What Does Match Ammunition Do For You?
If you stroll down the aisles of any gun store or browse the pages of an online ammunition retailer (like, say, Ammoman.com…), you’ll see some ammo boxes marked as “match ammunition.” What does that actually mean? What makes one type of ammunition “match ammunition” and another just regular old ammunition?
Ammunition manufacturers are surprisingly quiet on this subject. The best answer I’ve received concentrates on three areas of match ammunition manufacturing: Higher quality components, tighter tolerances, and more attention to detail. All of these work together to create a round that delivers more consistent, repeatable results. Let’s explore each of these items in more detail and see how they relate to the elements that make up a round of match ammunition.
Components Of Match Ammunition
All modern cased ammunition is made from four components:
- A bullet, which heads downrange and pokes a hole in the target.
- Gunpowder, which burns very quickly and propels the bullet forward.
- A primer, which is struck by the firing pin and creates a spark to set off the powder.
- A case, which holds everything together.
Higher quality versions of all these components can affect the final accuracy of a round of ammunition.
A higher-quality bullet will have a better drag coefficient, allowing it to cleave through the air more efficiently. In addition, the bullets in match ammunition will have special features such as a boat-tail or specialized tip to make them more stable and accurate in flight. Manufacturers also may take more care when seating the bullet into the neck of the case. Bullet seating depth is an essential part of creating a more accurate round. It helps to more quickly engage the bullet with the rifling in the barrel and maximizes the room for gunpowder inside the case. More care is taken with match ammunition to make sure the bullets are seated correctly for better out-of-the-box accuracy.
Getting a consistent amount of gunpowder inside the cartridge is an essential part of repeatable accuracy. Regular ammunition is very precise, but with match ammunition, it’s even more so. A good way to test how consistent the powder charge is inside a given box of ammo is to chronograph the speed of each bullet as it leaves the barrel. Ammunition with a more consistent powder charge will deliver more consistent bullet speeds, which is something that’s easy to measure.
Match ammunition, especially rifle ammunition, tends to have match primers. These primers have more care and more attention to detail built into them than regular primers. Because of this, they deliver more consistent ignition of the gunpowder inside the case. This, in turn, delivers more consistent burning of the powder inside the case. All of this adds up to more precision and more repeatable results on the range.
The modern cartridge case is a miracle of precise manufacturing standards and meticulous quality control. Built to exact dimensions that are designed to be used by ammo manufacturers around the world, it’s the case that makes modern firearm ammunition what it is today. The case literally holds everything together. As such, the more care and precision that is taken with creating a case that not only meets SAAMI standards, but goes beyond them, the more accurate the ammo will be. In short, higher standards of case tolerances and build quality are two of the hallmarks of match ammunition.
Is Match Ammunition Worth It?
That depends on you and your gear. I’ve seen gun owners rave about the accuracy of their rifle and ammunition at the range. However, when push comes to shove and they’re asked to shoot a group and show just how accurate their guns really are, they struggle to put rounds on paper at 50 yards, much less shoot a group at that distance.
If you can’t deliver repeatable groups on-demand, it doesn’t matter whether you use match ammunition or not. First, work on your skills by taking a shooting class and then engaging in intentional, directed practice. Then worry about how precise your ammo is.
Secondly, look at your equipment. Yes, there are some real bargains out there, but in general, the more you pay for your gun, the more accurate and reliable it will be. For example, if you’re shooting a military surplus rifle with a shot-out barrel, no amount of match ammunition is going to help you. The rifling inside the barrel on those types of guns is now only a pleasant memory, and any accuracy it delivers will be chance, not design. Match-grade ammunition is designed to perform with match-grade firearms shot by match-grade marksmen.
Testing Match Ammunition
Much of what goes into factory ammo is a closely guarded secret. There is one exception to this rule: Bullets. In many cases, manufacturers will gladly tell you exactly what bullet is used in their ammo because some bullet types are known to be proven performers on the range and in the field. For our tests, we’ll be testing two such bullets, one that is typically associated with match ammunition and another that is associated with more general use.
To minimize the variations brought on by different manufacturers, we’ll be testing two types of ammunition from two different manufacturers. We will also test a popular general-purpose round from another manufacturer to serve as a control. The ammunition we’ll be testing is:
The Federal Premium ammunition is a proven performer, as is the Sierra MatchKing bullet. Federal also labels the M1A Match ammunition as “match ammunition.” It uses a 168 grain bullet as well, but it does not have the fearsome reputation that the 168 SMK does.
The 168 Grain ELD round from Hornady is a newer round, but it is developing a dedicated band of followers. In fact, at a recent Precision Rifle match I attended, I saw many shooters who chose to compete with Hornady match ammunition right from the factory rather than load their own custom rounds. That some of the best long-range shooters in the state chose to use Hornady match ammunition over custom reloads speaks volumes about Hornady’s quality. Finally, we will be testing two non-match rounds, the Hornady BLACK round with a 168 grain AMX bullet, and Winchester 147 grain FMJ ammunition.
The gun we’ll be testing with is a custom precision rifle from GCP Rifle Company. Built on a Savage Arms .308 action, it has a Sig Sauer suppressor and a Primary Arms 6-30x scope.
Weather conditions for the test were as follows:
Temperature: 89 degrees (Hey, it’s Florida)
Relative Humidity: 62%
Altitude: 35 feet (Again, Florida)
Wind: 9 MPH E (into the shooting position, therefore imparting negligible influence)
We will shoot twenty rounds of each type of ammunition in four five-shot groups at a target 200 yards away. The group size will then be measured from center to center. We will measure 10 rounds of each ammunition for velocity by a Pro Chrono chronograph placed 10 feet away from the muzzle.
Federal Premium .308 168 Grain Sierra MatchKing
Average Velocity (FPS): 2604
Minimum Velocity (FPS): 2583
Maximum Velocity (FPS): 2619
Velocity Deviation (FPS): 36
Average Group Size (Inches): 1.64
Minimum Group Size (Inches): 0.76
Maximum Group Size (Inches): 2.24
Federal .308 168 Open Tip Match
Average Velocity (FPS): 2700
Minimum Velocity (FPS): 2682
Maximum Velocity (FPS): 2721
Velocity Deviation (FPS): 39
Average Group Size (Inches): 2.92
Minimum Group Size (Inches): 2.3
Maximum Group Size (Inches): 3.19
Hornady .308 168 Grain AMAX BLACK
Average Velocity (FPS): 2712
Minimum Velocity (FPS): 2693
Maximum Velocity (FPS): 2726
Velocity Deviation (FPS): 33
Average Group Size (Inches): 3.42
Minimum Group Size (Inches): 2.69
Maximum Group Size (Inches): 4.1
Hornady .308 168 Grain ELD Match
Average Velocity (FPS): 2860
Minimum Velocity (FPS): 2849
Maximum Velocity (FPS): 2886
Velocity Deviation (FPS): 37
Average Group Size (Inches): 2.0
Minimum Group Size (Inches): 1.11
Maximum Group Size (Inches): 2.68
Winchester .308 147 Grain FMJ
Average Velocity (FPS): 2913
Minimum Velocity (FPS): 2879
Maximum Velocity (FPS): 2956
Velocity Deviation (FPS): 77
Average Group Size (Inches): 3.78
Minimum Group Size (Inches): 2.04
Maximum Group Size (Inches): 5.4
Match ammunition definitely makes a difference, but only if your firearm and skill are equal to the task. In our tests, the match ammo delivered significantly tighter groups at 200 yards than the general-purpose ammunition. However, the Hornady Black ammunition turned in the tightest spread in velocity in our tests, indicating that Hornady runs a tight ship, whether it’s match ammo or not.
If your skills and gear are to the point where you’re making consistent, repeatable groups on paper within the effective range of your firearm, it’s time to see which match ammunition will help take your performance to a higher level. It may not be the ammo you shoot on every range trip, but it should be the ammo you shoot when it matters the most.