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Preview – The 1,000-Yard AR-15

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Photos by Kenda Lenseigne

Going the Distance With a 6mm Mousegun

After six decades of development, it’s safe to say that the AR-15 is one of the most tinkered-with firearms designs ever. It’s available in more flavors than can be found in a supermarket soup aisle, but due to Stoner’s original being developed around the .223 Remington cartridge, there are very clear limits as to how far the recipe can be pushed. The key parameters are those of magazine length and width, and bolt head diameter — go outside of these boundaries and you wind up with either a single-shot rifle or a face full of steel and brass.

The armed forces are not going to give up the 5.56mm round any time soon; despite its shortcomings in range and lethality, there’s an entire logistics chain built around it. As they say, amateurs talk tactics, and professionals talk logistics — and the .22 caliber is good enough for most tasks to resist any siren calls for its replacement. Civilians don’t have to put up with “good enough,” though. As shooters, we benefit from a cottage industry composed of smart, talented people who A) don’t have to conform to Big Green’s procurement protocols, and B) are driven to build a better mousetrap.

So what does a shooter do when he’s dissatisfied with the .223’s ballistics? Say we want to effectively engage targets out past 1,000 yards with an AR-15; what options are available? Well, the first is to handload the .223 and boost its performance a little. In doing so, our goal should be to keep our bullet flying at supersonic velocities for as long as conditions allow (see sidebar). The formula for stretching the envelope is no secret; just launch the sleekest bullet available at the highest velocity possible.


Compared to, say, a 55-grain M193 bullet, heavyweights from Nosler, Berger, and Barnes (among others) boast very high ballistic coefficients (BC), meaning that although they start out slower, they lose velocity less quickly than lightweight projectiles. Unfortunately, the very characteristic that makes them fly so sweetly (i.e, their length) also means we quickly run into problems when we try to stuff them into a magazine. They either take up room in the case that could be used for powder, thus limiting their muzzle velocity, or else they stick out so far that they have to be loaded one at a time. Although the latter strategy works well for NRA High Power shooters, most of us prefer to use that awfully convenient spring-loaded box to feed fresh rounds whenever we press the trigger.

While it’s just about possible to get a .223 to reach the magic (or arbitrary and meaningless, depending on your point of view) 1,000-yard line, it’s very difficult to achieve with rounds that fit into a magazine, especially at sea level or lower temperatures. Even if everything goes as planned, the bullet arrives with so little energy remaining that it has a tough time doing much damage. And we want damage.


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