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 Hornady has superseded the A-Max with the new ELD line of bullets, but the stockpiles of A-Max bullets out there ensures that you’ll likely see this bullet available for the next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.