So you have a 20″ HBAR with a 1:8 or 1:7 twist barrel, all A2 or A4 style compliant for CMP or NRA matches as a service rifle, and you need to feed that sexy beast.
A: Purchase some quality match ammo.
B: Assemble some quality handloads cause you’re a cheap bastard?
Invariably in the High Power game, you are going to choose option “B” unless you happen to be wealthy beyond the standards of a bell curve distribution for High Power shooters.
So, here is what you’ll need, component wise.
Brass. For years the standard for High Power shooters has been Lake City, because it was generally cheap and available and “good enough.” This is still true, however now Israeli surplus brass (headstamp TZZ) or Taiwan surplus (TAA headstamp) have proven themselves every bit as good as Lake City.
Commercial brass, specifically Winchester and Lapua, I’ve seen on the line, but reserved for the 600 yard prone stage. One High Master commented that he gained a few points by switching from LC to Win brass as it shot just a tad more consistent for him, and that it was worth it.
Powder. For years the go to powder was IMR4895, but no more. H4895 is much more temperature stable, as is Varget. A bunch of folks are still using Reloader 15 despite it not being as temp stable it has very consistent performance in consistent temperatures so if you know how it performs at the temperature you are shooting you can do very well with it.
One thing you’ll notice is that all the “go to” powders are extruded stick powders. I loaded up a few thousand match loads using Alliant PowerPro 2000-MR and did ok. Then I switched to Varget and saw a 30 point jump in my scores, using the same primers, brass, and bullets. So I guess if I had to use a ball powder again, I’d use a primer more suited to ball powder than the Wolf KVBMs I was using.
Primers. CCI 41 and 450 small rifle magnum are the go to primers for feeding an AR. For while (before the sanctions cut them off) the Wolf KVBM primers were really popular. S&B small rifle primers have been used with good success by some, and you’ll find folks using Federal GMM primers (as well as Remington) at the 600 yard line.
Cheap but Good (under 20 cents per bullet):
Prvi Partisan 75gr BTHP. These things come in two varieties, one with a 0.350 G1 BC, and an improved version with a 0.360 G1 BC. These have a traditional tangent ogive so are not very sensitive about jump, literally just load them to mag length and they should be fine for 300 yard and 200 yard strings, although they shoot fine at 600 in calm conditions you’ll eventually want something with a better BC for when the wind kicks up. In bulk, 14 to 16 cents per bullet when bought in bulk.
Hornady 75gr BTHP. These come with a respectable 0.395 G1 BC, and many folks have started off their juniors with a “cross the course” load built around these bullets. Works best in a Wylde chamber as they have a secant ogive and a longer 5.56 throat doesn’t do them any favors. In bulk 14 to 17 cents per bullet.
Nosler CC 77gr without cannelure. Very similar to the Prvi Partisan but generally more capable of tighter groups due to more consistent nose profiles, although with a 0.340 G1 BC comes in at the bottom of bullets recommended for a “cross the course load” although the tangent ogive makes them very forgiving for jump. In bulk around 19 cents per bullet.
Hornady 73gr ELD-M. When on sale and bought in bulk, around 19 cents per bullet. If your rifle can shoot them well, these have a slightly better BC than the 75gr BTHP bullets by Hornady at 0.398 G1 BC but that’s measured at a further distance so they perform a bit better at 600 than the “plain jane” 75gr version. Can be loaded to mag length for a viable cross the course load.
Hornady 75gr ELD-M. 0.467 G1 BC at the muzzle at Mach 2.25 and 0.441 downrange below Mach 1.75 (1950 fps). When on sale and bought in bulk, around 18 to 20 cents per bullet, best loaded LONG for single load at 600 although it is possible to load them to mag length it is not recommended. If you can get them to shoot accurately for you, a great choice from a ballistics standpoint.
Middling price range (between 20 and 30 cents per bullet).
Nosler 70gr RDF. An impressive 0.419 G1 BC, can be loaded to mag length for 200/300 or loaded long and hot for 600. If your rifle shoots this bullet well, it is a solid choice to simplify your reloading bench. 27 cents per bullet in bulk. NOTE: if you have a 1:9 twist HBAR, this bullet will make you competitive with the rifle you have without needing to move to a tighter twist, which at the cost of over 100 dollars a barrel, makes the Nosler 70gr RDF a decent bargain if you just want to try the High Power game.
Sierra 77gr Match King. 0.372 G1 BC, but very consistent. The classic “Mk262 Mod0” bullet for military rifle teams. At 26 cents per bullet I believe there are better options for most people though (unless Sierra is sponsoring you).
Sierra 77gr Tipped Match King. An impressive 0.420 G1 BC. can be loaded to mag length for an across the course load, or loaded long and hot for 600. 29 cents per bullet on sale in bulk. Longer than the regular match king, may require a denser powder to get best results.
Sierra 80gr Match King. 0.420 G1 BC same as the 77gr TMK, but can be found for 27 cents per bullet in bulk. Single load only.
Upper End price ranges (over 30 cents per bullet).
Berger 75gr VLD. The US Army Marksmanship Unit uses this as their go to bullet for 600 yards, loaded long over H4895 to about 2,900 fps. In bulk 35 cents per bullet. 0.423 G1 BC.
Berger 80.5 gr Fullbore. 0.436 G1 BC You can still find boxes of this that have a 1:8 recommended twist or tighter on the label, but Berger recently revised that to 1:7. For several years this was the go to bullet for folks who were trying to make a 223 keep up with the 308s in F/TR class. 34 cents a bullet.
Learn from my mistakes, and successes…
When I was starting out I bought a 5,000 bullet pack of Prvi Partisan bullets for 200/300 yard shooting, and a 600 bullet pack of 80gr Amax bullets. At the time I was shooting a Colt HBAR 1:7 upper. I’m still using the Prvi Partizan, with the measly 0.350 G1 BC, but have transitioned to a 1:8 upper so the 80gr Amax bullets don’t group worth a darn at 600 as they don’t achieve stability, which caused me to switch to the 75gr Hornady ELD-Ms (the Amax line has been replaced by the ELD-M line).
That old load of 24.4gr PowerPro 2000-MR, LC Brass, Wolf primer, and 75gr Prvi or 80gr Amax got me into the NRA sharpshooter ranks, with one match shot at the bare minimum Expert score. The change to allow optics, and a swap from PowerPro 2000-MR to Varget and the 75gr ELD-M and my scores are firmly into the Expert range. I think the bulk of the change comes from being able to use a Vortex Crossfire II 1-4×24 scope though, as my scores with the Prvi load using each powder are still in the same “maximum” for 200/300 rapids. For the record, I just can’t seem to break past the 97 per string best scores, but that’s me, not the load, and my overall scores have been rising steadily so I have confidence I will set a new personal best string eventually.
I did all my load workup at 100 yards, imitating Dan Newberry’s “Optimal Charge Weight” method since I was doing bulk reloading on a progressive press (a Lee 1000, which if you set it up for only one load, and never change anything, can actually load a lot of ammo fast).
Reviewing my scores from when I really started out, I’m really glad that I’ve stuck with the sport (despite a few year hiatus due to my job taking me where I couldn’t compete in High Power, but I got two years of 10m Air Rifle in).
Next up..how to build a High Power service rifle on the cheap.