Which Rifle Rounds Are Better?

Shooters and hunters love to argue about cartridges. I suspect this began when two cavemen first squabbled over which rock had superior ballistic properties. Today, judging by all the jabs and memes on social media, you might conclude that rifle shooters occupy two camps: traditionalists and modernists.

Old Versus New Cartridges: The Rifle Round Debate Continues

The modernists tend to view the traditionalists as a bunch of surly, whisky-drinking grandpas who believe that modern cartridge development began and ended in 1906. Their motto is “My grandpappy shot the ought-six, my pappy shot the ought-six, and the ought-six is all I’ll ever need.” They view the 6.5 Creedmoor as an affront to their manhood, and love to predict the imminent death of every new cartridge.

The traditionalists tend to see the modernists as a bunch of man bun-wearing, latte-sipping urban cowboys who never met a new cartridge they didn’t like, substitute technology for skill and drive Beamers to hunts. Their motto is “Milliradians rule.” They view the 30-06 and its kin as, well, boring. 

Debate heats up routinely over the topic of old versus new cartridge, and everyone happily adds their concrete-hard views to the fray. Facts don’t get in the way, and mischaracterizations are the rule. 

The author took this mule deer in Wyoming with the 6.5 Creedmoor.

Blurred Lines & Good Ammo

I have a foot in both camps. I still own and hunt with rifles chambered for most of the popular traditional cartridges, and will never part with them. Yet, even with the older cartridges, I’ve always had renegade tendencies. One of the most accurate rifles in my collection is a custom gun chambered in 280 Ackley Improved, and I’ve killed more game with my pet 257 Wby Mag rifle than any other.

Deciding whether a new or old cartridge is best for you depends on what you intend to do with it. If you never shoot at deer beyond 300 yards, none of this debate matters. The old standard cartridges, such as 270 Win, 308 Win and 30-06 Springfield, will serve you just fine, and there are some decent long-legged performers among the bunch, such as the 7mm Rem Mag and 300 Win Mag. 

However, if your goal is to place shots precisely on game or ring steel at significantly greater distance, the newer cartridges win. They simply perform better at long-distance because designers built them as such.

A point often lost in this debate is the fact that ammo makers are not charities. They exist to return a profit to their owners, and any CEO that can’t risks being replaced by someone who can. One of the best ways to increase profits is to bring innovative, improved products to market. Companies that don’t may be left in the dust by those that do. 

The inherent accuracy of modern cartridges like the 6.5 Creedmoor is amply demonstrated in this photo.

Innovation Drives the Market

Innovation is the lifeblood of the shooting industry. There was a time, not all that long ago, when innovation meant pushing bullets at blazing-fast velocities. Weatherby built thier company upon this premise. But greater speed required burning greater amounts of powder, and there was a price to pay for that. Just ask all the handloaders who froze rifle actions, or worse, by trying to make an already-hot cartridge hotter. Speed became the Holy Grail; recoil and barrel life be damned. 

Now, we know better. Velocity is still a factor, even with some of the newer cartridges such as the 28 Nosler and 6.5-300 Wby Mag, but it is not the primary driver. Many of the newer cartridges share characteristics that deliver performance no one could have envisioned a few decades ago. By now, the formula is well known: long, heavy-for-caliber, high-BC bullets used in barrels with faster twist rates to stabilize them (The only drawback of faster twist rates is that they can sometimes preclude the use of lighter bullets).

These cartridges typically headspace off sharper shoulders, have enough neck length to seat bullets without intruding into the powder column, have minimal case body taper and launch bullets at moderate velocities. These cartridges generally outperform same-caliber cartridges at long distance (say, beyond 500 yards) because their bullets are less-impacted by aerodynamic drag – and they’ll often do so with less recoil than the barrel-burner cartridges.

In testing, the author found the 7mm PRC to be quite accurate – and deadly on game.

High-Performance Rifle Ammo

Newer cartridges that embody some, if not all of these characteristics, include the 224 Valkyrie, 6mm Creedmoor, 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, 7mm PRC, 300 PRC, and 6.8 Western. For those seeking ultimate hair-splitting target accuracy, popular options include the 6mm Dasher and 6mm GT.

The cartridge that opened the floodgates for newer cartridges embodying modern design theory was the 6.5 Creedmoor. No other cartridge in living memory has sparked such an explosion in popularity – or incited as much animosity. Success didn’t come overnight or result solely from clever marketing, as some claim. Hornady built the cartridge to win shooting matches, and it met those standards. Hunters eventually caught on, and the rest is history.

The ever-inventive minds at Hornady followed up the 6.5 Creedmoor with the PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) lineup, which maximizes long-range potential covering most any application. In addition to factors already mentioned, Hornady focused on optimizing powder capacity in each case with high-performance powders, getting throat geometry specifications right so that bullets enter rifling straight, and designating proper rates of twist for modern, long-ogive bullets. While other cartridge families may produce more muzzle velocity, PRC cartridges are all about ballistic consistency and efficiency downrange.

PRC family – the 6.5 PRC, 7mm PRC and 300 PRC. All are excellent long-range cartridges.

Some New Blood

Space precludes a detailed analysis of all the newer cartridges, but here are key points you need to know about some of the best of the newer bunch:

224 Valkyrie: Federal designed the 224 Valkyrie around long and relatively heavy, very-low-drag bullets. It is equally useful in AR-15s and bolt-action rifles, and will ring steel at 1,000 yards all day long with little recoil. It’s not just for dispatching varmints. Where legal, and with heavier bullets, it’s a great pronghorn and deer cartridge.

6.8 Western: The 6.8 Western launches .270-caliber bullets in weights that are closer to many .30-caliber offerings. Sierra and Nosler created new bullets for the cartridge, resulting in loads that elevate performance to levels that, in some ways, equal or beat some 7mm and .30-caliber magnum cartridges, especially at 500 yards and beyond. In my Browning X-Bolt Mountain Pro rifle, 6.8 Western ammo prints half-inch or better groups at 100 yards. It is what the 270 WSM should have been, and a great choice for most North American game animals.

.224 Valkyrie.

The PRCs

6.5 PRC: The 6.5 Creedmoor’s big brother, the 6.5 PRC, is a fantastic cartridge for deer and antelope hunters. It’s also popular with some PRS and NRL Hunter competitors who want high velocity, but low recoil. With the same 143-grain ELD-X bullet, it outruns the 6.5 Creedmoor by more than 200 fps at the muzzle.

7mm PRC; The 7mm PRC takes advantage of incredibly long, efficient bullets and is a favorite for hunters who want to ensure effective long-range performance on most big-game animals, including elk. The 7mm PRC burns less powder than the 7mm Rem Mag, but has a slight ballistic advantage. It is, in a word, efficient. 

300 PRC: You can make the case that the 300 PRC is the most advanced .30-caliber magnum available in factory ammo. The cartridge shines when energy on target is a high priority, even at extended ranges. The round is capable of taking anything in North America at any practical range. It’s also a top choice for ELR competitors shooting out to 2,000 yards, outclassing the 300 Win Mag in terms of trajectory, wind drift and inherent accuracy.

The New-Approach Noslers

The Noslers: Proprietary Nosler cartridges take a different approach. As a group, they’re a little new-school and a little old-school, with emphasis on speed. Their large powder capacity means barrels heat up quickly, so they’ve been more popular with hunters than with target shooters. These cartridges employ slightly faster-than-standard caliber twist rates. The 27 Nosler, for example, utilizes a 1-8.5 twist, allowing it to launch high-BC 165-grain and 170-grain .270-caliber bullets.

he 27 Nosler launches heavier bullets at great velocities than the 270 Win, and produced tight groups in testing.

The Best of New Breed

Of the group, my vote for the best long-range performer is the 28 Nosler because it offers a good combination of high muzzle velocity, high-BC bullets and milder recoil than the 30 and 33 Nosler. It launches a 7mm 175-grain AccuBond bullet at 3,125 fps, which beats the same-weight 7mm Rem Mag bullet by more than 300 fps. It offers a little better long-range performance, in terms of trajectory and wind drift, than some .30-caliber magnums with same-weight bullets.

One area in which all the newer cartridges can’t yet compete is in the ready availability and selection of factory ammo, as well as rifles chambered for them. This will change in time for at least some of the newer cartridges, just as it did with the 6.5 Creedmoor, which has become a global standard.

Only time will tell if all the newer cartridges will survive in the long run, but if you think the parade of new designs is over, think again. Americans are tinkerers at heart. We love shiny new toys, and we constantly look for ways to build a better cartridge. 

I head afield to hunt this fall with yet another new cartridge, with that announcement scheduled for early next year. I can hardly wait.

Didn’t find what you were looking for?

Source link