This post reviews the reloading components (bullets, brass, and gun powder) 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.
Here is the breakdown of the most popular long-range bullets used in the 2014 Precision Rifle Series:
Berger Bullets were clearly the favorite again this year, which wasn’t a surprise. But it did surprise me to see them take an even more commanding lead. Last year 2 out of 3 shooters were using Berger Bullets. This year, out of the top 50 overall finishers, 39 were using Berger Bullets! Wow.
Bryan Litz and the other guys at Berger Bullets have established themselves as the innovators around high BC bullets. BC stands for Ballistic Coefficient, which quantifies how aerodynamic a bullet is. A bullet with a high BC value indicates that it can cut through air and wind very efficiently (i.e. doesn’t have much drag), which drastically improves ballistics down range. As these pros would tell you, in long-range shooting, BC is king. It’s common for amateurs to focus too much on high muzzle velocity, but velocity will quickly diminish if a bullet doesn’t have a high BC. The highest BC’s usually come from the heaviest bullets, which translates to lower muzzle velocities. But those heavier, high BC bullets typically have more remaining velocity at 1000 yards despite starting out slower, because the lower drag helps them retain a much higher percentage of their initial muzzle velocity. I love how German Salazar explains it:
As muzzle velocity increases, drag on the bullet increases disproportionately; thus, most of what you gain in MV is quickly lost. Muzzle velocity is a depreciating asset, not unlike a new car, but BC, like diamonds, is forever.
Virtually all of these shooters are running mid-sized cartridges with moderate muzzle velocity and extremely high BC bullets, which is why 80% of them turn to Berger for their bullets.
37 out of the 39 shooters using Berger Bullets went with one of the Berger Hybrid bullet designs, but there were 2 shooters using Berger VLD (Very Low Drag) style bullets. I’ll touch more on the exact weights and styles of bullets later in this article.
1 shooter within the top 50 competitors was using a JLK VLD bullet. One interesting note, the 6.5mm JLK 140gr VLD bullet that was used has the highest BC of any bullet fired by the top 50 shooters. More on that later in the article!
This chart makes me laugh. There is obviously just one bullet that virtually every 6mm shooter uses, the beloved Berger 105 grain Hybrid. It has a very high BC (G7 = 0.278, G1 = 0.547), especially when you consider its weight. A standard rule of thumb for long-range shooters is to use the heaviest bullet for the caliber, but there are some 115gr 6mm bullets … so this is one exception to that rule. Most 115gr bullets don’t have as high of a BC as this 105gr bullet, and the few that do are only marginally higher. For example, the Berger 115 grain VLD bullet has a G7 BC of 0.279, which is 0.001 better than the 105gr bullet!
… and there was one shooter using the Lapua 105 grain Scenar-L bullet (G7 BC = 0.236, G1 BC = 0.472).
Here are the muzzle velocities that these guys using 6mm bullets are running at. Since all of them were using 105gr bullets, they’re all grouped together.
The Berger Hybrid bullet was the most popular among the 6.5mm bullets as well. Almost 50% of the shooters using 6.5mm bullets chose to go with the Berger 140 grain Hybrid bullet (G7 BC = 0.317, G1 BC = 0.618).
Behind it, there were four shooters using the Lapua 139 grain Scenar. That isn’t the new Scenar-L bullet, but the older design Scenar that actually has a higher BC. The Lapua 139 grain Scenar G7 BC is 0.290, and the Lapua 136 grain Scenar-L is 0.274. Lapua says the Scenar-L is “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.” So it’s less about an improved design, and more about improved manufacturing processes.
Ballistics Comparison of 6mm & 6.5mm Bullets
The graph below compares the average ballistics of the 6mm and 6.5mm rounds these guys were using. Virtually all of the 6mm guys were shooting a Berger 105gr Hybrid bullet (G7 BC = 0.278), and most of the guys said their muzzle velocity was around 3,100 fps. Most of the 6.5mm shooters were using a Berger 140gr Hybrid bullet (G7 BC = 0.317), and the majority of those guys had a muzzle velocity around 2,800 fps for that bullet weight. I entered that data into the JBM Ballistic Engine to generate the data displayed below.
You can see the 6mm shooters have a 1/2 mil advantage by 500 yards, a full 1 mil advantage by 800 yards, and it just grows from there. Even though the 6.5mm bullet has a higher BC (0.317 vs. 0.278), this is one of those cases where the slightly higher BC just isn’t able to make up the difference in muzzle velocity.
I also compared the wind drift of these two sets of ballistics, and that data is displayed below. They were virtually identical out to 1,000 yards, and beyond that, the 6.5mm bullet had a tiny advantage of 0.1 mils.
Bullet & BC Data for Popular 6mm & 6.5mm Bullets
Here is a breakdown of the BC for each bullet. These BC’s come from Bryan Litz’s brand-new book, that is hot of the press this week! It’s an invaluable reference, and I’d highly, highly recommend you pick up a copy. Here is what the books about:
Modern rifles have reached an unprecedented level of accuracy. In many cases, the weak link in the chain of hitting targets is the trajectory modeling, which is based on bullet performance. Unfortunately, not all bullet companies are up to the task of providing highly accurate Ballistic Coefficients (BC’s). In many cases, slight inaccuracies in BC can be the cause of missing your target. Furthermore, a meaningful apples-to-apples comparison of bullet performance is not possible when the BC’s are determined differently by various brands.
This book provides highly accurate ballistic performance data for 400 modern long range bullets from .224 to .408 caliber. The Ballistic Coefficient data is based on live fire testing methods which are repeatable within +/- 1%. By employing a common testing method for bullets of all brands, shooters are provided with consistent and accurate performance data which can be used to compare and select bullets, as well as to calculate accurate trajectories which put your shots on target at long range.
The only BC data that doesn’t come from Litz’s latest book is the Lapua 6mm 105gr Scenar-L. That one isn’t covered in his book, so I’m presenting what Lapua advertises for that bullet.
|Caliber||Bullet||Litz G7 BC||Litz G1 BC|
|6mm||105gr Berger Hybrid||0.279||0.545|
|105gr Lapua Scenar-L||0.236||0.472|
|6.5mm||130gr Berger VLD||0.282||0.550|
|136gr Lapua Scenar-L||0.274||0.545|
|139gr Lapua Scenar||0.290||0.564|
|140gr Berger Hybrid||0.319||0.622|
|140gr Berger VLD||0.304||0.593|
|140gr Hornady A-MAX||0.299||0.583|
|140gr Hornady HPBT||0.285||0.554|
|140gr JLK VLD||0.321||0.625|
As we saw in the 6mm and 6.5mm ballistic comparison, sometimes BC can’t fully make up for the slower muzzle velocity that comes with a heavier bullet. There is a relationship between those two factors, and you can’t focus on just one. To try to gain insight into which bullets have a really high BC for their weight, I came up with an index that essentially just represents the BC to weight ratio. The actually calculation is the Litz G7 BC divided by the bullet weight, multipled by 100,000 (so that it wasn’t a super tiny number). Bullets with a higher index indicate that they have a really high BC for their weight.
This might help us see why over half of the top 50 shooters shoot the Berger 105gr Hybrid bullet. It just has a ridiculously high BC for it’s light 105 grain weight. In fact, it’s possible that bullet could be the catalyst causing so many to switch to the 6mm cartridges. Not only do you get a bullet with a relatively high BC, but you’re also able to push it to higher muzzle velocities because it isn’t the heaviest bullet for that caliber. With the Berger 105gr Hybrid, you can have your cake and eat it too!
Update: Bryan Litz contacted me after reading this article, and he reminded me that there is a metric named form factor, which also quantifies how a bullet’s BC relates to it’s size. It doesn’t give you exactly the same insight as the metric above, but it can definitely help you analyze bullets. As you may have guessed, his new book includes form factor values as well. Out of respect for Bryan, I won’t publish those values here … to make sure you have a reason to go buy his book. It’s an invaluable reference, and if you’re reading this post I know you’ll appreciate it. To learn more about what form factor is, and how it’s calculated, read this article Bryan wrote.
Here are the most popular brands of reloading brass among the top 50 precision rifle shooters. The chart is broken down by cartridge, so that you could see what brands people were using based on the cartridge they were shooting.
There were 21 shooters using Hornady brass and 21 shooters using Lapua brass. 85% of the shooters were using one of those two brands. If a shooter was using the 6mm Creedmoor (most popular cartridge overall) or the 6.5 Creedmoor rounds, then they were using Hornady cases. Shooters weren’t using Hornady brass for any other cartridge.
If the name of the cartridge ended with “Lapua” (i.e. 6.5×47 Lapua or 6×47 Lapua) they used Lapua brass. No surprise, right? There were also shooters using Lapua brass for 243 Win, 260 Rem, and 6mm Dasher.
There were 3 guys in the top 50 shooting a 6XC, and all 3 of them chose to go with Norma brass. Norma is a well-respected European brass company like Lapua, who also drills their primer holes and anneals their case necks.
3 shooters were using Winchester brass. 2 of those were for the 260 Rem, and 1 was for the 6mm Super LR. It’s interesting to note that the two 260 Rem shooters didn’t go with Lapua brass like most the others shooting that cartridge did.
Lastly, the 1 shooter firing a 6.5 SAUM was using Remington brass.
Let’s look at what brand reloading powder these precision rifles were shooting at this year’s championship.
Really, no surprises here. Virtually all of the top 50 shooters in the PRS use one of the powders in Hodgdon’s line of Extreme Rifle Powders. 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.
Here is a breakdown of the specific types of powder that the top shooters have been using over the past 3 years.
Clearly, Hodgdon H4350 is the favorite among this group. H4350 is a great choice for a slower burning powder for mid-size cartridges. Here is what Hodgdon has to say about this powder:
Hodgdon H4350 Extreme Extruded propellant is a burning speed that has been known to shooters for decades. During that time, Hodgdon has modernized H4350 by shortening the grains for improved metering and making it insensitive to hot/cold temperatures. H4350 is ideal in the WSM family of calibers (270, 7mm, 30, 325). H4350 is the standard in such cartridges as the 243 Winchester, 6mm Remington, 270 Winchester, 338 Winchester Magnum and many more.
There were also a few shooters using Hodgdon Varget, which is a slightly faster burning powder. Here is what Hodgdon says about Varget:
The first of Hodgdon’s revolutionary Extreme Extruded Powders, VARGET features small extruded grains for uniform metering, insensitivity to hot/cold temperatures and higher energy for improved velocities over other powders in its burning speed class. Easy ignition and clean burning characterize other features that translate into superb accuracy, higher scores and more clean, one shot kills. The perfect powder for competitive Match shooting 223 Remington and Heavy bullets. Outstanding performance and velocity can be obtained in such popular cartridges as the 223 Remington, 22-250 Remington, 308 Winchester, 30-06, 375 H&H and many more.
Here is Hodgdon’s burn rate chart, and I’ve highlighted each of the powders that were used by the top 50 shooters in the PRS over the past 3 years.
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