It was the Nebraska-based Hornady company that found a key to unlock and commercialize what a few benchrest shooters had been contemplating. That is, mid-size, heavy-for-caliber, long bullets with high ballistic coefficients (BCs) and sectional densities that could make up for their lack of mass and speed to outpace larger, faster bullets over distance.
What resulted was Hornady’s ELD (Extremely Low Drag) bullets, but they were little good by themselves. So Hornady tailored cartridges around them that integrated cutting-edge technology including: a beltless design that headspaces off the shoulder; a shoulder configuration that allows for the seating of bullets shallow in the case to minimize bullet wobble and to reserve case capacity for powder; chamber dimensions that allow seating long, protruding bullets deep into throats; fast-twist rifling that can stabilize them; and optimized powders and primers.
Together, those characteristics allowed Hornady to produce long-range cartridges that are inherently efficient and accurate and that outpace less aerodynamic cartridges exponentially as range increases. The tangible result was Hornady’s .300 PRC cartridge, and the military bit.
Evidently the Dept. of Defense (DoD) brass was so impressed that it ordered up another hush-hush project for one of its most elite units. Citing the obvious shortcomings of the 5.56×45 mm NATO and even the 6.8mm SPC that at one time was hyped to be the answer to those issues, the DoD was still searching for a bridge chambering between the 5.56 NATO and the 7.62×51 NATO that could counter an evolving enemy that, by proxy and via experience, has become proficient in riflery out to about 600 yds.
Hornady was tasked with developing a cartridge that could fit in an AR-15/M4’s magazine-constrained, 2.260″ maximum cartridge overall length, be effective beyond 1,000 yds. from an 18″ barrel and allow a magazine capacity comparable to the M4—yet exhibit significant weight reduction compared to the 7.62 mm NATO. The DoD wanted minimal recoil but also a bullet with a large enough splash that soldiers could see their impacts well enough to walk shots into long-range targets. Easy, right? Good thing it called Hornady and not the highway department, or else the project would be still be going, but I digress.
From the commercial perspective, Hornady believed it could build on its technology from the 6.5 Creedmoor project and piggyback off that success to create a ballistically superior cartridge that would: be optimized for America’s rifle, the AR; feature long-range capabilities in terms of energy, accuracy and minimal wind drift; and be capable of taking deer-size game to 500 yds. or more. “This wasn’t something that would make or break the company,” said Hornady’s Neal Emery. “But we do love these challenges.”