This is part of a series of articles doing a deep dive with 6 of the best precision rifle shooters in the world. Each shooter has consistently been at the very pinnacle of precision rifle competitions for several years. I am sharing exhaustive details about their competition rifle, what they carry in their pack at a match, ammo load data, and some shooting and strategy tips. I’ll not just share what they are using, but on much of it, I will also share their thought process behind why they believe it gives them the best chance to win.
Meet Austin Orgain
Austin Orgain is a two-time Precision Rifle Series (PRS) champion and has the highest total accumulated PRS points over the past 7 years. The PRS is the major league of competitive long-range shooting. Austin was the PRS Overall Season Champion in both 2020 and 2021. He was the 2017 National Rifle League (NRL) Season Champion and won the 2020 Armageddon Gear Cup (AG Cup), the annual rifle match with the biggest cash payout that always attracts the best talent. Frankly, if you had to name one guy that has consistently dominated precision rifle shooting over the past 5-7 years – that has to be Austin Orgain!
That’s why Austin Orgain was an obvious choice when I chose the top shooters to do a “What The Pros Use” spotlight article on. The other shooters that I plan to do spotlight articles on are below. I’ll publish these in alphabetical order (left to right below). I’ve already posted the spotlight on Austin Buschman, so my deep dive with Austin Orgain will be the 2nd in this series.
Austin Orgain was raised in western Oklahoma in a small town called Hammon and lives there today with his wife and 3-year-old son (making a cameo on the right). Austin was interested in competitive shooting from a young age. In elementary, he shot BB guns competitively and later pellet guns and a shotgun. He’s been an active hunter for years. Austin primarily focused his competitive spirit on rodeo through college. He earned an engineering degree, and his day job today is as an engineer in the iodine extraction business. He seems to be another example of long-range shooting attracting us analytical, left-brain people.
After college, Austin moved to Woodward, Oklahoma, for a job. Woodward is home to Butch’s Guns, a great gun store that stocks more rifles and products for precision shooting than I’ve seen elsewhere. Austin had always been interested in long-range shooting but didn’t have the time or money up to that point. He bought his first custom rifle in 6×47 Lapua from Butch in 2015 and started shooting Butch’s local rifle matches, which were mostly “belly matches” that shot long-range from a prone position in what has become known as “Oklahoma troop lines.” Basically, all the shooters in a squad lay down at one time, and each takes a turn firing at target #1, and then they’d all move to target #2, and so on. First-round impacts would count for 2 points, and second-round hits would only count for 1 point. Austin said those matches were great for his development because they rewarded having good dope for your rifle and making a good first shot wind call.
Austin quickly got up to speed on precision shooting because, by the end of his first year, he finished 2nd at the Oklahoma Practical Precision Shooters (OPPS) 2015 finale. That is a feat because the OPPS is one of the oldest precision rifle clubs, and I’d bet it’s home to more of the top shooters than any other club in the country.
Austin: “I kind of took to competing in long-range matches like a duck to water. I seem to have a knack for it, and I really wanted to learn about it. I researched a lot of different stuff, I talked to a lot of really good shooters, and I just observed how everybody else did things.”
Austin started shooting major, two-day PRS matches in 2016 and won his first national-level PRS match in April 2017. Since that first win, Austin has competed in 54 national-level, two-day PRS matches, and here is how he placed in those:
- 14 Wins (26%)
- 32 Top 5 Finishes (59%)
- 47 Top 10 Finishes (87%)
That means Austin wins 1 out of every 4 matches he attends – and he’s done that for over 6 years in a row! Over the past 24 months, he’s only finished outside the top 10 once! Talk about consistency! Austin has already won two major PRS matches this year and is currently less than 1 point behind Austin Buschman and Morgun King in the 2023 season rankings. (View Austin Orgain’s latest match results)
I had an in-depth interview with Mr. Orgain, and here is how I currently plan to organize the content into several articles, each with a different focus:
- Meet Austin + His Experiment with the 25×47 and 25 GT (this article)
- Complete Rifle Setup
- Everything He Carries at a Match
- Ammo Load Data & Reloading Process
- Shooting Tips & Strategy (Practice, stage strategy, mental management, etc.)
Austin Orgain’s Experiment with the 25×47 & 25 GT
Austin has almost exclusively used a 6mm Dasher in competitions for the past several years. He used the 6 Dasher to win his back-to-back PRS championships and AG Cup – but this year, he’s been experimenting with some new 25-caliber cartridges.
Austin began the 2023 PRS season with a rifle chambered in 25×47 Lapua, which is simply a 6.5×47 Lapua case that was necked down to accept a 25-caliber bullet. Over the past several years, the overwhelming majority of top shooters were using a 6 Dasher or some variation of the 6BR, so it was interesting to hear Austin was competing with a new caliber.
Caliber Trends in the PRS
When the PRS started in 2012, 6.5mm cartridges were very popular. The first few years were evenly split between 6mm and 6.5mm calibers. But, in 2018, we saw the rise of the 6 Dasher and other 6BR-based cartridges (see the data), and the caliber choice among the top shooters seemed to solidify – and frankly, hasn’t changed much over the past 5 years. Around 80-90% of the top-ranked shooters have used 6mm cartridges for several years in a row.
Honestly, one reason I didn’t do my annual “What The Pros Use” survey the past few years is that there didn’t seem to be much change year-to-year compared to the first several years of the PRS. As most competitive sports mature, you typically see a convergence to more uniformity. The path to success becomes “well established.” For example, in 100 or 200-yard Benchrest competitions, virtually everyone shoots a 6 PPC. It is “well established” that the 6 PPC is optimal for that particular application. I suspected maybe we were seeing that kind of convergence in the PRS on the 6 Dasher/BR cartridges. (Note: I do plan to do a survey of top shooters and publish my “What The Pros Use” series later this year.)
But, over the past two years, Morgun King has been using a 6.5 Creedmoor to become one of the top shooters in contention for the golden bullet (the trophy for the overall PRS season winner), which seems to have shaken things up a bit. A larger caliber with heavier bullets has more energy at the target and makes it easier to spot exactly where the bullet hit, which is a critical part of this game, so you can correct your next shot to center and get more hits. If you miss a target, it can be tough to determine where a small bullet hits – or it can even be tough to identify exactly where a small bullet hit on a plate. One of the biggest things that separates the top shooters from the mid-pack guys is they are straining to see every single bullet impact down range, so they can see if they were slightly left or right of center and then fine-tune their wind hold and try to perfectly center their next shot. But even the top shooters don’t see 100% of their impacts. It’s tough to see them all! All things being equal, a larger, heavier bullet that carries more energy downrange will make it easier to see your impact – so it can be a big advantage in this game.
Larger cartridges typically also have slightly better ballistics and less wind drift, which can potentially convert a miss just off the edge of the target into an edge hit. But if it were all about optimizing for ballistics and energy at the target, these guys would be using 28 Noslers or CheyTacs! The downside of a larger case and heavier bullet is recoil. The more recoil increases, the better your fundamentals need to be to shoot the rifle well, and increased recoil makes it harder to keep your scope on target and see exactly where your bullet impacted at distances of 400 yards or less.
Austin Orgain tried a 6.5 Creedmoor in competitions last year, and here were his thoughts:
“I had tried the 6.5 Creedmoor a little bit last year and didn’t really like it. I didn’t like the recoil of it, and I didn’t like that it was a lot more difficult to stay on target and see where you’re hitting on the plate with a 6.5 Creedmoor compared to a 6 Dasher, which is what I have run the most by far. I did like the big signature the heavier bullet left if you missed or the bigger signature on the plate when you did hit. So I thought this 25-caliber might be a nice balance between that recoil and the heavy bullet.” – Austin Orgain
Everyone is searching for that “Goldilocks” balance between these competing characteristics:
- Good ballistics/low wind drift
- Low recoil so you can stay on target and be in a position to see where the bullet hit
- Ability to spot the bullet signature when it impacts down range (so you can correct and center the next shot)
It’s impossible to optimize for all 3 at one time, so we’re all trying to strike the “right” balance between those competing characteristics, which is very subjective. There is certainly no one-size-fits-all “right” answer, but it’s interesting to hear how one of the very best shooters in the world thinks about it.
So Why the 25-Caliber? And Why Now?
Austin still thought there was merit to using a slightly heavier bullet than the 110 gr. A-Tip that he’d be shooting from his 6mm Dasher for the past few years. While he’d concluded the 6.5 Creedmoor had a little too much recoil for his preference, the 25-caliber is between the 6mm and 6.5mm. Here is a comparison for the 6mm vs 25 cal vs 6.5mm:
The 25 caliber is between the 6mm and 6.5mm but slightly closer to the 6.5mm in terms of bullet diameter and weight. The 25 cal is almost exactly 2 parts 6.5mm and 1 part 6mm.
While Austin was already thinking about heavier calibers, what tipped him over the edge to try the 25 cal was the release of the new Hornady 25-caliber 134 gr. ELD-M bullet earlier this year.
Here is a video where Hornady Ballistician, Jayden Quinlan, gives a brief overview of this new bullet:
Hornady reached out to Austin to see if he would do some testing with their new 25-cal 134 gr. ELDM bullet and give them feedback on it. Austin told me he already had an old 25×47 barrel on-hand that he’d chambered years prior when 25-caliber Blackjack 131 gr. bullets came out (no longer available today). He also already had dies and brass for the 25×47 from back when he experimented with the Blackjack, so he thought it’d be fun to dust those off and see how they worked with the new Hornady bullets. He wasn’t even sure if the freebore that old barrel was chambered with would work for the new Hornady bullets, but he gave it a shot.
“When I tried out the new Hornady bullets in my 25×47, I was like, ‘Man, that thing actually shoots really good!’ I had tried the 6.5 Creedmoor a little bit last year and didn’t really like the recoil, but I did like how the bigger signature from the heavier bullets. So I thought this 25-caliber might be a nice balance between that recoil and the heavy bullet – and it really is. It’s quite a bit less recoil than that 6.5 Creedmoor, and obviously, it’s more recoil than a Dasher – but it’s a good balance between the recoil and the energy of the bullet downrange and on the plate. I don’t know that it really gives you a huge advantage over anything else, other than carrying a little bit more energy – but it has shot well for me.” – Austin Orgain
Austin has now won two major PRS matches using the 25-caliber, which has caught the attention of other top shooters. The first major, two-day PRS match Austin used the 25×47 in was Clay’s Cartridge Company Classic in March, which is known to be one of the most challenging PRS matches – and Austin won it with a 7-point lead over 2nd place and a 15-point lead over 3rd place! Then just a couple of weeks later, he took it to the Box Canyon Showdown in Kansas, where he finished 1 point behind Morgun King, but those two were 10 points ahead of 3rd place! “After that sequence of events, the 25-caliber really started catching some traction, and it seemed like a lot of people started ordering 25-caliber components,” Austin said.
I had already heard a few conversations among top shooters about the 25-caliber at the Okie Shootout PRS match I attended back in May, and I know other top shooters who have already spun up 25-caliber barrels to try it for themselves.
The End of Life for Austin’s 25×47 Lapua
When Austin first spun on the 25×47 barrel to test the new Hornady bullets, he wasn’t sure if he’d actually compete with it – but it clearly served him well.
Austin: “You know, I was kind of on a roll with that 25×47 barrel. I won Clay’s with it, I shot 2nd at Box Canyon, and that’s what I took to the Hornady PRC match. But at the Hornady match, I started dumping velocity on the first day. I noticed some shots started dropping low on some long range targets, and I kept having to adjust my velocity down. I actually pulled out a chronograph after day 1, and when I started the match I was running about 2740 fps and I was down to 2715 after day 1, and by the end of the day 2 I was down to 2680 fps. So I knew that barrel was pretty well done, and I had to pull it off the rifle. For not knowing how well it was going to shoot, that turned out to be a pretty special barrel. Apparently, I put more rounds on it a few years ago than I thought I had, because looking at the throat its been shot quite a bit.”
Austin still took 1st place at that Hornady Precision Rifle Challenge in June, despite his barrel going out and losing 60 fps from the start of the match to the end! In fact, he finished with a 6-point lead over the entire field! If you have competed in this sport, you know how crazy it is that he managed that kind of velocity change through the match and not only stayed in the hunt – but ran away with it! Austin, you’re ridiculous!
The 25 GT
Austin started with the 25×47 only because he happened to have a chambered barrel, dies, and brass on hand from a few years prior. He said the 25×47 had more case capacity than he needed because his goal wasn’t to push those 25-caliber bullets fast. Today top shooters are always more concerned with consistency than speed. The 25×47 was simply a choice based on convenience, but Austin wanted to find a case that was optimal for running 25-caliber bullets. His goal was to find something as consistent as the 6 Dasher in 6mm and 6.5×47 Lapua in 6.5mm, which is a tall order!
“I think the 6.5×47 Lapua is the epitome of a cartridge that is easy to load for. You can feed it Varget or H4350, and it’ll just shoot. You could probably put mud in that 6.5×47 case, and it would shoot great! And the same thing goes for the 6 Dasher. So I tried to find a cartridge between those two in terms of bore diameter and case capacity – and that’s the 25 GT.” – Austin Orgain
Last month, Austin began using a 25 GT cartridge in competitions, starting with the Hogdgon Punisher Positional PRS match in July 2023. For the 25 GT, he starts with Alpha Munition’s 6 GT brass and expands the neck of that case to 25 caliber.
Released around 2019, the 6mm GT cartridge was designed by Geoge Gardner of GA Precision and his friend, Tom Jacobs of Vapor Trail Bullets, with the goal of making the perfect cartridge for competitive rifle shooting. The 6 GT can easily push a 105-115 gr. 6mm bullet at 3,000 fps with a modest 34-35 gr. of Varget powder. The case length and 35-degree shoulder of the 6 GT helps it feed from a standard AICS magazine without needing a spacer kit like the 6 Dasher or other 6 BR cases. The 6 GT case has a small primer pocket, which many believe creates a stronger case head, extending the life of your brass. Some also think a small rifle primer produces more consistent velocities, too. Many of these design features translate to the 25 GT, too.
Austin’s 25 GT is pushing the Hornady 134 gr. bullets at 2700-2715 fps. He told me he’s using 37.0 gr of H4350 in his 25 GT, with Alpha 6 GT brass and Federal 205 primers. (Note: I’ll share Austin’s exhaustive load details and reloading process later in Part 4, so stay tuned for more details.)
Bullet & Cartridge Choice: The Chicken or the Egg?
Does a new cartridge design drive bullet selection or do new bullet designs drive cartridge choice? It’s kind of like asking, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?”
I remember a conversation with Bryan Litz where he told me, “Cartridge popularity always follows bullet design.” I’ve seen that proven true multiple times since he’s said that. You’ll usually see a shake-up in cartridge selection when a novel, high-performing bullet is released. For example, have you noticed how popular the 300 Norma Mag has become? Well, the rise in popularity of the 300 Norma started after Berger released the 215 and 230 gr. Hybrid bullets. Before that, there weren’t any heavy, match-grade, high-BC, 30-caliber bullets – but those new bullets were an optimal match for the 300 Norma and really let you get the full potential from that case design. Once they were available, it made a clear and compelling case for extended long-range use, and we saw a massive increase in 300 Normas. In fact, why did Austin have that 25×47 barrel on hand? Because he’d chambered it back when that high-performance, 25 cal Blackjack bullet came out!
Previously, there simply weren’t many good options in terms of match-grade, high-BC bullets in 25-caliber. There have been many great choices in 6mm and 6.5mm for years – which is why they’ve been so popular. There was never something intrinsically superior about the metric calibers. Both the 25-caliber and 27-caliber have some good hunting bullets to pick from, but they never seem to get much R&D in terms of match-grade, high-performance bullets. But Hornady now has a great offering in the 134 gr. ELD-M bullet and Berger also released a 135 gr. LR Hybrid bullet in 2021 (although the availability of that Berger bullet has been scarce to this point). With the new match-grade, high-performance bullet offerings, it shouldn’t be shocking to see some experimenting with that caliber.
If Hornady releases new A-Tip bullets in 25-caliber, I’d suspect 25-caliber cartridges might become even more compelling! Austin has been running the 6mm 110 gr. A-Tip bullet out of his 6 Dasher for the past 3 years, and it was extremely consistent for him. “Before I switched to the A-Tips, I was using the Berger 105 Hybrids, which is a great bullet – but in my experience, they just didn’t quite hold together as well at distance. When using the Berger 105 in switchy winds, you would play the left-edge/right-edge game. The 110 gr. A-Tips are slightly heavier and have a higher ballistic coefficient, so with the 110s, you wouldn’t have to play that left-edge/right-edge game as often. Instead, the 110 A-Tips would be more left of center and right of center, instead of edge of plate or off plate. I also felt like I gained a little bit of an advantage by having slightly more weight to see the bullet signature on a longer-distance target. The A-Tips were also just so consistent lot-to-lot, and the BC was so consistent shot-to-shot that I could print these super tiny groups at 900 yards. That’s how far the range is at my house, and I could just print these tiny, tiny groups with the A-Tips every time. When I realized how consistent the A-Tips were, I knew that was what it was going to take to win from now on.”
It will be fun to watch the trend of 25-caliber cartridges in the PRS over the next few years. I have a feeling that as the new bullets become more available, we may see it become a more widespread choice in the PRS.
Up Next: Austin’s Complete Rifle Setup
The next article will be published in about a week, and it will cover every detail of how Austin’s competition rifle is set up and why he thinks each component gives him the best chance at winning.
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