There are two types of expanding big game hunting bullets. The first are conventional copper cup bullets and the second are premium or, controlled expansion, bullets. Premium bullets are considerably more costly than conventional bullets. At what point does the extra cost become justified?
The lower cost conventional hunting bullets have a lead core that is encased in a copper jacket. This copper jacket is what is supposed keeps the bullet intact during the expansion process as it’s being driven at high speed, into the vitals of the game animal. The challenge for bullet companies is to produce a bullet that will remain intact and retain a high percentage if it’s weight over a vastly different velocity range. The impact velocity of the bullet can vary from as high as 3400 fps for a bullet fired from a magnum cartridge into a game animal at close range, to as little as 1700 fps for a bullet from a smaller cartridge striking the game animal at 400 yards away. This scenario can be compounded by the fact that the close shot from the magnum could strike the shoulder bone of a large, tough animal like a moose or buffalo and the long range shot may be placed in the softer behind the shoulder area of a small-bodied deer or antelope. A conventional bullet simply cannot be made to perform perfectly or even satisfactorily under every situation. The bullet maker is left to produce a bullet that is, in many situations, a compromise. This leads to less than satisfactory results, at times. The bullet in the close shot may disintegrate and fail to penetrate sufficiently, while the bullet in the long shot may fail to expand properly, resulting in minimal tissue destruction.
It is generally known that a conventional bullet will perform reasonably well for an impact velocity of up to about 2700 fps. Beyond this point, the performance can become erratic. There are plenty of stories of how the bullets from high velocity cartridges such as the Weatherby Magnums, disintegrated on impact and failed to penetrate, resulting in long tracking jobs or lost game. These bullet failures are 30-30 ammo 500 rounds what led to the creation of controlled expansion, or premium, hunting bullets.
Premium bullets have revolutionary designs that allow them to be driven to magnum velocities, while still delivering outstanding terminal performance. The first to arrive on the scene is the Nosler Partition bullet, which has a copper partition at around the midpoint of the bullet. The bullet tip is designed to start expansion easily at lower velocities, but once the expansion reaches the partition it is stopped, resulting in a large portion of the bullet remaining in-tact, therefore driving deeply into the animal’s vitals. The Swift A-Frame bullet improves on this design by adding a bonding process, which fuses the jacket to the core, resulting in even more retained weight. It’s this retained weight that ensures outstanding performance, especially on very large game. The Trophy Bonded Bear Claw bullet is another very good design, which has a lead core only in the forward portion of the bullet, while the rear part is solid copper. Like the Swift, it is also bonded. Once the expansion reaches the solid rear part, it is progressively stopped, therefore ensuring the bullet retains most, or in many cases, all of it’s weight. The Barnes TSX bullet is perhaps the most revolutionary premium bullet of all. The whole bullet is made of pure copper and has a hollow nose cavity which promotes expansion. The TTSX and MRX versions, use a plastic tip to promote expansion and to increase their Ballistic Coefficients. These bullets expand to form 4 sharp petals which slice as they spin and travel forward, creating immense tissue destruction. They often retain 100% of their weight and are proven to be extremely deadly. There are other premium bullets from various bullet companies with bonded cores that are vast improvements over conventional bullets. Some of them are Woodleigh Weldcore, Nosler Accubond, Hornady Interbond and Remington Premier Core Lokt.
When does the extra cost of premium bullets become justified? They do whenever using a high velocity cartridge where the impact velocity of the bullet will exceed 2700 fps, especially when hunting large game where deep penetration is needed. Also, use premium bullets whenever using light-for-caliber bullets or when using any smaller than normal caliber, such as a.223 Rem on deer. Also, anytime dangerous game like grizzly, cape buffalo or lion are hunted, a premium bullet is always the best option, regardless of the cartridge being used.
Considering the costs of the various expenses that go into any hunt, the additional cost of premium bullets is negligible. Some well-informed hunters use premium bullets for all of their big game hunting. I am one of those hunters.