Bullet Selection For Your Next Big Game Hunt

With much of the country on at-home lock-down and the majority of rifle hunting season’s opening in just a few short months, there is no better time to start preparing gear. When looking forward to rifle season there are a few decisions that every hunter needs to make. The first decision is to select an appropriate cartridge.

For me personally, I am a huge fan of the 6.5 Creedmoor for nearly any big game animal, however, for heavy-boned animals like moose or elk, I have become extremely fond of the performance found in the 6.5 PRC. Thanks to high ballistic coefficients, both of these cartridges perform well in shifty mountain wind and have relatively light recoil.

Regardless of your cartridge choice, selecting a bullet that is going to deliver terminal performance at all practical distances can seem like a daunting task. Because there are so many different types of bullets on the market, it is important to understand that bullet construction, weight, and corresponding ballistic coefficient will affect downrange performance.

A well-constructed, reliable bullet will terminally expand while retaining enough weight to ensure adequate penetration to reach vital organs after passing through both bone and muscle.

Keep in mind that bullet performance and expansion characteristics can vary with velocity upon impact. We have all heard hunting horror stories of bullets that uncontrollably expand after contact with bone and fail to reach vital organs or simply fail to expand at all. Reliable expansion at any velocity is a must. 

Bullet Weight

Each caliber is going to offer bullets in a variety of weights. How much your bullet weighs will have a direct effect on velocity. Cartridges have limitations in energy, so they can either push a light bullet fast or a heavy bullet more slowly. Generally speaking, the bigger the game, the heavier the bullet you will want to use.

The reason you want to select a heavy bullet is because it retains its energy better at longer distances while drifting less in the wind. Heavier bullets also penetrate better due to their greater mass and higher sectional densities.

Impact Velocity & Expansion Characteristics

Different ammunition manufacturers are going to offer reliable solutions that ensure adequate penetration and performance. For example, the Hornady ELD-X provides controlled expansion capabilities. Upon impact, the Heat Shield Tip, of the ELD-X bullet is slammed back into the frontal cavity causing the bullet to expand.

Hornady ELD-X bullets are designed to perform differently at high-velocity impacts vs low velocity extended ranges, however, the terminal effects are similar. From the muzzle to 400 yards the ELD-X begins expansion upon impact and will continue to expand for roughly two feet while penetrating- retaining roughly 50-60% of the original bullet weight.

With lower velocity impacts, the bullet expands creating a more traditional mushroom shape while penetrating over two feet- retaining 80-90% of the original bullet weight.

Selecting a monolithic copper alloy bullet combined with a polymer tip like the Hornady GMX delivers consistent, controlled expansion of up to 1.5x its diameter and 95% weight retention. Monolithic bullets are lead-free and hard-hitting delivering 30 or more inches of penetration upon impact.

Ballistic Coefficient

A bullet with a high ballistic coefficient is important because a high BC bullet will retain its velocity and energy over longer distances. What that means in a hunting situation is that the bullet will have a flatter trajectory and be less susceptible to the effects of wind drift.

The bullets impact energy is affected by the BC as well. A bullet with a higher BC will impact the target retaining more energy which allows it to punch through heavy bone in order to reach vital organs.

Bullet Performance

Another consideration to make when selecting a bullet is performance expectations from your individual rifle. Once you have selected the bullet for your next hunt, now is the time to take it to the range. Different rifles will shoot different bullets with varying levels of accuracy. This can depend on the twist rate of your barrel, deviations in muzzle velocity, quality of bullet and/or rifle construction.

Shooting 100-yard groups will help to determine the level of accuracy that you can expect from your rifle and ammunition combination. This is also a great time to gather needed data to create shooting solutions for point of aim, point of impact performance at distance. A chronograph like a Magneto Speed will help you to determine the standard deviation in muzzle velocity.  

Standard deviation in velocity from shot to shot will affect the trajectory and your subsequent shooting solution at distance. A quality constructed bullet that is manufactured with exacting standards using quality components will help to extract the most accuracy from your firearm with the lowest standard deviation in velocity.  

Watch the video below to help in gathering necessary data to set up a Kestrel Ballistics solver.

Extreme Conditions

Making every opportunity count means selecting equipment that will not fail. From soaring temperatures to rain or snow, ammunition performance is a must without exception. Any condition, anywhere, Hornady Outfitter Ammunition is designed to perform. The nickel-plated cases resist tarnish and corrosion while the sealed primer and case mouths make the cartridge waterproof to the elements. And the use of temperature stable powders means that you can hunt confidently knowing that your case is going to consistently perform in the most rugged of environments.

Before hunting season arrives, put in a little extra time researching the right hunting bullet that performs optimally with your firearm. You won’t regret the effort this fall.  

About the author: Kristy Titus was raised leading a pack string of mules into the backcountry of Oregon, experiencing the thrill of public land, fair chase, do-it-yourself western big game hunting.She serves on the NRA Board of Directors, The NRA Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Committee and is a Basic Pistol, Refuse To Be A Victim Certified Instructor and Range Safety Officer. Kristy also a competitive shooter participating in the Precision Rifle Series and National Rifle League Series.Passionate in the support of wildlife and habitat conservation, she is a life member and Ambassador for The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and The Wild Sheep Foundation and is an Ambassador for The National Wild Turkey Federation.In her new digital series, Pursue The Wild, airing on RMEF’s ElkNetwork.com, YouTube and Amazon TV. Kristy is an outspoken Second Amendment advocate that has dedicated her life to teaching and promoting firearms, conservation and hunting.Kristytitus.com Facebook.com/kristytitus Instagram.com/kristytitus YouTube.com/pursuethewild

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • B rad May 17, 2020, 10:01 pm

    Agree with the previous comment. This is a Hornady commercial not an informative article.

  • Dr. William Capps May 15, 2020, 3:50 pm

    Not overly helpful, quoting the Hornady ELD-X ad language hype we all can read for ourselves…. And, the 6.5 Creedmoor for just about “everything” big game? Seriously, I can do as much with my .257 Roberts, and beat it senseless with a 25-06. Strangely unhelpful, gunsamerica folks!!

  • Bill May 15, 2020, 1:18 pm

    The title seems like the it should be talking about more options that one Bullet from one source.😳

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