The Anatomy of the Perfect Long-Range Cartridge

posted on August 8, 2021

Ten years ago, it was a feat to find an average-priced rifle that was capable of sub-MOA accuracy. Today, that simply is not the case. Making a rifle that can produce three- and even five-shot groups that measure less than an inch at 100 yards is more or less the standard these days, granted you have the right ammunition.

Now, if you want to see results like this scaled out to long-range, that is going to require a very special type of ammo that is not only consistent but capable of retaining that consistency out to distances of 1,000 yards and beyond. These rounds differ from hunting ammunition and are miles apart from standard target-grade ammunition.

To get the entire scoop, I attended Outdoor Solutuions Long Range course with a handful of industry professionals to run one of Federal’s best long-range match offerings out to 1,000 yards. Among my teammates were J.J Reich and Jacob Burns of Federal’s marketing and engineering department, respectively, so I took advantage of the situation and pried as much knowledge as possible from them during the course.

For the event, we were using one of Federal’s Gold Medal 6.5 Creedmoor offerings, the 130-grain Berger AR OTM. Naturally, a long-range precision round centers around the projectile itself so this should be the first place you look during your selection process. Bullets of this class feature a contoured rear-end known as a boat tail and are designed to resist friction at extended distances.

Bullet Design

Although the design of the tail-end is important, a far greater amount of detail is placed on the front of the bullet, as this area is essentially what makes them what they are. Manufacturers are typically presented with the choice to go with a secant ogive which yields a better ballistic coefficient but is more sensitive to seating depth or a tangent ogive which provides the polar opposite.

Berger has gotten very good at bullet design; so good in fact that they have created a “hybrid ogive” that blends the best of both worlds. Besides being less sensitive to seating depth, this bullet can also be loaded to AR-magazine length so it’s a perfect choice if you want to create a round that is going to deliver MOA accuracy across a variety of firearms and barrel lengths.

Powder Selection

Good bullets are important, but if they aren’t launched properly then all of that fine engineering is in vain. Powders need to be carefully selected and charge weights need to be determined in small increments. This arduous task greatly extends the load development process.

During testing, men like Jake and his team are looking for the magic combination that provides the lowest velocity standard deviation and extreme spread while keeping an eye on pressure spikes. Once powder research is completed the final round is then loaded on a line that has the tightest charge weight range for maximum consistency.

Brass Matters

It’s tough to keep bullets and powder together without a quality case. So the next point to be made is concerning Federal’s brass. Every component of a long-range precision cartridge must be made of the highest quality materials and to the same tolerances as its other components, otherwise, it will fail at its weakest link.

All of Federal’s brass is checked after each of the 20-plus-step production processes, regardless if it is going to be used to build plinking rounds or the rounds like the ones I shot during the event. The only difference is the brass that is loaded for Gold Medal Match ammo is picked from a lot that has a much higher discrimination rate. In other words, only the best of the best can become the basis for ammunition that can produce a 10-inch group at 1,000 yards.

Primed for Success

The end of this piece will cover where accuracy begins: ignition. Recently, Federal switched its entire Gold Medal Match line to small primers and primer pockets. Research has shown Federal that, because its primers burned at such a hot temperature, less of the compound was needed to get the party started.

This means a reduction in yet another variable and a potential weak point in the overall cartridge. Just as in the large-primer version, match-grade small primers are used. These primers are held to the tightest tolerances of all the federal primers through a process that is similar to its brass selection for its long-range precision ammo.

It was an absolute pleasure and an honor to learn this information as we sent case after case downrange at produced MOA and even sub-MOA accuracy through what was essentially a dressed up hunting rifle. With a background in handloading, I already understood what it took to make an accurate round on a small scale, but I was surprised to find out that many of the same processes that I apply to just 100 rounds are applied by Federal to the masses.

It sort of puts another check alongside the adage “there’s no such thing as a free lunch." For those just getting into the sport of precision shooting I say “Welcome!” and hopefully I’ve helped to illuminate why buying premium ammunition makes all the difference in long-range engagements.


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