One of the most complex and widely debated topics within the modern firearms community is caliber selection for long range shooting. This topic of long range calibers is debated across many different disciplines including PRS, Tactical, Military/Law Enforcement, Hunting, etc.
The truth is that there is no one best long range caliber for every job and there are many factors to consider. Different shooters will all have different calibers that are better suited for their specific goal or mission.
To find the ideal caliber you’ll have to ask yourself a few questions. What is your mission? What is your goal? How do you want your rifle to perform? Are you operating a bolt or gas gun? Do you have equipment and knowledge to reload? Is your rifle shooting steel or live targets? Is your shooting hobby or mission dependent on a limited budget? All of these factors will ultimately decide if you will be sticking with ole reliable – the .308 Winchester or reaching deeper into your pockets for the new and improved .300 Norma Magnum.
Just like anything in life, each caliber you pick will have a list of pros and cons. After answering the questions above, the rest of this guide should be able to help you find which round is right for your mission and budget.
I am here to share what knowledge and experience I have to help you pick a viable option. I am not here to say that this round or that round is the best for a military sniper or a benchrest shooter. Overall best performance for the cost and practicality is the goal.
The calibers up for debate will be: .223/5.56mm, .224 Valkyrie, .243 Winchester, 6mm Creedmoor, 6.5mm Grendel, 6.5mm Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge), 6.5x47mm Lapua, .260 Remington, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, .300 Winchester Short Magnum, .300 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge), .300 Winchester Magnum, .300 Norma Magnum, .338 Lapua Magnum, and the .338 Norma Magnum.
Now, are these the only viable options for a Long Range cartridge for you?
No. But this list is comprehensive enough to cover the most popular and best performing rounds that are regularly used by shooters across most Long Range disciplines. Hopefully at the end of this article you can apply the same questions and principles to select which caliber you want to dive into the awesome world of Long Range shooting.
Now that we have laid out the calibers in question, next, let’s go over the parameters in choosing the best round for you. We will be discussing: Muzzle Velocity, Ballistic Co-efficient, Remaining Energy, Transonic Range, Recoil Condition, Cross-Platform Use, Ammo Availability, Barrel Life, and Overall Practicality. Depending on how often you shoot, price range, and shooting range (distance) availability, some of these parameters will not be as important. For myself, I have up to 800 meters to shoot at a private location, so grabbing a .338 Lapua Magnum with a max effective range well over 1600m makes no sense.
Table of Contents:
- Considerations When Selecting a Caliber
- Long Range Calibers Ballistics Comparison Chart
- Here Are the Best Long Range Calibers
- 5.56mm/.223 Remington
- 224 Valkyrie
- 243 Winchester
- 6mm Creedmoor
- 6.5mm Grendel
- 6.5mm Creedmoor
- 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge)
- 6.5x47mm Lapua
- .260 Remington
- .308 Winchester/7.62x51mm NATO
- .30-06 Springfield
- .300 Winchester Short Magnum
- .300 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge)
- .300 Winchester Magnum
- .300 Norma Magnum
- .338 Lapua Magnum
- .338 Norma Magnum
Considerations When Selecting a Caliber
Muzzle Velocity (MV)
Everyone knows that speed kills. With regard to external and terminal ballistics, a screaming Muzzle Velocity has its ups and downs. When thinking of muzzle velocity, a faster round is not always better. A faster MV does mean the round is impacted LESS by the wind than a slower MV. This, generally speaking, means less error due to poor wind judgment will occur when firing long distance. Time of Flight (ToF) (the time it takes between squeezing a trigger and the round impacting the desired target) helps describe a scenario in which a shooter can put a round on target in a shorter amount of time, but does not describe the profound damage done to the barrel. Most “Magnum” cartridges have 10 times less barrel life than standard cartridges.
If you are investing $800 on a Proof Research, carbon-wrapped barrel…replacing that every 1,500 rounds will be costly. Muzzle Velocity is also a value that is never constant. Several factors like powder temperature sensitivity, barrel length, ammunition consistency, and atmospheric conditions will all change your MV value. Also, as identical as you can recreate two firearms and two exact ammo loads, those two guns will never have the same exact MV.
It’s not uncommon in the sniper community to see MV’s differ by up to 150 fps (feet per second) across two different M110’s both shooting M118LR ammunition of the same lot. All in all, don’t get TOO hung up on MV’s. A car that accelerates 0-60mph faster than another car, does not mean it’s the best car overall.
Ballistic Coefficient (BC)
This topic may be daunting to some readers because the actual numerical values in which we represent a projectile’s Ballistic Coefficient seem like arbitrary numbers. You may see something like this: 6.5mm 140 grain VLD G1 BC: 0.593 G7 BC: 0.304. So what does that mean? A BC number can be represented in several different G values or standards. Currently, G1 through G8 and GL is the only mathematical models to express BC’s. G7 is the most current and most accurate measurement of the predicted flight of a long range projectile. Basically, whatever Gx model used, will be the standard bullet profile shape to compare off of. The two most common BC’s used are G1 and G7 below:
If you notice the G7 profile has a more streamlined design. It is meant for the traditional long range projectile; featuring a long, slender ogive and a boat-tail rear end. Simply speaking, the BC refers to how well a bullet navigates gravity, air density, and wind. The higher the BC number, the more aerodynamic and better performing the projectile will be. This is especially important to those of you who reload and can tailor a custom load for you rifle. When buying “precision” off-the-shelf ammo, most of the time you will not have the luxury of thumbing through several different BC’s of the same caliber and ammo manufacturer. Handloading ammunition can reap the reward of selecting the exact projectile with the exact desired BC.
Remaining Energy (RE)
The first two sections, Muzzle Velocity and Ballistic Coefficients, are values that the projectile or ammunition manufacturer would display as a selling point of the round. Another ballistic value that has importance is the Remaining Energy (RE) of the round at any given range. The RE is a culmination of MV, BC, and bullet weight.
In order to find this value, usually, a ballistic solution software would have to compute the RE, on what is called a Range Card. Programs like Applied Ballistics (by far the best) can easily chart out in a spreadsheet-like format, all sorts of information important to long range shooters. Below, is an example of a Range Card computed by the Applied Ballistics software.
At 1000m, look at how much more RE the 140gr bullet has over the 130gr. Over 100 ft-lbs difference! Although common sense describes how RE will affect your ballistic performance, if you’re a steel or paper target shooter, RE does not play a large factor. Mil/LE and Hunting communities need the RE factor for hard-hitting, threat/animal stopping performance.
I’m not going to dive too deep in terminal ballistics for the purpose of this article. The research is out there if you need it. Just remember, when choosing your Long Range cartridge, every metric counts and affects overall performance.
Transonic Range (TR)
Any seasoned Long Range shooter will tell you that understanding the dynamics of Transonic Range (TR) is critical in overall success. To explain Transonic Range, think about the physics of a football. The shape of the football does not allow sustained flight if the ball is thrown end over end. It will tumble erratically and fall short of the intended target. A quarterback must spin the football in a way to achieve a tight spiral. This concept relates exactly to how a projectile fired from a rifle achieves accurate, sustained flight.
In physics, gyroscopic stability explains that rotational spin on a projectile will keep it on its initial course. Unless you will be loading subsonic rounds, all standard Long Range rifle calibers maintain supersonic flight (Mach 1 or greater than 1125 fps). Transonic speed is the point in a bullets trajectory where it slows down and transitions from supersonic to subsonic (Mach 1-Mach 0.7 or 1125-880 fps). So how does this relate to selecting the best Long Range caliber?
A bullet traveling at supersonic speed pushes vapor in the air to create a cone around itself. As it passes through Transonic Range, the vapor cone dissipates, leaving the bullet exposed to turbulent, “dirty” air. Gyroscopic Stability is lost in the Transonic Range and the bullet begins to pitch and yaw and ultimately tumble.
Ideally, projectiles that have a higher BC, will retain their MV over a longer range. This means that the projectile will reach its Transonic Range at a further distance; increasing its overall effective range. Looking at the .308 Winchester, most loads will reach TR on average at 900-1,000m, making shots past 1,000m inconsistent. When comparing TR values, think of it this way. The caliber in question will likely perform erratically past its TR value.
The macho days of showing off to your friends by shooting the .50 AE Desert Eagle or even being lucky enough to fire the M107 in the military are over. You will not impress anyone serious in the Long Range community by selecting the largest bore LR caliber if you can’t properly mitigate and control the recoil of your system.
A lot can actually affect the observed recoil of a Long Range rifle. I’m not going to dive too deep down that rabbit-hole, or even techniques to help. That’s for another day. What I can tell you is that choosing the right caliber in relation to recoil, can make or break your performance as a shooter…especially if you’re new to the game. If you are inexperienced, you’re in luck…because today’s Long Range shooting community is being flooded by great, streamlined, low-recoiling cartridges.
The world finally caught on that bigger and louder, does not equate to better performance at extended ranges. That being said, to reach out to the big leagues (+1600m) you will definitely need the larger magnum rounds. All in all, pick something that will be pleasant for you to shoot over and over. Too much felt recoil can build bad habits like target flinch…even for experienced shooters.
Certain accessories like muzzle brakes and suppressors drastically reduce recoil (up to 70% reduction). Unfortunately, most (all) of you will not be able to head to the local range and rent a rifle in each of the aforementioned calibers. I will do my best to adequately describe what can be felt.
Now this parameter may not be too important to most of you out there, searching for the best Long Range caliber. BUT, just keep in mind that sticking to one caliber, and being able to use that caliber in multiple systems does have advantages. For example, when the inception of the M110 came to the Army sniper community some guys hated leaving behind their trusty M24’s.
But once they saw just how quickly they could engage multiple, long distance targets…the advantages of the gas gun were very relevant. One good thing about switching between the M24 to the M110, was that snipers were already familiar with the M118LR round.
Sniper teams were already comfortable with the way a 308 performed. So having the mission flexibility to own a heavy, long-barreled bolt gun AND a lightweight, semi-auto gas gun that fires the same familiar round…is priceless. Although they exist, it is not very feasible or common to find gas systems that will feed the longer, magnum cartridges (i.e. 300 WinMag, 338 Lapua Mag., etc.). So keep this in mind when choosing an LR round for you. Do you intend to run the same caliber across bolt and semi systems? If not, this is one less thing you have to worry about.
I would argue, these are two of the most important questions to ask/answer when talking about the best Long Range round…what is the ammo availability like and/or do you reload? It makes no sense to me (since I’m not a benchrest shooter) to pick a caliber that you intend to invest $2500+ in a barreled action, if you cannot find the ammo to feed it.
One thing that makes the .308 Winchester one of the best Long Range cartridges ever, is that in a pinch, you can find ammo for it ANYWHERE. That being said if you plan to take your Long Range game seriously, I would invest the time and money into reloading.
The difference in accuracy of store-bought ammo verse hand-loaded rounds is definitely noticeable. My own personal Remington 700 chambered in .308 shoots a five-round shot group of Federal Gold Medal Match at 0.60-0.75 MOA at 100m. That same rifle can shoot my hand-loaded 175 grain Sierra Match Kings at 0.4-0.5 MOA at 100m.
If you are looking at Long Range shooting as a serious hobby, instead of something to depend your life upon, I would say barrel life is almost just as important as ammo availability when choosing a LR caliber. For most amateurs, it is not feasible to swap barrels every 1,500-2,000 rounds. That is the average barrel life of the “Magnum” cartridges. Their high muzzle velocity and heavy projectile weights greatly increase erosion of the lands and grooves that make up the barrel rifling.
At about the 1,500-2,000 round mark, magnum calibers will start to see spikes in muzzle velocity variation and a decrease in sustained accuracy. Take a .300 Winchester Magnum with a barrel life of 1,500 rounds and compare that to the 8,000+ barrel life of a .308 Winchester. You can choose the hottest and flattest shooting caliber for your Long Range build, but keep in mind you will most likely have to replace that barrel once a year if you shoot enough.
As said before, each of the parameters will have to be thought about. You most likely will have to compromise on certain aspects. If you want the absolute best performing Long Range caliber, it will certainly come at a cost.
In this topic, I have to admit a certain level of bias. My background comes from the military sniper community where our gear was never the best. Our rifles were dinged, we sometimes were issued machine gun ammo instead of match. We were always trained to overcome our shortcomings.
We used our training and repetitive experience to put accurate rounds on target, not fancy top-of-the-line rifle builds and hand-loaded bullets. My point being, I would sacrifice on picking that absolute top-performing round because it most likely will cost you resources that could be used on training or trigger time. Almost all wildcat (a round that is not mass-produced…usually strictly custom hand-loaded) chambered rifles have to be hand built by very niche gunsmiths who specialize in Long Range precision rifles.
The cost of such rifles can be at least $4,000 and can take months to build. So when I speak of overall practicality, I would steer people towards a round that is attainable in an easily bought rifle. Now when it comes to ammo, I already mentioned wildcat cartridges. I’m referring to cartridges that have been custom designed by people in the industry who squeeze every drop of performance out of a round.
The bench rest shooting community usually pushes the boundaries and concocts the wildcats. As said before, I come from a different world. My bias steers clear of the wildcat calibers. Save your money and invest in training and supplemental gear.
New LR shooters also often skimp on glass and what I see most often is that someone buys a cheap scope so that they can afford other goodies for their rifles. Buying a $1000 rifle and a $1500 optic will bring you more success than a $2000 rifle and $500 scope. Get the gist? Take your time, watch some videos, and use the above parameters to make your decision. Like I said, each discipline and personality will favor a certain caliber. Decide where you fit in. Now let’s break down some bullets.
The List: .223 Remington/5.56mm, .224 Valkyrie, .243 Winchester, 6mm Creedmoor, 6.5mm Grendel, 6.5mm Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge), 6.5x47mm Lapua, .260 Remington, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, .300 Winchester Short Magnum, .300 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge), .300 Winchester Magnum, .300 Norma Magnum, .338 Lapua Magnum, and the .338 Norma Magnum.
We have put together a table for you to compare values side by side, and below the table, we go more in-depth on each caliber.
Long Range Calibers Ballistics Comparison Chart[ninja_tables id=”14165″]
Here Are the Best Long Range Calibers
History. This round was developed in conjunction with the AR-15 rifle in the early ‘60s. The US military decided that the average rifle squad was more effective by accurately delivering rounds on target with a 5.56mm rifle than the heavier recoiling 7.62 platforms. The ammo was considerably lighter, meaning the rifles could be lighter. All in all, this cartridge changed the tactics of the US military, and later, NATO allies.
Initial Thoughts: The .223 Remington offers an excellent choice for the novice weekend warrior who has limited distance range facilities. It’s also a great option for those interested in close to medium range varmint hunting.
Muzzle Velocity: Average MV for a .223 is 3100 fps. With available projectiles ranging from 40 grains up to 90, MV’s could also range from 3400 to 2600 fps. Barrel length will also change average MV’s. Rule of thumb: 30-50 fps for every inch of barrel either gained or lost.
Ballistic Co-Efficient: As with MV, .223 projectiles vary greatly. Since the most common .223 projectile for LR performance is the Sierra Match King 77gr OTM, we will use that; G7 BC ~ 0.202.
Remaining Energy: Muzzle: 1316 ft-lbs 500m: 470 ft-lbs 1000m: 165 ft-lbs 1500m: 108 ft-lbs
Transonic Range: 800m @ 1128 fps.
Recoil Condition: One of the great things of a .223 rifle build is that the recoil is manageable of a shooter of any age. The recoil is almost non-existent.
Cross-Platform Use: You can build a .223 rifle in almost any rifle action. It is also the most popular caliber for the most popular and modular rifle…the AR-15. The possibilities are endless with the .223.
Ammo Availability: Factory ammunition can be found nearly anywhere for about 30 cents per round but as stated before, prices range greatly.
Barrel Life: Average barrel life will depend greatly on ammo type and how fast the gun is shot (barrel temp.). Average life will be anywhere from 4,000-7,000 rounds.
Overall Practicality: The .223 is an excellent choice for an inexperienced and/or younger shooter. It’s an excellent choice for shooting groundhogs out to 500 yards. For a rifle platform, this caliber is great for building a highly modular and dynamic set-up. As a candidate for the best overall long range caliber?
The .223 is extremely limited in range compared to the other cartridges due to attributes such as the deficiency of mass in the projectile, making the .223 perform poorly in high wind conditions and lack the energy retention to be a great Long Range cartridge.
History: The .224 Valkyrie was the child of an experiment by Federal in 2017 to reach into the 1,000 yard competition circuit (which was dominated by the .30 caliber class cartridges) with a small .22 caliber projectile. In order to do so, their already proven case, the 6.8 SPC (Special Purpose Cartridge) was necked down to fit a .22 caliber projectile. This basically means the opening of the case where the bullet is seated, is tightened from 6.8mm to 5.7mm. That one-millimeter difference means a large increase in MV.
Initial Thoughts: This cartridge is an interesting case of innovation to solve a fairly difficult problem. Before its inception, the thought of pushing a 75-grain projectile past 1000 yards was uncommon. Because the .224 is so new, the market is still catching on. Not many production rifles exist in a budget option. Especially in the bolt action realm.
I think this cartridge will prove useful to the long range community in the future. One big drawback to the Valkyrie is the same as the .223. The projectiles don’t carry a lot of mass, therefore their stopping power is limited. For hunters, medium-game will be the limit of this caliber.
Muzzle Velocity: MV values for the .224 vary from 2,700 fps (90 grain projectiles) to 3,400 fps (60 grain projectiles).
Ballistic Co-Efficient: The projectile designed specifically for Long Range shooting is the 90 grain Sierra Match King. G1 BC: .563 G7 BC: .274.
Remaining Energy: Muzzle: 1,456 ft-lbs 500m: 660 ft-lbs 1000m: 248 ft-lbs 1500m: 162 ft-lbs
Transonic Range: 1,000m @ 1,114 fps.
Recoil Condition: Minimal. Many shooters claim the .224 has about half of the felt recoil as a .308.
Cross-Platform Use: This case was designed to be used out of the AR platform for PRS (Precision Rifle Series) matches. As said before, the standard rifle manufacturers have not caught up the .224 Valkyrie. When the Remington 700 and similar actions start chambering in .224, I think the caliber will be a viable option for more experienced re-loaders who are seeking a low-recoiling 1,000-yard build. This cartridge as it stands is perfect for a PRS shooter.
Ammo Availability: Several factory loads do exist on the market today. Barnes, Hornady, Federal, and Berger all make loads ranging from $0.60-$1.30 per round. Those of you who reload can stretch the Valkyrie by playing with different powders, bullet seating depths, and projectile types.
Barrel Life: Finding barrel life data can be tricky, especially for a round that has only been alive for 3 years. From what can be expected, the .224 wears a little bit more than the .223, approx. 80% more.
Overall Practicality: The .224 Valkyrie takes the benefits from the .223 and extends its range performance drastically. Any shooter of any age can comfortably shoot the Valkyrie without feeling recoil fatigue. It has been a proven competitor in the PRS circuit. However, I can’t jump fully on board until more bolt action options are available. I do believe the market will catch up to this round.
History: Introduced to us in 1955, the .243 was designed as a sporting and target rifle round. It was a great option at the time for those wanting long range performance with very low recoil. At the time this cartridge was revolutionary in that it bridged the gap between small and fast varmint projectiles with heavier medium game calibers. Sportsman could use the same rifle used for groundhogs and coyotes, as for deer. The .243 was also a great option for those living in countries which banned the use of military countries (.308 Win/7.62x51mm NATO).
Initial Thoughts. This caliber thrived in the late 20th Century and has since stayed for a reason. As more and more interest in the Long Range community, one thing has become apparent. For all around optimal performance, the projectile weight needs to be in the 140gr+ range. The .243 does not have enough umphh to maintain sustained Long Range flight. Also, terminal performance on larger targets has proven weak at best (one large reason the .243 never caught on with the military).
Muzzle Velocity: The .243 Winchester has a large MV range; from 3,025 fps (105 grain projectile) to 4,058 fps (55 grain projectile).
Ballistic Co-Efficient: For optimum LR performance, the 108 ELD Match projectile; G1: 0.515, G7: 0.268.
Remaining Energy: Muzzle: 2,158 ft-lbs 500m: 1,047 ft-lbs 1,000m: 436 ft-lbs 1,500m: 222 ft-lbs
Transonic Range: 1,200m @ 1,104 fps.
Recoil Condition: Like most calibers with projectiles lighter than 150 grains, the recoil can be considered light. One of the selling points of this round, when it was introduced, was its light recoil for a “deer gun”.
Cross-Platform Use: Since this caliber is somewhat antiquated, the modern tactical platforms have not maintained product lines for the .243. Most .243 rifles are chambered in older, wooden sporting stocks like the Winchester Model 70 and older Remington 700’s.
Ammo Availability: .243 Winchester is still a viable option for most East Coast White Tails and Mid-West Prairie Dogs. I would guess that every Walmart in the United States carries .243 Winchester. Projectile manufacturers are even still making their high-end rounds in .243.
Barrel Life. Very bad if shooting light bullets, not that great if shooting the heavier projectiles. Barrel Life on the .243 can range anywhere from 1,500 rounds to 3,000.
Overall Practicality: All in all, if you are new to the LR community and have an heirloom .243 in the family and that is it, re-barrel it and work on fundamentals. The .243 can be a great beginner gun because of its low recoil and ammo availability. Also a great option for novice or seasoned hunters who want a great flat shooting rifle that can take groundhogs or deer just by changing the ammo. As a serious LR shooter who intends on needing terminal performance or wanting a modern tactical build, I would leave the .243 behind in the 20th century where it belongs.
History: The 6mm Creedmoor can obviously be related to its slightly bigger brother; the 6.5CM. A column writer for Outdoor Life wanted to do a piece on how to design a wildcat cartridge. His favorite caliber at the time for LR competition shooting was the 6.5CM. He took that case and necked it down to load .243 (6mm) projectiles. He wanted an even lighter-recoiling cartridge with the same performance, so the 6mm Creedmoor was born. The caliber took the LR community by storm. Early pioneers were Ruger, GA Precision, Hornady, and Savage.
Initial Thoughts: Just like any new and exciting caliber that is designed specifically for the LR community, I know the performance will be top-notch. The 6mmCM excels amongst the PRS community and even long-range hunting. I am interested to see how the price of such systems will come down and become more readily available to entry to novice level LR shooters. I like that the caliber is being offered in high-end AR-10 platforms for the gas-gun enthusiasts. I still think this cartridge might be a bit on the wildcat side of the market (expensive to shoot and a barrel burner).
Muzzle Velocity: A standard projectile weight for optimum performance out of the 6CM would be a 105 grain Berger Target VLD @ 3,100fps.
Ballistic Co-Efficient: 105 grain Berger VLD G1: 0.517 G7: 0.265
Remaining Energy: Muzzle: 2,240 ft-lbs 500m: 1,091 ft-lbs 1,000m: 457 ft-lbs 1,500m: 221 ft-lbs
Transonic Range: 1250m @ 1091 fps.
Recoil Condition: Very similar to the .243 Winchester. However, with the 6CM being available in more modern builds, devices like muzzle brakes and suppressors (that are not found on most .243 rifles), will make for an even more pleasant recoil experience from the 6CM.
Cross-Platform Use: A big selling point to the 6CM is that from its inception, and from the help of GA Precision, its use in the AR-10 platform has been immensely popular among PRS shooters.
Ammo Availability: As to be expected, the 6mm Creedmoor is still a young cartridge. Being developed in 2017, most ammo is going to come from reloading. That being said, there are plenty of commercial options, but the price will be much higher than standard cartridges. The average price per round will be close to $2.00.
Barrel Life: Again, as most wildcat rounds are concerned, barrel life will not be great. You are looking at the 1,500 to 2,000 round mark for consistent accuracy. All 6mm projectiles are notorious for extremely fast throat erosion.
Overall Practicality: With things like barrel life and ammo availability into consideration, the 6mm Creedmoor is a perfect option for the more seasoned and able LR shooter who doesn’t mind reloading consistently and replacing barrels often. Most off the shelf set-ups are going to be on the high end of the market so the 6mm CM is not ideal for a beginner shooter. LR performance is very impressive. I just want to see more of the market available to the 6CM.
History: The 6.5 Grendel comes to us in 2003 from Alexander Arms. The overall purpose of the Grendel was to deliver extended accuracy and range of the .223/5.56 NATO in the same AR-15 platform. By using the same overall magazine length dimension, the 6.5 could still use the STANAG (NATO dimension) magazine pattern.
However, the Grendel uses the same case diameter as the 7.62x39mm so the new magazine capacity is reduced from 30 rounds to 26, and the bolt face is not interchangeable with .223/5.56 bolts. The overall intended target range for the 6.5 Grendel was between 200-800 yards.
Initial Thoughts: A good friend of mine owns a 6.5 Grendel and I must say, it is extremely accurate and pleasant to shoot. I like the idea of taking the .223/5.56 concept and stretching its legs. Most modern shooters are very familiar with the AR-15 design. We all have scores of 5.56 mags laying around…why not beef up that system? I think the 6.5 Grendel does a great job at that, however, as to be expected, the Grendel is limited in range and does not fit into the 800m+ world.
Muzzle Velocity: MV’s range from 2,500 fps (130gr projectile) to 2,880 fps (90gr projectile).
Ballistic Co-Efficient: The 123 ELD Match will be used G1: 0.506 G7: 0.255
Remaining Energy: Muzzle: 2,065 ft-lbs 500m: 943 ft-lbs 1,000m: 357 ft-lbs 1,500m: 225 ft-lbs
Transonic Range: 1050m @1091 fps
Recoil Condition: You are definitely going to feel less recoil than a .308. Somewhere in-between an AR-15 and AR-10.
Cross-Platform Use: Any bolt gun can be custom chambered to any SAAMI cartridge…but the keyword is “custom”. This caliber was designed and intended strictly for the semi-auto AR-15 platforms. So for those of you seeking a bolt-gun build, keep in mind that your standard factory options will be very limited.
Ammo Availability: The 6.5 Grendel can be found on almost all online ammo retailers. Availability in stores could be troublesome unless shopping at a Cabela’s/Bass Pro Shop. You can expect to pay about $1.00 per round at most online retailers.
Barrel Life: A big selling point to the Grendel is its ease on barrels. With care and discipline, a 6.5 Grendel barrel will outlive a .308. With low case volume and slower MV’s, the Grendel is an ideal cartridge for barrel life. I would expect to see 6,000-8,000+.
Overall Practicality: I love this caliber for AR-15 shooters who want to take their target shooting to the next level. Budget speaking, the 6.5 Grendel is much more of a value in rifle and ammo costs than the AR-10 class of calibers. It offers exceptional accuracy and a decent range for shooters who do not have Long Range facilities available. For hunters, the Grendel offers many different projectiles for different terminal effects. All in all, this caliber is excellent for those of you who do not have the time, money, or training to dive into 1000m+ shooting.
History: Created in 2007 by a ballistics team from Hornady, the 6.5 Creedmoor was designed as an improved Long Range target cartridge, based on the .308 Winchester .30 TC (Thompson Center). Since the beginning, the 6.5 has taken off as one of the best LR cartridges to date.
From PRS shooters to Long Range hunters, the Creedmoor as made a name for itself. Some could even say that this caliber has created quite the fanboy following. All in all, proven through years of ballistic testing, the 6.5 Creedmoor fills the gap between extended Long Range performance and cost-effective and barrel safe MV’s. This caliber has even won military contracts from SOCOM in 2017, which I specifically took part in. The numbers don’t lie.
Initial Thoughts: Coming from my military background, I was always reluctant to stray from the 7.62x51mm or .300 Winchester Magnum. I was so familiar with how those rounds acted in high crosswinds and how they performed through Transonic.
But after finally diving into the 6.5, it’s clear why it has become so popular. It shoots far and flat, it doesn’t kick, and it doesn’t break the bank. Even better, this caliber has taken off so fast, nearly every manufacturer is making products to accommodate it.
Muzzle Velocity: Using the 140gr ELD Match, 2,750 fps.
Ballistic Co-Efficient: 140gr ELD Match G1: 0.646 G7: 0.315
Remaining Energy: Muzzle: 2,401 ft-lbs 500m: 1,301 ft-lbs 1,000m: 633 ft-lbs 1,500m: 325 ft-lbs
Transonic Range: 1300m @ 1104 fps
Recoil Condition: For being a long and hard-hitting round, the 6.5 CM still maintains a lower felt recoil. The lighter 140gr range projectiles don’t enact enough felt energy rearward like the 175gr+ class of projectiles from bigger bores. Still less than the classic .308 Winchester.
Cross-Platform Use: Another great benefit to the 6.5CM is that it still maintains an overall case length of a Short-Action cartridge. 6.5CM cases will fit an AR-10 magazine. They will also fit any .308 Winchester bolt face; meaning that to obtain a 6.5CM, all you need to do is swap a barrel, making this cartridge extremely modular across bolt and gas guns.
Ammo Availability: Due to the popularity of the cartridge, 6.5CM ammo can be found almost anywhere. Also because of how popular and available it is, the 6.5 comes in around $0.75 to $1.25 per round, making it very affordable to shoot compared to other high-performing LR calibers. Projectiles can be found anywhere with nearly any grain-weight in its class, for those of you who reload.
Barrel Life: Because the 6.5CM does not approach the barrel burning MV’s of magnum and wildcat rounds, average barrel life can be expected around 3,000 rounds.
Overall Practicality: Incredible mid to long range performance. Comfortable price point. Easy and fun to shoot. Very modular across nearly any rifle system. What’s not to love? The 6.5 Creedmoor has made a name for being one of the best overall performing and versatile calibers for the Long Range market. As for PRS shooters, with great flat trajectories and low-recoil, follow up shots are a breeze.
For hunters, the retained energy, MV, and increased projectile expansion technology, the 6.5CM makes for a great terminally performing round for medium and even large game. The 6.5 has even made its way into the SOCOM sniper community. Definitely a great overall cartridge for any skill range in the Long Range shooting community.
6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge)
History: Plant yourself in post-2015 and you will see an explosion of the 6.5mm family of projectiles, thanks to the 6.5 Creedmoor. After seeing such success with its flagship cartridge, Hornady wanted to take the Creedmoor to the next level. The 6.5 PRC was born at the 2018 SHOT Show. Taking the original .300 Ruger Compact Magnum and necking down to accept the 6.5CM projectiles, Hornady could fire the same projectiles as the 6.5CM but with 250 fps added MV.
Initial Thoughts: This caliber excites me for several reasons. For those PRS guys that prefer bolt-guns, the PRC is a great alternative to the CM. It gives you that extra boost in MV to cut the wind more effectively. For the reloading enthusiasts, this gives another round to be excited for. To experiment with load developments to craft the ultimate 6.5 bolt gun cartridge. Although I don’t see this being an entry-level caliber, it could very well lead to a goal for new shooters.
Muzzle Velocity: Using the 143 grain ELD-X, 2950 fps.
Ballistic Co-Efficient: 143 ELD-X G1: 0.625 G7: 0.315
Remaining Energy: Muzzle: 2670 ft-lbs 500m: 1439 ft-lbs 1,000m: 698 ft-lbs 1,500m: 335 ft-lbs
Transonic Range: 1350m@ 1105 fps
Recoil Condition: Now that we are pushing a 140gr projectile up to nearly 3,000 fps, the recoil will slightly increase over the 6.5 Creedmoor. Still not in the magnum range so no worries.
Cross-Platform Use: Hornady designed the 6.5 PRC for use in a bolt-gun. The market has followed. Some products out there exist for use in an AR-10 platform but the PRC is born within the bolt-gun family. If I was building a rifle on this caliber, I would expect to look at bolt-only options.
Ammo Availability: The biggest issue for calibers this new and this niche, is Hornady’s ability to keep up with the demand. This cartridge calls for a custom case. So guys who reload might fall into brass availability problems. Other than that, the projectiles will always be available. Factory ammo isn’t heavily available; expect to pay around $1.75 per round.
Barrel Life: Given the projectile weight and MV, I would guess barrel life to degrade around the 2,000 round mark. Little information is out there on 6.5 PRC barrel life. Anecdotally, PRS shooters are having to change barrels once per year.
Overall Practicality: I heavily recommend this caliber to those out there who want magnum performance without magnum recoil. To take the 6.5CM and add MV to the equation, pure joy happens. This caliber is great for experienced PRS shooters, or big game, Long Range hunters. Bolt gun fans are especially in luck because as of right now, the PRC is very limited in the gas-gun world. A 6.5 PRC build certainly will not be cheap, so if you are a beginner or limited on budget, this is not the caliber for you.
History: Unlike the previous cartridges, this is the first one that has no parent case. It was designed from the ground up in 2005 by an ammunition manufacturer, Lapua, to take on the 300-1,000 yard competition world. Some compare it to the .260 or 6.5 Creedmoor, the 6.5x47mm Lapua is known to be very accurate.
Initial Thoughts: I really like the 6.5 Lapua for seasoned bolt-gun competition shooters. I fear that is about all this round is targeted for. If that describes you, then definitely give this caliber another look, because its performance rocks.
Muzzle Velocity: 2,700 fps using 140gr projectiles.
Ballistic Co-Efficient: Using Berger 140gr VLD projectiles G1: 0.593 G7: 0.304
Remaining Energy: Muzzle: 2,266 ft-lbs 500m: 1,174 ft-lbs 1,000m: 535 ft-lbs 1,500m: 296 ft-lbs
Transonic Range: 1,200m @ 1,102 fps
Recoil Condition: This caliber is known for providing excellent Long Range performance with very light recoil. Much less than a .308, the 6.5 Lapua is pushing a much lighter bullet than the .308 at similar speeds.
Cross-Platform Use: The 6.5 Lapua is primarily a bolt-gun only caliber. I do not know of any systems running this caliber in gas guns. However, the 6.5 Lapua and .308 Winchester do share the same bolt face. So like the 6.5 Creedmoor, if you have a .308, you can have two calibers in one rifle action with a new barrel.
Ammo Availability: The biggest drawback to this cartridge is that the rounds are very expensive if bought commercially. Reloading is also expensive because the brass isn’t cheap. If buying online, you are looking to spend at least $2.20 per round.
Barrel Life: Because of the smaller powder volume and lower MV’s, you can expect to see about 3,000 rounds out of your barrel.
Overall Practicality: All in all, the 6.5 Lapua has great numbers on a round moving fairly slow. However, because of the lack of interest in the market, ammo is pretty expensive and interest in the caliber is limited to bench rest shooters. Not ideal for beginners or those who do not reload.
History: While the 6.5mm (0.264) projectile was incredibly popular in Europe, the US in the late ’90s was still stuck on the .30 caliber range. That changed in 1997 when Remington standardized many 6.5 wildcats based on the .308 Winchester.
Remington simply took the .308 case and necked it down to house the 6.5mm. The final result was a flat shooting 6.5 projectile that flew like a .300 Winchester Magnum but with less recoil than a .308. Like many standardized wildcat rounds, this cartridge excelled in bench rest, long range medium game hunting, and steel target shoots. The .260 Remington sparked quite the interest in the North American market of the 6.5mm cartridges.
Initial Thoughts: I’ve always liked the .260. 6.5 projectiles hold a reputation of great BC’s. The .308 Win case has a nice even powder burn and has readily available brass for reloading. Put the two together and you have a great shooting LR round. With low recoil and flat trajectories, the .260 is another great option for someone interested in Long Range shooting.
Muzzle Velocity: Again for the best LR option, 140gr Hybrid Target MV: 2,780 fps
Ballistic Co-Efficient: Using above projectile, G1: 0.607 G7: 0.311
Remaining Energy: Muzzle: 2402 ft-lbs. 500m: 1260 ft-lbs. 1,000m: 585 ft-lbs. 1,500m: 306 ft-lbs.
Transonic Range: 1,250m @ 1,104 fps
Recoil Condition: This round is special just like the other 6.5mm projectiles in its class. You get excellent Long Range performance, with recoil slightly less than the .308 Winchester.
Cross-Platform Use: Multi-platform builds do exist in the .260 Remington. You can certainly find uppers to piece onto your AR-10 lower. With the same Case Overall Length as a .308 (2.800”) you can certainly mag feed gas guns. I still like this cartridge for a bolt gun though. Either way it is flexible for your mission.
Ammo Availability: During its launch in 1997, the .260 was still on par with other wildcats. The big advantage and why the .260 became so popular was that it could easily be necked up or down by using other standard rifle cartridges, making reloading a breeze. And since it uses the ever-popular 6.5 projectile, components are relatively cheap. The .260 also made a name in the hunting community as well, so finding it on the shelves is no problem. The average cost per round of .260 Remington online will be around $1.70.
Barrel Life: Since the .260 is not firing heavy bullets over 2,900 fps, the barrel life can be similar to other 6.5mm cartridges in its class…about 2,500-3,500 rounds.
Overall Practicality: The .260 isn’t too informationally unavailable to offer a great learning caliber to the average new shooter. The top-end stuff certainly has its gatekeepers. What do I mean by that? A lot of the newer, ultra-flat cartridges take a good deal of reloading knowledge to successfully harness their ability.
Most of these calibers are also fairly expensive to shoot in both ammo and barrel replacements. The learning and spending curve is steep in the LR community, especially in the top tier. That’s what makes older cartridges like the .260 great. Tons of different build options exist and the knowledge pool to learn from is immense. Low recoil, combined with the above mentions makes the .260 another great round to start the LR game.
.308 Winchester/7.62x51mm NATO
History: The history and service-record behind the .308 goes all the way back to the 1950s. The military changed its need for the .30-06 as its primary infantry weapon cartridge. The new case was developed for years based on the T65 developmental cartridge. With help from the civilian market led by Winchester, the .308 took the world by storm.
The designation of 7.62x51mm points to the military brother of the .308 Winchester. Although the two cartridges have very small differences, SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunitions Manufacturers Institute) maintains it is safe to interchange the two rounds. To this day, the 7.62x51mm still has a place in the modern military sniper community. The newest variants of all service sniper rifles have options chambered in the classic Long Range caliber.
Initial Thoughts: A good judge of success of a caliber is how long it has been relevant. Since its inception, the .308 has remained the most popular choice of Long Range shooters, snipers, and hunters. You cannot pick a better round for the beginner Long Range shooter. The number of options for load-development and rifle rigs is unsurpassed. You dream it, and it can be done.
Muzzle Velocity: One of the classic LR projectiles is the 175 Sierra Match King @ 2,700 fps
Ballistic Co-Efficient: 175gr SMK G1: 0.474 G7: 0.243
Remaining Energy: Muzzle: 2,832 ft-lbs. 500m: 1,212 ft-lbs. 1,000m: 437 ft-lbs. 1,500m: 295 ft-lbs.
Transonic Range: 950m @ 1,101 fps
Recoil Condition: Shooting any of these calibers across any number of platforms will show that each round feels differently depending on the set-up. The .308 is no different. An AR-10 firing with a suppressor, the .308 will recoil slightly more than an AR-15. A pencil barrel and light-weight wooden stock, the .308 can feel pretty sharp. All in all, the .308 is certainly manageable by shooters of most ages.
Cross-Platform Use: We all know that AR-10’s of the past could never keep up in accuracy with a bolt gun. That still is a general rule of thumb today, but they have come a long way. High-end AR-10’s can regularly maintain sub-MOA accuracy. And the AR-10 was designed SPECIFICALLY for the .308 Winchester/7.62x51mm NATO. No other caliber on this list can perform more universally across multiple systems than the .308.
Ammo Availability: Again, being one of the forefathers of the Long Range shooting community, .308 is found everywhere. Reloading components can be found nearly anywhere. This caliber is one of the most popular and widely used centerfire cartridges in the world. Average price per round…$1.00.
Barrel Life: Because projectile options can range anywhere from 120gr to 230gr, projectile weights and MV’s vary greatly. This also means barrel life will vary greatly. You can expect an average of 4,000 to 10,000 rounds of sustained accuracy.
Overall Practicality: I argue that you will not find a more practical Long Range caliber in this list. Due to its age and relevance today, the .308 has proven itself for over 65 years! Military sniper rifles are still utilizing this classic cartridge. You will get more bang for your buck choosing the .308 Winchester as your next Long Range caliber. It’s not the fastest, farthest, or most accurate round…but it will certainly get the job done with less headache and wallet-ache.
History: The Great Grandfather of them all…the .30-06 (thirty ought six) is the oldest cartridge on this list. Why even mention such an antiquated round? The .30-06 is such a classic sniper rifle round, I could not leave it out of the running.
The name “.30-06” refers to the caliber, .30, and the year, 1906…when this round was developed by the US Army. It would serve as the main infantry cartridge for over 60 years, before being replaced by the 7.62x51mm NATO. This cartridge chambered three iconic US Service weapons; the 1903 Springfield rifle, M1 Garand, and the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR).
Initial Thoughts: Again, this round is such a classic. Many hunters still use this cartridge for its hard-hitting terminal performance and flat flying exterior ballistics. Ultimately, we cannot deny that this round was replaced by better options. The cartridge was designed for reliable feeding in battle rifles, not efficient powder burns for consistent accuracy.
Muzzle Velocity: MV’s vary between 2,600 fps and 2,900 fps depending on projectile grain weight.
Ballistic Co-Efficient: Using a 168gr SMK, G1: 0.463 G7: 0.224
Remaining Energy: Muzzle: 2,821 ft-lbs. 500m: 1,123 ft-lbs 1,000m: 394 ft-lbs. 1,500m: 264 ft-lbs
Transonic Range: 900m @ 1,099 fps
Recoil Condition: With more case volume than a .308 and firing the same grain weight bullet, the .30-06 will have more felt recoil than a .308.
Cross-Platform Use: Unfortunately being such an older caliber, new-age tactical guys will not see this cartridge in many platforms. Its use today is limited to medium to big-game hunting; bolt action only.
Ammo Availability: Like the .308 Winchester, ammo availability and reloading components are everywhere. No issue finding it. Average price per round will be $1.25.
Barrel Life: Average barrel life is around 5,000 rounds.
Overall Practicality: For the Long Range hunting community, I would argue that the .30-06 still has a place in this world. With the projectile variability and network of knowledge on this cartridge, I think it’s a great option to build a classic hunting rifle. Not to mention guys that still compete with and collect old military surplus rifles…I see the .30-06 sticking around for a good while longer.
.300 Winchester Short Magnum
History: Winchester designed the .300 WSM in 2001 with the idea of a hybrid. They wanted a superior hunting and LR cartridge with similar trajectories as the .300 WM, but with less powder use and recoil. The .300 WSM steals the performance of a .300 WM and transforms down to a short-action rifle.
Initial Thoughts: I like the idea of basically a short-action .300 Win Mag. It makes sense. No one can deny how terrific a .300 WM performs at extended range. For the hunters in mind, the ability to take a .30 caliber projectile (which has superior terminal performance to the smaller 6.5mm projectiles) and flatten its trajectory to achieve those longer shots in higher winds is crucial. I see this more for the shooter that needs terminal performance.
Muzzle Velocity: 168gr Berger Target Hybrid @ 3,200 fps
Ballistic Co-Efficient: G1: 0.515 G7: 0.264
Remaining Energy: Muzzle: 3,819 ft-lbs. 500m: 1,866 ft-lbs. 1,000m: 786 ft-lbs. 1,500m: 362 ft-lbs.
Transonic Range: 1,300m @ 1,078 fps.
Recoil Condition: Getting into the magnum calibers, recoil is going to be noticeably more than the .308 Winchester. With less powder capacity than a .300 WM, the WSM is still manageable.
Cross-Platform Use: The .300 WSM is going to be a bolt-action only build.
Ammo Availability: One of the biggest drawbacks for this round is that ammunition is not readily available and it’s expensive. Average price per round will be around $2.00.
Barrel Life: You can expect roughly 1,500 rounds.
Overall Practicality: For the experienced Long Range hunter, I think this is a great caliber to consider. Its LR performance and retained energy will be a great option for taking down larger game at distance. For someone considering PRS matches, this rifle is not for you.
.300 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge)
History: One of the newer cartridges on the list, the .300 PRC comes to us from Hornady in 2018. This cartridge was designed to deliver devastating .30 cal Magnum performance. Based off of the .375 Ruger Compact Magnum, the PRC tries to deliver the best performance in its case range.
Initial Thoughts: I see another wildcat come to the limelight. The .300 PRC tries to deliver to a market that doesn’t need what it’s selling. For the hunting world, yes. The .300 PRC delivers phenomenal Long Range performance. No one denies how incredibly devastating this caliber can be, but for the average tactical and competition guy, this caliber is overkill.
Muzzle Velocity: Using the 225gr ELD-Match, MV: 2,840 fps
Ballistic Co-Efficient: 225gr ELDM G1: 0.712 G7: 0.365
Remaining Energy: Muzzle: 4,029 ft-lbs. 500m: 2,364 ft-lbs. 1,000m: 1,287 ft-lbs. 1,500m: 630 ft-lbs.
Transonic Range: 1,550m @ 1,087 fps
Recoil Condition: Now getting up into the .30 cal plus magnum rounds, the recoil will noticeably greater than the .308 Winchester. With a muzzle brake and/or suppressor, the recoil is definitely manageable.
Cross-Platform Use: .300 PRC is strictly a bolt action caliber at the moment.
Ammo Availability: Because this cartridge is so new, ammo prices are going to be high. Projectiles will be available but brass might not be. Give this round a few years for the market to catch up. Average price per round at $2.25.
Barrel Life: These magnum rounds love to kill barrels. Average barrel life will be 1,500-2,000 rounds.
Overall Practicality: If you are looking for exceptional, hard-hitting, flat performance, you might want to consider the .300 PRC. For the average shooter looking to get into Long Range shooting, turn away and run to the smaller guys.
.300 Winchester Magnum
History: The .300 Winchester Magnum was developed in 1963 by Winchester itself. The goal was to standardize a wildcat cartridge that married the .338 Winchester Magnum and the .375 H&H Magnum. Several other .30 cal magnum rounds were designed at the time, but the .300 Winchester Magnum was the only one of the lot, to stand the test of time. To this day, the .300WM is still a very popular choice amongst Long Range hunters and military snipers.
Initial Thoughts: This cartridge will always hold a special place in my heart. With the right rifle, the .300WM can be a very smooth shooting set-up. It hits hard and flies flat and straight. The downfall? Barrel life and ammo prices.
Muzzle Velocity: 190gr SMK MV: 3,150 fps
Ballistic Co-Efficient: Above bullet, G1: 0.539 G7: 0.276
Remaining Energy: Muzzle: 4,186 ft-lbs. 500m: 2,115 ft-lbs 1,000m: 937 ft-lbs. 1,500m: 426 ft-lbs.
Transonic Range: 1,300 @ 1,116 fps.
Recoil Condition: With a muzzle brake and/or suppressor, the .300WM can feel similar to a .308 Winchester. Without, this cartridge should be shot by older more experienced enthusiasts.
Cross-Platform Use: Few AR-10’s exist that can fire the .300WM. Today, the primary platform is the bolt action (long action) rifle.
Ammo Availability: This cartridge has been around for a while. Ammo can be found at most sporting goods stores. The components for reloading are also readily available. Average price per round are $1.75.
Barrel Life: As with other magnum cartridges, the average barrel life is expected at 1,500-2,000 rounds.
Overall Practicality: Similarly to the .300 WSM, this round excels in Long Range hunting. For average shooter wanting to plink at steel targets on their family farm, this round is far overkill. Great extended range external and terminal ballistic performance at the cost of barrel life.
.300 Norma Magnum
History: The .300 Norma Magnum comes to us from the .338 Norma Magnum, necked down to accept a .30 cal projectile. The Long Range community has been pushing the envelope more and more. Today’s magnum cartridges show us performance that could only exist in science fiction, 20 years ago. Both SOCOM (Special Operations Command) and the US Army has selected the .300 Norma Magnum as their hottest and newest sniper rifle cartridge.
Initial Thoughts: The first time I fired the .300NM I was blown away. Take the .308 Winchester at 500 for comparison, The level of confidence of a first round hit at that range is extremely high. When firing with the .300NM at 1,000m, you get that same feeling. You have so much faith that your round will hit your target. This cartridge is one of the most capable rounds I have ever shot.
Muzzle Velocity: Using the US Military’s XM1163, MV: 2,940 fps
Ballistic Co-Efficient: 230gr Berger Hybrid OTM Tactical G1: 0.717 G7: 0.368
Remaining Energy: Muzzle: 4,414 ft-lbs. 500m: 2,621 ft-lbs. 1,000m: 1,451 ft-lbs 1,500m: 722 ft-lbs
Transonic Range: 1,600m @ 1,106 fps
Recoil Condition: With a suppressor on the .300 Norma Magnum, the recoil still isn’t all that bad. I had no issue staying on target for a follow up shot. Slightly more than the .308 Winchester.
Cross-Platform Use: To date, the .300 NM will be a bolt action system only.
Ammo Availability: Shockingly, the average price per round is $4.75. You can readily find these rounds online.
Barrel Life: Sadly, a .300 NM barrel will only live to 1,200-1,500 rounds.
Overall Practicality: If you had the money to spend on it, and were not needing a semi-auto rifle for competitions, the .300 Norma Magnum is possibly the best performing round on this list. The numbers are beyond impressive. Real-world shooting of this round is even more impressive.
.338 Lapua Magnum
History: The .338 Lapua comes to us in the 80’s as an extreme Long-Range rifle caliber intended to extend the snipers’ capabilities in desert and mountainous terrain. Prior to this round, there was no bridge between 7.62x51mm and .50 BMG. Snipers were forced to choose a limited range bolt-action rifle or the completely over-powered M82/M107. This caliber filled a very necessary rule in the combat space. Today, this cartridge is in use globally by military/LE personnel, hunters, and LR shooting enthusiasts.
Initial Thoughts: This round is a hammer and a scalpel. The .338 Lapua Magnum offers very impressive external and terminal ballistic performance…but at a steep cost. For those lucky enough to be able to own and fire a .338 rifle, you know what I mean.
Muzzle Velocity: Firing the 250gr Lapua Scenar projectile, MV: 3,030 fps
Ballistic Co-Efficient: G1: 0.603 G7: 0.310
Remaining Energy: Muzzle: 5,096 ft-lbs. 500m: 2,755 ft-lbs. 1,000m: 1,345 ft-lbs. 1,500m: 610 ft-lbs.
Transonic Range: 1,400m @ 1,109 fps
Recoil Condition: A line can be drawn in the sand between the .30 cal class projectiles and the .338 and larger. Without a muzzle brake or suppressor, the .338 Lapua Magnum offers a challenging recoil experience. Much sharper and stronger than a .308 Winchester…not meant for beginners.
Cross-Platform Use: This cartridge can be found in semi-auto AR-style rifles. However, the majority of builds will be designed for the bolt action system.
Ammo Availability: .338 Lapua is readily available online. Average price per round is $3.00-$4.25.
Barrel Life: Surprisingly due to the case volume to bore area ratio, barrel life is impressive for a cartridge of this size. Expect to see 2,500-3,000 rounds out of your barrel.
Overall Practicality: Unless you are a military sniper, this round has almost zero practicality. But isn’t that what makes it awesome? The sheer muzzle energy from these bigger calibers is beyond impressive. However, for less bullet size, you can get a much better performing Long Range caliber…and for a lot less money too.
.338 Norma Magnum
History: What a cool story here…the Norma Magnum comes to us as an improvement on the Lapua Magnum. Take the Lapua and shorten the case so it can be fired from a standard Long Action. That’s what happened with the Norma. In 2008, the cartridge was introduced not to expand upon the capabilities of the .338, but the possibilities. Now by swapping a barrel, Long Action set-ups like the .300 Norma or Winchester magnums could not manage the overall cartridge length of the new .338 Norma. Prior, only dedicated .338 Lapua Magnum receivers could handle the round.
Initial Thoughts: I find it so interesting to see how this compares to the Lapua Magnum. It has less case volume, traditionally firing a heavier bullet…BUT still retains energy over range better and maintains a longer Transonic Range than its bigger brother. I also love that this cartridge can be fired from standard Long-Action receivers.
Muzzle Velocity: Firing a 300gr SMK, MV: 2,650 fps
Ballistic Co-Efficient: 300gr SMK, G1: 0.747 G7: 0.383
Remaining Energy: Muzzle: 4,677 ft-lbs. 500m: 2,772 ft-lbs. 1,000m: 1,523 ft-lbs. 1,500m: 776 ft-lbs.
Transonic Range: 1,450m @ 1,109 fps
Recoil Condition: Very similar to the Lapua Magnum. A good muzzle brake or suppressor is advised. Also experience firing large bore calibers is advised.
Cross-Platform Use: In the future, maybe the “Over .30 Cal Club” will find some traction in the AR- world. Until now, bolt action rifles only.
Ammo Availability: Ammo is available online, however it is not cheap. Expect about $5.50 per round.
Barrel Life: The .338 Norma did what the Lapua did. Vastly improved barrel life by having a good case volume to bore volume ratio, and push longer bullets through the tube. Expect to see about 2,500 round barrel life.
Overall Practicality: This round impresses the hell out of me. I shot this out of the new Barrett ASR at 1,600m. The projectile still punched through ¼” steel at one mile! I like the ability to swap barrels on the same action as a .308 or .300…giving you great anti-personnel effects, while also being capable of anti-material mission capabilities with the .338. Not very economically practical for the entry-level guys, but for those taking rifles down-range it’ll give you confidence if you get issued a rifle chambered in this cartridge.
The Verdict: If you put a gun to my head, the 6.5mm Creedmoor is the best, overall, Long Range caliber. That is an on the spot selection. After writing each of these parameters and reviewing each caliber, I could think of a round much better suited than the 6.5 CM in a given category…but it excels in almost every category. It is a product of natural selection and evolution…the best features of several classic LR rounds fused into one. Is it the fastest? No. Does it go the farthest? No. Is it the most accurate? (Well that largely depends on the shooter).
However, most off the shelf Long Range rifle manufacturers are chambering their flagship rifles in 6.5 Creedmoor (and for less than $1,200). Not to mention the custom actions and several Tier One barrel manufacturers available to create your own custom rifle. If you take away anything from this article, no matter which caliber you choose, make sure you know how to operate that rifle. Invest the money and invest the time in solid training from reputable sources. You’ve already come here, which shows you are willing to read. Do your homework. And most of all, be safe, and be fun.
Corporal McMahon is a former 0317 Scout Sniper with 1st BN 2nd Marines. He served as team leader for a scout sniper team during the 22nd MEU. Shortly after leaving the Marine Corps, McMahon became a contractor for the US Army, testing small arms and large caliber weapons for potential military contracts. In his spare time, he is an avid gun collector, hunter, and outdoorsman. He is also a passionate supporter of the Second Amendment.