Choosing the right ammo can dramatically increase your odds of connecting with a target at long range. The odds of hitting the target could increase by 50% or more simply based on the type of ammo you feed your rifle. Ammo for a precision rifle is like fuel for a race car. If a Formula One racer puts the wrong fuel in his race car, he won’t get the peak performance that car is capable of – and he won’t have a chance at winning either. I know there are a ton of shooters who have invested in a 6.5 Creedmoor hoping to get into long-range, so I wanted to help narrow their search for ammo that will help them get on target. That is what led me to do one of the most in-depth ammo tests ever conducted.
I tested every type of popular 6.5 Creedmoor factory ammo that is marketed as “match” ammo, which ended up being 19 different flavors of ammo. 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 various dimensions of the loaded ammo, then fired almost 1,000 rounds through two different rifles over a few days at the range, and carefully collected all the data.
This research is based on 760 rounds of carefully collected live-fire data. Every shot was measured with 3 LabRadar’s, and I shot over 150 five-shot groups for record. I invested around $4,000 out-of-pocket and 100+ hours of time on this research project because I know it will help a ton of shooters. I hope all of this shows how serious I am about objective testing. I don’t have a relationship with any of these companies. None of them sponsor me or advertise on the website, and they’ve never given me anything for free or even discounted. I’m a 100% independent shooter who is simply in search of the truth to help my readers.
I’ve already published most of the detailed data I collected in previous articles, like muzzle velocities and group sizes. Those articles have exhaustive detail if you’d like to learn more about how the data was collected. This article will sum it all up by using all the data to calculate the hit probability at long range for each type of ammo. After all, the size of a group on paper at 100 yards or the muzzle velocity our chronograph spits out doesn’t really matter – at least not directly. For long-range work, all that actually matters is if our bullet impacts the target downrange. Precision and velocity affect that, but so do a lot of other factors! So this article will take those other factors as inputs and then provide insight into what really matters and which ammo gives us the best odds of connecting with long-range targets.
Analyzing Overall Performance
When comparing ammo, it is so easy for us as shooters to put too much emphasis on one aspect of performance or another. What if one type of ammo had tiny groups, but the muzzle velocity wasn’t as consistent as another brand? Which should you pick? 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), does that makeup for it? Which gives you the best overall performance for long-range shots?
Well, there is a great analysis tool specifically designed to help us answer those kinds of questions! It’sthe Weapon Employment Zone (WEZ) Analysis Tool from Applied Ballistics, which is part of the $200 Applied Ballistics Analysis software package. If you want to take an objective, data-driven approach to decide which ammo provides the best performance, the WEZ analysis tool is the ultimate solution! This tool performs the same type of sophisticated modeling the government performs before they decide whether to launch a $1 Million missile or not. It’s based on professional, proven science.
While it is easy for us as individuals to put too much emphasis on one aspect of performance or another, 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.
How Does WEZ Analysis Work?
Behind the scenes, the WEZ tool does something similar to a Monte Carlo simulation, which is an excellent way to model scenarios with a certain uncertainty level in the inputs. This type of modeling is an ideal fit for long-range shooting because inputs like muzzle velocity or individual shot placement without a group can’t be quantified with 100% certainty before a shot. For example, let’s say our muzzle velocity averages 3000 fps, but Shot #1 might be 3005, Shot #2 might be 2985, and Shot #3 might be 3010. Those numbers do average 3000 fps, but there is still shot-to-shot variation.
The WEZ tool essentially plays out 1,000+ possible scenarios, and the variables in each one are randomly populated based on the inputs you provide. For example, let’s say that we input that our rifle/ammo was capable of a 5-shot group with a 0.5 MOA extreme spread. The software might play out one scenario where it drilled the exact point of aim, another where it hit 0.2 MOA high, another where it hit 0.25 MOA low, another that hit 0.12 MOA to the right, etc. Those shots would all fall within a 0.5 MOA group, but the exact location of each bullet has some uncertainty to it. The software populates each variable that represents some level of uncertainty in the bullet’s flight (muzzle velocity, wind speed, etc.) based on a probability distribution, then plays out each scenario and plots where the related shot would have landed. After it’s ran 1,000+ scenarios that way, it looks at those results and calculates what the probability of hitting the target would be based on the inputs you entered. Here is a screenshot of this part of the program.
The WEZ Analysis is based on an advanced ballistic engine that performs the calculations according to the known laws of physics and formulas that accurately predict a bullet’s flight. That means it takes each variable into account appropriately and doesn’t put more weight on some aspect of performance than it should. It simply all comes down to hit probability for the distance and target size you specified. And at the end of the day, isn’t hitting the target all we really care about? We can get wrapped up in tiny group sizes, fast muzzle velocities, or really high BC’s – but all that matters is hitting the target. This tool helps us take all of those things we can measure and condense them all down to hit probability. That can help us make objective, data-driven decisions that help us get more rounds on target.
So, I used all the measurements that I collected through my extensive, live-fire experiments as inputs to the WEZ Analysis Tool, like group size, average muzzle velocity, the standard deviation in muzzle velocity, along with a bunch of other ballistic data, like the real-world BC of the bullet being fired. Then I chose a few distances and target sizes that represent what most shooters might engage with a 6.5 Creedmoor at long range. With that, the software performs the advanced modeling and analysis, and I recorded the calculated hit probability for each of the 19 types of ammo.
Distances & Target Sizes
To be able to calculate hit probability, the WEZ tool requires you to specify a distance and target size for it to analyze. I initially thought I’d simply calculate the hit probability at 1,000 yards and rank the ammo based on that, but there are some nuances that could potentially make that approach not represent what I intended. The truth is that ammo might be the best performer at 1,000 yards, but not necessarily at 500 yards or 1,200 yards. Often that comes down to the balance between muzzle velocity and the BC of your bullet.
Remember, BC is essentially a measure of how aerodynamic a bullet is or how easily it cuts through the air. If a bullet has a high BC, it is better at retaining its velocity through flight, which is a very good thing in the long-range world. That’s why many shooters see BC of a bullet like the horsepower of a car – the higher, the better! However, a higher BC typically comes at a cost because the bullets with the highest BC are also usually the heaviest, which means they’ll have a slower muzzle velocity. Many things in long-range shooting are proportional to a bullet’s time of flight (i.e., wind drift, drop from gravity, etc.), and a shorter flight time almost always means better performance and higher hit probability (all things being equal). So a heavy bullet with a high-BC will start off slower out of the muzzle, but it won’t slow down as fast as it flies downrange. A lighter bullet with a lower BC would start off faster out of the muzzle, but it would lose velocity at a faster rate as it flies through the air. So there is often a tipping point where that slower bullet with the higher BC was able to retain enough velocity that it’s eventually traveling faster through the air, at say 500 yards downrange, than the lighter bullet that initially left the muzzle traveling 100+ fps faster. And if you keep tracking that downrange, there will likely be a distance where the heavy, high BC bullet will have a shorter total time of flight than the lighter bullet with the lower BC. Let’s say that distance happened to be 800 yards. That means at 800 yards and beyond, the heavy, high BC bullet most likely have a higher hit probability and be the better choice – but at the distances less than 800 yards the lighter bullet might have the higher hit probability and be the better choice.
So obviously, the distance we choose to analyze could potentially change the results. If we only looked at hit probability on a target at 1,000 yards then that would show us what the best performer was at that one distance, but it might not be the best performer at all distances. Now keep in mind the scenarios I just mentioned ignored the fact that the two types of ammo might have a different group size and shot-to-shot variation in their muzzle velocity and other factors that the WEZ analysis tool does take into consideration, but I hope it paints the picture of why I opted to analyze 3 different distances instead of just one.
After talking through this with a few veteran long-range shooters, here are the distances and specific target sizes that I chose to analyze:
|Distance (yards)||Target Diameter (Inches)||Approx. Target Size (MOA)|
|400 yards||4” circle||1.0 MOA|
|800 yards||12” circle||1.5 MOA|
|1,200 yards||24” circle||2.0 MOA|
These distances and target sizes are representative of what might be typical to engage with a 6.5 Creedmoor. The target distances and sizes are also very common in PRS/NRL-style precision rifle matches.
The overall ranking is based on the average hit probability over all 3 of those scenarios. It can be thought of as the best all-around for long-range work from 400 to 1,200 yards, which covers what most people would consider “long-range” for a 6.5 Creedmoor. But, I’ll also provide the hit probabilities for each of the 3 scenarios to allow individuals to find what is best for their application. If Shooter A never shoots beyond 500 yards, they could simply reference the ranking for the 400-yard scenario to see what is best for their application. Maybe Shooter B would prefer to optimize for targets from 800 to 1,200 yards, so they could look at the hit probability for those distances and average or weight those differently to customize the results for their application.
The Overall Results – Ammo Ranked By Hit Probability From 400 to 1,200 Yards
Alrighty then! After 760 rounds fired and literally months of analysis, let’s finally look at the overall results of all this research! Here is the average hit probability for each type of ammo over the 3 scenarios from 400 to 1,200 yards:
1) Berger Match 6.5 Creedmoor 140 gr. Hybrid Target
While I expected this to be a close race between a few brands, you can see Berger Match 6.5 Creedmoor 140 gr. Hybrid Target ammo was the clear winner overall at 74.4% hit probability from 400 to 1,200 yards. While many brands were separated by less than 1%, the Berger Match 140 Hybrid ammo was 2.4% higher than 2nd best and 3.9% higher than 3rd best. The average hit probability across all 19 types was 65.0%, which means the Berger Match 6.5 Creedmoor 140 Hybrid ammo was an improvement of almost 15% over the average box of ammo in this test. Its hit probability is a 55% improvement over the ammo at the bottom of the list. Think about that: Same rifle, same shooter, but a 55% improvement over another brand that was also marked as “Match-Grade” ammo! Clearly, what ammo you pick matters – a lot!
Berger’s 140 gr. Hybrid Match Ammo finished so high on the list because:
- It had one of the most consistent muzzle velocities with an average 10-shot standard deviation of just 11.1 fps over all 40 rounds fired, a 20% improvement over the average for all 19 types of ammo.
- It had good group sizes through both of the test rifles, with an average extreme spread of 0.635 MOA over the 8 five-shot groups fired for record, which was a 14% improvement over the average for all the ammo in the test.
- It had one of the highest BC’s of any bullet tested (6% higher than average).
- It had the highest muzzle velocity of any ammo that was using bullets weighing 140 gr. or more, at 2,779 fps on average between both test rifles. That average was even 3 fps faster than the PRIME ammo firing a 130 grain bullet, so this Berger load is relatively hot for a factory round. If you can safely load a high-BC bullet to a fast velocity like that and still get good groups and consistent velocities – it is clearly a winning a combination.
2) Berger Match 6.5 Creedmoor 130 gr. Hybrid OTM Tactical
Berger Match 6.5 Creedmoor 130 gr. Hybrid OTM Tactical ammo had the 2nd highest hit probability from 400 to 1,200 yards with an average of 72.0%. There were 3 types of Berger Match ammo that were included in this test, each loaded with a different bullet: 140 Hybrid Target, 130 gr. Hybrid OTM, and the 120 gr. Lapua Scenar-L. For two of those to be ranked #1 and #2 is very impressive. Remember, these results are based on 2 boxes of each type of ammo that were purchased 6 months apart from each other from different retailers. That means they are different lots and were likely manufactured at different time periods – but Berger’s ammo manufacturing appears to be on-point. It was impressive to see ammo with a 130 gr. bullet rank so high on the board, since it has a lower BC than most ammo tested. However, this Berger 130 Hybrid factory ammo did have a higher muzzle velocity than all of the ammo that used a 140 gr. bullet at 2,810 fps.
The Berger 130 Hybrid OTM factory ammo had a lot of great things going for it over all the testing, and here are a few of those highlights that caused it to finish so high on the leader board:
- It had the tightest groups of any ammo tested with a mean radius of 0.208 MOA, a 23% improvement over the average across all 19 types of ammo. Mean radius is the average distance to the center of the group from every bullet hole. Mean radius uses information from every shot in a group, not just the two most extreme points. Because of this, mean radius can provide a higher confidence measure of precision than extreme spread. (Read more about mean radius vs. ES here.)
- It had one of the most consistent muzzle velocities with an average 10-shot SD of 10.6 fps over all 40 rounds fired, a 24% improvement over the average.
- It had one of the highest muzzle velocities of any ammo tested, with an average of 2,810 fps over both test rifles.
One thing worth mentioning is that most of the bullets used in this test were 140-147 grain and required a fast, 1:8 barrel twist. If your rifle doesn’t have that fast twist rate, you likely won’t get good performance out of those heavy bullets. But, the Berger 130 grain Hybrid bullet can be adequately stabilized in a barrel with a 1:10 twist, so if that is the twist rate of your barrel, this is likely the best choice for you.
Many shooters probably aren’t surprised to see Berger Match ammo claim two spots at the top of the rankings because that ammo is made with the same premium components the top-ranked shooters reach for, including Lapua brass and Berger bullets. Many veteran reloaders believe starting with high-quality, consistent brass is one of the most critical keys to making world-class ammo. It’s great to have the option to buy loaded factory ammo that is made using the same top-shelf components that the best competitive shooters in the world chose to reload with (see What The Pros Use).
The Next Few
A little behind those top 2, there were four types of ammo with hit probabilities between 69.3% and 70.5%. That is a very narrow window and likely “in the noise” for this experiment. By that, I mean that if we reran this experiment again with two more boxes of each type of ammo, it seems unlikely the exact order between these would remain the same because they were separated by such a small margin. Ultimately, I consider all of these to have the same class of performance.
3) Norma Match 6.5 Creedmoor 130 gr. Golden Target Hybrid Hollow Point Boat Tail
The 3rd highest hit probability came from the Norma 130 gr. Golden Target Hybrid match-grade factory ammo. I expect this surprised a few people because only 3% of the people who participated in my reader poll voted that Norma might end up on top. Norma hasn’t had a considerable presence in the U.S. ammo market until the past few years, but clearly, the ammo they are producing is very capable and potentially one of the very best options for your 6.5 Creedmoor when it comes to precision at long range.
Honestly, how the Norma 6.5 Creedmoor match ammo climbed to the 3rd spot was not with any dramatic performance in any particular aspects of performance, but simply being a solid performer across the board. Its muzzle velocity SD was slightly above average at 14.3 fps, but it grouped 6% better than average. Its velocity was fairly fast, but not the fastest of the 130 gr. bullets. The BC of the bullet was 2.7% higher than the Berger 130 gr. Hybrid OTM, which is a pretty small difference. The Norma match ammo was simply a good performer without any significant weak spots.
4) Copper Creek 6.5 Creedmoor Berger Hybrid Ammo
I tested two types of ammo loaded by Copper Creek, and they finished in the 4th and 6th in terms of overall hit probability. Copper Creek is different than all the other ammo I tested in that it is custom-loaded ammo instead of mass-produced factory ammo. Copper Creek allows you to select the bullet and brass you would like them to load for you. For this test, I specified Hornady brass for all of the ammo they loaded. It’s possible that if I opted for Lapua brass that it would have performed slightly better, but it also would have cost $10/box more, and the ammo from Copper Creek was already more expensive than most other ammo that I tested ($35/box at the time).
The Copper Creek 6.5 Creedmoor Berger 140 gr. Hybrid ammo was the flavor that came in 4th overall with a 70.0% hit probability, and the Copper Creek 6.5 Creedmoor Berger 144 gr. Long Range Hybrid came in 6th with 69.3%. The only difference between them was the bullet. I originally was thinking I’d just try one type of ammo from Copper Creek, but then I noticed they were loading the Berger 144 gr. LR Hybrid bullet, which is a relatively new bullet and they were the only brand offering that bullet in loaded ammo at the time. The 6.5mm 144 gr. LR Hybrid bullet had the highest BC of any bullet in this test, and Berger claims it also has one of the most consistent BC’s shot-to-shot in the industry, varying by less than 1%. The drag variation bullet-to-bullet wasn’t something that was even talked about until the past few years when researchers began to observe the flight of bullets using high-resolution Dopplar radar and started to see that the drag of some bullets varied enough to impact the flight. Supposedly the Berger LR Hybrid line of bullets raise the bar for bullet consistency, which is why I was excited to try them.
With all that said, the Copper Creek ammo loaded with the Berger 144 gr. Long-Range Hybrid bullet had some of the worst group sizes of any of the ammo tested (only the Nosler ammo was worse). The average 5-shot extreme spread was 0.96 MOA over all 8 five-shot groups that I fired with it. I checked to see if one lot was significantly worse than the other, but one averaged 0.92 MOA, and the other averaged 1.00 MOA – so neither was very impressive.
Now, I want to be careful not to blame the Berger LR Hybrid bullets for the dismal groups. That could be due to inconsistent brass, bad loading methods, or other loading components – either way I was disappointed with the groups for that flavor of Copper Creek ammo. The ammo they loaded with the 140 Hybrid grouped a little better than average, so I also want to be careful to not blame it on Copper Creek either. Honestly, it’d take more testing to figure out what caused the larger groups, but for whatever reason the performance for the 40 rounds that I tested with the 144 gr. LR Hybrid bullet didn’t perform as well as I hoped.
Note: Since I performed this test, Berger released match-grade loaded ammo featuring their 144 gr. Long Range Hybrid Target bullets (view here). I wish those were available when I did all the testing because I’d be interested to see how they compare. The fact that two types of Berger Match ammo finished #1 and #2 would lead me to believe their 144 gr. ammo would also be a promising performer.
5) Federal Premium Gold Medal 6.5 Creedmoor Berger 130 gr. Hybrid OTM
Rounding out the top 5 was the Federal Premium Gold Medal 6.5 Creedmoor Berger 130 gr. Hybrid OTM factory ammo. I noticed this is currently the most popular match-grade ammo for a 6.5 Creedmoor on MidwayUSA.com, which is one of the largest ammo distributors in the world. That means there are a lot of shooters who think this is good ammo, and my empirical research seems to agree with them.
I was in a squad at a big two-day PRS match a couple of years ago with a shooter that competed with this Federal 6.5 Creedmoor 130 Hybrid match ammo, and he used it to qualify as one of the top 100 shooters in the PRS that year and even shot the PRS finale with this ammo. While some shooters claim “you can’t get the precision you need to compete from factory ammo,” that simply isn’t true anymore. The overwhelming majority of the top-ranked shooters reload their ammo, but when I surveyed the top 100 shooters in the PRS a couple of years ago, there were 4 shooters using factory ammo and another 2 shooters that used a custom loading service like Copper Creek to load their ammo. One of the guys using factory ammo finished #6 overall in the PRS that year. (Read more)
The Middle Pack
Behind those top 6 were 5 types of ammo that were bunched together from 66 to 68%, which is still very respectable. Here is a list of what those were:
- Federal Premium Gold Medal 6.5 Creedmoor Sierra 140 gr. MatchKing
- Barnes Precision Match 6.5 Creedmoor 140 gr. OTM
- PRIME 6.5 Creedmoor Sierra 130 gr. MatchKing USA-Made
- Hornady Match 6.5 Creedmoor 147 gr. ELD-M
- Black Hills 6.5 Creedmoor Hornady 147 gr. ELD-M
First, we see the Federal Premium 140 g. SMK on the list, meaning that both types of Federal Premium Gold Medal 6.5 Creedmoor match ammo finished in the top 7. Their average hit probability was within about 1% of each other from 400 to 1,200 yards. That seems to support why so many serious shooters believe Federal Gold Medal is top-shelf ammo. When it comes to those shooting 308 Winchesters, it seems like the Federal Gold Medal 168 or 175 grain SMK ammo is ubiquitous among serious shooters. So it’s not too surprising to see that their 6.5 Creedmoor factory ammo also performed very respectably.
You know, I hadn’t heard much about Barnes Precision Match ammo before this test, but it was an impressive performer, finishing right alongside popular brands like Federal Premium and PRIME ammo. The Barnes ammo had some of the tightest groups, and the muzzle velocity consistency was better than average, which led to it ranking respectably high among all of these other brands. For those of us who simply associated Barnes with good hunting bullets, this is a nice wake-up call that they’re serious at making match-grade ammo, too!
PRIME ammo is also extremely popular among the shooting community. They have a direct-to-consumer strategy that is unique in the ammo world, and they are also active supporters of the precision rifle community. Their USA-made ammo is loaded by Peterson Cartridge Company, a respected brand and one of the top U.S. manufacturers of brass. It wasn’t a surprise to see them finish in the top half, and even though they weren’t in the top 5 they were just 2.5% behind 4th place in terms of hit probability, meaning PRIME is a very respectable performer as well.
Next, we finally see one of the types of Hornady Match 6.5 Creedmoor factory ammo on the list, ranked at 10th overall in terms of hit probability. That means that all 3 types of Hornady Match ammo finished in the bottom half, although this 147 gr. ELD-M ammo was just barely below the mid-point. The average hit probability from 400 to 1,200 yards was 65.0%, and this Hornady 147 ELD-M ammo had a hit probability of 64.7%. This 147 gr. ELD-M bullet did have one of the highest BC’s of any of the bullets tested, and it had slightly better than average groups and SD, but the muzzle velocity was the slowest of all the ammo tested. It was even 77 fps slower than the Black Hills ammo loaded with the same bullet.
Then at #11, and the last in this “middle pack” cluster, we have the Black Hills 6.5 Creedmoor ammo. While the overall perception of Black Hills seems to be positive in the shooting community, this empirical data says your hit probability from 400 to 1,200 yards would be 8% less with this ammo than the top-ranked ammo. Both group size and muzzle velocity consistency were worse than average, so it’s not surprising to see it with a lower hit probability.
The Lower Middle Class
Ranking from 12th to 15th in terms of overall hit probability, we had four brands with an average of 60.8% to 64.7%. While 3rd to 10th were only separated by 3.1%, these four all fell below the average hit probability of 65.0% across all 19 types of ammo – and they were a whopping 10% less than our leaders. That is a pretty significant performance difference from those at the top of the list. Here are the brands that finished in what I’m calling “the lower middle class”:
- Hornady Match 6.5 Creedmoor 140 gr. ELD-M
- Berger Match 6.5 Creedmoor 120 gr. Lapua Scenar-L
- Sig Sauer Elite Performance Match 6.5 Creedmoor 140 gr. OTM
- Hornady Match 6.5 Creedmoor 120 gr. ELD-M
I expect the Hornady Match 140 gr. ELD-M factory ammo finishing so far down the list surprised more than a few people – including me. That has been one of the bestselling types of 6.5 Creedmoor match-grade ammo for some time. I’ve personally fired thousands of rounds of it. But, based on the 760 rounds of live-fire data I collected and the advanced analysis, it had an average hit probability from 400 to 1,200 yards of 64.7%, which was almost 10% less than the Berger Match 140 gr. Hybrid factory ammo that ranked highest overall. That is a significant margin. However, in the next article, we’ll look at which ammo provides the best bang for your buck in terms of how much the ammo costs compared to its hit probability, and we’ll have to see the beloved Hornady 140 ELDM ammo ranks higher on that list.
You can also see that the 3rd type of Berger Match ammo that was tested, the Berger Match 6.5 Creedmoor 120 gr. Lapua Scenar-L, also ranked low with a hit probability of just 64.5%. That flavor of Berger Match ammo still had very consistent muzzle velocity with an average 10-shot standard deviation of 11.4 fps, which was similar to the other two types of Berger Match ammo. However, it didn’t group below average compared to other ammo tested and the 120 gr. bullet had one of the lowest BC’s of any bullet tested, so those things hurt the overall long-range performance of the Lapua Scenar-L flavor of Berger Match ammo.
Sig 6.5 Creedmoor ammo showed so much promise when it came to muzzle velocity, with an average 10-shot standard deviation of 9.1 fps! To be in single digits after 40 rounds from two different rifles is incredibly impressive. This Sig ammo also grouped well, but the relatively low BC of the bullet they used was a handicap and caused it to fall pretty far down on the list in terms of overall hit probability. This is a great example of why you can’t just look at group size or velocity, but you need to put it all together with a tool like the WEZ analysis to see how all the factors that affect bullet flight play together to impact your overall hit probability. It seems like Sig is producing consistent ammo, so if they switched to a more aerodynamic bullet, they might be a serious competitor.
The Bottom 4
The four types of ammo on the very bottom of the list had hit probabilities from 48% to 58% and were clearly very poor performers compared to the rest of the ammo tested. Here is the list of the types of ammo that finished at the very bottom of this list:
- Winchester Match 6.5 Creedmoor Sierra 140 gr. MatchKing
- Nosler Match Grade 6.5 Creedmoor 140 gr. RDF Hollow Point Boat Tail
- Remington Premier Match 6.5 Creedmoor Barnes 140 gr. Open Tip Match
- Nosler Match Grade 6.5 Creedmoor 140 gr. Custom Competition Hollow Point Boat Tail
There might be some people who aren’t surprised by Remington or even Winchester ranking low in terms of overall performance, but I tested two types of Nosler ammo that was marked as “Match” ammo and both of those finished in the bottom 3. The Nosler Match 6.5 Creedmoor 140 gr. Custom Competition ammo was the worst overall with a hit probability of just 48%. That was a full 8% worse than ammo ranked right above it, so there was a considerable margin between it and all other ammo tested. I wish I could just chalk it up to a bad box of ammo, but remember I tested two boxes of each type of ammo purchased 6 months apart from each other from two different distributors. This research included 80 rounds of Nosler ammo, so, unfortunately, this seems to fairly represent the quality of Nosler’s factory ammo.
In Part 2, I covered some of the physical dimensions and weights that I measured using professional equipment. I even deconstructed some of the ammo and weighed the powder charge weights for a cross-section of 7 different types of ammo. That included a box of Nosler 140 RDF ammo, and it showed to have significantly more round-to-round variation in powder weight than any of the other ammo that I weighed (Read more here). Many believe a key to getting high-quality ammo is consistent gun powder in each round, so that may have played into this poor performance.
Based on all of the live-fire experiments, it seems like none of these bottom four can be considered ammo worthy of using in a rifle match. While I’m certainly never “out to get” any manufacturers, these companies should either improve their product or stop marketing it as “match” grade ammo.
Results For 4” Circle at 400 Yards
The results above were based on the average hit probability across all 3 scenarios: 400, 800, and 1,200 yards. Let’s now look at the hit probability for each of the scenarios separately, and we’ll start with the hit probability for a 4-inch diameter circle at 400 yards. If you are typically shooting tiny targets at mid-range, this might be the scenario you want to optimize around.
You can see the Berger Match 140 Hybrid factory ammo is still at the very top of the list, just like it was for the overall performance. The fact is, the performance of that ammo was so exceptional that it might be ideal at just about any distance or scenario with a 6.5 Creedmoor. However, the Berger 140 ammo had a lead of 2.4% in the overall hit probability from 400 to 1200 yards, but there is less than a 1% difference when we singularly focus on performance on a tiny target at 400 yards.
Close behind in 2nd is a surprise with Federal Premium Gold Medal 6.5 Creedmoor Sierra 140 gr. MatchKing ammo at 86.3%. The Federal 140 SMK factory ammo was 7th in the overall rankings, 6% lower than the Berger 140 Hybrid ammo, but when we look at the hit probability at 400 yards, it is one of the highest performers. The Federal Premium 140 SMK ammo had the lowest standard deviation in muzzle velocity of the whole test with an average 10-shot string SD of just 8.6 fps. I’d bet my hat that 95% of reloaders aren’t producing that ammo with that kind of muzzle velocity consistency. I honestly didn’t think any factory ammo would give that kind of consistency over a sample size of 40 rounds from two different rifles. That is exceptional!
The rest of the rankings are all relatively similar to what we saw in the overall rankings until you get to the very bottom of the list. Again, Nosler ammo seems to separate itself from the rest of the pack. The reason for that is because the Nosler ammo had the worst groups of any of the ammo tested – by a pretty wide margin. All of the ammo tested averaged sub-MOA 5-shot groups – except for the two types of Nosler ammo. The Nosler Custom Competition ammo had an average ES of 1.1 MOA over the 8 five-shot groups fired from the two rifles, and the Nosler 140 RDF ammo had an average ES of 1.2 MOA. The scenario at 400 yards was shooting a 1 MOA target, so if the ammo can’t even hold 1 MOA at 100 yards –you end up with results as you see for Nosler here, which was a hit probability that was 10% lower than any other ammo tested.
Results for 12” Circle at 800 Yards
Let’s now focus on the hit probability for a 12-inch diameter circle at 800 yards. That is a 1.5 MOA target and represents the target size and distance you might see most often at PRS/NRL-style precision rifle matches. If I were personally going to focus and optimize around just one scenario for precision rifle matches, it’d be this one.
Once again, the Berger Match 6.5 Creedmoor 140 gr. Hybrid Target factory ammo is at the top of our list, but this time with a 2.6% lead over the 2nd place and 3.6% over 3rd place. That is the most significant lead we’ve seen yet.
Behind it are 5 types of ammo that all had a hit probability around 70% (from 69.7% to 71.9%), and it’s a list of familiar names:
- Berger Match 6.5 Creedmoor 130 gr. Hybrid OTM Tactical
- Norma Match 6.5 Creedmoor 130 gr. Golden Target Hybrid Hollow Point Boat Tail
- Copper Creek 6.5 Creedmoor Berger 144 gr. Long Range Hybrid
- Copper Creek 6.5 Creedmoor Berger 140 gr. Hybrid
- Federal Premium Gold Medal 6.5 Creedmoor Berger 130 gr. Hybrid OTM
Overall, these rankings seem to roughly mirror the overall results, so there aren’t many surprises.
Results for 24” Circle at 1,200 Yards
Finally, let’s focus on the last of the 3 scenarios, which was the hit probability on a 24-inch diameter circle at 1,200 yards. While a 6.5 Creedmoor can engage targets beyond 1,200 yards, that is starting to push the limits of what the cartridge was designed for. I’ve personally hit targets at 1 mile (1760 yards) with a 6.5 Creedmoor, but it’s certainly not the rifle I’d reach for to consistently get hits that far out – although it is possible, it’s simply a low percentage shot. However, 1,200 yards is still in the sweet spot for a 6.5 Creedmoor and appropriate for the class of ammo we’re comparing.
Now at this further distance, you can see that the order has switched up a bit with a few lower on the list moving up. That is because we’ve passed that balancing point I talked about earlier where a heavier, high BC bullet eventually overcomes its slower muzzle velocity and has a faster time of flight to the target. (See “Distances & Target Sizes” section earlier in this article for more info)
Having said that, the Berger Match 140 Hybrid Target factory ammo is still at the top of the list, with a hit probability 2.6% higher than its closest competitor. It’s almost getting boring to see the Berger Match-Grade 140 Hybrid so high on the leader board, but it’s a testament to the impressive performance I measured for it across all the live-fire tests.
Jumping up to rank 2nd in terms of hit probability at 1,200 yards is the Copper Creek 6.5 Creedmoor Berger 144 gr. Long Range Hybrid loaded ammo at 59.0%. Remember that this bullet had the highest BC of any bullet tested, so we shouldn’t be surprised to see it provide better performance at longer ranges. While this ammo ranked 6th overall and 15th out of 19 at 400 yards, by the time you get out to 1,200 yards that super-high BC bullet makes up for the larger groups it had at short-range. This clearly shows how significant the performance difference in hit probability can be based on the distance you optimize for.
The Berger Match 130 OTM Hybrid ammo still provided very respectable performance at 1,200 yards, even though the 130 grain bullet doesn’t have as high of a BC as some of the heavy-for-caliber bullets other ammo in this test mainly were using. Honestly, I was a little surprised to see a 130 gr. bullet still ranked so high on the list at a distance this far out, but that’s why we should actually run the tests and do the math and not just talk about this stuff! 😉
All Hit Probabilities
Finally, here is a summary table containing all the hit probabilities side-by-side to make it easier for you guys to do your own custom calculations or weighting based on your application:
|Ammo Type||Avg P(hit) Over 3 Ranges||4″ @ 400y||12″ @ 800y||24″ @ 1200y|
|Berger Match 140 Hybrid||74.4%||87.1%||74.5%||61.6%|
|Berger Match 130 Hybrid||72.0%||85.9%||71.9%||58.3%|
|Norma Match 130 GT Hybrid||70.5%||84.7%||70.9%||55.9%|
|Copper Creek 140 Hybrid||70.0%||83.5%||70.6%||56.0%|
|Federal Prem. 130 Hybrid||69.5%||84.6%||69.7%||54.3%|
|Copper Creek 144 LR Hybrid||69.3%||78.1%||70.9%||59.0%|
|Federal Prem. 140 MatchKing||68.3%||86.3%||66.9%||51.6%|
|Barnes Precision Match 140 OTM||67.6%||83.7%||67.5%||51.7%|
|PRIME 130 MatchKing (USA)||67.5%||82.8%||67.9%||51.9%|
|Hornady Match 147 ELD-M||67.4%||83.3%||67.5%||51.4%|
|Black Hills 147 ELD-M||66.4%||79.7%||67.2%||52.2%|
|Hornady Match 140 ELD-M||64.7%||81.6%||64.7%||47.8%|
|Berger Match 120 Lapua Scenar-L||64.5%||79.3%||64.6%||49.6%|
|Sig Elite Perf. Match 140 OTM||63.5%||79.0%||63.2%||48.4%|
|Hornady Match 120 ELD-M||60.8%||79.1%||60.4%||43.0%|
|Winchester Match 140 MatchKing||57.6%||76.0%||57.4%||39.4%|
|Nosler Match 140 RDF||56.3%||66.0%||58.3%||44.6%|
|Remington Match 140 OTM||56.1%||76.1%||55.2%||37.1%|
|Nosler Match 140 Custom Comp.||48.0%||62.8%||48.6%||32.6%|
Coming Up Next: Best Bang for Your Buck!
While it’s fun to see what gives you the absolute highest hit probability, what most of us make buying decisions on is what product provides the biggest bang for your buck. If the #1 product is super-expensive, but another product is close in performance and is half the price – that can influence our buying decision, right? So the next post will rank these not on pure performance but overall value. It will basically tell us what the best bang for your buck is!
Honestly, this was one of the parts of the research I looked forward to seeing most. After doing around a dozen of these independent, empirical research projects, I’ve found that there are almost always outliers in terms of value. It’s likely that a few companies offer excellent performance even though they are priced way below everyone – and a few companies provide dismal performance but are at premium prices! I feel like this type of analysis cuts through all the marketing and the b.s. and clearly shows which brands are providing the most value to the shooting community.
The next article is up now, and you can read it here: Best Rifle Ammo for the Money!
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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:
- Intro & Reader Poll
- Round-To-Round Consistency For Physical Measurements
- Live-Fire Muzzle Velocity & Consistency Summary
- Live-Fire Muzzle Velocity Details By Ammo Type
- Live-Fire Group Sizes & Precision
- Summary & Long-Range Hit Probability
- Best Rifle Ammo for the Money!
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 that my readers would better understand a lot of this 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
Fantastic information. Thank you!
You bet, John! I’m excited to finally have all this info published so people can start getting value from it!
First, thank you for these great articles. They have been extremely helpful as a newcomer to long range precision shooting. I have a question regarding the Berger factory ammunition tested. Were they all on brass using a large rifle primers? The Lapua brass comes with both LRP and SRP primer pockets just curious what you used.
Thank you again for the articles.
Thanks, JC. I went out to my shop and checked the once-fired brass and it looks like Berger decided to use the small primer Lapua brass in their factory ammo. It seems like that is what most reloaded pick, too.
… I have to wonder if that was one of the things that helped Berger claim the #1 and #2 spots.
One-of-a-kind amazing research indeed! Much appreciated and just curious if anyone is having any luck finding the top performers at a price costing less than a double cheeseburger per round and if you are fortunate enough to find in stock. Lol. Sounds like you will be covering some of that in your next post and look forward to it.
James, I’m afraid I don’t have any tips for you. That’s partially why I was hesitant to publish a lot of this. I did all this research right when ammo was starting to get scarce and I didn’t want to frustrate a bunch of people by telling them how awesome something was – that they couldn’t get. But, I have seen it come in stock occasionally at places, so hopefully, you’ll be able to find some.
Thanks Cal and I agree. Your data driven approach simply calls out “what it is”. Cost, market conditions, supply challenges, etc. doesn’t change that. If you want the best of the best then be prepared to pay for that performance. Not certain what is driving the extreme ammo shortages but I’ll take the half glass full approach in saying that there must be more shooters out there. Good shooting and look forward to seeing a future post perhaps on a new custom rifle build.
Thanks for the info. I load all my own ammo, but I like to read your blog posts because they are extremely informative and unbiased. I am really surprised that Hornady ammo didn’t do better. Is Copper Creek able to get components and load ammo currently?
Also it would be really interesting for you to take the Berger bullets and fireformed brass from the Berger 140 hybrids that were the best tested. Work up a load and then shoot them against factory ammo to see how much you can improve, if any, over the factory in SD, ES, and accuracy at all distances.
Thanks, Devin. “Extremely informative and unbiased” are some of the highest compliments someone could give me, so I appreciate that.
Copper Creek does appear to be loading some ammo, but there are some components they’d normally offer that are marked as “out of stock.” So I bet that means they can’t get some bullets. You can view their selection here: https://coppercreekcartridgeco.com/product-category/ammunition/65cm/
And I definitely agree that it’d be interesting to see what happened if I tried to do custom loads using the same brass. In fact, you probably convinced me to hang onto it instead of selling it as once-fired, because that might be a fun experiment one day. I want to say that with all the high-end reloading equipment I have that I’d bet I could improve on it, but then again it might be one of those things that surprises me when I actually put it to the test. That’s the thing about objective testing – often it can challenge your view of things. Thanks for sharing the idea.
Been following your sight for a long time, and I was one of the 3% who voted for Norma, so I’m not at all surprised. Now let me tell you why.
I bought a bunch of Norma when I first started shooting 6.5. It was cheap at my local store, happens to be really good brass for reloading. But the biggest reason I voted for it…
I get bored shooting paper so I bought this target from a local vendor in AZ: https://www.mrtargetonline.com/shop/f_class/
The first time I went to test that target, I was shooting the Norma 6.5 CM ammo. I had the target setup at about 150m. (Just happened to be about as far as I could setup at the particular spot that day.)
Aimed at the 5″ target – nailed it
Aimed at the 3″ target – nailed it
Aimed at the 1.5″ target – nailed it
Reset the targets and tagged the 1.5″ again, with the impact literally touching the first shot.
Figured I might as well pack up & go home at that point. 😉
That’s awesome, CB. Thanks for sharing your experience. That Norma ammo really is VERY good stuff. Glad you came across it. I bet a lot more people give a shot after this, and I’d bet they find similar performance. That’s the kind of stuff a 100% objective, empirical approach can discover. There are always a few surprises when you do a test like this, and I think Norma being so high up on the leader board was one of those for me.
Thanks for your endeavor.
I find it interesting where all the hybrid bullets place in your testing.
May have to switch to them if it is possible to run them in an AR.
Thanks again. Greatly appreciated
Hey, Dave. I have used the Berger 130 grain Hybrid OTM Tactical in my 6.5 Creedmoor JP LRP-07, which is an AR. In fact, the full “official” name from Berger for that bullet is the “Berger 130 Grain AR Hybrid OTM.” They even advertise this: “Excellent in a gas gun for reliable feeding in magazine applications.” You can read more about it here: https://bergerbullets.com/product/6-5-mm-130-grain-ar-hybrid-otm-tactical/
If I were going to try something in my AR, it’d probably be the Berger 130 Hybrid. It’s not quite as long of a bullet as the other flavors, and I think that is part of what makes it feed well. I haven’t tried the others in my AR, but the 130 Hybrid hasn’t given me any feeding issues.
Amazing treatise. Unfortunately as an amateur I miss the target due to position building and wind lol and can’t really appreciate the differences. I have heard SRP is better in 6.5cm. I have also heard it doesn’t matter. FWIW, I have a 243 win with 107 grain SMK and Lapua LRP that shows extreme precision and low SD.
Yes sir! The WEZ Analysis does take uncertainty about wind calling into consideration, but the way I had it configured for all of these calculations was calling the wind within +/- 2.5 mph 95% of the time, which is between average and elite wind calling ability. If someone had below-average wind calling ability, then all the probabilities would drop pretty considerably and it’d be a lower percentage shot no matter what ammo you used.
But, the WEZ Analysis doesn’t take aiming error into consideration and assumes all the shots are perfectly centered and the firing solution is dead on.
And you’ll hear all kinds of things about whether small rifle primers (SRP) are better or large rifle primers (LRP). I know David Tubb touted research he’d done when designing the 6XC that proved large rifle primers were better, although none of that alleged research has ever been published to my knowledge. I’d love to see it, and even asked to see it once – but didn’t get the opportunity. Lapua also did extensive research into SRP vs. LRP when they were designing the 6.5×47 Lapua, which is a very similar-sized case to the 6.5 Creedmoor – and the conclusion of their research was that an SRP provided more consistent ignition (and therefore lower SD’s in muzzle velocity). I haven’t seen Lapua’s research either. I’ve also read where Emil Praslick, a Lapua representative said, “We’ve found that for some applications, like tactical semi-automatic rifles, a Large Rifle Primer is required to ensure function and performance. Lapua created this product to meet that requirement.”
All that to say that I haven’t seen any research papers published on the subject. If someone reading this has, I’d love for someone to point us to them. I really would love to read them.
I’d suspect that Berger either referenced Lapua’s research or also believe that SRP produce better ammo for the 6.5 Creedmoor because they also opted to use a small rifle primer in this factory ammo that I tested. They could have used either one, right? But, again – I haven’t seen any research about it.
Until there is some objective, empirical research is published on the subject, I think the internet will continue to debate the topic and both sides will claim their opinions and anecdotal evidence as “the truth.” Honestly, even after research is published I’m sure some people will deny it and stick to their strongly held opinions. We can be a tough crowd to convince! Ask me how I know! 😉
Ultimately, I’d say if what you have is working for you – don’t fix happy! If you have “extreme precision and low SD” then stick with what you’re doing! 😉 I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.
Thank you for your time, money, and effort that you have put in for all of your articles. I have read everything you have put out over the years and have learned a lot. I also have used your information to make informed purchasing decisions, which with an expensive hobby like this is very valuable. Thank you!
Porter, thanks for sharing that. Your words mean a lot to me. You’re just the kind of guy that I started this blog to help. This is an expensive hobby, and I feel fortunate to be in a position where I can help out fellow shooters. Glad to know it has helped you out!
Hi again Cal, thank you once again for a brilliant presentation. I like the way you provided the different data for the different ranges because there are some places with limitations on the distance of their courses. I note JC Olson’s question regarding LRP vs. SRP brass and was also interested in which brand and model of primers each manufacturer use. I don’t imagine it would be easy to get them to reveal their secrets but it would be interesting. Really fascinating to see the interplay between the components and how they relate to hit probability. It’s an excellent study you have done here and it gives food for thought to other elements that may be important in the overall improvement in hit probability but it certainly appears that Berger know what they are doing! Cheers, Stephen.
Thanks, Stephen. I appreciate your kind words. I’d be curious to know what primers all these guys use, too. I bet someone knows that, but I agree that it seems unlikely that they’d share that info. I wish I knew what powders they were using too! Most good research always leads you to think of more questions. 😉
Thanks for taking the time to put this together Cal. Just for fun, how do your hand loads compare in average 3 range hit probability? Also curious if you load competition ammo on a progressive press or single stage?
That’s a great question, Kyle. I actually haven’t done these exact same calculations for my handloads. I mostly shoot a 6mm Creedmoor at these distances (see my competition rifle and why I choose the 6mm Creedmoor) and handload them with Hornady’s 110 gr. A-Tip bullets, which you can’t even get in factory-loaded ammo. The ballistics of those are pretty hard to beat, although the barrel-life of a 6mm Creedmoor isn’t as long as the original 6.5 Creedmoor. I’d suspect that my hand loads might have up to 10% higher hit probability. That’s because those 110 A-Tip’s running at 3140 fps have a lower time of flight than any of these bullets, so it “cheats the wind” a little better. But, I also have a pretty advanced reloading setup with a Prometheus powder scale, Annealing Made Perfect machine, Redding competition dies, etc. The ammo that equipment can produce is pretty ridiculous, with SD’s of 7 fps or less and groups that are a little tighter than what this ammo had. But, I will say all that equipment cost me a small fortune, so I could have shot factory ammo for a long time before I ever spent the same amount of money. That’s why I don’t recommend to most of my friends that they start reloading. I think you’d be better served by using factory ammo, because of the performance it can provide these days. You’d have to invest in a lot of equipment to be able to top what you can get out of a box. I’d bet that most reloaders don’t have the equipment or expertise to turn out ammo that is better than the top 5 here. I’m not saying you can’t, but the value proposition isn’t there because of all the equipment and components you have to buy. Now, if you are one of the top competitors in the nation or that last 5-10% of a performance boost would make a difference for your application – then you should handload. But 99% of shooters are not in that situation, so factory match-grade ammo is usually the best choice.
You’ve got me thinking though! I don’t have time to do all the calculations right now, but I might come back and tell you what they are specifically if I get time in the next few days.
Hey Cal, another fantastic comparison! Any chance of seeing the hit probability broken down by rifle used?
Hey, Jeremy. Glad you found it helpful. I actually didn’t do the calculations for each rifle, although that might be interesting. Running all the analysis takes longer than it might sound, especially if you’re double-checking all the inputs and tabulating the results each time. Doing it by rifle would be twice as much time as what I already spent on it. My gut would be that the probabilities wouldn’t change dramatically, since the group sizes averaged within 2% of each other for both rifles. But, I don’t want to say that too strongly, because sometimes when you run the actual numbers the results can surprise you. I’ve ran a lot of these WEZ analysis scenarios over the years and I’d just suspect there wouldn’t be a significant swing. I’m pretty sure that I’ve provided all the detailed data through this series that you could run them if you were interested. If you do, let us know what you find!
wow ， nice job , Cal , that;s great review post as usuall , thanks for sharing . and looking forward more great posts from you ,
bless you , )))
You bet, Bryan.
Great work! I have followed your blog and posts for several years! You have earned respect and creditably from the long range shooting community. Looking forward to your “best bang for the buck.”
Thanks, Greg. I’m fortunate to be in a place where I can be a 100% independent voice and just call it like I see it. I’m glad to hear you’re interested in the next post. It’s always really interesting. In research like this there are always a few outliers – some that offer a ton of performance for the money, and a few that are ridiculously over-priced. This study is certainly no different, so stay tuned!
Outstanding work. Great evaluation. The assessment of the Ruger is exceptional. Who knew it was that good? Years ago I read Earl Nanamore’s ‘Principles and Practice of Loading Ammunition’ as well as Phil Sharpe’s ‘Complete Guide to Handloading’. They had both been involved in manufacturing ammunition during WW II and they gave a good outline of the problems encountered. The methods and materials of loading may have changed over the years, but business principles have not. With the equipment these manufacturers have at their disposal, I find it incredible that so much difference exists between ‘Match’ grade ammunition. Maybe they never imagined anyone would do what you have done? That they could go the cheap route and put their name on an inferior product? It really does not make much sense because they were risking their brand. I suspect there might be some management changes down the road. Again, many thanks. Reg
Thanks, Reg. You certainly might be right. I wasn’t necessarily trying to “out” anyone, but just reporting the data I collected. This is a quote I think about all the time: “You are always either building your reputation – or living off of it.” That is probably applicable here.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Once again congratulations for the extensive work and thank you very much for sharing your knowledge.
Greetings from Brazil