I’m sharing a series of posts on ELR shooting, but I didn’t want to jump from the long-range rifles in mid-size 6mm and 6.5mm cartridges that I normally talk about straight into the extreme, super-high-performance 375+ caliber rifles used to engage targets at 2+ miles. Instead of just presenting the extremes, I thought it’d be helpful to first share a rifle setup that is somewhere in between. Then in later posts I’ll get into the more specialized setups used to push the boundaries of what is possible with shoulder-fired rifles.
In this post, I’ll share the details of a rifle I built that is optimized for engaging targets from 1000 to 2000 yards. It can obviously hit at shorter ranges, and I’ve used it to score a first-round hit in competition out to 2,640 yards (1.5 miles). But as I was making design choices for this rifle, I had steel targets from 1000 to 2000 yards in mind. I plan to use this in the upcoming Q Creek Extended Long Range PRS match (more on that towards the end of this post). Here’s an overview of the rifle setup:
I actually have barrels in both 338 Lapua Mag and 300 Norma Mag for this rifle. I can swap the barrels between the two cartridges in less than 20 minutes with just a few basic tools. The rifle started life as a custom Surgeon Remedy .338 Lapua Rifle that I bought from EuroOptic.com. They still have a couple of rifles in stock that are identical to the setup I bought. I’ve added and changed a few things on the rifle as I’ve been using it over the past 18 months. I’ll walk through each part of the rifle and explain the thought process behind the design choices.
Action & Chassis
From the start, I was drawn to the Surgeon XL action for the rifle build. While I intentionally avoid “brand allegiance” and always use whatever I believe is the best at the time, I’ve used Surgeon 591 short actions extensively in the past, and love their integral recoil lug and integral picatinny rail. They also run extremely smoothly, and I’ve used them for thousands of rounds in harsh environments (i.e. field conditions with lots of blowing dust and even rain) without a single failure.
The Surgeon 1581 XL action is designed for larger calibers, renowned for strength and accuracy, and packs a lot of compelling features. As I mentioned, it has an integral recoil lug and integral picatinny rail for mounting the scope. The long range game is all about shot-to-shot consistency, and when you stretch to extreme distances that becomes even more critical. For those parts to be integral, Surgeon must start with a larger block of steel and the machining takes more time (both add cost) … but it means the end product has less moving parts and fewer points of failure. If you think about it, the system you are using to aim at a tiny target far away comes down to looking through your scope, which is attached to your rings, which is attached to a rail, which is attached to the action. That is a lot of interfaces, and the smallest slip in any of them will keep you from getting repeatable hits. An integral rail simply eliminates one of those interfaces as a potential point of failure, which gives me a little peace of mind. It also seems like the integral rail adds some strength and stiffness to the action, although who knows if that translates to any measurable improvement in precision.
The integral rail features 30 MOA of taper or cant. It’s common for actions to have either 0 or 20 MOA of cant, but because this action is built for larger calibers and longer ranges it was designed with a little more so you’ll be able to use more of the elevation adjustment in your scope (more on that in the scope section).
By integrating a massive 0.450” recoil lug into the action, Surgeon created a longer 1-1/8” x 16 tenon thread and strengthened the entire free-floated system. Frank Green, one of the original founders of Bartlein Barrels, recommended using a barrel with a 1.350” breech diameter on the Surgeon XL. Why? The threads are 1.125″ diameter on that action, so if you went with a standard1.250” barrel diameter you’d only be left with about 0.060″ of shoulder on each side, which just isn’t much meat. A 1.350” diameter barrel leaves more material at that critical juncture where the barrel tightens up against the receiver face.
Not only is the recoil lug massive, but the action is square on the bottom instead of round, similar to the iconic Accuracy International (AI) action. I measured the bottom of the Surgeon XL action to be 1.42” wide, which is about the same width as the Accuracy International AX Chassis. AI actually makes a proprietary version of that chassis specifically for Surgeon to use with this XL action, and they pair together perfectly. When I bought this rifle last year, the only way to get your hands on the proprietary chassis was to buy a complete rifle built by Surgeon. But a few months ago AI started offering their chassis with the Surgeon XL cutout to consumers (can buy AI chassis for Surgeon XL here).
I’ve used Accuracy International chassis in the past on my short action rifles, and I believe they may be the most comfortable chassis. They’re adjustable in practically every way imaginable. When you’re able to adapt the rifle to fit the shooter, it will almost always improve the shooter’s performance. The only drawback of the AI chassis was weight. Historically they’ve been heavier than traditional stocks, and most other chassis options. But, AI has come out with newer versions with skeletonized butt stocks and were able to shave some weight in other places too.
On this rifle, I actually liked the idea of some extra weight. One of my goals for this rifle was that it’d weigh at least 20 pounds when fully loaded. It ended up topping the scales at 22 lbs. and 7.7 oz. fully loaded (as shown in the photo above including optics, bipod, empty magazine, and other accessories), which is perfect for my application. The weight of this rifle makes it an absolute pleasure to shoot. I’ve seen some guys with rifles chambered in large magnum cartridges that weigh as little as 12 pounds total, but I don’t want to shoot that rifle. The recoil on something like that will whip your hair back and be punishing over a long day of shooting. I dare you to fire 100 rounds out of one, and see how you feel the next day. If you have a large magnum in a lightweight rifle, you have to practice A LOT to avoid flinching. Now is a 22 pound rifle practical? Not for hiking up a mountain, but that’s not what I built this rifle for. I primarily use it at the range or at competitions to plink steel targets far away, and at those places I usually only have to carry it a couple hundred yards from the truck. I’ve also taken it hunting when I was in a spot where I could lay prone and overlook a large area. I wanted this rifle to be comfortable to shoot, and be optimized to put a bullet precisely where you want out to 2,000 yards.
One cool thing about this AI chassis was the stock folds onto the same side as the bolt. Most folding stocks fold to the side opposite the bolt, but this one was originally developed for SOCOM’s Precision Sniper Rifle contract, which required that it fold bolt-side. That is nice, because it captures the bolt and leaves one side of the rifle flat. It’s more pleasant to carry, because you can have that smooth side against your body when it is slung or loaded in a pack.
The folding chassis is especially nice on an ELR rifle, because these setups are usually very long. This rifle measures 50.25” long with the muzzle brake. When I use a suppressor it’s 57.25”! But when folded, the length is reduced by 10” and is more manageable to transport. I typically shoot with the muzzle brake, which means the rifle folds down to a compact 40”, which is shorter than most of my other rifles. In fact, I bought a Storm case for it with custom foam cutouts that allow you to store it folded and that case is more compact and easier to handle than all of my other rifle cases.
The only downside I’ve experienced so far with this action is it requires a single-stack magazine. It is designed to use the AICS 5 round 338 CIP magazine, and there isn’t a compatible 10 round magazine available. If you use this in matches like the Wyoming Extended Long Range PRS Match that can be a drawback, because stages require you to take 8 or 9 shots each – which means it requires a mag change while you’re on the clock. That’s not impossible – but not ideal. That’s one of the reasons I have a SAP Magnum 2-Round Holder attached to the action for quick access to a couple more rounds.
I considered the AI AX rifle, which is similar in many ways. One bonus with the AI rifle is it is compatible with their double-stack magazine, which is available in a 10 rounder – in fact, it comes with one. AI offers pre-chambered barrels in 300 Norma, 338 Lapua, and other cartridges that you can spin on without any additional gunsmithing or fitting. That platform is worth considering if you’re looking to buy a similar setup. I strongly considered it, but decided to go with the Surgeon XL action … although it was a close call.
Cartridge, Bullets & Barrels
I originally bought the complete rifle from EuroOptic.com as a custom Surgeon Remedy .338 Lapua Rifle. EuroOptic.com still has a couple of rifles in stock that are identical to this setup. The Surgeon Remedy is a custom-built rifle made from the best components available. The pre-built rifle I bought features the Surgeon XL action in the proprietary Accuracy International AX chassis with a 27” Krieger barrel with Surgeon PSR Muzzle Brake, and a Jewell trigger. It is a really sweet setup, and honestly very similar to what I’d have specified if I’d have built the rifle from scratch. I shot the rifle exactly like it came for several months. The only thing I don’t love about it is the thread pattern on the muzzle is 3/4×28, which isn’t as common as 5/8×24 or even 3/4×24.
Honestly, I’ve never had more confidence in any rifle than I do in my Surgeon Remedy 338 Lapua. With very little effort, I found a load using Berger 300gr OTM Hybrid bullets with extremely consistent muzzle velocities (standard deviation of just 3 fps!). I own several high-end precision rifles, but this is the first one I’ve ever experienced where it seems like the bullets are somehow magically attracted to the targets. I joked with a friend that it feels like I could shoot in the opposite direction and the bullet would somehow still find the target! It seems to make me shoot better than I really am. I’ve literally used it to draw a smiley face on a target at 1415 yards. You know you have something special when you’re not just trying to hit the target, but draw a picture on them! 😉
Last year, I shot in the Texas Ultra-Long Range Match, which was the competition with the longest distance targets in Texas (at least at the time). It included targets scattered from 500 to 2,640 yards (1.5 miles), each competitor was allowed up to 3 shots to hit each target, and you engaged multiple targets within a set time over a few stages. If you hit a target on the 1st shot you received 15 points, if it you got it on the 2nd shot you’d get 10 points, and if you hit it on the 3rd shot you got 5 points. With the spec rifle I bought off EuroOptic.com, I cleaned the entire match and set the course record. I hit EVERY target on the FIRST shot all the way out to 2,640 yards! That included some tiny “bonus” targets, like a 12″ circle at 1445 yards. And all that was in 14-17 mph wind that was switching from 10:30 to 12:30. Check out that flag whipping behind me in the photo! A few shooters were using larger cartridges like CheyTac’s and the 50 BMG, but I was the only competitor to connect with the 1.5 mile target. If I’m 100% honest, I doubt I could make a perfect run like that again. It certainly all came together for me on that day, but it shows what the rifle platform is capable of!
I shot that first match with the 338 Lapua barrel that came on the rifle, but I also bought a couple of Bartlein barrels that I had chambered in 300 Norma Mag by Wade at Stuteville Precision. Here is a comparison of those two cartridges alongside other common cartridges:
So why go with the 300 Norma Mag? I’ve wanted one ever since I read an article Todd Hodnett wrote about it in SNIPER magazine in 2012. Since that time I’ve become friends with one of the guys who contributed to the early development of the 300 Norma. He owned the first rifle to be chambered in it in the United States, and he’s had several rifles chambered in it since then with some impressive results. It seems to offer a lot of promise, and of course even more recently USSOCOM adopted it as the cartridge for the new Advanced Sniper Rifle – so many are becoming believers!
Another reason I wanted to try the 300 Norma was because that sweet 338 Lapua ammo I worked up with the 3 fps SD is too long to fit inside the magazine. DOH!!! Unfortunately, that isn’t unusual for the really long, heavy-for-caliber bullets used in ELR shooting, but it means I have to load them one at a time. While that works for some matches, being able to feed ammo from a magazine can clearly help when you’re under tight time constraints.
When developing a load for the 300 Norma, I was originally going to try Berger’s 230gr Hybrid bullet, because at higher muzzle velocities the ballistics looked promising compared to the 338 Lapua. While the 230gr Hybrid does have a slightly higher BC than the 215gr Hybrid (G7 BC is 0.368 vs 0.354, according to Berger), the higher BC of the 230gr didn’t seem to give enough edge with the velocities I was found to improve over the ballistics of the 215gr Hybrid. Also, in conversation with the guys at Applied Ballistics about the 300 Norma, they mentioned in their observations it seemed like the 215gr Hybrid passed through the sound barrier more cleanly than the 230gr bullet, which made it more predictable and effective into subsonic ranges.
I’ve been shooting the 215gr Hybrid from my 300 Norma for over a year now, and I’ve met a ton of people using that bullet in the Norma, including top-level competitors and U.S. Special Forces. The two seem to be made for each other!
Here are the loads I found to be most consistent from my barrels:
|300 Norma Mag||338 Lapua Mag|
|Bullet||Berger 215gr Hybrid Target||Berger 300gr Hybrid OTM Tactical|
|Powder||86.0gr Hodgdon H1000||90.0gr Hodgdon H1000|
|Primer||CCI 250||CCI 250|
|COAL (Base to Ogive)||2.85”||3.03”|
|COAL (Avg. Base to Tip)||3.62”||3.86”|
|Muzzle Velocity||3055 fps (26” barrel)||2755 fps (27” barrel)|
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Honestly, with these two loads there isn’t a ton of difference between the 300 Norma and the 338 Lapua, in terms of ballistics or hit probability. The 300 Norma does have slightly less recoil. I shot both out of the same rifle on the same day, and it is noticeable if you’re paying attention – but it’s not much difference. I’d estimate the 300 Norma might be 10-15% softer in perceived recoil with these loads.
I used the Applied Ballistics Analytics software to calculate hit probabilities on a 15” circle at 1000 yards and a 36” square at 2000 yards with both of these loads. (For more info on how this analysis works, check out this post.)
You can see the hit probabilities for the 300 Norma Mag and 338 Lapua Mag loads are very similar for the scenarios I ran. If you shot 100 rounds with each, you might hit 1 or 2 more times with one over the other – which is definitely “in the noise” in a real-world environment. Here is a dope comparison for these two loads (75 F, 26 inHg, 50% humidity):
|300 Norma 215gr Hybrid||338 Lapua 300gr Hybrid|
|Transonic Range (yards)||1,750||1,750|
|Subsonic Range (yards)||2,095||2,150|
|@ 1000y (mils)||5.73||6.93|
|@ 2000y (mils)||19.09||21.43|
|10mph Wind Drift|
|@ 1000y (mils)||1.16||1.11|
|@ 2000y (mils)||2.98||2.77|
|@ 1000y (fps)||1,987||1,887|
|@ 2000y (fps)||1,191||1,212|
I fired a few five-shot groups with both barrels recently, and the 338 Lapua averaged 0.55 MOA, and the 300 Norma averaged 0.66 MOA (shown). While those might not sound impressive, when you’re shooting out to 2000 yards group size just doesn’t affect hit probability as much as you’d think. For example, I ran the WEZ analysis on a 36″ square at 2000 yards with the same parameters as above, except in one scenario I set the rifle precision to 0.66 MOA and then I dropped it to 0.20 MOA – and it only increased hit probability by 0.8%! That big improvement in group size didn’t even equate to a full percentage point! Consistent muzzle velocity, accurate range, and wind reading ability seem to be the biggest things that impact hits in this game.
The 300 Norma Mag is flatter shooting, especially inside of 1000 yards. So when range uncertainty is high or reduced recoil is a high priority, it could be the better choice. The 338 Lapua Mag carries more energy at all ranges, but the difference grows with distance. By 2000 yards, the 338 Lapua load packs almost 50% more energy. Earlier this year, Lapua announced they’ll start offering brass for the 300 Norma Mag, so there are top-tier components available for both.
One cool thing about this setup is I can choose which one I’d prefer to run, and then swap the barrels in less than 20 minutes. All I need is a torque wrench, barrel vise, and Surgeon action wrench (works for any Remington 700-based action). All those tools combined cost less than $200.
Scope & Mount
For the scope, I went with the Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 F1 with Horus Tremor3 reticle. I own a few brands of scopes, but I’m always searching for the best one for the job. When it comes to ELR, the first thing I’m looking for is a lot of elevation travel. Have you ever been dialing your scope for a long shot and you run out of clicks on your turret? That sucks – ask me how I know! 😉 On that 1.5 mile shot I made in competition last year, I was using a Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25×56 at the time, and my setup only had 24.0 mils of elevation adjustment – but I needed 43.0 mils for that shot! That means I dialed the turret as far as I could, and then had to hold over the target another 19.0 mils. Luckily I had a Horus gridded reticle, so it wasn’t a problem to hold both 19 mils of elevation and 4 mils of wind. But to be able see 19 mils of the grid, I was forced to zoom out to 9x, which obviously isn’t ideal when you’re trying to hit a target at over 2600 yards! Of course it all worked out, but it just made it harder than it had to be. That’s why I upgraded the scope and mount since that time to this improved setup.
My Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 F1 has 37.0 mils of elevation travel available, which is a ton of internal adjustment compared to most scopes. For those who speak MOA, that is the equivalent of 125 MOA. Nightforce’s advertised specs say it has 100 MOA of travel, but they must be an under-promise/over-deliver kind of company, because I measured mine to have 25% more. When it comes to ELR scopes, the Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 seems to be the most popular at this point because the total elevation travel is generous compared to other scopes, as well as the higher magnification. Being able to zoom in to 35x is convenient. I’ve been using 5-25x scopes for years, and that extra 10x magnification is noticeable. Do you need it? Nope. Obviously you can hit a target at over 2600 yards at 9x! But I certainly prefer to dial up to 35x when given the option.
But just because the scope has 37.0 mils of internal adjustment doesn’t mean you’ll be able to dial that much. If you mount it on a straight rail without any cant or taper, your 100 yard zero would be around the middle of that elevation range. That means you’d only experience about half of that elevation travel (around 18 mils). My goal was for my 100 yard zero to be at the bottom of the scope’s adjustment range, so I could take advantage of as much of that mechanical adjustment as possible. That’s why I decided to use an ERA-TAC Adjustable Inclination Mount, which allow you to customize the amount of forward cant on the scope to effectively use the full range of the scope’s mechanical adjustment. Simply loosening the cross bolt and adjust the angle within a range of 0 to 70 MOA (in 10 MOA gradations). The mount is very stable due to self-locking thread inserts.
So if the scope has around 125 MOA of travel, I should dial the mount to 60 MOA and be close to the bottom, right? That’s what I thought, but I went out to the range and wasn’t close to being able to zero at 100 yards. Then I remembered the Surgeon XL action has 30 MOA of cant built into the integral rail. So I needed to dial the mount down to 30 MOA. Then with 30 MOA in the rail and the 30 MOA in the mount, I’d have that 60 MOA total I was looking for. And sure enough, it was perfect. Today I have 36.3 mils of elevation travel available. I have just 0.7 mils under my 100 yard zero, which means I’m very close to the absolute bottom of the travel for my elevation adjustment. Bingo!
With this setup, I can dial over 36 mils of adjustment with my turret and still hold the crosshairs dead center on the target and stay zoomed in at 35x magnification. With the 300 Norma that will allow me to take shots beyond 2600 yards. But I also chose the Horus Tremor3 reticle (watch Todd Hodnett’s video on the Tremor3), which means I have a grid that allows me to hold even more elevation if needed. At 35x I can see about 5 mils of the grid below the crosshairs, if you dial back to 20x zoom you can see almost 10 mils of the grid (similar to what is shown in the image), and if you dial down to 10x zoom you can see up to 20 mils of the grid. So if I have 36 mils of mechanical adjustment in the scope, plus up to 20 mils that I could hold-over, that means I have a total of 56 mils of elevation available! For my 300 Norma load, that would take me out to 3000 yards! I can’t say I’ve stretch it out that far, but that’s at least what the ballistics computer says. The 215gr bullet would be traveling at just over 800 fps by that point. Could you hit something at that distance with it? It’d be a low percentage shot, but at least I wouldn’t be limited by my optic/mount setup.
I prefer to zero my rifles at 100 yards so that I don’t have environmentals/atmospherics potentially adding noise to my zero, and I also think it helps keep some practically to the rifle. But, that doesn’t mean you couldn’t decide to set the bottom of your elevation range at a different zero. For example, I could decide to set my zero to 1500 yards and adjust my scope mount so that all 37 mils of mechanical adjustment were available from that baseline. One of the cool things about the adjustable ERA-TAC mount is that is fairly quick to do, and I don’t need to buy another mount to customize it for my application.
As you can tell, carefully pairing your scope mount to get all you can out of your scope’s mechanical adjustment is a huge deal when it comes to ELR. One veteran shooter I know had a custom mount made for his ELR rifle so that it zeroed EXACTLY to the click at the bottom of his elevation travel on his specific scope. That may be extreme, but this is an extreme sport and you obviously don’t want to leave a bunch of travel in the direction you aren’t going to use it. This becomes even more critical as you try to engage targets out to 3500 or even 4000+ yards. It actually becomes one of the biggest issues you have to address. Luckily there has been a lot of specialized gear released over the past couple years to help with that at those extreme ranges, and I’ll touch on those in an upcoming post.
Finally, I’ll mention a couple of accessories I’ve added to the rifle. First, when shooting long range you need a bubble level – period. Todd Hodnett says more shooters miss at long range because of rifle cant than any other reason. While most things in this game are very expensive, cant is something you can address for less than $100 by simply adding a level. I like the Accuracy 1st scope level, because the curved design provides more granular resolution. The use of the ceramic ball eliminates the inherent flaws associated with air bubble levels, which at higher temperatures and pressure will compromise the bubble size causing level inaccuracies. Typically air bubble levels need 3° to 5° to even register movement; however, the Accuracy 1st level will read movement down to just 1°.
I use the Hawk Hill dope card holder for competitions. Just before I shoot the stage, I’ll calculate my elevation adjustments and wind holds for all the targets, and write those down on an index card. I’ll typically bracket the wind, meaning I write down the holds for the lowest and highest winds I expect. Then I’ll clip that index card to the holder to keep my dope right in front of me as I shoot. I’ve been running Hawk Hill holders on my PRS match rifles for a couple of years, and they’re pretty ideal. It just makes one less thing you have to worry about while you’re on the clock. You’ll never have to break position to see your dope.
I conducted a massive field test of muzzle brakes a couple of years ago. I used high-speed sensors to record the effective recoil reduction of 20+ muzzle brake designs. I tested them on 4 rifles from a mid-sized 6mm up to a 300 Norma Magnum. What luck! 😉 Want to know the results? Buy this muzzle brake! It’s the Fat B* Gen II from American Precision Arms and it provides ridiculous performance, reducing recoil by 46%!!! (View test results)
I also bought a Thunder Beast 338 Ultra suppressor to use with this rifle. I use the muzzle brake most often, because suppressors cause the barrel to heat up faster, which isn’t ideal when you’re firing a long string of shots at practice or a competition. But while the muzzle brake decreases the recoil, it increases the concussion. On big magnums, after a while the concussion can be more punishing than the recoil … especially if you’re beside one and not behind it. Shooting this rifle with a suppressor is much more pleasant for everyone involved. So if I’m planning to shoot with friends or won’t be firing long strings, I spin on this suppressor. Thunder Beast suppressors are among the best on the market when it comes to long range precision work. They’re expensive, but absolutely worth it!
Q Creek ELR PRS Match Coming Up!!!
I used this rifle in the Q Creek Extended Long Range Match last year, and plan to use it again there in a couple of weeks. The upcoming Q Creek ELR PRS Match is being organized by Scott Satterlee and will be at the Q Creek Ranch in Wyoming on June 16 & 17, 2018. The ranch is MASSIVE at over 875 square miles!!! Yes, you read that correctly – that’s 560,000 acres. There are more than 25 countries in the world that are smaller than that! The ranch features some of the most stunning landscape you’ll find, and is an ideal place for a match like this. Here are a couple of photos I took at last year’s match:
The entire match is prone, and you have 2 minutes and 30 seconds to fire 8 to 10 rounds per stage at around 2-4 different targets per stage. Compared to the typical run-and-gun PRS matches, that is a relatively relaxed pace. The whole course is wheel-chair accessible, which allowed at least one disabled vet to compete, which I appreciate. The property is so large that it allowed Scott to pick some really cool places to shoot, and he setup the course of fire in a really clever way. You’re never more than a couple hundred yards from your vehicle. You shoot a wide variety of stages, with many designed to mimic hunting situations. There are steel targets in the shapes of elk, coyotes, goats, turkey, and even some kangaroos, Sasquatch, and unicorns. Scott tries to keep it fun!
My favorite stage from the 2017 match required you to shoot a 50% goat target at 1185 yards, and once you hit it you’d transition to a moving wolf target that was setup as if it were approaching the goat you just shot. That’s right, a moving target at 1185 yards! The full-size wolf was around 6’ long from tip of nose to tip of its tail, so you had somewhat generous real estate left to right, but not much margin for error up and down. That was one of my favorite stages that I’ve ever shot in my life! So much fun!
You’ll shoot uphill, downhill, across canyons, and in a variety of wind conditions. Wyoming can get pretty windy, but June temperatures are ideal. Unlike other June/July rifle matches, this one was really comfortable. The match ran very efficiently, with minimal wait times over the two days.
This will be the 3rd year for the Q Creek ELR Match. In 2016 it was won by Matthew Brousseau, and then Jon Pynch won the 2017 ELR match. Both were using a 300 Norma Mag from Surgeon Rifles, so obviously it’s a pretty ideal setup for this match. Here is a look at the rifle Jon used to win the match last year:
What’s really interesting is that both of those guys who won it were using factory Nexus 300 Norma ammo! When you start stretching out to extreme ranges, ammo consistency becomes critical. But apparently, Nexus ammo is capable of competing right alongside handloads. The Nexus ammo also uses the Berger 215gr Hybrid bullet. If you want to try some out, use the coupon code “TRYNEXUS” to get 10% off your order.
I went back through the course of fire for the 2017 Q Creek ELR match and graphed the target distances to give you an idea of what we’re talking about. The average target distance overall was 1,012 yards, with the closest at 466 yards and furthest at 1722 yards. 80% of the shots were from 610 to 1413 yards. Keep in mind this was for last year’s match, and who knows what Scott has in store for us this year.
Of course, big 375 caliber cartridges in 40 pound rifles are far more common for Extreme Long Range matches like the King of 2 Miles. But the round count in those matches are closer to 20 rounds than 150. Here are Bryan Litz’s thoughts on the ideal rifle setup for a match like the Q Creek ELR:
Round count can be an important factor in the course of fire for an ELR match. For those with super high performance dedicated ELR guns with short barrel life, the matches which require 50 or 100 rounds of ammo to complete are much less appealing than the lower round count events. It’s not uncommon for some matches to cross-over from normal long range PRS style into the ELR territory. Matches like the Nightforce ELR PRS at Q Creek Range have the majority of targets under 1200 yards, but also have a substantial number of targets at 1500+, possibly out to 2000 yards. A PRS match like this which has ELR components is an interesting challenge from an equipment perspective. What’s the best suited rifle for an event like this; something that’s optimized for the intermediate long range targets like a 6mm, 6.5mm, or 7mm which is common in normal PRS matches, or a dedicated .375 caliber ELR gun? With targets from under 1000 to over 2000 yards and a round count over 100, neither extreme is likely the best option. Rather an event like this may call for a middle ground, something like a 300 Norma or 338 Lapua which has the performance to reach 2000 yards, but is also practical to shoot a high round count including intermediate range stages.
It’s clear that the ELR dedicated matches are the far end of the spectrum in terms of performance. The rifles which are built and optimized to compete beyond 1500 yards are not likely to be practical or useful in any other applications. The PRS style matches with ELR components are great ways to explore the versatility of different rifle platforms in search of the best of both worlds.
So obviously, Bryan and the two guys who won the match in the past are all thinking along the same lines and came up with the 300 Norma. I’ll be using my 300 Norma again this year, but I also think a 7mm magnum might be ideal for this match. Something with less powder capacity than the Norma like the 7mm SAUM might offer reduced recoil for spotting shots, and be just as optimized for that window from 610 to 1413 yards that 80% of the targets fall into. There are many high-BC 7mm bullets to choose from, which would “cheat the wind” like the 215gr Hybrid does. I asked the match director, Scott Satterlee, about the cartridges that have led in the past, and he said while he is also running a 300 Norma Mag personally, he suspects that we may see a trend down towards the 7 magnums for these types of matches. I was already thinking that before I talked to Scott, but he mentioned it before I could and confirmed my suspicion. While the Q Creek match was originally the only ELR match in the PRS, there are a few others that popped up this year. This style of straight-forward, 100% prone match with targets way out there is so much fun, and I’d be shocked if we didn’t see more and more come along. I live in Texas, and am traveling all the way to Wyoming for the 2nd year in a row to be part of it, and can’t wait!
At the time this was published there were around 40 open spots remaining for the Q Creek match. Go here for more info: https://practiscore.com/nightforce-elr-prs-at-q-creek/register
Upcoming Post: Applied Ballistics Team Tips & Rifle Builds!
I’m working with the team from Applied Ballistics on an upcoming post that will focus on the super-high performance rifle builds and gear those guys are using this year. The Applied Ballistics team represents the cutting edge when it comes to ELR shooting (winning the King of the 2 Mile two years in a row), so I was excited when they agreed to help me share the equipment and tools they’re currently using to push the limits of what is possible. Stay tuned!
Excellent article again Cal. I have a 300 Norma also, and I blame Todd Hodnett for that choice too lol. I love my 300 norma, but mine is mounted in a Manners T4A built by West Texas Ordnance. Keep up the hard work on this series of articles.
That’s awesome Otis. Yeah, Todd influenced a lot of people toward that cartridge. He has a lot of influence in the military community, so I’m sure his opinion weighed into the recent adoption of that cartridge for special forces. He’s become of the guys I respect the most in the shooting community, so when he talks … I listen.
And that’s cool you got that done from West Texas Ordnance. I’ve had a rifle built by them also, and shoot with Clayton a lot. GREAT guy. Seriously, one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met … and one of the best shooters I know.
I appreciate the encouragement!
CONGRATS on the performance at TX ULR comp ! Smily face at 1400++++
Thanks, CR! Yeah, that might be getting a little cocky … but I did that one day when I was practicing out at my range. I had a buddy who was also training up to compete at that same ULR match, and he trains at the same range. He’d mentioned before that it was a little intimidating for him when he went out there and saw a bunch of shots centered on the far targets, because he knew I must have been out there with my 338. I thought if he looked through his scope and saw a smiley face on the target, he’d get a kick out of it!
Cal, great write up on the 300 Norma! It’s my favorite hunting cartridge. Killed lots of elk at long distance with the 300 Norma. Great articles Cal.
Thanks, Francis! That means a lot coming from you.
Thanks for a very interesting article.
Have you tried the Hornady 285gr ELD-M in your 338 Lapua?
I have tried the 285 ELD-M out of the 338 Lapua I took to Africa, which was a Sako TRG 42. All the animal I took there were with that bullet. It was before they released the ELDX bullet in 338 caliber. I was happy with how that bullet performed, but I haven’t tried it in this 338 Lapua. Honestly, I’m really happy with the 300 Hybrid load I have. Like I said, I’ve never had more confidence in any rifle I’ve ever owned … so I don’t plan to do any additional load development. I heard someone say once, “Don’t fix happy!” 😉
Cal, yet again an excellent article. It is always refreshing to read your findings from a scientific point of view. You have helped me in some decision making of buying equipment over the years and this is one of the only websites that I refer to before making those decisions. I have a lot of questions though and I am eager to see your thought process behind some of your choices you made.
Thanks, Vern. I tried to outline the summary of why I chose what I did in this post. Were there any specific questions you had about this rifle build?
Great stuff, I don’t really need another calibre, but 300NM is a temptation. A lot of guys here in Europe run the 300RUM – mainly because some of them have to deal with calibre restrictions. Those things are lasers. But I’m also thinking 7mm might be the better step, but if the 300NM gets a lot of military support, it will be hard to beat for market acceptance.
You seem happy with that ERA-TAC mount – I’m very close to getting one of those for my new .375, so interested in anything you have to say on it. In fact, that’s something that would be VERY helpful review series, and that’s on adjustable mounts – the final solution on those is yet to appear, I believe.
I think you’re right. As the 300 Norma is adopted by the military there will be a lot of market acceptance.
I’ve really enjoyed the ERA-TAC mount. I have used Spuhr mounts on everything for the past few years, but I really liked to idea of being able to adjust the mount to get the most out of the mechanical adjustment on my scope. I don’t see that as a one-time decision, but I really could decide to change my zero to be at 1500 yards in less than 30 minutes without having to buy any additional equipment. That is a pretty compelling feature to me. I was skeptical if it would be solid, but I’d say it has proven to be just as solid as any other mount or rings I’ve ever used. That’s pretty impressive, honestly.
But, I’ll talk about some other mounts and rings in the upcoming posts, and share what some of the leading guys are running on 375+ setups. There seems to be a few other options out there, but for this particular rifle and application … I still believe the ERA-TAC is the best option. I’d buy it again today. Stay tuned for some other options though.
Hi Cal, I am relatively new to long range shooting and have found your blog to be a great resource, thank you for putting it all together! My question is a tad bit off topic but I couldn’t find another place on the blog to shoot you a message in a more appropriate forum, so this seemed like the best place to insert my inquiry since you mention Spuhr. I recently upgraded to the exact setup you run (Spuhr mount and S&B PM II 5-25) for my 6.5 Creedmoor but I can’t find anywhere the recommended torque settings for the S&B scope. Spuhr has a recommended range with the usual disclosure to check the manufacturer recommendation, but I can’t find the info anywhere from S&B. What do you use on your Spuhr/S&B setup? How many in. lbs. do you torque your ring screws, do you use Blue Loctite on the ring screws, and do you use rosin between the rings and the scope as is suggested as an option in the Spuhr Mount instructions? Thanks again!
Hey, Chris. Glad you’ve found this helpful. I’m still running a Schmidt & Bender PMII 5-25×56 in a Spuhr mount on my PRS-style match rifles, so obviously I think that’s a great choice still. I just went a little different on this rifle platform because of the specialized application.
On my Spuhr mounts I use 20 in/lbs for the rings, and 45 in/lbs for the crossbolt. I did try the rosin thing on the Spuhr once when I had it on my 7mm Rem Mag, because I thought the scope was moving. It turned out to be an issue with the rail slipping and not the mount. Now you can see why I really prefer an integral rail like I mentioned in the article! 😉 I don’t use the rosin on any of my setups at this point, although I don’t think it’d hurt anything to add it. Just kind of makes a mess and I haven’t found it necessary. If you were using a big magnum it might be, but the mid-size cartridges I’m using like the Creedmoor … the Spuhr will grip the scope fine without it in my experience.
Here is an link to an article I wrote with a bunch of torque specs. I actually keep a printed copy of this post with my torque wrench for easy reference: http://precisionrifleblog.com/2013/03/22/rifle-screw-torque-settings-specifications/
Awsome! Thanks for the info. I was a little hesitant at first without some guidance (don’t want to mess up a $3k scope….). Just one last thing, do you use Loctite on the threads? I’ve read that the torque values need to be taken into consideration with wet vs dry screw threads. Thanks again! – Chris
The only time I loctited the threads was the same time I thought the scope was slipping on my 7mm Rem Mag. I don’t normally do it, although I think if you do it really lightly with a stick then it might work well (not enough to get them “wet”). I check my screws fairly often, and don’t find that they move on the mid-size cartridges that I shoot most often. I’m sure as you get into some of the heavier recoiling guns (CheyTac size or bigger) that kind of stuff might matter, but I haven’t had a lot of experience with those.
… but I bet if you ask 10 other shooters, you might get 10 other opinions on this! But that’s at least what I’ve been doing the past couple years.
Can you run an analysis with the Berger 230 for comparison sakes? It seems like the heavier bullet is always going to give you less wind drift which seems to be the biggest factor in these type of shoots. Also you might check out the new Sierra 230. I haven’t seen G7 values anywhere but the G1 is just a tick over 0.8 down below 2000 FPS. I’m planning on launching their new 200 grained from a 300 WSM in the near future.
Hey, Kaleb. I ran the same WEZ analysis on the 300 Norma with the 230gr Hybrid at a muzzle velocity of 2940 fps (which is what the AB Munitions loaded ammo runs, and around the same velocities I was loading around – although like always, some guys load it faster). With all the same levels of uncertainty as the ones in the article, for the 15″ circle at 1000 yards it had a 78.95% chance, and the 36″ square at 2000 yards was 47.37%. So it was very similar to the 215gr Hybrid. The 215 had slightly higher hit percentages, but they were so close that I think it would be “in the noise.” The truth is the bullet would need a significant jump in BC to have a measurable difference in hits. We often agonize over a small difference in numbers (and I’m the worse at that), but the performance difference is not as drastic as we might think when it comes to hits.
The other bullet that I’m interested in trying is the new Berger 200.20x Hybrid, which is just starting to become available for purchase at some places – although it’s still hard to find in stock. I did run the ballistics on it a couple weeks ago, and it wasn’t like it was VASTLY different from these … but it’s an interesting alternative. It has peaked my interest.
Yet again you might try the Sierra 200 grainer. I know G1 depends on velocity but for all velocity windows the Sierra has a higher BC than the Berger 200-20X. Only downside is it says it requires a 1-9 twist
I’m hesitant to try the Sierra’s, because in the past I’ve tried them and they seemed to be less predictable at extreme ranges. In my experience, they’d be stable to a certain range … but not consistent way out there. I eventually decided it might be jacket runout or something that caused the center of mass to not match the center of form. That would make them destabilize in flight and start wobbling (increasing the drag in unpredictable ways) or tumbling early. That’s just my theory though, and based on anecdotal experience. I’ve also experienced that with Nosler bullets and some solid bullets, but both of those cases were much more extreme than Sierra. I’ve never experienced that with Berger, which is why I tend to lean towards them for precision work. I know that might just be bias, since it’s all anecdotal … but I think there might be something special about the jackets they use. I think Litz wrote about that in one of the volumes of his Modern Advancement series. I think it was the first one.
… anyway. Don’t want to spark a debate here, just wanted to be honest with my view. If they offered something that was measuably better in terms of BC, I’d give it a shot … but if it’s just a slight difference, I’ll probably stick to the Bergers because of my previous experiences.
That’s good to know. Hopefully I’ll get to start delving into this world myself in a year or so. I was wondering where your leaning toward Berger was coming from but that’s a pretty strong reason. I was honestly hoping you could shoot it and tell me the G7 😂.
The Australian couple, Mark and Sam After Work –on youtube, shoot ELR and made a pretty good case for 2nd focal plane reticle scopes. The NF Atacr is their current favorite scope, just with a 2nd focal plane reticle and w/o the Horus. His point on the 2nd fpr vs 1st fpr (focal plane reticle) location was that a these extreme ranges, the target is already small and at high magnification a 1st fpr tends to obscure the target. This was not the case when you used 9x and the Horus reticle, but I can see his point beyond 12-15x. What are your thoughts?
Hey, Joe. Glad you enjoyed the article. That’s an interesting point you make. I can understand how they might prefer that. However, I’d be surprised if that represents how most ELR shooters view that. I believe much of that comes down to personal preference, and nobody is right or wrong. It’s just about what works best for you, and suits how you’re most comfortable shooting.
Personally, I strongly prefer a FFP scope. There are just situations where you may not want to shoot at full magnification. On a SFP scope you always have to be aware of your magnification, but with a FFP scope that’s just one more thing you don’t have to think about. In high pressure situations (like competition or hunting), I want to eliminate as many of those things as I can. I just know the more things I have to think about or try to remember, the more mistakes I will make. I’ve proven that in matches! At some point, you’ll forget … so I really value the ability to safely ignore what my magnification setting is on, which is what you can do with a FFP scope. It’s rare for me to run a stage in competition at full magnification, although I know guys who do that.
Also, like I mentioned in the article, in my mind having that gridded reticle just extends the effective range of the weapon system. If I run out of elevation on my turret, I still have points of reference I can use for precise holds. Gridded reticles also make second-shot corrections VERY easy. I think that video from Todd that I linked to shows some of that. I do typically dial for elevation, which is a little differently than how Todd uses his reticle … but the concept is the same. You have points of reference that help you remember exactly where the bullet strike was and you can just use that point as your aiming dot … and quickly get a second round hit without breaking position or touching the turrets. For the longest time, I thought the Horus reticles were too busy and distracting – but you should try one. My favorite is the H59, but that isn’t available on the Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56. I now see the reticle as another tool that you can use to get hits. Gridded reticles give you more options. It’s there if you need it, but you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to. I actually kind of feel naked when I’m using a scope without a gridded reticle or isn’t FFP at this point. My options are just more limited, and I’ve been spoiled by how handy those can be in certain scenarios.
But like I said, everything I’m talking about here comes down to personal preference. So I’m not saying my view is the right one … it’s just what I’ve found to work for me … up to this point. Over time, we get a chance to try different things and decide what works best for us. That will likely be different than what works best for another guy. I learned a long time ago that while you should be open to how other people do things, and even try it out … but you shouldn’t blindly adopt what the cool kids are doing. Be open to change, but be honest about what fits you best. So don’t take my word for it, or theirs … if you’re able, try it yourself and see what you like. Hope this helps!
was that ELR match in Texas near Abilene?
If so, lots of folks in the shooting community heard about your shooting.
Yes sir. It was just a few miles south of Abilene in March of last year.
I knew little about ELR when I went to the Gunsite course with a GAP .300 Norma (Copper Creek ammo). I’m now very comfortable with 2000 yards. 2 miles is a stretch but that’s on my horizon.
Hey, Greg. That’s awesome. I bet the Gunsite course was outstanding. It seems like a lot of people respect those guys in the industry. Yeah, the 300 Norma is certainly capable of 2000 yards … but I agree 2 miles is a stretch. While some guys who are better shooters than me may be able to do that, it seems like a very low percentage shot. I quickly ran the WEZ analysis on the 300 Norma with the 215 load shooting a 36″ square at 2 miles, and the hit probability was 4.1% (based on the same uncertainties presented in the article). Now if you catch a completely windless day (i.e. 0 uncertainty from wind), that would increase to 28% hit percentage – so it’s not impossible under ideal conditions. But while the 300 Norma is a VERY capable cartridge out to 2000 or even 2500 yards, there are other cartridges that are better suited of distances of 3000+ yards. The next couple articles will present a different class of rifles that are designed to increase the odds of connecting with a 2 mile target. Those are typically 40 pound rifles, chambered in CheyTac-like cartridges, with barrels up to 36″ long … so it’s a very different, highly specialized setup.
Hi Cal…..I used the AB WEZ with the same system variables, but my result was a higher hit %. I used the custom drag model, but the standard inputs that it generated. What other inputs did you use on the ballistic input page that were entered and not defaulting to the standard.
Also, as Surgeon can build directly, why the EurOptic choice.
As a completely different note MPA has a .300 Norma build for around $3,500 and it looks pretty attractive for the price. Curtis action and their Spencer barrels. Am I missing something for the value?
Hey, Charlie. I generated those WEZ charts a week or two ago, and I didn’t save screenshots of the other screens. I can’t remember if I set them up to be standard sea-level atmospherics or adjusted those to my local atmospherics. I did use the same environmentals for both the 300 and 338 loads so they’d be an apples-to-apples comparison, but I’m not sure what those were.
I tried to call Surgeon about a build, but never could get anyone to call me back. Unfortunately, that’s been the experience of a couple other guys I’ve talked to over the past year or two. While they’re great at making rifles, they aren’t great at customer service (in my experience). Also, the build on EuroOptic.com was virtually identical to what I’d have built even if I had specified all the parts. I might have got it in tan, but I like the black at this point – and that obviously doesn’t make the rifle shoot any better! 😉 I would have threaded the barrel 5/8×24 instead of that 3/4×28, but that isn’t a huge deal. And I’d guess the wait time for a custom build from Surgeon is probably a few months, where the rifle from EuroOptic.com literally shipped to me on the same day I ordered it!!! I was just fortunate to find something that was just like I was wanting sitting on the shelf somewhere. That isn’t usually the case.
And MPA might be offering the highest value rifles in the industry right now, not just for the Norma – but for short action rifles too. Unfortunately, I can’t speak to how that rifle compares to this one. I do know a lot of guys like that Curtis action, but it doesn’t have all the same features I pointed out on the Surgeon XL. Now does that matter? Who knows. I won’t claim that I do! I think it’s safe to say the rifle I bought wouldn’t hit twice as many targets as that MPA rifle, but it does cost almost twice as much. Honestly, it likely comes down to how much money means to you. 😉 Knowing the guys over at MPA and personally watching how well some of their rifles shoot, I think that MPA rifle is a ridiculous value at $3,500. Like I said, maybe the highest value in the industry right now. I just can’t speak to how the two setups compare.
Ditto on Surgeon direct. I had them build a 591 short action in 6XC with a Proof carbon barrel with AI AICX MK II chassis. Communication was really bad on the progress of the build etc. And yes they take forever.
As a note on the 6XC my wife just started shooting is last week. Problems though. Using the Tubbs loaded ammo with the 115 DTAC. She had a mis fire, and two blown primers sent pieces into the bolt, and a broken Trigger Tech trigger. Took the rig to our local smith and he put in a Calvin Elite as it was the only thing in town.
Don’t know where to start to diagnose the problem as the build and the ammo are seemingly top notch.
Any other thread or comments for where to do from here. I don’t load so was thinking of getting some of the Copper Creek load development ammo and going from there.
Sorry for being off topic of the .300 Norma Mag.
Thanks, Charlie. Unfotunately, your story about Surgeon seems common. But they do make 5 star rifles. They also built my 6XC, and it was an amazing rifle. They also built a 6.5 Creedmoor for me that is outstanding. I think their rifles are some of the best, but like many companies their customer service could use some work.
That sucks about the blown trigger. On my primary competition rifles I recently switched from Jewell triggers over to the new TriggerTech Diamond … and I LOVE them. I’m not knocking the Calvin Elite (Timney makes great triggers), but if you’re looking for a new one you might check it out. I wasn’t sure someone could improve on a Jewell, but I believe they did. At least I prefer it. I think the break is just as good, and I really like the flat/straight/wide trigger shoe/lever.
Unfortunately as far as what to troubleshoot, I’d start by checking the headspace. When they built my 6.5 Creedmoor, I got them to chamber 2 additional barrels for me. Unfortunately the headspace wasn’t correct on them, and the problem manifested in the exact what you described. On the first round I shot out of one of those barrels with excessive headspace, the LabRadar said the muzzle velocity was ridiculously high and the recoil felt punishing. I had to pound on the bolt handle to get it to open, and I could read “Hornady 6.5 Creedmoor” imprint on the bolt face. I’ve never had an over-pressure issue quite like that one I experienced. Surgeon makes a completely over-built, over-engineered action, so I don’t think I was ever in real danger, but it was scary. I was just using factory Hornady ammo to break in the barrel, so it wasn’t the ammo. I bought go/no-go gauges and checked it, and sure enough the bolt would close on the no-go gauge. I called them, and honestly they were VERY responsive with that issue. I have to give them kudos on that. They apologized, owned the problem, and got those barrels fixed and back to me very quickly.
I hope that isn’t what happened to you, but I thought I should mention it. I’ve used some of David Tubb’s 115gr DTAC loaded ammo in the past, and it was EXTREMELY consistent … so I’d be shocked if it was a problem with that ammo. I’d ask your local gunsmith to check the headspace, or you could buy a 6XC headspace gauge set online. I’d check the headspace before I fired another round out of the rifle.
Best of luck!
Any chance that you will be doing an updated comparison between the muzzle brakes? I’ve noticed that several companies have come out with updated versions of their brakes that you tested. I am wondering if they made improvements based on the data that you compiled in your tests.
Hey, Alexander. I don’t have plans for future muzzle brake tests. I actually sold all my testing equipment to a manufacturer, and they’re now using it in their Research & Development of muzzle brakes. I actually know 3 major companies who contacted me and built their own testing equipment that is very similar to what I used. Honestly, that’s what I was trying to accomplish with that test. I wanted to do some data-driven research to learn which designs were working best, but also wanted to show manufacturers that they could have a data-driven approach to developing their products … and it doesn’t cost a fortune to do that. I did it in a volunteer/hobbyist budget! So although I was trying to see which of those designs at the time were most effective, I was trying to spur on development so that all of us would have even better muzzle brake designs to choose from in the future. The big shocker was this: I think it actually worked!
Thoughts on using the Charlie TARAC? It’s Todd Hodnett approved!!
Ha! Great question, Nick. I think it’s a great idea, for a lot of reasons. That is one of several products I’ll talk about in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!
Thanks for another in the series. I read with real interest your table of drops and wind holds for 1000 yds and 2000 yds for the 300NM and 338. Interestingly, the 7 Practical performance is the same. Using your atmos conditions (26″, 75F, 50% RH, the 7P numbers from JBM shooting the Hornady 7mm 180 ELD Match (G7 .358) at 3070 fps (what I get out of a 27″ bbl) are (hoping this table doesn’t get munged when posted):
1000 5.8 1.1
2000 18.7 2.9
subsonic at 2100 yds
Just saying, you don’t need to go to a big 30 or 338 to reach 2000 yds. 7P is really cheap to shoot, with a very easy recoil. Mine weighs about 18 #. My main problem is it’s built on a Stiller 300 TAC action in an old AICS chassis, and I have to single feed the 3.640″ OAL cartridges.
Having said that, it will never reach 1.5 miles like yours did. I think the 7’s are good to 2000yds (which covers most extended ELR), and then if you need to go to 2 miles, its time for the 375 Lethal. But then you’re talking a $10k rifle and $10 rounds; and I would bet the barrel life is pretty short. Sorta takes the fun out of it.
Hey, Paul. You know I agree. A 7mm magnum is a great choice as well, especially with that 180 ELDM. I have a couple boxes of those bullets in my shop to try out in my 7mm Rem Mag, but I thought about the 7mm Practical long and hard when I built that rifle. But, to get similar ballistics from a smaller caliber usually will yield reduced recoil, but also shorter barrel life. I’m not sure if that is the case here, but there typically is “no free lunch.” For example, the 300 Norma barrels just won’t last as long as the 338 Lapua barrels (in my experience). But, then again we’re all trying to strike the right balance in that area, and it comes down to personal preference.
And I hear you on the big 375. That is a lot of money, but I think I’m going to do it. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I attended the first Applied Ballistics Seminar back in Feb 2016 in Michigan. I listened to Mitch talk about a “375 CheyTac Improved” cartridge, and he showed me a couple pieces of unformed brass he was thinking about using … he hadn’t even named the cartridge yet! I’ve been thinking about it for two years, and am about to buy a true, super-high performance ELR rifle. I’ve been researching and learning about it, and that eventually turned into this series of posts. It seemed like there isn’t much info out there on this stuff, so I thought I’d share what I’ve been learning. It does seem like the rifle and ammo costs just go up the further you want to reach, and the barrel life goes down. An expensive combination … but don’t you want to be able to reach out and touch something at 2 miles?! 😉 That sounds like what an addict would say!!!
Cal – Great point on barrel life. I don’t know what is expected from the 300NM or 338. The 7P is supposed to go 1200 rounds, which is 2/3 what I used to get from my 300WM, and 50% of what I get from my 260. It colors everything I do with it- limited load development, reduced practice, picking and choosing events, etc. Like a guy with a classic Porsche, its not an every day driver!
I can’t wait to follow your journey, if not in reality, at least in spirit. Thanks for sharing it. Are you going to go whole hog on things like the bipods with ski bottoms, and bubble levels out on a long arm, or try to keep it more field practical? I am also wondering about choice of bullets. I’ve been surprised to see that (at least as of recently), that there is no CDM for the Hornady 180. I”ve been simply using the G-7 model, but I would expect to really benefit shooting at the limits of the 7mm having a custom drag model. Would you choose a bullet that is supposed to have a better BC, or one that you have a more accurate model for?
BTW, the insight you shared from the AB hit probability software about the limits to the importance of rifle MOA performance was really interesting! The fact that reading wind becomes far more important than going from a .5 MOA to a .25 MOA gun is not intuitive. Once again, skill vs equipment…a good thing!
Well, Paul … that doesn’t sound shorter than the barrel life I experienced on my first 300 Norma barrel. But lots of that comes down to how you shoot it, and that Wyoming ELR Match is pretty brutal on barrels. Firing 8-9 shots in a row can get the barrel pretty toasty, and doing that over 20 stages may have limited my accurate barrel life.
And I’m going all-in! I already picked up one of the bipods you were talking about. 😉 I’ll share more on those and the specialized cant indicators in upcoming posts.
And higher BC or accurate drag model is a great question! It depends on how much higher. At some point it’s worth it, but if it’s within 10% or so I’d probably pick custom drag model. A custom drag model was a big reason I hit all those targets, although at 1.5 miles I had to adjust a little over what my Kestrel was calling for. I’d noticed in practice I needed about 8 clicks more than it called for at that distance, so I applied that to the solution and luckily connected.
And I agree about the WEZ analysis. I honestly double-checked it, because it even surprised me. Ranging is also VERY important. Being off by just 1-2 yards can decrease hit probability more than you think, especially beyond 2000 yards. What sucks is it’s hard to get a super-accurate range as you get farther out, yet it becomes more critical. Just means there will be more and more innovation around rangefinders!
I also wonder about custom drag models v G7. Although I’d settled on G7 for quite some time, I try to work with the custom models these days (with Kestrel mainly). One interesting point I’ve heard (!) is that they have only really been accurately determined out to 1000m or so, which makes one really wonder just how good they are at ELR?
Great question. In Modern Advancements Volume II Bryan wrote a great chapter that talks about Aerodynamic Drag Modeling for Ballistics. I thought he did a great job presenting BC’s to ‘G’ standards, and the new Custom Drag Models (CDM’s). The basic premise is that for the longest time we compared the drag of a particular bullet to a standard curve, such as a G1 or G7, because it’s much simpler for a ballistic calculator to represent the drag of a class of bullet by referencing all bullets to a common standard. But with modern computers, and the advanced point mass ballistic solvers we have today the tools are there to do more. Here are a couple excerpts directly from Bryan that I think sheds light on the problem, and solution:
That’s not to say that your drop in the field will always 100% match what a custom drag model predicts. However, I can say that for that Ultra-Long match that I won, I was using the custom drag model from Applied Ballistics in my Kestrel, and I just blindly dialed whatever the Kestrel said for shots up to and including 1 mile. Beyond that, I had to apply a correction factor that I’d already noticed in practice. But it was dead-nuts on (like center-center) on the shots out to 1 mile.
My experience has been similar using custom drag models for my 6XC and 6mm Creedmoor match rifles, as well as the 338 Lapua I took to Africa. But, I will say that wasn’t my experience with the custom drag model for the 215gr Hybrid. I’m not sure if I have a batch of bullets that are different from what was tested, but the CDM doesn’t seem to align with my hits in the field as cleanly. I’ve had to true it to match my hits in the field, but the others I haven’t.
Even in that chapter I was quoting from, Bryan shows two examples of shooting a 308 Win out to 1323 yards and the CDM prediction was off by 9-10″ in some places. That distance is down to 967 fps (0.87 Mach) for the bullet they were using, which is deep into subsonic flight. The predictions were within 6″ of the actual drop for the entire supersonic and transonic flight of the bullet.
It seems like you can expect CDM’s to get you within about 0.5 MOA of the target through transonic flight, at least for most bullets. What you’ve heard that hey may only be “good” out to 1000m is probably misleading. I’d say if your rifle goes subsonic at 1500 yards, CDM’s would be very good to at least that distance … and I’d be surprised if it wouldn’t be better than G1 of G7 BC’s even beyond that. They are pretty impressive for un-trued raw predictions. Into subsonic flight, I think you may need to start truing a bit more, even with CDM’s. But regardless, in my experience if you measure your muzzle velocity with a LabRadar or MagnetoSpeed (i.e. have good data inputs), and use a custom drag curve on a device like the Kestrel … your predictions should get you on target, or very close.
I plan to repeat a lot of this in an upcoming post, but didn’t want to make you wait. 😉 Hope it helps.
Great post again, as always I feel I am just sitting around waiting for new posts to come out! I wanted to know what your thoughts were on the IOR-Valdada scopes for this ELR rifle. The Crusader and Patriot are both in FFP and have the adjustment range you mentioned. But, offer a 40mm tube as opposed to a 34mm tube. Did you consider either of these scopes? Or did you consider any other scopes?
I researched a few scopes, and I’ll talk about some of the others guys are using or that might become popular in an upcoming post. While the Valdada glass is good, I wasn’t sure how they’d hold up to heavy recoil. I’d hate to lose my zero, especially if I end up moving that scope over to a big 375 or something in the future. The NF scopes are just known for ridiculous durability (thicker scope body than any other brand, at least that’s what an industry pro told me), but the Valdada might be a good option too. I just don’t have as much experience with them.
Amazing how much influence Todd Hodnett has in the community. From TreMor3 being adopted in several Mil units (heard USMC Snipers are all transitioning to that reticle) to 300 Norma also being incorporated across the board. He obviously has the ear of the right people. Glad to hear how the 300 Norma is performing. Excited to see how effective our shooters can be with that TreMor3. Personally I’m a fan if you commit to learning it. You also got me searching that Nexus Ammo.
Hey, Gary. Yep. Todd is a serious guy, and doesn’t endorse something without lots of thought and hands-on experience. If something doesn’t work, he’s going to say it … so he’s earned the respect of a lot of guys. It reminds me of this quote: “You’re always either building your reputation or living off it.” I think Todd is always building it. He is pretty maniacal about trying to get our boys overseas the best equipment he can to help them be successful.
I met one Tier 1 sniper who has been using the TREMOR3 reticle in a Nightforce scope for over 2 years now, and he loved it. He was a big proponent of it, and his passion about it was one of the things that made me try the Horus reticles a couple years ago. Almost every scope I’ve bought since that time has been a gridded Horus-style reticle. While I don’t hold for elevation most of the time, there are some specific situations where that grid is really handy, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to get a hit without it.
… and that’s crazy about the Nexus ammo. I was talking to Jon after the match last year, and he was really impressed with it. I don’t think he even had a chance to practice with it much before he showed up to the match, but it obviously performed for him. It’s a crazy coincidence that both of the top shooters were using it. Both interesting and unexpected.
Cal, very interesting article, as always. I’m looking into getting a long range rifle to shoot out to 2000 m. One thing I have been thinking about is that very long and heavy rifles, especially with suppressors attached, are difficult and tiring to carry. I would want to use my rifle for multiple purposes including matches and hunting. I was considering the Desert Tech SRS in 7 mm LRM (from GunWerks) with a Proof Research carbon fiber barrel. I would be interested to know your thoughts on this. Does anyone in the competitive circuits run bull pup rifles or Desert Tech rifles? Are there significant disadvantages to a bull pup design when shooting matches out to 2000 m or for hunting that you know about?
Hey, Joel. That’s awesome that you’re going to start getting into this game. As you can tell, I love it. I hope you love it too.
Having one rifle to rule them all (i.e. using the same rifle for multiple purpose from matches to hunting), can work … but you’ll have to make some compromises on both ends. If you want a gun that is capable of 2000 yards, it will probably be heavier than most hunting rigs. The Desert Tech might be a great way to go to keep it more compact. My brother-in-law runs a Desert Tech in 338 Lapua to go hunting in Alaska. A lot of the guides gave him a hard time the first year, but it works for him … so who cares what those guys say. There are a couple guys running them in competitions, but not a whole lot. I’m not sure why that is. One thing might be that they also require single-stack magazines, and for the longest time those were only available in 5 round magazines. You can’t compete in a traditional PRS match with a 5 round magazine. I’m doing it in that ELR match, but the pace is so much faster in a normal PRS match. I’ve seen a couple of the top shooters who were sponsored by Desert Tech customize one of their magazines and essentially make it into a 10 rounder. And there may be 10 round magazines offered today, but I just know at one point they weren’t available. If they’re single stack, they will also hang down quite a bit and could get in the way on some barricade stages.
Also a 7LRM is a great cartridge, but put that in a lightweight rifle and you will have a hard time spotting your own shots inside of 600 yards. The recoil will cause the rifle to lift up and by the time it settles the bullet will have already landed. I know because I used a custom 7mm Rem Mag in the first few rifles matches I ever shot in. That’s because I was trying to do EXACTLY what you were doing. Pretty quickly I figured out that I was handicapping myself by trying to use the same rifle hunting and in matches. Now was it dumb to try? Nope. It served me well. I just didn’t realize how much I’d enjoy shooting matches, honestly. At the time, I was a hunter that might try some matches, but now I’m a competitive shooter that still likes to hunt. Today I shoot thousands of rounds each year at steel targets. I would’ve never thought this would go there when I started out. … and also I did place decently with the 7mm Rem Mag in matches. At least in some local matches, I placed as high as 2nd with it. I was just handicapped because I was using a bigger cartridge and heavier bullet than I needed to swing steel, so I was having to endure much more recoil than necessary.
I still hunt with my 7mm Rem Mag today, but don’t use it in matches. My brother-in-law hunts with his Desert Tech, but doesn’t use it in matches. If you really are looking for something that would be just as good in matches as it would be in hunting, I’d highly recommend the 6.5 Creedmoor. It’s at home in a match, and capable of taking just about all North American game (at least in the lower 48) within what would be ethical distances for most people. It has much less recoil than a 7mm magnum, so if you decided to go with a relatively light rifle it wouldn’t be as big of an issue.
It just comes down to what the right balance is for you. If you want the rifle mostly optimized for hunting, and okay at matches … the 7 LRM might be a good option. If you want something equally effective at both, consider the 6.5 Creedmoor. If you want something more optimized for matches, and still useful in hunting … there are lots of good options, like the 6mm Creedmoor or 6×47 Lapua. My daughter took a 140 class whitetail, 2 feral hogs, and 2 coyotes with my 6mm Creedmoor this past hunting season. All of them were clean 1 shot kills, and the animals dropped within a few yards. Now on my 7mm magnum, I’ve never had any of the trophy mule deer or whitetails I’ve shot with it take a single step. They all buckled where they stood … TKO. But is that necessary? I prefer it, but I’m blessed to have a few cool rifles, so I can have ones that are specialized for certain applications. I wish everyone was so lucky.
If having a rifle that is capable out to 2000 yards is high on your priority list, then the 7mm LRM (or a 7mm magnum of similar size) might be the best option. That is about as small as you can go and still reach out to that distance reliably. I’ve seen guys reach out to 1 mile with a 6.5 Creedmoor, but it’s just not a high percentage shot if you have any wind.
Hope this helps!
For 600-1400y PRS like Match i would still use a 7mm, ran .284 for number of years in matches up to 1600y and now upped a bit to 284 Shehane and with 162g pils at .3150 fps it was runining inside most .338 up to at least 1200y where .338 gained upper hand(with unknovn distance matches lighter bullets are prefered), 7saum on the other hand is a bitch for magazine feed ,we had to machine out the 2 ridges in the .300WM AI magazine for the 7saum to actualy feed.
Even if 300NM has a slight edge , you have consider that 284 even on hot loads will have at least twice the barrel life , that is still short if you run 120 round match and 500-600rds pre match training ,mine lasted cca 2300 rounds . Having a .308 case bottom makes it easy to have switch barrel to one of the 6 or 6.5calibers.
MY courrent build of own design uses a rear lockign action a large and long barrrel tennon and can switch barels with ease , courrent pacakge includes a 6.5Creedmoor barrel, 7Shehane and 300NM all feeding from long .338 CIP AI amagazine . If tubbs .375XC takes off that will be added as well.
I agree, Mr. T. I think a 7mm might be pretty ideal for these distances. The 284 Shehane is right in that case capacity I was thinking. I hadn’t heard about the magazine issues with the 7 SAUM, but that’s good to know. I haven’t ever used one and don’t know anyone with one, so maybe I’ll steer clear of it for that reason.
And the barrel life on the 300 Norma does suck, especially if you’re shooting it in matches like this where you might fire 10 rounds in quick succession. If you were just using it for plinking and could let the barrel cool down and not get flaming hot, it sure would help. A friend of mine bought a twin rifle that was identical to mine, and we ordered the 300 Norma barrels together and got them gunsmithed at the same time. He also shot the Wyoming ELR with me … and neither of our first barrels made it to 1000 rounds. I plan to bring a chamber fan and try to keep the barrel cooler this time, so we’ll see how it works.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the 375 world. Who knows what cartridge will end up being widely accepted. … but more on that in a later post. 😉
Cal, great setup. Looks like you’re really mastering your equipment to make those seriously long shots.
I’ve quite a few similar components on my switch barrel Eliseo RTM tube gun, including an identical barrel with same taper and use EraTac QD mount (30MOA).
My rifle is setup to switch between 6.5×47 and .338 Norma Magnum. I wonder why you chose the .338L over the .338NM. I looked at the two rounds for a long time and decided to go with the .338NM as I’m able to seat 300g Lapua Scenar to mag length. – no need to single feed with it! I’m using 91.5gn Ramshot Magnum to launch the 300g Scenar at 2780fps, so very similar to you.
Thanks again for the very insightful posts & commentary.
That sounds like a sweet setup as well. I’ve always wanted an Eliseo tube gun. … one day. I chose 338 Lapua because of the Lapua brass for it, and there are some good factory match ammo for it too. The Lapua brass I think is a big part of why the load development for the 338 was so easy. I still haven’t found a 300 Norma load that has SD’s below 8 fps. I blame that on the brass. Norma brass is good, and I’ve used a ton of it in my 7mm Rem Mag and 6XC. I’ve literally shot 5,000+ rounds out of those, so I’m not against Norma … just don’t think it’s quite as consistent, at least in my experience.
Now had I been wise like you and noticed that I could fit the 300gr bullet to mag length, I might have changed my mind! 😉 I think if they’d have just changed the freebore in it, I could have got it to work on the 338. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that at the time.
That’s interesting about the Norma brass. Personally I think it’s good in .338NM flavour – not quite the same as Lapua but very good nonetheless. I think annealing does help too. However many a .338NM shooter is able to connect with targets with unbelievable consistency using the Norma brass. Maybe it’s less the brass and possibly primers (I’ve found primers to be key in lowering ES/SD in numerous rifles I’ve owned). Anyway, Lapua are now making brass for both .300 & .338NM, so any perceived issues shouldn’t be an issue anymore.
Peterson made .338NM brass (which I’m told was good) .
In terms of factory ammo, both Norma match and Black Hills produce .338NM loads, in addition to one or two others I think. There was one bad lot of the BH stuff back in 2010 or so, but that was a long time ago and was rectified. But I only handload – was always the preferred option for me.
Anyway, very impressive shooting a .338L and doing so well in comp. Good work – keep it up.