POLRAS - How to Choose Long-Range Ammo
I developed the Priority of Long Range Ammo Selection (“POLRAS”) for 3-Gun classes, intended to help students select ammunition for matches with targets as small as 3 MOA and as far as 650yds. My priorities are listed from most to least important.
1: Reliable. Semi-auto firearms should function automatically, all the time. Sacrificing reliability for accuracy or ballistic performance defeats the entire purpose of a practical rifle.
1.5: Accurate. Yes, group size at 100 yards matters - I view it as stopping variables from stacking against you. Statistically relevant group sizes (10+), or an aggregate/average of multiple smaller group sizes (if you know YOU’RE the variable in a long shot string) should be the basis for selection.
1.75: Sustainable. Can I afford to stock and shoot this ammunition? When I was shooting a dozen matches a year, it just wasn’t sustainable for me to shoot Mk262 or FGMM all the time (~100rds/match plus zeroing, practice, etc.). Finding alternate training tools like .22 LR helps make expensive match ammo sustainable at a low time cost. Reloading does the same thing at a higher time cost (plus potential reliability/accuracy issues, depending on your reloading skills). At the time, shooting Hornady Steel Match at <.50/rd allowed me to buy 1000rd cases of ammo without having to do either of those things. Unfortunately that ammo is no more and things got a little harder. A much lower match tempo and increased use of accurized .22LR trainers makes Federal Gold Medal Match a more sustainable ammunition for the 2-3 major matches I shoot per year currently.
- - - Lots of ammo gets cut off right here; Reliable, Accurate and Sustainable are an uncommon combination - - -
2. “Predictable” external performance means the projectile (BC) and velocity (SD/powder temp sensitivity) are consistent enough to rely on a holdover round-to-round and in different environments (within reason). Example of “Unpredictable” performance - some bulk 55gr FMJBT projectiles simply had too much variation bullet-to-bullet for me to rely on (like, it literally looks like there’s four types of bullet in this box) - those definitely don’t fly the same. Another example: Handloading attempt to make Major PF with .300 AAC (175gr, 1900 fps) will perform at 3000ft, 62° in October. At sea level, in August at 104°, it’s blowing out primers and opening the bolt prematurely (suboptimal).
3: “Acceptable” External Performance. This means the projectile will reliably traverse the desired distance to target with acceptable wind susceptibility. Example of “unacceptable” external performance: 64gr Speer GDSP shoots 1/2 MOA from my 3-Gun rifle. It’s hella soft, super-low SD and the brass is shiny nickel (baller status). Unfortunately the BC is kinda like a russet potato being lobbed by an unenthusiastic 8-year-old - I don’t even have a 600yd holdover in my reticle and if the wind’s blowing past 400 I might as well go home. This item comes near to last because many people’s idea of a “long” 5.56 shot is 300ish yards - almost anything is “acceptable” at that distance.
4. Terminal/Wound Performance. In a competition setting, that means “Will the RO see the target impact?”. I’ve seen a few guys get gypped out of a badass 600yd shot with 52gr BTHP because the RO missed the little bitty “dink” that that airsoft pellet made hitting the target. Magnetospeed flashers have helped with this, but their use is unfortunately not universal, which makes me sad. For static steel past 300, I make sure I’m hitting that thing with at least 69gr of bullet. That’s not to mention Spinners (the target, not the bait) or LaRue style self-resetting poppers that seem to be uncalibrated about 30% of the time I see them used.
5. Recoil. For 5.56 rifles, this is almost a non-issue as long-range shots will be taken from a supported position from which little difference will be noticed between soft and hard-shooting cartridges. For .308 shooters, hotter loads such as M118LR (175 grain projectile traveling somewhere around Mach Jesus) are disadvantageous as the recoil increases recovery time and can add excess movement to unstable shooting props.