I’m in the midst of putting the finishing touches on a long range hunting rifle built off a pawn shop Savage action I found earlier this year for $50. When finished, it should be a reach-out-and-touch-’em rifle capable of downing nearly any North American critter, but still comfortable enough to hump up and down the side of a mountain for days on end.
Rifles don’t run without food though, and in this case, my good friends at Black Hills were kind enough to send me a few boxes of their 162 gr A-Max load for the 7mm Remington Magnum.
Black Hills currently loads four different types of 7mm Rem Mag – the 139 gr. GMX (review forthcoming), the 140 gr. Barnes TSX, the 154 gr. SST, and this load which utilizes the 162 gr. A-Max. I have shot quite a bit of the 120 gr. and 140 gr. A-Max out of various 6.5 mm cartridges over the last several years and I’ve always found it to be a very dependable, accurate, and slippery bullet. Hornady has superseded the A-Max with the new ELD line of bullets, but the stockpiles of A-Max bullets out there ensures that you’ll likely see this bullet available for the next year or so.
While the A-Max is designed, marketed, and sold as a match bullet, anecdotal evidence abounds to back the claim that it is a perfectly adequate hunting bullet as well. While I don’t endorse or support using anything that’s not marked “hunting” for taking game, I could be swayed to the dark side by convincing evidence.
It seems there’s a pretty decent amount out there in support of the A-Max, especially the 162 gr. 7mm loaded here for that purpose. If you don’t ever toy with the risky side of things, Black Hills is happy to sell you three other loads that are most definitely designed for ethically harvesting game.
Opening the big yellow box, I was greeted by twenty identical shimmering cartridges marked with Black Hills head stamp. My contact at Black Hills was a bit cagey about the actual maker of the brass and a cursory search indicates they’ve used a variety of manufacturers over the years for making their brass.
Initial inspection revealed that all of the cases were free of defects, scratches, or blemishes. The minor discoloration you can see in the photos is the result of me leaving these out in the elements overnight (stupidly). Fresh out of the box, I could see my own ugly mug staring back at me in the reflection.
There’s no indication from Black Hills as to who provides the primers either, but each and every round had a perfectly seated and flush primer. This should come as no surprise given that Black Hills is known for inspecting every single round by hand before it leaves the factory.
After shooting up most of my supply, I brought the last box back to the shop to be measured and weighed. While this isn’t a perfect indicator of quality by any stretch of the imagination, it does reveal a bit about the variability within a box. I started by measuring each round using a Hornady Comparator to gauge the distance from the base of the bullet to a set place on the bullet’s ogive. Generally speaking, this measurement is a bit more precise than overall length as it removes any imperfections in the bullet tip from the reading seen on the calipers. As the ogive to base measurement is used to set bullet jump, it is a valuable measurement to the hand loader.
The second measurement I used was a true overall length from the base to the tip of the bullet. This measurement is listed as part of the SAAMI specs for 7mm Remington Magnum and they indicate that an acceptable minimum length is 3.150 inches with a maximum of 3.290 inches.
The last measurement I made, and one that only serves to compare each round against the other nineteen in the box is the total weight of a loaded cartridge. In my independent measurements of match grade bullets, I typically see weights fluctuate by anywhere from .2 to .3 grains from the mean depending on the manufacturer. Brass cases usually introduce a bit more error, and my RCBS ChargeMaster throws charges +/- .1 grain. All of this combines to affect overall cartridge weight, but you should expect that match grade ammo is pretty darn close to the average.
Looking at the box of twenty that I measured, I was pleased to see the base to ogive measurement across twenty rounds only varied by .002 inches and held right at 3.583 inches on average. That’s well within the variation of the hand loads that I produce, and probably beats me on all but my best days. The variation could just as easily have come from the variation in Hornady’s bullet making process.
The overall length varied by a bit more, which should come as no surprise given that the tip of a bullet is subject to a great deal more variation in length that the ogive. Either way, the max spread between all twenty rounds was .005 inches, again, well within what I hand load on a manual press.
Weighing all twenty rounds on my ChargeMaster scale, I was pleased to see that the max spread between loaded cartridges was only 2.5 grains. Given that I saw up to three grains of spread among twenty randomly pulled fired cases, I’m inclined to believe that Black Hills does a great job of throwing accurate powder charges.
The first order of business upon completing my rifle was to stand a safe distance away and fire it remotely into a safe backstop. I took this opportunity to chronograph ten rounds using a MagnetoSpeed v3 which helpfully calculated average velocity as well as SD. After ten rounds, the Magnetospeed said I was averaging 2946 feet per second, four feet per second off the advertised velocity from Black Hills. The SD value was 25.9.
According to Bryan Litz and Precision Rifle Blog, that number falls outside of what they consider common among lots of mass produced factory ammo. You should expect SD values in the teens for hand loads, and that’s something I pretty regularly see with my own. I plan on hand loading for this rifle, and I expect that I’ll bring SD values down into the low teens before I’m satisfied.
At the 100 yard line, I couldn’t seem to get this rifle/ammo combo to group better than 1 – 1.5 MOA across five-shot groups. To be fair, I’m still getting used to the rifle, trigger, and stock, and the barrel is still breaking in, so I’d expect that the accuracy might change down the road. The other load that Black Hills sent seemed to do better, so it may just be an issue of rifle and ammo agreeing with each other.
I’m happy enough to blame the rifle and shooter getting along as this rifle is a bit of a bear to shoot for extended periods of time. That said, for most of my testing, I only squeaked out a few groups under 1 MOA. The rest fell comfortably somewhere between there and 1.50 MOA.
Further out, things didn’t change much. I took the opportunity on a calm day to shoot a ten-round group from 475 yards that measured a hair under 1.5 MOA. As you can see in the image above, that’s about 6.4 inches horizontally by seven inches vertically for a maximum spread of 7.4 inches. Chuck Hawks says that the vital zone of an elk is about 14.5 inches or roughly twice as large as what I shot in calm conditions. Were I to choose to use a match bullet like the A-Max for elk hunting, I’d likely limit myself to 500 yards or less for an ethical shot contingent on weather conditions, shooting position, etc. Smaller animals like whitetail would require a closer stalk.
Minute-and-a-half accuracy for ten shots past a quarter mile in calm conditions is certainly serviceable for hunting purposes, but not what I’d consider match grade. That said, this just may be a case of my new Savage being a special little snowflake that doesn’t like this load.
Specifications: Black Hills 7mm Remington Magnum – 162 gr. A-Max
- Brass: Black Hills
- Projectile: Hornady 162 gr. A-Max
- Advertised Velocity: 2950 fps
- Measured Velocity (28″ barrel): 2946 fps
- Price: $2.10/round
Ratings (out of five stars):
Fit, Finish, Quality * * * * *
Every round is inspected by hand before leaving the factory and the effort shows. All of the brass is shiny and clean with no discernible defects or flaws. Every round I’ve fired has lit off consistently with no squibs or weird fliers. Base to ogive measurements were on par with what I would likely be able to produce using an RCBS single stage press, and the max spread in loaded cartridge weight could easily be explained by variations in case weight.
Accuracy * * *
In my rifle, this just wasn’t a knockdown winner. It averaged about a minute to a minute-and-a-half for five-shot groups all the way out to 475 yards. Some of this could be explained by the lackluster SD in muzzle velocity as the 162 gr. A-Max should be adequately stabilized in the 1:9 twist barrel I’m using. While I don’t think an SD value of 20+ is necessarily bad, at $2.00+ per round, I’d expect to see better.
Overall * * * *
Assuming I believed what I read online about the A-Max for hunting, I wouldn’t hesitate to take this on a hunt as I believe it’s reasonably accurate at the ranges I’d likely encounter something deserving the power of 7mm Remington Magnum. I think this rifle has more potential in the accuracy department, but I’ve also grown accustomed to the fact that not all rifles and factory ammo combos work. At $2.10/round, I wouldn’t stack this one high and deep choosing instead to continue my search for a match grade round that delivered better accuracy in this rifle.
I really like Black Hills, but my testing was much less scientific: about 3/4 MOA for 5 shoots at 100 yards through a 20″ Remington 700 LTR .308. Federal GMM is slightly more accurate, and Eagle Eye was the best at about .6 MOA. Eagle Eye 175 grain runs about 2620 FPS through the 20″ tube, and about 2615 FPS through my Aero Precision 18″ stainless .308. SD for 5 rounds was low, but I haven’t plugged the numbers in.
I’ve had my eye on BH .338 Lapua, but it’s pricey.
I do love the 7mm magnum. So versatile.
On the AMax bullet, you’ll see a particularly large difference as you play with COAL. Treat it like a Berger hybrid round.
As far as hunting, I’ve used the 162gr AMax bullet out of the 7mm08 to take at least 150 deer and pigs. On thin skin game it works just fine. I wouldnt use it on something like elk or bear or nilgai.
This is a 28″ tube as well so it’s just a screamer. The idea of pushing 120 gr bullets at like 3300+ with ease is terrifying.
Like JWT mentioned, you’ll likely see better groups when you play with seating depths and COAL.
I love my 7 mag. I’m going to play with some of the 195 grain bergers and see how they group.
Tom, when you’re working up a custom load for a rifle, is there a ballpark estimate on how many rounds that entails?
Whatever number Tom gives you is a lie. It never ends. It just stops.
Jon is partially right. I start with 5 round lots of ten. So fifty for starters. Using whatever reloading manual you prefer, pick the middle of the pack pressure wise and load five rounds of say 44 grains of brand X powder. Then five rounds at 44.5 grains, then 45 grains, etc…
Shoot five shot groups very slowly. Clean as needed between each group of five.
(Keep in mind your first cold bore shot of each string might be a flier)
Measure your groups and pick the best.
When I have the best load, I then play a bit with seating depth. If no improvement there, I’ll go back to another fifty rounds loading a tenth of a grain less and more than the original. (I use an electronic scale and a powder trickler.) again, 5 round groups, five loads.
If the group size is not acceptable, I’ll try a different weight bullet. Try to find boat tail bullets with good BC’s. I have grown to really like Berger bullets.
My favorite .308 loves the 168 grain SMK. Ragged one hole groups. My load for it settled in at 40.2 grains of IMR 4350. I keep blowing off extractors though.
It looks like I’ll be needing a good dose of of something I’m a bit short on, that being patience. 🙂
Time to learn to develop me some…
Then, after all of that, something like Varget comes out and you think “maybe I can get the same accuracy with a wider temperature variation”? And you start all over again. It never ends.
OK, when did Hornady start making 162gr AMAX again?
I assume they aren’t $25/100 any more.
Cool article, Tyler. I hope you plan on documenting your build, and how you made the decisions on the build.
Second, If TTAG hasn’t yet, I’d love to see a detailed article on the specifics of the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ on working up a custom tack-driver round for it.
(Play your cards right, TTAG may pony up for some reloading gear for that article, if you know what I mean… *wink*)
This would be good. I don’t really have any specific process yet and just sort of go however i’m feeling when working up loads and it probably isn’t the best way. If somebody from TTAG could write an article with good tips for working up loads I am sure many here would enjoy it.
I’ve read mixed reviews on the AMAX as hunting bullet, some feel it is too destructive.
I can tell you that a 168 gr AMAX in .308 will turn a whole squirrel into chunks of squirrel.
Whats your barrel twist? The amax loves fast twist barrels not normal twist imo. Ive never had black hills not shoot 1/2 moa in a good rifle.
Try that ammo in a fast twist barrel setup for 180 and 195 grain bergers and you will see that ammo perform.
Look up the “Greenhill Formula”. There is a formula to work out barrel pitch rates.
And as Dan suggested check your own barrel’s own pitch rate. The easiest method is to put a tight patch on a jag and push it up the barrel on a cleaning rod. Put a white-out mark near the handle to guage a complete turn. Put another mark where the rod matches the receiver. Push the cleaning rod into the barrel until it makes a complete turn. Make another white-out mark on the rod. Measure the distance between the marks. Usually accurate to within a quarter inch at worst.
I’m guessing your barrel pitch is a little on the slow side, probably optimized for 140g bullets.
I once talked to a Hornady engineer about using A-MAX in my .280.
He said 1 in 10″ could stabilize the 162 A-MAX at 3000 fps, but 2800 fps would be iffy.
While I don’t endorse or support using anything that’s not marked “hunting” for taking game, I could be swayed to the dark side by convincing evidence.
I had a colleague who used .308 155g Sierra Palma Match projectiles in hunting. I said it wasn’t a good idea because the expansion won’t be consistent. He had two good kills, and lots of bad ones.
My performance with 6.5×55 PMC 139g SPs from a sporterized Swedish Mauser (one year) were one-shot stops on pigs and goats from all angles. The same the next few years with a M48 Yugoslav Mauser with a Scout Scope (2.5×20) using reworked Turkish ammo (replaced the 154g FMJ with a 170g RNSP and dropped the charge to 44.5g of the original powder). Anything that was hit went down and stayed down! Damn that thing was brutally effective. Shame the S&K mount worked loose and couldn’t be fixed.
The 7mm 162 grain A-max’s are popular Thar hunting bullet here in New Zealand (Handloaded in various magnum calibers). They work well at longer ranges (250 yard+) they do NOT generate consistent kills at shorter ranges due to under penetration/over expansion. Many hunters who use the A-max’s carry another load in their rifles magazine and only single load the A-max’s when a long shot presents it self.
I have shot several dozen animals with 162 grain A-max’s (Pigs, goats and deer). Long range these projectiles are devastating on game. Penetration at short range is maybe 5 to 6 inches, this works great for side on lung shots with the bonus of no exit wound damaging meat but hit from another angle and it’s plan cruel. First time I used them at short range I shot a 50 pound goat at 15 yards directly from behind, a shot that would normally split such a small animal in half, instead big blood mist cloud, animal ran away presumably to die slowly. I was really careful how I used them after that and since changed projectiles even though 80%+ of shots where I hunt are over 250 yards.
My advise would be NOT to use them as a hunting bullet + I believe Hornady has discontinued manufacture anyway.