Hornady A-TIP vs. ELD-M Bullets
What’s the difference between these two match bullets, and when should you pick one over the other?
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Hornady has created quite the one-two punch in the realm of match bullets with the A-TIP and ELD-M. But one question that comes up frequently is what is the difference between the two? Both are accurate. Both are offered in multiple calibers. They both generally fall under the umbrella of heavy-for-caliber bullets with high BCs that is the hallmark of projectiles used in Modern Cartridge Design.
So, clearly there’s overlap with the A-TIP and ELD-M. How do they differ? Visually they sport different colored tips, and the A-TIP is quite a bit more expensive than the ELD-M. People tend to pick up on those points pretty quickly. But there are some other areas of differentiation that are worth factoring in when considering which to pick.
I’ve been shooting both these bullets in a variety of cartridges for many years now and have developed a good feel for how they perform. Both are capable on long-range targets, but the A-TIP, by virtue of how it is manufactured, is more consistent and therefore will deliver better precision.
As my friend Sean Murphy, who is an accomplished long-range rifle competitor, puts it, the decision to go with the A-TIP or ELD-M comes down to the level of precision needed based on the distance to the target and the size of the target. Within certain parameters the ELD-M will deliver everything you need, but for more challenging targets and conditions the A-TIP can give you the edge. For example, ELR matches where the average target distance is beyond 1,000 yards is where A-TIPs will give you an advantage.
Bullet Manufacturing Process
The secret sauce for the A-TIPs is in how they are constructed. The A-TIPs benefit from extra processes that enhance bullet-to-bullet consistency. Three things in particular stand out.
First, the bullets are packaged sequentially. The 100 bullets in a box of A-TIPs, which consists of two flats of 50 each, came off the line one after the other—one through 100.
So any variation that might occur—and with machined and pressed metal parts you will inevitably find variation as time goes on—is minimized. For argument’s sake, picture a bin of 10,000 match bullets that then gets divvied into boxes of 100. In that box you might find the first bullet of the run mixed in with bullets numbered 9,000 or higher and a bunch in between.
As hard as a manufacturer tries to hold tolerances, there’s going to be more slop in those randomly boxed bullets than you’ll find in a box of bullets that are packaged with their companions that came off the press right before and after them.
The two most common types of tips on match bullets are polymer tips and OTMs (open-tipped match). Both present challenges from the standpoint of consistency.
Plastic tips are difficult to manufacture with extreme precision. It’s the nature of the material. When attempting to hold tolerances tighter than a thousandth of an inch, plastic is not the ideal way to go. But well-made plastic tips are pretty good and have the virtue of being fairly inexpensive.
OTM bullets have solid bases (either flat or boat-tailed on match bullets) and tips that are drawn to a small point. If you look closely at a box of OTM bullets you’ll see the tip shapes are not the same from one bullet to the next. Small variations in the size of the opening at the tip and the evenness of tip are evident—and both are detrimental to our quest for perfect consistency. This is why some reloaders run OTM bullets through a cutter or a die to even out their tips. It is time consuming but can improve consistency.
The aluminum tips (which give the A-TIP its name) that Hornady uses are more expensive than polymer tips but hold tighter tolerances. They also have another virtue I’ll touch on in a bit.
The third feature worth noting in how A-TIPs are made (versus ELD-Ms) is that they are not tumbled to remove the lubrication that’s employed during the manufacturing process. Bullets such as the ELD-M, that are also used in factory ammo must have that lubrication removed via tumbling before they are loaded.
And tumbling in this manner has the potential to ding and otherwise reduce the consistency of the bullet.
Since A-TIPs are only available as a reloading component (with the exception of a few boutique ammo makers that will load them for you for a hefty price) they don’t go through this industrial tumbling and cleaning process.
This is why A-TIPs ship with a soft cloth bag that can be used to gently remove the lubrication by hand.
Why Consistency Matters
Long-range shooters love bullets with high BC values. The higher the BC, the better a projectile retains velocity down range and the better it resists the wind. But the published BC value on a bullet is like the published muzzle velocity on a box of ammo or the average velocity you record with your reloads. Just as each shot you take doesn’t launch the bullet at the same speed, not all bullets have the same exact BC.
The inconsistencies mentioned above—varying tip shapes, slop induced over time by the machinery that makes the bullet, flaws created by how the bullets are handled (tumbling)—will create some variation in the BC value.
And when you get to targets at longer ranges—800 yards is a typical threshold—or targets being shot under practical field conditions that are especially small—say 1.5 MOA or smaller—variations in BC (like variations in muzzle velocity) can turn hits into misses.
A-TIPs on Steel
Another virtue of the A-TIP is the distinctive way it impacts steel targets. During one of the first matches I shot with the 110-grain 6mm A-TIPs the RO asked me after the stage what cartridge I was shooting.
When I told him it was a 6mm Creedmoor, he was shocked. Based on the impressive impacts he witnessed he figured it must have been something much larger.
When the aluminum tips hit steel they flash, giving powerful visual feedback. Over the course of a two-day match, that is nearly certain to earn you extra points.
No match is possible without a cadre of ROs who volunteer their time to run stages and tally hits and misses. All who participate in these matches owe these ROs a debt of gratitude.
That said, ROs are only human and aren’t necessarily experienced long-range shooters. Depending on the weather and light conditions, the RO’s experience, the quality of their optics, and the distance to the steel, it can be devilishly tough to call hits and misses with 100 percent accuracy.
The fact that the A-TIP hits the way it does makes the RO’s job that much easier and removes a lot of the uncertainty.
The distinctive silver impact rings the A-TIPs leave also make it easier to measure groups at long distances, which is important when assessing a load’s BC and accuracy.
What ELD-Ms Do Well
So far, this sounds like an A-TIP love fest, but the ELD-M is no slouch either. For many long-range shooting tasks it is an appealing choice.
The variations in BC discussed above have an effect on a cartridge’s “waterline.” A cartridge with a good waterline is one where the horizontal component of the trajectory (i.e. the elevation) exhibits spot-on consistency.
However, you won’t see significant swings in your waterline because of BC until you get out beyond 800 yards or so.
Take, for example, a 6.5mm (.264 in.) 147-grain ELD-M. The published G7 BC value is .351. If we launch that bullet at 2700 fps—typical 6.5 Creedmoor velocity—at 500 yards it has dropped 50.8 inches. If we change the BC to .326, which is the BC of the 140-grain ELD-M, the bullet instead drops 51.8 inches. A whole inch difference at 500 yards. That ain’t much.
At 1,400 yards, a typical ELR target, that same drop in BC would cause the bullet to hit more than 45 inches low. Now unless you have a bum batch of bullets you’re not going to experience anything this extreme, but it does show you how sensitive the waterline is to changes in BC at longer distances—and how insensitive it is at closer ranges.
It isn’t unusual for a shooter to put 300 shots downrange between the prep, practice, and participation in a long-range shooting match. Given that you might shoot half a dozen (or more) matches over the course of a season the cost of the bullets becomes an issue.
Here, ELD-Ms have a decisive advantage over the A-TIP. With the 6mm bullets I use most often (108 ELD-M and 110 A-TIP) the cost for 100 bullets is about $45 for the ELD-Ms versus $88 for the A-TIPs.
So if I don’t feel I need the extra precision that A-TIPs bring to the party, I’m more than happy shooting the ELD-Ms.
The other big advantage to the ELD-M is that they are available in factory-loaded ammo, which the A-TIPs aren’t, and they come in a wider variety of calibers and weights too.
When I shoot one-day matches or am too busy to reload a few hundred rounds of precision ammo, knowing I can turn to factory loads that deliver good accuracy is a blessing.
Current ELD-M Lineup
Here are the calibers and bullet weights Hornady’s currently offers in the ELD-M series. You’ll notice a much more generous range of bullet weights and calibers compared to the A-TIP. So if you have a rifle with a slower twist rate that prefers lighter bullets, chances are good there’s an ELD-M that will work, whereas you might not find an A-TIP that performs as well.
|Caliber||Weight||BC (G1)||BC (G7)|
|22 CAL. .224 in.||52 gr||0.247||n/a|
|22 CAL. .224 in.||73 gr||0.398||0.200|
|22 CAL. .224 in.||75 gr||0.467||0.235|
|22 CAL. .224 in.||80 gr||0.485||0.244|
|22 CAL. .224 in.||88 gr||0.545||0.274|
|6.5MM .264 in.||100 gr||0.385||0.194|
|6MM .243 in.||108 gr||0.536||0.270|
|6.5MM .264 in.||120 gr||0.486||0.245|
|6.5MM .264 in.||123 gr||0.506||0.255|
|6.5MM .264 in.||130 gr||0.554||0.279|
|25 CAL. .257 in.||134 gr||0.645||0.325|
|6.5MM .264 in.||140 gr||0.646||0.326|
|6.5MM .264 in.||147 gr||0.697||0.351|
|30 CAL. .308 in.||155 gr||0.461||0.232|
|7MM .284 in.||162 gr||0.670||0.338|
|30 CAL. .308 in.||168 gr||0.523||0.263|
|30 CAL. .308 in.||178 gr||0.547||0.275|
|7MM .284 in.||180 gr||0.796||0.401|
|30 CAL. .308 in.||195 gr||0.584||0.294|
|30 CAL. .308 in.||208 gr||0.690||0.348|
|30 CAL. .308 in.||225 gr||0.777||0.391|
|338 CAL. .338 in.||285 gr||0.829||0.417|
Current A-TIP Lineup
When Hornady launched the A-TIP in 2019 they offered just five bullets: a 110-grain 6mm, a 135-grain 6.5mm, a 153-grain 6.5mm, a 230-grain .308, and a 250-grain .308. Since then they’ve added another seven bullets to the family.
|Caliber||Weight||BC (G1)||BC (G7)|
|22 CAL. .224 in.||90 gr||0.585||0.295|
|6MM .243 in.||110 gr||0.604||0.304|
|6.5MM .264 in.||135 gr||0.637||0.321|
|6.5MM .264 in.||153 gr||0.704||0.355|
|7MM .284 in.||166 gr||0.664||0.332|
|30 CAL. .308 in.||176 gr||0.564||0.284|
|7MM .284 in.||190 gr||0.838||0.422|
|30 CAL. .308 in.||230 gr||0.823||0.414|
|30 CAL. .308 in.||250 gr||0.878||0.442|
|338 CAL. .338 in.||300 gr||0.863||0.435|
|375 CAL. .375 in.||390 gr||0.987||0.497|
|416 CAL. .416 in.||500 gr||0.976||0.492|
Final Thoughts on the A-TIP and ELD-M
I have a lot of confidence in both these projectiles—as do numerous other shooters who have used them to land in the winner’s circle in national matches or to just print brag-worthy groups they can tell their buddies about.
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For NRL Hunter matches, where the targets max out at 800 yards and are typically larger than 2 MOA, the ELD-M is a good choice. Especially since you can buy a case of factory loads (now that we can find them again) and just go shoot.
For my ELR work or those matches that have tricky targets—like KYL racks—I will default to the A-TIP for the extra consistency it delivers.
But the good news is that when it comes to the Hornady ELD-M versus the A-TIP there is no wrong answer.