Zak Smith Puts Accuracy Int'l 6.5x47 Through Its Paces
Other Guns of the Week > Our featured rifle is an AccurateShooter.com project gun designed to test the viability of the 6.5x47 Lapua as a tactical/practical cartridge. Starting with the proven Accuracy International platform, we added a 6.5mm Satern cut-rifled barrel, chambered in 6.5x47 Lapua by GA Precision. Our goal was to do more than a quick accuracy test. This project rifle was to be carried into competition and put through its paces. Zak Smith did just that, steering the 6.5x47 to first and third place finishes in two Practical Rifle matches. The gun has proven to be both 100% competition-worthy, and ultra-accurate. It delivers half-MOA accuracy or better with factory-loaded ammo. With handloads, it groups in the twos and threes. This 6.5x47 combines real-world field performance with tack-driving precision.
6.5x47 Lapua For Practical Rifle Competitionby Zak Smith
Shooters who compete in "practical" rifle matches have been migrating to 6.5mm calibers for several years. While "tactical" shooters can be a dogmatic bunch, often sticking to conventional choices like .308 and .300 Winchester Magnum, practical competitors are in it to win, and the advantages of the lightweight but high-BC 6.5mm bullets didn't escape their notice. The long-range practical matches I've shot in the last five years have common themes of physical exertion, shooting from weird positions under time stress, and difficult unknown-distance (UKD) targets. Mid-size 6.5mm cartridges like the 6.5x47 Lapua offer excellent ballistics with reduced recoil, compared to larger calibers.
Mid-size 6.5mm cartridges like the 6.5x47 Lapua can rival the ballistics of a .300 Winchester Magnum shooting the 190-grain Sierra MK. The 6.5 mm choice is a no-brainer if you factor in recoil, barrel wear, and component costs.
Lapua's newest entry to the field, the 6.5x47 Lapua, is a natural choice for this application, so with the help of AccurateShooter.com, we set out to build the 6.5x47 Tactical Rifle. Since my platform of choice for practical long-range shooting is the Accuracy International Arctic Warfare (AW) rifle, it was natural that it be adapted to Lapua's new 6.5 mm cartridge. The goal of the project was to chamber one of my Accuracy Int'l AW rifles in 6.5x47 Lapua and then wring it out both in benchrest-style maximum-accuracy testing and in practical field competition, to see how the cartridge performs.
Accuracy International (AI) was formed in 1978 by World Champion rifle shooter Malcom Cooper along with Dave Walls and Dave Caig. They produced one of the first modern sniper rifles which was adopted by the British as the L96 in 1985. The AW is probably the most robust and durable sniper rifles in existence. The AW has an over-sized proprietary close-top action with 60-degree bolt throw and an integral dovetail on the top for the scope mount. Because all AW have a fixed bolt-lug to receiver-face dimension set at manufacture-time, barrels are field-replaceable without any gun-smithing required. Paired with the 6.5x47 Lapua cartridge, the rifle provided excellent accuracy, good long-range ballistics, and low recoil in the super-reliable and durable AW platform.
Originally designed for European 300-meter CISM competition, the 6.5x47 Lapua cartridge is smaller than a .308 or .260 Remington, but was optimized for accuracy, good ballistics, low recoil, and barrel life. While Lapua factory ammunition clocks about 100 fps slower than standard .260 Remington loads, the 6.5x47 case is strong and reloaders can easily exceed the factory ammunition's performance. Compared to similar rifles in .308 Winchester, the 6.5x47 conversion gives flat-out superior ballistic performance with less recoil.
Zak Describes the Features of his 6.5x47 Rifle in this Video.
The AW is a rifle system--not a rifle that is custom-built by the user, piece by piece. Its action is permanently bonded to the rifle's "sub-frame". What appears to be the stock is merely a set of stock "skins" which clam-shell over the rifle and provide surfaces for the shooter to hold on to. The host rifle that was used as the basis for this project was my first AI rifle, which I shot with its original .308 barrel in practical matches in 2005. In AI parlance, it is a "1.5" configuration, which means it has an adjustable stock that does not fold (the folder is named the "2.0"). The AI design has a detachable box magazine system using 10-round double-stack double-feed magazines. I use the Parker-Hale-style AI bipod for field versatility and durability, along with the AI sling (which works as a quick shooting sling) and a hand-stop mounted to the rail on the bottom of the frame fore-end.
Schmidt & Bender Optics While bench-testing loads, I used a Schmidt & Bender 5-25x56mm PMII scope. (This 5-25x56 appears in most of the photos on this page.) In competition, I use a Schmidt & Bender 3-12x50mm PMII scope, configured with a double-turn "metric" elevation knob which provides over 20 mils of elevation (68 moa) in two rotations of the turret. With the 6.5x47, most of that capability is wasted since it only takes about seven mils (24 moa) to get to 1000 yards. The scope has the S&B P4-Fine mil-based reticle in the first focal plane, which allows use of reticle stadia at any scope magnification setting, and it is mounted to the rifle using the AI dovetail single-piece scope mount with 28 moa incline. Many people prefer very high power scopes for long-range shooting. I have found that with clear optics and a fine reticle, 12x is sufficient for shooting practical targets out to 1300 yards. Compared to a S&B 4-16 or 5-25, the 3-12 is much smaller and lighter. Many times low-power settings are used to widen the field of view which is helpful when trying to locate a target you've glassed with binoculars already, but now need to shoot, or when engaging multiple targets.
Cut-Rifled Satern Barrel Accepts Brake and Suppressor Practical/Tactical matches sometimes have strings of fire which get a barrel pretty hot, and I've had very good accuracy, longevity, and sustained accuracy under heat with cut-rifled barrels in the past, so a cut barrel from Satern Custom Machining seemed like a good choice. A 1:8" twist was selected to enable the use of high-BC, 140-grain bullets. The barrel finished at about 25.3" and was chambered, crowned, and finished (in matte black) by George Gardner (GA Precision) from a 6.5mm Satern stainless blank. The muzzle was cut with the standard metric AI threads and sleeve portion so that the AI muzzle brake could be used, or any sound suppressor with appropriate threads.
The Satern barrel ended up with a thick, tapered profile, starting at about 1.20" and tapering down to about 0.890" just before the AI-brake sleeve cut. My preference is a 26" medium Palma contour--the same style contour supplied on the mil-spec .308 AW. To reduce weight of the 6.5mm barrel, I had George Gardner cut six flutes, roughly 0.10" deep. There's no sense in toting extra weight, especially if I'm carrying the rifle all day through a field course. The stiff barrel provided good support for the just-over 1-pound sound suppressor.
Sound suppressors are legal with the appropriate paperwork in many states. Besides the obvious advantage of muzzle report abatement, a suppressor on a rifle of this caliber also acts as an effective muzzle brake both reducing and smoothing out the recoil impulse. For the 6.5x47 rifle, I simply used my 9-inch long by 1.5-inch diameter titanium silencer, which I had made for the rifle when it was chambered in .308 Winchester.
The barrel was a delight to shoot, and very accurate as you can see from the targets below. While some credit for accuracy has to go to the cartridge design itself, the brass, bullets, and GA Precision's chambering job, the barrel was not very picky about loads, shooting most of the combinations with good accuracy. The barrel maintained good, consistent accuracy after many rounds without cleaning. The barrel cleaned up easily and I put minimal effort into barrel maintenance.
The 6.5x47 proved accurate with many different bullets. Three-shot groups in the twos were achieved with 139gr Scenars, 130gr Bergers, and 123gr Scenars. Below are two sample targets (Berger 130 left, Scenar 139 right). Obviously Satern supplied a very accurate barrel.
Detachable-box magazines are becoming standard on practical/tactical rifles. The 6.5x47 ran perfectly from even the double-stack double-feed AI-AW mags. Single-feed mags such as the AICS provide even less challenge.
Detachable box magazines (DBM) have been a rarity on American long-range rifles. The M24 and M40 sniper rifle systems have used the same 5-round internal box magazine, fed from the top, since their introduction. Starting in 2007, the USMC M40 began to be fitted with the Badger Ordnance bottom metal which uses the Accuracy Int'l Chassis System (AICS) magazines. However, the UK Armed Forces have used the magazine-fed AW rifle since the mid 1980's. Not only does a DBM system provide more initial capacity, but reloads are much faster and fumble-proof, since extra rounds are kept in extra magazines.
While there is a good argument that the point of a precision rifle is to very carefully place a few rounds, it's always good to have more capability than you'll need on average. With a reliable magazine system, a shooter can make a long-range hit, cycle the bolt, and fire another round almost before the muzzle report from the first shot gets to the target. For action-style practical competition, efficiency of motion is key; reloading a blind magazine is a huge time-waster. Because the 6.5x47 Lapua case shares the .308 bolt head and body diameter and approximately matches its body taper, it works fine in the AI-AW double-stack double-feed magazines.
Load Development and Accuracy Testing
Using Lapua brass, bullets from Lapua and Berger, and a variety of powders and primers, I tested no less than 45 load combos looking for the "best" overall performer. Besides excellent accuracy, I also wanted optimum ballistic performance for long-range unknown-distance (UKD) courses of fire. And I demanded 100% reliability--there are no sighters or alibis in practical competition. I quickly learned that the pressure limiter in the system would be piercing primers. The AI-AW is set up to be utterly reliable in harsh field conditions and ignite mil-spec 308 primers. In guns built from the ground up for a very high pressure cartridge, it's common to bush the firing pin hole and then control the pin protrusion. I wanted to leave this rifle at the military spec, not to mention that a replacement bolt head from AI in the UK would be very expensive, so I left it and lived with the results. Ignoring the primer issue, even with nuclear loads substantially exceeding my final load, there were never any pressure signs on the case head, nor was the bolt hard to lift.
Using powders such as RL15, H4350, Varget, and N550, accuracy was very consistent with the 123-grain and 139-grain Lapua Scenars, along with the 130-grain Berger VLD. Of the 45 combinations tried during the sandbagged 100-yard bench-rest testing, less than 10% were noted for "poor accuracy".
To put things in perspective, "poor accuracy" meant worse than 0.5 MOA. Most loads shot between 0.25 and 0.5 MOA, and the best loads shot just better than 0.2 MOA. I should add a disclaimer at this point that I'm not a particularly good benchrest shooter. In the end, I settled on the 123gr Lapua Scenar shot at 2930 fps using 37.4 grains RL15 with a CCI BR4 small rifle benchrest primer, with a loaded over-all length of 2.735".
I found the 6.5x47 worked well with many different load recipes. This is not a fussy cartridge--getting great results was the norm during load development. Based on observed loads used by other shooters without the primer issue, and my own experiments, I believe the following "upper end" performance loads are feasible with a 25" or longer barrel: a 139gr Lapua Scenar at 2850 fps; a 123gr Lapua Scenar at 3050 fps; and a 130gr Berger VLD at 2950 fps. These velocities were attainable in my 25" barrel without abusing the brass; the primer was the limiting factor. RL15 is THE powder for 6.5x47 Lapua. H4350 and N550 yielded similar, good results, but RL15 seemed more predictable than either H4350 or N550 and was more consistent. With regard to primer selection, CCI 450, BR2, and #41 all gave similar results. All reloading was done with a comp die set (Type 'S' bushing FL die and Competition Seater) provided by Redding Reloading. The Redding dies matched the Lapua brass very well.
Recommended Accuracy Loads
139 Lapua Scenar
139 Lapua Scenar
130 Berger VLD
130 Berger VLD
123 Lapua Scenar
6.5x47 Brass--Strong and Uniform Lapua is to be commended for donating 1000 pieces of brass to this project, plus factory-loaded ammunition. While some disciplines prefer to shoot small batches of brass, once I figure out the final load recipe, I load large batches of ammunition, enough to last several months of shooting. This allows me to spend less overall time reloading and more time practicing, which is really key to any kind of marksmanship success. Throughout the testing, the excellence I've come to expect as standard from Lapua was manifest. While some bench-rest shooters will recoil in horror, I actually did zero brass prep--not even sizing the new cases as they came out of the box. The combination of the brass quality and small primer pockets yields an extremely strong case. Throughout my series of load experiments, I never once had any case head extrusion into the ejector, nor was the bolt hard to lift. I remember a particularly "nuclear" load shooting the 130-grain Berger at, well let's just say, much, much faster than it should have been shot--the case was fine. The Lapua brass rocks.
Factory Ammo Shoots Half-MOA or Better and Faster than Expected My testing of factory Lapua ammunition showed that the published velocities are a little conservative. The 123-grain loads shot at 2820 fps from my 25.3-inch barrel and consistently held half-MOA or better groups. This is superbly accurate out-of the box ammunition, and it fed, fired, and extracted flawlessly.
Testing the 6.5x47 Lapua in Practical Rifle Competition
Being a practical shooter and still on the up-hill side of middle-age, I have limited patience for pounding rounds from a concrete bench. This rifle was built for practical rifle challenges, held in the field instead of a square shooting range. I shot the 6.5x47 AW rifle during the 2007 season, and it proved itself as a viable cartridge in these events. Two such matches are the Sporting Rifle Match and the Camp Guernsey Invitational Multi-Gun Match. The Sporting Rifle Match is held in the natural terrain of the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico. It is divided into ten shooting stations spread over a two-mile trail. Each station has a firing point and six steel plates spread out in the terrain from about 150 to about 875 yards. Shooters get one shot only at each plate.
Watch Zak "Ring Steel" at 980 Yards in this Flash Video.
I shot the 6.5x47 AI-AW at the August Sporting Rifle Match. After the main match, another 6.5x47 Lapua shooter, John Sternberg, and I were tied for second place. John edged me out with a better wind call in the sudden-death shootout on the known-distance range, so I ended up third overall. I try to console myself that his higher-BC 130-grain JLK bullets with a 40 fps edge over my 123-grain Scenars at 2930 fps had something to do with it. The overall match winner was using a straight .260 Rem and just beat us by three points at the very end of the match. So 6.5x47s took second and third. That certainly demonstrates that the 6.5x47 Lapua chambering is fully competitive for Practical/Tactical applications.
Zak Wins Multi-Gun Match with 6.5x47 The second big match at which I shot the 6.5x47 rifle was the 2007 Camp Guernsey Invitational Multi-Gun Match, put on by Colorado Multi-Gun at the National Guard base near Guernsey, Wyoming. This was a match for long-range rifle, carbine, and pistol, with carbine targets to 330 yards and rifle targets to 700 yards. Thirty-eight shooters competed through seven "run and gun" stages, including one night stage, over two days in the terrain of the base. An accurate rifle, rock-solid data, and the light-recoiling 6.5x47 helped me dominate one of the two long-range stages, giving me the match points for an overall win. The overall impression I got of the rifle at this match was simple--I couldn't miss. In fact, I only missed one long-range rifle target during the match, and partially made up for it with a second-round hit (for less points).
How Does the 6.5x47 Lapua Compare to the Rem 260?
By way of background, you should know that I had a "2.0" configuration AI-AW chambered in .260 Remington, again by George Gardner at GA Precision, and I shot that rifle through the 2006 season. This puts me in a good position to compare the new 6.5x47 Lapua to the .260 Rem. To the point, does the 6.5x47 Lapua offer anything over the .260 Remington? My experience suggests that the 6.5x47 Lapua is easier to load for--meaning more load combos shoot with bug-hole accuracy. I suspect this has to do with the quality of available brass, a primary advantage of the 6.5x47 Lapua over the .260.
Back when I was developing my .260 load, Remington was the only game in town, and the batch of brass I got was soft and had loose primer pockets even before the first firing. I finally dumped the Remington and formed a bunch of .260 brass by necking up Lapua .243 Win cases. Currently, Nosler offers .260 Rem brass, but it is approximately 33% more expensive than Lapua's 6.5x47 brass. There is no question that Lapua's 6.5x47 brass is excellent. While the 6.5x47, with its smaller case capacity, has to run higher pressures to match .260 Remington ballistics (with handloads), the Lapua case seems to have no problems operating at these higher pressures.
Compared to the .308, the 6.5x47 Lapua has dramatically less recoil. Firing through the sound suppressor, a new long-range shooter who I put behind the rifle exclaimed, "It feels like a .22!" Because it was burning almost ten less grains powder, the sound suppressor was even more effective with the 6.5x47 than with the .308 it was designed for.
My .260 had delivered great performance from the get-go, racking up overall and standard-rifle wins at the 2006-2007 Steel Safari. So, it was a tough act to follow. But Lapua's 6.5x47 held its own. In the field, the performance of the two cartridges is virtually indistinguishable. The lighter 123-grain bullet I settled on for the 6.5x47 has only about five inches more drift (per 10 mph cross) at 1000 yards than my 139-grain .260 load, but is one-fifth of a Mil flatter at the same distance. The heavier .260 bullet does deliver more impact signature (louder "clang") when impacting long-range steel targets--but a hit's a hit.
Firing the 6.5x47 cartridge from the suppressed AI-AW felt like shooting a .22, but it made hits as easily as a big magnum.
In summary, the 6.5x47 is a great cartridge for practical long-range shooting. It hits the ballistics "sweet spot", shooting a high-BC 6.5mm bullet at competitive velocities from a medium-sized case. It burns less powder than either the .260 Rem or .308 Win. With a hunting bullet, it replicates the 6.5x55 Swede, which has taken big game in Europe for over a century. Low-recoil, good ballistics, and excellent brass make the 6.5x47 Lapua one of several great choices for practical rifle challenges.
What is Practical Shooting?
In my articles on Practical Long-Range Rifle Shooting, I defined "Practical Precision Rifle Shooting" as a discipline that involves engaging small and/or distant targets at the limit of weapon, ammunition, and shooter capability, under time pressure, in field settings.
This is a pretty broad definition, but it captures the diversity of the challenges. There is no set course of fire. Rules are different match to match. There isn't even a governing body for long-range practical shooting. Practical rifle shooting is to conventional NRA Long-Range and long-range Benchrest as IPSC/USPSA is to pistol Bullseye competition.
In the last 15 years, long-range "practical" or "tactical" rifle matches have become popular, in part promulgated by Dr. David Kahn's Keneyathlon ("hunters test") format. These matches include the International Tactical Rifleman Championships (WY), Practical Rifle Team Challenge (CO), the NRA Whittington Center's Sporting Rifle Match (NM), the Blue Steel Ranch Steel Safari (NM), the Camp Guernsey Invitational Multi-Gun (WY), and various "Sniper Challenge" matches around the country.
The common theme is that these matches involve considerable shooter movement throughout the course carrying his rifle and gear in a field-worthy manner. There may be physical challenges. Targets are non-standard and often reactive steel. Targets are usually set at unknown-distance (UKD), and range-finding techniques or equipment must be used to determine range. There are no "sighter" shots -- you get one shot per target and must make it count. Finally, there is usually considerable stress and time pressure involved. In short, Practical Rifle Shooting involves ALL those aspects that make shooting in real life hard, be it hunting, tactical, or military.
This Video shows Zak and shooting partner in a team engagement on multiple targets.
Topics: 6.5 mm, 6.5mm, 6.5 x 47, CISM, 300m, Tactical, McMillan, Zak Smith, Colorado Multi-Gun, Steel Safari, Schmidt Bender, GA Precision, George Gardner, Steve Satern, Satern Machining, Satern Barrel, Redding dies, Small flash hole, Berger 130 VLD, U.S. Optics, SN3, Mil-dot, Ranging, 30mm tube, T-Pal, Police and Military, Barrel, 6.5mm, 6mm, 6-6.5x47 Lapua, 6.5x47 Lapua, Scenar, 123 grain, Vihtavuori, N550, Lapua Brass, no turn neck, A2 stock, A5 stock, fiberglass, molded-in color, Camo, Camouflage, Accuracy International, AI AW, 20 MOA, Picatinny rail, Recoil Lug, .308 Winchester, 7.62x51, 308, Dura Coat, Metal Coating, 6.5 mm, 6.5-08, Rem 260, 6.5x55, 6.5-284, Switch-barrel, bipod, load development.