224 Valkyrie “Here to stay or flash in the pan?”

Let me just start by saying “Game changer”  well there you have it, one of the most overused terms in the firearm industry.   This term gets thrown around so often it has become a parody. I remember a little over a year ago hearing this and speculating with a friend what company X could possibly be releasing that would be so revolutionary.  I was hoping for some new form of propellant, but instead I just got some new tips for my projectiles. (Joking aside though I do enjoy shooting the new bullets and think they are quite good.)  I will not tell you the .224 Valkyrie is going to change the AR-15 long range game, but I will say that it may have some things going for it few other cartridges do.  

Here is a brief description of this cartridge.  It is based off of the 6.8 SPC round.  It has been necked down to .224” the shoulder is steeper at 30 degrees and the length to datum at the shoulder is shorter.  Federal is claiming it will push a 90 Sierra Matchking at 2700 feet per second.  

It seems like the AR-15 platform is riddled with wildcat cartridges that just never gained traction, 30 ar, 25-45 sharps, 7.62x40 WT, .450 bushmaster, and I could go on.  There have also been a few cartridges that have managed carve out a niche for themselves, .300 blackout, 6.5 grendel, and to a lesser extent 6.8spc.   Why so many cartridges for the AR platform you may ask, and why are some successful and some languish in obscurity?   First the AR itself is like the lego set of the gun world. You get to add parts and pieces where you want how you want so, the appeal of being able to swap an upper and get a new set of capabilities is just too tempting to resist.  Why are  some cartridges successful and some not?  If we examine the cartridges I mentioned earlier we will see some common trends with the successful ones.  First components were readily available in the early stages, which meant reloading and experimenting with them was reasonably cheap and easy.   Having an ample amount of components also kept the price for factory ammo down.  Second, each had the support of large company.  Bill Alexander, a brilliant firearms designer and stand-up guy, had support from the brass giant Lapua before he even launched the Grendel at shot in 2004.  The blackout was created by Advanced Armament Company and thusly had the support of Remington/Freedom Arms Group right out of the gate.  Finally the successful new cartridges offered something that appealed to a wide range of AR shooters that had not previously been offered.  The 6.5 could shoot beyond 1000 yard and had better exterior ballistics than some .308 rounds.  The .300blk could be reliably suppressed with heavy projectiles or shoot lighter bullets to mimic the knock down power of the 7.62x39 AK round.  

As I mentioned earlier AR15s are the legos of the gun world you can build them up to do just about whatever you want.  Want to shoot hyper fast projectiles at prairie dogs?  There is a cartridge for that.  Want to shoot a thick skinned boar?  There is a cartridge for that.  Personally, I have even taken an Alaskan Black Bear with the platform.  The ironic thing about this game, however, is once you start playing it you quickly realize that those new capabilities are hampered by one common limitation, mag length.  2.26 inches seems to be the not so magic number.  Even if you go with the coveted HK magazine the extra $50 only buys you about .04 inches, and those can’t feed the fatter cartridges.  The Valkyrie has addressed this limitation very intelligently.  The folks over at Federal first identified what they wanted their new cartridge to do.  They wanted it to be the best long range cartridge you could stuff into the AR15 platform.   There are 2 primary factors necessary to achieve this ballistic superiority, velocity and ballistic coefficient.  The latter being the primary driver.  Knowing this they looked for the most streamlined bullet that would still leave enough room for powder.  The 90gr smk was that bullet.  Now comes the part I really appreciate.  Unlike the 22 Nosler which prioritizes powder capacity, the Valkyrie put the focus on making enough room for the bullet while still staying under that 2.26” mark and let the powder capacity fall where it may.  Thusly the shoulder is set back significantly to accommodate the lengthy projectile.  This leaves less room for powder which leads to slower muzzle velocities but the higher BC for the longer projectiles being used allow the Valkyrie to outpace its competition somewhere around the 300 yard mark.

So back to the Valkyrie, If you buy the new barrel, bolt, and magazines you need to shoot the .224 Valkyrie will you be the envy of all you your shooting buddies because you have an AR-15 that can reach out past 1000 yards, or will you be the butt of the jokes a year from now because you bought into some “fad” cartridge that died off leaving you with a bunch of parts you never use. In the interest of full disclosure, I may not be the guy to take advice from on this subject since I have chased the tail of a few failed wildcats, or maybe my experience has made me all the wiser.  You decide.  

To speculate on the future we have to look athe the past.  So what does the .224 Valkyrie have to offer.  Well quite a bit if federal can live up to their claims.  The initial match/long range load is the 90gr Sierra Matchking leaving the muzzle at 2700 fps, which gives this cartridge an edge over even the 6.5 grendel regarding external ballistics. Ok, so the cartridge’s performance  sounds enticing but will it be able to stick around?  Most likely yes the AR15 market is huge and long range shooting is one of the fastest growing shooting sports, so targeting both of those markets Federal should find some demand for their new cartridge.  Finally, Federal is part of a larger group called ATK also know as Vista Outdoor, and they have deep pockets and lots of resources available concerning both R&D and ammunition manufacturing capacity.  What this will lead to is a well thought out cartridge that doesn’t die on the drawing board.  ATK already has 4 factory ammunition offerings slated to be released as well as several complete rifles, so it looks like there will be plenty of commercial offerings, which leads to increased popularity which leads to longevity. 

So, will this cartridge stick around?  Yes.  WIth a steady rise in the amount of shooters getting into the long range game and the boom in the AR-15 world in the past 10 years this cartridge will appeal to a lot of folks.  If it performs as advertised it will be the best performing factory round (regarding exterior ballistics) to ever leave the muzzle of an AR-15.  I can honestly say as a long range shooter I am excited to see what the future holds for this purpose driven cartridge.

 

Written by Author/Content Provider, Marcus Hom

Custom AI Bipod Mount

Review

Custom AI Bipod Mount

Manufactured by Sam Burns

 

IMG_5422 3.JPG

 

Introduction

I was at the WPRSC match back in May with my AI AT rifle when Sam approached me and started asking me about bipods.  I assumed it was because I looked OAF in my multicam and Arc’Teryx gear but in reality he was talking to me only because we both shoot AI rifles and he had a bipod mount that would make life much easier for me.  Sam showed me his custom bipod mount and I was hooked.

I bought a mount and it arrived at my house after that batch of mounts was completed, Sam only sells them in batches by the way so get on the list.  I quickly removed the old mount from the chassis which is done by unscrewing the flush cup mounts and punching out the roll pins.  I slid the new mounting block into the chassis, replaced the roll pins and screwed the flush cups back into place.  Sam includes an entire set of detailed installation instructions, just in case you’re like me and better at running an XBox controller than a power tool.

A couple of nice things about the mount:
1) It’s has a 1913 rail system allowing for the use of an QD or Clamp style mount.
2) It moves the bipod forward by an inch or two

I’ve had the mount out to the range a handful of times and every time I’m impressed by the mount.  The extended front section of the rail allows me to get the bipod out in front of rifle providing for more balance.  For barricade shooting I can adjust the Atlas legs to a 45* angle facing rearward and it will give me the entire handguard to use as a balance point for the rifle.

One other thing that I really liked about the mount is that it keeps everything fairly low profiled.  Unlike using the bipod stud, I can easily fit the strap of my Rifles Only bag over the bipod and mount.  This is also a huge advantage when shooting off barricades or even rooftop stages.

All in all the mount is an obvious upgrade to the AI platform over the standard spigot mount.  The fact that I can use any bipod with picatinny adapter makes it worthwhile.  I’d definitely recommend it to the AI owners out there.

Written by Garrett Gee

Burris 3-15 XTR II

Burris 3-15 XTR II

In my last optic review of the Burris 5-25 XTR II I mentioned that I would be doing a review of the XTR II in the 2-10 variety come late summer.  It’s now late summer/early fall, but unfortunately I was unable to acquire the 2-10 XTR II.  The XTR line of optics has become very popular, and even after ramping up production significantly Burris has been unable to keep shelves fully stocked.  

My hope was to test the 2-10 on my match carbine to see if it would fit the bill as far as having a great all-around optic for the AR15, especially for team matches in which a carbine is required.  Since Burris was unable to provide the 2-10, I was offered the 3-15 XTR II to try instead.  The more I thought about it, the more I thought the 3-15 could fill that role, so I decided to give it a try and use it during some team matches I competed in this summer.  

As with the 5-25 version of the XTR II, I had a great first impression when I unboxed the unit.  The design stays true to the entire line and has a great look. It’s classic satin black finish and has the tactical feel and function one would expect from this type of optic. Great turret size, tactile/audible clicks, and legible font all add up to a great interface between the shooter and the optic. 

This flavor of 3-15 came with the SCR (Special Competition Reticle) just like my 5-25 has.  I am very accustomed to this reticle and the only reticle I may favor over this would be a Horus Christmas-tree style.  The SCR is so quick to hold wind with using its two tenth increments on alternating sides of the stadia.  The optic is a first focal plane design, but the reticle always seems to be the correct size/thickness as the magnification is increased or decreased.  

One thing that I realized immediately is that the glass seemed to be clearer than in my 5-25.  I believe this is because the 5-25 has to stretch out that much harder using similar components.  The 3-15 just doesn’t have to work as hard to achieve its 15x magnification.  This all could be an illusion, but it’s hard to compare when the 5-25 seems to darken a bit when getting to that higher range of magnification and the 3-15 does not. 

I used the scope in the US Optics team challenge in Douglas, Wyoming.  The scope worked rather well in this setting, especially attached to the top of the carbine rig.  In the rules we were not allowed to have more than one optic attached to the carbine, and at times we had to engage targets rather close in “assault stages”, so getting all the way down to 3x was helpful in those situations. While not as quick as a 1x or 2x, it was still plenty useful and I was able to shoot off-hand and score “A” zone hits in the eye box of IPSC cardboard silhouettes rather easily.  

The scope was not babied by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t abuse my equipment, but the AR15 rig was tossed around quite a bit from the day I mounted the optic.  Running in the truck with me day to day at work before the matches,  during the matches themselves, and getting dropped and carried on a sling during running and plenty of movement- the scope didn’t ever lose its zero.  I think that’s one of the most important aspects of an optic. Even if you can only afford lower quality glass, are borrowing a rifle, or simply don’t know better-you can still get work done if you are a decent/consistent shooter and your scope zero is not shifting around on you.  

At distance the optic performed great.  During the team match at the Whittington Center for the Sporting Rifle Match, I made hits on steel at 700 yards firing the .223 cartridge.  While sometimes it would be nice to reach out a little further than 15x, it wasn’t a make or break problem to have as the hits were possible.  I could still see all I needed to see.  

A friend of mine who was my partner for the Raton team match used my carbine with the XTR II attached for the entire day.  He seemed to only have a couple of complaints. One which was the ocular lens was not adjusted for his eyes. This could have been remedied, but he was a quick alternate replacement as my original team mate had become ill the night before the match. I wasn’t sure if ocular lens adjustment could shift zero, so we made due with where it was already adjusted and he seemed to shoot just fine. His other complaint was that the serrations on the turrets were sharp to the point he though they may cut his hands.  I had mentioned this in my review of the 5-25, but that was sort of subjective since I often had worn gloves to shoot, and I like having a solid purchase on the turret knobs. Some companies simply have a coin-edge type machining that is difficult to grip to turn the turret or just feels slippery.  So, this may be a point for you to consider if you are optic shopping. If you have thicker or calloused skin, it may be no issue at all.  

Burris was also kind enough to send me a PEPR AR15 height mount for the optic and I decided to use it.  This worked out great because it allowed me to use a standard AR15 stock without any kind of cheek riser to get a good sight picture.  The AR15 I was using was a side-charging style, so I didn’t have to worry about charging handle clearance. But this may be something you need to consider while setting up your rig. At the very least you may need a charging handle with and extended latch to get your hand away from the ocular end of the optic.  I was using Magpul’s CTR stock and it worked perfectly.  

Overall I honestly feel this 3-15 XTR II may have been the better option over the 2-10 for the testing we were doing.  While I believe hits can absolutely be made at further distances with a 10x optic, it may not be as quick as using the 15x at full magnification.  Firing a carbine past 600 yards will require you to be able to spot splashes and misses for corrections. First round hits out that far may be pretty rare, at least with the .223 cartridge. The extra stretch in the 3-15 did that well and I was impressed with its performance. 

I urge anyone shopping for a carbine optic, or even an optic for their precision rig that requires a smaller package, to look at the 3-15 XTR II as an option.  Burris has really stepped up to the plate with this line of scopes, and the ultra-high demand for these models tells me I’m not the only one who thinks so. 

Written by Justin Willhite

Justin and David while shooting a team match together.

Justin and David while shooting a team match together.

GeoBallistics and WeatherFlow By Justin Willhite

Aside from accurate range, the other most pertinent information a precision rifle shooter can have is accurate environmental data.  In days past, shooters had to rely mostly on handwritten data books in which their DOPE was kept with references to various weather conditions.  Also, the shooters had to be able to read wind cues from nature to estimate wind direction and velocity. The technology just did not exist to make real-time ballistic calculations for firing solutions.  That is, until the digital age arrived and the possibilities for access to ballistics data became nearly instantaneous to access and increasingly accurate in providing solutions. 

So what does this all mean for the modern shooter? If you are seriously looking into getting into the sport of precision rifle shooting as a competitor, or simply as an individual who wishes to improve his marksmanship skills-technology such as a digital ballistics calculator may be an important part of your shooter’s tool box. 

After having a ballistic calculator, the next logical thing you need is solid information to feed into that calculator so that you can have a reliable firing solution for your task at hand. The adage goes, “Garbage in, and garbage out.” So, at this point a weather meter that provides the wind’s speed and heading, target heading, as well as density altitude and other attributes would be a handy method to obtain that data.  This is where theWeatherFlow WINDmeter and accompanying phone application, BalliscticsARC, come in.  

The application is free to download and laid out in a simple and easy to use configuration. The different sections of the program are accessible through tabs on the bottom of the screen, and are self-explanatory. There are sections for Rifle, Weather, Hardware, Map, and Menu.  

The user can access the rifle section to input all the pertinent information about his individual rifle and optic, and save that rifle’s profile with in that section so that it can be accessed anytime. It has a decent library of projectiles to choose from if you’ve got a commercial load you’re shooting, or you can customize ballistic coefficients if you hand-load your ammunition. Several rifles can be stored and also accessed.  

In the weather section the weather inputs can be put in manually, or imported from the hand-held weather meter which is really handy. The connection between devices is via Bluetooth, so it’s universal for most devices. In my iPhone 6 Plus, I only had to activate Bluetooth. I didn’t have to pair the devices within the phone at all. Just by simply pressing and holding the single button on the wind meter the connection is made directly to the application. I really liked that feature as it can be annoying to go into another settings app to pair devices and using passcodes etc. It just makes the experience quicker and easier. 

Justin Willhite has been testing the WeatherFlow for a while now.

Justin Willhite has been testing the WeatherFlow for a while now.

When the Hardware tab is selected, the app displays all the various readings the meter is capable of detecting, and shows them on the screen in real time. So you can just observe the data in that state, or there is a “capture” option that takes a sample of the data to feed it into the calculator for your firing solution range card. The capture can also be taken over a period of time to try to capture an average on wind variables. 

The range card information is concise and easy to read. You can input the increments in yardages that you wish to be displayed.  The data displayed is derived from the JBM ballistics calculator, which in my experience has been proven in other applications that I and friends have been using for quite some time.  During the time I used the meter/app setup, it was accurate to my standards of accuracy and within one tenth of a mil of the other app calculator that I had been using before, which is Ballistic AE. Ballistic AE also uses the JBM calculator so that’s not too surprising. 

Another feature in the setup that I think is a neat idea is the rangefinder. This is accomplished by utilizing the location services of the phone or device you are using your application on.  So this feature is only going to be as accurate as the GPS functions in your device. The mapping section shows your location on a satellite picture/map much like in a Google Maps application. You then put yourself at the target, or drop your pin where the target is on the satellite picture and the app estimates your range. At this time I do not believe this will be as accurate as a good laser range finder, but if you have no other method it’s a useful feature. 

The application itself could stand alone from the meter as simply a ballistics solver if you wanted to input data points manually, but seems to be more of a seamless user experience if the meter is used in conjunction with your phone or tablet.  Also, the application gives you the option to utilize the sensors (like the compass) in your device running the BallisticsARC app since its possible those sensors may have better resolution than the Weatherflow meter. This makes sense if GeoBallistics is trying to save money producing the meters with sensors that aren’t as powerful as in your $600 phone. 

The Weatherflow meter itself is rather small as it has no digital displays or extra switches. It has a single rubber-protected button, and only houses the sensors and Bluetooth radio to communicate with other devices. This makes the device extremely easy to pack and use. The outer shell of the unit has grippy feeling rubber coating that makes it feel robust even though it is so lightweight.  It’s easy to throw into your pants pocket, or to even lash to the outside of your pack until it’s needed again. 

The meter comes with extra attachments depending on how you want to use/carry the unit. One is an eyelet that one could tie a lanyard or necklace to for safe keeping. The other is shaped like a headphone jack so the unit can stick straight into your phone or tablet and you can hold them both as one unit. I found that with the iPhone 6 plus already being large, it was difficult to operate one-handed.  I would typically raise one hand holding the meter to gather data, and hold my phone in the other to observe the data and charts. 

 I feel the unit definitely has a place in the market for new shooters to the sport who are looking to learn how to shoot and don’t have so much cash to spend on competing products that cost many times over what this tool does.  At the time of this writing, the weather meter can be had online for about $84.95, which is more than tempting when some of the competition can range from the $400-$700.  

Even seasoned and experienced shooters may look to this unit as a backup to their main meter, or as an extra unit to loan to friends. If you’re out with a new shooter who is learning it may be beneficial for them to download the free application to their own phone and take data from the borrowed meter. I know some old school shooters who only want to use hand written or printed data cards that are referenced to density altitude. If for nothing else, this meter can be used to gather just density altitude quickly and accurately so the correct range card can be chosen. 

The bottom line is that the unit costs less than it probably should, and that makes it even harder to have any complaints about the setup, of which I really have none. I find it difficult to nit-pick something as useful and low cost as the WeatherFLOW meter. The GeoBallistics setup fulfilled and actually exceeded my expectations of a $84.95 tool.   

If you’re looking for a calculator/meter that has several extra variables to run such as cross wind jump and more complicated variables used by more experienced shooters this may not be the unit for you.  But as I said before, you may be a fool not to pick one of these up as a plan B, or as a teaching tool for others.