February 03, 2022
I see questions in many different places asking what makes “match ammo.” The official definition of match ammunition according to the SAAMI glossary is rather short and simple: “Ammunition made specifically for match target shooting. Produced with special controls to assure maximum uniformity of cartridge performance.”
We know it is intended to maximize accuracy, but is there more? As a matter of fact, yes.
Factory match ammo will be within voluntary safety guidelines applicable to any ammunition, ensuring firearms and ammo are 100 percent compatible. Maximum average pressure limits, function, and cartridge/chamber dimensions are, for all practical purposes, the same as equivalent sporting ammunition.
The notable exception is the .22 Long Rifle. The sporting and match cartridge dimensions are identical down to their drawings’ tolerances (the “±” part). However, there are separate chamber specifications for the match chamber—it is shorter and smaller in diameter and has a 25 percent shorter leade.
The simplest way to make match ammo is lot selection. If a production lot of a standard product posts exceptional accuracy, it may get packed and offered as match ammo. That led to one of CCI Ammunition’s most famous competition products.
Years ago, CCI made only two .22 LR products: Mini Mag and standard velocity. Company lore says when regular final acceptance testing showed a loading lot of standard velocity to be exceptionally accurate, a QA worker would tie a green paper tag to the metal pans holding that lot prior to final packaging. Several of the specialty match equipment suppliers had standing orders for any exceptionally accurate standard-velocity ammo.
The original CCI Green Tag was born as lot-selected CCI standard-velocity ammo, but that has now changed. Improvements in tooling and loading equipment mean Green Tag is a purpose-built competition product, and it has been for 40+ years. In fact, the tables have turned; any lots that fail to make the unbelievably tight Green Tag accuracy specs get packaged as very accurate CCI standard-velocity ammo.
Match ammo requires additional accuracy testing at the factory to achieve higher statistical confidence, such as more shots per group and/or more groups to be fired and averaged. When I was working, Green Tag accuracy acceptance was based on the average of 10, 10-shot groups at 50 meters (about 55 yards). That’s a bunch of shooting, and it was done for every lot.
Other products may need their match components made on different equipment from mass-distribution products. In manufacturing, time is money. By making more parts per minute (within quality standards), costs stay under control, and the company stays in business. To achieve this end, a press making conventional bullets or cartridge cases may have multiple dies stations with identical dies. One “whomp” of a press can make several cases or bullets. That lowers cost without sacrificing the quality of conventional products.
That may not be appropriate to critical-needs match products. They may require the manufacturer to revert to presses with a single die station so that all the cases or bullets in one run are truly identical down to virtually unmeasurable dimensions.
Some match components or finished ammo may be made or assembled at reduced machine speeds to maintain match specifications. Slower machine speeds also allow closer monitoring of the overall operation of a press to maintain uniformity. Match ammo may be more expensive because it is made more slowly and often in smaller lots, which increases overhead costs.
Accuracy is far from the only parameter. Ballistically, a match load may have velocity limits placed on it by the nature of an event type, or it may require a special propellant that does not stress 80-year-old gas systems, such as the M1 Garand’s.
Function is another consideration. All ammomakers function-test some ammo from each lot in firearms commonly chambered for that cartridge. For match ammo, the function specifications set by the initial design and performance document usually dictate what firearms are used, but options are left open if a new model enters the picture.
When CCI developed .22 LR Pistol Match, recommendations garnered from competition shooters in the United States and Europe helped set the function parameters. By far, the people who would be using the ammo wanted reliability in the Walther GSP, the Pardini semiautos, and the S&W Model 41. Regardless of any other models included, those models graced the product’s final design and performance documentation.
Achieving function with accuracy with Pistol Match went beyond velocity or pressure settings. Our engineer and his team went through a number of propellant candidates as well as bullet and cartridge case tweaks. The result was worth the effort.
Can you apply this to your home-built match ammo? Yes, some of it. Buying bullets and new unprimed cases from the same lot where possible is a great start if you keep the lots separate from your regular components. When prepping new rifle cases, I like to uniform all the case necks in a sizer die and then trim to uniform length in one case trimmer setup in one session to avoid any dimensional “drift” that can come from changing a setup in mid-lot. I weigh individual propellant charges but usually do not bother sorting components by weight.