Favourite factory reloads for centrefire cartridges
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- Last updated: 10/12/2020
A rifle is only as good as the ammunition you shoot through it and the person behind the trigger. I can’t help with the latter but the former is easily remedied with good quality factory ammo or reloads. Matching the correct bullet weight, powder, primer, bullet profile, rifling twist etc is crucial to good accuracy and external ballistics. What works in one rifle may not work in another but here are some of the best reloads and factory ammunition I have tested over the years for .223, .243 and .308.
This calibre is capable of shooting 40-grain bullets at 3800fps or 55-grain at 3250fps for Scottish Roe or small species deer. 75-grain projectiles can be used for longer range pests at nearly 2800fps, making the .223 very versatile. The choice of rifling twist is critical; a 1:12 or 1:14 twist for the lighter bullets, whilst the heavier bullets require a tighter twist rate of 1:9 or 1:8 while 90-grain bullets need 1:7.
My favourite factory offerings have to be the 40-grain and 50-grain Norma V-MAX loads. These always produce good velocity; 3694fps and 3487fps respectively, plus accuracy is nearly as good as my reloads. The Sako 55-grain Gamehead soft point at 2965fps|1074 ft/lbs make a great small species deer round and are very accurate.
For reloads, there are lots of bullet choices or designs from flat base, hollow points, soft points or polymer tipped. My favourite is a load of 24.5-grains of Reloder RL10X with a Hornady 40-grain V-MAX bullet. It produces 3726fps|1433 ft/lbs from a 24” barrel. The V-MAX has a BC of 0.200 and good terminal ballistics. Substituting it for the Sierra 39-grain Blitz King gives almost identical performance.
The Speer Varmint 40-grain soft point bullet with 24.2-grains of Vit N130 produces 3711fps|1223ft/lbs. Expansion is a little more controlled and accuracy is always excellent. If you want a heavier 50-55-grain varmint bullet and not for deer then the 50-grain Hornady V-MAX and 22.5-grains of Vit N120 produces 3353fps|1248 ft/lbs. For deer, I prefer the 55-grain Sierra Game King. Always accurate, with good penetration and controlled expansion. I use a load of 22.5-grains of Vit N133 for 3055 fps|1140 ft/lbs.
Going heavy and from the RPA 26” 1:7 twist barrel, the 80-grain Sierra Match King and 23.0-grains of CFE 223 powder makes 2611fps|1211 ft/lbs. The mighty 90-grain Sierra Match King or Berger VLD both shoot well with 20.0-grains of RL15 powder to produce a velocity of 2524 fps|1273 ft/lbs.
This is another versatile calibre, offering more punch over the smaller .223 cal. It can utilise fast, lightweight 55-grain projectiles for foxes and vermin, whilst 70 to 80-grain bullets are suitable for fox and deer, dependent on their internal construction. The 90 to 100-grain bullets tend to be specifically used for deer (The latter being a legal requirement in Scotland for all deer species except Roe) As with the .223 Rem, rifling twist rates are crucial especially with non-lead projectiles.
Factory ammunition is abundant and usually performs well. Winchester Ballistic Silver Tip, 55-grain loads produce 3633fps|1612 ft/lbs with great accuracy. Some good mid-range options are the Federal Sierra GameKing 85-grain rounds that produce sub MOA groups at 3179fps|1908 ft/lbs. A nice lead-free option is the Federal loaded Barnes Triple Shock 85-grain, which travels at 3052 fps|1759 ft/lbs.
Always very consistent are the Sako Game Head 90-grain factory loads which move along at 3114 fps|1938 ft/lbs. A good deer legal rifle cartridge in Scotland for the large species are the heavier 100-grainers like the Norma Semi-Pointed which produce a healthy 2881fps|1844 ft/ lbs. Another is Winchester’s Power Point, which yields 2849 fps|1803 ft/lbs.
Seeing as .243 Win is barrel length sensitive, I like to reload for it to achieve the maximum potential in both velocity and accuracy. For starters; a 55-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip with 48.0-grains of RL17 starts at 3868fps|1827ft/lb from a 24” barrel, but at 20” it is down to 3681fps|1655ft/ lbs. At 18” it only managed 3566fps|1553ft/lbs, which shows a serious loss of performance.
An 80-grain bullet like the Nosler Ballistic Tip loaded with 49.0-grains of RL19 fired from a 24” tube, produces 3438fps|1968 ft/lbs and at 20” 3270fps|1781 ft/lbs. The 100-grain bullets like my favourite Sierra Game Kings with a load of 42.5gr of H4350 create 2945fps|1926 ft/lb. At 20” it drops to 2711fps|1632 ft/lb and therefore below the 1750 ft/lbs energy threshold in Scotland. As a result of many .243 Win rifles having 20” barrels these days, I like reloads with mid-weight bullets.
Alternative loads are the Hornady 58-grain V-MAX with 45.2-grains of RL15 at 3702 fps|1765 ft/lbs which offers the shooter a flat shooting explosive cartridge combination. The 70 to 75-grain bullet weights offered by Hornady, Nosler, Barnes, Speer, Berger and Sierra come in several styles. These range from conventional round nose soft points, which can be used for smaller deer to hollow points, ballistic tips, and Blitz Kings, which are designed for varmint use because of their thinner jacket walls. A good load is a 70-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip with 44.0-grains of Swiss RS52 powder for 3452 fps|1852 ft/ lbs.
The 80, 85 and 95-grain bullets make excellent deer bullets if not pushed too fast for the smaller species of deer. I have used the Nosler 80-grain Ballistic Tip to good effect for long range work up to 600 yards and my new load is 42.0 grains of Vit N150 for 3163fps|1777 ft/lbs.
The last category is the heaviest 100-grain bullets solely used for deer stalking. I use 42.0-grains of RL17 for 3023fps|2030 ft/lbs under a Sierra Game King with a 24” tube. Deer legal and mild recoiling, plus very accurate.
This is definitely my favourite all-rounder although the new 6.5 Creedmoor is very interesting too. Factory wise, I use Sako 123-grain Game Heads as a great allrounder, as they produce 2944fps|2368 ft/ lbs and sub MOA groups plus it is a capable fox and deer round.
My go-to 150-grain factory load is Hornady SST Superformance as they produce an impressive 2898fps|2798 ft/lbs and my 40-year-old Tikka shoots 0.95” groups with them! I also really like the 165-grain RWS DX loads which do 2478fps|2250 ft/lbs and have proven lethal on larger deer, especially Sika stags. For a non-lead alternative, the Barnes TSX Vortex 168-grain at 2601fps|2524f t/lbs will keep the Eco’s happy!
Reloading undoubtedly brings the 308 alive. I regularly use Berger 110-grain bullets (check your twist rate) loaded with 46.0-grains of RL10X powder for 3332fps|2713 ft/lbs which is superb for foxes and is deer legal too. It is flat shooting and safer on more open ground. Another couple of options are Hornady V-MAX with 54.5-grains of CFE 223 powder, producing 3218fps|2529 ft/lbs or 125-grain Nosler Ballistic Tips over 43.5-grains of RL10X, and Federal Match primers. These produce 3131fps|2721 ft/lbs and are very accurate.
The midpoint 150-grain bullets are .308 territory and I now use Hornady 150-grain SST’s loaded with 48.0-grains of Swiss RS50 for 2768fps|2552 ft/lbs. The new Sako S20 shot 0.85” groups. For heavier loads, the Sierra SPBT 165-grain with 46.0-grains of Swiss RS52 is always very consistent at 2631fps|2582 ft/lbs energy.
Short barrels work too with the .308 Win, a 150-grain SST from a 24” tube moves at 2905fps|2812 ft/lbs yet from a 20” barrel still produces 2792fps|2597 ft/ lbs. At 14.5” this reduces to 2598fps|2249 ft/lbs.
With the .223 Rem, .243 Win and .308 Win you have everything one needs for all the British game species. If you don’t reload there are some really good factory loads now available and when I am lazy, I genuinely use them. However, reloads to me are still the way to go in order to achieve optimum performance and each of these cartridges responds well to some well worked up reloads. REMEMBER, always work up a load for your own rifle. Consult a loading manual to find a safe starting load before doing any reloading. Do not use any unproven loads.