June 26, 2018
By Jake Edmondson
Founded in London in the 1820s by brothers William and Charles Eley, Eley Ammunition has been in business ever since under various corporate identities and ownerships. It has earned the reputation of producing extremely accurate .22 LR ammunition. Eley .22 LR ammo has won a staggering number of medals worldwide in .22 rimfire competitive sports, including the Olympics and World Cup championships. The company has done that by being innovative.
As Shooting Times has reported before, major developments from Eley include a joint patent with Samuel Colt for Colt revolver cartridges in 1855; Britain's first centerfire cartridge in 1857; patents during the 1860s in the development of the Boxer primer system; development of the first bottleneck rifle cartridges in 1869; and thin-brass, totally waterproof shotshell cartridges in 1882. Eley's first .22 rimfire cartridges were produced in 1860, and the company's present world rimfire prominence began in 1951 with the introduction of the first generation of Tenex.
Eley's goal behind the initial Tenex development was to provide British-made .22 LR ammunition, built to extreme consistency, that British shooters could use to win British shooting competitions. It worked. The 1951 British Championship and the Grand Aggregate events at Bisley were won by Eley team shooters using Tenex. It was the first time those titles were won using British-made ammunition.
Eley spent the following decade improving Tenex by tightening tolerances and segregating component manufacturing and cartridge assembly. Wins at the 1964 Olympics and in the following years were the proof of their success.
Then came the breakthrough Eley executives view as the most important single factor in the Tenex story: Eleyprime. Engineers had worked for years perfecting Eley ammunition and in 1975 embarked on a journey to find a new, safer priming process. By 1979 chemists were working on a dry powder mixture for filling .22 cases that was non-explosive until exposed to water, whereupon a chemical reaction converted it to conventional lead styphnate (primer compound).
This new Eleyprime process had two huge consequences: It eliminated the risk of explosion from the preparation and dispensing of priming compounds, and it allowed the amount of priming material applied to each individual rimfire case to be very tightly controlled in a normal workshop environment using automatic equipment.
This last part is critical because it has long been known that case-to-case variation in the amount of priming material is the most important factor regarding variations in .22 LR performance. This is because the primer in small rimfire cartridges is a significant portion of the actual propelling charge and because conventional priming compound is too sensitive to be aggressively metered and applied.
The Eleyprime System allows precisely identical amounts of the inert powder to be put into each case. Then a round-tip rod is inserted into the case to press the powder evenly into and around the rim, and a single, metered drop of water is added, which activates the compound over a several-hour period.
After drying, the cases can then be conventionally charged with precisely metered propellant. With Eleyprime, the amount of priming material round-to-round is astoundingly consistent. Reports show the round-to-round spread is an amazingly low plus/minus 1.0 milligram. As a writer once put it, "It was a stunning achievement."
But Eley didn't stop there. Even with decades of worldwide success, the company tasked its engineers to start with the Eleyprime System as the foundation and reinvent Tenex from the ground up.
Answering the challenge, Eley engineers identified 50 primary variables, such as bullet mass, case internal volume, and propellant charge mass. Then they determined 200 secondary variables, including things like the ambient humidity in the assembly facility, the metallurgy of the cases, and human competence. Finally, they identified 700 tertiary variables. These subtle things turned out to be the ultimate keys. One example is the weather conditions in the country where the propellant powder is manufactured on the day that particular lot of powder was mixed. Another is manufacturing "lots" of Tenex that consist of one day's run from a single loading machine because the weather is different each day.
With nearly 1,000 variables charted, the engineers addressed bullet and case design. Bullet design was analyzed with sophisticated computer modeling for in-flight characteristics. They discovered that a flatnose projectile was distinctly better for subsonic velocities out to 50 meters. The reason is that bullet stability is enhanced the more forward the center of pressure (air-pressure resistance) is located forward of the center of gravity of the bullet, and roundnose bullets do not "push" the center of pressure as far forward.
They also concluded that the presence of lead oxide in a bullet was a primary cause of flyers because of differential resistance to passage through the bore. So Tenex bullet material is fabricated in an oxygen-free atmosphere and lubed with a soft tallow/beeswax material, the same lube Eley used more than 150 years ago; most modern bullet lubes are paraffin-based, which is harder.
Also, engineers determined that the base of a bullet is much more significant for accuracy than the nose of the bullet. In-flight tests showed that a very slight mar, burr, or scratch on the bullet heel would almost always result in significant yaw angle upon departure from the muzzle. Consequently, the heel of every Tenex bullet is visually inspected by computer before loading.
Cases are carefully gauged and are formed by a stamping process that minimizes distortion or metallurgical impact. The overall length is carefully specced, the case mouths are perfectly flat cut, and the composition of the brass alloy is tested for every lot.
The actual loading process is completely controlled by computers and monitored with hands-on visual quality control and sampling. A critical element of final testing is the uniformity of pull-out force (bullet from case), which is critical to overall consistency in point of impact.
Tenex isn't the only .22 loading that has benefitted from all that innovation. Today, Eley catalogs 19 .22 LR offerings, including the recent Force and Contact loadings that are specifically engineered for semiautomatic guns. Also relatively new to the line are Subsonic Hollow, Action, and Edge, which are included in my shooting review here. In addition, I also included Eley Club and Match loadings. That makes five different loadings for my shooting session, and I'll get to their details in a bit.
About the shootout: I fired close to 100 rounds each of the five loadings in three rifles on my home shooting range at a distance of 50 yards. I used my old plain-Jane Ruger 10/22 semiautomatic, a CZ-USA 455 American bolt-action repeater that I've had for four years, and a brand-new Savage Mark I FVT bolt-action single shot. The 10/22 and the 455 had had their factory stocks replaced some time ago with aftermarket stocks from Hogue and Boyd's. The Mark I FVT was fired exactly as it came from the factory. A few words about that rifle are in order.
The Savage Mark I FVT is one of the rifles the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) offers to shooting clubs around the country, but you don't have to go through a club to get one. Features of the rifle include a 21-inch heavy barrel, black synthetic stock, and target-grade adjustable peep sights. The rear sight is made by Williams and screws to the left side of the receiver. The front sight is a hooded aperture sight with interchangeable apertures. It attaches to a base that's dovetailed into the barrel. The rifle also features Savage's excellent user-adjustable AccuTrigger, and the one on my rifle broke cleanly and crisply at an average pull weight of 2 pounds, 8 ounces right out of the box. A smooth, crisp trigger is essential for optimal .22 LR accuracy, especially in a match rifle, and this gun has it. The Mark I FVT weighs 5.25 pounds. MSRP is $475.
Now to the five loads I fired for this report.
Eley Action is an all-purpose round designed for a variety of shooting disciplines. It's loaded with a 40-grain lead RN bullet to a factory-rated muzzle velocity of 1,090 fps. It's great for plinking, target shooting, and small-game hunting/pest control. I achieved good accuracy with this loading in my rifles, averaging 0.66-inch five-shot groups at 50 yards. Velocity, based on an average of five shots measured 12 feet from my guns' muzzles, was 1,069 fps. That's just 21 fps less than the factory figures.
Eley Club isn't exactly new, but it was designed to offer enhanced performance over Eley's entry-level sport cartridge, and each lot is tested to higher accuracy standards in order to meet the demanding requirements of the club shooter. Suitable for all 25- and 50-meter disciplines, it's ideal for competitive club shooters. It is used primarily for 50-meter Prone, 50-meter Three Position, 50-meter Free Pistol, 25-meter Pistol Women, 25-meter Rapid Fire Pistol, Lightweight Sport Rifle, and Silhouette. This loading carries a graphite-coated RN bullet and has a factory-rated muzzle velocity of 1,085 fps. In my rifles, it generated an average velocity of 1,075 fps, and overall average accuracy was 0.25 inch at 50 yards.
According to the company, the recent Eley Edge "breaks engineering boundaries with an innovative approach to improving accuracy. This advanced, contemporary cartridge is instantly recognizable by its matte-black oxidized finish. Scientifically developed to microscopically increase the friction between the case and the projectile, the resulting stabilized projectile release force delivers greater internal ballistic consistency, ultimately providing the shooter with more consistent projectile flight."
Edge is part of Eley's elite competition offerings and benefits from Tenex technology, such as the 40-grain flatnose bullet profile, beeswax-based lubricant, and Eleyprime. It's rated at 1,085 fps, and it's great for high-level competition shooters in Prone Rifle, Three Position Rifle, Lightweight Sport Rifle, and 50-meter Pistol. In my rifles, Edge produced an overall average accuracy of 0.71 inch and an average muzzle velocity of 1,078 fps.
Eley Match, like Club, is not new; however, it is renowned for its excellent accuracy and performance. According to Eley, it is second only to Tenex in the world of .22 LR accuracy and performance. Match has the patented FN profile and the cut-mouth case, so it delivers consistent internal ballistics performance. Each cartridge is checked by a suite of analytical processes, including computer-controlled visual inspection and finely calibrated measuring equipment, overseen by Eley's extremely precise and meticulous engineers. With a rated muzzle velocity of 1,085 fps, it's built for professional and elite shooters. And it is used for 50-meter Prone, 50-meter Three Position, 50-meter Free Pistol, and Benchrest. In my rifles, velocity averaged 1,081 fps, and overall accuracy was 0.28 inch.
The new Eley Subsonic Hollow is a hunting cartridge with target shooting accuracy and reduced velocity. As Eley states, it offers a quieter muzzle report compared to other .22 LR hunting ammunition. Subsonic Hollow has an innovative 38-grain hollowpoint bullet that is designed to deliver unequalled expansion along with short penetration to provide optimal stopping power on small game and vermin. The firm hydrocarbon non-greasy lubricant provides smooth operation in semiautomatic rifles and improves functioning in all weather conditions. This loading is becoming increasingly popular with sporting shooters and professional pest controllers. Factory-rated muzzle velocity is 1,040 fps.
In my rifles, Subsonic Hollowpoint averaged 979 fps and 0.73 inch. It functioned perfectly in my semiautomatic Ruger 10/22, and I've added it to my list of preferred small-game loads.
Shooting these five loadings proved Eley knows how to make accurate .22 LR ammo. That's no surprise.