Sam Hoober writes [via ammoland.com]:

The term “match grade” does get used a fair amount when it comes to both firearms, components and ammunition. Does it actually mean anything, or for that matter, does it mean anything anymore? It’s something to wonder about prior to spending money on anything labeled “match grade,” be it a target rifle, hunting rifle, or concealed carry gun you intend to put in a gun holster.

What The Dictionary Says About Match Grade

According to the Wiki guys, “match grade” firearms, components or match grade ammunition is/are firearms, components and ammunition machined with far greater precision than typical guns, components or ammunition is. (Such ammunition would ostensibly be hand-turned brass or at least very well could be.) As a result, anything match grade would have much tighter tolerances and would be far more accurate than the typical gun you get in your LGS (local gun shop).

Match grade products are made for the purposes of competitive shooting matches. Since the utmost of accuracy is needed, a gun, it’s components and ammunition have to be up to higher standards. Naturally, this would also extend to military and police snipers as lives depend on their shots being made.

It’s kind of like race-spec equipment on a motor vehicle. Formula 1 cars, for instance, have such tight tolerances that the engine is actually seized at room temperature; they have to warm them up by other means (pumping hot water around the engine compartment) before starting them.

Some hold the match grade definition goes further, and that there are actual tolerance specifications for barrels, ammunition and so on, though it depends on whom you ask. (It isn’t as if the Office of Weights and Measures maintains standards on what constitutes “match grade.”)

For instance, Shilen Rifles specifies that the bore of their match grade barrels cannot vary more than .0005″ over the entire length of the barrel. Another company, Lilja, specifies no more than 0.0001″ variation is acceptable for their standard stainless steel match-grade barrels.

Ammunition manufacturers likewise have different standards; some may find one batch is a bit more accurate than others. They label it “match” and call it good. Others have a whole other process. In some instances, the brass, propellant and primer may be the same but a better projectile is used, in some cases it’s the propellant and projectile and in others still it’s precision-machined round made with the best materials from the ground up.

As a result, it can be safely said that while tighter tolerances (and perhaps better materials) are involved, the exact specifications of what makes something match grade varies, depending on whom is making it.

Is It Worth The Match Grade Premium?

With that all said, is it worth paying the match-grade premium? In truth…it depends.

Granted, some people just like to have premium products. A lot of people out there are perfectly content to put a S&W Shield in their concealed carry holster, but some people want to have a Wilson Combat, Chip McCormick or Les Baer pistol instead.

Consider what the firearm, component or ammunition is for. If you’re competing in shooting matches (whether pistol or long rifle) then it makes sense because many of these events require far more accuracy than the standard rifle or pistol is inherently capable of to score well. You need equipment that will help you win. After all, you don’t run a draft horse in the Kentucky Derby.

For the amateur long range or bullseye shooter that wants the utmost in precision shooting and doesn’t mind spending, it might also be worth it for the same reasons.

Likewise, a military or police sniper needs the same for their profession. Lives depend on placing accurate shots and doing so at possibly great distances.

However, for some other applications, paying the premium may not be necessary, strictly speaking. The typical big game hunter or concealed carrier will likely have all their needs met with a standard quality firearm. What you find in the average gun store is likely going to be just fine for these purposes, so long as either is reasonably accurate and reliable.

International Training Inc Advanced Sniper Course

About Sam Hoober

Sam Hoober is a contributing editor at Alien Gear Holsters, as well as for Bigfoot Gun Belts. He also writes weekly columns for Daily Caller and USA Carry.

30 Responses to The Truth About ‘Match Grade’ Guns and Ammo

  1. If you really want to go OCD on Match ammo, do it yourself with alot of gauges and other measuring devices.

    • That seems reasonable. A friend of mine is into precision reloading and has all kinds of gadgets and formulas. I just buy off the shelf for basic target shooting. I’m good with that.

  2. Good article. I was actually curious about this. I once had a guy tell me that match grade meant you had to break in the barrel. Doing so required shooting one round down the barrel, then cleaning it. Then shooting two rounds. And cleaning it again. Then three, and so on. I just looked at him like he had a male sexual organ growing out of his forehead.

  3. “Match Grade” is the new “Tactical.” Overused, and rarely is (unless you get into the real high end.)

  4. This is the same guy who wrote:

    “It may have been stored with the action locked back and magazine(s) fully loaded at almost all times. As a result, you may consider replacing the recoil spring and the magazine springs ”

    There is no standard for match grade, it’s like HD Optics, and Military Grade. It’s a buyer beware marketing term that may or may not mean the item you’re buying is of a higher quality that other parts.

    You you want to know what’s really match grade, ask an avid CMP, Bullseye, or USPSA what they and others are shooting at matches and then you’ll get a decent answer as to what’s match grade.

    • Actually, with “military grade,” it does mean something if the object in question meets a given MIL-STD. In that case, it’s to military specifications, or grade if you prefer.

      Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better performing, longer lasting, less prone to fouling, or whatever, than something that doesn’t meet the standard. It just meets the requirements the US military set for allowing its use.

      • Military grade and mil-spec are not the same thing. Ford is using Denis Leary to hawk the F-150 under the generic term of military grade. That’s an advertiser’s hook, which given you comment means that the misdirection by Ford is really working and people do think that term means something.. Mil-spec is a specification that’s well defined and published and exists for everything from tanks to copy paper. Mil-spec is in no way a measure of quality. It’s simply the spec for what the military will buy.

        • There’s a ‘Mil-spec’ for a bucket and a mop bought by ‘Uncle Sugar’.

          There’s also one for an NRO inlet-gathering satellite in orbit.

          ‘Mil-spec’ in an advertisement is for all practical purposes *meaningless* unless that exact spec is specified…

        • Mil-spec Turning average cost items into overpriced items made by the lowest bidder who hired most likely lowest paid employees for max returns to their stock holders. Who knew Lehman Brothers of Wall St could make a USA mil-spec AR optic? Before calling Bravo Sierra look up L3. Now let’s talk about temperature POI shift in those sights.

  5. If you think about it, your weapon is at a relatively static state. It may change if fired several times and will change if fired many times (especially in one sitting). Your external ballistics change constantly at least in small ways. So, it seems that it would be important that all of your ammunition used be the “same” as possible, in as many ways as possible, for you to achieve repeatable results. This matters no matter the caliber/type/purpose of your ammo, and even if the ammo wasn’t made very specifically for YOUR gun (which it can be). For the best repeatable results, shot over shot, you want your ammo so much the dame that your weapon experiences deja vu, every time you pull the trigger. So, selection of best projectile / case / primer/ powder for your needs and weapon is essential, bit fitting them all together so that the are all as exactly the same as possible requires hand loading. It requires a lot of diligence from very no-nonsense, detail oriented people, and that ammo is ALWAYS going to be worth more (time/labor/inspection – wise) than you could possibly be charged for, or that you’d pay for.
    Worth it? I think so. Those who load ammo, especially the crazy bastards that have sbjected themselves to ATF Class 6 licensing and ITAR registration and annual fees (not to mention the equipment and other costs), to attempt to do so commercially will tell you that THERE’S NO MATCH FOR OUR AMMO. And you can tell when you shoot it. That’s what match ammo means.

  6. Something the author didn’t mention is that ‘match grade’ isn’t superior in a carry gun, and in fact can be negative. Match grade is for competition games, not carry guns.

    I had a period of time when I was building a number of ‘match grade’ custom 1911’s for carry. Because, you know, ‘custom’ and ‘match’ is just better and way more expensive. Nowlin and Ed Brown ‘match grade’ barrels with precise installation and fitting, fitted bushings, careful slide/frame fitting & lapping, ramp polishing, etc. Those guns were slick and worked like precision machines. And super accurate!

    But what I discovered was that unless I gauged EVERY ROUND, reliability suffered. Unless the guns were perfectly clean and lubricated, there was an occasional failure to cycle, extract, or feed. It turns out the tight tolerances in the ramp/chamber/barrel, coupled with tight tolerances in the rest of the gun, really require precision everywhere. And as it turns out, while Federal HST rounds are really reliable, good for carry, and have awesome terminal ballistics they’re not ‘match grade’ and had the occasional FTF in my custom match grade 1911’s.

    So now for my carry guns, optimizations end at a reliability polish and trigger smoothing. With a match grade gun, I can get groups of .5″ or less. With my carry guns it can be 2″ on a good day, but it can also be 4″ from a ‘loose’ gun or short barrel revolver. But I figure reliability, plus minute of bad guy accuracy is best for my carry guns. YMMV.

    • “Unless the guns were perfectly clean and lubricated, there was an occasional failure to cycle, extract, or feed. It turns out the tight tolerances in the ramp/chamber/barrel, coupled with tight tolerances in the rest of the gun, really require precision everywhere.”

      In my opinion, that’s exactly what bit Cabot guns in the ass when TTAG tested their 1911s. (For those not familiar with that story, they jammed repeatedly. It took *repeat* returns to Cabot for them to function reliably.)

      Cabot *knows* how to work metal. They aren’t repeatedly hired to craft metal flown in space if they were deficient in that department.

      Their problem was they decided to ‘improve’ the 1911 by making the clearances between moving metal surfaces high-precision *tight*. In the hand, it felt wonderful. Butter-slick. Exposed to the dirt and crap of a shooting environment, it bound them up tighter than I was when I made the mistake of eating a pound of yummy Mozzarella last week. (*Ouch*).

      AK-47s go *bang* most every time because there’s space between the metal surfaces for things to go wrong. Kalashnikov made the right choice in the balance of precision and battlefield-grade reliability…

    • I have been making this point for a long time. The reason that people believe 1911s are unreliable is that people by expensive competition grade pistols and experience failures due to tight tolerances. 1911 reliability tends to decrease with price. A $700 Springfield MILSPEC is very reliable and a $5000 Cabot is a piece of junk.

  7. When I was in the USMC, (way back when), “National Match” meant something to us. It meant the rifle had been worked over by an armorer with expertise in making necessary changes to a weapon so it would be very consistent in shot placement. When the term was applied to ammunition it meant it was also manufactured to be more consistent. Size, shape and weight of the bullet, a consistent amount of powder that was tested to be very close to specifications. New brass that was carefully checked against specifications.

    Did it make any difference? Those rifles with match ammunition were consistently more accurate than issue weapons. Yes, some issue rifles were very accurate having by chance been assembled with a set of parts that ended up close to the specifications of a National Match rifle, but not many.

    What does it mean today on the open market? For the most part is marketing.

    Some companies may be more careful of their manufacturing standards but I doubt that many are willing to take the time and care, (read that $$$$), to be that diligent because most people are not willing to pay the price.

    And I agree with Abuani. Match grade is generally not good for use in the field with the average grunt and average maintenance.

  8. Recently was given some ‘Rifle Match’ .22 LR ammo to try. Since it is no problem to reliably, consistently, pick off 1/4″ & smaller objects from 50 yards with either my Ruger American Rimfire or 10/22’s, I wondered what difference it would make. Made a difference all right; was NOT as accurate as the same company’s regular ammo. Glad it was free.

  9. Match grade?

    What is it?

    Federal’s description of ever-popular GMM contain no such words. Does that mean that GMM is not “match-grade”?

    What about Tubb’s 6mm handloads? Suppose I should write him a letter and ask if they should be called “match-grade”.

  10. Match grade is just the same as “race car,” like the example given, at it’s worst you get an engine that won’t start on a frosty January morning unless you get up two hours earlier to pre heat it with your hauling truck.

    Nobody likes race cars in bad weather, they are largely entertainment – the same as a “match rifle.” Nobody hunts with those in 34 degree freezing drizzle – but you can hunt with a “military grade” rifle and it will shrug it off.

    Military grade doesn’t make it the better gun, yet. Do you need a quad rail, front vertical grip, one point sling, BUIS, and a bayonet lug on your deer rifle? While we celebrate the freedom to do so, sorry, no, a Navy Seal M4 does not make a great deer rifle. Like match grade, “Navy SEAL” is not the holy grail of working equipment. A SIG P320 won’t be a better choice for CCW strolling on Myrtle Beach. A Kahr CW380 might suit much better.

    The point is that like “race car,” “match grade,” “military spec,” “Navy SEAL,” and other descriptions of what some tout as “better” are actually sales hype to the ignorant and impressionable who are trying to find their place. And marketing knows they can convince them to buy something that makes them appear to fit an image they want.

    Which is why we see 3 1/2″ 1911 “match grade” compacts with target sights used as a CCW, or a fully outfitted M4gery with all the ambidextrous controls, bipod, 9 power scope and (blocked) 30 round mag in the hands of a Midwest hunter clad in retro Tiger Stripe. In the case of the hunter he could do just as well with Uncle Ernie’s old 30-30 lever.

    Unless you have a very specific need, all those kinds of enhancements require you to trade off performance in one area – starting up and running in January – for incremental performance advantages in another – a .25 second reduction in double shots under the clock. And what usually happens is that a youthful user will think they are getting their money’s worth, when in reality the companies who market this stuff are the ones getting their money’s worth exploiting the typically weak male ego.

    A “Navy SEAL” knife really won’t do much more than a simple 4″ fixed blade – except inflate the sense of worthiness of it’s owner and the profit margins of the maker. And yet nobody notices they sell tens of thousands of them for the few thousand SEALS – who trade them off in overseas missions for items to match their collection. When you are skilled one knife can suit just as well as another, and NOT having US made and publicized gear on you can be more help than having it.

    Just like not having all those hot rodding stickers on your fender when the cops start pulling over cars on a back road for speed contests. “Nope, officer, I wasn’t doing nuffin. I don’t even have a race car.”

    Choose wisely.

  11. “…though it depends on whom you ask.”

    Whatever other quibbles there may be about the contents of the article, a kudos for the correct use of “whom”!

    Yes, “a kudos.”

  12. I want it reliable, loose and able to put three rounds into the side of the barn I’m shooting at from 25 yards.

  13. March grade, whatever that term means, goes out the window in a 3 second DGU. Even your average carry piece is more accurate than you are going to be.

  14. The silly part is the stated bore spec of 0.0001″. Along the length of a 20″ barrel, four words come to mind… No Way In Hell. There’s no way to do it optically and if you think you’re doing it with an air gage… good luck… It’s like the guy who tells me that his production process holds a 0.001″ tollerance on a part when the most advance thin they have down on the floor is a digital hand caliper.

  15. When we were done fiddling with the tanks belonging to the company selected for the CAT trophy shoot you could’ve stamped National Match on the front glacis. Quite happy with my ‘rack grade’ MBT’s.

  16. Very good article with some great points, especially regarding the apparently wide array of “standards”. I only do close-range target shooting with rifles and handguns, so I’m good with off-the-shelf stuff. I do have some friends who are into precision reloading, and they’re pretty crazy about it. That’s probably the way to go, if you want “match” ammo to your specific standards. I’ve only been shooting for about a year, so with my limited experience, I just stick with proven name-brand stuff (firearms and ammo). Maybe someday I’ll get good enough to be a bit more concerned with “match grade” stuff. A very good read though! Thanks.

  17. A friend told me he called Federal to ask what the difference was between their “standard” primers, and their premium, or “match” primers.
    He said they told him that they “look” at the match primers before shipping.
    A match barrel might mean it’s a precision barrel that was made with great care, or a match barrel might mean someone lit a match, so they could see if there was any obstruction in it before shipping.
    If you wand a “good” barrel, or gun, go with a proven product known for reliability.

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