If you’re paying attention to new calibers, you’ve started hearing some buzz about 6mm MAX. Just prior to his first-place finish in the Quantified Performance Series Finale (General Purpose division), We spoke with Michael Russo, team shooter for Sons of Liberty Gun Works and 2AF, about developing fundamental shooting skills and how his switch to 6mm MAX has improved his already amazing capabilities.
Q: Michael, thanks for your time. Before we dive into talking about 6mm MAX, I’d like to hear more about your background and how you are able to compete at such a high level.
Michael Russo – I’m just a regular guy – a dad, a husband, a headhunter in a profession unrelated, something I have been doing since 2009. I am also a team shooter for Sons of Liberty Gun Works and 2AF. I run my own business now called Asymmetric Talent Solutions. However, in addition to all that, I am a competitor. I got into shooting because I took some bad advice.
In my early 20s, I bought my first pistol and was intimidated by the platform. Someone sold me a .40 caliber Glock 23, and I mistakenly put an “upgraded” trigger in it. It was a super snappy gun for a first pistol. I didn’t have many resources regarding knowledge or contacts, so the pistol became a problem I was trying to solve by myself on the range. It caused me to seek answers, leading me to attend a private class.
Within an hour of being in that first training class, something clicked. I immediately fell in love and knew that shooting would be more than a hobby. I had always been an athlete and a competitor, and I’ve never half-assed anything I’ve ever done, and shooting has been no different. For the next five or six years, I never competed. I just kept taking training courses and private instruction.
While the pistol is what got me hooked, I sought out quality instruction and simultaneously started learning my way around the carbine and scoped rifle.
Neil Batelli had been putting on matches for years that weren’t on my radar at that point, and I was basically peer-pressured into attending the local Florida Defensive Carbine 2-gun match in January of 2017 and I have been competing regularly since.
Around 2019, I attended a scoped-carbine course with course with Ridgeline. Then, around that same time, my mentor from Spartan Development Group told me about the first word-of-mouth Quantified Performance match and that there would be more to come and I had to be there.
The timing was perfect, as Ridgeline really opened my eyes very wide to things I could accomplish with LPVOs and shorter profile guns, like the 14.5”, and pushed my confidence level with advanced positional shooting.
Q: What have you learned about those shorter profile rifles you can share with someone newer to the platform? Is there advice you can give, or is it a matter of building fundamentals over time?
Michael Russo – It’s not necessarily the shorter barrels that were key, it’s just that they exposed what was consistently capable when you put the fundamentals together. It led to my admiration for the 14.5” scoped carbine.
It’s no myth, we have more quality instruction available to us now than ever. I had some true ‘a-ha’ moments training at Ridgeline, but it’s essential to realize that those moments were unique to my skill level. It may not be the same for everyone else, depending on their goals, knowledge base, and capabilities.
The true key for me has been gross repetition of the fundamentals. If you’re new or just looking for advice, there’s no way around the fact that you’ve got to put in the work on and off the range.
It’s critical to understand the weapon system, optic, ammo, and then of course, the biggest variable, you, the marksman. Being capable of gathering and confirming quality data, building proficiency in positional shooting, and putting in the reps. Seek quality instruction. Competition is the best way to get solid feedback on where you are as a shooter and isolating your knowledge and training priorities. You’ll also get exposure to a wide variety of equipment and the camaraderie of the sport.
Q: What did you see at Ridgeline that spoke to you?
Michael Russo – What Ridgeline opened my eyes to was what the ‘future me’ was capable of doing. Their curriculum is vast, and their instruction was exactly what I needed at the time. The most standout thing for me was their version of “gunfight math” and it was a major turn-on for me. Being able to put rounds quickly and efficiently on targets at unknown distances within 600 meters with nothing but my reticle was extremely motivating for me to dig beyond that, and much deeper into precision shooting. They created a big spark.
Q: What are the fundamentals we need to start learning more about?
Understanding your equipment and having realistic expectations of what it and you are capable of at any given time is a pre-requisite. I have an intimate relationship with my equipment and my data. Being able to ensure your equipment is squared away allows you to focus on the shooting aspect of things. It can be as simple as proper torque specs and leveling your optic, and as complex as knowing what your extreme spread of your muzzle velocity is so you are aware of your hit probability on the target sizes you are engaging.
Beyond equipment (hardware) is the critical nature of maintaining a proper zero. Using a quality ballistic solver and truly understanding your inputs will provide a solid pathway for success. Confirming and/or truing my data has been key to the competitive side of things and has built my confidence to focus my time training on building stable positions and manipulating my controls fast and efficiently.
Reading wind and being able to mil targets enables you to properly prepare to execute a course of fire. Further, the proficiency of positional shooting is monumental.
Quality instruction is important across the entire journey. I view coursework and competition like checks and balances. You also need resources and influences. That means people who are smarter and more experienced, people that you can chase, and who challenge you.
Like anything, you want to surround yourself with people who have better information than you had access to yesterday. I found these resources through private instruction and the competitive landscape. Going to a match is a place where you are going to consume more information and gain exposure to things of interest than anywhere else.
Q: You’re shooting 6mm Max now. When do you decide to switch to a different caliber?
That point varies for everybody. I am not a proponent of skipping being a student. I’ve shot a lot of 5.56 and .308, and I have learned a lot by being able to stretch those out. I’ve always been interested in trying different things and applying that to my knowledge base, just in general. It’s just a lot of fun to try out different calibers and figure out what you like and don’t like.
That said, imagine if I told you that I had a gun that you could shoot where nothing was different, but the bullet is simply superior. It’s not a complicated or new premise. A bullet that performs better further downrange, has a higher BC, more terminal velocity, and people will be able to spot your hits better. It can buck wind better, fly flatter, and be more stable, extending your transonic range. That sounds fantastic and an easy answer, but is it? If you don’t have the fundamentals, then it’s a moot point in my opinion. It is almost 2024 and the world is ready for a superior AR-15.
Once I had developed my fundamentals, the idea that I could achieve more, faster, became attractive. If I am trying to win and be competitive, why not use whatever I can as an advantage within the parameters allowed?
Just about two years ago, after I had waited for my buddies to shake things out, I jumped into the world of 6mm ARC. It gave me large-frame ballistics in a small frame. It’s a beautiful thing, in theory. That’s just not how it worked out for me. The 6mm ARC has had more failure points than any other platform I’ve ever used for any reason.
Q: Can you get into some of the issues you were experiencing with 6mm ARC prior to your switch to 6mm MAX?
I have had an astronomical amount of carbon buildup that has completely seized my gas tubes in as little as 500 rounds and ONLY as many as 1,000 or so. That has happened consistently every 500 to 1,000 rounds for 8,000 rounds like clockwork for the last two years.
The second issue is the bolt. Generally, the 6mm ARC uses a 6.5 Grendel bolt and extractor, which is inherently frail. I’ve seen a number of, mine included, but other close competitors and friends of mine, snap extractors, crack and blow bolt lugs. Because of the case geometry, feeding of the system itself is not as ideal as other cases are. If I had to summarize, the level of maintenance I have had to put into this system to use it is exhausting. I have to track rounds on my gas tube, bolts, and extractors.
I’ve been seeking the answers to what’s been happening with my equipment and with my buddies’ equipment. There are easily 25,000 rounds between a handful of us on the clock, with 6mm ARC over the past two years. The only data point I can find is how we use our equipment versus others who are not competing with it. I see prolonged life and a lack of malfunctions for people who are hunters or recreational shooters, not “violently” using this platform.
Q: So, let’s dive into 6mm MAX.
Michael Russo – I’m a team shooter for Sons of Liberty Gun Works, and they asked if I would put their M89 Broadsword 6mm MAX rifle in my hands and provide feedback. What the 6mm MAX is, is essentially the 6mm ARC with platform reliability. The biggest difference that you are going to find is the parent case. It is based on .350 Legend, and that case allows you to use a standard 5.56 bolt. It has the same dimensions, lugs, and extractor. Because of the parent casing and the geometry of the case itself, it feeds more reliably.
I’m at 1,700 rounds on the platform, and I have no signs of any potential equipment failure; along with zero gun-related malfunctions, I’ve been able to push it hard in a condensed amount of time. It’s 6mm ballistics in a small frame with what is potentially looking like 100 percent reliability. All it takes to shoot it in a 5.56 gun is a barrel swap and a magazine. What’s nice is that .350 Legend magazines already exist, and the geometry is the same as what we are used to seeing in a 5.56 and the mags are straight and not curved but a dedicated mag is in the works under the direction of DuraMag.
A major attraction is the ability to treat the maintenance of the 6mm MAX like a 5.56. It’s minimal. The caliber stretches the capability of the small frame, reliably. With the 6mm Max, I am increasing my wind deflection by almost 40 percent comparatively and stretching my subsonic range by about 200 yards. (on equivalent guns with 16” barrels.)
Q: Can you share what you know about 6mm MAX’s origins and what kind of bullets are being used?
Michael Russo – It’s from a company called BC Precision Ballistics. We are seeing reliability from 55 grains all the way up to 103 and possibly beyond. Personally, I have been shooting 90-grain Lapua Scenars and 103-grain Hornady ELD-X. I will continue shooting 103-grain Hornady ELD-X for almost all applications I would have on a scoped rifle. It is inherently a very accurate bullet and is also widely known.
Q: Can you talk about the idea that some will be hesitant to give 6mm Max chance? Is there a fear of it being “just another 6mm” or seen as a wildcat cartridge?
You’ll see the term “wildcat” cartridge thrown around a lot, but if you take a step back from that, in late 2023, we have access to more technology and information than ever before. Developing a new bullet is nothing new, but based on everything I know and have experienced, I do not consider this a wildcat cartridge. Many ask me, “When is 6mm MAX going to be available/how much will it cost?” and “Is 6mm MAX just another fad or trend?”
When you look at the reliability of the platform and the ability to trust it, there’s no reason not to consider it. By no means am I saying that this will replace the 5.56. However, I can give you a 103-grain bullet with the same round count mag with a negligible increase in weight, with the same reliability, providing more capability. Why wouldn’t someone want that?
All published load data has been lab-tested to SAAMI standards, and to my knowledge, four factory loads will be available in December, along with barrels, guns, dies, and ammo.
It’s an exciting time, and I’m thrilled to be able to shoot it more, including a competition I drive to as we speak. (he placed first) The bottom line is that I’m very excited about 6mm MAX, and I’ve been very happy with my experiences with it so far. It does everything I want, with none of the downsides. From my perspective, the future is bright.
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