RANGE REVIEW: ATOMIC SUBSONIC CENTERFIRE AMMO
.223 Remington and .308 Winchester
By Eve Flanigan
It was a surprise to be encouraged by an ammunition company rep to test subsonic ammo in non-suppressed rifles. But we did just that and learned some lessons about this increasingly popular load in the process.
Atomic Ammunition of Phoenix has been the only company making subsonic ammunition that made calibers other than 300 Blackout early on. Representative Jerod Johnson said sales of subsonic calibers through Cabela’s, their largest outlet, have risen steeply in comparison to regular loads—now representing 60 to 70 percent of the company’s sales. “Early on, we set out to make a quality subsonic load. Everyone was jumping on the 300 Blackout bandwagon, but we wanted to offer it in other calibers first. It’s been very popular.” This summer, the company also started distributing subsonic 300 BK.
The ammo comes in a reusable, hinged plastic box that should be a hit with the reloading crowd. Some cartridge cases that had inconsistent coloration from others, however, we were assured that Atomic uses only new brass.
ON THE RANGE
We tried out the 175 grain, boat tail hollow point (BTHP) .308 round first, using a Savage Model 11 Scout rifle. This rifle will shoot 1 MOA groups at 100 yards with match-grade ammunition; with target-grade FMJ groups can grow to about eight inches. Atomic’s load performed better than PMC Bronze and almost as well as PMC’s medium-grade X-Tac load, creating a 2.5-inch group. It uses a Match King brand bullet.
Next downrange went the 77 grain BTHP .223, out of a Stag Arms AR with a 1:9 twist barrel. An interesting variation showed up here. At 25 yards from any position, five-shot groups were neatly clustered—except for one flyer.
Johnson had advised us that would happen. “You may have a flyer now and then,” he said, “but our ballistician, Rich Gans’, use of a good match-grade bullet as well as precision loading have produced a subsonic round that’s more reliable. You can expect a two to three inch group at 100 yards with a .223, using a 20-inch barrel with a 1:7 twist.”
Subsonic speeds, Johnson explained, are achieved by putting less powder in the cartridge. Most of the time, ignition and firing happen normally. Sometimes, the powder is distributed less evenly and the shot breaks at a slower speed, resulting in somewhat unpredictable accuracy. That is currently true for subsonic loads in all calibers except 300 AAC, which was designed around a subsonic load.
So why would anyone want to shoot subsonic loads in their non-suppressed, non-300 AAC-caliber rifle? Turns out there are several reasons that can fit the needs of a couple niches of the market.
One reason is decreased noise. For folks practicing in populated areas or with picky neighbors, subsonic offers a less noisy experience. Ear pro is still necessary; without a suppressor, it’s not that quiet, just less noisy.
Another reason is decreased recoil. Subsonic loads literally eliminated it. The difference was so extreme as to inspire a “wait, what?” followed by amused laughter. The no-recoil experience would be great for folks who want to practice marksmanship while recovering from a clavicle or shoulder injury. Johnson said it’s been a confidence booster for his young daughter and eliminates the need to pack a rimfire rifle and ammo along when she goes with him to the range. She can have the experience of shooting “daddy’s gun,” sans the discouraging, and with a scope potentially injurious, recoil.
Along with reduced recoil goes the need to manually cycle the bolt of the semi-auto .223 or .308 when shooting subsonic. Less blowback keeps the bolt stationary.
Less heat is generated by subsonic firing, which over time should mean less wear and tear on parts. At the same time, there didn’t seem to be excess carbon buildup in either rifle as a result of using these loads.
Probably the best advantage of subsonic shooting, using a suppressor-equipped rifle, is for hunting. Johnson stated he has seen coyotes not react much to one of their group falling—allowing for more hunting enjoyment and not making the animals keen to there being a predator in the area, and thus not avoiding the area as they learn to do with normal, unsuppressed shooting.
YouTube’s Lone Star Boars channel states suppressed shooting is ideal for nighttime hog hunting as well—though the boars scatter when one is shot, says commentator Todd Huey, the group is as likely to run in the direction of fire as anywhere. With noise and muzzle flash eliminated, the hots have no orientation as to where shots came from.
Prices are consistent with match grade loads. Atomic Ammunition .223 caliber rounds are currently $71.99 per 50 at Cabela’s. Subsonic .308 is $71.99 per box of 50. It’s worth picking some up to add versatility to your centerfire shooting experience, even if you don’t plan on fitting your rifle with a suppressor.