most things, there is a point of diminishing returns. George Gardner from GAP said 28″ is the longest barrel he’s ever seen in these types of tactical competitions (although many benchrest shooters go longer). So 30″ or 32″ may be a bit extreme. If someone was going extra long to eke out a couple more fps, they might be better served by finding another cartridge that better matches the desired velocity.
Great reading, Thanks Todd
Love this kind of data, thanks!