This article is a summary of one of the most comprehensive rifle ammo tests ever conducted, which involved firing over 1,000 rounds! This was performed by a 100% independent researcher who has no relationship to any of these ammo companies.
Even before the great ammo shortage of 2020/2021, the price difference between these types of match-grade ammo varied dramatically, from $1.20 per round to $2.50 per round. Today, a few places are pricing this ammo at $4 per round! So while it might be fun to see what gives you the highest hit probability (see results), what most of us make buying decisions on is what provides the biggest bang for your buck. So this article takes the massive pile of data I collected and analyzed in my recent long-range ammo test, and tells us what the best rifle ammo is for the money.
I invested a ton of time firing 1000+ rounds of live-fire ammo and carefully collected all of the muzzle velocities (see data) and group sizes (see data). I used multiple Doppler radars and other specialized equipment and the scientific method to ensure the results are trustworthy. I bought all of the ammo out-of-pocket from major online retailers. These manufacturers would have likely sent me ammo for this test, but I didn’t want to risk the ammo being cherry-picked. I bought one box of each type from one retailer, then waited 6 months and bought another box of that same ammo type from a different retailer. I can also say that I’ve never got anything for free or even discounted from these companies, and I wouldn’t take it if they offered because I want my readers to be able to trust my content and not wonder if there were hidden alliances. I fired the rounds out of 2 different test rifles: a stock Ruger Precision Rifle and a high-end custom bolt-action rifle. I thoroughly analyzed all of the live-fire data and used professional software with advanced modeling to calculate each type of ammo’s hit probability at 400, 800, and 1,200 yards (see the results).
At the end of the day, I’m simply trying to provide as much data and intel as possible to help my fellow shooters make informed decisions. Thousands of new shooters are investing in a 6.5 Creedmoor, and I’m hoping this research will help them get more rounds on target at long range – without breaking the bank.
Honestly, this article covers one of the parts of a research project like this that I look forward to seeing most. After doing several of these 100% data-driven research projects (see other field tests), I’ve found there are virtually always outliers in terms of value. So the “you get what you pay for” mentality often isn’t true. It’s likely that a few companies offer excellent performance for relatively low prices – and a few companies provide dismal performance at premium prices, but must have some great marketing! 😉 I feel like this type of analysis cuts through the b.s. and lets us clearly see which brands are delivering the most value to the shooting community. I personally see this article as “the grand finale” on my quest to find the best rifle ammo.
To figure out which brands offer the highest value, I simply calculated what % of hit probability you’d get from each type of ammo for every $1 spent. That means that something would have to provide a significant boost in performance to make up for any premium it charges over the competitors. If it was priced 5% higher, but provided 25% higher hit probability – we’d consider it to be higher value.
Cost Per Round & “Net Cost” Per Round
The chart below shows the cost per round for each type of ammo. I spot-checked the street prices from major online distributors a few times over the 6 months from December 2019 to May 2020, which was right before “The Great Ammo Shortage of 2020/2021” where prices spiked and became erratic. I feel like that period represented a stable market, one we all hope to return to soon. Indeed, all of this ammo is likely higher than what it was then. However, most brands still seem to be priced similarly relative to one another, so this felt like the best way to analyze it – instead of purely basing it on current street prices that vary so dramatically from one week to the next or one distributor to the next.
You can see two prices in the chart above for each type of ammo. The blue bar is simply the average street price for a box of 20 rounds of ammo divided by 20. The green bar is the average “net cost” per round. When you shoot factory ammo, there is still residual value after you fire a round because you can sell the once-fired brass to other reloaders, which effectively reduces the “net” out-of-pocket cost you paid for that ammo.
But, some brands of once-fired brass sell for more than others. After looking around on GunBroker and other websites that sell once-fired brass, it seems the going rate is often about 60% of the price you could buy that same brand of brass for new (although it can vary with seasonal demand). Below is my rough ballpark estimate for what you might be able to recover in terms of cost by selling your once-fired 6.5 Creedmoor brass based on the headstamp on the case:
|Headstamp||Estimated $ Per Piece of Once-Fired Brass|
Note: I’m not trying to make any claims about brass quality or value with the prices above. This is simply what it seemed like the going rates were from a variety of sources when I checked.
If you take the average street price for a box of ammo and then subtract out what you could sell the once-fired brass for, you land at what I’m calling the “net cost” for that ammo. If you plan to just leave your brass on the ground or save it for yourself, then simply reference the “Avg. Price Per Round,” otherwise if you are going to recoup some of your cost by selling your once-fired brass you should look at the “Avg. Net Cost Per Round (after selling brass).”
Since the overwhelming majority of people that shoot factory ammo are doing it because they don’t reload, I thought looking at the average net cost is more applicable. Even if you are keeping the brass to reload it later, you are still getting additional value from the box of ammo beyond the factory load, so it makes sense to look at the “net cost” in that case, too. I’ll provide a value comparison based on both approaches, but I’ll sort the results and discuss the ranking based on the net cost.
Best Rifle Ammo For The Money
Finally, I think the chart below sums up all of this research the best. It takes 760 rounds of live-fire data collected and the exhaustive hit probability analysis from the last article and boils it all down to how much value each type of 6.5 Creedmoor ammo provides per dollar spent in terms of overall hit probability at 400 to 1,200 yards.
Well, when you look at the performance with respect to the cost, it can sure change the picture! The order of the list here is very different than the chart that was purely based on the hit probability that was covered in the last article, but gives you a much clearer picture of the best rifle ammo with respect to cost.
The Berger Match 130 gr. OTM Hybrid and Berger Match 140 gr. Hybrid ammo were both on top – like they seem to have been on many of the charts. The average cost of a box of Berger 130 Hybrid ammo was slightly less than the 140s, but the overall performance was slightly higher for the 140’s – so the calculated value is basically the same for both. Most often the product with the best performance is not the highest value, but in this case this Berger ammo is both the best in terms of raw performance and hit probability at distance AND it’s the best value. It seems like Berger may be the best rifle ammo from either perspective. That is a rare thing in this industry!
In with the 3rd highest value is the Sig Sauer Elite Performance Match 6.5 Creedmoor 140 gr. OTM factory ammo. We haven’t talked a lot about the Sig ammo throughout this research, but when you consider the performance it gave compared to the price – it is impressive! In fact, this Sig ammo was the best value overall if you don’t plan to sell your once-fired brass. The Sig ammo had an average price of just $24.66 per box, which was the lowest of any of the ammo tested and 20% lower than the average price per box of $30.83. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any of this Sig 6.5 Creedmoor Match ammo since the great ammo shortage started. It appears that Sig hasn’t recovered from the supply shortages and increased demand as quickly as other manufacturers. Still, I’m hopeful they’ll get this product back to market soon because it seemed to offer good performance, especially considering the budget-friendly price. Well done, Sig!
In at #4 & #6 is the Federal Premium Gold Medal 6.5 Creedmoor Sierra 140 gr. MatchKing and Federal Premium Gold Medal 6.5 Creedmoor Berger 130 gr. Hybrid OTM factory ammo. The Federal 130 Hybrid ammo had a slightly higher average price than the Federal 140 SMK’s, but it also had 1.2% higher hit probability at long range. However, the 140s weren’t far behind it in terms of performance (68.3% for the 140s vs. 69.5% for the 130s), so the lower average street price caused them to float up a little higher on the leader board in terms of value. If you can find them for the same price, the data would suggest that you opt for the 130 Hybrid, but if the 140 SMK is less – you’d still be getting a great product for the money. Well done, Federal!
Rounding out our top 5 in terms of value is the Hornady Match 6.5 Creedmoor 147 gr. ELD-M factory ammo at #5. This is one of the most popular types of match-grade factory ammo. Hornady invented the 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge, and one of their original design goals for the cartridge was that there would be high-quality factory ammo options at a reasonable price (read more about original design goals). Many people don’t realize the impact Hornady had on the market with the release of the 6.5 Creedmoor when it comes to match grade ammo at relatively reasonable prices. Before that, there wasn’t a lot of match-grade factory ammo, and what there was seemed to all be priced around $3/round. Hornady released their 6.5 Creedmoor match ammo at around $1/round, and disrupted the whole industry. Now look how many manufacturers followed their lead! Thanks for pushing the industry forward and offering value to the shooting community, Hornady!
Regarding overall value, the Hornady 147 Match ELDM ammo was right here with the others already mentioned, in a virtual tie with the Federal 130 Hybrid ammo (if you plan to sell your once-fired brass). In fact, there were several brands of ammo that were providing a ton of value like those, landing in that range of 60-62% of hit probability per net dollar spent:
- Hornady Match 6.5 Creedmoor 147 gr. ELD-M
- Federal Premium Gold Medal 6.5 Creedmoor Berger 130 gr. Hybrid OTM
- Berger Match 6.5 Creedmoor 120 gr. Lapua Scenar-L
- PRIME 6.5 Creedmoor Sierra 130 gr. MatchKing USA-Made
- Hornady Match 6.5 Creedmoor 140 gr. ELD-M
- Norma Match 6.5 Creedmoor 130 gr. Golden Target Hybrid HPBT
Winchester, Barnes, and Copper Creek ammo were all around 16% lower value than that middle pack. They all offer a similar value proposition, but how they got there was very different. The Winchester ammo was fairly low cost, but the performance was also low. The Barnes 6.5 Creedmoor ammo was about average price and average performance. And the Copper Creek ammo offered a better performance in terms of hit probability at long-range, but was among the most expensive ammo tested. But, when we analyze the hit probability each one gives you per dollar spent, they all are very similar. Isn’t that interesting?
Towards the bottom of the value rankings, we see both types of Nosler ammo tested at 44% and 45%. That represents 37% less value than our overall winners in terms of bang for your buck. But, Nosler wasn’t the lowest!
Coming in at 18th of 19 total in terms of value is the Remington Premier Match 6.5 Creedmoor Barnes 140 gr. Open Tip Match. The average price per box for this Remington ammo was surprisingly high at $34.66, especially based on the performance I measured at the range. The average 10-shot standard deviation for muzzle velocity was over 20 fps, which is not even good for standard ammo – but Remington marked this box with “Premier Match!” Ummm, … no.
Finally, at the very bottom of the list is Black Hills 6.5 Creedmoor Hornady 147 gr. ELD-M. I’m sure there are some die-hard Black Hills fanboys out there that are offended by that, but I’m just reporting the data. The Black Hills ammo was the most expensive ammo tested – by a pretty big margin. It had an average street price of $42.87, which was almost 40% more expensive than the average box of ammo in this test. It was even 23% more than the next most expensive ammo, which was the custom handloaded ammo from Copper Creek at $34.99. And the measured performance of the Black Hills ammo simply wasn’t good. The old saying, “you get what you pay for,” doesn’t seem to apply here. The group size and the muzzle velocity consistency were both below average. When you have below-average performance but the highest price – the value proposition will be pretty low.
Parting Shots On Finding The Best Rifle Ammo For Your Rifle
I hope this research project was helpful for a lot of the new shooters getting into this sport that I’m so passionate about. Hopefully, it will help you narrow your search for ammo that might perform the best out of your rifle. I’d suggest buying a box of the top few types of ammo that performed the best in this study, and take those to the range and try them out of your rifle. I’d suspect one of those would perform really well and help you get more rounds on target at long range.
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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 6.5 Creedmoor Ammo for the Money! (this article)
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
Hello again Cal, thanks once again for an excellent article. Very surprising some of the results but not so surprising regarding the Bergers. This is the kind of shakeup that such an industry needs. Gone are the days that you can afford to rest on your laurels and cash in on a name made elsewhere. I hope there is a suitable response by those found at fault here of doing just that. You have done a great service to precision shooters worldwide and again I thank you for it. Kindest regards, Stephen.
You bet, Stephen! It’s certainly a different world these days than it was a decade or two ago. It seems like consumers are wiser these days, and information travels faster. And I agree that stuff like this certainly exposes who is providing a value to the shooting community – and those that aren’t.
I admit that Berger being the highest value surprised me a bit. I expected they’d perform well, but I wasn’t sure if they’d have the best performance (like they did). But, I also expected Black Hills and the Nosler RDF to perform pretty well – and they didn’t! So that’s why we should actually test this stuff and not just go with our gut. But, I certainly didn’t expect Berger to be the highest value – but that is what the data says. This is all 100% data-driven and just the results of all the raw data I collected at the range and then calculations in an Excel spreadsheet. Interesting how it all shook out!
And thanks for the kind words about my contribution to the shooting community. I really do all this to help my fellow shooters who might not have the money to go buy a box of all of these and try them out for themselves. Hopefully, this research helps people (especially new guys) find something that performs well in their rifle, so they could find success and connect with long-range targets quickly. I hope everyone has as much fun shooting long-range as I do!
You’re whole ammo/statistics series of articles are amazing. I spent my career in pharma which is heavy on stats. My question is regarding whether you might consider as a next step you might apply statistical analysis to your data in order to determine whether the difference between different rounds is statistically significant as opposed to a numerical difference. I realize it’s easy for me to throw out ideas when someone else is doing the work but it seems like a logical extension of the project.
Again, many thanks for the outstanding work you do
Thanks, Stuart. I totally get what you’re saying and that’s a good idea – but I think I’m calling it done on this project. I always plan for something to be a reasonable amount of time and then projects like this balloon on me. My OCD and perfectionist nature probably takes over I guess. Further, I’ll admit that while I understand p-value and statistical significance (and value research that uses it), I don’t have enough confidence to calculate it myself for something like this. I’m sure there is a reader that would help me with that, but seriously I’m pretty tired of working on this project. I have a few other things I’m excited to write and share about, so I’m excited to start spending my energy on those.
Again, it’s a good idea, and I appreciate you sharing it – but I have to stop the bleeding on this project. 😉
Hi, cal .
It seems that this is the last article in this series. 2021 is almost over and I am curious what you have planned for the new year. I mean, what articles you plan to publish or what constructive tests you plan to do in 2022. I can’t wait to read your ambitious and serious articles/ reviewings (although I just finished reading this latest post of yours ， maybe i’am too greedy , )
Hey, Bryan. This is the last article in the series. FINALLY!!! 😉
I do have a long list of projects that I’d like to get to, but I don’t have another major research project like this started yet. There is another major project I’m working on that I’ll share in an upcoming post, but it’s a little different. I’m VERY excited about it and think it’ll make a huge long-term impact.
In the short term, I do plan to attend SHOT Show 2022 in a few weeks as a member of the media, so I’m sure I’ll have a few posts that come out of that related to whatever interesting products I discover there or conversations I find myself in. All of the bullet jump research that I published about came from a conversation at SHOT Show with Mark Gordon one year. Honestly, there always seems to be one or two conversations that I find myself in at SHOT Show that are super-interesting and influence what I work on next, so I guess I’m trying to not make too many big plans beyond that.
I will also say that I think it’s probably time to do another “What The Pros Use” survey and series of posts, which I know are a reader favorite. The equipment doesn’t seem to change enough year-to-year to put in the time and effort to do that each year, but it’s been a year or two since I did a full-blown PRS/NRL “What The Pros Use” series – so I hope to do that in 2022.
I can say I have a LOOOOOOONNNNGGGG list of good ideas that I’d like to get to at some point. I’ve already bought some of the equipment to run the tests on one or two of them, so clearly I’m excited to get to them. But, not close enough to let the cat out of the bag yet. 😉
Hey, I appreciate the interest. Yes, I did just publish a post – but it tells me you are looking forward to what is next. I am too! 😉
thanks for responsing , cal . it’s really good news for me . i am soooo happy to know your BIG plans . ok , just wait for your new posts, take your time )))
As always, you’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty. This last article is a perfect summation to a brilliant series.
See you at Shot.
Thanks, Joe! That means a lot coming from you. I look forward to seeing you at SHOT in a few weeks!
Cal, thank you once again for this extensive and qualified study, we will be waiting for the news.
Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
Greetings from Brazil
To keep it short – THANK YOU! Undoubtedly, the best research, time and due diligence applied to factually coming to a conclusion. Your dedication is incredible and to SHARE with a large audience of disciplined shooters is nearly unheard of. You have a great gift and thank you again for sharing!! You’re like a redneck shooting sports-“Carl Sagan” so-to-speak… Lol.
James, that specific encouragement means a lot to me. Thanks for that! I love a data-driven approach because it cuts through bias or preconceived ideas. And I have a passion for both teaching and helping people, so this is an outlet for those things. Every industry needs an independent voice who cares more about the truth than what certain companies feel about them, so I’m happy to be one of those in the shooting industry.
Hi Cal – I have read the entire series of articles from this project with great interest and enjoyment. I don’t believe that there is anybody out there doing this type of utterly independent testing/reporting.
My only wish is that I could….today…buy this ammo for the prices you show! haha
Best of luck, look forward to your next publications.
Thanks, Stephen. I’m with you. When I started this project I certainly didn’t expect the industry to be disrupted like this. If we only knew then what we know now! 😉
I live in Canada and I have enjoyed reading all your articles in this series. I always thought my Hornady 140’s were the best. You have proven that wrong.
Today I don’t use a lot of store bought ammo as I reload approxiately 98% of my shooting ammo. Everyone thinks in 6.5 creedmoor that 140’s are the best for reloading. But your articles have me rethinking that.
Keep up the good work.
Thanks, Paul. I’ve personally shot over 1,000 rounds of Hornady 140 factory ammo over the years. I figured it was the best rifle ammo for the money – so this challenged my long-held beliefs, too. It’s certainly not that you can’t hit at long range with the Hornady ammo, but other ammo would give you a higher hit probability. In fact, the Hornady 147’s are even a marked improvement over the 140’s. So surprises all around! I’ve learned that objective testing like this that is 100% data-driven will almost always challenge the way I see things. That’s part of the fun for me in doing it! Often the truth is surprising.