Bullet Buyers’ Guide
Best Bullets (by Bore Diameter) Reviewed
|Bullet Choices for the .223 Remington and .223 AI|
|The bullets used in the .223 Rem and .223 AI will be .224 diameter. The selection of .224 bullets is huge, likely bested only by the number of 30-caliber bullets available. On the light end, one can find nearly frangible bullets that almost vaporize when they hit the dirt, yet can withstand whatever velocity (and RPMs) the cartridge can throw at it. In this range you have the composite-core 36gr “Varmint Grenade” from Barnes, and the 40gr V-Max and BlitzKing offerings. These work very well on varmint sized critters as well, and usually don’t exit. Check out this High-Speed Video Clip of a “Varmint Grenade” exploding upon impact as it hits a grape at 4344 fps. Barnes explains: “Originally developed for military applications, the bullet’s copper-tin composite core is highly frangible. The new FB, hollow-cavity bullet remains intact at ultra-high velocities, yet fragments explosively on impact–it virtually vaporizes ground squirrels and prairie dogs. The bullet blows up completely at high speed, creating little or no exit wound on larger animals.”
For a standard “hunting” bullet, Sierra offers its 65gr Game King, and Nosler its 60gr Partition, and Barnes has its Triple-Shock” X-Bullet in 53, 62, and 70gr weights. The 70-grainer has good penetrating ability on medium-size game, but it does requires a 1:8″ or faster twist to stabilize.
For close-range competition (100-300 yards) one can find a large variety of 50-53gn Match bullets, both custom made and commercial. The Sierra 52gr BTMK is a popular “short-line” load with Highpower shooters. Custom 52s in .224 caliber are offered by the benchrest bullet-makers, such as Bart Sauter, Lester Bruno, and Don Gentner. Lester also makes a very accurate 57. We’ve had very good luck with Bergers in the 50-65gr range. Berger offers a panoply of options, with Berger FB bullets offered in 50, 52, 55, 60, 62, and 64-grain weights. This wide selection lets you literally “pick your BC”, from .241 for the 50, to .306 for the 64 grainer. If you’re looking for do-it-all bullet that can shoot bugholes on paper and also perform in the varmint field, these Bergers will fit the bill.
Mid-Range (300-600 yard) Bullets
For the mid-range match shooters there are even more options available in the 68-80gr weight range–many illustrated on this page. Check out the 69gr Lapua Scenar (.321 BC), 75 A-Max (.435 BC), and Berger 75gr VLD (.447 BC). Some guys have asked us: “Please don’t tell people about the 75 A-Max. Right now these are super cheap, and they shoot like a house on fire.” The A-Maxs are indeed a major bargain. Midsouth Shooters Supply sells the 75gr A-Max for just $13.79/100, and the 80gr A-Max for $14.92/100. Sweet deal.
Long-Range Match Bullets
The 77gr and 80gr Sierra MatchKing are probably the “default” 22-Cal bullet choices among long-range Highpower shooters today, but we have heard many good reports about the 80gr A-Max and the 75gr and 80gr Berger Match VLDs. If you’re shooting an 8-twist barrel at long range, you should try all the options and see what shoots best in your barrel. The new 90-grainers from Sierra and Berger caused a stir when introduced in 2006, but we haven’t heard many reports from shooters using them in competition, possibly because one needs a very fast twist barrel (1:6.5″ is preferred), and the 80s already shoot so well. Robert Whitley tells us he rarely sees a 22-caliber shooter using anything heavier than an 80 in prone and Highpower matches. But that may change as more competitors acquire faster-twist barrels.
Chart based on max velocities (by bullet type) in Sierra Bullets’ Load Manual for bolt-action .223 Remingtons.
6mm (.243) Bullets
For varminters, the Sierra 70gr Blitz-King and Hornady 75gr V-Max offer a good combination of accuracy, BC, and explosive impact on target. The Berger 80gr Varmint bullet is exceptionally accurate but doesn’t impact as explosively on target. For coyotes, the 80gr Nosler Ballistic Tip and Hornady 87gr V-Max both buck the wind pretty well and hit hard. For small to medium-sized deer, Sierra recommends its 85gr HPBT GameKing for soft-tissue shots out to 200 yards. Where deep penetration and better weight retention is required, you need bullets like the Nosler 95gr/100gr Partitions, Remington 100gr Core-Lokt? SP, or the Sierra 100gr SPFB Pro-Hunter. Click Here to download Nosler Partition Video (requires QuickTime).
Hunter and outdoor writer Chuck Hawks notes: “When using the .243 to hunt medium-size big game animals, bullet selection is paramount. Rapid (but controlled) expansion is very important, as the small diameter 6mm bullet has little shocking power if it does not expand and expend its energy inside of the animal. Two bullets in the 90-100 grain weight range that have earned a good reputation on medium size big game animals are the Remington Core-Lokt and Nosler Partition.”
The Combined Technology 95gr Ballistic Tip (made by Nosler) is another favorite with deer hunters. South Dakotan Grant R reported: “This is a very capable, accurate bullet. I used this bullet last fall deer hunting and was more than amazed at its performance. Shot a mule deer at 512 yards with it, bullet exited, deer ran about 20 steps and that was it.”
Forum member Jeffrey H of Mississippi reports: “I have had very good results with the Combined Technology Ballistic Silvertip with the 95gr bullet. My son used them to take 3 deer this year and none walked away. I have also used the Barnes TSX in 85gr and have not only had excellent accuracy from these, but I took two deer using them and had very good kills with both. I guess we all know how accurate the 6mm bullets are.”
Mike Daly, Hodgdon’s Director of Customer Service, writes: “The 243 quickly gained a reputation for being a great hunting cartridge. When coupled with H4895 and a 55gr Nosler Ballistic Tip, the 243 will deliver over 4050 fps for taking varmints. For larger varmints, the Barnes 85gr Triple Shock” X-BT bullet will deliver great performance with a max load of H4350 driving it over 3200 fps. For deer and antelope hunters, it is hard to beat the Speer 100gr BTSP powered by H4350 at over 2970 fps. For Mule Deer, [I use] a Nosler 95gr Partition bullet driven to approximately 3085 fps by a maximum load of H4350. This combination has accounted for many deer, a few antelope and even a coyote or two.”
With enough powder capacity to drive the 0.585 BC 115gr DTACs at 3150+ fps, the .243 Win is an outstanding long-range cartridge. George Gardner of GA Precision recently won the long-range Shumway Cup segment of the 2006 Snipers’ Hide Cup shooting a straight .243 Win. In so doing, George bested Terry Cross (.260 Rem) and David Tubb (6XC), so you can see the .243 is a top performer at long distances. In fact, in terms of Wind Drift, a .243 running 115s at 3150 fps beats both the .260 Rem (2850 fps) and the 6.5-284 (2950 fps) running 142 MatchKings.
In addition to the DTAC 115-grainers, other excellent long-range match bullets include: 105gr Berger VLD, 106gr Clinch River, 105gr Hornady A-Max, 105gr Lapua Scenar, and the 107gr Sierra MatchKing. The 105 Scenars can be incredibly accurate, but their shank diameter is a few ten-thousandths less than the Berger 105s, Hornady 105s, or Sierra 107s, so the Scenars seem to work best in barrels with a fairly tight bore diameter. The Bergers like to be seated well into the lands, while the MatchKings and Scenars work well either jammed or jumped. The 105gr A-Max, with its polymer tip, is a good dual-purpose bullet that works well both for long-range paper-punching and long-range varminting. The A-Max will expand on impact while some high-BC match bullets will make an “ice-pick” wound. Matt Bianchini tells us: “I use the long-range bullets for woodchuck hunting here in PA with great results out of my 243 AI. My favorite is the Hornady 105gr A-Max piped at around 3290 fps by a 27″ Shilen. Also had great success on PA whitetails.”
6.5mm Bullets (.264)
There are many good high-BC 6.5mm bullets available today. Matches have been won and records set with bullets from Berger, Clinch River, Lapua, Sierra and more than a few boutique bullet-makers like Jimmy Knox and Bob Cauterucio. Among factory bullets the top three choices are probably the Sierra 142gr Match-King, Lapua 139gr Scenar, and Berger 140gr VLD. Comparing those three bullets, the Sierra has the sturdiest jacket, while the Berger has the highest claimed Ballistic Coefficient (BC). Field tests do show that the Berger drops less than a 142 SMK at 1000 yards, when launched with similar velocity. The majority of top competitors we’ve polled are using the 142 SMKs, but those who are shooting 139 Scenars are very happy with the Scenars’ accuracy and dimensional uniformity. If the 142s don’t work for you, definitely try the Scenars. And the Clinch River 147s still hold some important 1000-yard records, but availability can be an issue.
|Bullet||Berger 140 VLD||Clinch River 147||Lapua 139 Scenar||Sierra 142 MK|
|Claimed BC||0.627||0.625 (HBC Calc)||0.615||0.595 @ 2850+|
In years past it was de rigueur to sort the 142 SMKs by bearing surface length to achieve optimal accuracy and consistency. With many recent lots of the 142s however, the bullets have been very consistent. Jason Baney reports: “Well, I got my new lot of 500 142 SMKs sorted by bearing surface, and I must say I am impressed. These are on par with custom bullets as far as consistency.”
Bill Shehane currently favors the 142 SMKs, sorted in .002″ bearing surface increments, because he feels they produce the most consistent results at 1000, with fewer unexplained flyers. Bill observed: “I’ve also shot the Berger 140s and the Lapua 139s. Both brands are good bullets and I’ve shot some of my smallest groups with them. But I’ve found the Sierras to be the most consistent. In our 1000-yard game, consistency is key. One tiny group won’t win a championship. A ‘four and one’ or a ‘nine and one’, with just one shot out, will ruin your whole day. For me, that happens less often with the Sierra 142s.”
Wide Selection of High-BC Bullets
One of the best reasons to shoot a 7mm cartridge is the huge selection of truly outstanding projectiles, in weights from 100 to 180+ grains. The line-up below shows but a small fraction of the excellent 7mm projectiles available today. As the 7mm has been a favored hunting, military, and target caliber for well over a century, bullet-makers have had plenty of time to perfect their art. For game hunters, the choice of great bullet designs in 7mm (.284 caliber) is rivaled only by the wealth of 30-caliber bullets, and the 7mms enjoy a ballistic advantage, grain for grain, over the larger-diameter 30s. All the major bullet makers offer outstanding hunting bullets in the 130-160 grain weight range: Barnes 140gr TSX (.412 BC, tipped, lead-free) and 160gr MRX (.439 BC, tipped), Hornady 139gr SST (.486 BC tipped) and 154gr Interbond (.525 BC, tipped), Nosler 140/150/160gr Partitions (.434-.475 BC), Sierra 150gr GameKing (.436 BC, SP), Speer 140gr Trophy Bonded (.360 BC, SP) … to name just a few. Whether you want an explosive ballistic-tipped bullet, high sectional density for penetration, or a bonded core for high weight-retention, you will find a 7mm bullet design that does the job exceptionally well.
Bullet photos by B. Litz (above) and JeffVN (below right).
High-BC Match Bullets
While hunters can be overwhelmed by the variety of good 7mm bullets available, long-range match shooters can concentrate on a half-dozen superior designs in the 160gr and up range. There aren’t that many premium match designs on the market, but the best ones available, such as the Berger 180gr VLD, are truly superior. The Berger 180gr VLD, with its amazing 0.684 BC, is one of the finest long-range bullets ever made…in any caliber. The Sierra 175gr MatchKing is also a proven performer in long-range and F-Class matches. It has a tough, durable jacket that can handle the high velocities generated by the short- and full-size 7mm magnum cartridges. Also, don’t overlook the 0.625 BC Hornady 162gr A-Max. This is a very accurate bullet that can be driven faster than a 175 or 180. Ace .284 Win shooter Jerry Tierney reports that Hornady’s 162gr A-Max was “extremely accurate” and was perhaps the best short-line bullet he tested. The 162gr A-Max is also an excellent choice for High Power Silhouette shooters.
Analysis of the 7mm Caliber for Long Range Shooting
Caliber selection is a combination of science and preference. Everyone weighs the pros and cons differently for their particular application. The following is my take on the advantages of the 7mm caliber for long range target shooting.
7mm Ballistic Performance
With moderate charges in medium-sized cases like the .284 Winchester, these heavy bullets can easily reach 2800 fps. At this speed, the high BC 7mm bullets have less wind drift than all but the most extreme smaller caliber chamberings. [Editor’s Note: With the recent introduction of Reloder 17 powder, a standard .284 Win can drive the 180s at 2950 fps, and the .284 Improved can reach 3050 fps with a long barrel.] In other words, anything smaller than 7mm has to be pushed really hard in high-pressure/short-barrel-life chamberings in order to match the ballistic performance of the heavy 7mm bullets at moderate pressures and velocities. In order to match the BC of the heavy 7mm match bullets, .30 caliber bullets of similar profile would have to weigh about 210 grains. That’s just to match the BC. In order to match the wind drift, the 210gr, .30-caliber bullet would have to have the same muzzle velocity of 2800 fps. That kind of speed is attainable with the largest .30 caliber chamberings, but this leads to the next consideration: recoil.
.30 Caliber Bullets
What you see below is just a fraction of the quality 30-caliber match bullets available to .308 shooters. Figure there are at least twenty projectiles you might consider. Still, with such a large selection, nearly all the competitors we interviewed were using one of five bullets: 155 Berger, 155 Lapua Scenar, 155 Sierra MK, 168 Sierra MK, or 175 Sierra MK. A few guys have had good luck with the 168gr Amax (.475 BC), and some guys like to shoot the heavy 185gr Bergers (.569 BC), 185gr Scenars (.521 BC), or 190gr SMKs (.533 BC) at 1000 yards, but the vast majority of .308 shooters are running the 155s, or the 168 or 175 Sierras. Among the 155s, John Whidden has had great success with the Bergers seating them well in the lands. The Lapua 155 has an impressive .508 BC (and you can see that it is even longer than a 175 MK), and you can launch it much faster than a 168- or 175-grainer. Between the 168 SMK (.488 BC) and 175 SMK (.505 BC), most shooters seem to think the slippery 175 is a better bullet overall and it definitely has an edge at longer distance–less drop and less windage. We suggest, in developing initial loads for your .308, that you focus on one of these five projectiles, and then maybe try a few Amaxs or the heavier SMKs. Sierra will start selling a new 210gr SMK early next year. It’s probably a little heavy for a .308, but it should work very well in a 300WM or 30-06.
The major bullet manufacturers, Barnes, Hornady, Nosler, Sierra, Speer, and Swift provide a wide variety of hunting bullets in .308 caliber with weights ranging from 100 grains or so to 240 grains. For smaller game and varmints, the Sierra 110gr Varminter bullet has proven very accurate. For deer-sized game, a bullet in the 150-grain range (such as the Swift Scirocco) running 2850+ fps is very effective.
Reader M700 tells us: “Something that is deadly accurate and has fast expansion gets my vote for mid-longish range deer hunting. Say either a Nosler Ballistic Tip or a Sierra SPBT GameKing. Both have the reputation for fast expansion and excellent accuracy. With a decent .308 Win you can boot the 150 up to around 2900 fps and get excellent accuracy as well as deadly on-game performance.” The Hornady 165gr SST, with its excellent .447 BC, is another good choice for longer-range shots on deer. For Elk and large game, select a heavier, controlled-expansion bullet such as the 180gr Nosler Partition.