How to Choose the Best Long-Range Cartridge

How to Choose the Best Long-Range Cartridge

There’s a whole new generation of high-performance and flat-shooting ammo available and it’s more confusing than ever. So I asked the experts how to choose the best long-range cartridge.  

Some of the answers were surprising, making is obvious that improved powders and projectile design has created the kind of downrange predictability that have bumped up the game.

“Recently, I’ve seen more shooters using 6.5 Creedmoor,” said Buck Doyle, founder and owner of Follow Through Consulting. He served in the Marine Corps for 21 years—as a sniper, team leader, ops chief, part of MARSAC and saw multiple deployments— and draws on that expertise in teaching precision shooting. He adheres to a different terminology, however, because most factory loads in that cartridge are still traveling faster than sound at 1,000 yards. “People will see my Scoped Carbine courses, which focus on the tenets of gunfighting and maximizing the capability of their rifle, and think I’m teaching long-range, precision shooting. We may be shooting out to 1,000 plus meters, but we’re staying in the supersonic realm. My definition of long range, personally, is shooting beyond transonic flight.”

Nomenclature aside, he’s not the only instructor witnessing changes at the firing line. William “Bart” Bartholomew is the lead instructor/coordinator for Bergara Academy. The former Marine Corps long-rifle instructor, sniper team leader and sniper for the Baltimore County Police Department, said, “6.5 Creedmoor seems to be the caliber of choice today with long-range shooters because of its impressive ballistic trajectory and ballistic coefficient.”

Walt Wilkinson, precision instructor at Gunsite Academy, has a slightly different take. “The primary long-range cartridge for distances out to 1,200 yards varies. In competition, it would be the 6.5 Creedmoor and 6.5×284 [Norma]. Outside competition it tends to be the .300 Norma and .338 Lapua [Mag.].

The former Army Special Forces Sergeant Major and four-time 1,000-Yard World Champion noted a long-term trend, though, one particularly on display in the past few year. “As with all aspects of the rifle shooting world, as new calibers come out, people drift to them,” Wilkonson said.

The 6.5 Creedmoor was originally introduced by Hornady back in 2007, and it’s extremely popular right now. The company’s never been much about resting on its laurels, though, so it wasn’t a shock when it introduced the heir apparent.

The Hornady 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) arrived late last year. “You get a 200 plus FPS improvement over the 6.5 Creedmoor,” said Neal Emery, company communications manager. Based on the .300 RCM cartridge, its bullet remains supersonic past 1,300 yards. Despite its soft-shooting demeanor, projectile impact at 1,000 yards takes only 1.4 seconds—easing those tough wind DOPE calls.

A few weeks later a new player entered the game. “The .224 Valkyrie is based on a .30 Rem./6.8 SPC case necked down to .224 caliber,” explained Mike Holm, Federal Premium Centerfire Ammunition global product lane director.  “It beats the ballistics of all other MSR 15 cartridges, including the .22 Nosler, .223 Rem. and 6.5 Grendel. Plus, it offers comparable performance to larger rounds like the 6.5 Creedmoor, with roughly half the felt recoil…” It’s also remains supersonic at 1,300 yards.

Cartridge potential is one aspect, but the rifle must deliver. Every major company has introduced firearms to wring the most out of a chambering, including Mossberg with its MVP-LR (Long Range), Weatherby’s AccuMark, Savage’s Long Range, Ruger’s Precision Rifle and many others.

And the advanced instruction available today has never been better. Gunsite is the granddaddy of them all, but companies like Follow Through Consulting and newcomer Bergara Academy—more like higher education with bed and breakfast—offer different training camp flavors. Each teach the basics needed to connect at long-distance.

And regardless of the cartridge you select, it’s important you care for the ammo while afield. Here are some tips from other experts in the industry on how it needs to be done, and why.