As hunters, we all want our prey to die quickly. There are a few different schools of thought on how to achieve that goal. The first step in getting your esteemed guest to your dinner plate is to make sure you can place your bullet precisely where it needs to be. After that, its up to the bullet to do its job. Terminal performance often falls into two categories, highly frangible bullets or controlled mushroom bullets. Each bullet on the market has a set of design parameters that a hunter can use to have a level of expectation for that bullet's terminal performance on game. There is a minimum and maximum impact velocity range that needs to be considered while choosing which bullet is right for you for the situation you expect to encounter on your hunt.
From left to right: 6.5/142 ABLR 53.8% remaining after 171 yd frontal whitetail; 6.5/130 SSII 95.1% remaining after 140 yd frontal whitetail; 338/210 SSII 95% remaining after elk; 338/210 SSII 85% remaining after frontal moose charge at 10 yards; 338/210 SSII 81% remaining after being dug out of dirt berm at 100 yds
Lets start with the highly frangible bullets. I am not talking varmint bullets, but the softer side of big game bullets. These bullets are most often a cup and core design, meaning the lead core inside is not bonded or fused in any way to the jacket material. These bullets may or may not have mechanical locking rings to help hold things together after impact. Some of these bullets will use a tapered jacket system that also helps to control the bullet upset. Bullets in this category typically impart massive trauma upon impact, and dump all, or the vast majority of their energy (ability to do work) into the animal. Generally, the wound will be of large diameter, but shorter length. If matched properly with the right animal, these bullets can often produce dramatic "drop in their tracks" results. Within this style of bullet there exists the old style with a flat base and lead tip.
These bullets are typically well matched to standard velocity cartridges like the 6.5 Creedmoor, 308 Win, 30-06 Springfield and similar rounds. They work well for a broad range of hunting applications at standard ranges up to roughly 500 yards or so. These bullets are relatively low on the ballistics coefficient (BC) scale, so they shed velocity rather quickly, which keeps their range in check. Bullets like these include Hornady spire point, Speer spire point, Sierra Game King and Pro Hunter and other similar bullets.
Some newer versions like the Hornady ELD lineup, Berger elite hunter line and Accubond LR have been modernized with long ogives, polymer tips, or long boat tails to increase their BC and their range. High BC coupled with soft construction, makes for excellent long range bullets. The high BC helps retain their velocity and buck the wind at distance, and their softer design allows them to still mushroom effectively at distance, and do the job they were sent to do. The potential trade off could be less penetration at really close, high impact velocity situations. Most big game bullets have a, 1,800 fps recommended low end impact rating. Some of the long range versions will lower that down to 1,300 fps or some velocity in between. If the velocity falls below those numbers, the bullet may not mushroom as expected after impact and "pencil" through the animal. A pencil through situation can result in little or no blood trail and less trauma. This can make recovery difficult or impossible in some situations.
The softer, cup and core, style bullets still have a valid place in hunter's magazines in this day and age. The older style does just fine when coupled with moderate velocity cartridges and the newer, high BC designs do very well at extended distances.
The key is to match the bullet design and launch velocity to set your distance limits to a range you know will have the bullet work as intended. Super soft bullet and ultra high velocity aren't always a great choice for close range work, but excel at long range work. Up close, the high velocity and soft bullet combination could lead to inadequate penetration into and through vitals.
The other school of thought on bullet is a tough bullet designed to hold together at high impact velocities. These bullets include Barnes TSX, TTSX, LRX, Swift Scirocco, Swift A-Frame, Nosler Accubond (NOT the LR version), Nosler Partition, Federal Terminal Ascent, Hammer, Lehigh, Badlands, Cutting Edge and a host of others. These bullets are designed to mushroom and retain most or all of their weight in the process. The net result is a bullet that stands up to high impact velocities and still has enough mass leftover to penetrate deeply into large animals. Each premium bullet has its own characteristics, but generally speaking, they share a lot in common. They all tend to penetrate straight instead of deflecting. They will mushroom, but not come completely apart. The resulting wound channel will likely be less traumatic than a cup and core at similar velocity, but will most certainly be longer and straighter. If you prefer to break shoulders and still penetrate enough to get an exit hole, this style of bullets is for you. These bullets tend to be the best answer for high velocity cartridges and/or the hunter that pursues large, tough or potentially dangerous animals. Most magnum velocity cartridges today can launch any of these bullets fast enough to keep them above their minimum impact velocity recommendation well beyond most shooters abilities. If you are shooting really long range, the tough bullets could run below their recommended minimum impact velocity as they typically perform better if driven faster.
This all becomes a balancing act. The game being pursued, the launch velocity of the bullet, the field conditions and elevation coupled with the bullet's BC, and the distance you intend to shoot all come into play to make the best choice. Thankfully there is a lot of overlap and grey area so there is rarely a bad answer. Some answers are better fits in certain situations.
This bull elk was dropped with a 28 Nosler launching 150 SSII
The bullet dug out of the above elk after doing its work. A perfect mushroom with plenty of weight to get through vitals.
This Maine cow moose was taken at 165 yards with a 338/210 SSII. The shot was through the head and 4 cervical vertebrae. The bullet kept going, the moose did not.
See our photo section to check out what our customers are using on their animals.