The ballistic coefficient (BC) of a rifle’s bullet is rarely considered by the average hunter who uses store-bought ammo. If the box that contains the cartridges says “Long Range” then, despite any extra cost, it’s purchased as a “wonder bullet” for any range to “long range”, or “far”. What is mostly overlooked is that the very streamlined looking bullet, no matter how “pretty” it looks to the buyer or handloader, as the case may be, is designed to expand at relatively low impact velocity. If it has a jacket over a lead core, the jacket will be thinner than one designed for relatively closer ranges. Result? An explosive bullet on an animal at close range!
To construct a bullet’s design for “long range”, there are essentially only two ways this can be done: 1) The sectional density (SD) of the bullet must be relatively high – hence, not light for caliber, and 2) a much longer and streamlined one than usually employed in the same weight for caliber. If the bullet is monolithic, that is of pure copper or copper alloy, it will be longer still than one with a lead core and gilding jacket since zinc and copper are lighter than lead. When a sharp-plastic pointed tip is added for greater BC effect, the bullet will be still longer for the same weight. An example of that is this 300gr/.375-caliber AccuBond. Note its length and location of the cannelure.
So we need to ask ourselves some intelligent questions: 1- Do I need a LR bullet for any hunting purpose? 2- Taking into account the maximum overall length of the cartridge (COL) allowed by the action of my rifle, or the clip magazine (if that’s what my rifle uses for additional cartridges), or the total cartridge length permitted by the chambering, will a very high BC rating for the bullet be taking away space in the cartridge that would normally be occupied by the best propellant?
There’s only one way to know for sure that expected or desired velocities from the bullet in question is actually attaining the MV advertised in a factory product, or from a handloader’s manual, and that is in the use of a chronograph at the range! A strictly LR projectile might end up being a compromise: holding its velocity better to target, but losing some initial velocity from the start!
I like bullets with high BCs because they do maintain speed better to the animal which potentially means higher energy at impact. That also translates to less time in transit so a flatter trajectory is maintained. (For a larger view of photos, right click on photo, then left click on :”Open in new tab”, then L click on the “new tab”)
However, there appears to be a majority of hunters who are increasingly drawn to lighter monolithic bullets being unaware that they will slow faster than a heavier one with a lead core that could well have a higher BC.
Compare these two max loads from the same rifle catridge to confirm this point:
Rifle cartridge: .300 H&H Magnum: 24″ test barrel; 150gr Barnes MRX BT
SD = .226; BC = .420
MV = 3249 fps/ 3515 ft-lbs
100 = 3020 fps/ 3037 ft-lbs
200 = 2803 fps/ 2616 ft-lbs/ 2.54″ drift in 10 mph crosswind/ zero
300 = 2596 fps/ 2245 ft-lbs/ 5.86″ drift in 10 mph crosswind/ -2.91″
400 = 2399 fps/ 1916 ft-lbs/ 10.77″ drift in 10 mph crosswind/ -7.13″
500 = 2210 fps/ 1626 ft-lbs/ 17.46″ drift in 10 mph crosswind/ -28.6″
The ambient conditions: Alt @ 1150′; Temp @ 55*F; RH @ 55%
Rifle cartridge: .300 H&H Magnum: 24″ test barrel; 180gr Nosler AB
SD = .271; BC = .507
MV = 3028 fps/ 3652 ft-lbs
100 = 2842 fps/ 3228 ft-lbs
200 = 2669 fps/ 2846 ft-lbs/ 2.29″ drift in 10 mph crosswind/ zero
300 = 2502 fps/ 2501 ft-lbs/ 5.26″ drift in 10 mph crosswind/ -3.25″
400 = 2341 fps/ 2190 ft-lbs/ 9.61″ drift in 10 mph crosswind/ -14.07″
500 = 2186 fps/ 1910 ft-lbs/ 15.49″ drift in 10 mph crosswind/ -31.24″
Ambient conditions the same as for the 165gr Barnes MRX BT.
Notes: Both rifles were tested in 24″ test barrels and the above results were the best loads in MV. Note also that at 300 yards the 180gr has 2501 ft-lbs vs 2245 for the 165gr and starts to drift less in a 10 mph crosswind.
At 500 yards the 180gr has nearly 300 ft-lbs more energy and drifts about 2″ less in a 10 mph cross wind.
These facts are highlighted to demonstrate that a heavier bullet in the same caliber from the same rifle, assuming optimum MV for each, will produce better results in downrange energy and drift if bullet profiles are similar. If the 150gr AB had been chosen over the 150 Barnes MRX BT, results would have been too similar to matter much, as the BC of the 150gr AB is .435 vs .420 for the 150gr MRX BT.
For game to about 550 lbs at 500 yards it probably doesn’t make a lot of difference in choosing between the two, but what if the range is farther or the animal is larger? On the other hand the 180gr AB could be appropriate for game to 750 – 800 lbs at 500 yards assuming a proper hit. That could be a large, mature bull elk.
To put matters in perspective: The current ballistic culture to use lighter bullets because of their construction, faster MV and slightly less recoil is a mistake if larger, tougher game is pursued as illustrated in this unbiased demonstration. I don’t have an axe to grind in what has been presented, and this could be proven by at least 10,000 times over in various scenarios.
If I have a concern it is that the average North American hunter is NOT fully aware of the potential ballistics from his chosen rifle — or it’s limitations. And that includes MANY who should know better.
I’ve met scores of hunters at our range at which I’ve been a member for the past thirty plus years. A majority are handloaders who should be fully aware of where their bullets will hit a target to 300 yards at least, since that’s the limit of our range. Yet the vast majority of hunters among that group of handloaders NEVER use a chronograph to verify their loads! A number of years ago a veteran handloader and moose hunter made a stand for chronographs, and to this day I’ve only seen one other person use it besides myself! It has been used as a pistol rest, a tall desk for signing in and out, and otherwise ignored!
When I’ve asked questions about loads, the typical answer is “I go by the books”, and I ask: “So then you take as gospel what you read there?”
Apparently the CHRONY chronograph business has closed shop! I’m saddened! It appears that it couldn’t compete with newer American models in price. A couple of weeks ago I spied a Caldwell at a local shop and I may just buy one as a backup. The number of times I’ve gone to the range over the past three decades without a CHRONY could be counted on one hand. Mostly, that was due to having shot the CHRONY rather than through it! They always replaced it with a new one for $75! I’m on my 4th and it has endured my shooting for the past ten years. But I dropped the little box that shows the readout on the cement floor and the facing came unglued so it looks rather ugly for photo presentations! But IT STILL WORKS and always does its assignments.
Get a chronograph AND USE IT! Otherwise you’re working with blinders on. Anyone who does much shooting can hit a 300 yard target with a .44 Remington. But do they know the bullet’s speed at 300 or its trajectory?
Rifle: 44 Ruger 96/44 lever action: I owned one for ten years, and liked it. It went with me in scouting woods trails and bringing bear bait to various sites. Loading it “hot”, I had confidence in it for those purposes. Here is one typical load, May/2003:
Bullet: Speer 300gr Plated SP; SD = .233; BC = .213
Load: 23 grains of W296
MV: two shots recorded 1598 and 1603. Corrected to MV = 1616 fps/1739 ft-lbs
50 yds = 1469 fps/1437 ft-lbs/ +3.27″
100 yds= 1337 fps/ 1191 ft-lbs/ +4.08″
150 yds= 1224 fps/ 998 ft-lbs/ zero (adequate for a 650 lb animal with a well placed shot.)
200 yds= 1132 fps/ 853 ft-lbs/ -9.85″
250 yds= 1061 fps/ 750 ft-lbs/ -26.49″ (Good for a 500 lb animal with a well placed shot.)
I’m not expecting a novice handloader or one not familiar with handgun cartridges in a rifle to load “his” like I did, but, nonetheless this reveals its potential. This would never have been known without the use of a chronograph.
Brian Pearce, noted writer for Wolfe Publications, and owner of a large ranch in the West with elk on it, has written that a .44 Rem Mag is as capable on elk at 150 yards as a .30-06! And, I can believe that from a study of my results! I don’t know if Brian loaded his like I have, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least!
Knowledge of a bullet’s SD and BC is a serious consideration, and in conjunction with the use of a chronograph can give a complete picture of the ballistic capabilities of a given cartridge and load. Otherwise we are driving in the dark with no lights!
‘Til the next…