I rarely buy factory ammunition. For plinking, it’s military surplus ball. For hunting, I roll my own. On the rare occasions I did buy factory ammunition for hunting it was the “good stuff”, Hornady and Federal. I’ve always glanced at the attractively priced Sellier & Bellot ammunition in Shotgun News and on Gunbroker, but never really could justify buying more ammo when reloading filled most of my needs.
Like a bolt from the blue, Caleb at Ammo For Sale.Com contacted me and wanted to know if I would write a review on one of his products. So, I asked for some S&B in .308 so I could finally put it through the wringer and see how it stacked up to other ammunition. Two days later, Caleb emailed me, “The Czech’s in the mail.”
I was hoping for a good product. Sellier & Bellot’s been in business since 1825 so they must be doing something right. For us history buffs, one of the big reasons the Nazis wanted Czechoslovakia was to get their grubby little mitts on the renowned Czech armament industries, which had a world-wide reputation for building quality products especially, at the time, artillery. The Western Powers, British Prime Minister Neville “Peace in our time” Chamberlain in particular, met with the Nazis at Munich and, without even consulting the Czechs, basically just handed Hitler the country on a silver platter if he promised to be good. As Sir Winston Churchill said, "Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonour. They chose dishonour. They will have war.” Not much later, the Allies found themselves on the receiving end of many tanks, artillery pieces, and rifles of Czech manufacture. During WWII itself at the Yalta Conference, again over Churchill’s protests, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a “Chamberlain moment” and basically gave all of Eastern Europe to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin after the war, so the Czechs were forced to manufacture weapons for the Commies too, with a reputation for being the best built of the Warsaw Pact nations.
The Czechs decided they’d finally had enough of the corrupt Communist regime that ran the country without input from or concern for its citizens in the spring of 1968 and tried to “throw the bums out.” The result was Soviet tanks quickly rumbling across the border to show them the error of their ways. Warsaw Pact troops remained stationed in Czechoslovakia until 1989 when the Communist regime collapsed. In 1993, Czechoslovakia as a nation voluntarily and peacefully split into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. Let’s hope they can finally live in peace. And sell American gun nuts some quality shooting stuff.
History lesson over. The point is the Czechs have made good stuff for a long time, from the famous Bren Gun to the Hetzer.
So I found myself in the possession of a single box of Sellier & Bellot .308 Winchester 180-grain round nose soft points. Caleb had said two boxes, but I guess wires got crossed somewhere. But free ammo is free ammo.
A few days later I made it out to my “range”, a full section of state-owned land with a nice mountain for a safe backstop, where I put up portable targets. With my rifles sighted in for 147-grain ball surplus, I restricted my shooting to only 100 yards due to the difference in trajectory.
No two rifles are the same, which is what makes them so much fun and fascinating, finding out all their little quirks. For instance, my wife’s 03A3 Springfield sporter spits out 125-grain and 150-grain bullets with disgust and sprays them all over dinner-plate sized groups. Feed it 180’s or even 220’s (my wife drew a moose tag once) and the Springfield will put five shots cloverleafed into tight sub-MOA groups. So I brought two rifles, in case one didn’t particularly like the 180’s.
The first was an Ishapore Lee-Enfield that I turned into a scout rifle with a 17-inch barrel and wearing a Burris 2.75x forward mounted scope. Rifle number two was my FAL with the free-float Entreprise handguards and the German Hensoldt 4x ZF24 military scope. Neither rifle is anything you would take to win a high-power match and there's no bench rest at my informal range; I shoot prone from sandbags. My shooting is a gray area between benchresting and field shooting.
The S&B’s competition was some Australian military surplus 147-grain ball which I have always found to be "good shooters". Since I found to my chagrin that I was out of white box Winchester 147-grain ball, I also shot my "ersatz 7.62 NATO", stuff I loaded to 7.62 specs with the flatbase 152-grain FMJ bullets from the old .30-06 military loads instead of 147-grain boattails. Alas, I did not have anything else loaded with 180-grain bullets to compare directly to the S&B.
Range was 100 meters, not yards, and the bullets fired over my rather elderly F1 Shooting Chrony approximately ten feet from the muzzle. Temperature was about 62 degrees, with only a slight breeze (when I started), and we were at 5,300 feet elevation.
The first thing that jumped right out at me is S&B’s sheer consistency. Average velocity was 2,247 feet per second (remember it’s a 17-inch barrel and 180-grain round nose) but the individual numbers were amazingly consistent; only sixteen fps difference from the highest to lowest velocity. Just look at these numbers:
Consistency is the key to accurate shooting. My reloads had a spread of 39 fps from highest to lowest and the Aussie ball, to my surprise and disappointment, had a variation of well over 200 fps. I'm still not sure what the hell went on with that. The S&B shot a group size equal to that of the Aussie ball, 3-1/2 inches, but with one flier called. The reloads didn’t do too bad at 2-1/2 inches. This performance might seem mediocre, but then my Enfield truck/brush rifle is a mediocre shooter.
Next up at bat was Queenie the FAL, a Century FrankenFAL on an Imbel receiver, with the standard 21-inch barrel. Like my other Century FAL, I’ve never had so much as a hiccup out of it in several hundred rounds. Many folks consider a Century FAL a crapshoot, varying from horrible to pristine. I am not one to have good luck; I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to draw a moose, goat, or sheep tag, building up bonus points every year, since 1992 with no luck. So I figure if I can draw two beauties from Century in a row, perhaps they aren’t as bad as the keyboard commandos say they are.
Velocities varied a bit more in the gas-operated semiautomatic, but were still pretty darn good with a high to low spread of 32 fps, compared to 50 fps for the Aussie and 24 fps for my reloads. The FAL found the S&B to be quite delicious and wanted more; a five-shot group went inside of two inches. FALcohalics know that’s pretty good for a FrankenFAL. The Aussie had about a 3-inch group and my reloads a 5-inch group, which was pretty pathetic even with one flier called.
The FAL obviously liked the S&B. I see they also make a 147-grain ball load that would be just right for military 7.62x51mm rifles.
By this point in the shooting, the wind was building fast as a snow/rain squalls moved in from out of the mountains. I was going to shoot some groups at 300 meters, the range at which I like to “confirm” and “tweak” things, but by then the wind had come up high enough that tumbleweeds, pets, and small children were blowing around. So I called it a day.
I would use the 180-grain round nose most certainly for elk, especially in the timber where ranges are pretty limited. Depending on bullet performance, it would do on moose, which are generally shot at closer ranges, always assuming the shooter puts the bullet where he' supposed to. With a 210 yard zero, it would shoot flat to 250 yards, which is just about ideal for a scout rifle in the woods.
If I had more rounds I would do some more testing and perhaps carry them for elk hunting in the black timber to see how they would perform in action. S&B says the round is: "A semi-jacketed bullet consisting of a metallic jacket and a lead core. The lead core is bare in front. When hitting the target, it gets deformed and produces a mushroom-like shape, which enhances the lethal effect. It is used for most types of rifle cartridges and, depending on caliber weight, it is used for cloven-hoofed game hunting in particular." I would like to see how the S&B bullet holds together, as I don't know much about the jacket thickness or material, so if I shoot something with one I'll do a post mortum.
In addition to their own bullets, I see that S&B is now also offering hunting loads with the "brand name" bullets...Sierra GameKing soft points and boattail hollowpoints, Barnes Triple Shock X-Bullets, and Nosler Partitions.
For two years I hunted with the Nosler green-tip BT's and while my interpretation of performance is strictly anecdotal, I was underwhelmed with the performance on deer. They did massive tissue damage to the critters' boiler room, but more often than not the deer stayed on its feet and kept going. I have since gone back to good old-fashioned Sierra and Hornady 165-grain boat tail softpoints.
Thus far, I am very pleased with the S&B ammo. I can recommend it and wouldn’t be afraid to buy some on the next rare occasion I have to resort to commercial hunting loads. I would like to see what the ammunition could do with a good accurate bolt gun, but unfortunately my good accurate bolt gun is in .30-06. I suspect the S&B ammo could be MOA shooters out of an accurate bolt action sporter.