Friday, January 14, 2011

The Thousand Yard Conspiracy - Part 4: It's a bird, it's a plane, it's SUPER Magnum

"I want to drive a Berger 210 at 3200 ft/sec --HTRN on "The Guncounter" forums"

For over two years now, I've been working on a long range shooting project, that I've called "The Thousand Yard Conspiracy". Unfortunately, the completion of this project has delayed long past our original date of April 2009... it being January 2011 as I write this. It's been over a year since I addressed the project on my blog at all, because life has... as it is wont to do... made it very clear, that it has other plans for us.

However, this year I am going to boomershoot no matter what, so I took this as an opportune time to restart the series
... and restart the project as a whole (though my main custom gun won't be ready in time for Boomershoot this year).

The point of "the thousand yard conspiracy" is to build a full custom, absolute class of the world, 1000 yard+ capable, field target, and long range tactical competition rifle, with glass, and all the ancillary gear for shooting accurately at that range.

As part of the project, I have written (and in some cases not yet publiched) posts about rifles, actions, stocks, hard parts, optics, shooting acessories, shooting benches, ballistics, chambering selection... any number of topics related to long range shooting. 

As I restart the series, I'm going to republish the first few articles that I already put up; then I'm going to move on, to finishing the remaining partially completed posts, and publishing those; until we have finally completed my custom rifle, acquired all the gear, and successfully shot at both boomershoot (now, most likely two different boomershoots), and at 1000 yards (since boomershoot only reaches out to 700.

In part one, and part two of this series, I planned out the basic design of the rifle, chose the action, and selected a chambering.

In part 3, we talked about how to build up a slightly less capable rifle, but one that would still reach out to 1000 yards; and do it for as little as 1/4 the cost of my high end custom.

We also talked quite a bit in all three parts, about selecting a chambering for long range shooting. Part two was entirely about choosing between the .300winmag, and the .300wsm; and in the first sidebar post, we talked about why one would choose .308 or .300wm over .30-06, a superficially similar cartridge.

I chose .300 Winchester magnum for my custom gun (for various reasons as I describe in those posts); but selected .308 Winchester for our economy gun in "going long for cheap"... basically entirely because it is cheaper than the winmag (and in fact had the winmag as the number two option).

Since then, a lot of folks have asked me why I didn't choose one of the even larger magnum chamberings out there, to get even better thousand yard performance... And from day one, people have asked me why I didn't choose the .300wsm (which can be slightly more accurate than the .300wm, while having nearly identical ballistics).

There are a lot of folks out there who love the big boomers. Heck, I'm even one of them; and if you are shooting beyond 1200 yards, there isn't much better... Frankly though, I just don't see the value there for 1000 yard and under shooting, in comparison to more traditional magnum choices.

"Super Magnums" ???

In the last few years, there has been a proliferation of new, or revived, magnum chamberings out there; some of which have been termed by shooters and/or their manufacturers/developers as "super magnums", or in the case of Remington, "Ultra Magnums".

Way to go on the hyperbole trumps there Remington.

These magnums have appeared at both ends of the caliber spectrum, with sub 6mm, and sub 7mm bullets being loaded into fat cases at very high pressures; and with 7mm and above bullets at very heavy weights, being loaded into LOOONG and fat cases.

A couple years back I was largely dismissive of the ultra/super/mega/whatever mags under 7mm... And I pretty much still am.

That said, the long and/or, fat cased 6.5s do have their uses... in long range benchrest competition for example.

Right now, the 6.5-284, and other similar 6mm and 6.5mm wildcats; shooting 140gr bullets with ballistic coefficients in the .630+ range (for G1. or .325+ for the more accurate G7 standard) at 2900+fps for standard chamberings, and as much as 3500fps for short "super" or "ultra" magnums and equivalent wildcats; are making world records at 600 and 1000 yards.

Unfortunately, no matter how ballistically efficient they are (and some of them are EXTREMELY efficient, with ballistic coefficients rivaling or exceeding their 7mm and above 210gr-300gr supermagnum brethren, at even higher velocities); the sub 7mm calibers generally just don't have the mass to retain useful amounts of energy, or to resist wind drift, too much beyond 1000 yards.

And while they're great on thin skinned small game and varmints (140gr bullets at 2900+fps will thoroughly redmist a 'yote or anything smaller at any range you can hit 'em); they just aren't great on large, or thick skinned game, because again, they don't have the mass.

Sometimes, in shooting as in hot rodding, there is no replacement for displacement.

So if you're an F class shooter, or you want a 600 yard 'yote laser... sure, go for it. Otherwise, I just don't think they're the right choice, for field and tactical style long range shooting.

Straddling the line between the super 6mm chamberings, and the traditional .300 and above magnums, is the .300wsm. As I said above, it has the potential for slightly more inherent accuracy and precision than the .300wm. This is because it has a low aspect ratio powder column, which burns more consistently; and because it can be fired from a short action rifle, which can be more rigid, and therefore also more consistent. It is also a non belted case, which makes it easier to reload.

I considered all that, and chose to go with the .300 winmag, because I wanted to use some very long, heavy, high bc bullets; and those bullets are a bit too long to reliably mag feed from a .300wsm in a short action, without seating deeper than I want to.

If I couldnt shoot the round using the bullets I wanted in a short action gun, that killed half the advantages for me right there; but left me with the disadvantage of it being much harder to find good factory ammo for if for some reason I can't handload (a foreign hunt, or lost baggage etc...).

I personally believe that any rifle I take out in the field should pass the wal-mart test. If, in an emergency, I can't find suitable ammunition for what I want to do with the gun, at a local superstore, or sporting goods store, in a gun friendly state; then I dont consider that rifle a field gun. 

As of today, .300wsm fails the Wal-Mart test. Although you will occasionally find .300wsm loads in non-specialty stores (here in north Idaho the chambering is very popular for elk, so our local wal-marts do carry some of the midweight hunting loads for it for example), you wont find 180, 190, or 210gr match grade loads for it; whereas you generally can with .300wm (in my region, Wal-mart, Bass-Pro, Cabelas, Sportsmans Warehouse, and Outdoor Outfitters all carry suitable long range loads for .300wm)

If you aren't going to shoot 190-210gr bullets however, the .300wsm does seem to have a small, but definite, advantage over the .300wm.

All that said, for the purposes of this discussion, you can generally take the .300wsm as the ballistic twin of the .300wm.

On the other extreme, the superultramegathumpenblitzenboomer magnums are intended to put a high mass bullet on target, at high velocity, with high retained energy, and excellent resistance to wind drift.

Basically, they're for shooting dangerous predators at 300 yards;  elk, bear, and ram, at more than 600 yards (and yes, there are people who take Antelope and the like at 1000 yards. I think they're nuts); or two legged varmints at 1000 yards and more... or for use in competitions that approximate those missions.

The tradeoff, is in cost, barrel life, muzzle blast, recoil, and scarcity of ammunition and components (and a fair bit of accuracy and precision at short range in comparison to the 6.5s, but that's a tradeoff for better accuracy and retained energy past 1000 yards).

However, as with their smaller brethren, I question the advantages MOST of these loadings offer over the more traditional choices of 7mm Remington magnum, and .300 Winchester magnum (or the .300wsm); which have been the standard choices of long range shooters, and large game hunters in North America for the last 40 years.

Not that the advantages don't exist of course; but that they aren't as large as many people seem to think they are... and that they really aren't worth the tradeoffs, for the 1000 yard and under tactical or field shooter.

Which brings me back to that quote from HTRN above:
"I want to drive a Berger 210 at 3200 ft/sec --HTRN"
Well, I want to do that to; I just don't think the advantage an extra 200-250fps gives you over a hot .300 winchester magnum, is worth the cost of doing so.

Let's look at some numbers, shall we?

Conveniently for the purposes of this thought experiment; there are five popular 1000 yard cartridges that can in general use the same basic bullets:
  1. the .308 Winchester (.308win)
  2. the .300 Winchester magnum (.300wm)
  3. the .300 Winchester short magnum (.300wsm, the ballistic twin of the .300wm)
  4. the .300 Remington Ultra Mag (.300 rum)
  5. the .300-338, which is also known as the .300 lapua magnum (.300 lapua)
Note: some might include a sixth, the .30-378, but it is substantially similar to the .300-338 as to be covered ballistically by the same entry.

All five use the same diameter of bullet; but with different cases, at different capacities and lengths; and of course at different pressures, with different powder burn profiles, creating different velocities and energy levels (Though, as the .300wsm is functionally ballistically identical to the .300wm, we'll take them as one entry to simplify the numbers a bit)

The 210gr Berger VLD (very low drag), is a popular bullet choice for all the magnum loadings we're going to evaluate; so it makes a useful comparison bullet.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that it's also one of the highest performing .308 caliber bullets (all the loadings above, regardless of name, use .308 caliber bullets) available.

I'm including the .308win here as a baseline, non-magnum chambering; and because the .308 is one of the most popular chambering choices in the world, for hunting, target shooting... really everything.

It is a 1000 yard cartridge... essentially because it IS so popular for everything; though most consider it marginal in the 800-1000 yard range, as it gives up a large performance differential to the higher pressure magnum loadings in the same caliber.

I should note, while a 210gr bullet is certainly shootable with a .308win, 210gr is generally considered the absolute maximum weight for a .308; and even then only in the Berger, which is slightly shorter than other 210gr bullets, but still has a higher BC (another reason to choose the Berger 210 as our comparison bullet).

Bullets that heavy are generally considered suboptimal for the size of powder charge the .308 can burn; and also are difficult to get to feed properly in a magazine fed .308 short action rifle. Most .308 loads top out at 180gr or below.

In general, the optimal weight range for the .308 is considered to be 155-180gr; so I'm going to include the optimal choice from that weight range here as well, along with the 210gr load.

We're also going to be doing some cost calculations (in fact I'm going to do them first), to show the real cost of shooting these various loads

Ok, so, down to calculations.

For purposes of this little thought experiment, I'm going to set the baseline barrel length as 28"; as for some of the loadings we will discuss, that is the minimum length for proper performance, and in no case will that length reduce performance.

The standard .308 length match barrel is 24", and most published data will be from that length. With proper powder selection, velocities from a 28" barrel will be approximately 100fps higher than from a 24" barrel.

The magnum chamberings data may be published at 24", 26", or 28" barrel lengths.

In the smaller cased magnums, you gain appx 100fps going from 24" to 26" and an additional 50fps going to 28". There is little improvement seen moving up from 28", and around 34" improvement zeros out completely.

In the larger magnums, with larger capacities using slower powders, you gain appx 100fps for each 2" increase (up to around 30", and then 50fps per inch up to around 34").

From a cost perspective, we're going to use a standard price for primers, bullets, cost per pound of powder, and the price of mounted match grade barrels; so that the only real variables are the cost for brass and powder, and the barrel life (This isn't totally realistic, but it's close enough that the simplification it provides is worth the slight reduction in accuracy. It's really the substantial cost differentials we're trying to see, not the pennies per hundred)

Setting a baseline on price

As with out ballistic baseline, our price baseline will be the .308 Winchester; and for the same reasons. It is about the most popular all around cartridge out there; and certainly one of the most commonly loaded to match grade standards.

At one point I would have said, "the .308 is CERTAINLY, the cartridge most commonly loaded to match grade standards", but at this point I'm not certain if that's true.

As of today, I'm not sure if there's more .308, or more .223/5.56 being loaded to match standards; since the .308 has been eaten away in the shorter range competitions by AR's, and in the long range benchrest ranks by the 6mms and the 6.5s.

At any rate, there is a very broad range of high quality components out there to choose from; with the very best match grade brass (Lapua, Norma, Nosler) running between $0.70 and $0.90 a case, and the only slightly lower quality Winchester brass (which many folks use, because it's so much cheaper, and when prepped properly produces results nearly as good) at around $0.30-$0.40 a case.

As I said above, we're going to standardize the cost of primers per thousand and powder per pound (which is realistic. The optimal powders and primers in question all run around the same price); and all loads are shooting the exact same bullet. We are also standardizing the cost of a barrel at $600 chambered and mounted (which is about the average of all the gunsmiths I've been dealing with on my 1000 yard rifle project).

The bullet and primer for each load will cost $0.45 together (when purchased in bulk lots). The powder will be Hodgdon (several possibilities, all similarly priced), at a cost of $22 per pound in bulk. The barrels will be $600 including mounting.

From a cost perspective the .308win is hands down, the winner; which is just another reason to use it as our baseline. Barrel life, even in a match rifle, frequently exceeds 10,000 rounds; and the most exacting competitors still expect at least a 5000 round life. Powder charges are low (in the 40-45gr range)... Match case life is typically 5 loads (though many will go to 10 or more), with  AT LEAST 5 more practice reloads.

All in all, it's a great value.

So to be conservative, that's:
  • $0.70 per case (lets presume match brass)
  • $0.45 for the primer and bullet
  • 45gr of powder (155 loads per pound less wastage) at $22 a pound for $0.14 of powder
  • 5,000 rounds per $600 barrel (including chambering and mounting)
To push 210gr at 2550fps from a 28" barrel.

If we presume a 10,000 round match life for a rifle, the lifetime shooting costs look something like this:
.308win, 210gr Berger VLD, 10,000 round match life
  • 2000 cases, $1,400
  • 10,000 bullets and primers, $4,500
  • 65 pounds of powder, $1,430.
  • 2 barrel, $1200.
Total .308win = $8,530
Per round .308win = $0.85
$0.85 a round total cost, for serious match grade shooting... that's a great deal all around.

A note on the costs of long range shooting

You should note that over $8500 baseline cost of consumables (and the large magnums are going to be WAY more).

A lot of folks complain about the cost of a good match grade rifle and glass, which can start around $1200 each respectively; and go up into the $5000 each range respectively.

That's between $2400 and say $10,000 dollars (including your first $600 barrel).

$2400, or hell even $10k is NOTHING compared to the cost of the ammo you are going to be shooting through the rifle over its life, plus the cost of travel, training, ancillary gear like spotting scopes, rangefinders, and rifle rests...

Spend your money on GOOD equipment, so you won't need to buy it again when it breaks, or buy better when you outgrow it. Don't WASTE your money buying the most expensive thing, but buy for VALUE, not price.

You are going to get more value in long range shooting, buying the right combination of rifle and glass; than trying to shoot for the lowest possible price.

Admittedly, an extra $2000 or $4000 or however much to spend on ammo would be nice, but not at the cost of buying a rifle, or a scope, that won't get the job done for you, no matter how much you practice.

Setting a baseline on ballistics

Ok, back to our numbers.

The "standard" match .308 loads for long range shooting, are the Sierra 155gr palma at 2850fps (G7BC .229, G1BC .449), the sierra 168gr match king at 2800fps (G7BC .218 G1BC .427.), and the Sierra 180gr match king at 2700fps (G7-BC .247 G1BC .482).

Remember, all numbers are from a 28" barrel, and are in general, approximately 100-150fps higher than would be seen from a 24" barrel. All loads and velocities are from published sources (either hardcopy or online), producing under 1moa claimed accuracy.

All of these loads listed above (or a reasonable approximation thereof) are available from a relatively major manufacturers as factory loaded ammo... Though few serious competitors would use factory ammo; if only because they want control over every possible factor... but also because some loads can be driven to considerably higher performance without accuracy loss (the 168gr match king is capable of well over 2800fps from a 28" barrel without any pressure problems or loss of accuracy for example. The 155.5gr Palma bullet can be pushed to 2900 out of a 28" barrel without pressure or accuracy issues)

Also popular are their Berger equivalents; but Berger bullets are generally only available as factory ammunition from some small, specialty manufacturers. They are more the province of handloaders.

Berger bullets are expensive compared to many major factory bullets (though not really more than their biggest competitors, Sierra), but along with Lapua (who are even MORE expensive), are generally considered to be among the best possible choices for long range shooting.

The Berger loads for comparison would be the 155.5gr "fullbore" palma bullet at 2850fps (G7BC .247 G1BC .464), the 168gr VLD at 2800fps (G7BC .242 G1BC .473), and the 185gr "long range" at 2700fps (G7BC .283 G1BC .553).

Of all those loads, the best 1000 yard performance is actually just about tied, between the Berger "fulbore' palma, and the Berger 185gr "long range". The Palma load has 6" less drop at 1000 yards, but less retained energy; and the "long range" load gives you about another 100 yards range before dropping subsonic.

I think the best load for comparison purposes here would be the 185gr "long range"; as we are comparing it against other long range (well over 1000 yard capable) cartridges.

.308 win, 185gr Berger "long range"
.283 G7-BC (G1BC .553) at 2700fps and a 300yd zero:

2992ftlbs muzzle energy
-301.35" at 1000 yards with 731ftlbs retained energy
-1084.09" at 1500yards, 398ftlbs retained energy
Drops below 1000ftlbs of retained energy at 825 yards
Drops subsonic at 1250 yards, with 528.77" of drop and 515 ftlbs of retained energy
The 210gr VLD performance suffers somewhat, because it can only be driven to about 2550fps from a 28" .308 without exceeding pressure limits. That is below the optimal velocity regime for a bullet of that weight range.
.308 win, 210gr Berger VLD
.323 G7-BC (.631 G1-BC) at 2550fps and a 300yd zero:

3029ftlbs muzzle energy
-314.96" at 1000 yards with 873ftlbs retained energy
-1081.77" at 1500yards, 478ftlbs retained energy
Drops below 1000ftlbs of retained energy at 900 yards
Drops subsonic at 1275 yards, with 652" of drop and 584 ftlbs of retained energy
Honestly... there isn't that much to distinguish the two loads in performance. The 185gr load has slightly lower drop, but because of the mass, and high ballistic efficiency, the 210gr is within a few inches at any useful range; while carrying more energy, and having a very slightly longer maximum range.

Oh and just for comparison, looking at the 210 compared to the most popular factory load out there... Well, look at the numbers:

"Federal Gold Medal Match"
168gr Sierra Match King at 2800fps from a 28" barrel

the 210gr Berger has:
100ftlbs more muzzle energy
32" less drop with 430ftlbs more retained energy at 1000 yards
275 yards more range at 1000ftlbs or higher
300 yards more supersonic range, with 220ftlbs more retained energy
In this case, because of its ballistic efficiency, there is no real question whether "light and fast" or "heavy and slow" is the winner. The 210gr Berger outperforms the 168gr SMK in all measures.

It must of course be noted, that to achieve this level of performance, a .308win rifle will need to be chambered specifically for the longer bullets (it will need a longer lede and throat), which will make it perform poorly with lighter bullets. Also, it is unlikely you will be able to feed these long and heavy rounds from a short action magazine.

However, if you want to mag feed, or don't have a long throat; both the 180gr "long range" load (which should mag load in most rifles) and the 155.5gr Palma load (which should mag load in ANY .308win) both exhibit nearly the same performance as the 210gr (in fact both have less drop at 1000 yards); and of course vastly superior performance to the 168gr SMK (as in 48" less drop at 1000 yards, with more retained energy).

It's also worth noting, Berger has another 210gr high performance bullet, the 210gr "long range boat tail". This bullet has a different profile, and is slightly shorter, but has a slightly worse BC (G7 .320 vs .323).

This bullet may be a better choice for some rifles, because its profile and slightly deeper seating depth, allow for more reliable feeding, and better performance (or for that matter, ANY safe performance without excessive pressures) from rifles without a long lede and throat.

Ok, baselines done, now it's on to the thumpenblitzenboomers

The .300 winchester magnum, is STILL the most popular choice of chambering for long range shooters in the 1000-1200 yard regime (though others, like the .300wsm are gaining on it rapidly). That is one of several reasons I chose .300wm for my 1000 yard rifle project, and also for the mountain gun I'm building (I've decided to standardize on .308 bullets, for my primary "large" rifles; so as to have fewer different bullets and accessories to buy).

It also means, I've done a ton of research, and there's a huge body of work on load development to draw from; and I'm certainly not going to let that go to waste.

So, using Walt Bergers personal load data (really great people the guys at Berger. Brian Litz and Walt helped me out personally), you can push one of their 210s to just under 2,900fps avg velocity (with an under 25fps standard deviation and under 50fps extreme spread) out of a standard .300wm, with better than 1/2moa accuracy, from a 24" barrel; or just under 3000fps from a 26" barrel.

Walt says you can push it over 3,000 from a 26" barrel, but SDs, extreme spread, and as a result the groups, open up a lot (as much as double actually; though when Walt is seeing .8moa  at 1000 yards off bags from a field gun, that's still nothing to sneeze at), and even worse from a 24" barrel (because of the increase in unburned powder, and turbulence) so he doesn't. He also said that going up to 28" only gets you another 50fps from the same loads, with no change in observed accuracy.

To be conservative, let's call it 3000fps from a 28" barrel, with best accuracy (so that we can be fair in comparing to the Lapuas and RUM).

As to maximum length, Walt and Brian both recommend 26" or 28". Going to 34" will get you up to 3200fps; but at that length, unless you use a 1.25" or thicker, cylinder profile barrel, the harmonics are awful, and groups are not worth mentioning. Experience shows that going over 34" produces no useful increase in velocity with any load or powder.

Typical barrel life for a .300wm rifle is somewhere north of 5000 rounds, depending on the load. The loads in question are all around 75gr of powder, and let's say they hit the bottom of the barrel life band. Most get better than that, but let's be stingy. To be fair, let's also round up to 75gr of powder (which is 100% powder capacity with the 210gr bullet).

The brass runs somewhere around $1 to $1.50 for best quality match cases (in bulk), and you have an expected MATCH case life of 5 loads, with a practice life of at least 5 more loads.

So that's $1.50 per case (presuming lapua brass in bulk), $0.45 for the primer and bullet, 75gr of powder (93 loads per pound less wastage) at $22 a pound (lets presume Retumbo, as the best performance per dollar powder, for a 28" barrel... it's a SLOOOOW powder; but Walt Berger says he uses it personally for his best .300wm loads) for $0.24 of powder, and 5000 rounds per $600 barrel (including chambering and mounting); to push 210gr at 3000fps from a 28" barrel.

The .300 lapua is another beast entirely.

That same 210gr bullet from a .300 lapua/.300-338 WILL hit 3200, but it needs a 28" barrel to do it (you go down to about 3100 from a 26" barrel). It also requires a longer, and less rigid action than even the .300wm (never mind the short mags), to reliably mag feed. Oh and then there's that non standard bolt face.

The recoil and muzzle blast are absolutely staggering. I personally think it's worse to shoot than a .50 cal. According to several sources, it takes a 38" barrel to fully burn that powder charge to the point where the muzzle blast isn't insane.

Worse though, is the general cost of shooting it. Virgin cases run $2+ a piece, and then still have to be necked down and fireformed. Each shot is 110gr of powder. The expected case life is just TWO loads for match, and MAYBE another 3 for practice.

The killer is though, the chambering has a typical barrel life of 500 to 1000 rounds.

So that's $2 a case, $0.45 for bullet and primer, 110gr of powder for 63 rounds per pound less wastage at $0.35 a round, and 1000 rounds per $600 barrel; for 210gr at 3200fps.

The .300rum splits the difference between the two.

It will push the same 210gr bullet to 3100fps from a 28" barrel (actually, people load it hotter than that, but that's the published data). Match grade brass runs $1.20-$1.50 (though it's not as good as the match grade .300wm or .338. Give it a couple years and the brassmakers will catch up). The 3100fps load with a 210gr bullet is 100gr of powder.

The expected case life on the RUM is also 5 match rounds, and 10 practice.

The real kicker compared to the Lapua though, is the barrel life. Where the Lapua maxes out at 1000 rounds, RUM shooters are reporting 2000 rounds plus.

I should note, there are guys pushing 110gr compressed loads with the 210gr bullets claiming 3250fps from 28" barrels; but that's going to WELL exceed the maximum pressure limit, and those loads will probably eat barrels just as bad as the Lapua does.

So $1.20 a case, $0.45 bullet and primer, 100gr of powder for 70 rounds per pound less wastage or $0.32 a round, and 2000 rounds per $600 barrel; to push 210gr to 3100fps.

Let us assume a match life for a particular rifle of 10,000 rounds; presuming 2000 rounds a year for five years.

Given this lifetime, let's look at the cost of shooting all three:
  • .300wm: 2000 cases, $3,000. 10,000 bullets and primers, $4,500. 108 pounds of powder, $2,376. 2 barrels, $1,200.
  • Total .300wm = $11,076
  • .300 lapua: 5000 cases, $10,000. 10,000 bullets and primers, $4,500. 159 pounds of powder, $3,498. 10 barrels, $6,000.
  • Total .300 lapua = $23,998
  • .300RUM: 2000 cases, $3,000. 10,000 bullets and primers, $4,500. 143 pounds of powder, $3,146. 5 barrels, $3,000.
  • Total .300rum = $13,646
So, even with a best case estimate on .300 lapua, and worst cases on .300wm and .300rum, it would cost about as much as shooting 10,000 rounds of .300wm AND 10,000 rounds of .300 RUM COMBINED; to shoot 10,000 rounds of .300 lapua.

Of course, if the ballistic performance justifies it, I suppose it could be worth it...

Let's check those numbers too:
  • .300wm, 210gr Berger with .323 G7-BC (.631 G1-BC) at 3000fps and a 300yd zero:
  • 4193ftlbs muzzle energy. 
  • -216.75" at 1000 yards with 1348ftlbs retained energy. 
  • -724" at 1500yards, 655ftlbs retained energy. 
  • Drops below 1000ftlbs of retained energy at 1225 yards. 
  • Drops subsonic at 1575 yards, with 840" of drop and 584 ftlbs of retained energy.

  • .300 lapua, 210gr Berger with .323 G7-BC (.631 G1-BC) at 3200fps and a 300 yard zero:
  • 4771ftlbs muzzle energy. 
  • -186.74" at 1000 yards with 1596ftlbs retained energy. 
  • -617" at 1500yards, 802ftlbs retained energy. 
  • Drops below 1000ftlbs of retained energy at 1350 yards. 
  • Drops subsonic at 1700 yards, with 914.66" of drop and 584ftlbs of retained energy.
  • .300rum, 210gr Berger with .323 G7-BC (.631 G1-BC) at 3100fps and a 300 yard zero:
  • 4477ftlbs muzzle energy. 
  • -200.97" at 1000 yards with 1469ftlbs retained energy. 
  • -667.45" at 1500yards, 726ftlbs retained energy. 
  • Drops below 1000ftlbs of retained energy at 1275 yards. 
  • Drops subsonic at 1625 yards, with 860" of drop and 584ftlbs of retained energy.
So, in comparison to .300wm, you get 300more ftlbs muzzle energy, 100 more ftlbs at 1000 yards, and 75 yards more effective range from a .300rum; and 600more ftlbs muzzle energy, 200 more ftlbs at 1000 yards, and 150 yards more effective range from a .300 Lapua...

That's pretty cool actually. .300rum almost exactly splits the difference between .300lapua and .300 winmag, for only about 20% more cost.

Given the cost of shooting the Lapua though... It just doesn't make sense.

Honestly though, given the "walmart test", I can't even see justifying the additional cost of the .300rum; excepting that it's not a belted magnum case, and so it's less of a pain to reload.

If you're going to do it, you might as well go all the way...

Which brings us to the REALLY big boys

We've been comparing, relatively standard sized chamberings; and as I said, they don't really seem to make sense in comparison to the .300wm, for the 1000 yard and under shooting mission.

That said, we were deliberately choosing all loads using the same .308 caliber 210gr bullet; and you would expect that to reduce variation somewhat.

What about going for one of the chamberings created for over 1200 yard shooting; and for anti-materiel purposes?

For example, the current popularity king of the super long range chmaberings, is the .338 lapua. It's a purpose built sniping cartridge, designed to perform out past 1200 yards, with sufficient retained energy at 1500 yards to do whatever you might ask of it.

With the .300gr scenars, the .338 will see 2800fps from that same 28" barrel. That's a lot of energy moving down range.
  • .338 lapua, 300gr Lapua Scenar with .382 G7-BC (.747 G1-BC) at 2800fps and a 300 yard zero:
  • 5218ftlbs muzzle energy (holy!!!!). 
  • -232.38" at 1000 yards with 1973ftlbs retained energy. 
  • -740" at 1500yards, 1085ftlbs retained energy. 
  • Drops below 1000ftlbs of retained energy at 1575 yards. 
  • Drops subsonic at 1725 yards, with 1127.88" of drop and 812ftlbs of retained energy.
Compared to our baseline .308, that's  112" less drop at 1000 yards with 1100ftlbs more energy, 340" less drop at 1500 yards with 607 ftlbs more energy, it's got a 675 yard range advantage at 1000ftlbs, and a 450 yard subsonic range advantage... however, this is where things get interesting... it has almost 500" more drop at its subsonic range, and only sports a 300ftlb energy differential for it.

Basically, it's an entirely different class of chambering. Whereas .308 is best out to 800 and is stretching out to 1000, with an absolute max range of about 1200 yards; .338 is really comfortable all the way out to 1500+ yards... though it's performance drops off rapidly past the 1650 yard mark.

When compared against the .300wm, it's a lot closer at 1000 yards than the .308.

The .338 actually has 16" more drop at 1000 yards with 625ftlbs more energy, 16" more drop at 1500 yards with 430 ftlbs more energy, it's got a 350 yard range advantage at 1000ftlbs, and a 150 yard subsonic range advantage, with 288" more drop at its subsonic range, and only sports a 228ftlb energy differential for it.

The numbers show that in fact, the .300wm is somewhat more precise at the same ranges than the .338; though again, the .338 has an energy advantage at all ranges, and has an overall advantage in extreme range.

Also, what the numbers don't reflect is how that big heavy (comparatively speaking) .338 bullet, deals with adverse conditions past 1200 yards... Where really, the .338s realworld advantages outweigh the relatively small numeric advantage. It's just going to kill the badguy better at those ranges. Enough better that it's rapidly becoming the standard for over 1000 yard sniping, across the globe.

The bigger difference though, isn't the extreme range performance... It's the EXTREME COST of shooting the damn thing; plus the EXTREME pain, fatigue, and wear and tear caused by shooting it.

The .338 is just plain big, and still relatively rare. Thus, it's expensive to shoot, and it requires expensive guns to shoot it, and expensive gear to load for it.

Factory match grade loads for the .338 start at around $4 a round, and run to around $9. Virgin cases run $2.50, and bullets run $0.85 each. You're lucky to get 2, maybe 3 reloads for a single case; and it uses a rather large volume of powder, resulting in a barrel life of just 1000 rounds.

So that's $2.50 a case, $0.90 for bullet and primer, 110gr of powder for 63 rounds per pound less wastage at $0.35 a round, and 1000 rounds per $600 barrel.

So for that same 10,000 round match life we get:
  • .338 lapua: 5000 cases, $12,500. 10,000 bullets and primers, $9,000. 159 pounds of powder, $3,498. 10 barrels, $6,000.
  • Total .338 lapua = $30,998
  • Cost per shot = $3.10
Damn... $3.10 a shot, even using handloads....

And of course, then there's shooting it.

It's loud (louder than a .50bmg) with a truly punishing and fatiguing muzzle blast;  and it also has punishing recoil (not as much energy as a .50, but a faster impulse, making the pain sharper).

Seriously, the muzzle blast and report are something you have to experience to believe. Plugs and muffs, and it's still painful; especially with a muzzle brake. It just beats you down sonically, until after 210 rounds, you just want to stop shooting.

The recoil is the same. I have no problem shooting a 24lb bolt action .50bmg for as long as my wallet will hold out. With the .338 lapua...

I can (and have) shoot a .300wm all day long;  shooting a couple hundred rounds over the course of say, six or eight hours. 20 rounds of .338 lapua and I won't be able to shoot for a week. 10 rounds is about my limit with a good muzzlebreak, and a thick recoil pad, in a 13+lb gun. Any lighter, without a brake, or with anything less than a limb saver or decelerator... 5 rounds tops.

So... if my mission including shooting at 1200 to 1500 yards, and primarily more than 100 yards... yeah, I'd swallow the pain and the cost and go with a .338; but otherwise no thanks.

Alright... what about dedicated "anti-materiel" chamberings?

 Every publicly acknowledged, confirmed,  sniper kill at ranges beyond 1250 yards, has been with either a .338 lapua (2707 yards) , or a .50bmg (2657 yards).  The longest kill from anything smaller, was 1250 yards (SSgt Jim Gilliland, with an M24 firing 7.62nato)

Oficially, we don't shoot .50bmg sniper rifles at people... they're 'anti-materiel" rifles; used for taking out light vehicles, shooting the doors of bunkers, destroying gas tanks and fuel pumps etc....

... but they're right nifty for killing bad guys from WAAAAAY far away.

So, obviously, the .50 offers some serious long range shooting capabilities. Why not choose a .50?

 Well, the ballistics ARE great (G1 model estimate. see my note on G1 vs G7 ballistic estimates below):
  • .50BMG, 750gr Hornady A-Max with .518 G7-BC (1.050 G1-BC) at 2820fps and a 300 yard zero:
  • 13,232ftlbs muzzle energy (Holy!!!! Holy!!!! Holy!!!). 
  • -201.77" at 1000 yards with 6699ftlbs retained energy. 
  • -598" at 1500yards,  4581ftlbs retained energy. 
  • Drops below 1000ftlbs of retained energy at 3700 yards. 
  • Drops subsonic at 3000 yards, with 4352" of drop and 1714ftlbs of retained energy.
 And actually, the ammunition costs are pretty comparable to the .338 lapua; with factory match grade loads running between $6 and $9 in bulk; but the .50 eats barrels much less aggressively, with barrel life running somewhere around 2000 rounds... though Barrels are likely to cost $1000 or so.

Case life is also good, if you've got a tight match grade chamber, and you anneal your brass; with match grade, virgin commercial brass  going 3-5 reloads, and  another couple times in practice (I know more than a couple guys who reload the same .50 cases 10 times, 5 match, and 5 practice; but they inspect each case carefully with each reload). 

Components are not cheap, but  aren't as much as one might think; with match grade bullets running about $1.50  to $2 each in bulk, primed cases are also running about $1.50 to $2 a piece in bulk, and with powder loads of 235gr of h50bmg at $22 a pound, that's 28 rounds per pound, for a cost of about $0.79 powder per.

So for that same 10,000 round match life we get:

  • .50 BMG: 2000 cases, $4000. 10,000 bullets and primers, $20,000. 357 pounds of powder, $7854. 5 barrels, $5000.
  • Total .50bmg = $36,854
  • Cost per shot = $3.69
So, $3.69 a shot, including the barrel life... Not much more than the .338, and the ballistics...

Frankly, I don't see why someone interested in tactical 1200 yard plus shooting, would bother with the .338; unless they don't like the weight of the .50. It ends up costing the same to shoot, and .50 bmg rifles, while expensive, aren't THAT much more than .338 rifles.Plus the .50 is just more fun to shoot.

If you want a real tackdriver, ok, don't get the .50; but for the extreme range and extreme energy, it walks all over the .338.

That said, there's no point to the things for under 1200 yards; where the .300 class magnums will give you more precision, for far less money, and far less fatigue.

The "Specialist"

Finally, I want to talk about a highly specialized competitor to the .50bmg; the .408 Chey-Tac.

Now, I've spoken about the .408 unfavorably before. It's not that I dislike the chambering... It's actually one of the most accurate, and most ballisitically efficient chamberings ever developed; I just have my doubts about the company pushing it.

The .408 tries to outdo both the .338 and the .50 in all ways; while simultaneously being softer shooting than either, easier to shoot accurately, and in theory, lower cost.

At least on the accuracy front, it seems to achieve those goals. 

The Ballistics of the .408 Chey-Tac are even better than those of the .50bmg at truly extreme ranges, because the bullets are so extremely ballistically efficient. As far as I know, the .408 419gr copper solid has the highest ballistic coefficient of any available bullet in any chambering; with a G1BC of 1.12. No, they don't mass nearly as much as the .50bmg, so retained energy at any given range is less; but the drop differences are substantial:
  • .408 Chey-Tac, 419gr copper solid with .552 G7-BC (1.12 G1-BC) at 2890fps and a 300 yard zero:
  • 7764ftlbs muzzle energy. 
  • -187.57" at 1000 yards with 4143ftlbs retained energy. 
  • -549" at 1500yards, 2921ftlbs retained energy. 
  • Drops below 1000ftlbs of retained energy at 3100 yards. 
  • Drops subsonic at 3100 yards, with 3852" of drop and 1000ftlbs of retained energy.
Thats actually pretty damned impressive, with a 100 yard range advantage to subsonic over the .50bmg; with just 400 less ftlbs of energy to show for it (again, this is a G1 model estimate. See my note on G1 vs G7 ballistic estimates below)... Given that the projectile is not much more than half the mass of the .50, that's saying something.

The .408 is just plain more accurate and precise at any range, than the .50 is, all the way out to subsonic; and it delivers sufficient energy at any range, to be indistinguishable in effect on soft tissue (both are going to tear it up real dam good). Yes, the .50 is going to be a more effective anti-materiel tool; but the .408 is the better snipers weapon.

What about cost though?

Factory ammo costs (if you can find it. There are only three or four small manufacturers loading for it) are pretty comparable to the .50; with factory match grade loads running between $6 and $9 in bulk.

Component cost is certainly high, with cases running about $3.50 each, bullets running around $2, and with 135gr powder charges, for 50 rounds per pound  $22 a pound, a powder cost of $0.44 per round.

The barrel life is probably about 2000 rounds (I haven't heard of anyone shooting their .408 through a barrel yet. It's a relatively new chambering, and not particularly popular) and as with the .50 barrels are likely to cost $1000 or so.

Case life is also good, if you've got a tight match grade chamber, and you anneal your brass; with match brass going 3-5 reloads. 

So for that same 10,000 round match life we get:
  • .408 cheytac: 2000 cases, $7,000. 10,000 bullets and primers, $20,000. 200 pounds of powder, $4400 5 barrels, $5000.
  • Total .338 lapua = $36,400
  • Cost per shot = $3.64
So, at $3.64 a shot including barrel life, you're getting considerably better accuracy and precision over the .50,  or the .338 (including a range advantage) for not much difference in cost. It's easier to shoot than either, and the rifles are about the same price.

I would say that if you plan on shooting "soft targets", or tactical competitons, at 1200-2200 yards; a rifle in .408 cheytac is the best way to do it, of the three.

But again, given the dramatically higher cost per shot, the higher cost for the rifles, the increased shooter fatigue, the doubled weight; if you're shooting 1200 yards or under, there really is no reason to go with anything bigger than one of the .300 class magnums.

If you're shooting at 1200 yards or less, my recommendation for .300 Winchester Magnum stands firm. It is the best all around choice for tactical shooting in the under 1200 yard mission space.

A note about numbers

For everyone looking at those extreme 3000 yard range numbers for .408 and .50bmg,  and thinking "that's just not possible" you're right, it isn't.

These are numbers out of the JBM ballistic calculator (widely considered the best in the business), using the industry standard G! ballistic coefficients and drag models. These are not actual downrange numbers; and as such, at the extreme ranges they're more in the nature of "theory" than reality.

In the real world, ballistic coefficient changes with the velocity of the bullet, and air is never perfect and standard; so the ACTUAL range you're going to see to subsonic, is generally considerably less for these 1500 yard plus cartridges, than the theoretical numbers would suggest.

Anything past about 1500 yards, and a conventional ballistic calculator is going to diverge substantially from reality; especially using the G1 ballistics model. The G7 model  is substantially more accurate out to about 2000 yards. Anything beyond that... well...

I was able to run the numbers for the .300 magnums, and the .338 using the more accurate G7 native drag model; as Brian Litz publishes data for all those bullets.

Unfortunately, there are no official published empirically tested G7 numbers for the .408 or the 750gr a-max; only estimates based on modeling and conversion factors.

That said, the G7 estimate is still likely to be more accurate at range than the G1 modeling. I'll re-run the G7 numbers for both here, so you can compare.

.408 CheyTac modeled with G7 estimates:
  • .408 Chey-Tac, 419gr copper solid with .552 G7-BC (1.12 G1-BC) at 2890fps and a 300 yard zero:
  • 7764ftlbs muzzle energy. 
  • -188.54" at 1000 yards with 4092ftlbs retained energy. 
  • -553.4" at 1500yards, 2855ftlbs retained energy. 
  • Drops below 1000ftlbs of retained energy at 2800 yards. 
  • Drops subsonic at 2550 yards, with 2429" of drop and 1180ftlbs of retained energy.
.50bmg modeled with the G7 estimates:
  • .50BMG, 750gr Hornady A-Max with .518 G7-BC (1.050 G1-BC) at 2820fps and a 300 yard zero:
  • 13,232ftlbs muzzle energy (Holy!!!! Holy!!!! Holy!!!). 
  • -202.95" at 1000 yards with 6611ftlbs retained energy. 
  • -603" at 1500yards,  4450ftlbs retained energy. 
  • Drops below 1000ftlbs of retained energy at 3400 yards. 
  • Drops subsonic at 2300 yards, with 2006" of drop and 2143ftlbs of retained energy.
You can see, looking at the numbers in the sections above, and the numbers here; that at 1000 and 1500 yards, the difference between the two drag models, isn't all that great, but at 2000 yards plus, it's huge.

Even the G7 estimate isn't perfect of course. Real world numbers are still generally a fair bit less than the models ideal would predict.

In the real world, the .338 lapua has a best range to subsonic of right at 1900-2000 yards, under ideal conditions (using the JDM J40 profile bullet, not the Lapua Scenar as I refer to above. That bullet is not generally commercially available, so I didn't use it).

The .50bmg has a best range to subsonic of about 2100-2200 yards under ideal conditions, using the a-max launched at 2800fps from a 34" barrel.

The .408 has a best range to subsonic of about 2200-2300 yards, using the 419gr bullet at 2890fps from a 29" barrel.

Those are using the best possible bullets, at the highest possible velocities, from the longest barrels etc...