Ed. note: Aaron looks at .308 sniper ammo in this head-to-head ammunition comparison.
If you are a part of the law enforcement sniper community then many discussions on sniper rifle ammunition selection will eventually focus on the .308 caliber, 168-grain Sierra MatchKing boat tail hollow point (BTHP) cartridge.
As recently as the 2007 American Sniper Association Annual Report, the .308 caliber, 168-grain MatchKing BTHP was cited as being the “preferred ammunition” for police snipers “based primarily on its accuracy and consistency”. (Scroll down for the ASA comments on this.)
But does that mean it is the best ammunition choice? And even if it once was, does it remain so?
The .308 Win 168-grain MatchKing Load
As long as there have been police snipers wielding .308 rifles, there has been debate surround which load is the best for all of the potential scenarios in which it might be deployed.
While no one argued that the 168-grain MatchKing BTHP bullet was ideal for expansion, it was tough to prove it wasn’t one of the most consistently accurate bullets available. And when precision shots are needed, that accuracy often won the argument regarding the ammunition to purchase.
For many agencies, the Federal Gold Medal cartridge was the preferred police marksman cartridge. This cartridge produces consistent match grade quality with the convenience of mass production from a factory.
The problem, however, is that the Match King bullet provided poor performance in soft tissue. While you could accurately place the bullet on target, you had little hope it would perform as well as cheap soft-point bullets that you could pick up in the hunting aisle at Walmart.
Gelatin testing and real-world experience taught me that the Sierra MatchKing 168-grain BTHP does not expand well upon impact with soft targets.
In fact, the bullet acts like an FMJ (or ball) round with a very high risk of complete blow through. Think of a needle shooting straight through gelatin and you aren’t very far off.
This situation creates an unnecessary risk to innocent persons behind the target, and therefore greatly limits their safe and appropriate use in police sniper utilizations.
Additionally, the lack of expansion reduces the likelihood of an immediately incapacitating effect on a threat. This is unacceptable for the high-risk situations police snipers will be called upon to resolve.
For these reasons, I recommend alternative .308 sniper ammunition. The ASA concurs.
In the original publication of this article, I phrased information in a way that could be interpreted as an endorsement of the 168-grain MatchKing load as a recommended projectile. This included information from the American Sniper Association (ASA).
I regret that phrasing.
The president of the ASA, Derrick Bartlett, reached out and wanted to clarify information from the 2007 ASA Annual Report.
Specifically, he wanted to ensure that readers understood the ASA did not endorse sniper loads that used the 168-grain MatchKing bullet. Rather, the ASA report merely documented that most law enforcement agencies were issuing the round for duty use.
Barlett stated the ASA strongly advocates law enforcement agencies move away from cartridges that use the projectile due to its poor terminal performance.
Further, he stressed that the MatchKing bullet is phenomenally accurate but was designed for match shooting – not sniper engagements on human targets.
BlueSheepdog is very supportive of the American Sniper Association and their contribution to the law enforcement community. I completely agree with the ASA recommendation to move away from the 168-grain BTHP for police sniper use.
Thankfully, there are several high-expanding rounds on the market today that provide both high accuracy and the critical bullet expansion needed in a police sniper event.
In general, I recommend the use of match-grade loads that use ballistic tip bullets. These will give you excellent accuracy while vastly surpassing the Match King bullet’s ability to stop a threat.
Some excellent .308 loads to consider are:
- Federal Tactical Bonded Tip 168-grain
- Norma Tipstrike 170-grain
- Hornady TAP 168-grain ELD Match
- Winchester Ballistic SilverTip 168-grain
- Barnes VOR-TX 168-grain
There are others to consider. The above are just suggestions to get you going.
One of the keys to selecting new sniper ammunition for your team is to test a variety of loads in the rifles your department issues. We’ve all seen how one rifle will respond better to a particular load. You want to find the round that will work for your team’s rifles.
Also, it is important to ensure that the ammunition will work at reasonably foreseeable distances that your agency might need. A 1,000 yard bullet is great, but probably not a priority for most urban police agencies.
Finally, you want buy-in from the team. They should understand the importance of the ammunition selection and should be part of the process. Each one of the snipers that gets behind the rifle needs to have confidence in the ammo, so they should get a say on what is selected.
Ed. Note: Aaron is a police sergeant with a mid-sized agency in a major US metro area. Aaron has a diverse set of skills in patrol, traffic enforcement, drug recognition, undercover narcotics, supervision and SWAT. Aaron was part of the team that evaluated modern .308 sniper ammunition for his tactical team. He is a strong advocate for keeping your sniper rifle clean.