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Federal Premium's Gold Medal Berger

What makes a "match" cartridge? Federal's Gold Medal line gives us a great example to learn from.

Federal Premium's Gold Medal Berger

(Photo by Mark Fingar)

“Match Ammunition” is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but it doesn’t seem to have a definition anymore. For some manufacturers, “match” is a category taken seriously, and a lot goes into crafting the most consistent and accurate ammunition available. For other manufacturers, “match” is simply a term that represents ammunition intended for use on paper or steel targets. I thought it would be a good idea to review what goes in to making the former, just so we can appreciate what’s available for quality-­focused riflemen.

Good ammunition starts with a good brass case. Raw brass destined for use as a cartridge case arrives at the manufacturer in sheets. Machines punch holes in the brass sheets, forming small, thick cups. These cups then go through a four-­step drawing process where they get squished into the shape of the final cartridge case. Staying on top of tooling design and wear is the point where match cases begin to stand apart from bulk brass cases. Small amounts of wear in the forming dies yield significant differences in the finished cases. With Federal’s Gold Medal ammunition lines, brass is monitored very closely.

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Detailed above, from left to right: Machine-stamped brass “cups” go through a drawing process to become a loadable casing. Federal monitors its Gold Medal brass zealously. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

Each piece of Gold Medal brass is checked during production with gauges and optical comparators for neck run-­out, depth, flash hole consistency and more. The Gold Medal cases have the most difficult threshold to meet, and it shows in the consistent performance of the finished product.

Anytime I accuracy ­test a rifle, I like to use match ammunition to see the rifle’s true potential. While Gold Medal ammunition always does well when assessed for velocity, extreme spread and standard deviation across a chronograph, it is also some of the most consistently accurate ammunition I employ. This is due to the effort Federal takes to make sure that the cases are perfectly formed with concentric case necks.

A concentric case neck is one that is centered over the case body and parallel to the centerline axis of the bore. It’s vital that the neck is uniform and centered because any crookedness means the bullet is not aligned with the bore when the cartridge sits in the chamber. While you can get away with some pretty outrageous velocity spreads and still have tight groups at 100 yards, one crooked case neck can result in a flyer that’ll ruin any group. A lot of folks will tell you that premium brass is only needed to ensure minimal velocity spreads, and that it only matters at distances exceeding 600 yards or so. That’s partially correct. Premium brass with stringent quality control on case neck dimensions and orientation is also required to ensure the bullet sits with the nose pointed down the center of the barrel. A small deviation means the bullet will be crooked when it engraves in the rifling, relocating the center of gravity from where it is supposed to be. That bullet won’t fly the same trajectory as the others, and you’ll see poor results in groups as close as 100 yards.

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As with every component of the round, primers need to meet “match-grade” criteria. Federal makes its primers in-house, then verifies the weight and dimensions before loading. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

The next two components that require critical review are the primer and powder. Federal makes its own primers and uses only primers from the Match line for Gold Medal and Premium ammunition. These are classic lead styphnate primers that have to meet tight tolerances on weight and dimension before receiving the “Match” moniker.

Powder used across the Gold Medal and Premium also passes stringent testing before being loaded into ammunition. Federal uses large amounts of powder and has high standards for what that powder is required to do. The humidity level present when the powder is manufactured affects how it burns, so Federal monitors it closely and has a person whose sole responsibility is to certify that each lot of powder meets performance specifications.

Bullets used in match ammunition matter more than any other single component, perhaps. Historically, Sierra MatchKing bullets were one of the best options available. However, in the last 10 years, several new bullet designs have proven themselves more than capable when accuracy is the desired goal. One brand that’s been around for a while, and remains popular today, is Berger Bullets. What distinguishes Berger Bullets from everyone else is the legacy of the gentlemen who started the brand: Walt Berger. He was inducted in the Benchrest Shooter’s Hall of Fame in 1982. Anytime a discussion about match bullets or ammunition starts, always look to the Benchrest community first because they have a more stringent definition of “accurate.”

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Powder is an oft-overlooked yet critical component of ammunition. Federal’s match-grade powder must meet stringent criteria. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

Berger has been a strong participant in the benchrest shooting sports for more than 50 years, and they continue to have a large presence. Part of the secret to Berger Bullets is the “J4” copper jacket, which maintains a .0003-­inch variance in jacket thickness for every lot made. Keeping the jacket uniform is important because, once the bullet leaves the barrel and spins to about 275,000 revolutions per minute (rpm), variations in jacket thickness make it fly like an out-­of-­balance ­tire, degrading accuracy.

Federal made the decision a few years back to load Berger Bullets in the Gold Medal line, making Berger Bullets readily available in factory-­loaded ammunition for the first time. I asked Federal about any accuracy standards this ammunition must meet and Jacob Burns, product engineering manager at Federal, said, “We shoot 10-­shot groups at 200 yards and measure extreme spreads. The ammunition must have an average for three groups that is sub-­minute of angle.” Gold Medal Berger ammunition usually shoots around .75 MOA. For a 10-­shot group at 200 yards, even from a fixtured test barrel, that’s impressive shooting.

Part of the secret to the success of Gold Medal Berger is the shape it puts on the bullets’ noses. It’s called a “Hybrid” ogive. Bullets with really pointy noses have “secant” ogives, and bullets with slightly rounded noses have “tangent” ogives. Secant ogives have better aerodynamics, and tangent ogives shoot accurately out of a wider range of barrels because it centers in the rifling more easily. Berger combines the best aspects of each into its bullets to form the Hybrid ogive used on both its match and hunting bullets.

Anyone desiring access to these storied bullets loaded in truly match ammunition can do so by purchasing from Federal Premium’s Gold Medal Berger line. All of the most popular target-­shooting chamberings are available, from .223 Remington to .300 Norma Magnum.

Recommended


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Even precise, modern machines are subject to wear and tear, so match casings are inspected regularly to ensure no defects are present. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

While Berger Bullets got its start in the target-­shooting world, it started making hunting bullets in 2009. These bullets use the same J4 jacket found on its match bullets, but these projectiles were designed to fit in factory magazines with no overall length issues. These bullets also have the same Hybrid ogive, so they shoot and perform much like a match bullet on game. When used for hunting, Berger said hunters should expect 2 to 3 inches of penetration and then rapid expansion for a large wound cavity. Projectiles can penetrate as deep as 15 inches. I used Federal Premium Berger Hybrid Hunter on an Oryx and Elk hunt and can attest to the statement Berger made. These bullets work well when given enough velocity and put into the animal’s vitals. I wouldn’t recommend using these bullets for shots on heavy bone or where deep penetration is required though. Behind the shoulder worked well for me.

Creating “match” ammunition requires a concerted effort to get the best results. The products that ammunition manufacturers are turning out today make it increasingly harder for today’s handloader to make a better finished product. Federal and its Gold Medal line offers a good look at what match ammunition done right looks like. For those interested in Berger bullets, both match and hunting options are available.

Sound Off

Have any high-quality match ammo you like to shoot? Let us know by emailing us at GAEDITOR@OUTDOORSG.COM, and use "Sound Off" in the subject line.




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