Great ammo is a cornerstone of competitive shooting. Once you master the fundamentals of marksmanship, the quality of your ammo can become a differentiator. Want to know what bullets, brass, primers, and powder the best precision rifle shooters in the country are running? That’s what this post is all about.
I recently surveyed the top 100 shooters in the Precision Rifle Series (PRS), and this post reviews the reloading components those élite shooters were using in 2015. 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 from 300 to 1200 yards. These world-class shooters represent the best of the best in terms of long-range shooting in field conditions. For more info on the Precision Rifle Series and who these guys are, or to view what other gear they’re running scroll to the bottom of this article.
Most Popular Bullets
Let’s start by looking at what bullets the top 100 shooters were using. The different colors on the chart indicate where the shooters finished. A black bar represents shooters who finished in the top 10, the dark blue is shooters who finished 11-20, and so on. Darker colors represent shooters that finished closer to the top, where lighter colors are farther from the top … but all of them finished in the top 100, so they’re all outstanding shooters.
Berger bullets maintained their dominant lead. There were 10 times more shooters running Berger bullets than any other brand. 79% of the handloaders chose Berger bullets.
One interesting note here is R&P bullets. I hadn’t heard of those, so I followed up with the shooter who reported using those, which happened to be Matt Parry, a top 10 finisher and an outstanding shooter. Matt said R&P is the company he and Rick Reeves started this year (2015). Rick is another well-respected, veteran shooter in the Precision Rifle Series. R&P stands for Reeves and Parry. Matt said they started by making 6mm 105gr LRH bullets for several shooters, and their success has led to very high demand. They’re now working on a bullet for the 6.5mm that is looking like it will finish up around 135-140 grains. Matt said early tests of the new bullet have been very promising.
Now let’s look at the specific bullets these guys were running:
Obviously there are two clear favorites. 76% of the 6mm shooters were running the Berger 105gr Hybrid bullet. 60% of the 6.5mm shooters were running the Berger 140gr Hybrid. Obviously the Hybrid bullet designs are a fan favorite of the PRS. They offer a really high-BC for better retained muzzle velocity down range, they’re less sensitive to seating depth than other low drag designs, and Berger boasts some of the best quality control in the industry. Combine those things and you’ve got a winner.
A few months ago, Berger released the new 6.5mm 130gr Hybrid. Bryan Litz, Chief Ballistician at Berger Bullets, told me “This bullet was optimized for magazine length ammo based on the popularity of the 6.5mm cartridges in PRS competition.” It can offer higher muzzle velocities, much less drop at distance, and the wind drift is only marginally more compared to the 140gr Hybrid. Even though the 130gr Hybrid wasn’t released until June of this year, there were already a few shooters reporting that it as their bullet of choice. It’ll be interesting to see if more of these shooters migrate to this new bullet next year.
Most Popular Rifle Primers
This year, I asked the top shooters what primers they were running. Here is what they said:
CCI was clearly the most popular brand, with Federal not far behind them. Those two combined to represent 83% of the handloaders in the top 100.
This was the first year I asked about primers, because I try not to overwhelm the shooters with too many questions … so I rotate in a few new questions every year to keep things fresh and remove a couple old ones. Honestly, I thought I had a good idea about what primers these guys were probably using … but there were a couple surprises in the specific types.
Remember, the Lapua-based cases (6.5×47 Lapua and 6×47 Lapua) and the 6mm Dasher use small rifle primers, and all the rest of the cartridges these guys were using have a large rifle primer. (See the cartridges the pros were using this year)
I was surprised to see CCI #450 Small Rifle Magnum Primers as the most popular small rifle primer. Magnum primers typically have a thicker cup, and may provide a little boost in muzzle velocity over standard primers. But some shooters have found the #450’s don’t produce higher muzzle velocities, but they are sometimes more consistent (meaning lower variance in muzzle velocity) than the CCI BR-4’s. There were plenty of guys running both, so it may depend on the specific lot of primers or the load. These guys demand consistent muzzle velocities to be able to connect with long-range targets. CCI does have a safety note regarding CCI #450 primers saying “use magnum primers only when specified in published load data.”
Another aspect that surprised me was the number of primers in the mix that weren’t specifically marked as “match” or “benchrest” grade. Match primers may not be any different than “standard” primers, but they likely involve a couple more quality assurance steps. That adds a little cost, which is why they’re priced a few dollars higher per thousand primers. That really just boils down to about $0.01 per primer, so I just assumed everyone would opt for those. But, all of these guys know an industry secret: just because something is stamped “match” doesn’t mean it’s better! It might be better, but it’s far from a guarantee. The primers in this group that are specifically marked as “match” or “benchrest” grade are: Federal primers with an “M” at the end of their name (Federal 205M, Federal 210M), CCI primers with “BR” in their name (CCI BR-4, CCI BR-2), and the Remington 7 ½ primers. Here’s a view that shows what I’m talking about:
The graph above is based on the top 100 shooters, but this trend didn’t vary by where the competitors placed. The top 10 were split between match and standard primers. The top 50 was split pretty evenly as well. That was a little unexpected for me, and seemed like an interesting note.
Most Popular Brass
Here’s a look at the brass these top shooters were using:
Lapua brass leads again, which probably didn’t surprise anyone. Lapua brass has long been viewed as the best of the best when it comes to brass. But they’re proud of it. 100 pieces of Lapua brass for a 6.5×47 Lapua is priced at $100, where 100 rounds of Hornady 6.5 Creedmoor brass is $68. But this could be one of those cases where you get what you pay for. Of course, I noticed 100 rounds of Nosler 6.5 Creedmoor brass is $140 … so it could be worse!
If Lapua brass was available for the cartridge one of these guys was running, they were using it. All of the shooters using these cartridges were running Lapua brass: 6.5×47 Lapua, 6×47 Lapua, 260 Rem, 6mm Dasher, and 6.5×55 Improved.
There was also a lot of guys running Hornady brass. Most of the guys running 6.5 Creedmoor or 6mm Creedmoor cartridges were using Hornady brass. However, there was 1 guy with a 6.5 Creedmoor running the mythical (and highly coveted) Norma brass for that cartridge. There was also 1 guy running the Nosler 6.5 Creedmoor brass. I’ve heard a few guys complain about the Hornady brass, but I’ve also heard a few say it was better than they expected … so I guess the jury is still out.
Most Popular Powders
Finally, here is a look at the most popular powders among these shooters:
Hodgdon H4350 is the most popular powder again in 2015, which continues a trend from the past few years. It is an ideal powder for the mid-sized cartridges that these guys are using, and produces consistent muzzle velocities in a wide range of temperatures.
In fact, there were only 5 shooters who weren’t using a powder from the Hodgdon Extreme Series line of powders! Varget and H4831SC are both in the Extreme Series line of powders. There isn’t a more dominant representation in any of the “What The Pros Use” data. Think about that … you have a big group of all the best shooters in the country gathered together, and only 5 of them aren’t using a Hodgdon Extreme Series powder. That’s a strong vote of confidence!
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
- Scopes & Reticles
- Rifle Actions
- Rifle Chassis & Stocks
- Rifle Suppressors & Muzzle Brakes
- Shooting Bags
- Bullets, Brass, Primers & Powders
- Special Bonus Post!
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. These matches aren’t shot from a bench or even on a square range. They feature practical, real-world field conditions, and even some improvised barricades and obstacles to increase the difficulty from hard to you-have-to-be-kidding-me. You won’t be able to take all shots from a prone position, and time stressors keep you from getting to comfortable. Typical target ranges are from 300 to 1200 yards, but each PRS match has a unique personality with creative stages that challenge different aspects of precision shooting. You might start off the day with a single cold bore shot on a small target at 400 yards, then at the next stage make a 1400 yard shot through 3 distinct winds across a canyon, then try to hit a golf ball on a string at 164 yards with no backstop to help you spot misses (can’t make that up), then see how many times you can ring a small 6” target at 1000 yards in 30 seconds, next shoot off a roof top at 10”, 8”, and 6” targets at 600 yards, followed by a speed drill on 1” targets at 200 yards and repeated at 7 yards … plus 10 other stages, and then come back tomorrow and do some more! Many stages involve some type of gaming strategy, and physical fitness can also come into play. For a shooter to place well in multiple matches, they must be an extremely well-rounded shooter who is capable of getting rounds on target in virtually any circumstance.
There are about 15 national-level PRS matches each year. At the end of the year the match scores are evaluated and the top ranked shooters are invited to compete head-to-head in the PRS Championship Match. We surveyed the shooters who qualified for the championship, asking all kinds of questions about the equipment they ran that season. This is a great set of data, because 100 shooters is a significant sample size, and this particular group are experts among experts. It includes guys like George Gardner (President/Senior Rifle Builder of GA Precision), Wade Stuteville of Stuteville Precision, Jim See of Center Shot Rifles, Matt Parry of Parry Custom Gun, Aaron Roberts of Roberts Precision Rifles, shooters from the US Army Marksmanship Unit, and many other world-class shooters.
Think of the best shooter you know … it’s actually very unlikely that person is good enough to break into the top 100. I know I’m not! I competed against a few of these guys for the first time earlier this year, and I was humbled. It’s incredible what these guys can do with a rifle. For example, the match in Oklahoma I was in had a station that required you to engage 4 steel targets scattered at random distances from 300 to 800 yards, and you only had 15 seconds! I think I hit 2, and rushed my 3rd shot. I didn’t even get the 4th shot off! But, one of these guys cleaned that stage with 4 seconds to spare! Yep, he got 4 rounds on target at distance in 11 seconds. That’s the caliber of shooter we’re talking about. It’s very different from benchrest or F-class competitions, but make no mistake … these guys are serious marksmen.