Bullet selection in gamut of game situations

David Duffy

When determining which particular bullet is best for your hunting circumstances, terminal performance, in-flight characteristics, accuracy and cost are factors worth considering. Unfortunately, few bullets rank highly in all these criteria.

Opinions vary on the importance of each. For example, it is often stated that so long as your rifle can group three shots in 1½”, that is all you need to stay in the vital zone of the animal you are hunting. This is probably true for medium to large game at usual distances they are taken at. If you are shooting small game at medium to long distances, a greater degree of accuracy is needed.

I like to check my zero after my rifle has been on a long car trip over rough roads, on a plane or if I haven’t used it recently. What gives me confidence is firing a test shot when I reach my destination and seeing a .270 bullet hole 2¾” high at 100 yards. If that hole is ¾” high and to the left of the desired point of impact, I don’t know whether the scope needs adjusting or not. Yet this variation is within 1½”. So, should a second shot be fired or you just hope that the scope is correct?

On a Javan rusa hunt, the 150gr .270 Win factory ammunition I was handed at the camp required eight rounds before I was reasonably confident the scope was zeroed correctly. The ammunition wasn’t tuned to my rifle and groups were roughly three shots in 1½” at 100 yards. As it turned out, the shot was the longest I have had to do on a trophy stag – a 270-yard cross-gully aim through a small window in the trees after waiting around 20 minutes for him to stand up. The 33” rusa dropped on the spot and I was glad I had zeroed the scope correctly.

If the game is more than 200 yards away from where you are and you can’t move any closer without being seen, there may be several errors you make such as not aiming in the exact vital spot, the animal may move or be moving or you may not hold the rifle through the shot correctly. These errors may compound so that you don’t hit the vital zone. Minimising any cause of inaccuracy can be worthwhile in such a scenario. So, I have a tendency to favour accurate rifles and load combinations and spend a lot of time developing loads for my rifles.

Bullet manufacturers have improved the in-flight characteristics of new hunting projectiles in recent years. A bullet with a high ballistic coefficient (BC) shoots flatter, has less wind drift and more retained energy. However, it’s not always the case that a higher BC bullet is better. For example, in my .222 where shots are well within 300 yards and often around 200 yards, my accurate loads drive the 50gr BlitzKing at 3310 and the 55g Ballistic Tip at 3160 out of the 25½” barrel.

Although the 55gr has the higher BC, and marginally less wind drift, this is outweighed by the slightly better accuracy in my rifle and slightly flatter trajectory of the 50gr projectile at shorter distances. Yet in my .220 Swift where I am shooting beyond 300 yards often, the difference in velocity for my accurate loads is only 100fps and the 55gr bullet starts to shoot flatter as well as always having less wind drift.

Many of the aerodynamic projectiles are long and will often rob the case of powder capacity. The compact Woodleigh 225gr PPSN in the short-action .338 RCM is the ideal bullet for short to medium range where a flatter trajectory is unimportant. High BC hunting projectiles designed for long distances where velocity is reduced are often made softer so they open up. They may be too soft for short to medium ranges at normal velocities.

For the .270 Win I’ve been a big fan of the 130gr Sierra GameKing with 59.5gr AR2213SC at 3020fps. When I do my part, the GameKings group five shots in 0.7”. I’ve just started to use the Sierra 140gr Tipped GameKing which has a BC of .508 compared to .436 for the 130gr. The TGKs are claimed to have a thicker jacket than the normal GameKings and should be better for shooting through the shoulder as opposed to behind the shoulder through the ribs and into the lungs which was the shot that renowned outdoorsman Jack O’Connor preferred.

One of the reasons I like the 130gr weight is that AR2213SC powder works so well with that weight. When I tested 150gr projectiles with that powder I was less than impressed with the resulting velocity. To my surprise using 58gr AR2213SC with the 140 TGK not only gave good accuracy but velocities averaged 3025fps and 3007fps for two 5-shot groups. Furthermore, that accuracy was obtained with the projectiles 0.065” from the lands so that they would fit in the magazine. The forgiving nature of the 140 TGK is probably due to the tangent ogive. Projectiles that have a secant ogive are often fussier with seating depth. So that is my new load in the .270 Win: flatter trajectory, less wind drift and harder hitting.

In my 6SLR (.243 with 30-degree shoulder), I have been pleased with the Sierra 90g Tipped GameKing. Best accuracy was obtained seating .001” from the lands. This required a reduction of 1 grain in the powder charge because of the pressure spike when seating close to the lands. My load is 42 grains AR2209 and this gives the same velocity of 3120fps as the 90gr Speer with 43gr of AR2209 seated .010 from the lands. The 90gr TGK has a BC of .490 which is excellent for a 90gr hunting bullet. Again, this translates into flatter shooting, less wind drift and more retained energy for the occasional long shot past 300 yards. The 90gr TGK has worked well on goats, pigs and rabbits and I expect would be ideal on long-range wild dogs.

With the .338 Win Mag I have been pleased with the terminal performance of the 225gr TSX with its four petals peeling back and often having 100 per cent weight retention, but have switched to the 225gr Tipped TSX due to its considerably better BC of .514 vs .386. Sometimes large game such as camels and elks are shot at distances past 300 yards.

Despite the longer nose on the TTSX, the most accurate load was exactly the same as with the TSX and the same overall cartridge length, so I didn’t have any problems fitting them into the magazine. Terminal performance on large game is important and I favour the 225gr PPSN Woodleighs, Barnes TSX and TTSX. This is after using the 250gr Sierra GameKings on bears and caribou. On heavy, dangerous game I’ve used the 250gr Barnes X on buffaloes and scrub cattle and they worked fine but would turn to the 300gr Woodleighs if I did another buffalo hunt with a .338.

In the .17-222 I like the 25gr Hornady V-Max as it has a considerably higher BC than either the Berger 25gr or the now discontinued Hornady 25gr HP. Its terminal performance on game has been excellent and recently the first four of a 5-shot group were within 0.2” at 100 yards. Velocity is 3870fps out of the 9-twist Pac-Nor 25½” stainless barrel with 19.9g BM2. I only wish that Hornady or Berger made a streamlined 30gr projectile for long shots.

The cost of premium quality projectiles can be so much that it is prohibitive to practise shooting them. It is difficult to develop or maintain shooting skills without regular practice and especially before an expensive or a once-in-a-lifetime hunt, practice from the bench, offhand at a target or on feral game is important.

Ideally, if a cheaper projectile has the same point of impact at 100 yards as the premium projectile then this can be a way around the problem. For regular practice, besides using less expensive projectiles, a cartridge that has a long barrel life is preferred to one that burns the throat out at 1200 rounds. Cartridges such as the .22LR, .222, 6.8 SPC and .308 are especially good for barrel life.

The cost of .22LR ammunition is so low that you can just practise with what you use for hunting. I’ve had great success with the 42gr PowerPoints on foxes and feral cats. With the .222, I practise at the range with the superbly accurate Sierra 52gr HPBTs as I still have some left over from my earlier years of varminting.

In .243 the Speer 90gr Hot-Cors are highly accurate and work great on feral game but cost less than the 90gr TGKs and I keep the premium 90gr Sciroccos for use in my .240 PSP for trophy game such as smaller deer or wild dogs. The Sciroccos have a secant ogive and are fussy with seating depth, but they form a nice mushroom and have retained 78 per cent of their weight. The .270 130 GameKings group best in my rifle, perform well on game and are reasonably priced so I can just practise with these.

The premium projectiles in .338 such as the Barnes and Woodleighs are too expensive to do lots of practice with. A .308 using inexpensive 150gr projectiles is a way to accustom yourself to some recoil before a big game hunt and then you can fire the last 10 rounds with the .338 using the premium projectiles.

But remember there are quite a selection of other good projectiles that may work even better in your rifle or have characteristics which you prefer rather than the ones I’ve been using.

Table comparing in-flight characteristics of projectiles.

Projectile Cartridge Velocity Powder Barrel 100yd 200yd 300yd Wind-drift
16km/h 300yd
25g Berger .17-222 3870 19.9 BM2 25.5 1.2 0.7 -5.2 15.9
25g VMAX .17-222 3870 19.9 BM2 25.5 1.2 1.1 -3 9.7
50g BlitzKing .222 Rem 3310 23.7 BM2 25.5 1.5 0.6 -5.8 11.1
55g Ballistic Tip .222 Rem 3160 23.0 BM2 25.5 1.5 0.4 -6.5 10.6
90g Speer 6SLR 3120 43.0 AR2209 23 2 1.4 -4.3 7.1
90g Tipped GameKing 6SLR 3120 42.0 AR2209 23 2 1.5 -3.7 5.5
130g GameKing .270 Win 3020 59.5 AR2213sc 23.6 2.8 2.8 -2.5 6.6
140g Tipped GameKing .270 Win 3016 58.0 AR2213sc 23.6 2.8 2.8 -2.2 5.5
225g TSX long-throated .338 2950 AR 2209 25 3 2.7 -3.2 7.6
225 Tipped TSX long-throated .338 2950 AR 2209 25 3 3 -2.1 5.5
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