Table of Contents
Introduction and Test Procedures
We have done a number of match ammo comparison tests involving 308 and 260 match ammo and we have a few more of these tests scheduled in the future for additional 308 ammo as well as 300 Win Mag and 338 Lapua. So why is it that we are testing the cheap M80 ball ammunition? We came into this comparison test with a question we wanted to answer, which was whether match ammo was completely necessary for sniping or not? Sure, we know it is certainly DESIRABLE to have and use the best match ammo, but in a pinch, was it completely necessary to use it in order to be effective? This question originated from our experience using machine gun ammo in our M24’s back in the 1990s. The reason we were shooting the standard M80 ball ammunition in our sniper rifles was to log some data in our log books for future reference in the case where we were in an area where we no longer had access to M118 ammunition but had access to belted machine gun ammo for the M60’s in our unit. It was interesting to note that at the shorter ranges the trajectory was much flatter than the heavier and slower M118 special ball ammo, and the accuracy was “acceptable” on man size targets out to 500+ meters. We discovered it was not ideal, but it certainly could work in a pinch to keep us in the fight.
Fast forward 20 years. Now we find ourselves asking the question again but for different reasons. It was only a few years ago that the United States suffered a major panic run on ammunition and nothing much was available. To meet demand, the ammo makers devoted their resources to the high demand loads such as 223, 9mm, and others. This meant the extremely low volume match grade ammunition became scarce and unavailable, and this even was true for law enforcement agencies as well. There were even some shortages of M118LR for a period of time in the military when the wars in the middle east were going full steam ahead in the early 2000s. So there were definite situations and scenarios where we could be faced with using ammo other than commercial match grade ammo.
But there was another reason we were interested in seeing what M80 ball ammo could do in precision sniper rifles. Match grade ammo usually runs between $25 and $40 a box of twenty rounds in the USA, and the number one expense when training is going to be your ammunition. Commercial M80 equivalent ammunition runs as low as $15 per box of twenty, and sometimes even less. This can make the cost of shooting about half of what it normally is with match grade ammo…but it is only useful if the ammo is effective at long range.
Finally, the last reason we were interested in this experiment was based on a rifle configuration idea we have had here for a few years now. The concept was a cheap, no frills sniper rifle for when the “stuff hits the fan”, such as an Armageddon scenario. This could include things like if the world got crazy and someone actually pushed the button, or a country got desperate enough for valuable resources and mass conventional world war ensued on our own land, or a dirty bomb was set off in your home town and chaos erupted. This rifle concept would need to be simple, durable, and effective with ammo that was easy to find (hence the M80 requirement) and have an effective range reaching up to about 800 yards, or more, for standoff and sniping capability. We put together what we thought might be an effective system for this scenario and it is one of the test rifles we used here. A detailed writeup about the rifle and the design concept will be coming in the next few months which will have more detail, but we had to find the ammo we wanted to use with it first and this test would go a long way to help out there.
We continue to mention the M80 ammunition, but what exactly is M80 you may ask? M80 is the military designation for the 7.62x51mm NATO Ball ammunition. Ball ammo is used for machine guns and battle rifles such as the old M14. In today’s military it is pretty much just used for the M60s and M240’s that are in service. Most associate a 147gr Full Metal Jacket – Boat Tail (FMJBT) bullet design with the M80 load, but it typically can consist of 145 – 150gr bullets of the FMJBT design. The official USA military technical manual (TM43) that includes all the data sheets for small arms ammunition in the USA actually designates a 146gr bullet, but we have seen 146, 147 149 and 150 grain projectiles used by different manufacturers. The specifications also designate a velocity of 2750fps at 78 feet from the muzzle. There is also a requirement that the average velocity not be more than +/-30 fps than the 2750 and that the standard deviation shall not exceed 32 fps. For accuracy, there is a requirement of a 10″ group at 600 yards, which equates to 1.59 MOA. The accuracy and velocity requirement are not that tight, so one can guess that the accuracy of the loads themselves would not be sniper grade. But would it be acceptable through a sniper rifle to meet our needs?
For our test, we elected to gather commercial M80 equivalent ammunition and perform a comparison to see which performed that best. We expected to beat the 1.59 MOA requirement, with a hope of getting a few of the loads to average about 1 MOA. The 1 MOA requirement has long been considered the minimum for acceptable sniper use. Of course we will also measure the standard deviation, average velocity, and extreme spread of the loads in an effort to try and determine additional information about the loads. We figured if we could find a 1 MOA M80 load, then we would be well on our way to achieving our goals.
The test procedure would be as follows:
- 1 Box of 20 rounds of ammunition will be purchased over the counter/web/mail order to insure randomness. No factory provided ammo for testing
- 3 groups of 3 rounds will be fired from each of the two rifles at 100 yards
- Called flyers will be noted in the results but no individual groups will be re-fired
- Each rifle will have a bore snake pulled through the bore ONCE before the start of the test.
- Each rifle will have a single dry patch ran through the bore after the bore snake.
- Each rifle will fire 1 fouler shot after the bore snake cleaning and before firing the groups for record
- Groups are fired with a Caldwell sand bag up front and a sand sock under the rear of the rifle
- Groups are fired slow fire at what ever pace the shooter desires.
- Groups are fired with a scope set on 16x (read about the rifles to see what makes & models of scopes were used for the test)
- All rounds are fired through a chronograph set 10 feet from the muzzle to measure average velocity, standard deviation, and extreme spread.
- Outside temperature is recorded for each series of tests as well as wind conditions
- Retesting is allowed but the entire test must be fired as a whole for that specific ammo
We do plan to continue to add results to this test as we discover and try new commercial, or surplus, versions of M80 ammunition.
The Test Rifles
For our ammunition comparison tests we use two different rifles of different quality to try and get a good understand and comparison of performance with the ammo. We like to use different length barrels and twist rates if possible and usually want one of the rifles with, and one without, a muzzlebrake. The two rifles used for the test are a part of our permanent collection so that we can conduct tests in the future with new makes of ammo with the same rifles.
The first rifle for our test was the one we designed specifically for the M80 ammunition to test out this ammo and rifle theory. The rifle essentially is one of our Remington 700 package rifles configured with a Remington factory heavy barrel cut down to 24″ in length as a compromise between shortening the rifle and getting a little extra velocity. The stock is a McMillan Winchester Marksman stock with coffee camouflage pattern. The stock has the full McMillan custom inletting with aluminum pillars installed, but the action is not glass bedded. We used a Leupold Mk4 Base with matching Mk4 Rings and then mounted a Leupold Mk AR 6-18x40mm scope with mildot reticle. Before the test we wanted to measure the accuracy of the rifle to be sure it was acceptable for the test. Using Federal Gold Medal Match 168gr the rifle averaged about .6 MOA with some sub .5 MOA groups. With HSM 155gr AMAX, it averaged about .75 MOA. So with good match grade ammo, its about a .5 MOA rifle. There will be a full writeup and review of this rifle in the next few months.
For the second rifle we wanted to use a very high end custom built rifle to provide a rifle from the upper side of the segment and a rifle with a muzzlebrake as well. We elected to go with a new rifle we added to the stable, the Tactical Operations Tango-51. This rifle has a 20″ barrel and is setup as a Law Enforcement rifle with all the custom building and tuning that Tac Ops does with their rifles. As evidenced in our review, this rifle is capable of sub .25 MOA accuracy and is a no compromise style of rifle. It is topped with a Schmidt & Bender PMII 5-25x56mm Scope, it too being a top of the line scope to match the rifle. The scope was set to 16x for all of the shooting in this test.
We figured that these two rifles would give an excellent sampling of what could be expected from a wide spectrum of bolt action rifles. A lower priced package rifle and a very top of the line custom built rifle.
This initial test included seven manufacturers of commercial M80 ball ammunition. These included PMC (147gr), Remington/UMC (150gr), Federal XM80C (149gr), American Eagle/Federal (150gr), Sellier & Bellot (147gr), Fiocchi (150gr), and Winchester (147gr). The summary of the results are included in the tables below, but be sure to visit each manufacturers result page to find out more specific details on how the ammo performed as well as photos of the ammo, photos of the best group, price, and other results from the test.
|Sniper Central Remington 700 Rifle Package (SC1)|
|Ammo||Avg Velocity||Std Dev||Extr Sprd||Avg Group||Best Group|
|American Eagle/Federal 150gr||2753 fps||21.69 fps||71 fps||1.194″||.290″|
|Federal XM80C 149gr||2875 fps||13.01 fps||47 fps||1.223″||.684″|
|Fiocchi 150gr||2873 fps||22.07 fps||69 fps||1.432″||1.378″|
|Sellier & Bellot 147gr||2782 fps||8.65 fps||27 fps||1.917″||1.604″|
|PMC 147gr||2634 fps||19.01 fps||62 fps||2.077″||.576″|
|Remington/UMC 150gr||2812 fps||68.13 fps||80 fps||1.918″||1.429″|
|Winchester 147gr||2777 fps||59.41 fps||171 fps||1.340″||.953″|
|Average||2786.6 fps||30.28 fps||75.3 fps||1.586″||.988″|
|Tactical Operations Tango-51
|Ammo||Avg Velocity||Std Dev||Extr Sprd||Avg Group||Best Group|
|American Eagle/Federal 150gr||2713 fps||18.11 fps||49 fps||1.364″||1.019″|
|Federal XM80C 149gr||2832 fps||17.35 fps||52 fps||1.201″||.789″|
|Fiocchi 150gr||2838 fps||18.58 fps||60 fps||1.391″||1.099″|
|Sellier & Bellot 147gr||2738 fps||10.01 fps||27 fps||1.686″||1.492″|
|PMC 147gr||2608 fps||23.30 fps||77 fps||1.932″||1.560″|
|Remington/UMC 150gr||2801 fps||26.53 fps||73 fps||1.189″||1.108″|
|Winchester 147gr||2769 fps||34.23 fps||123 fps||2.013″||1.708″|
|Average||2757.0 fps||21.16 fps||65.9 fps||1.539″||1.254″|
After all of the shooting was completed and the results tabulated, there were a few things that became obvious. The most glaring point of note is just how poorly all of the ammo did in terms of accuracy out two rifles that are very accurate. The obvious conclusion that can be drawn from this is just how important good quality match ammunition is for long range precision shooting and sniping. Then again, it is just as important for close range law enforcement sniper work as well. We were hoping to find a clear favorite that out performed the rest, but the reality is that they were all very similar in terms of accuracy. Even when we had an excellent group out a rifle, it would immediately be followed up by a large group which would ruin the average group size for the ammo. Just to be sure it was not the rifles and/or shooters we performed some followup groups with match ammo with excellent results. The M80 ammo was just not up to the task.
We do need to put ourselves in check before we are too hard on the ammunition or its manufacturers. When the results are compared to the military quality assurance standards for M80, the results actually look much better. The required accuracy for approval is 1.59 MOA at 600 yards, and while we did not officially test the ammo at 600 yards, you can see that a majority of the loads, four of the seven, met the accuracy requirement and this was with a human fired rifle and not an accuracy test barrel. The other requirements for the M80 ammo are 2750 fps (+/- 30fps) and a standard deviation of 32 fps or less. We really cannot grade their velocity because some of the loads have a different published velocity than 2750 fps, but we can rate the +/- 30 fps. Using the SC1 rifle with its 24″ barrel as the official results since it had a standard length barrel, again only four of the seven were within 30 fps of their advertised velocity. There are other factors such as chamber specs and environmental variables that come into play with velocity, but some of them such as the PMC, were way off. The 32 SD was actually on that was surprassed by all but the Winchester ammunition and the Remington/UMC ammo in the SC1, though it was fine in the Tango. Several of the loads had some problems with high extreme spreads and over long distances this will be an issue with accuracy. But there were a few standouts, especially the S&B ammo as the velocities were like clock work and the federal XM80C did very well. The SD’s on the Sellier & Bellot were some of the lowest we have measured from any ammunition, including all of the high end match grade ammo. Unfortunately, it did not lead to better accuracy, which we then must attribute to bullet manufacture quality or how the bullet was aligned in the cases.
So can the ammunition work for our three separate missions? We would say yes to some and maybe to others. In a pinch, if your match grade ammunition is gone and you cannot get more and you need to stay in the fight, yes, it can work if the limitations are understood. Accuracy limitations will keep the effective range to about 500-700 yards on center mass body targets, but that can still be effective. What about an affordable alternative to match ammo? This is a maybe since you will need to weigh the value of training with ammunition that is not entirely suitable for the long range mission. It becomes difficult to work on long range marksmanship when you do not know if it was you or the ammo that flung that last shot three feet left… or was it a misread on the wind? The ballistics are significantly different than match ammo as well, so the training may be of limited value. If your mission is different or the training is not necessarily focused on precision long range fire, then it may work and save some money. Finally, can the ammo work for an Armageddon style emergency long range rifle? This one is probably a yes… but you’ll have to wait for the full article on the rifle and the concept coming in the next few months.
So which load is the best one to go with? Wow, with this batch, that is hard to say. Normally we tell you to try out several of the loads and see which one your rifle likes the best, but in reality, none of them really stood out accuracy wise versus the others in any of the two rifles. We were leaning heavily toward the Federal XM80C, until we had a misfire with a solid primer strike in the Tango. That turned us off real quick as we need certainty that the rifle is going go BANG when we pull the trigger. The S&B ammo was amazing with its consistent velocities, but the accuracy wasn’t great, but at least it had one constant and perhaps that is the way we would lean. (note: this is the load selected for the upcoming rifle review) The others could all work as well, but if you are electing to go this way and use M80 ammo, you’ll need to compare price, availability and how it does in your rifle to see if it might be suitable. It was an interesting test and we now have even more appreciation for excellent match grade ammunition that is available on the market today. But in a pinch… it wouldn’t hurt to have a back up.