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The Effects of Bullet Shape at Hunting Ranges

The Effects of Bullet Shape at Hunting Ranges

The pair of zebra stallions were feeding in a small depression, ringed with just enough brush to prevent the possibility of taking the shot, and managed to assume every position other than broadside. For a solid 10 minutes we watched them, and when the larger and more vibrant of the pair came clear at a bit over 110 yards, one 250-grain Woodleigh Weldcore round-nose bullet from my .318 Westley Richards put him down quickly. My buddy Doug King was on camera for that safari, and upon playback, we could see the stallion shudder when that round-nose hit him on the shoulder; the effect of the impact was immediately visible.

.318 Westley Richards and Recovered 250-grain Woodleigh Weldcore Bullet


There is no denying that our modern bullets are nothing short of amazing; we are living, most assuredly, in the Golden Age of projectiles. We have monometal expanding bullets, we have bullets with the lead core chemically bonded to the copper jacket, we have bullets with polymer tips and we have some of the sleekest designs we’ve ever seen. But does that mean the older, classic designs—like that classic 250-grain Woodleigh my .318 likes so much—are obsolete? What are the real-world differences between bullet designs, when used at hunting ranges?

The majority of our hunting cartridges—save the lower-velocity, rimmed cartridges designed around the lever-action rifles—can be zeroed at 200 yards, with a mid-range rise of under 2½ inches. Being completely honest, I am a hunter who spends the majority of his time in the Northeast woods, or the African veldt. I do get to the Western states as often as possible, and enjoy Texas whenever possible, but I can say that the majority of my shots have been taken inside of 200 yards. This means that no matter the bullet shape, I can usually use a dead hold.

Federal Premium 180-grain Nosler Partition Ammunition


If you regularly hunt those species which tend to be taken at longer ranges—pronghorn antelope, elk and Coues deer come quickly to mind—the spitzer boattails are certainly a help in resisting the effects of wind deflection and retaining energy. But, even the boattail might not be needed at the most common hunting ranges.

And what are “common hunting ranges”? Where is the limit for the majority of us? Speaking personally, I like to stay inside of 350 yards, maybe 400 under ideal conditions. I’ve spent enough time at instructional shooting courses—like the SAAM course at the FTW Ranch in Texas—to watch the wind begin to wreak havoc at longer distances. I know many hunters and shooters who could add 150 to 200 yards to that figure, as they live in an area which allows for regular practice at those ranges, but I do not. So, to pick a nice round number, let’s limit things to 400 yards.

.338-06 A-Square with 250-grain Nosler Partition Bullet


For comparative purposes, I’ll choose the popular .30-06 Springfield with three different 180-grain bullet profiles: the round-nosed (a Hornady InterLock), the flat-base spitzer (Nosler Partition) and the spitzer boattail (Federal Trophy Bonded Tip), all at a muzzle velocity of 2700 fps. All will be zeroed at 200 yards, and we’ll use a 10 mph crosswind. The round-nose will strike 2.5 inches high at 100 yards, and the other two 2.0 inches high. At 300 yards, the round-nose will hit 11.2 inches low, the spitzer 8.5 inches low and the spitzer boattail 8.4 inches low. Out at 400 yards, the round-nose drops 34.5 inches, the spitzer 24.4 inches and the spitzer boattail 23.9 inches.

Looking at wind deflection, the round-nose needs 6.4 inches of correction at 200 yards in a 10 mph wind, with the spitzer and spitzer boattail need 2.9 inches and 2.7 inches respectively. At 300, the round-nose requires 15.4 inches of compensation, the spitzer 7.0 inches and the spitzer boattail 6.6 inches. Out at 400 yards, the round-nose needs a whopping 29.7 inches of correction, the spitzer 12.9 inches and the spitzer boattail 12.0 inches of correction.

.300 Winchester Magnum with 220-grain Hornady InterLock Bullet


The round-nose shows its deficiency is the wind at just 200 yards, but inside of that range poses little handicap. Those bullets do have their positive attributes, including taking up less room in the case—the round-nose will be the shortest of all three of these designs—as well as the way they hit an animal; they seem to shudder when hit with a round-nose bullet. With its weight forward, the round-nose bullets seem to have the best straight-line penetration of all softpoint designs.

The flat base spitzer runs neck and neck with the spitzer boattail, staying within an inch in both trajectory and wind deflection out to 400 yards. But in the accuracy department, you may find that the flat-base bullet will “settle down,” or become stable, faster than the boattail will. In fact, more than one bullet manufacturing company has recommended that those who hunt within 300 yards use a flat-base bullet.

.308 Caliber Nosler Partition 180-grain Bullet


Past the 400-yard mark, I can say the spitzer boattail bullet is definitely the way to go; its shape defies atmospheric drag better than any other, and will pull away from even the flat-base spitzers. In a cup-and-core bullet design, the boattail will show a tendency to have the jacket separate from the core, but the bonded core or monometal bullets solve that issue.

Keep your hunting distances in mind, and choose the type of hunting bullet which can best serve your needs. I use a wide variety of bullet designs, doing my best to match my ammunition to the situation at hand. At common hunting ranges, the flat-based spitzer is a sound choice; should you feel there is a real chance of a truly long shot, the spitzer boattail will do the job. At ‘woods’ ranges, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a good old round-nose.

Want to read more from Philip Massaro? Check out the following articles:
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• How to Build a Custom Rifle
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