Can hunting ammo be as accurate as match ammo? Let’s find out!
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For years, hunters have been seeking increased accuracy, sometimes with the idea of stretching their effective range for hunting. It takes a combination of things to produce match grade accuracy for hunting. For this project we turned to the MEC Marksman, a well made press that has been featured on Ultimate Reloader several times over the past few years:
About the MEC Marksman Press
A quick review of the MEC Marksman press is in order. The MEC Marksman is a heavy-duty cast iron single-stage reloading press. It’s made in America and designed to produce match grade ammunition, particularly with its floating shellholder design.
The MEC Marksman® is a single stage metallic reloader.
The MEC Marksman® is a single stage metallic reloader. Reload with the ultimate precision press. The MEC Marksman® is made of ductile cast iron for strength and durability and our patented shell holder self-centers each cartridge. The ram provides smoothness and accuracy for every load. Compatible with all 7/8-14 thread dies to change calibers quickly. Reload .22 Hornet to .416 Rigby with one convenient machine.
– C-Channel style frame construction for maximum strength and visiblity.
– Lower one piece linkage, to reduce any slop or play in the linkages.
– Primer tray and debris are below the reloading zone allowing for more room.
Gavin set up his MEC Marksman with Hornady’s Lock-N-Load bushings, so changing from the sizing die to the seating die took only seconds!
These bushings can be installed on most different single stage presses and I’ve grown to appreciate them.
About the Redding National Match Dies
Good dies are important to producing quality ammunition. In this case I turned to Redding’s National Match dies. These are not inexpensive, but are well-made and of high quality. Gavin introduced these dies to Ultimate Reloader viewers back in 2011.
The success of our specialized National Match Die Sets has created the demand for us to offer additional options beyond the limits of sanctioned cartridges to meet the needs of other precision oriented AR platform shooters. The name change (NM-C) indicates that all of our National Match Die Sets are now supplied with carbide size buttons. The sets include: a full length Sizing Die with carbide size button, the Competition Bullet Seating Die and a Taper Crimp Die.
The quality dies, coupled with the floating shell holder and solid construction of the MEC Marksman, provide a great foundation for match-grade loading.
Match Grade Load Components
While great equipment helps, quality components are vital to the process.
Brass — I selected once-fired Federal Gold Medal brass for two reasons. Firstly, the factory ammo was fired in my 308 rifle, and secondly, I have a lot of it. (One could argue the second reason supersedes the first. The original factory ammunition was remarkably accurate, consistently shooting under one MOA and sometimes approaching half that. It’s only fitting the brass shouldn’t see a downgrade in performance.
Powder — When loading 308 Winchester ammunition, my Hodgdon’s Varget is my first powder. This temperature stable powder is ideal for the 308 Winchester and performs well in a wide range of cartridges from 223 to 45-70. I can remember matches where pretty much everyone was shooting a 308 with 168 grain bullets and Varget powder. There are many good powders for the 308 Winchester, so if you can’t find Varget, you can still make great ammo. Reloader 15 and TAC are other powders I like with the 308 Winchester.
Primers — I’m a fan of both the Federal 210 match primers and the CCI BR-2 primers for precision loads. I’ve noted no difference between the two with my 308 Winchester loads.
Bullet — I chose a true match-grade hunting bullet: the 155 grain Berger VLD. This bullet has a history of shooting well from my rifle. I’ve used it to shoot NRA high master scores in 600-yard prone matches. My rifle delivers its best accuracy with jacketed 125 grain to 168 grain bullets.
There is some controversy about the Berger VLD as a hunting bullet. I’ve found that what Berger promises has held true for me on mule deer. Berger describes the on game performance as penetrating 2-3” before starting to expand, then expanding violently in the chest cavity, causing massive damage in the heart/lung area. Four mule deer later, I’ve found Berger bullets do just that. My closest was at 175 yards, the furthest at 400 yards. In each case the animal dropped instantly. It’s hard to beat “instant.” The box shown in this video is an older Berger box, but the current 155 grain hunting bullet is the same as the bullet shown here. Berger chose the thinner jacket for hunting, but there have been reports of the thicker jacketed match version also performing well on game. The hunting bullet containers are marked with orange, showing that they’re intended for hunting.
Many big game hunters prefer a more robust, deeper penetrating bullet for game such as elk or big bear. I fall into this category. For deer-sized game, I’ve been pleased with the results from the Bergers. Even if you choose a more conventional, more robust bullet, you may well find match grade accuracy. The two can coexist. I’ve seen excellent accuracy from Sierra’s GameKing, Hornady’s ELD-X, Nosler’s Ballistic Tip, Accubond bullets and perhaps most surprisingly, from their famous Partition hunting bullet as well.
In summary, my match-grade 308 hunting load recipe:
- Federal brass
- CCI BR2 primers
- 44.8 grains of Varget
- 155 grain Berger VLD
Use load data at your own risk. Ultimate Reloader is not responsible for errors in load data on this website. Always cross-reference load data with manufacturer’s published data.
It’s important to take the time to properly prepare brass, especially when you’re using expensive and quality equipment and components! Steps include cleaning the brass, annealing (optional), lubing, full length resizing, checking the case length and trimming if necessary, deburring the flash hole and chamfering and deburring the case mouth.
Here’s our video covering the AMP Mark II:
It’s also important to think about the application. I have found full-length resizing allows for consistent magazine feeding. Using a case gauge can answer any lingering questions.
I have the tools to deburr the flash hole and do sometimes, but I haven’t found a great difference either way.
There are a variety of ways to trim. Some prefer using a hand tool, but electric trimmers like the Henderson V3 case trimmer perform multiple functions at once with greater consistency and efficiency.
Once the cases are prepped, you must prime the cases. We’ve explored a variety of options for this, including the Forster Co-Ax bench-mounted primer seater and the Primal Rights Competition Primer Seater. If you have a way to check, it’s good to have the primer 3 to 5 thousands below the case rim.
I used the MEC bench top primer measure and returned to the MEC marksman for seating.
It’s important to check overall length to make sure rounds feed into a magazine.
Trajectory & Velocity
Note that the velocity falls below 1800 fps prior to 600 yards. Bergers typically require 1800 fps to open/expand reliably. Many hunters have made kills far beyond that range with Bergers and other bullets, but I’m content to limit my hunting range to 500 yards with this rifle and load. A sleek, high BC bullet from the 6.5 PRC, for example, is going to extend that effective range considerably.
For comparison, the 6.5 PRC 156 grain Berger Elite Hunter at 2900 fps:
With this combination, velocity doesn’t fall off to 1800 fps until roughly 900 yards!
The Rifle & Optics
I wanted to use a rifle that I knew was capable of excellent accuracy, so I dusted off my nearly 30-year-old 308, nicknamed the Green Machine. For years this was the only rifle I handloaded for, and I used it in competition, on SWAT and for hunting. It’s an early 1990’s Remington 700 VS, with a Krieger cut rifled 24” varmint contour, 1:12 twist barrel chambered for 308 Winchester. I’m using a 6x SWFA “super sniper” scope which is a real bargain at $300. Neither SWFA nor I make any claim to it being equal to more expensive scopes, but it’s a solid performer and suits me well.
There are so many excellent rifles and scopes on the market, I see the final choice as largely a matter of individual preference and budget. Here’s an example of a much more modern, more expensive precision hunting rifle with a considerably longer effective range.
I primarily hunt mule deer by spot and stalk in Washington and Wyoming. I don’t always use Berger bullets, but have taken four mule deer from 175 to 400 yards with them — all instant drops. The 175-yard buck was taken with the little 115 grain Berger VLD with a muzzle velocity of 3190 fps from my 25-06. I deliberately waited for him to turn broadside, then shot him through both shoulder blades. What was left of the bullet was recovered from just under the off-side hide. Sadly I inadvertently left that bullet behind when I quartered up the animal and packed him out.
Keep in mind that a good bullet and load doesn’t mean marksmanship doesn’t matter. It’s VERY important to place an ethical shot.
2008 Washington Buck, my first Berger buck at 230 yards, with my 25-06:
2021 Washington muley, my latest Berger Buck, dropped at 350 yards via 30-06:
Get the Gear!
Keep an eye out for Berger 155 grain VLD Hunting Bullets, Varget, and the MEC Marksman at Midsouth Shooters Supply! Also check out UFO Press Lights from KMS Squared, and the Ultramount system from Inline Fabrication!
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