Although there are hundreds of different bullets available, there are just a few basic designs used by most shooters.
These are generally the most expensive bullets as extreme accuracy requires very close attention to bullet weight consistency and dimensional tolerances. Target rounds are generally pointed like the traditional full metal jacket round but there are other variations. Some have a hollow tip, like the Lapua Scenar (shown), whilst others have a hollow tip with a conical plastic tip embedded, such as the Hornady A-max. Target bullets are not restricted and may be purchased by anyone and by mail order. It is hard to generalise but target orientated bullets are generally fired at velocities of 2,500 to 3,500 feet per second (Mach 2.3-3.2).
Varmint bullets are designed for the shooting of smaller games species such as rabbits and groundhogs, and pest species such as magpies, crows and foxes. These bullets are designed to fragment on impact. This serves the dual purpose of killing the animal humanely whilst preventing dangerous ricochets should a bullet strike hard ground. Popular calibres in the UK for varmint rounds are .17 HMR, .204 Ruger, .223 Rem and .22-250 Rem.
Varmint bullets are classed as ’expanding’ and as such are restricted and can only be purchased if your FAC specifically states hunting or varmint shooting. Neither can they be ordered or sent by mail order – they must be written onto your FAC in the same way ammunition is.
The bullet shown is a Hornady V-max (V for varmint), a popular bullet choice for varmint hunters. As an aside, Hornady sell the same bullet labelled as the A-max (A for accuracy) as a target round. As target rounds, A-max bullets are not restricted and may be purchased by anyone and by mail order. Again, it is hard to generalise, but varmint bullets are generally fired at 3,000-4,000+ feet per second (Mach 2.8-3.7+).
Hunting bullets are designed for the shooting of small to medium game species such as deer and goats. These bullets aren’t designed to fragment on impact, rather they are designed to expand, or ’mushroom’ on impact. This causes the maximum damage to the heart and lungs of the animal so that it dies quickly and humanely. The first bullet illustrated shows a ’round, soft nose’ bullet. Notice how the copper jacket gets thinner towards the tip of the bullet, this helps the bullet to expand in a controlled manner as it passes through the animal. The second is a pointed soft nose, designed for use at slightly greater range than the round nose. As with varmint bullets, hunting bullets are classed as ’expanding’ and as such are restricted and can only be purchased if your FAC specifically states hunting or varmint shooting. Hunting bullet velocity varies enormously but 2,000-3,000 feet per second is a fair figure (Mach 1.8-2.8).
So called premium bullets are designed for the shooting of larger games species such as elk, boar,wild pigs and buffalo. Like hunting bullets, these bullets aren’t designed to fragment on impact, rather they are designed to expand. The difference from hunting bullets is that premium bullets are designed to stay in one piece on impact with tough hide and strong bones. The copper jacket is much thicker and some bullets even have a central solid section to prevent the bullet breaking up even under the toughest of impacts. As with hunting bullets, premium bullets are classed as ’expanding’ and as such are restricted and can only be purchased if your FAC specifically states hunting or varmint shooting. The bullet shown is the Nosler Partition. Premium bullet velocity varies enormously but 2,000-3,000 feet per second is a fair figure (Mach 1.8-2.8).
|The GROM bullet:
Made by Serbian ammunition company Prvi Partizan, the GROM (which is Serbian for thunder) fills the middle ground between conventional hunting bullets and premium bullets. It is a soft nosed bullet with a slim lead core. On impact, the lead deforms easily allowing the thick copper jacket to split evenly into petals. This allows excellent expansion with near perfect weight retention. Because of the softer lead core, the bullets expand as well on light skinned animals such as deer as they do on thicker skinned animals such as boar. As with premium bullets, GROM bullets are classed as ’expanding’ and as such are restricted and can only be purchased if your FAC specifically states hunting or varmint shooting. GROM bullet velocity varies enormously but 2,000-3,000 feet per second is a fair figure (Mach 1.8-2.8).
|The Naturalis bullet:
Made by Finnish firearm company Lapua, the Naturalis was developed to meet the need for a lead free hunting bullet. Traditional lead hunting bullets fragment on impact and leave particles and fragments of lead in the carcass. Also, there is increasing international concern about lead from bullets collecting in the environment both from missed shots and discarded entrails from shot animals. This can poison predators and can get into ground water. The Naturalis is pure copper and retains virtually 100% of it’s mass when it strikes the animal. Expansion on every species from small deer upwards is assured by the specially designed green polymer button in the tip that acts like a piston and starts the bullet expanding in the first 2-3cm of the wound path eventually expanding to twice the diameter of the bullet. As with GROM bullets, Naturalis bullets are classed as ’expanding’ and as such are restricted and can only be purchased if your FAC specifically states hunting or varmint shooting. Naturalis bullet velocity varies enormously but 2,000-3,000 feet per second is a fair figure (Mach 1.8-2.8).
|Full metal jacket (FMJ) bullets:
Full metal jacket bullets are commonly used by club shooters to load ammunition for old military rifles. This gives cheap, military looking ammunition ideally suited to these rifles as they are not accurate enough to be worth shooting target bullets. Unlike expanding ammunition, FMJ bullets are not suited for shooting animals as they tend to pass through without imparting enough energy to ensure a humane kill. Curiously, the Hague Convention of 1899 (not the Geneva Convention as is often quoted) prevents the use of any type of dum-dum or expanding ammunition in warfare where only FMJ ammunition is allowed. The bullet shown is an FMJBT, the BT standing for boat tail. This boat tail design serves to make the bullet more aerodynamic (it actually increases it’s ’ballistic co-efficient’ or ’BC’). This enables the bullet to travel flatter and faster than a flat-tailed bullet. As target bullets, FMJ bullets are not restricted and may be purchased by anyone and by mail order.
|NATO SS109 bullets:
The original 5.56mmx45 developed for the new M16 in the late 1950s and early 60s fired a 55gr bullet at 3,200 fps through a 1-in-12 twist barrel and passed the American military test that entailed penetrating one side of a US army helmet at 500 yards. When the American military and NATO decided to formalise the 5.56mm as the standard round for soldiers, NATO wasn’t happy with the penetration the 55 grain FMJ round offered against enemy combatant’s body armour. An improved 62 grain round was developed by FN of Belgium that had a steel penetrator at the tip with the rest of the bullet being made of lead. The presence of the steel tip made the bullet less dense than normal and so a longer design had to be used to make up the weight. This necessitated a twist rate of at least 1-in-9 and most American M4 carbines now have a 1-in-7 twist. The bullet is designated SS109 by NATO and M855 by the Americans. Interestingly, this round is widely available in the UK. I recently bought 100 rounds of Radway Green 62gr ammo for an upcoming shoot. I pulled one of the rounds and nibbled the bullet apart and found the hardened steel penetrator. Because of the relatively low power of the 5.56/.223 round, the SS109 is classed as semi-armour-piercing. SS109 cartridges are not restricted and may be purchased by anyone with an FAC and by RFD-to-RFD mail order.
|The Raufoss bullet:
The Raufoss bullet is a .50 calibre bullet produced by Nordic defense company Nammo. The Raufoss bullet is a high-explosive, incendiary, armour-piercing (HEIAP) round designed to defeat light armour, helicopters, ground installations such as electricity substations and vehicles. It can be fired from all .50 calibre military weapons except for the M85 machine gun. It is the preferred ammunition of the US Marine Sniper Corps who use it in the Barrett M82 ’Special Application Scoped Rifle’ or ’SASR’. The bullet consists of a thin copper jacket with a mild steel core with the end of the bullet sealed with lead. Inside the bullet, behind the front is an amount of proprietary incendiary material. In the centre of the bullet is a .30 calibre tungsten carbide penetrator. From the rear of the incendiary material to the tip of the penetrator is an amount of either RDX or PETN high explosive. Surrounding the penetrator is a band of powdered zirconium metal. When the bullet hits armour, the incendiary compound and some of the high explosive drive the penetrator through the armour at ~4,000 feet per second. The rest of the high explosive and zirconium metal explode into the target and continue to burn.