William W (Bill) Gabbard
Federal raised the bar on factory ammunition back in 1977 when they introduced their Premium line of ammo using Sierra bullets. As the story goes, a few of the engineers at Federal were also avid handloaders, and they felt (as most reloaders do) that by using premium bullets they could achieve better performance from their handloads. They decided that based on that train of thought if they used premium bullets in the factory ammunition that they were building for Federal better performance could be achieved. The very first Federal Premium ammo that rolled out used Sierra bullets, but the ammunition was labeled only as Federal Premium without mentioning Sierra on the box. A little later they changed the labeling to Federal Premium loaded with Sierra bullets.
Over the years, the Federal team has added numerous manufacturers to the list. Federal Premium ammo currently features bullets from 8 different manufacturers in addition to their own premium bullets, some of which have proven stellar accuracy in previous tests. I recently had the opportunity to test some of their new Federal Premium loaded with Swift Scirocco®II bullets.
The Scirocco®II bullet is designed for accuracy and long-range efficiency. Its sleek design and high ballistic coefficient produce a flat trajectory. The black polymer tip is designed to insure quick expansion at any velocity. They have a long bearing surface for improved rotational stability. The jacket and lead core use Swifts exclusive bonding technology along with a thick jacket base to insure weight retention.
The folks at Federal sent me a few boxes each of 180 grain 300 Winchester Magnum, 165 grain, 308 Winchester, as well as some 150 grain 7MM Remington Magnum.
The first thing I did was to open three boxes of each and measure the length of each round, using a Hornady bullet comparator to check for consistency. On mass produced ammo it is not unusual to find extreme variations in this. A recent test using a different brand of standard ammunition turned in dismal accuracy. Upon measuring the remaining ammo, I found variance of 0.040. That is more than enough to affect accuracy. The 300 Win Mag tested out quite well, with 75% of the rounds being within .003 length, with .008 being the maximum spread. The 308 didn’t fare quite as well with 43% being within .003 but the total spread was .022. Not bad, but not as good. The 7mm rem Mag did the best if you stayed within the same lot. Over half of the rounds were within .001, and a max spread of .007. One box of a different lot # - while .020 off from the other lot # - had 18 of the 20 rounds within .001. That is the kind of numbers a handloader looks for. How will they shoot? Well let’s go see.
I wanted to try each caliber of ammunition in 2 completely different rifles to give the ammo a fair test. With the help of a couple of friends, I put together a mixed bag of rifles, all of which have proven capable of 0.5-inch groups with their chosen handloads to put the Federal Premium to the test. In 300 Winchester Magnum we used a Remington 700 Sendero wearing a Leupold Vari x III 4.5x14, and a Browning A Bolt with a Leupold Vari X III 3.5x10. In 7MM Remington Magnum we used a Winchester Model 70 XTR with a Vortex Viper 4 X 16, and Browning BBR with a Weaver 4 X 12. In 308 We used a Savage Model 10 equipped with a Nikon Monarch 4 X 16, and a Thompson Center Compass using a 3 X 9 scope with no brand whatsoever on it.
The results with the 300 Winchester Magnum ammo were not too surprising. The Browning A Bolt a well-seasoned hunting rifle with a sporter contour barrel managed a best group of 1.27 inches. The Remington 700 Sendero with its heavy barrel did considerably better. The Sendero’s best group was 0.899 inch, with a worst group of just over 1.5.
The 7MM Remington Magnum ammunition fared even better. A 1978 version of Winchester’s Model 70 XTR model pulled a best group of 0.943. The very old field worn Browning BBR shot a best group of just over one-half inch at 0.543, and consistently printed groups under an inch. This is the kind of groups you normally expect with handloads in an older magnum caliber rifle with a sporter barrel.
The 308 test was quite interesting, while the Thompson Center Compass was at a disadvantage with the scope of unknown origins, it has with proper handloads, achieved 0.5-inch groups. When the smoke had cleared local competitive shooter Richard “Casey” Sandlin was shaking his head because his best group was over 3 inches. Casey picked up the Savage Model 10 and promptly shot a 0.999-inch group, proving, once again, that every rifle is different.
As I wrote in an earlier article, I am a firm believer that you should try as many different loads as possible when shooting factory ammo to find something that your rifle likes. (Choosing Ammunition: Factory Loads). Each cartridge in the test produced groups of less that an inch in at least one of the test rifles, with the old Browning BBR shooting just over 0.5 inch. These rifles were all well used stock hunting rigs, none of them had aftermarket triggers, barrels or stocks. If you are considering new factory ammo or working with a new rifle trying to find factory ammunition that your rifle will like, the new Federal Premium loaded with Swift Scirocco II billets is definitely worth trying.