Let’s look at factory ammunition and components. Several American custom producers turned out ammunition, some of which produced higher than SAAMI pressures for SPCII chambered rifles – I never heard of any getting here. Remington and Hornady ammo was readily available in OTM (Open Tip Match) bullet form when I had my SSR-15 rebarrelled to 6.8, but this was before recent US ammunition shortages. Handloading offers a substantial saving over factory fodder, at just under £50 per 100 rounds including brass costs (10 firings) and a good quality (Sierra) match bullet against £125. That’s similar to handloading .223 Rem, but while we’re spoilt for components choice with that cartridge, there is limited fare on offer here. SSA small-primer brass, regarded as the best available, was just available in the UK if you hunted around when I started with the cartridge, but soon disappeared and that’s still the situation leaving Relcom (Remington) brass from Hannams Reloading and the Hornady variety. I obtained my Hornady cases from firing factory ammo – they’ll be available in unprimed form too if you hunt around.
Most US loading tool companies make two-die sets for the SPC, but make sure you get a shellholder too as it’s very unlikely you’ll have anything in your toolkit that suits this design. (Likewise, the Lee Autoprime equivalent if you use this priming tool.) I bought a Forster die set, very well made as always, and which produced excellent results. As usual for cartridges used in semi-autos, full-length sizing is employed. Any half decent bench press makes light work of this job with the SPC’s small case and thin walls, as long as it is properly lubed. Many high-volume American shooters will use a progressive press to crank ammunition out, but my single-stage Forster Co-Ax easily sufficed. Another thing to watch with the SPC when used in ARs or straight-pulls is the case-shoulder position. Set the sizer die up in the press to set the shoulder back from its fireformed position by 0.004-0.005in to ensure 100 per cent reliable bolt-locking. Conversely, using the default die setting hard on the shellholder may set shoulders back too much, creating excessive headspace and shortening case life.
Moving back to the ‘bits’, there is a good choice of 6.8mm/270 (0.277in) bullets, but few are FMJ or match types. The cartridge is most comfortable with 80 to 115gn weights and all that target shooters have to play with are one or two milspec FMJs such as the Relcom variety offered by Hannams, the 110gn Hornady OTM and a couple of HPBT match 115s from Sierra and Nosler. I settled on Sierra’s MatchKing as my main choice, a well made and reasonably priced projectile. (Sierra also offers a 135gn MatchKing and while the SPC could be made to shoot it, it is a bit too heavy.)
The US Army ditched the SPC around 2008 on procurement and logistics grounds and while law enforcement agencies looked at the 6.8mm AR-15 and some placed it on their approved weapons lists, use appears marginal. Other countries’ armies have looked at its possibilities, but nothing concrete appears to have been generated. Even Remington abandoned its own creation, although it still produces cartridges. Big Green’s arms manufacturing side never fell over itself to cater for its ammunition division’s mini-270, only a couple of M700 models offered and for hardly any time at that before the chambering was dropped. Having acquired AR rifle manufacturers Bushmaster and DPMS in 2007, Remington offered an in-house competitor too for the American deerhunter, the .30 Remington AR introduced in 2008. This fat 223-length thirty was briefly available as a chambering in Remington’s R-15 semi-auto, before it too dropped out of the company’s lists.
So, the 6.8 is dead in the water? Actually no, as it has built up a considerable American civilian following. One niche is handgun hunting, with the SPC ideally suited to 14in barrel single shot pistols such as the T-C Encore. The small case-head diameter reduces back-thrust, valuable in break-open actions. Much greater usage though comes with what Americans call a Modern Sporting Rifle – AR-10s, 15s and suchlike – and of course self-loading over there. Sixty years after Eugene Stoner finished the AR-15 design and Colt started selling it to soldiers, the little rifle has finally become deer capable – most American states set 0.243in as a minimum calibre. Nearly 30 years after semi-automatic centrefire rifles were banned here, it’s difficult for us to take on board just how ‘mainstream’ the civilian AR-15 has become in North America. They sell in vast numbers from a host of suppliers and there is no sign of demand falling off; the reverse in fact, as US shooters react to their distrust of state and federal lawmakers and worry about restrictions on sales.
Uppers and lowers
With the ability to swap AR-15 ‘uppers’ (upper body, bolt group, barrel and handguard assembly), the American sportsperson can have a single lower body/buttstock with a heavy-barrel competition or varminter ‘upper’ in .204 or .223, a lighter barrel assembly for plinking with cheap .223 Rem FMJ ammunition, and a 6.8 for whitetail and mule deer, javelinas, wild hogs. It’s not that ‘hunters’ couldn’t use AR-type rifles on such game prior to the 6.8, but this cartridge allows the use of ‘15-size’ rifles, light, compact and high-capacity, whereas the larger, longer, heavier and more expensive AR-10 and its clones are needed to handle .308 Win size deer numbers such as the .260. Most British use is in AR-15 type straight-pulls on the ranges, but some owners also use their rifles on foxes and deer with excellent results.