Bullet Basics

Ben Raich

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Walk into any fleet store and you will find an array of rifle shells in various calibers with descriptive names such as silvertip, ballistic tip, super shock tip, power point, etc. These names excite the shopper even though they may not have any idea what they are looking at. Let's take a step back from the marketing glamour and have some simple talk about bullet basics.

Bullets come in a variety of sizes known as calibers. The caliber is the width of the bullet. For example, a .30 caliber bullet is 300/1000ths of an inch across. Next is the weight of the bullet. The weight of the bullet is given in grains. There are 7000 grains in one pound. Common bullet weights for a .30 caliber rifle are 150, 165, and 180 grains. There are other weights, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ve mentioned weights commonly used on whitetail deer. A 180 grain bullet is longer than a 150 grain. The overall length of the two cartridges is the same, but the heavier bullet will be seated deeper into the case to keep the overall length of the cartridges consistent.

The term “jacket” is used a few times in bullet descriptions. The jacket is simply a copper coating around the soft lead core of a bullet. In the case of an expanding bullet, the jacket folds back in a controlled manner so the core doesn't splatter all over. In a non-expanding bullet such as full-metal jacket, the hard metal jacket does not fold back and thus the bullet doesn't expand, but it does penetrate deeply.

There are basic styles of bullets a shooter should be aware of. Again, for simplicity, we’ll focus on the most common types. General types are the jacketed soft point, hollow point, and full-metal jacket. There are a couple of common brand name soft point hunting bullets such as the Winchester Power-Point, Remington Corelokt, and Nosler Partition that I will describe below. These brand name hunting bullets can be purchased almost in any sporting good store.

Jacketed soft point - A general classification of bullets, this bullet is designed with an exposed lead tip that is soft enough to expand on impact. This expansion is known as “mushrooming” of the bullet. The greater the expansion, the greater the internal damage caused by the bullet.

Hollow-point - Just like the soft point, this bullet is designed to expand. However, this bullet expands very fast. It has a hollow core designed to quickly open up on impact. It won't penetrate as deep as a jacketed softpoint, but when shooting at thin-skinned game or for a law enforcement application, fast expansion and minimal penetration may be desirable.

Full-metal jacket - This bullet is mostly used in military or dangerous game hunting. The purpose of this bullet is maximum penetration with minimal expansion. In the hunting world these bullets are often referred to as “solids”.

Winchester Power-Point - A classic soft nose bullet with notches cut into the tip of the bullet. The notches are used to accelerate expansion. I’ve used these for years on deer with flawless results. They are reasonably priced and offer excellent killing power.

Remington Corklokt - Another classic bullet that is very similar to the Power-Point. The differences between these two bullets are indistinguishable, but I mention it here because it is such a common hunting bullet. A novice shooter can buy a box of these for his rifle and be certain of excellent deer-taking ability.

Nosler Partition - One of the best bullets ever designed for big game hunting. Used more on moose, elk or bear than for deer (although it does make a wonderful deer bullet also) the partition has a piece of steel inserted inside the bullet about 40% of the way down the bullet. This “partition” prevents the bullet from expanding beyond this point. The result is a bullet that initially expands well to cause damage and then continues to penetrate for use on bigger game animals with tougher, thicker hides.

Posted by Ben Raich under Hunting on August 27, 09 09:26 AM | Permalink

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