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I have been searching for a cheaper alternative to the federal gold medal match ammo for .308, and in the process wanted to find out how the different match ammo brands compared while using my baseline rifle, my Bravo-51 made by Tactical Operations. For the first part of the evaluation, I had some military surplus M118 173gr, Some Hunting Shack Inc. 175gr Match, and some federal gold medal match 168gr ammo. I prefer the 175gr and that is what I am primarily looking for, and had some Federal 168gr to use as the baseline. The initial part of this evaluation was to be conducted in field conditions, shooting off of my ruck sack lower support frame (which I've padded with poly-foam (sleeping pad), standard practice for many....). The range was setup on private property which I had permission to shoot on, and a target was setup at 100 yards. The ground was uneven, and there was tall grass to contend with, so shooting conditions were not ideal, but more like field conditions.
First out was my M118. The first group was .62 MOA, which is rather good for M118 ammo. The second was .37 which is exceptional. The rifle was shooting well, and it just might be starting to get broke in. But hey, the M118 proved its natural self and opened back up to normal groups. Keep in mind, conditions were not optimal, and my shooting has deteriorated a bit while I was building the house (not enough practice). So, for the day, the M118 Averaged .72 MOA, with a minimum of .37 and a maximum of .95 MOA.
Hunting Shack Montana is a local manufacturer that loads a lot of different ammo, and provides ammo to law enforcement. They have a web page at www.thehuntingshack.com . The ammo is a good price, and quality is pretty good. I purchased some 175gr .308 match and was hoping I would be able to use this as my standard load, as its much more affordable then Federal. I only had mediocre results. As hard as I tried, I could not get the ammo to shoot sub .5 MOA. My best for the day being .55 MOA, the worst being around .8 MOA, and the average was .67. But, this does offer me an alternative to M118, as 118 is hard to find surplus, and the average accuracy is better then M118. When I do the next phase of my evaluation, I'll be able to determine if the ballistics will match up close enough for BDC use. But still, I was somewhat disappointed in the results.
Well, it was time to see if it was the ammo, or the shooter causing my disappointment with the HSM ammo. I had some Federal 168gr Match ammo and it was time to establish the baseline for todays test to which I could judge the other ammo. Well, The first group was .33 MOA, the second was .24 MOA. That is where I stayed for the rest of the shooting. Never shooting a group larger then .4 MOA. The average group for the federal ammo was .33 MOA, and considering my shooting platform, and trying to dodge high grass with my rounds, that was pretty amazing. Well, without a doubt, the federal ammo again proved why its the standard by which others are judged.
Out of curiosity, I fired one 3 round group using one round from each ammo type. The group was .87 MOA. Not that it shows anything, was just curious to see what would happen. Another interesting note is that the point of impact was very similar with all brands, but that is to be expected at the short range of 100 yards.
Next up is a more technical evaluation, and the inclusion of Black Hills 175gr Match ammo. I ordered up some test ammo as I've heard good things about Black Hills and am anxious to try it. Its a few bucks cheaper a box then federal also. I have a friend lined up to go shooting with me who has a ransom type rest for rifles, and a chronograph. This next test will be the detailed ultimate accuracy evaluation of the ammo, including muzzle velocities. It should be fun, and should conclude within the month.
UPDATE!! I made another trip to the range for ammo comparison. This time I had the Black Hills 175gr and a chronograph for some additional information. The results were interesting. The Blackhills ammo is very good, with accuracy being about as good as Federal Gold Medal Match. The groups were right in there, hovering around the .25 MOA Mark. I will admit that I was trying some new shooting equipment, so my groups on the whole where not as good as I would have liked across the board, even my Federal groups opened up a little.
The good news was that coming out of my 22" barrel on a 80 degree day, my velocities were looking very good. The Federal Gold medal match 168gr were shooting at 2620fps with a standard deviation of 14 for the day. The SD is very good for factory ammo. The Black Hills Match 175gr were shooting at 2624fps with a SD of 14, another impressive showing.
I had about the same results with the Hunting Shack 175gr match as before, with accuracy just not up to the same levels as Federal or Black Hills, though I did see a .28 MOA group, but the average group was probably .5-.6 MOA. The velocity of the HSM ammo was 2615 with a standard deviation of 28, which is about what I expected with the accuracy I was getting. While this ammo is still better then standard factory loads, its not up to the standards of the Federal Match. Though it compares very favorably to Lake City M118, and would serve as a good replacement for training.
The M118 performed just like it always had. Groups averaged about .5 MOA from my Bravo, which I am pretty happy with. The velocity of the 173gr bullet was right at 2633, which is higher then the 2550 its suppose to be at. (all the other loads were stated by their manufactures to be 2600fps). The standard deviation was 28, just like the HSM ammo. Like I said, these two loads compare very favorably.
UPDATE!! (07/25/06) Well, it has been a few years (actually, 4 years) since I last updated this page, and several new developments have occurred over that time. I have been to the range a number of times with some more Hunting Shack Montana ammo, and they have really improved the quality of their match ammo over the past few years. I have been getting excellent accuracy with their 168gr match ammo, closing the gap considerably with federal, and the price is still much less. I have been seeing accuracy in the .3 - .4 range out of my bravo which is very good news. I have also had exceptional accuracy with PMC 168gr match, with groups averaging just about the same as federal GMM, with accuracy in the .2-.3 MOA range. The price on the PMC is a bit more than HSM, but considerably less than GMM. The problem is that PMC has stopped production, and there is no word yet if they will start back up.
I have also been shooting a lot of American Ballistic Technologies (ABT) M118LR. The price is excellent on the ABT ammo and they focus mainly on 308 loadings, with a few .30-06 on occasion and some 300 WM. The 118LR does not use a sierra match king bullet, but rather one of their own design, with a traditional hollowtip, though slightly larger, and a different shape. They say the BC is right about the same as the 175gr Sierra match king. Accuracy with this ammo at 100y/m has been right about .6 MOA, not in the same league as the others, but the long range accuracy holds up well and this is a good alternative for long range practice. They are also working on a 190gr 308 load at 2600fps which would be fantastic for long range work.
I have also fired a lot of real M118LR recently and this ammo is very good. Accuracy as been about .3 MOA, exceptional for military produced ammo. The accuracy at longer ranges has been great also. I fired a .5" group at 300yards with it, and it seems to do just as well at longer ranges. I am extremely impressed with this ammo. Unfortunately it is not too easy to find. Occasionally Kieslers and some others will have some in stock, but its about the same price, or more, as federal GMM, and the federal is probably a better ammo all around. The CMP used to have some M118LR for excellent prices, but the supply dried up because of extended demand in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The next tests will be with Lapua match ammo, which I have heard nothing except praise for.
Conclusion: The federal gold medal match is still the standard by which all other match ammo is judged. How they can get so good accuracy and consistency from such mass produced ammo is a mystery to me. Black Hills match grade ammo is right up there with Federal, is just as consistent, and in my particular rifle, is just as accurate, though I cannot say its any MORE accurate then Federal. Its a good alternative, with the price per box "about" $2 cheaper then federal. The HSM ammo is the cheapest of them all by a large margin (about $5 cheaper than Blackhills, and about $7 cheaper than federal per box) and with recent changes, their accuracy is getting much better and is starting to approach the leaders. The old M118 just cannot compete with these guys, but the new M118LR can. The accuracy has been great, and it is military ammo! The ABT ammo is not as accurate, but better than the old M118 and is very affordable. The PMC could be the sleep of the bunch, but is only available in 168gr, and even that appears to be going away. I am really looking forward to the Lapua ammo, BUT, it is more expensive than even federal. One thing that really needs to be mentioned is that there are several places that have purchased the federal 168gr match ammo in very large quantities, and if you buy a case of it, the price per box gets almost as cheap as HSM!! About $13.00 a box. For that price, it is the ammo to buy if you can live with the long range performance hit you'll take vs. the 175gr.
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