Countless books, movies and documentaries detail the exploits of the rare and skilled breed of guardian angel on “overwatch” when freedom’s defenders go in harm’s way. Their ability to hit their target from staggering distances is legend. However, the situation often demands those elite few to shoulder a .50 BMG, .338 Lapua Mag., .300 Win. Mag. or occasional .308 Win.—chamberings not every shooter considers recreational in recoil.
A new generation of high-performance, flat-shooting cartridges has taken the field, though. Improved powders, better ballistic coefficients and cutting-edge design are providing the kind of downrange predictability that’s bumped up their playing time. A number of long-range instructors confirm that fact.
“I’ve seen more shooters using 6.5 Creedmoor,” said Buck Doyle, founder and owner of Follow Through Consulting. He served in the Marine Corps for 21 years—as a sniper, team leader, ops chief, part of MARSOC and saw multiple deployments— and draws from that expertise in teaching precision shooting. He adheres to a different terminology, however, because most factory loads in that cartridge are still traveling faster than sound at 1,000 yards.
“People see my Scoped Carbine courses, which focus on the tenets of gunfighting and maximizing the capability of their rifle, and think I’m teaching long-range, precision shooting. We may be shooting out to 1,000-plus meters, but we’re staying in the supersonic realm.”
Nomenclature aside, he’s not the only one witnessing changes at the firing line. William Bartholomew is the lead instructor/coordinator for Bergara Academy. The former Marine Corps long-rifle instructor, sniper team leader and sniper for the Baltimore County Police Department, said, “[The] 6.5 Creedmoor seems to be the caliber of choice today with long-range shooters because of its impressive ballistic trajectory and ballistic coefficient.”
Walt Wilkinson, precision instructor at Gunsite Academy, has a slightly different take. “The primary long-range cartridge for distances out to 1,200 yards varies. In competition, it would be the 6.5 Creedmoor and 6.5x284 [Norma]. Outside competition it tends to be the .300 Norma and .338 Lapua [Mag.].”
The former Army Special Forces Sergeant Major and four-time 1,000-Yard World Champion noted a long-term trend, though, one particularly on display in the past few years. “As with all aspects of the rifle-shooting world, as new calibers come out, people drift to them,” Wilkinson said.
The 6.5 Creedmoor was originally introduced by Hornady back in 2007, and apparently it’s never been more popular. The company’s never been much about resting on its laurels, though, so it wasn’t a shock when it introduced the Hornady 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) last year.
“You get a 200-plus fps improvement over the 6.5 Creedmoor,” said Neal Emery, company communications manager. Based on the .300 RCM cartridge, its bullet remains supersonic past 1,300 yards. Despite its soft-shooting demeanor, impact at 1,000 yards takes only 1.4 seconds—easing those tough wind calls.
A few weeks later, a new player entered the game. “The 224 Valkyrie is based on a .30 Rem./6.8 SPC case necked down to .224 caliber,” explained Mike Holm, Federal Premium Centerfire Ammunition global product lane director. “It beats the ballistics of all other MSR 15 cartridges, including the 22 Nosler, .223 Rem. and 6.5 Grendel. Plus, it offers comparable performance to larger rounds like the 6.5 Creedmoor, with roughly half the felt recoil.” The round also remains supersonic out to 1,300 yards.
Cartridge potential is one aspect, but the rifle must deliver. Every major company has introduced firearms to wring the most out of a chambering, including Weatherby’s AccuMark, Mossberg with its MVP-LR (Long Range), Savage’s Long Range, Ruger’s Precision Rifle and others.
Advanced instruction available today has never been better. Gunsite Academy is the granddaddy of them all, but companies like Follow Through Consulting and newcomer Bergara Academy—more like higher education with bed and breakfast—offer different training-camp flavors. Each teach the basics needed to connect at distance. Whether you make the team is up to you.