The interest in long-range precision shooting continues to rise; it seems like everyone wants to ring steel targets that are 10 football fields away. It is indeed a gratifying experience to know you can direct a bullet to a beachball or even a smaller target at such an incredible distance. It’s also much easier to do than it has been in the past. This is partly because of modern rifles and optical sights, but also partly because of the availability of laser range finders and very accurate, easy to operate, ballistic programs that work on smart phones.
But there’s another thing that’s making hitting at extreme distances easier and that’s several modern rifle cartridges that have been introduced since the turn of the century. That’s not to say you can’t be a long-range sniper with a .308 Winchester or a .300 Winchester Magnum, but this new crop of cartridges has been purpose built to—more efficiently—stretch the effective range of the rifleman. All of these cartridges have 30-degree shoulders and look very similar, with case diameters averaging 1.8 times the bullet diameter. Here are the seven best new precision long range cartridges.
This cartridge is based on the 6.8 SPC case. Federal smartly shortened the 6.8 SPC case and gave it a 30-degree shoulder. As with most of the modern cartridges designed for distance, the cartridge case is short enough to allow for long, high BC bullets to still work with common magazine lengths. In the case of the Valkyrie, the magazine length it was built to was that of the AR-15. This makes the Valkyrie an excellent choice for distance shooting with an MSR. With regard to time-of-flight and trajectory, out to 1,000 yards it’s right on the heels of the 6 mm ARC. However, out of identical rifles the Valkyrie generates about 20 percent less recoil.
Muzzle Velocity: 2,700 fps
Drop at 1,000 Yards*: 33.36 MOA
1,000 Yard Flight Time*: 1.574 seconds
Hornady has led the new millennium charge with regard to cartridges for long range shooting. Their latest entry into this space was specifically engineered for the AR-15. Yeah, it’ll work in a bolt gun, but in the AR-15 it is the undisputed best cartridge for stretching distance. Essentially a legitimization of a great bench rest competition cartridge called the 6 mm PPC, the new Hornady 6 mm ARC will get to 1,000 yards faster and hit harder than any other cartridge that can be chambered in the platform. If there’s a downside to the 6 mm ARC it’s that right now there are only three factory loads offered for it. Expect that to change as ammunition manufacturers start to get a handle on the current ammunition shortage and catch up with the times.
Muzzle Velocity: 2,750 fps
Drop at 1,000 Yards*: 33.28 MOA
1,000 Yard Flight Time*: 1.570 seconds
6 mm Creedmoor
You could say that the 6 mm Creedmoor story started in 1955 with the introduction of the .244 Remington, which was a .257 Roberts cartridge necked down to 6 mm. Its original SAAMI specification called for a 1:12-inch twist, which inhibited the use of high BC bullets. That’s why the .243 Winchester became the most popular 6 mm rifle cartridge—it utilizes a 1:10-inch twist. The 6 mm Creedmoor will not quite equal .243 Winchester muzzle velocities, but because of its specified 1:7.5-inch twist rate, it will handle more aerodynamic bullets, which makes it perform better at distance. The 6 mm Creedmoor is simply another telling of the 6.5 Creedmoor story, but with different cartridges. It will also get a bullet to 1,000 yards faster than the 6.5 Creedmoor.
Muzzle Velocity: 2,960 fps
Drop at 1,000 Yards*: 27.64 MOA
1,000 Yard Flight Time*: 1.450 seconds
Designed in 2003 by Alexander Arms and based on the .220 Russian/7.62x39 mm Soviet cartridges, the Grendel remained mostly a cult cartridge until it was formally recognized by SAAMI eight years later. Since then, it has become a popular option for those who hunt big game or enjoy shooting at distance with AR-15s. Clearly, the rise in popularity of 6.5 mm cartridges, which was inspired by the 6.5 Creedmoor, has driven MSR shooters wanting to experience ballistic nirvana to the Grendel. It won’t keep up with the 6 mm ARC, but it’s still a great long-range performer in an AR-15, and there is a good selection of Grendel loads to choose from.
Muzzle Velocity: 2,580 fps
Drop at 1,000 Yards*: 44.64 MOA
1,000 Yard Flight Time*: 1.878 seconds
It could be argued the 6.5 Creedmoor started the current long-range shooting craze. But that’s not the case. That honor probably goes to the movie American Sniper, which not only glamorized precision shooting, but gave Americans a hero at a time when we really needed one. The 6.5 Creedmoor, which was introduced seven years before the movie, was just receiving so-so interest. After the film it skyrocketed to stardom. This was partly because it could deliver bullets to great distances with very flat trajectories, but also partly because it could do so with less recoil than other popular long-range cartridges. The .260 Remington and 6.5x55 have higher muzzle velocities, but the mandated faster twist rate of the Creed is what allows it to handle higher BC bullets and outperform both at distance.
Muzzle Velocity: 2,695 fps
Drop at 1,000 Yards*: 30.21 MOA
1,000 Yard Flight Time*: 1.491 seconds
The 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) is another Hornady introduction and could be called the 6.5 Creedmoor Magnum. Using the same bullets, it will generate about 250 fps more velocity, but recoil still remains reasonably tolerable. Ballistically, it is very close to the much older 264 Winchester Magnum, which is another great long-range cartridge. However, the more compact 6.5 PRC case is—at least theoretically—more conducive to better accuracy. Though it’s unlikely the 6.5 PRC will ever be as popular as the 6.5 Creedmoor, it has been well received and several new 6.5 PRC loads were introduced for 2021. For target shooting, the lighter recoiling Creedmoor is probably a better choice, but for hunting and tactical application at distance, the PRC hits harder.
Muzzle Velocity: 2,910 fps
Drop at 1,000 Yards*: 24.92 MOA
1,000 Yard Flight Time*: 1.353 seconds
This cartridge is a beast, and while it’s a great long-range performer, it is on the large side for commonly sized bolt-action rifles. Its overall length is 3.7 inches, which is almost a half-inch longer than the .300 Winchester Magnum. Based on the .375 Ruger cartridge case, the 300 PRC uses the 0.532-inch bolt face and has a 30-degree shoulder, and like with all of the modern long-range cartridges, one key to the performance of the 300 PRC is the mandated fast twist rate. This allows 300 PRC rifles to handle ultra-long .30-caliber bullets with high ballistic coefficients. They get down range faster and this diminishes the time that gravity and wind have to act upon them. If you want to shoot flat and hit hard, this is the cartridge; at 1,000 yards it hits with more than 1,500 foot-pounds of energy.
Muzzle Velocity: 2,810 fps
Drop at 1,000 Yards*: 25.29 MOA
1,000 Yard Flight Time*: 1.346 seconds
* Trajectory and time-of-flight calculations are representative of the best performing long-distance factory loads for each cartridge. Actual muzzle velocities, trajectories, and times of flight, will vary from rifle to rifle.