Understanding Long Range Bullets Part 2

What about bullets that are not the heaviest for the caliber? Sierra just came out with a 6.5 mm 123 gr Matchking (Ref 3). Can this bullet be better for long range shooting? How about midrange? Speaking only in terms of wind deflection, the short answer is no.

A lighter bullet goes faster for the same powder charge, but it also slows down faster. I’ll spare you the math on this one, the bottom line is that the elevated muzzle velocity you get from a lighter bullet going faster will not beat the heavier bullet going slower at any range. I’d better explain. When I say faster, I mean using the same powder charge as for the heavier bullet. Of course if you dump enough powder in behind the lighter bullet, you might eventually beat the heavier bullet, but that’s not a fair comparison.

When talking about midrange shooting, I say there’s no advantage for the lighter bullets in terms of wind deflection, which is true. However, the disadvantage is less profound at mid-range (300-600 yards) than at long range. You may only be talking an inch or two difference in a 10 mph crosswind at 600 yards.

Of course, there are other practical considerations when choosing a bullet weight like: overall length required to feed, and recoil. What if you sprung for that 30-338 prone rifle and planned to shoot the 220’s and it beat you up too much. You might drop down to a 175 or a 190 grain option.

Lighter bullets also have merit with hunters, or anyone shooting at uncertain ranges. Unlike known distance target shooting, having a lighter bullet with a flatter trajectory can mean the difference between a hit or a miss when you get one shot at a target of unknown range.

Bottom line here is, there are reasons to go with lighter bullets but it’s not because they are better ballistic performers, at least not for known distance target shooters.

Some Examples
Let’s look at a couple case studies to try and illustrate some of the points we’ve been talking about. I’ll warn you, this section is largely my opinions. You may weigh the pros and cons differently, and that’s ok.

Take Scott for example. Scott is a 20 year old college student who loves 1000 yard benchrest shooting, but has very little money to invest in his shooting equipment. I would probably recommend the .30 caliber with the 220 gr bullets for someone like Scott for the following reasons:

1. It’s easy to find a relatively inexpensive factory rifle chambered for something large enough to push the 220’s at .benchmark. speeds. Also, reloading equipment and components may be cheaper and easier to come by for a standard chambering.

2. As a benchrest shooter, Scott can add weight to the rifle to make the recoil more manageable.

3. The bigger bullet going slower will not wear the barrel as fast, which is important to Scott, who can’t afford to re-barrel.

4. Scott will get more chicks with a bigger gun. (size matters)

Now let’s take a guy named James. James has a developing interest in prone shooting. He’s got a decent amount of money to invest in his shooting. For James, I might recommend either the 6.5 or 7mm caliber for the following reasons.

1. For long range prone shooting, the shooter has to support the rifle, so the weight is limited by what the shooter is comfortable holding. Unless James has a high tolerance for recoil, I advise against the 30 caliber for prone shooting. Recoil for the 6.5mm is ‘pleasant’, and the 7mm is in between 6.5mm and .30 cal.

2. For mostly long range work, the 6.5 and 7mm options have the potential of giving James a slight ballistic edge over those shooting smaller calibers.

3. Having enough money to work with makes the 6.5 a more viable option. Depending on how active James is in shooting, he could use up barrels in less than a season (cha-ching.$500).

Now let’s consider a mid-range and long range F-class shooter named Roger. Roger is a very observant shooter who is better than most at reading wind. Roger also has discovered that in the absence of abusive recoil, he is able to concentrate better and break his shots exactly where he wants them. For Roger, the choice is clear: .224 or 6mm. Furthermore, I would advise a smaller capacity case that gives up a little ballistic performance and doesn’t blow primers and kill barrels.

1. Roger can make up for the slight ballistic deficit with his superior wind reading skills.

2. At midrange, what you give up in ballistics is very small.

3. Most importantly, if you discover that you can concentrate and execute better shots with mild recoil, that is more important that a couple inches of wind drift.

So we’ve looked at 3 individual shooters, with 3 individual sets of circumstances, and arrived at 3 different combinations of caliber/bullet that are, in my opinion, best suited for what we know about each shooter.

Notice what works best for Roger had nothing to do with what worked for James, Scott, or any other shooter in the world. Too often folks invest in expensive equipment for no other reason than because it’s what the winners are using. The winners are winning because they.re using the equipment that works best for them. You should give yourself that same chance.

One area this isn’t necessarily true is with equipment quality. If all the winners are shooting custom barrels, but you just really like your 'ol factory deal, that’s a different story. Of course, when it comes to judging the quality of equipment, studying the choices of those at the top of their game isn’t a bad idea. Just make sure you know the difference between good universal choices and good personal choices.

I’ve tried to highlight practical considerations throughout the article, and not to make it sound like external ballistics should completely govern your decision of caliber/bullet. Also, I’ve tried not to be biased in any direction because there is no combination that’s hands down best for everyone! Every caliber/bullet combination has it’s pro’s and con’s. It’s possible to match the benchmark with any caliber from .224 thru .308. Your choice should be a personal one, according to your specific circumstances.

Shooters all have individual preferences, priorities, and budgets that should be considered on a case-by-case basis when deciding on a caliber/bullet to shoot at long range. Going with what works best for others may not be what works best for you. I hope I’ve presented some material here that will help shooters, new and seasoned, make better informed decisions about their equipment. Concerning my writing, my highest goal is to help shooters enjoy shooting as much as possible thru greater understanding.

1. Modern Practical Ballistics By: Arthur J. Pejsa
2. Modern Exterior Ballistics By: Robert McCoy
3. .Even More Great Shooting Products. By Robert Whitley
Precision Shooting, Feb, 2007
4. Sierra Reloading Manual, 50th Anniversary Edition
5. 6mmbr.com

Bryan Litz majored in Aerospace Engineering at Penn State University and worked on air-to-air missile design for 6 years in the US Air Force before taking a job as Berger Bullets Chief Ballistician in November 2008. Bryan has been an avid long range shooter since the age of 15. In particular, Bryan enjoys NRA Long Range Prone Fullbore/Palma competition and is the current National Palma Champion. Bryan is also a husband and proud father of 3.