MINUTEMAN REVIEW may be compensated for purchases done through links on our site. To learn more about this, you can read through our Affiliate Disclaimer here.
If you’ve bought or are in the process of building a match rifle, match-grade ammunition can allow you to take full advantage of an inherently accurate weapon.
However, whether or not you need match-grade ammo generally will depend on other factors.
What Does Match Grade Mean?
You’ve probably seen or heard the term “match grade.” But what is match-grade ammo?
The term “match grade” indicates that the company has manufactured the ammunition or parts to exacting standards appropriate for use in competitive shooting sports. This requires that the ammunition manufacturer implements high-quality control standards, ensuring that the tolerances are minimal.
This contributes to ammunition consistency and, thus, accuracy. However, accuracy depends on several other variables.
In the context of manufacturing, a tolerance denotes a limit or deviation range in relation to the print.
When you squeeze the trigger of your rifle or handgun, the hammer or striker spring drives the firing pin forward, impacting the primer and detonating it, which ignites the propellant charge. As the propellant burns, it generates high-pressure gases that expand the cartridge case against the chamber walls, seal the breech, and propel the bullet forward. As the bullet enters the barrel, the rifling imparts a spin on the bullet.
All these actions must be repeatable in a properly tuned weapon to ensure consistent results. If the bullet enters the barrel at an angle, it will not be deformed symmetrically by the rifling, causing instability in flight. This, alone, can be affected by how square the bolt is to the breech when locked. So the firearm matters too.
What is Inherent Accuracy?
Inherent or mechanical accuracy refers to the ability of a rifle and cartridge combination to achieve consistent results, regardless of environmental factors or the skill of the shooter. This relates to build quality, uniformity in construction, manufacturing tolerances, and other factors.
In ammunition, uniformity in the construction of the bullet—weight, shape, jacket thickness and taper, core composition, etc.—the thickness and capacity of the cartridge casing, and the combustion uniformity of the propellant granules are all critical to inherent accuracy. The more consistent each cartridge component is from one cartridge to the next in the same lot, the more consistent your results will be when shooting.
The bullet is one of the most critical elements regarding inherent accuracy. Everything must be symmetrical, to the fullest extent possible, to maximize stability and repeatability. In many match-grade rifle cartridges, the bullet will be of the OTM variety. In OTM, or open-tip match, bullets, the nose has a hole in it through which the manufacturer pours the molten lead core.
The purpose of this production process is to ensure the utmost core uniformity. Asymmetries in bullet construction can cause variations in flight.
Other companies choose to machine a bullet from bar stock, usually by turning it on a lathe. This is called a “monolithic projectile” and ensures that the bullet’s rotation in flight will be highly concentric.
Accuracy is, fundamentally, a matter of consistency. But how do you define accuracy, whether inherent or otherwise? Many shooters, new and experienced alike, become obsessed with accuracy in the sense of reducing MOA or minute of angle.
Unless you’re a benchrest shooter, you probably don’t need sub-MOA accuracy. If you’re a hunter, accuracy is important, but so is practical accuracy—i.e., accuracy that you can use when hunting.
You’re not carrying your rifle afield to win medals for your group size being one-tenth of an inch tighter than that of your competitor. You only need to ensure the shots you place are inside a circle measuring “X.”
This varies depending on the game you’re hunting, the inherent accuracy of your rifle, the range at which you intend to shoot, environmental factors, your skill with the weapon, and the vitals you’re aiming for.
Do I Need Match Grade Ammo?
If you ask, “What is match-grade ammo?” the natural follow-up question is, “Do I need it?” Whether you need match-grade ammunition or bullets depends on several factors.
One is your weapon. An inaccurate rifle will not be able to realize the potential of match-grade ammunition, and, conversely, low-quality surplus or military ball ammo, with its relatively low average MOA, will not take advantage of your rifle’s mechanical accuracy.
In addition, you must also take into account your skills as a marksman. If you have not mastered the fundamental principles of marksmanship, applying them consistently, neither your rifle nor the ammunition you fire will correct your shooting deficiencies. You will need to spend more time on the range, honing your capabilities, before you can take full advantage of your rifle.
Let’s say that you have both the skill and the rifle. What about the purpose for which you own the gun? Match-grade target ammunition is suitable for participating in competitive shooting sports, where the need for precision is paramount.
However, if your gun is primarily intended for recreational target shooting, you probably don’t need match-grade ammunition. The additional expense isn’t worth it. Surplus military ball ammunition is perfectly adequate for range practice and plinking.
If your rifle is for self-defense, your priority should be on ammunition that is reliable and terminally effective. Accuracy is essential too, but for engaging targets under 25 meters, sub-MOA accuracy is not critical.
You need to be able to score consistent hits to center mass or the thoracic triangle. Under certain circumstances, a CNS (central nervous system) hit may be necessary, but even M855 military ball ammunition will deliver satisfactory results at probable engagement ranges.
Stockpiling ammunition, whether as a hedge against inflation, shortages, or resale, doesn’t require that you stockpile match-grade ammunition specifically. If you lay in quantities of full metal jacket, jacketed hollow point, jacketed soft point, and other ammunition types of standard quality, that will often suffice for investment and security.
When the price of factory-made ammunition rises, such as during periods of scarcity, it can be cost-effective to handload your ammunition. Handloading also allows you to experiment with different loads or to develop your own.
However, one of the most significant advantages of the practice is that it allows you to produce ammunition of equivalent quality to match-grade cartridges without paying associated prices. Instead, you’re able to produce uniform, precision cartridges without exceeding your budget.
Match-grade ammo is made to higher standards for improved shooting performance, but it’s also more expensive. Whether you need match-grade ammo depends on many factors. So it’s best to determine what kind of shooting you want to do before investing in it.