With the dramatic increase in tactical precision rifle technology, interest in these weapons has also increased proportionately. Not surprisingly, knowledge and skill levels have also burgeoned as well. Once regarded as a mixture of voodoo and alchemy, tactical precision rifle shooting has captured the imagination of the shooting public and as a result, is now one of the fastest growing shooting activities in the world. Furthermore, traditional methods, rifle types, scopes, reticles, stocks, bipods and ammunition are coming under scrutiny with such rapid advances.
In particular, traditional ammunition concepts are being questioned. With the quantum leap in bullet designs we’ve seen during the last decade, many have come to believe that conventional thought on the subject is obsolete. In turn, controversy has blossomed as to what cartridge and/or load is “the best.”
With respect to the question of which TPR cartridge/load is “the best,” a clear understanding of your mission requirements is needed first. There are lots of centerfire rifle cartridges and myriad loads for each of them, so before any answers can be determined, the questions must first be understood. With this in mind, over the last 15 years, I’ve found a number of cartridges and loads that satisfy a wide variety of TPR missions.
For typical urban situations involving relatively short ranges and no special penetration requirements, the .223, custom-loaded with the Nosler 50-grain Ballistic Tip and 28.0-grains of BLC-2 powder is a good choice. From a 26-inch barrel, it produces 3,345 fps (feet per second) and is 1/4 to 3/8 MOA capable. And, from a terminal ballistic standpoint, it boosts the .223’s stopping power considerably while exhibiting mild recoil.
If more is needed, the .22-250 Rem is also a good choice. With either CorBon’s factory 52-grain Barnes Triple Shock bullet or a custom-load with the same, and 42.0-grains of H414, this round generates a whopping 3,775 fps from a 26-inch barrel. Yet, due to the construction of the Barnes bullet, it retains excellent penetration and is also 1/4 to 3/8 MOA capable — giving it fine stopping powder and increased range as well.
Though well known as a superb hunting cartridge, the .270 Win has largely been overlooked for TPR work, which is unfortunate. Inherently one of the most accurate cartridges ever designed, with the 130-grain Barnes Tipped Triple Shock or Hornady Interbond bullet and either 59-grains of H4831 or 57.5 grains of RL-19 (26-inch barrel, 3,070 to 3,150 fps), it offers mild recoil, a flat trajectory, excellent ranging capability, fine penetration, outstanding accuracy (3/8-MOA) and superior terminal ballistics.
A long-time standby, the .308 with virtually any factory 168-grain BTHP Match load or a custom-load of 47.0 grains of H-380 and the Nosler 150-grain Ballistic Tip bullet, demonstrates excellent accuracy in virtually any rifle (1/4 to 3/8 MOA) with velocities in the 2,750 fps range. Though the 168-grain BTHP is a bit short on penetration through intermediary obstacles at that velocity, the moderate recoil of either load makes it a good choice for most urban, suburban and rural situations out to 500 meters.
The venerable .30-06 has been around for over 100 years now and continues to produce excellent results with the right bullet and load. ¼-MOA accuracy, moderate recoil, fine ranging qualities, good penetration and equally good terminal ballistics are all easily achievable with the Black Hills 168-grain BTHP factory load or a custom-load of 57.0 grains of H-414 and the Barnes 168-grain Tipped Triple Shock or Sierra 168-grain BTHP Match bullet. Another custom-load consisting of the Combined Technologies 150-grain Ballistic Silvertip bullet and 58.0 grains of H-414 is also a superior performer and exhibits a bit lighter recoil.
Originally created for 1,000-yard match competition, the .30-338 offers equal performance bullet weight for bullet weight to the .300 Win and .300 Weatherby Mags, and does it with considerably less powder. Unfortunately, though it has come close a number of times, it has not yet been standardized as a factory cartridge and thus requires custom loading (dies readily available from either Redding or RCBS). Using the Barnes 130-grain Triple Shock or Tipped Triple Shock bullet, 74.0 grains of IMR-4350 and Remington #9½M primer, it can produce a sizzling 3,500 fps—plus, 1/4-MOA accuracy, ultra-flat trajectory out to around 800-yards or so, moderate recoil and definitive terminal ballistics. Penetration, too, is excellent because of the solid construction of the Barnes bullet.
If you prefer a more traditional bullet, the Sierra 168-grain Matchking BTHP, 73.0-grains of IMR-4350, with the Remington #9½M primer (3340 fps/3/8-MOA capable) is also a great load.
First appearing during WWII, the .300 Weatherby is thought by many to be the Mercedes Benz of the .30 caliber magnums, and with good reason. With a custom-load of 83.0 grains of IMR-7828, the Sierra 168-grain MatchKing BTHP and Remington #9½M primer, it generates as much as 3,350 fps from a 26-inch barrel, tolerable recoil, a flat trajectory, fine penetration and great terminal ballistics. Accuracy, too, is outstanding, with 3/8-MOA easily achievable with any well-conceived tactical precision rifle.
Though ahead of their time by nearly 50 years, the so-called “Ackley Improved” cartridges in general and the .243 Ackley in particular also bear serious examination. While admittedly a custom-loading proposition, with a load of 48.0-grains of H-414 it punches out a 75-grain Hornady V-Max boat-tail bullet at a whopping 5,550 fps from a 26-inch barrel, generates recoil so light it’s almost negligible, accuracy in the 1/4-MOA range, a super flat trajectory out to 750 yards or so, and devastating terminal ballistics.
There are, of course, other cartridges, but these have repeatedly distinguished themselves in my TPR endeavors and classes. They’re the ones that, by virtue of their superior long-term performance, either have or deserve to have a significant following. They all show superior performance in virtually every respect and are thus worthy of our consideration. If you define your mission-requirements intelligently, at least one of them will be a good choice without a doubt.