Tuesday, October 28, 2014

First Impression: The CMP’s new Creedmoor Sports .30-06 Ammunition

The CMP Western Games held each October at Ben Avery Range in Phoenix, Arizona is one of the must go gatherings of the shooting family that is well worth making the time to attend.   World champions shoot side by side with first timers renewing old friendships and making new ones.  People fly in from other continents to enjoy some of the best as-issued rifle shooting to be had anywhere.

And so it was that Dennis DeMille shot the best score with an M1903A3 Springfield.  At the 2014 Western Games, this honor came with a prize.  One 50-round box of brand new .30-06 match ammunition donated by Creedmoor Sports.  Awkward hilarity ensued given the Mr. DeMille also happens to be the general manager of the donor.  But heckling among one’s friends is what shooting is all about and Dennis took the moment well.  What he did next is why this article is being written.  Dennis sat down looked around, saw me and handed me the box and said, “Shoot it and write about it”.

Creedmoor Sports general manager Dennis DeMille shoots the daily high score with an M1903A3 Springfield and receives a free box of new CMP .30-06 ammo donated by Creedmoor Sports from Gary Anderson.

Even before firing it, to say the ammunition is impressive is an understatement.  It is part of a contract given to Creedmoor Sports to manufacture 3 million rounds of ammunition to be sold by the U.S. Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), the advertisements will begin appearing in the shooting magazines shortly.   The components are impressive.  It starts with brand new Lapua .30-06 brass tipped with 167 grain Lapua Scenars at 2,720 feet per seconds clearly optimized for the 200-yard CMP Games tournaments.   A discussion with Dennis DeMille revealed some of the attention to detail in assembly.  The industrial loader is run at half-speed to improve consistency.   Charges are thrown precisely I believe in two half charges.  You can see the impression ring of a competition seater die on the bullets so know the concentricity is good.  When you hold the ammunition up to the light they are perfect clones of each other; something that cannot be said for some other factory ammo even match ammo.  This is about a close as one is likely to get to a precision hand load.   Dennis says Creedmoor will also be producing similar ammunition in other chamberings.

The actual box of ammo Dennis DeMille handed to me in Phoenix.

The economics of the ammunition are equally intriguing.  CMP sold it for $1.15 per round at the Western Games and I’m told that it will sell for $1.30 per round.  Think about that one.  Consider that .30-06 Lapua brass sells for around $100.00 per hundred and a Lapua Scener bullet cost $0.38 to $0.40 per bullet.  You get to fire a precision match round and have once fired premier brass to carry on.  That says CMP isn’t about making money on this.  It’s about living up to their mission to promote rifle practice.

Onto performance.  When someone hands you a box of ammo with a challenge how can you not throw all your match plans out the door and play?  I was planning to fire the CMP GSM match with my M-1 Garand the next day using 150 gr. SMK handloads but I said, “What the heck.  Let’s go for it.”   You get five sighters in a GSM match which is plenty to zero anything and, after all, Western Games is like rendezvous.  It’s a come as you are muster and fight party.

My trusty 1950's Anniston Armory refurbished five digit receiver DCM M-1 Garand delivered to me by the mailman in the 1980's.  It took a lot more work to fill out your little NRA temporary score book to qualify for a rifle back then.
I shoot the M-1 Garand match with a rebuilt five digit receiver gun with a 1950’s barrel refurbished at Anniston Armory that I got from the DCM back in the day when the postman delivered them.  It shoots true and has garnered its share of Western Games trinkets over the years including a number of golds and one of those coveted M-1 EIC 4 points medals.  It’s a good platform for the test.  Sighters revealed the Creedmoor ammo shoots about two minutes higher impact versus my pet load.  The tale of the tape said 96-2X slow prone, 93-1X rapid prone and 81-1X offhand totaling 270-4X.  The DCM machine took home a bronze in 2014.

What was the most important thing I learned?   This Creedmoor ammo is indeed amazingly consistent.  The slow prone stage was a pure joy to shoot.  I promised DeMille that I would say what, if anything, I did not like about this ammo so here goes.  This ammunition is “brutally honest”.  It will reveal every little error you make be it de-focusing on your front sight drenching in sweat under the Phoenix sun, not being fast enough to reset your NPA mid-string in your rapid as the big gun moves you around or just being jittery on your feet during the back half of your offhand.  But here’s the thing, with this ammo I felt confident to trust that the error was mine after each shot.  There was no wondering if I should fire a second one to confirm my analysis.   I knew its feedback was accurate and that I should make the change my brain was telling me to right now before sending the next one.  That is a huge thing to be that confident in one’s gun and ammunition.  I never felt that confident with HXP or even some of my handloads. If anything, I now know that even my ammo for the M-1 and M1903A3 will benefit from the same careful case preparation and assembly as my tactical rifle or long range ammo.

The CMP went on to hand out many more boxes of this ammo to the high scorers and a “must be present to win” raffle during the Western Games so more people would do the same first impression test I did.  They are making a commitment to taking these games matches to ever higher levels and are investing in making it possible for non-reloading competitors to have the same quality of custom ammunition as their more demented knuckle dragging high-power competitor cousins.  It is a major improvement to where I think future cut scores for CMP Games achievement awards are headed shooting these vintage as-issued firearms.  A real equalizer if you think about it.  The CMP and Creedmoor Sports are to be commended for collaborating on this game changing move.

Update:  I got a note from Dennis - the other one - that Creedmoor has begun delivering precision loaded .308 Winchester ammunition using Lake-City cases and 168 gr. Sierra Match Kings to the CMP.  My guess is the brass came from Dick Whiting's reprocessing operation in West Virginia. DeMille also said delivery of precision .223 will begin in early 2015.