Ammunition For Long Range: Part 1
Spotter: High .3 MRAD Left 1 MRAD
Shooter: Taking 3 clicks down, holding 1 MRAD right. BANG!
Spotter: Low 1 MRAD, Right 1 MRAD
Shooter: Screw it! This is impossible.
Spotter: No it isn’t. You’re using crap ammo.
This is just a few shots. It’s also a good example of what to expect if you don’t have your equipment set up properly and you don’t take care to select ammunition that performs up to the level you need.
I went out recently to burn up a big wad of ammo that had been sitting around unused. It was unused primarily because it’s inconsistent. Most of it was 1 round of this load and 2 rounds of that load. It was also mixed up in the box so it really was impossible to tell what was what other than chambering. I had about 100 rounds of 7mag and 60 rounds of .223 and 50 rounds of .308.
I was able to score hits at long range with the stuff but they were inconsistent hits. Doing it twice in a row was cause for real celebration. Like hitting the lottery twice. Holding the same way twice in a row almost never resulted in 2 hits in a row. There was wind to deal with too but almost all of the misses were low or high. I can live with windage being off. That’s the slot-machine like gambling vibe you get with long range and the hardest skill to build. You never know what mother nature will toss at you in that respect. Vertical dispersion though is normally a problem with deviations in muzzle velocity and projectile differences that are insurmountable. If you don’t have consistent velocities you’ll never get this down. Those velocities determine how far a bullet gets before dropping N number of cubits/inches/feet/etc…
My .223 ammo was thrown together for plinking use in an AR-15 at close range (< 100 yards) where the muzzle velocity differences weren't a big enough factor to care about. There were 5 rounds in the mix that I'd put together to test new bullets with and those were carefully loaded and I could tell those apart. The bulk .223 made groups about a foot wide at 500m. The carefully assembled target loads printed a 2" group at 500m.
My .308 ammo was loaded to fire-form the cases to my chamber and to see how far I could push the pressures. That being the case there were 1-5 rounds of several spec loads that were carefully assembled and a bunch of random ammo I needed to burn up to get the brass. As expected randomness in the loads produced undesired lacking accuracy. It was less bad because I took more care with these loads than the bulk .223 but it was still hit and miss.
Where things were really messed up was with the 7mag. There were so many recipes there it was nuts. Apart from that these were basically all loaded by my dad while he was learning to reload and he was a little skittish about max loads so they're all underpowered and since he was a hunter and thought crimping would be useful to him, the bulk of them were over-crimped. I did have 5 rounds of some new target ammo to test for pressure and velocity and those were like laser beams. At 500m it was a beer can size group. The other loads impacted more or less randomly around a beaten area of 20+MRADs. I might as well have been lobbing artillery. On the upside, I got 100-ish rounds of 7mag brass freed up and can turn my attention to getting a new stock of primers.
So what do you take from this experience? I knew what I was going to experience and I was ok with that. I only cared about burning some powder and finishing the break-in of my barrels (all 3 are new barrels). Next time I go out though I'll want the ammo performing to the need. I tend to shoot at 1MOA targets so I need ammo that shoots at .5MOA.
In the next episode we'll discuss retail ammo versus handload versus remanufactured versus Joe-Bob's "try these" loads. We'll also discuss some matters of statistics, component selection and then we may delve a bit into handloading practices.