Reloading with Standard vs Match Primers: Does it matter?
Reloading is a great way to save money, tailor ammunition to your specific needs, or both. I’ve been reloading for 20 years now and have learned a great many things in that time. One important lesson learned is selecting the correct components to make the ammunition.
Primers come in different sizes and varieties. Standard, Magnum, and Match are three common varieties and will be sold in both rifle and pistol primers. Should you use a match primer instead of a standard one?
In general, there is no significant advantage to using match primers rather than standard primers. While primer manufacturers often say their match-grade primers have additional quality control checks, most shooters are not able to see any advantage, but there are differences in how all primers work.
This article will help new reloaders understand some of the common primer options available. Only a handful of companies sell primers, which is both good and bad. Learning what is available from the major companies will help guide your selections.
What is “Match Grade”?
That’s a good question, and the answer isn’t black and white. I’ve been shooting competitively for over a decade now and focus on practical pistol shooting and multi-gun. I’ve seen many products be marketed as “match grade” over the years.
Sometimes, “match grade” is just for marketing purposes, and other times there are legitimate benefits targeted at competitive shooters. The most important thing to understand is there’s no standard for how companies label or market various products.
CCI makes the BR2 and BR4 primer, with the BR standing for Benchrest. The BR2 is the large rifle version while the BR4 is for small rifle. There is a price premium to be paid by purchasing the BR series primers over the #200 and #400/450 primers.
CCI themselves makes no claims about specific and definable benefits to using a BR primer.
It is also worthwhile to note the #400 small rifle primer is not recommended for the AR-15 platform or any other rifle with a free-floating firing pin. Slam fires can occur and I have experienced these myself.
I have used Winchester primers for years, but have not tried their Match Primers sold in the “USA Ready” boxes. They came to market just before this most recent bout of panic buying and I have yet to see them available.
Very little is known about these primers or how they are different than Winchester standard primers as of the summer of 2021.
Federal has two product lines of primers, the Champion line, and the Gold Medal Match (GMM) line. The small rifle primers in the GMM are further divided into standard GMM and a GMM meant specifically for AR-15 pattern rifles. Federal also sells GMM primers for pistol reloading.
The GMM primers meant for AR-15 rifles are meant to have harder cups, similar to the CCI #34 primers.
Federal is the same as CCI, in that no specific promises are being made in regards to performance. Federal GMM products also carry a price premium over the Champion line.
Pre-Bankruptcy Remington made one primer marketed as Benchrest, the 7 1/2 small rifle primer. It was meant for use in higher pressure cartridges (55k PSI+) that required a small rifle primer. The 6 1/2 small rifle primer was specifically meant for lower pressure cartridges, like the .22 Hornet.
But Aren’t “Match” Components Better?
Once again, there isn’t a simple answer to this question. Primers are just one part of a completed cartridge. Component manufacturers aren’t going to make specific claims about a primer when they have no control over its use.
Federal and CCI aren’t going to make a promise about consistency when someone can load a match primer into unsorted brass to use with a lightweight bullet and a slow powder. This ammunition would very likely have inconsistent velocities and it wouldn’t be the primer’s fault.
They also don’t purposefully make non-match primers to a lower standard than they are capable of. And while not openly advertised, those who ask CCI and Federal about the difference will be advised additional quality control checks are done for the match-grade primers.
Remington is quite open that their sole bench rest primer is meant for specific cartridges while the other small rifle primer is not.
It Also Depends on What Type of Match You Shoot
Not all competitive shooting disciplines are the same. My preferred competitive matches are practical pistol shooting held under USPSA and IDPA rules, and multi-gun held under USPSA Multigun rules. Multi-gun is also commonly referred to as 3-gun.
For USPSA and IDPA any primer will do if the handgun or PCC will ignite it. For those who run very light springs in their pistols, the most used primer is the Federal Champion small pistol primer. Consistent chronograph numbers are far more dependant on powder selection than the specific primer used.
For multi-gun, the story is largely the same. Because almost all serious competitors use an AR-15 chambered in 5.56x45mm or .223 Wylde and pair it with a low-powered optic, the guns are the limiting factor for long-ranged shooting.
For bench rest or PRS type matches, it is a different story. These competitors are almost always reloaders and will experiment with primer selection, but it isn’t as simple as picking a match primer. The specific goal is very low velocity spreads between shots. The primer that best provides this will be the popular choice.
Many major matches will survey their shooters, or top shooters, to see what they are using. These results can be found on Google and looking at them doesn’t paint a clear picture beyond a heavy preference for Hodgdon Extreme rifle powders.
Primers are Part of a System
This truth bears repeating. For competitors who shoot at long ranges, there are several steps that go into making ammunition. Brass selection and preparation, bullet selection, powder selection and temperature stability are all factors.
These factors, plus shooting skills, shooting positions, firearms, and optics work as parts of a whole. Focusing specifically on primers without any other consideration wouldn’t yield better results.
On the other hand, I have told many new USPSA, IDPA and multi-gun shooters that primers aren’t that critical of a choice if they function. Even relatively far shots of 400-500 yards don’t require finely tailored loads, and make-up shots are allowed.
For hunting, these considerations may or may not apply depending on the size of the animal being hunted and the maximum range an ethical shot will be taken at. For those who hunt in very cold weather, the strong ignition of gunpowder becomes a major concern.
Match primers may offer an advantage to you, or they may not. It largely depends on what type of shooting you do, how many factors you control during the reloading process, and what you are capable of as a shooter.
If you are curious, the next logical step is to do a side-by-side comparison and see the results. Remember, always start a new load work-up when substituting a different primer into the recipe.