Testing the 166 A-Tip in the 7mm SAW

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Measurements and test rifle data

Bullet OAL: 1.503”
Base to Ogive, measured on Forster Datum Dial tool: 0.778”
Ogive to nose: .725”

Test Rifle
Bighorn Arms TL-3 SA #1717, Kahles K525i SKMR3, 28″ Broughton 8.5″ twist 5C rifled barrel. This barrel was chambered with our 7mm SAW II reamer, and at time of testing has had approximately 350 rounds fired since new.

Max seating depth measurements

Cartridge OAL: 2.988”

Cartridge BTO: 2.263″

Given that the maximum OAL/BTO falls slightly outside of magazine length(2.965″ max in our MDT non-binder plate mags), we opted to begin our loading .030″ off the lands. We chose to use H4350 powder for our initial work up, as it has proven very accurate with all bullets tested in this cartridge from 160 up to 185 grains. A go-to match load for the 160gr Sierra Tipped MatchKing has been 46.6gr H4350 across multiple 7mm SAW barrels, so we began slightly below that in hopes of finding a similarly good node without much trouble. We started at 45.6gr, and decided to also test down to 45.3 as well once we saw that our starting load was already producing velocity above 2800 FPS.

100 yard beginning OCW test groups, 45.3-46.2gr H4350

Our original intent was to do a standard 100 yard OCW test, with 5 shot total groups fired in a round robin sequence. However, after getting through three rounds per charge weight and seeing all four charges test produce sub .5MOA groups, we decided to move out to 500 yards and begin looking for vertical dispersion.

Here is the velocity data for each charge weight tested:

All loads on 3x fired WTO/Alpha Munitions 7mm SAW brass
2.233”BTO, CCI450 Primer
45.3: 2836/4.3SD, .210” group. 2823/7.8 when shot on brand new brass
45.6: 2842/10.4SD, 442” group
45.9: 2865/6.9, .510” group. Possible flyer induced by heavy mirage. Shot 2852/8.6SD on brand new brass.
46.2: 2879/5.9SD, .411” group, established max for this barrel. Bolt lift easy, primer looks fine, but click at top of bolt lift stroke. Slight ejector cutout mark on case head.

Since the 46.2gr charge was borderlining max pressure in our test rifle, we fired round robin sequence groups at 500 yards with 45.3, 45.6, and 45.9. Both 45.3 and 45.9 produced less than 2″ of vertical dispersion, with 45.9 producing less than 1″ of vertical. If not for a blown wind call, 45.9 would have produced a fantastic group measuring just under 1.5″ total. Wind on test day was moving at 13-18MPH full value, with some very significant mirage also to contend with. We opted to cease testing for the day so as not to build skewed results based on conditions.

The next morning, we shot the 45.3 and 45.9 grain charge weights at 850 yards, with no load producing a clear advantage. Both loads showed very little vertical dispersion, and Hornady’s published BC of .332 matched up well. The farthest distance available on the test range is 1090 yards, and here the 45.9 grain charge showed itself as the true winner.

1090 yard group, just under 4.5″ total

A sub .4 MOA group at almost 1100 yards is a keeper from any rifle and load combination. This was in line with previous accuracy benchmarks set for the cartridge and other bullets, and once again the Doppler tested .332 G7 BC worked out to an accurate firing solution with no additional tweaking.

Final Observations and thoughts

1. In our opinion, the Hornady 166gr A-tip is exactly what it claims to be. It is a highly accurate, premium consistency level projectile for producing utmost uniformity in precision rifle shooting. The bullet’s weight and BC combination are as close to ideal as is currently available for a mid-capacity, do-all cartridge like the 7mm SAW.

2. More testing is needed to confirm this, but in this trial the A-Tip did not appear to be sensitive to seating depth. The Redding micrometer seating stem in our Type S 7mm SAW die set seated the bullet perfectly, and did not effect the tip of the projectile.

3. The bullet produced very similar velocities to the 162gr ELD-M, which would lend itself well to possibly using the ELD-M as a short range practice/club match bullet, and the A-Tip as a more intense competition projectile.

25 SAW Cartridge Development

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An Idea is Born

            Several years back, Miles Johnson and I met at Precision Rifle Series match in Navasota, Texas. The 7mm SAW was still in its early stages, and that Lone Survivor Foundation fundraiser was actually the first 2 day match I had shot the cartridge in. I shot well for my skill level at the time, and the 7mm SAW performed exactly as intended. Since then, it has grown to become a very popular chambering for our shop and many others. At the same time, Miles was working on a prototype .25 caliber bullet for competition that would take advantage of a ballistic sweet spot. He designed a bullet that retained the high BC abilities of the 6.5mm family (and actually exceeds many 6.5mm designs), while producing less recoil due to the bullet’s lighter weight because of the smaller .257 bore diameter. This hit the market as the Blackjack Bullets 131gr ACE projectile, to say it has made a splash would be an understatement. Blackjack currently offers not only the ACE projectile, but also a large selection of fast twist barrel blanks and chamber reamers for a myriad of different .25 caliber wildcat cartridges to take advantage of their bullet’s performance.

            We were, like many others in the precision rifle world, very excited to test out the capabilities of the ACE projectile. Given that our factory 7mm SAW brass came into full production this year, the timing was now perfect for one wildcat to give birth to another. We ordered up a pile of bullets, and with some sound advice from the Blackjack crew set designing a reamer for the .25 SAW. Dave Manson delivered the new reamer ahead of schedule, and before long we were off to shooting!

The Test Rifle

            The test rifle for the new cartridge is one of our new standard builds, called the Red River package. This build package is purposely designed for serious match shooting, and makes use of components designed and built by some of the most highly skilled precision rifle competitors in the sport.

WTO Red River Build Package

Chamber Notes

            All testing was done using the prototype reamer, which was designed with a .292” Neck diameter of a .112” Freebore length. The neck yields a clearance of .002” per side on our 7mm SAW brass without neck turning.

We developed the following measurements for seating depth and cartridge length using the Wheeler seating depth method (learn more here), a Mitutoyo 6” digital caliber, and a Forster Datum Dial measurement tool:

Bullet Measurements

OAL: 1.436” -.005”
BTO: 0.749”
OTN: .687”

Unfired chamber measurements
Test bullet: 1.432”OAL/.746”BTO
Max COAL: 2.935”
Max BTO: 2.249”

A few other .257 cal bullets were measured, and the results are below for those interested:

110 Accubond: 2.250” BTO/2.760” OAL, bearing surface right at neck/shoulder
115 Berger Hunting VLD: 2.250” BTO/2.835” OAL, bearing surface well above neck/shoulder. Optimum seated.
110 Hornady ELD-X: 2.250” BTO/2.808” OAL, optimum seated.

Load Development

Break in load: 41.5gr RL16, CCI450, 2.230”BTO. Brass sized by one pass through 6.5CM die/.289” bushing, then final pass in Whidden 7mm SAW die with .281 bushing and .250 expander.
2893/13.4SD, .5” at conclusion of break in. Easy bolt lift and primer looks fine, but shows ejector mark on case head.
Same data as above but 42.0grs H4350: 2888/6.0, .55” group, easy lift, same case marks

Reloder 26 powder test, one shot per charge weight
2.229” BTO, CCI450, new formed brass as above.
44.0: 2800FPS, very mild start load
45.0: 2870FPS
45.5: 2904FPS
46.0: 2947FPS
46.5: 2990FPS
47.0: 3034, easy lift, no signs on Case head, primer beginning to flatten but not crater
47.5: 3074, easy lift, flowback on primer indent, max Case capacity. Established max for this powder

100 yard OCW test
46.4: 2984/19
46.8: 3027/14
47.1: 3038/33
All three charges shot the first three shots in sub .4”, then the fourth shot of every charge weight was a wide flyer. 33 rounds down, cleaned before continuing test

46.4: 2 foulers Fired on clean barrel, then 3 shots for group. .131” group, 2980/4.6SD for 3 shots. Combined numbers from OCW makes 2982/8.6 over 7 shots
Loaded the 46.4 load on 1x Brass, sized to 1.625” at .375 datum. Whidden sizer with .250” expander produced 2994FPS, equivalent accuracy.
Hornady die with .281 bushing and no expander produced 2981FPS, higher SD but same accuracy.

Additional Powder Testing

The following charge weights were formulated based on a predicted 52000 PSI chamber pressure. As powders and actual pressures can vary significantly from predictions, we loaded the predicted charge weights and recorded the actual results we found. The charge weight and predicted velocity for each are listed, followed by the actual fired data and group size if a group was fired.

  • Reloder 23: 45.7/2861, 3018 actual, max pressure, 1 shot only.
  • Reloder 16: 40.8/2849, 2866/3.7SD actual, .6”, safe pressure.
  • IMR7828SSC: 46.0/2874, 2951/8.4SD actual. .35”, max pressure. Slight heavy lift at top of stroke
  • H1000: 48.9(110% predicted Case fill)/2845, shot 47.5, 2927/4.0SD, .5”, max fill
  • H4350: 41.6/2767, 2879/5.1 actual. .75”, safe pressure but near max.

Field testing and BC confirmation

            With an established accurate load running 46.4 grains of Reloder 26, it was time to move out to longer distances and start putting lead on steel. Blackjack recommends a .330 G7 BC for the 131 ACE, so we used that as our start point. The test barrel now had 80 rounds on it which was enough to check for a speed up, so before shooting at distance we re-checked velocity on the load. As expected, a slight velocity increase had occurred. The 46.4 grain load was now running just a touch over 3000FPS, and still shooting a bughole at 100 yards. Our first plate was 400 yards, and the projected trajectory would require 1.6 mils of elevation. At this distance the bullet shot slightly flatter than predicted, only requiring 1.5 mils for a center hit. The first 400 yard group came in under 2”(less than .5MOA at that distance), so we were comfident in the load to go further out. At 600 yards, the actual drop lined perfectly with the prediction on 3.0 mils. With a slightly switching wind in effect we printed a 3 ¾” group at 600, with only 2.5” of vertical dispersion. The group size didn’t set any records, but from experience this level of accuracy is more than adequate for a competition or long-range hunting rifle. Based on the solid data gathered, we moved on to 1090 yards. I have a 1 MOA round plate and a 2 MOA square at this distance, so I decided to burn the first shot on the 1 MOA plate. If I hit it on the first round I’d have my self-esteem boost for the day, and if not the area around the plate would give me excellent feedback for a correction. I dialed the predicted 7.6 mils of elevation and sent the bullet through warm west Texas air. It sailed just left of the target, and from the dirt impact it appeared to have been just slightly high of my aiming point. Armed now with humility and a good wind call, I dialed down a tenth and moved to the 2 MOA square. The first shot on the plate touched my center aiming point! I ran the bolt and dropped another one into the orange paint, seemingly on top of the first impact. A third shot made a nice group, falling just slightly slow of the first two hits. The group measured at 4 ¾”, roughly .41 MOA at that distance. After adjusting the BC numbers based on the data, we found a .335 G7 to match almost perfectly. 

1090 yard group, 25 SAW with 131 gr Blackjack ACE. 4.75″ center to center

            There were still a few loaded rounds left, so I decided to throw on a Dead Air Armament Nomad-30 suppressor to get a feel for the cartridge’s recoil impulse in field shooting. I’ve been running that suppressor and my 6.5 Creedmoor trainer barrel on my personal match gun, so this would give me a good impression of felt recoil versus another popular cartridge. I checked for POI shift at 100(there was none), and then got on my 1 MOA plate at 400 yards. Armed with the knowledge that 1.5 mils would hit it there and a nice constant breeze, I made an easy first round hit on the small steel. The succeeding shots just made the impact of the first bullet darker, so I knew it must be a decent group. After inspecting the plate, I found that it was my personal best group to date at that distance. Those three shots measured just under 11/16” center to center, roughly .65”. That works out to .16 MOA!

Summary and Lessons Learned

  1. This cartridge/bullet combination is crazy accurate! We’ve always loved how consistent the 7mm SAW is, and the 25 SAW is more of the same. It didn’t require a bunch of tuning on seating depth or loading gymnastics. Load it .020” off the lands, give it the powder it likes, and get to shooting tiny groups.
  2. Future reamers will probably run a slightly longer freebore. The .112” Freebore put the bullet around 2.935” max OAL, and the extended MDT or A/W magazines can accommodate 2.960” with ease. We will probably end up lengthening the freebore to .142”, so that a loaded round .020” off lands is at 2.945”. This would still mag feed very well, but give just a shade more case volume (and maybe a little extra speed)
  3. We will probably have Redding make 25 SAW custom FL sizer dies. We think this would be the most straightforward case forming method, and save time over a two-step process using different size neck bushings.
  4. The 7mm seating stems in our Whidden, Redding, and Hornady 7mm SAW die sets all reliably seated the 131 ACE without issue. The Redding stem left a slight contact ring, but did not cut the jacket or contact the bullet nose.

Alpha Munitions brass for the 7mm SAW

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  A couple of months ago, we built a 7mm SAW for one of our long time customers, and he sent us some Alpha Munitions .308 Winchester Small Rifle Primer brass to use for load development in his rifle. It was extremely consistent stuff and worked very well for his build, so I decided to run some in my personal 7mm SAW as well and let y’all know the test results.

If you’ve read other information we’ve put out about this cartridge, you know that we designed it around the Lapua .308 Palma Case. In comparing the Alpha .308 SR brass to the Lapua, the two lots we have tested are every bit as consistent on weight as the Lapua offering. The Alpha brass does have slightly less internal volume; my test lot averaged 53.4 grains of water versus 54.6 grains of water for the Lapua Palma. Also of note is the Alpha primer pockets. They are just slightly tighter than new Lapua pockets, which should help with even greater brass life. If you are using an adjustable jaw priming tool such as the Forster, you’ll want to ensure that the priming tool’s alignment to the pocket is perfect to avoid damaging a primer during seating. 

To form the cases to 7mm SAW dimensions, I used our custom Whidden Gunworks die set and a 2 step form process that has proven to work very well for me. First, I debur the inside and outside of all the necks, put a sparing amount of One Shot sizing lube on the cases, and then run all the cases through the Whidden sizing die, with a .325″ Neck bushing installed and the expander removed. For the second step, I install a .312″ neck bushing in the die and re-install the expander ball positioned as high in the die as it will go without interfering with the bushing. This keeps the case mostly supported by the die as the expander passes through the neck on the return stroke. I then run the cases through the .312″ bushing, which puts the neck to it’s final dimension. This method yields formed cases with very little runout, which are ready to load and as the test data below indicates are more than capable or producing match ready accuracy on the first firing. 

I’ve been building a load for my rifle to complete at the upcoming Precision Rifle Series match at Q Creek Ranch in Wyoming, and settled on the 180gr Sierra MatchKing bullet and Alliant’s new Reloder 16 powder. With my existing Lapua Brass, 44.5 grains of RL16 produced muzzle velocity of 2700 FPS and extremely consistent accuracy at all ranges. Here are the specs of my rifle:

  • Bighorn Arms TL3 LBRP short action
  • Bartlein 1-8.5″ #23 contour barrel, 26″ length
  • McMillan A5 stock
  • WTO Mk2 brake
  • WTO short action bottom metal with A/W mags
  • Huber Concepts 2 stage trigger
  • Kahles K624i with SKMR3 reticle
  • Hawkins Precision Heavy Tactical rings

This barrel currently has a little over 2000 rounds on it, and has shown no velocity change since initial break in. Based on the load already developed on Lapua Brass, I decided to run a test on the Alpha .308 SR brass to see if equivalent accuracy and velocities were achievable. Taking into consideration the reduced internal volume, I shot a modified ladder test with Reloder 16 to determine maximum pressure.

180 SMK, 2.950″ OAL, CCI #41 primer, Reloder 16

  • 43.0 grains: 2651FPS, no pressure
  • 43.5 grains: 2690FPS/15ES, no pressure. .7″ group at 200 yards
  • 43.8 grains: 2702FPS/5ES, slight ejector mark on case head, easy bolt lift. 1″ vertical group at 200. Established as max charge for this brass/bullet/barrel. 

  With a good load found at 43.5 grains of RL16, I loaded a few more and decided to do some longer distance testing. I had several customer’s rifles to collect field data on the following morning, so once done with them I pulled my rifle out and shot two 600 yard groups. Conditions were 75 degrees, with a 12-15MPH full value wind from left to right. The first is the group pictured at the top of this post. The highest shot was the cold bore, followed by the two stacked together slightly below. Total group size measured 3.2″ center. I followed this group with a second group at 600 yards using my established load on Lapua brass. The second group was shot on a warm barrel, and measured 3.4″ center to center. 

 Later that evening, I pushed both loads out to 1055 yards. With very similar conditions to the morning shoot, both produced 5 shot groups hovering right around 6 inches, which I was more than pleased with. Of note in the 1055 yard groups was that the Alpha brass load seemed to steer better in the wind. While both loads exhibited about the same vertical dispersion, the Alpha brass load all fell within about 2.5″ horizontal dispersion. This may simply have been caused by more consistent winds or better calls during that string of fire and have nothing to do with the brass itself, but I plan to continue side by side testing to see if this is an actual trend. 

  In summary, our testing showed the Alpha Munitions .308 Winchester SR brass to be a very high quality and useful alternative to Lapua brass for 7mm SAW shooters. This test also answered a relatively frequent question on this cartridge of “can you really get match grade accuracy on the first brass firing?” Unequivocally, yes you can!


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