Thinking About Rifles

BY Herschel Smith
2 months, 1 week ago

So at the invitation of Fred and BRVTVS, I thought I would lay out a few disconnected thoughts on rifles and then open it up for a free-for-all where readers weigh in.

To begin with, I had been thinking about another semi-automatic rifle that is different in caliber from the 5.56mm/.223.  I’ve been trying to focus my ammunition purchases a little more towards the heavier end for 5.56mm, i.e., a 62 grain bullet.  Hornady makes a hot load for that weight.  Expensive, but good.

But taking a hard look at the muzzle velocity for even heavier rounds (like 77 gr.) I just don’t like the drop in performance.  It’s just a matter of choice, but for me, a heavier round requires a different cartridge.

Here there are a number of choices short of the .308 cartridge we’ve discussed before, like 6.5 Grendel, etc.  I don’t like the 6.5 Creedmoor for a semi-automatic rifle.  The recoil is too similar to the .308, and to me that negates the very purpose of the small caliber, high velocity, low recoil round that allows rapid sight picture reacquisition.

I’ve settled on the .224 Valkyrie for this next purchase, and more specifically looking hard at the Savage.  The fact that there is no loss in muzzle velocity compared to the 5.56mm 55- or 62-gr round is appealing, even shooting a 90 gr round.  I wanted to stop short of bullet masses much higher, like in the 120 gr range.  I want to be able to shoot a 90 gr. round at high muzzle velocity and low recoil.  This basically means the .224 Valkyrie.

This leaves me with the option of a bolt action for larger rounds, which I think is appropriate.  I do like my Tikka .270, Walnut Stock, as it is beautiful, well-crafted, and extremely accurate.  I’ve put two rounds through the same hole in paper before at 100 yards, and if I wasn’t shooting everything within one inch or less it was a bad day at the range.

But I’m thinking about gifting this rifle to someone.  I might replace it with another Tikka .270, as big game hunting requires .270, 7mm Magnum or 300 Win Mag in my opinion.  There are some other more exotic cartridges, and I’m not including those here.  The .270 is a 30-06 casing, and has plenty of power to take down anything in North America.

Upon thinking about bolt action rifles, I like the .270 and the 6.5 Creedmoor, both of which have a higher muzzle velocity and BC than the .308.  As for types, the following are my brief thoughts.

Wood Stocks (Pros): Walnut stocks are beautiful.  They make for a fine piece of furniture you would be proud to turn over to your children’s children.

Cons: They get dinged with use.  If they get wet, a free floated barrel becomes a poorly bedded barrel that changes everything if the swelling is severe enough.

Synthetic stocks (Pros): It doesn’t matter if it gets dirty or wet.  It can be Cerakoted, and some of the finishes are very nice and appealing.

Cons: Not fine furniture.

Caliber (Pros): The 6.5 Creedmoor and the .270 are literally ubiquitous at the moment, everywhere I turn, in every store I enter.  This is good.  For my budget, I don’t like to spend a wad of money to mail order ammunition.  Besides, from the weight considerations and mail expenses, I rarely save that much money anyway.  I mostly use mail order for ammunition I cannot find locally.  For everything else, I find that if I happen to have $50 left at the end of the month, I know just how to spend it.

Cons: I simply cannot find 6.5 Grendel anywhere around here.  If I cannot find it, that means I will have less, and it also means that few other shooters will have it.  For reasons my readers understand, it matters what other people are shooting.

I can also find .224 Valkyrie almost everywhere around here.  It has become a very popular round, and I expect it’s popularity to increase.

Savage is making some nice rifles, but so is Ruger.  The folks at Hyatt Gun Shop (near me and the best in the two-state area) are good in that they aren’t snobs.  If a person cannot afford a more expensive gun, they know what the good less expensive guns are and will steer the buyer in that direction.  They don’t like Remington 700 series.  They like Tikka, Savage, Ruger, Weatherby, and a number of other brands.

Finally, I like what I see in the chassis guns, but they are almost all prohibitively expensive for my tastes.  If I can get a good Savage or Ruger for 1/3 the price of a custom chassis gun, why not?  I’m not a competition shooter.

I want to enjoy the experience, whether sighting a rifle in, shooting it rapid fire, drills, range play time, or more serious applications.  I don’t want to beat or be better than someone else.  That has no interest for me.

Please weigh in with comments.  Frankly I hadn’t thought much about magazine type and long-action versus short action design in the Ruger American guns, which was brought up in the comments.  I learn a lot from the comments, especially from people who can say, “Been there, done that.”


Comments

  1. On September 6, 2018 at 11:45 pm, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ Herschel

    Re: “But taking a hard look at the muzzle velocity for even heavier rounds (like 77 gr.) I just don’t like the drop in performance. It’s just a matter of choice, but for me, a heavier round requires a different cartridge.”

    For what it is worth, the top-tier special ops guys have almost all gravitated to heavier projectiles (bullets) for their missions, as opposed to the older M193 and M855 NATO standard rounds. This switch came about for a number of reasons.

    As far back as the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, the infamous “Blackhawk Down” incident, field reports of the performance of 62-grain M855 have been mixed-to-negative as to its performance in combat. U.S. Navy SEALs, Delta Force and U.S. Army Rangers all experienced the phenomenon of Somali fighters taking multiple center-mass hits, yet remaining in the fight. In particular, the propensity of the steel-penetrator enhanced 62-grain M855 to “ice-pick” Tangos, penetrating cleanly rather than fragmenting and producing incapacitating or lethal wounds.

    Upon further research by DARPA and other agencies, i.e., Naval Special Warfare Center-Crane (Indiana), it was discovered that “fleet yaw” was instrumental in how well the M193 and M855 loads performed in combat. In other words, if these rounds were gyroscopically somewhat unstable as they impacted an enemy soldier, they were more likely to tumble – thus enlarging the wound channel – or fragment, producing multiple wound channels. Projectiles with insufficient yaw, however, which were spin-stabilized, tended not to yaw, tumble or fragment reliably – and often simply penetrated the “Tango” (target) intact.

    Pentagon/DOD R&D efforts since those initial studies (1990s into the early-mid 2000s) have concentrated on correcting this problem, at the same time addressing another issue – barrier-blindness when engaging a target such as a subject in a vehicle.

    Technicians, scientists and engineers set about designing a number of different types of ammunition in .224-caliber, to address these problems.

    For soldiers trying to engage enemies through glass or automotive sheet metal, ammunition manufacturers have designed such rounds as Hornady’s TAP Barrier and TAP Personal Defense, which allow users to engage targets through glass and other barriers without sacrificing accuracy, terminal effectiveness or disintegration of the projectile. Barnes also manufacturers a variety of solid-semi-solid copper projectiles which are tough-enough to penetrate barriers while still holding together and maintaining on-target performance.

    For the issue of how to improve upon the performance of M193 and M855, the engineers saw a critical defect in both of these rounds, i.e., the reliance upon high muzzle velocity as a necessary condition of optimal performance. Both the 55-grain and 62-grain loads had been designed with the 20-inch barreled M-16/AR15 in mind, and neither load was optimized for use in carbine-length barrels of 16-inches or shorter.

    What the troops in the field wanted was a round which would work at all commonly-encountered muzzle velocities, not just from rifles, but from carbines and SBRs as well. First, the designers sought heavier bullets than 55- or 62-grain – upping the mass to 68-69-grains or even into the 75-77-grain range. While somewhat slower-moving (2750-2850 fps from a rifle) than their lighter counterparts, the heavier bullets retained momentum better, and thus down-range performance, as well as better performance in the wind than lighter projectiles.

    Bullets in the 68-77-grain range extended the supersonic envelope of AR15/M4 performance out to 800 meters routinely, and in some platforms to 1,000 meters. A substantial improvement in performance compared to older ammunition designs.

    These new projectiles were usually of the BTHP type – boat-tailed, hollow-point, also called OTM or “open-tipped match” bullets. Formed by the drawing together of several “petals” of gilding metal at the tip (metplat) over a lead core, these bullets performed remarkably like traditional hollow-point or expanding bullets in terminal ballistic tests. However, since they were not purpose-designed as expanding or hollow-point bullets, the Judge Advocate General ruled that they were legal for use under the Geneva-Hague Conventions on Land Warfare.

    Upon encountering a target, BTHP slugs fragment reliably at all commonly-encountered muzzle velocities, and are not dependent upon high MV for their performance, as were the older M193 and M855 types of projectiles.
    This fact made them an excellent choice for use in subsonic loads used for suppressed use, in particular when using heavy bullets in the 75-80 grain range, including use in carbines and SBRs.

    Black Hills Ammunition, which supplies the special ops community many of its specialty loads, markets their .224-caliber 77-grain Sierra Match King BTHP Mk. 262 Mod 1 load to the public, with published MVs in the 2700-2750 fps range, and also with a flash suppressant added to the propellant for military use, to aid in reduction of flash signature. The 77-grain BTHP bullet is identical to the civilian market projectile, except for the provision of a crimping groove or cannulure.

    Using very heavy and aerodynamically-slippery .224-caliber bullets, the .223 Rem./5.56×45 NATO cartridge is a viable long-range performer, as many high-power rifle competitors have shown over the years. Using a an 18-20″ barrel with a fast-enough twist rate, i.e., 1:6.5-1:7, 80-90-grain bullets are good performers out to 1,000 meters.

    The only drawback is that at this weight/length, the cartridges will be too long to feed from a standard AR15 magazine, and will have to be fed singly. This fact probably accounts for the popularity of the .224 Valkyrie, which can handle up to 90-grain SMK BTHP bullets. This newer cartridge is a purpose-built LR performer, and also has a larger propellant capacity in comparison to standard .223 Remington/5.56 NATO cases. These advantages give the .224 Valkyrie an indisputable 250-300 meter advantage for LR use.

    In summary, then, the effectiveness of the AR15/M4 platform (like any small arm) is tied closely to the type of ammunition used.

  2. On September 7, 2018 at 4:20 am, Nosmo said:

    GB61 does a good summary; I’ve used the 77 gr MK262 as the “house carbine load” in 5.56 for quite a while; the rifle is zeroed at 200M and PBR goes to 288 yards, accomplishing all I need in that platform. .224 Valkyrie would be a good replacement, but there’s massive infrastructure behind 5.56X45 that doesn’t yet exist in the Valkyrie; that’ll change in a decade, but by then I’ll be so antique if I’m not slobbering all over myself in a wheelchair I’ll probably be down to owning just the standard 3 basic long guns (AR, bolt, shot).

    I’m a .30 caliber addict, but recognize the downside of cartridges in those families. I’ve looked at .243 Win ballistically, and there are some bright spots: 90-100 grain projectiles are a suitable weight and perform well on a wide variety of game; downside is .243 is just a necked-down .308 Win, so it’s large, and the higher velocities achievable in .243 are unnecessary. A 90-100 grain 6MM projectile at 2800 or so could easily be achieved with a smaller case, but still probably won’t fit in a 5.56 magazine or use 5.56 bolts. In a bolt rifle it wouldn’t matter, nor would the size of a necked-down .308 case. Don’t know if the supply chain resources adequately support the choice, though, never owned a .243. It’s be interesting to “300BLK 5.56 brass into 6MM” to see what’s possible, but I suspect that’d be a very small club, and 300BLK has been a decade+ marshalling its following into what it is today. Plus, 90 gr is achievable in the Valkyrie with good effect right now so reinventing the wheel is an unnecessary chore unless some useful additional gains can be shown for 6 over 5.56.

  3. On September 7, 2018 at 6:03 am, DAN III said:

    Mr. Smith,

    I am a fan of 5.56mm using 77 grain cartridges. However, regarding your requested input from your readers I offer two thoughts:

    1. What is your intended purpose for the forthcoming rifle ?
    2. Regardless of rifle/caliber selected, a low power variable scope will allow you to and enhance your ability to, put round(s) at distance on target. Accurately.

    Good luck on your decision.

  4. On September 7, 2018 at 7:09 am, wynn said:

    Sierra’s 77 gr. OTM bullet as used in the Mk262 is a good performing bullet and has good wounding results. Their newer 77 gr. “tipped” match king does not share those same characteristics. It is a very good target bullet but does produced the same wounding characteristics as the 77 gr. BTHP Match King.

  5. On September 7, 2018 at 7:22 am, Mark Matis said:

    Two questions:

    1. How well does your chosen caliber/bullet penetrate armor? Or do you think those coming at you will not be fully equipped with all the latest toys?

    2. What is the availability of ammo for your chosen caliber? If it is not widely used, you had better make sure you have a shipload of it BEFORE the fun starts.

    As far as I am concerned, .308 FMJ should do the job I want it to at the ranges I expect to use it. And it is reasonably available.

  6. On September 7, 2018 at 7:41 am, wynn said:

    my comment should be edited to say “does not produce the same”……

  7. On September 7, 2018 at 11:52 am, LiberTarHeel said:

    My free-for-all contribution:

    I swear that I’m really not a troglodyte, but I decided long ago that I was perfectly happy with:
    .30-06 (BA + SA)
    .243 (BA)
    5.56 (SA)
    .22 (SA + BA)
    Bases. Covered.

    Worth every cent you paid for it. :-)

  8. On September 7, 2018 at 12:35 pm, NOG said:

    Why beat yourself up deciding on a purchase? The Tikka worked for you in 270 so why change? The 5.56 has worked all over the world. Personally I have settled on the 5.56 Black Hills 68 or 69 gr. OTHP for defensive purposes. My local gunshop/range orders it for me. After seeing what it does to feral hogs I am very satisfied with it. For distance I settled on the 308 Savage using match ammo. This ammo is cheapest match ammo to buy. Is very accurate in my rifle and I just don’t shoot the bolt gun as much as I shoot the AR so stocking up once (a case again ordered locally) can last quite a while. All bases covered for social use and the 308 can use hunting loads if I needed more performance for muley or elk (though no longer hunting- old age sucks and the rifle is heavy!). I just don’t get on the new whizz bang bandwagon. These work just fine so I can tend to other business.

    https://www.tombstonetactical.com/catalog/savage-arms/12-bvss-rifle-308-win-26in-stainless-fluted-hb-4rd-brown/

  9. On September 7, 2018 at 12:54 pm, Bram said:

    What about barrel length? The current trend for 16″ barrels seems to leave velocity on the table particularly for heavy bullets. Moving up to .224 V or a Creedmor cartridge would probably mean a longer barrel anyhow.

  10. On September 7, 2018 at 1:39 pm, Furminator said:

    So far I am underwhelmed by the 1:7 PSA 224 Valkyrie upper I have been fooling with. The factory Federal 75gn FMJ shoots 2” and I have been unable to get near an inch with a few handloaded 90 gn SMKs or factory Hornady match 88 gn ammo. I just got back from the range where I finally got five under an inch by pulling the factory 75 FMJs, keeping Federal’s 28 grains of pixie dust, and replacing them with 77 gn SMKs. This is the heaviest bullet a friend has gone with having good results as well, and BTW his (same as mine) gun didn’t like light Noslers. So I have hope but I think the Valkyrie needs to wait for version 2.0, which might have to standardize on 1:6.5 before it will really shoot the heavy bullets at advertized velocities. Maybe a bolt gun would do better.

    I am with the other commenters: stick with a 5.56 that shoots M262 well if you want to shoot that caliber. If you anticipate a need to punch through more than paper at half a mile I would look at bigger than a .224 caliber. As for the 270, IMHO don’t fix it if it ain’t broken.

  11. On September 7, 2018 at 3:50 pm, Old Bill said:

    Tactics win battles, but logistics wins wars, as the old saying goes. I enjoy shooting, carry every single day, and view my firearms as emergency preparedness items. Money is tight, so stockpiling ammo is challenging. Therefore I have settled on four cartridges, and everything I have uses one of them: 45ACP, 9mm, 5.56NATO, and 7.62NATO. This is stick-in-the-mud conventional, I know, but should a situation ever develop that outlasts my supply (and I outlast my supply) one of these rounds will be nearby.
    Also, I am a firm proponent of the idea “a man with one gun is dangerous; he knows how to use it”. I don’t have time to be proficient with multiple calibers for different ranges/conditions. Thought there are good arguments to be made for purpose-optimized calibers, I just don’t have time or money to make use of them effectively. YMMV

  12. On September 7, 2018 at 4:22 pm, =TW= said:

    First, determine what the rifle will be used for, and keep the end user in mind.
    Plenty of models are available from various makers, or you might find one acceptable off the shelf.
    My buddies have been very pleased with Howa (= Weatherby Vanguard)and Savage bolt rifles, and Mossbergs as well- “worth every nickel” is the consensus.
    Rugers are a pretty well-known quantity, the American line looks like a great value. The RPR is based on the American action.
    Don’t overlook Brownings.
    One of the CZs might be just the ticket.
    And the Mauser M18 looks good. New on the market and reviews are promising.

    If you like to tinker, you could start with a barreled action of your choice and bed it yourself. Consider a laminated wood stock.

  13. On September 7, 2018 at 5:32 pm, Marshall said:

    Herschel,

    I am surprised not to see the 6.8 SPC in your list. Gets 90 to 120 gr projectiles going fast enough to take care of bidness.

    Marshall

  14. On September 7, 2018 at 6:14 pm, BRVTVS said:

    Some of my thoughts about a jack of all trades bolt action rifle.

    308 vs 30-06:
    308 pros – 308 should be faster cycling than 30-06 with a short action. The recoil is a little bit less since there is less propellant. Canadian rangers consider 308 adequate for bear protection. See https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/why-the-114-year-old-lee-enfield-rifle-is-only-now-being-retired-by-the-canadian-armed-forces
    30-06 pros – 30-06 can handle up to 220 grain bullets vs the 180 grain maximum for 308, making a much better bear defense round.

    308/30-06 vs 6.5 Creedmore/270:
    308/30-06 pros – The barrel life is longer.
    6.5 Creedmore/270 pros – Flat, efficient ballistics and less recoil.

    Some References I’ve been referring to lately:
    https://www.chuckhawks.com/rifle_ballistics_table2.htm
    https://www.chuckhawks.com/recoil_table.htm
    https://www.chuckhawks.com/rifle_trajectory_table.htm

  15. On September 7, 2018 at 7:03 pm, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ Mark Matis

    Re: “How well does your chosen caliber/bullet penetrate armor? Or do you think those coming at you will not be fully equipped with all the latest toys?”

    Gabe Suarez, the noted tactical trainer, spoke to that very issue a while back – in reference to the increased use of plate-carrier systems and body armor by terrorists and jihadists.

    While Suarez’ comments in this particular video were directed specifically to hand-gunners engaging a threat, they are equally-applicable to long arms as well. Engage the “head and hips”…

    The fight-stopping potential of hits to the head is – or ought to be – obvious to all. The hips are perhaps less known as a means of disabling the threat, but are also a very effective choice.

    As any doctor or medic with trauma care experience can attest, trauma to the hip is usually immediately disabling to such an extent that the person who has sustained the fracture, GSW, or other injury immediately loses the ability to stand up or walk, let alone move more-quickly.

    Trauma to the pelvic girdle and hips is also difficult to treat, given the rich vascularity of the area and difficult controlling hemorrhaging, stabilizing the fracture(s), etc.

    Long story short, if the “tango” in question gets hit in the hip, at the very least you’ll score a mobility kill, and render that threat hors de combat. And such wounds often prove to be fatal, if sufficiently serious.

  16. On September 7, 2018 at 8:16 pm, the wookie said:

    .224 Valkyrie takes 6.8 mags, so not a great choice for the up coming troubles. Need to resupply of the ground, when supplies get short.

  17. On September 7, 2018 at 9:40 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    @GeorgiaBoy,

    Thanks for your insight and studied views. I always benefit. In this case the experience in Mogadishu might be just another instance of being badly outnumbered with enemy shooters in ensconced positions. My son had no such bad experience in Fallujah, and he saw a lot of combat. Remember, the goal is for the bullet to explode, and it does that well. The bullet “ice picking” is to me more myth for the haters than it is science.

    http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a519801.pdf

    @Mark Mattis,

    What are you going to do – carry around a 300 Win Mag? The ESAPI can stop 30-06.

    @Furminator,

    Perhaps your complaint is more with the gun than the ammo itself?

    @Bram,

    Good points on barrel length. I suspect that one gets the same decrease in muzzle velocity with barrels short of 22″ for the Valkyrie as one would for 5.56mm.

    @Marshall,

    So make your case. Does one get mild recoil with the 6.8 SPC? As mild as it would be with the Valkyrie (which is noted to be similar to the 5.56mm)?

    @NOG,

    Oh, I don’t beat myself up over these choices. I love it.

  18. On September 7, 2018 at 11:41 pm, BRVTVS said:

    Regarding the armor issue:

    Most any rifle round better than a 22lr can pierce soft armor, including the 22 mag. (https://youtu.be/ia1k1Zg4l2A) If you think you’ll be faced with an attacker who has ESAPI, a better strategy might be a training/equipment combo to ensure you can hit the relatively small, vulnerable and potentially moving areas not protected by armor. For instance, a riot shotgun loaded with buckshot wouldn’t even pierce soft armor, but the scatter would give a small margin for error and it’s quite common to use on moving targets such as in skeet shooting or jackrabbit hunts.

  19. On September 8, 2018 at 12:50 am, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ Hershel

    Re: “Thanks for your insight and studied views. I always benefit. In this case the experience in Mogadishu might be just another instance of being badly outnumbered with enemy shooters in ensconced positions. My son had no such bad experience in Fallujah, and he saw a lot of combat. Remember, the goal is for the bullet to explode, and it does that well. The bullet “ice picking” is to me more myth for the haters than it is science.”

    Thank you for the kind words, I’d better get a bigger hat as they say in Texas.

    Interesting that your son – a Marine, if memory serves – does not speak poorly of the M855 62-grain “green tip” FMJ penetrator round, because its press has been decidedly mixed in recent years.

    Undoubtedly, there is a lot of rumor, innuendo and outright myth surrounding military hardware, ammunition included – which makes separating fact from fiction all the tougher.

    I once heard someplace, and have never forgotten, a quote from a soldier: “Bullets are funny things.” Meaning that it is enigma why one man walks away from what is apparently a lethal, center-mass hit, while another lies down and assumes ambient temperature.

    Shot placement is everything – we know that. As a trained medic with trauma care experience and someone with substantial human anatomy and physiology training and similar subjects in his background, I can speak to that.

    Ballistic gelatin does even begin to reliably approximate what a given projectile finds once it enters a human or animal target; at best, ballistic gelatin approximates the density/composition/hydration of soft tissues – but we know that the human (mammalian) body is much more-complex and varied.

    Even more than I can, my older brother – a physician with vast trauma care, ER, and OR experience treating just about anything nasty you can name – remarked to me once how crazy the path of a projectile (bullet) potentially is when it enters the body. An unfortunate soldier (or gang-banger, for that matter), for example, who takes a shot to the hip, can see that shot ricochet upwards off the bone of the pelvic crest, through his abdomen and thorax, to exit by his clavicle (collar bone), for example.

    Displaced by a few millimeters, that same bullet can be a “through-and-through” which passes through the target to exit relatively harmlessly out the other side of his body.

    The difficulty with M855 ammunition is that the steel cup (core) added to the lead matrix to enhance penetration downrange, will also upset spin stabilization if the cup is not placed properly. Ironically, at close-medium range, this may actually enhance the lethality of the projectile – via the “fleet yaw” effect – but at longer range, it can cause accuracy to deteriorate and the target to be missed entirely.

    The Lake City M855 I have shot out of a variety of AR-type rifles and carbines has yielded only so-so accuracy at 100 yards (meters), usually on the order of 3-4.5 moa from a supported position at a bench. Not abysmal, but nothing to call home about, either. Adequate for combat, save perhaps precision-DMR-type usage.

    After development by FN-Herstal of Belgium, M855 (SS109) 62-grain “green-tip” was adopted as the NATO standard load in 5.56×45. It fulfilled a requirement that the new load penetrate one side of a standard WWII-era U.S. M-1 helmet at 800 meters, or an equivalent Warsaw Pact helmet at the same range.

    Due to being heavier, and its penetrator, the M855 (SS109) round has superior down-range performance compared to the previous 55-grain M193 round, but not without cost – as the older M193 round fragments more-reliably at most combat ranges inside 300 meters, and thanks to its higher MV, has better armor penetration than M855 at close-medium ranges.

    This disparity has been confirmed repeatedly by, amongst others, manufacturers of ballistic steel and ceramic body-armor plates. M193 is actually a better penetrator of AR500 steel at close-medium range than the M855, thanks to its superior 3250 fps muzzle velocity, roughly 200 fps faster than M855 from a 20-inch barrel.

    M855 probably does the job if shot placement is adequate. The one drawback or anomaly observed by special ops forces is that M855 under-performs against “skinny” or slight-framed, slender targets – exactly the kind of tangos our force encountered in Mogadishu. The theory behind that is these slender-framed men (they are almost always men) possess insufficient thickness of tissue to cause sufficient yaw and fragmentation, thereby decreasing terminal effectiveness.

    There have probably been improvements to military-issue M855 that we on the civilian side haven’t seen or had a chance to test. For understandable reasons, the Pentagon/DOD are reluctant to share our latest-and-greatest tech with potential adversaries.

  20. On September 8, 2018 at 12:52 am, Georgiaboy61 said:

    Typo alert

    Re: “Ballistic gelatin does even begin to reliably approximate”

    Obviously, should have read “does not even begin to…” – apologies for the error. I’ll proof-read next time!

  21. On September 8, 2018 at 3:02 am, Pat Hines said:

    Effects of barrel length in the .224 Valkyrie.

    https://rifleshooter.com/2018/02/224-valkyrie-effect-of-barrel-length-on-velocity/

  22. On September 8, 2018 at 10:51 am, Mark Matis said:

    @Herschel Smith

    Inside of 25 yards?

    @Georgiaboy61

    If there are multiple coming at you, head the first. Especially if he is the one battering down your door. Whatever he’s using to break in will find a new home, which should interrupt an OODA loop. In addition, the red spray of his brains onto the face shield of the second in the stack will cause additional OODA disruption. Then hip the last. That should anchor the stack and restrict their movement. Some of them may trip and fall as a result, so hip or head any remaining standing next and finish up on those down.

  23. On September 8, 2018 at 1:46 pm, Donk said:

    +1 on the 6.8SPC wrt performance and recoil. Hornady, SSA make very good rounds. This caliber works well on feral hogs if that is a respected reference. ASC mags with Magpul followers are an inexpensive combo and work well. Logistical trail, not so much as the SF guys never adopted it.

    +1 on the .25-06. Very flat shooting caliber, has taken moose and bear with sccurate shot placement. Mild recoil. Fairly ubiquitous but not available in semi-auto to my knowledge.

  24. On September 8, 2018 at 3:06 pm, DB said:

    One thing to consider with the valkyrie is that reduced recoil comes at a price, namely significant backblast from the compensator, at least on Savages models

  25. On September 8, 2018 at 5:16 pm, Pat Hines said:

    While some may know, I’m an advocate for the 6.5 Grendel, Hershel is asking for additional information on the .224 Valkyrie rifles and ammo for it.

    http://blog.cheaperthandirt.com/hard-look-224-valkyrie/

  26. On September 8, 2018 at 9:24 pm, Geoff said:

    Wood stocks. Remove the action and barrel.
    A few light coats of Minwax® Helmsman® Spar Urethane is specially formulated as a protective clear finish for exterior or interior wood exposed to sunlight, water, or temperature changes.
    All my wood stocks on my WWI and WWI rifles except the M1 Garand have been treated with it.

  27. On September 9, 2018 at 1:05 pm, H said:

    I wonder about the details of this claimed “fleet yaw” effect, but am not going to research it since my solution for serious social work is anything but inexpensive best for target practice Lake City seconds. Martin Fackler pointed out from the terminal ballistics viewpoint that all spitzer bullets start to tumble when they change media from air to something like the human body or gelatin, and all things being equal, a solid enough round like the Vietnam standard for AK-47s will do a 180 flip to end up traveling bottom first if the media is long enough.

    In his 1980s research on M193 ammo he discovered the primary wounding mechanism was tied to this flipping or yawing mechanism, in the “ideal” case the bullet with break at the cannelure, with the rear half breaking into many small pieces. The lower the velocity when the bullet hits, the less of this will happen, and as a very rough rule of thumb every inch chopped off the standard 20″ barrel decreases the effect by about 50 yards.

    As an after note in what I read, he said M855 is subject to the same phenomena, but he didn’t precisely characterize it. And “fleet yaw” might pertain to how variable it is in M855 ammo, there are all sorts of details that will come into play for this never designed, unplanned wounding mechanism. Heck, the original SS109 bullet was not designed to be used on humans as such, it’s machine gun ammo designed above all things to fulfill one metric, penetrating a standard NATO helmet at such and so a distance.

    As for those in the Blackhawk Down situation, I’ve read without sufficient authority that they were using a lot of short barreled rifles/carbines, which per the above would result in bad wounding and stopping power depending on how short, and how far were the distances to their targets (wouldn’t be surprised if the above rule of thumb breaks down by the time you go from a 20″ to 14.5″ or shorter barrel).

  28. On September 9, 2018 at 3:44 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    @H,

    http://www.captainsjournal.com/2015/11/30/5-56x45mm-versus-7-62x39mm/

  29. On September 9, 2018 at 8:08 pm, Matt Fulford said:

    Myself I’m quite partial to the 270 for my hunting needs.As a reloader I can reload some very nice rounds. For many years I had mostly been reloading various 150 grns I then found at a gun show various 130 grn bronze and soft point. At 1 point My girlfriend found me a box 170grn round nose. The 270 is such a versatile gun. The one I have now is a Mossberg 100ATR. Shoot what works for you.

  30. On September 9, 2018 at 11:09 pm, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ H

    You can’t go wrong with Dr. Martin Fackler – his terminal ballistic research is considered the “gold standard,” at least until something better comes along.

    The “fleet yaw” problem is real, but it does not always manifest itself. Technical verbiage to describe how a gyroscopic device – a top or a bullet, for example, which spins rapidly-enough to show such behavior – spins at first erratically upon being fired, but then settles down (“goes to sleep” in shooter’s lingo) at some distance from the muzzle. Once the object (projectile in this case) “goes to sleep,” and settles down – yaw-related effects are significantly lessened on target.

    Some .224-caliber rounds go-to-sleep (attain gyroscopic stability) sooner than others, hence different levels of terminal performance on target. Yaw isn’t the only thing which impacts terminal ballistics – as you alluded to, fragmentation is another.

    Engineer Eugene Stoner and his team faced a unique challenge in the mid-1950s. They had been tasked with designing a rifle which duplicated the performance of the older M-1 Garand 30-06 and M14 7.62 NATO – but which was a light-weight assault rifle, capable of select-fire operation. Their original solution was the AR10 in 7.62×51 NATO, but when that wasn’t adopted, and the U.S. Army Ordnance Department asked for a lighter-weight assault rifle and cartridge, they undertook work which led to the AR-15/M-16 assault rifle, firing the 5.56×45 NATO cartridge in .224-caliber.

    The challenge facing Stoner and company was that the Ordnance Dept. required the automatic rifle and cartridge to be lighter, while still duplicating the battlefield performance of the older, harder-hitting M2 150-grain 30-06 load and the 7.62×51 NATO M80 Ball load, with similar specifications.

    This was a tall order, to say the least. Stoner and company arrived at an ingenious solution, but one not without costs or drawbacks. Mindful of the performance envelope of the assault rifle, 0-300 meters optimal – the team designed a rifle whose absolute range was around 800 meters, but whose optimal range was at 300 meters or less.

    Their solution was to design a round, the M193 55-grain FMJ, which was designed to fragment reliably at or above about 2750-2800 fps. Since M193 fired from a 20-inch barreled M-16 attains a typical MV of 3240 fps, the “hyper-lethal” envelope of the new 55-grain load was within 250-300 meters or so, distances at which fragmentation and multiple wound channels would be expected to occur. From 300-600/800 meters, the M193 was still potentially lethal, but not as reliably as within typical assault rifle range (0-300 m).

    M193 55-grain and M855 (SS109) 62-grain are both somewhat velocity-dependent for their terminal effects, but many newer and more technologically-advanced .224-caliber loads are not.

    Your point about barrel length is apt – I don’t have any data on the breakdown of carbine/SBR usage versus rifle usage at the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, so probably ought to withhold comment, except to note that barrel length absolutely plays a part in combat performance with M855.

    An additional factor which doesn’t get a lot of attention, but must have been key was the fact that Somali militia were often high on khat when going into battle, an amphetamine-like stimulant from the plant alkaloid cathinone, which gave them increased energy, drive and may have lessened the perception of pain. For years as well, Muslim fighters have also been known to use narcotics for the same purpose, and also to wrap (bind) their fighters extremities tightly, as a means of constricting blood flow (hemorrhage) from wounds and deadening pain.

    Medically-speaking, it is well-known than even gravely-wounded men can continue to fight for many minutes or even hours, after sustaining wounds which ultimately prove to be fatal. This fact may have played a role in the reported “ineffectiveness” of M855 ammunition used at the Battle of the Black Sea. As any combat-experienced soldier knows, shot placement is everything.

  31. On September 10, 2018 at 9:38 am, H said:

    Engineer Eugene Stoner and his team faced a unique challenge in the mid-1950s.

    Quibble, his #1 task was to use aircraft type materials and methods in guns, ArmaLite started out as a division of Fairchild Aircraft. This would have given its engineers including Stoner plenty of money and a blanker slate than probably any other gun designing group in the world at the time, which is generally evident from what they dreamed up, especially generous use of plastics and high quality aluminum, all excellent materials in their proper places.

    Stoner and company arrived at an ingenious solution … the team designed a rifle whose absolute range was around 800 meters, but whose optimal range was at 300 meters or less.

    Their solution was to design a round, the M193 55-grain FMJ, which was designed to fragment reliably at or above about 2750-2800 fps. Since M193 fired from a 20-inch barreled M-16 attains a typical MV of 3240 fps, the “hyper-lethal” envelope of the new 55-grain load was within 250-300 meters or so, distances at which fragmentation and multiple wound channels would be expected to occur….

    That’s not what I remember from the history, from the early period there was claimed fantastic performance credited to essentially intact bullets due to their small size and especially significantly higher velocity.

    I’d want to double check on the details from the IMR powered Stoner round to the ball powder M193 and any less notorious changes to of course the bullet, but if this was the intended result, it would have been kept very quiet, because a round designed to do that is outlawed by the 1899 Hague Convention, which we didn’t ratify but in due course followed (of course, there’s been various instances of skirting it, for example I’ve read the German 7.62 NATO bullet isn’t very durable when it hit, and we can see the Marines stretching the Open Tip Match ruling).

    If so, in the 1980s and perhaps early as a Vietnam field surgeon Fackler discovered something which had been in plain view all along, something FN Herstal in Belgium was presumably unaware of when they developed the SS109 for their Minimi which we adopted as the SAW, and which was adopted as the first officially blessed by NATO 5.56×45mm round. Which we then adopted, and I’ve read there was a great deal of politics involved, the Europeans were not happy that after we forced the perfectly fine 7.62×51mm NATO round on them we almost immediately abandoned it for all but medium general purpose machine guns and pushed 5.56×45mm.

    The fleet yaw issue sounds like it could be aiding this wounding mechanism, but as noted, all spitzer bullets flip/yaw 180 degrees when they hit, I would assume due to the center of pressure changing drastically when you go from air to flesh or gelatin, it always wants to be behind the center of gravity. The key Fackler would be it partly flipping to the point where enough stress is induced for the bullet to break at the cannelure, at which point fragmentation of the no longer streamlined rear part dumps a great deal of the bullet’s energy and creates in aggregate a huge permanent crush cavity.

    And in case I didn’t make this clear, this is something of a “trick”, so variations in the jacket, the crimp of the cannelure, I would wonder about SS109/M855 being less regular because of the steel pellet in the front, in total a whole bunch of things very possibly including fleet yaw, make this a very undependable wounding mechanism. Which the move to 14.5 inch barrels then had a drastic effect on for longer ranges.

  32. On September 10, 2018 at 5:18 pm, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ H

    Re: “I’d want to double check on the details from the IMR powered Stoner round to the ball powder M193 and any less notorious changes to of course the bullet, but if this was the intended result, it would have been kept very quiet, because a round designed to do that is outlawed by the 1899 Hague Convention, which we didn’t ratify but in due course followed.”

    M193 55-grain FMJ (Ball) followed the letter of the law, if not precisely the spirit. The Hague and Geneva Conventions did not outlaw bullets which fragment during the terminal ballistic phase; such a rule would effectively ban virtually all kinds of ammunition since even toughly-constructed projectiles sometimes fragment or come apart when hitting/entering a target.

    My view, for what it is worth – I am not an attorney or JAG officer – is that Stoner et al. exploited a pre-existing loophole in the rules of land warfare, in the design of the original AR15/M16 M193 round.

    You mentioned the powder used in that round…

    The original powder used in 5.56×45 NATO M193 was, according to the sources I’ve seen, something similar to IMR4895, in a canister-grade powder. As you probably know, manufacturers of ammunition for large military-government contracts make propellant (powder) in bulk, custom-blending ingredients to meet the design specifications for pressure, burn rate and other variables.

    You mention another “work-around” employed by military ammunition designers – incorporating design features to encourage the slug to “tumble” or swap ends, inside the target and reorient itself from a nose-first attitude to a nose-trailing attitude. Spitzer bullets, by their design, are naturally nose-light with most of their mass (center of gravity) concentrated in the rear of the projectile. The projectile length and extremely high rate of spin imparted to the bullet by the rifling, are what keep the nose oriented along the axis of flight.

    The old British .303 rimmed cartridge, such as the 174-grain FMJ-BT, accomplished this task by using aluminum filler in the forward part of the projectile, versus lead in the latter. Since lead is much heavier than aluminum, the slug tended to swap-ends once it entered a target, thus having a greater terminal effect.

    Russian designs accomplished the same feat in their 5.45x39mm cartridge for the AK74 family of weapons, choosing instead to use a hollow air pocket in the forward part of the slug – which would cause it to swap-ends and created a wound channel twice as large or more than the caliber of the projectile.

    Getting back to the cannelure of the M193, since a crimping groove is a legitimate, even necessary (for use in semi-automatic and fully-automatic weapons) feature, building a legal case against the design would be tough to do.

    During the latter part of the Vietnam War in the 1970s, there emerged something of a movement in the West, amongst anti-war and “human rights” organizations – including the Red Cross – to demonize the M193 round specifically and the AR15/M16 generally, as “inhumane” weapons illegal for use in war.

    When the Iron Curtain fell, and we got access to old Soviet and Warsaw Pact archives in the 1990s, it was discovered that East German intelligence had planted such stories in the West, using organizations and individuals in place sympathetic to their cause.

    In light of this development, it is difficult, perhaps even impossible – to determine how many of the “protests” against the weapon and its ammunition were legitimate (which is to say genuine along humanitarian grounds, and having no connection with the East German intelligence apparatus) versus those which were simply part of an orchestrated propaganda campaign against the West.

    For what it is worth, my view is that the steel penetrator (cup) incorporated into the M855 is responsible for most of its inconsistencies in performance. The designers of M855, whether they were aware of it or not, traded a degree of reliable fragmentation for greater toughness and penetrating power.

    The politics surrounding the adoption of various arms and ammunition and other weapons systems within NATO is fascinating, not only in the present, but going back to the start of the alliance in the 1950s. A great deal of horse-trading, backroom deals and politics involved. Promises made, promises broken; quid pro quos, you name it. But that’s a story for another day….

  33. On September 11, 2018 at 1:26 pm, Bram said:

    Interesting that some of those stories were plants.

    I always assumed that the early M16’s made larger wounds due to the light / fast round with the velocity of a 20″ barrel but less stable due to less twist (1/14 or 1/12). Made the notorious “tumble” more likely.

    Probably shorter engagement ranges then than our desert wars now too.

  34. On September 11, 2018 at 3:42 pm, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ Bram

    Re: “I always assumed that the early M16’s made larger wounds due to the light / fast round with the velocity of a 20″ barrel but less stable due to less twist (1/14 or 1/12). Made the notorious “tumble” more likely.”

    The 55-grain FMJ with cannelure projectile (bullet) used in the original M193 round was a standard copper-jacketed lead core full-metal jacket round, not unlike its larger 147-150-grain predecessors using in the M-1 Garand and M-14 .30-caliber service rifles.

    There’s a lot of misinformation, old wives’ tales and flat-out error out there about how the original M-16/AR15 and its ammunition worked. In order for the new light-weight, assault-type rifle to attain battlefield performance comparable to its predecessors while remaining lighter and handier, and using smaller, lighter ammunition – Stoner and his team had to rely on high-velocity to make up for the lack of mass of the projectile, which weighed only a third of the older 150-grain slug.

    Typically, when fired from a 20-inch 1:14 or 1:12 RHT barrel, M193 attains a muzzle velocity somewhere in the 3,150-3250 fps range, or roughly 400-500 fps faster than the older .30-caliber 150-grain FMJ, which typically clocked in around 2750-2800 fps.

    At such high velocities, inside the 0-300 meter envelope where most infantry combat engagements take place, the M193 bullet not only creates a permanent wound cavity or track, but a sizeable temporary wound cavity as well, due to the projectile being supersonic. The shock wave which accompanies the temporary cavity formation is sufficient to damage or destroy soft tissue in the region, even if the bullet (or its fragments) don’t actually pass through them.

    An additional feature of the 55-grain FMJ was its propensity to yaw about its central axis of flight. This, combined with the fragmentation of the projectile, would cause “tumbling” and fragmentation (shattering) of the bullet, thus creating multiple would channels, instead of a single large one.

    The performance of M193 inside the 0-300 meter envelope most-often encountered in infantry combat was quite good, even excellent, considering the small size and light weight of the bullet. However, it was not without cost. Because the slug is so light, it dumps energy and momentum very quickly after being fired, and thus, M193 is only reliably lethal inside 150-200 meters – a distance inside which MV remains high-enough for proper bullet fragmentation to take place. Outside that range, while the bullet is obviously potentially lethal if shot placement is good, its performance drops off considerably.

    Using a 20-inch barrel AR15/M16, M193 performs well inside its 150-200 meter design envelope. However, in carbines with barrels of 16-inches or shorter, M193 loses hyper-effectiveness (reliable shattering) past 75-100 meters or so.

    Re: “Probably shorter engagement ranges then than our desert wars now too.”

    Yes, quite so – especially in Afghanistan, but also in Iraq at times as well.

    For what it is worth, although the analogy isn’t completely precise, I have always considered the M-4 carbine to be the modern-day analog to the old M-1 Carbine, an excellent weapon at close-to-near medium distances – and for certain kinds of roles and missions – but one not always adequate to perform the duties of a full-sized, full-bore battle rifle. Which is why our grunts asked for and received small arms chambered in more-potent cartridges than the 5.56×45 NATO, such as old M-14s taken out of mothballs, and so forth.

    In the end, firearms are tools – specialized tools, to be sure – but tools, nonetheless – and no tool works for every job. The craftsmen has different tools for different tasks, and so should our soldiers.

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You are currently reading "Thinking About Rifles", entry #19952 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Firearms,Guns and was published September 6th, 2018 by Herschel Smith.

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