There is no “universal” bullet – that is, no single bullet for all shooting applications and all shooting conditions. The information below has been prepared to help you choose the right Sierra Bullet for you in any application, whether hunting or target shooting. Bullet selection is, of course, a personal preference, but there are some important technical considerations that must be addressed. We hope that the rifle bullet descriptions in this section will help you make the correct bullet selections for your applications as well as your shooting conditions. As always if you have any questions about the information below please contact us here or by calling 1-800-223-8799.
The rifle bullets in Sierra’s product line are arranged in six classifications, depending on the intended application, design features, and the range of cartridges that may use the bullet. One classification includes all of Sierra’s match target bullets for target shooting, and five classifications are for hunting applications.
These six classifications are:
MatchKing Bullets: This is the classification for Sierra’s pre-eminent target bullets. The driving motivation for the design of each MatchKing bullet is accuracy. These bullets have very thin jackets drawn to an exacting concentricity standard of 0.0003 in maximum variation, and their weight is held to within ± 0.3 grain. All MatchKing have a hollow point design with a very small meplat for high ballistic coefficient. The majority of these bullets have a boat tail shape to further minimize drag and improve ballistic coefficient. They are manufactured to the very highest quality standards. Their accuracy has been acclaimed worldwide, and they have been used to win more target competitions than all target bullets from other manufacturers combined. While they are recognized around the world for record-setting accuracy, MatchKing® and Tipped MatchKing® bullets are not recommended for most hunting applications.
Hornet Bullets: These are 22 caliber bullets of 40 and 45 grains in weight designed in the traditional shape for the 22 Hornet cartridge. Their purpose is hunting varmints and small game, and they are designed to expand reliably at velocities in the 2500 to 2800 fps range, although they can be loaded in cartridges generating up to 3500 fps muzzle velocity.
BlitzKing Bullets: These bullets are designed for explosive expansion in varmints and small game and with accuracy characteristic of the MatchKing bullets. The tips of these bullets are made of a proprietary compound, and the jackets are thin for enhanced accuracy and explosive expansion. The lighter bullets in 20 & 22 calibers are designed to be fired at muzzle velocities up to 4400 fps. The lightest 6mm BlitzKing bullet can be fired at muzzle velocities up to 4000 fps.
Varminter Bullets: This classification of bullets is designed specifically for rapid expansion and instant kills on larger varmints and small game. The shapes of bullets in this classification include hollow point (HP), spitzer pointed flat base (SPT), and semi-pointed (SMP). Bullets in this classification have thin jackets to enhance expansion but with sufficient strength to be fired at the highest muzzle velocities in the cartridges for which they are intended. Bullets labeled as Blitz are designed for medium velocity (under 3600 fps).
Pro-Hunter Bullets: All bullet shapes in this classification are flat base, and they include round nose (RN), semi-pointed (SMP), spitzer-pointed (SPT), flat nose (FN), and with a hollow point (HP/FN). A few bullets in this category have Sierra’s proprietary Power Jacket to enhance bullet expansion in game animals when fired from medium-velocity cartridges. All these bullets have medium to heavy weights in each caliber, and they are designed for a combination of penetration and expansion in medium and heavy game animals for their calibers.
GameKing Bullets: All bullets in this classification are for hunting and all have boat tails. Their shapes include hollow point boat tail (HPBT), spitzer boat tail (SBT), and full metal jacket boat tail (FMJBT). The bullets in this classification have medium to heavy weights in each caliber. With their boat tail shapes, they have high ballistic coefficients, retain their velocities well, and resist crosswinds and vertical winds well as they fly. These bullets are designed for a combination of penetration and expansion in medium and heavy game animals for their calibers.
Sierra also uses several basic shape designs for rifle bullets, although some features of different shapes may be incorporated into a single bullet. Shape and characteristic features easily distinguish each design. The most popular are described below.
Hollow Point is a bullet shape used for the MatchKing bullets as well as a number of Varminter, GameKing and Pro-Hunter bullets for hunting. The Hollow Point shape has an opening in the nose, which depending on the use of the bullet, may be designed for complete fragmentation, controlled expansion, or no expansion at all (MatchKing). With the wide range of Hollow Point bullet performance capabilities, proper bullet selection for a particular use is crucial to ensure the desired performance in the field.
Spitzer is a term taken from a German word that means sharp pointed. The spitzer shape is readily identified by a characteristic long ogive point shape closing with either a small diameter exposed lead tip or with the proprietary compound tips in Sierra’s BlitzKing bullets. Spitzer bullets may have either a flat base or a boat tail and have much higher ballistic coefficients compared to the traditional round nose or flat nose bullet shapes. The spitzer shape with either a flat base or a boat tail has become the “standard” for hunting bullets today.
Boat Tail bullets have a smaller diameter base, a shape resembling the configuration of the stern of a sailboat. This shape significantly reduces the base drag on a bullet, giving boat tail bullets a significantly higher ballistic coefficient than flat base bullets of the same weight and point shape. Thus, boat tail bullets have lower sensitivity to crosswinds, higher retained velocity downrange, flatter trajectories, and higher energy and momentum delivered to the target than their flat base counterparts.
Semi-Point is a bullet shape designed to provide heavy bullet weight within a given bullet length, and at the same time provide a ballistic coefficient higher than either the flat nose or round nose bullet shapes. The semi-point shape features a nose with a tip of exposed lead that is larger in diameter and more rounded than the spitzer shape. This shape sometimes works well in rifles having twist rates too slow to stabilize the longer spitzer or hollow point bullets of the same weight.
Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) bullets are easily recognized by the jacket, which covers the entire bullet forward of the base with only a small amount of exposed lead at the base. Sierra’s FMJ bullets also have the boat tail configuration. When used at reduced velocities, Sierra’s FMJ bullets are nonexpanding in light game, and often are an ideal choice for varmint or predator hunters wishing to minimize pelt damage. FMJ bullets also allow hand loaders to effectively duplicate 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm ball ammunition for use in military style rifles.
Roundnose bullets are a traditional design often used by hunters in areas affording shots at game only at short ranges. This bullet shape is easily recognized by a large, rounded, exposed lead tip. The large amount of exposed lead at the nose causes positive expansion of these bullets at moderate velocity levels.
Flatnose bullets are designed especially for rifles with tubular magazines. The large diameter meplat greatly reduces the chance of recoil-induced ignition of cartridges in the magazine when the rifle is fired. A large amount of exposed lead at the nose of these bullets causes positive expansion in game at moderate velocity levels, especially those with a Sierra Power Jacket. The Power Jacket has a series of “skives” cut into the mouth of the jacket. The skives ensure positive and controlled expansion of the bullet at moderate velocities and are used in several Sierra handgun bullets as well as flat nose rifle bullets.
Selecting the Appropriate Bullet
When selecting a match bullet for target competition, there are two paramount technical considerations: the maximum accuracy that a match rifle can deliver and crosswind deflection. Rifles are individuals also. One rifle may deliver fantastic accuracy with a particular bullet in a particular cartridge, but another rifle shooting the same cartridge with the same bullet may not deliver acceptable accuracy. This is why Sierra offers a number of MatchKing bullets in most calibers, sometimes differing by only a few grains in weight. The best bullet for maximum accuracy in any particular rifle and cartridge can be selected only by testing. Experienced target shooters know that they must try different bullets and often different loads (powder and primer) behind each bullet.
A bullet’s deflection in a crosswind depends on two factors: the muzzle velocity and the ballistic coefficient of the bullet being fired. For muzzle velocities above 1600 fps, crosswind deflection decreases as muzzle velocity increases. Crosswind deflection always decreases as bullet ballistic coefficient increases. For almost all the MatchKing bullets in each caliber, ballistic coefficient increases with bullet weight. So, if there were no other considerations, we would choose the heaviest MatchKing in each caliber and shoot it at the highest possible muzzle velocity. However, this is not always possible because of powder capacity and/or chamber pressure limits. With a big magnum case, we often can minimize crosswind deflection by using the heaviest MatchKing bullet in that caliber and load it to the highest possible muzzle velocity. However, large, heavy bullets always reduce the powder capacity of any case. Chamber pressure limits often restrict the selection of powders, so that full flexibility to achieve high muzzle velocities is just not possible. With many cartridge cases, we simply cannot fire heavier bullets with enough muzzle velocity to minimize crosswind deflection. A lighter bullet with lower ballistic coefficient but fired at higher velocity sometimes has less crosswind deflection.
This is where an exterior ballistics computer program, such as Sierra’s Infinity program, can greatly aid the target shooter. The shooter can test the crosswind deflections of different candidate bullets and loads with this program. This approach might not lead to the best bullet selection, but it may reduce the number of bullet and load combinations the shooter must try on the shooting range.
Selecting a bullet for hunting is considerably different. Several variables are involved in most hunting situations, and these strongly influence bullet selection. The first considerations are what type of game will be hunted (varmints, small game, medium game or large game) and what rifle/cartridge combination will be used. When going after varmints or small game and shooting a rifle in a smaller caliber, shooters may want a bullet that expands explosively for instant kills. However, if shooters want to preserve the pelt of a small animal for mounting or selling, they may want a bullet that does not expand, leaving small entry and exit wounds.
When preparing to hunt medium game (deer, antelope, sheep, mountain goats, etc.), hunters might be using a rifle in 6mm, 25, 6.5mm, 270, 7mm, or 30 caliber, or even the venerable 45-70. In this case, a bullet that penetrates light bones and expands in flesh to produce a wide wound channel is needed. To go after heavy game on the North American continent (buffalo, elk, moose or bear), or heavier medium game on the African continent, shooting a rifle chambered for a larger caliber may be preferred. These situations require a bullet that smashes through large bones and expands reliably in flesh to produce a very large wound channel.
These characteristics will help guide bullet selection. Generally, sub-MOA accuracy is not required for hunting, except possibly for small varmints (ground squirrels, prairie dogs, etc.) at long ranges. But of vital importance will be the velocity, retained energy, penetration and expansion properties of the bullet and cartridge for your intended game animals.
Other factors that affect bullet selection include the distance of the shot, the altitude, and the terrain and foliage. For example, if hunting deer in a thickly wooded area in which the range distance of a shot is likely to be less than 200 yards, a round nose or flat nose bullet would be a good choice. These bullets have excellent penetration and expansion on medium game. Typical cartridges firing these bullets can have maximum point blank ranges exceeding 200 yards for deer-sized game. Note that firing at game through grass, leaves or brush is never recommended, because any bullet is likely to be deflected.
When hunting deer or antelope in open areas where the range of a shot might be several hundred yards, selecting a bullet with a higher ballistic coefficient would be beneficial to help retain velocity, energy, and penetration downrange. Ideal choices would be a spitzer flat base or spitzer boat tail bullet. If distances are limited to around 300 yards, a hollow point boat tail bullet could be a good selection. If crosswinds are likely to exist, the ballistic coefficient should be high, because a high ballistic coefficient will reduce crosswind deflection.
Hunting medium game in mountainous territory, where shooting across ravines, or at steep uphill or downhill angles, high ballistic coefficient and terminal velocity will be important in bullet selection. In such territory, there are likely to be both cross and vertical winds, which will deflect bullet trajectories. Shooting up or down hill will cause the bullet to impact high. Once again, a combination of high ballistic coefficient and high velocity will minimize these effects.
Hunting at high altitude can have advantages. The thinner air offers less resistance and bullets will experience a slight increase in retained velocity and energy.
These are just a few comments illustrating the thought process required to select a bullet. Shooting conditions and prior experiences are important factors in deciding which bullet is best for the individual situation. Regardless of your needs, Sierra offers an extensive variety of bullets for your hunting and shooting requirements.
Sierra’s Infinity software program can help answer almost any question about the ballistic properties of Sierra bullets and other manufacturer’s as well. If you need to talk to a technician, remember Sierra’s Tech Support, which you can reach by calling toll free 1-800-223-8799 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. central time Monday through Friday. Each of our Ballistics Technicians is a shooter with personal experience and knowledge gleaned from conversations with hundreds of shooters like you. No question is too “dumb,” and no question is insignificant. Sierra technicians are happy to help with any questions.