I’m thrilled to tell you about a project I’ve been working on for several months. It’s a test I dreamed about doing for years, and I finally did it!
There are a ton of guys shooting a 6.5 Creedmoor, so I wanted to help them out by testing every type of popular 6.5 Creedmoor factory ammo that is marketed as “match” ammo. With so many options on the market, I wanted to try to give some context for the type of real-world performance guys might experience for each brand and type. Like most tests I do, this is going to be completely over-the-top!
I bought a box of each type of ammo from an online distributor, then waited 6 months and bought another box of each type of ammo from a different distributor. I measured a bunch of dimensions of the loaded ammo, then fired almost 1,000 rounds over a few days at the range, and carefully collected all the data. I ended up investing around $4,000 out-of-pocket on this research project because I know it will help a ton of shooters. I suspect this is one of the most in-depth match ammo test ever conducted.
In this post, you’re invited to vote on which of the 19 types of match ammo tested you believe will perform the best. Skip to the vote!
Why 6.5 Creedmoor?
The 6.5 Creedmoor is one of the most popular cartridges out – and I’m a fan. I personally own a Surgeon bolt action rifle and a JP LRP-07 Large Frame AR chambered in 6.5CM. I have lots of friends ask me for rifle advice, and I find myself recommending the 6.5 Creedmoor more than anything else. If I could only own one rifle, I would pick the 6.5 Creedmoor, because it is a great choice for both long-range competitions and hunting. Plus, it has a relatively long barrel life, good ballistics, low recoil, there are great factory rifles chambered in that cartridge, and you also have a ton of great factory, match-grade ammo options that are relatively affordable. In short, it is a hot cartridge for a lot of good reasons!
Here is what former special ops sniper and long-range expert, Ryan Cleckner, has to say about it:
“The problem with the caliber discussion is every year manufacturers come out with the new, coolest round that is supposed to do everything better than every cartridge before it – and I just don’t buy into that game. I am VERY reluctant to buy into the newest, latest cartridge. I was a 308 guy for a long time. … When the 6.5 Creedmoor came out it was the newest, greatest thing and everyone was adopting it – I wasn’t. It took me until just recently, just late last year I finally adopted the 6.5 Creedmoor. Of course, if I would have jumped on that bandwagon immediately, I would have also had a 260 Rem 10 years prior, and all the other cartridges that came along. There is always something new coming out, but I’m always thinking about supply chain. I could find 308 Win. ammo in any NATO country, and if I went hunting somewhere and forget my ammo, I could just go to a local Walmart and pick some up. But now the 6.5 Creedmoor has caught on SO much! Now that SOCOM has officially adopted it, they are even making belt-fed machine guns in 6.5 Creedmoor. I’ve seen the belts! So, 6.5 Creedmoor is here to stay. I happened to be in a Walmart the other day and was looking at their ammo selection and I saw one more SKU of 6.5 Creedmoor ammo than I did 308! I thought, ‘Okay, now it’s time to switch.’ … I’ve seen the light now! I get it. I don’t think there is a reason anyone should do anything different than the 6.5 Creedmoor when it comes to target shooting – and if you want to use it for hunting you can do that too.” – Ryan Cleckner (from Intro To Long Range Shooting video)
Affordable and widely available match-grade factory ammo was part of the vision for the 6.5 Creedmoor right from the start:
“The 6.5 Creedmoor resulted from a conversation in 2007 at Camp Perry between Hornady Senior Ballistician Dave Emary and Dennis DeMille, general manager of Creedmoor Sports and 2005 NRA National High Power Champion, about the ideal match cartridge. DeMille suggested a list of characteristics, including: match-grade accuracy, a high ballistic coefficient (BC) bullet, low recoil, good barrel and brass life, moderate chamber pressure, wide availability, economy, and a 2.800″overall length for feeding from short-action magazines. Emary took DeMille’s list back to Hornady and used it to begin development of a new cartridge.” – from Shooting & Loading The 6.5 Creedmoor in American Rifleman Magazine
Hornady disrupted the industry with the release of affordable, match-grade ammo. Before they released the 6.5 Creedmoor in 2008, match-grade factory ammo sold for $2 to $4 per round! That is part of the reason why virtually everyone who competed in long-range matches reloaded their own ammo. Hornady initially released match-grade ammo for the 6.5 Creedmoor around $1.10-$1.25, which was unheard of at the time – and you can still find it for those prices today. Thank you, Hornady for giving the industry a giant shove in that direction and not just pricing it high like everyone else was!
Factory ammo has come a long way over the past 10 years. In years past, shooters felt like they had to reload to be competitive, but today factory ammo can perform at the highest levels of long-range precision rifle competitions. That is proven by the fact that at least 5 shooters ranked in the top 50 in the PRS & NRL use factory ammo to compete – including a couple of guys in the top 20!
About My 6.5 Creedmoor Ammo Test
I started by purchasing a box of every type of 6.5 Creedmoor ammo that was branded as being “match” or “target” or “competition” ammo and was even remotely popular. There are obvious ones that most everyone is familiar with, like Hornady, Berger, PRIME, and Federal Premium – but I didn’t leave it there. I went to popular ammo warehouses and filtered down to 6.5 Creedmoor ammo and then searched for “match” and found a few others I wasn’t aware of. I also ordered a couple of varieties of “custom loaded” ammo from Copper Creek. The bullet weights for the ammo tested ranged from 120 to 147 grains, with the majority around 140 grains. I ended up with two boxes of 19 distinct types of match ammo, which totaled $1,600!
Here is the complete list of the ammo types I included in the test:
- Barnes Precision Match 140 gr. OTM
- Berger Match 120 gr. Lapua Scenar-L
- Berger Match 130 gr. Hybrid OTM
- Berger Match 140 gr. Hybrid Target
- Black Hills 147 gr. ELD-M
- Copper Creek Berger 140 gr. Hybrid
- Copper Creek Berger 144 gr. Long Range Hybrid
- Federal Premium Gold Medal Berger 130 gr. Hybrid OTM
- Federal Premium Gold Medal Sierra 140 gr. MatchKing
- Hornady Match 120 gr. ELD-M
- Hornady Match 140 gr. ELD-M
- Hornady Match 147 gr. ELD-M
- Norma Match 130 gr. Golden Target Hybrid
- Nosler Match Grade 140 gr. Custom Competition
- Nosler Match Grade 140 gr. RDF
- PRIME 130 gr. MatchKing (USA-Made)
- Remington Premier Match Barnes 140 gr. OTM
- Sig Sauer Elite Performance Match 140 gr. OTM
- Winchester Match 140 gr. MatchKing
While I could have reached out to companies like Hornady, Berger, PRIME, Federal, and others, and they would have happily sent me discounted or even free ammo for this test – I decided to buy it all for full retail price from popular online distributors. I didn’t even tell any of the manufacturers that I was even doing this test. I paid full retail price for all the ammo to ensure none of it was cherry-picked or loaded “special” for this test. It was all just random ammo off a shelf somewhere. In fact, I ordered one box of each in December 2019 from popular online distributors, and then I waited 6 months and ordered another box of each from a completely different list of distributors. PRIME and Copper Creek only sell direct to customers, so I had to order those from the manufacturer directly. I made sure no manufacturers knew I was conducting this test, and waiting 6 months between orders should ensure the ammo tested is representative of what you can expect.
Measured Round-To-Round Consistency
I was determined to measure and test anything I could. I started by trying to quantify the round-to-round consistency when it came to physical dimensions and weight. I took a whole box of each type of ammo, I measured the length from the cartridge base to the bullet ogive (CBTO), the bullet concentricity, and the overall weight. I will say there were more than a few surprises in which ones were super-consistent – and which ones were NOT! A few of them didn’t fall into what I’d consider match-grade tolerances. I thought it would be interesting to see how much correlation there was between the consistency of these physical properties and performance in the field in terms of group size and muzzle velocity consistency.
I also invested in a Sartorius Entris II BCE64-1S Analytical Balance and a couple of extra boxes of a few types of ammo so I could take the rounds apart to measure how consistent the powder charges were in terms of weight. Those results were very interesting, and in an upcoming post, we’ll see how those measurements correlate with performance.
Next, I headed to the range and shot 5-shot groups with 40 rounds of each type of ammo, from the two boxes purchased 6 months apart. As I mentioned, I do personally own a couple of high-end 6.5 Creedmoor rifles, but I know most of my readers aren’t using an $8,000 custom rifle setup. Also, it’s possible that a particular kind of ammo would group better out of one rifle than another, because of differences in the chamber, barrel, and other mechanical nuances. Since more people use factory rifles than custom rifles, I decided to buy a stock Ruger Precision Rifle to use in this test. Again, I bet if I’d have reached out to Ruger they would have gladly loaned me a rifle for this test, but I decided to simply buy a brand new one from GunBroker.com, just like my readers would, to try to ensure it was representative and not a rifle that potentially had been cherry-picked off the line. So that was another out-of-pocket expense for this test, and I hope all of this shows how serious I am about objective testing. I am whole-heartedly in search of the real, unbiased truth to help fellow shooters!
I fired eight 5-shot groups with each type of ammo from a rock-solid position on a bench, half of those from the Ruger Precision Rifle and the other half from a full custom bolt action rifle.
Measuring Muzzle Velocities
When it comes to long-range shooting, consistent muzzle velocity is extremely important. If your muzzle velocity changes much shot-to-shot, it doesn’t matter if you have tiny groups or not! So, I measured all 40 shots using 3 LabRadar Doppler Radars. For those that aren’t familiar with LabRadar’s – they’re pretty amazing devices that are very accurate. They are made by Infinition, who are experts in Ballistic Instrumentation Radar Systems. Using three of them was probably overkill, but it ensured I captured every single shot fired on at least two devices (and I actually got readings on all three devices on over 95% of the shots). I then consolidated the readings from all three LabRadar’s and calculated the median velocity of each shot to ensure a bad measurement couldn’t skew the results.
I captured the muzzle velocity for all 40 shots fired. The Ruger Precision Rifle had a 24” barrel, and the custom Surgeon rifle featured a 22” barrel. So, I kept the results separate, but measured the average muzzle velocity, extreme spread, and standard deviation for each rifle and will present those results.
I realize the results of this research could potentially have a significant impact on ammo sales for some manufacturers, so I was extremely careful in collecting the data, and I tried my best to remove or minimize factors that could potentially skew the results.
How I Plan to Analyze & Rate Overall Performance
As always, I will present all the detailed results so my readers can draw their own conclusions, instead of dumbing it down to an overall rating/grade as many magazines do. However, I also know it is easy for us to put too much emphasis on one aspect or the other. What if one type of ammo had tiny groups, but the muzzle velocity wasn’t as consistent as another brand? What if one of the brands didn’t do great in groups or consistent MV, but the bullet has a ridiculously high ballistic coefficient (BC: essentially a measure of how aerodynamic a bullet is or how easily it cuts through the air) and has an extremely high velocity – does that makeup for it? Which gives you the best overall performance for long-range shots?
Well, there is a great analysis tool designed to help us answer those kinds of questions! You can feed it all the measurements from my experiments, like group size, average muzzle velocity, the standard deviation in MV, BC of the bullet being fired, and a bunch of other ballistic data, and then specify the distance and size of the target you are interested in – and it calculates the overall hit probability for that rifle, ammo, and scenario. If you want to take an objective, data-driven approach to decide which ammo provides the best performance, this is the ultimate solution! When it comes to hits at long-range, the size of the group on paper at 100 yards doesn’t matter, or the velocity the chronograph spits out, or the BC printed on the box – at least not directly. All we really care about is our ability to hit targets at long range! Now all those factors have some effect on hit probability at long-range but to varying degrees. That makes it easy to put too much emphasis on one aspect or another, but this tool allows us to take them all into consideration at precisely the right proportions in terms of how they impact hit probability at long-range.
The tool I’m referring to is the Weapon Employment Zone (WEZ) Analysis Tool from Applied Ballistics, which is part of the $200 Applied Ballistics Analysis software package. WEZ analysis is very similar to the sophisticated modeling the government uses to decide whether to launch a $1 Million missile or not. I’ve published a series of posts using WEZ analysis before, which you can read about here: How Much Does It Matter?
I plan to publish all the detailed data I collected over days of careful experiments, but for the overall results, I’ll publish data on the hit probability for each type of ammo at long-range based on all of the independent, real-world data I collected through my experiments. I also plan to use that hit probability information to provide insight into what ammo provides the best bang for the buck. Based on the street price of each type of ammo, which gives you the highest hit probability per dollar spent?
At the end of the day, I’m just trying to provide as much data and intel as I can to help people make informed decisions. I know a lot of new shooters are investing in a 6.5 Creedmoor, and I’m hoping to provide some guidance that will help them get rounds on target at long-range without breaking the bank.
Cast Your Vote: What Will Have The Highest Hit Probability At 600-1200 Yards?
I thought it’d be fun before any of the results are published to poll my readers to see which type of ammo you expect to end up on top. What do you think will perform the best when it comes to hit probability at long-range (e.g. 600 to 1200 yards)? This should be regardless of price. Once you cast your vote, you’ll be able to view the results of how others voted.
This poll closed on Jan. 2, 2021, before I started publishing the data I collected from my field test. Over the 70 days, the poll was active a total of 3,165 votes were cast. Here are the results:
If you’d like to be the first to know when they’re published, sign up to receive email notifications about new posts.
6.5 Creedmoor Match Ammo Field Test Series
Here is the outline of all the articles in this series covering my 6.5 Creedmoor Match-Grade Ammo Field Test:
- Part 1: Intro & Reader Poll – Cast Your Vote For Which Will Perform Best (this article)
- Past 2: Round-To-Round Consistency For Physical Measurements
- Part 3: Live-Fire Muzzle Velocity & Consistency Summary
- Part 4: Live-Fire Muzzle Velocity Details By Ammo Type
- Part 5: Live-Fire Group Sizes & Precision
- Part 6: Overall Performance & Long-Range Hit Probability
Also, if you want to get the most out of this series, I’d HIGHLY recommend that you read what I published right before this research, which was the “Statistics for Shooters” series. I actually wrote that 3-part series so my readers would better understand this ammo research that I’m presenting, and get more value from it. Here are those 3 articles:
- How To Predict The Future: Fundamentals of statistics for shooters
- Quantifying Muzzle Velocity Consistency: Gaining insight to minimize our shot-to-shot variation in velocity
- Quantifying Group Dispersion: Making better decisions when it comes to precision and how small our groups are