The guns used by top competitive shooters always garner attention. But the loads used can be equally important for a successful match. Maybe more so.
A load that produces excessive recoil for the required Power Factor, unacceptable accuracy or poor reliability isn’t worth taking to a match, regardless of how exquisite the gun is. It doesn’t take more than a few ammo-induced malfunctions to trash a score and the match.
Here’s a look at the loads that shooters chose at the 2021 USPSA Nationals, listed by gun divisions and based upon the survey data provided by USPSA.
This is the home of iron-sighted service-grade handguns using a striker-fired, double-action/single-action or double-action-only operating action. Any caliber from 9 mm up can compete, but all scoring is Minor (125 PF). In 2021, 69 percent of the competitors were veterans of previous Nationals, indicating the presence of highly experienced shooters.
Factory ammunition was used by 37 percent of the shooters, with the top manufacturers being Federal at 60 percent, Atlanta Arms at 14 percent and Precision Delta at 10 percent. Handloads were used by 63 percent, with 64 percent of those using coated lead, 27 percent jacketed, and plated at nine percent.
Note the high usage of coated lead bullets. You’ll see that again in other divisions. These newer slugs have already replaced swaged and cast lead projectiles, and are rapidly gaining on jacketed and plated loads among experienced shooters. They’re less expensive than jacketed and plated, just as clean when run at sub-1,200 f.p.s. velocities, every bit as accurate, and they take a bit less powder to make the PF than jacketed—slightly reducing recoil.
Among the handloaded bullets, the most popular makes were Blue Bullets at 28 percent, Black Bullets and SNS Coated at 14 percent each, Gallant Bullets at eight percent and Precision Delta at seven percent. The most popular primers to light those off were Federal at 34 percent, CCI at 29 percent and Winchester at 14 percent.
The 2021 USPSA survey data did not specify the calibers used, but a quick look at the bullet weights chosen show 9 mm dominates. The 147-grain slug was selected by 47 percent of shooters, 124 and 125 grains by 26 percent, 150-grain (likely the Federal Syntech factory load) by 18 percent, with the 135-grain at six percent and 115-grain at five percent.
Carry Optics division is nothing more than a Production division-legal gun with a reflex sight, although competitors are allowed to load a 141.25 mm magazine to full capacity, giving it the nickname “Open Lite,” but the 9 mm minimum and 125 PF remains. Given that, it’s not surprising that the load selection was virtually identical to Production, as well as 69 percent of the shooters being repeat Nationals veterans.
Bullet weights chosen were 147-grain at 40 percent, 124- and 125-grain at 30 percent, 150-grain at 14 percent, 135-grain at nine percent and 115-grain at four percent. Coated lead bullets topped that list at 58 percent, with jacketed at 29 percent and plated at 13 percent.
Shooters opted for factory ammo by 37 percent, with the top manufacturers being Federal at 36 percent, Atlanta Arms 26 percent, Precision Delta at 16 percent and SIG Sauer at 12 percent.
Handloads were used by 63 percent of shooters, with their choice of bullets being Blue Bullets at 33 percent, Berry’s at 12 percent, Precision Delta and SNS coated at 10 percent and Black Bullets at nine percent. Federal was the most popular primer at 37 percent, with CCI close behind at 34 percent and Winchester at 14 percent.
Limited and L10
Limited and Limited 10 (L10) saw 81 percent of the 2021 shooters being repeat National competitors. These divisions can be shot as Minor (125 PF, with a 9 mm/.38 minimum caliber) or Major (165 PF with .40 S&W/.357 SIG minimum caliber). Double-stack guns are allowed a 141.25 mm magazine, while single-stack guns can use 171.25 mm mags, with both loaded to full capacity. That gives Minor shooters a half-dozen-round capacity edge. Some shooters are willing to take the lesser Minor scoring for the increased capacity. L10 changes that by only allowing 10 rounds.
Not many chose the increased capacity Minor in Limited, with 76 percent of the shooters loading .40 S&W with four percent (likely L10) selecting the .45 ACP. Only 20 percent chose the 9 mm. The most popular bullets weights were 180/185-grain at 64 percent, 200/205-grain at 11 percent, 147-grain at 10 percent, 165-grain at six percent and 124/125-grain at five percent. Coated bullets were favored by 60 percent, with 33 percent opting for jacketed, while seven percent used plated bullets.
Factory loads were used by 20 percent of the shooters, with the top manufacturers being Federal at 34 percent, Atlanta Arms at 25 percent and Zoo City at 13 percent.
Handloads were used by 80 percent of the competitors, with the most popular bullets being Blue Bullets at 36 percent, Montana Gold at 12 percent, Berry’s at 10 percent, SNS Coated at eight percent and Precision Delta at six percent.
CCI primers were used by 35 percent of the shooters, with Federal at 21 percent and Winchester at 18 percent.
As with Limited/L10, SS shooters are an experienced group with 70 percent having multi-National experience. As well, it is divided into Minor (125 PF, 9 mm/.38 cal.) and Major (165 PF, .40 S&W/.357 SIG). Minor shooters are allowed 10 rounds in the magazine, while Major shooters get eight rounds. As we’ve seen with Limited, Major was the popular choice.
The .45 ACP was the top caliber at 36 percent, followed by .40 S&W at 35 percent. The 9 mm came in at 26 percent with the .38 Super trailing at there percent. The bullet weights favored were 230-grain at 30 percent, 180/185-grain at 26 percent, 200/205- and 124/125-grain tying at 13 percent and 147/150-grain at eight percent.
Handloads comprised 82 percent of the loads with factory loads at 18 percent. Factory ammunition shooters chose Federal at 38 percent, Atlanta Arms at 21 percent, Precision Delta at seven percent and Winchester and Armscor at six percent. Coated lead bullets again were the majority choice at 65 percent, with 27 percent using jacketed and 8 percent opting for plated bullets. The most popular bullets were Black Bullets at 19 percent, Blue Bullets and SNS Coated at 18 percent, with Precision Delta and Montana Gold coming in at 12 percent.
The Revolver division saw 68 percent of the competitors as repeat National shooters. Like Single Stack, Revolver is divided into Minor (125 PF) and Major (165 PF) with a capacity difference. Minor shooters are allowed eight rounds, while Major shooters may only fire six rounds before a reload is required. Survey data did not differentiate between Minor and Major shooters, and with a minimum caliber of 9 mm/.38 for both, it’s not easy to determine.
The .45 ACP was used by two percent of the competitors and likely Major, with the .38 Short Colt used by 14 percent and obviously Minor. The remaining shooters choose 9 mm at 70 percent and .38 Spl. at 14 percent, both of which can be loaded to either Minor or Major. The most popular bullet weights were 160/165-grain at 55 percent, 147/150-grain at 18 percent, 115-grain at 14 percent and 130/135-grain at seven percent.
Factory ammo shooters were only nine percent, with 80 percent of those using Federal and 20 percent opting for Speer. Handloaders were 91 percent of the competitors with 68 percent choosing coated lead, 25 percent plated, and only seven percent opting for jacketed. The most popular bullets were Ibejiheads at 21 percent. Berry’s at 15 percent, SNS Coated at 14 percent, Blue Bullets at 12 percent and Bayou Bullets at 11 percent. The choice of primers to light them off was Winchester at 36 percent, CCI at 34 percent and Federal at 21 percent.
Open Class had 76 percent of its shooters as multi-National veterans. Shot in Minor and Major, 9 mm/.38 caliber is the minimum caliber for both. Given the magazine capacity increase of the minimum calibers, it’s not surprising that 60 percent chose the 9 mm and 38 percent opted for .38 Super Comp. Handloaders can crank both up to the Major PF, or hold them at Minor and 87 percent choose to handload. Of those 79 percent used jacketed slugs, with 12 percent using coated lead. The favored bullet weights were 124/125-grain at 83 percent, 115-grain at nine percent and 147-grain at two percent.
The top bullet manufacturers were Montana Gold at 24 percent, Precision Delta at 21 percent, Zero Bullets at 18 percent, with Hornady and RMR coming in at eight percent each. The most used primers were CCI at 43 percent, Federal at 25 percent and Winchester at 21 percent.
Factory loads were used by 13 percent of shooters, and the most popular were Precision Delta at 27 percent, Eley at 25 percent, Atlanta Arms at 18 percent and Everglades at 14 percent.
Pistol Caliber Carbine
PCC has proven a popular division and 76 percent of the 2021 competitors were repeat National shooters. It’s a simple division to shoot, and with a 125 PF it’s not hard to select a load. With a 16-inch barrel, virtually any load that has enough power to reliably send a fired case out the ejection port will make the 125 PF. The 9 mm was the dominant caliber with 41 percent using 124/125-grain bullets, 25 percent opting for 115-grain, the 147-grain at 16 percent and 135-grain at eight percent.
Factory loads were used by 40 percent of the shooters with Federal the most popular at 31 percent, CCI at 14 percent, Impact Ammo at 13 percent and Winchester at 10 percent.
Handloaders comprised the remaining 60 percent, with 41 percent using jacketed bullets, 33 percent coated and 26 percent plated. The top bullets were Berry’s at 24 percent, Blue Bullets at 17 percent, RMR at 14 percent and SNS Coated at 13 percent. Their choice of primers was CCI at 33 percent, with Winchester and Federal at 21 percent each.
While specific handload data was not provided, it’s obvious that the majority of competitors “rolled their own” loads, and that coated lead bullets were—with the exception of Open and PCC—the top choice.