90 Grain Bullets for Service Rifles

A controversial topic, gunsmith Joe Carlos discusses the use of 90 grain bullets for use in .223/5.56 AR-15 Service Rifles for Across The Course High Power competition.

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4 Responses to “90 Grain Bullets for Service Rifles”

  1. Chris Furuya Says:

    The 90gr VLD’s actually predated Mr Carlos’ comments. Jimmy was actually producing them somewhere around 1998, and they were being used by match rifle shooters. Sandy P had shaken them down and given up on them by 2000. Somewhere around then, John Holliger of White Oak Precision paid Pac-Nor to produce a 6.5 twist button in the hopes that he could get them to shoot out of a Service Rifle AR15. The investment paid off and early shooters like Jeff Rost started to post big scores at 600 and 1000 yards. In 2002, Chris Hatcher of the AMU shot the first 1000 yard clean with the 90 JLK’s at the Interservice matches. John Scandale followed that up with a win at the Nationals that same year with a win in the Porter Cup at Camp Perry shooting JLK 90’s.

  2. Joe Carlos Says:

    Mr. Furuya
    Thanks for clearing up some of these dates for me!

    There have been a number of changes relative to 90’s since my video. In the video I stated that the early 90 gr. Sierra MatchKing B.T. was prone to blowing up in mid air. Just a few years back Sierra finally fixed that Boat Tail and it is now dependable and sports a very high B.C. of .563. It is factory pointed and is easy to get to shoot. I believe that bullet is loaded to AR-15 magazine length by Federal for the .224 Valkyrie. I have also been successful in getting both the Sierra and Berger B.T. match 90’s to shoot in the .22 Nosler at speeds about 150 fps. higher than the .223 Rem. Watch for an article soon.

    JLK no longer offers a 90 gr. .224″ bullet and the stated reason for them dropping the 90 was lack of jackets for them. For anyone in love with that bullet I know of a source for them (and Berger B.T. Match 90’s). NCC1701@penn.com

    In early 2018 Sierra introduced a 95 gr. .224″ MatchKing with an even higher B.C. of .600. As of this writing some loaders are having trouble getting decent groups out of the 95. Two hints will be of help: #1. Try jamming it into the throat a bit instead of jumping it. #2. The bullet seems to like a 1 degree, 30 min. leade angle. The popular AR-15 .223 Rem. Wylde Chamber has a 1 degree 15 min. leade angle which the bullet seems to object to. Watch for an article in “The American Gunsmith” soon on “AR-15 Heavy Bullets” in which I will go into greater detail. The 95, when successfully loaded in the .22 Nosler, will equal the ballistics of the 6.5 Creedmoor but will do so in the Mouse Gun.

    There has never been a better time to try 90’s, assuming you have a 1 – 6.5″ twist barrel. I am having great success with Bartlein Gain Twist 20″ Service Rifle barrels that have a starting twist of 1 – 13″ in front of the chamber getting progressively faster (doubling) to 1 6.5″ at the muzzle.

    Joe Carlos

  3. Chris Furuya Says:

    Mr. Carlos,
    Thank you for your reply to my comments on the American Gunsmithing site.

    There were a cluster of us shooting the 90’s around 1998 thru the early 2000’s (both in match rifle and Service rifles). I feel like I had a ringside seat to the development of the 90gr AR Service Rifle round. I have two of the early 6.5 twist barrels that Holliger produced. One is set up with a strain pressure rig. We established early on that you can get good velocities out of a 20” barrel with sane pressures.

    Jimmy was tweaking his design of the 90’s early on, and I got samples of 89’s as well as 90’s. He used 6mm jackets since the 22’s weren’t long enough. That probably kept them from blowing up (most of the time). I don’t know what Swampy used or if he even produced a 90 after he bought JLK.

    My recollection on the chronology of Sierra and Berger entering the fray is a bit different. I believe Sierra came first but not many used them because their BC was not great, and there was no benefit. Berger was later and by then most everyone I know had given up shooting 90’s.

    I’m curious if there are/were any hard holders winning with the gain twist barrels? Most of the hardguns I know are now shooting 308’s again (M110 or M14’s) for long range. Can you quantify your success on target with the 90’s? 600 or 1000 yard groups?…scores?

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with AR building.
    Chris.

  4. Joe Carlos Says:

    Chris
    I answered your post a couple of days ago and when I pressed on “Post” the computer ate the whole reply. In my write up I mentioned that Swampworks did produce a 90 gr. VLD but that there was some time gap between the last 90’s produced by Jimmy Knox and new supplies coming out of Swampworks.

    Berger also offered a 90 gr. VLD and it was fairly user friendly. As a military match armorer during the period I offered both the JLK and the Berger 90 to all the guns I produced. I would say that guns favored the Berger over the JLK by about 2:1. A few years back Swampworks started posting on their web site that the 90 was no longer available due to lack of jackets.

    When I was unable to find any barrels that would shoot the flawed 2005 production Sierra 90’s without blowing up a substantial number of them I approached Berger about producing a thick jacketed 90 gr. Boat Tail. They could see a market for a reliable and accurate 90 gr. Boat Tail and within a few months I had a sample. I torture tested them and couldn’t get them to blow up. The bullet was very user friendly to a wide cross section of barrels many of which weren’t in production when you were shooting 90’s. The published B.C. is .512.

    Around the same time period that Berger and I were working on a quality 90 gr. B.T. the company thickened the jackets on a fair percentage of their VLD bullets. The 90 gr. .224″ was one of them. Since I had a reliable and friendly 90 gr. Boat Tail from Berger I had little interest in the new 90 VLD with the slightly thicker jacket. I did some experimenting with the new VLD and found it to be much more fussy (group wise) than the previous version of the bullet. Other shooters have said much the same thing.

    Just a few years ago Sierra finally fixed that old 90 gr. Boat Tail of theirs. I torture tested it and found it to be entirely reliable, accurate, and friendly to a variety of bore configurations. The new bullet is factory pointed with a blistering B.C. of .563. The first of 2018 Sierra also introduced a 95 gr. MatchKing with a B.C. of .600. A bunch of shooters, myself included, are trying to get the new bullet to shoot decent groups. See my previous post for a couple of hints.

    The point here is that NONE of the bullets from 20 yr. ago when you were performing your tests are available today. Modern shooters have a variety of improved bullets. The original 90 by JLK has been dropped by Swampworks for lack of jackets. That was a fussy bullet to begin with. The jackets on Berger’s 90 VLD have been thickened. And the flawed Sierra 90 has been redesigned. My barrels are selecting the two Match Boat Tails (the thick jacket Berger 90 and the SMK) in about equal numbers. Full 10 shot machine rest test groups with either boat tail are tighter than the average VLD test groups that I was getting back in the day.

    The selection of barrels to shoot 90’s today is about 3 times the number you had way back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Some of these barrels like the Bartlein Gain Twist really, really shoot tight groups not only with the 90’s used at 600 thru 1,000 yds. but the magazine length 77’s shot at 200 and 300 yds.

    Last but not least, diligent gunsmiths have found ways to get the Mouse Gun to shoot tighter groups regardless of bullet choice. In the decade that I spent as the Match Armorer for the All Army Reserve Shooting Team I cut the Team’s group size in half using modern techniques. For tips on how to do this read my article in “The American Gunsmith” Jan., 2018 issue titled, “Maximizing The AR-15”.

    Shooters today can try my combination of 90 gr. Match Boat Tail bullets and Bartlein Gain Twist barrels at ZERO risk! I have a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If a person buys an upper from me he gets a free box of 90 gr. ammo which was worked up in his gun on a machine rest. If he follows that recipe and isn’t happy he either gets all of his money back or another upper. I have yet to issue a refund. What I do have, however, is repeat Master and H.M. customers who having shot out their first Gain Twist barrel (3 – 4K depending on cleaning practices and type of powder used) are coming back and buying a 2nd or 3rd one. If you go on the Bartlein Barrel web site and click on the Testimonials Tab ALL of the Service Rifle shooters pictured are using Gain Twist barrels with modern 90’s. There are other folks that have done well with the combination but simply didn’t have a picture available for posting.

    You asked about groups. When Gain Twist barrels come in my shop they first go thru a very thorough break in. Then they are shot in a machine rest for 10 shot groups. Those groups are filed in a loose leaf binder and go to Perry with me. (Bldg. 910-A on Commercial Row) during the CMP National S.R. Matches. So shooters can come in my shop and sit down with my binder and pick our their own sub minute barrel. Likewise for complete uppers.

    So as I said before, there has never been a better time to try 90’s!


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