Terminal Ballistics of Long Range Bullets

A place to discuss subjects related to those who prefer to take those longer shots. Sponsored by European Long Range Hunting and EuroOptic

Moderators: deerhunter338mag, stokesrj, trazman

Post Reply
User avatar
stokesrj
Moderator
Posts: 5163
Joined: Mon Jun 17, 2013 12:41 pm
Location: USA
Location: Mesa AZ, USA

Terminal Ballistics of Long Range Bullets

Post by stokesrj » Mon Oct 05, 2015 7:57 am

I thought I would start a dialog on the effects of long range bullets and how they go about doing their job up close or far away. There are three areas to consider for this assuming the bullet is accurate enough to place it in the vital organs of the intended game at the intended distance. Those areas are, killing the animal, immobilizing the animal, leaving a blood trail to aid in recovery if mobilization is not achieved.

To kill an animal a vital function must be removed such as ability to breath, ability to pump blood, loss of sufficient blood, or loss of nervous system. This is why the normal shot placement used by the majority of hunters is the lung heart region. Effectiveness can be improved by proper shot angle selection and precise knowledge of the animals heart and lung location as it varies from species to species. Especially so on many African species. An Impala as an example has a heart and lung location that is much further forward than a white tail deer. It is necessary to shoot a broadside Impala through the shoulder to achieve a center lung hit. A lion on the other hand has it's heart located further back, just forward of the center, about 8 inches behind the front leg when standing broadside. However killing the animal and recovering the animal may require different shot selections for best results.

To imobilize and animal the ability to flee must be removed, such as the nervous system that controls locomotion, or the skeletal structure such as the bones that support the animal. Here again it is necessary to understand the anatomy of an animal in detail and shot selections chosen wisely to achieve the goal of mobilization. Obviously head shots that succeed in penetrating the brain or spinal column near the brain achieve immobilization. But there are other ways, one of my favorite shot placements is the high shoulder shot on a broadside animal that breaks both shoulders and clips the bottom of the spine. This shot typically drops them in their tracks. Yet another way to achieve mobilization is with sufficient velocity to totally overwhelm the animal. This can be done at close range but as the bullet travels through air it looses it's ability to overwhelm and animal at distance.

A secondary but important consideration in the event the animal is killed but not immobilized is the ability to locate the animal so that it can be recovered. This is a complex consideration that requires consideration of bullet construction as well as shot angle selection. As an example a shot angle selection on an animal quartering to the gun may indeed penetrate the heart and lungs yet exit behind the diaphragm. It has been my experience that this shot will result in a poor or even non existent blood trail. The entry wound will be small because the bullet has not yet expanded and the exit wound while possibly large will be plugged by intestines and fail to leave a blood trail.

For all three of these considerations it is necessary to understand the role bullet construction affects the desired results. Unfortunately bullets can be designed to operate properly within a range of impact velocities. When impacting at high velocities the bullet may fragment so quickly that it lacks sufficient mass to reach the intended vital organs. When impacting at low velocities the bullet may fail to expand, which will result in very deep penetration but a very narrow wound channel. I have experienced this situation with my 30-06 using a 165 grain Nosler Partition bullet on a desert bighorn ram at around 500 yards. The entrance and exit were both bullet diameter holes and the ram did not react to the hits at all. He eventually walked over to a ledge, bedded down, and died.

For long range use it is necessary to use a bullet with a high enough ballistic coefficient to retain sufficient velocity at the intended range. This aids in shot placement because of less drop and less wind drift, but it also extends the range at which the bullet retains enough velocity to expand the bullet, what we call the minimum expansion threshold.

Many long range hunters use high BC bullets of a form factor know as VLD (very low drag). These bullets were not designed for hunting but for target use. Sierra specifically states their VLD bullets are not intended for hunting, yet many have used them successfully. Berger on the other hand responded to information coming from hunters who used them for long range big game hunting. These hunters informed Berger on two important considerations. Jump distance and jacket thickness.

Berger, in response to match shooters began to increase the thickness of their jackets to eliminate the occasional bullet that failed to arrive at the target. This phenomenon is known as the blue puff because a bullet that comes apart in the air makes a little blue cloud from the molten lead particles as the bullet spins apart. While thickening the jacket remedied this problem, it degraded the performance on big game. The solution was simple, continue to use the thin jacket bullets for hunting and the thick jacket bullets for targets. This is why the bullets are now packaged in yellow boxes for targets and fluorescent orange boxes for the thinner jacket hunting VLD bullets.

It was once believed that VLD bullets needed to be very close to the lands or even jammed into the lands to perform their best. However, many hunters who were forced to seat the VLD bullets short to fit in the magazines of their rifles. This often resulted in long jump distances. Some times 80 or 120 thousandths of an inch. Yet many hunters reported excellent accuracy whith these long jumps. Berger began to experiment and found that there were often accuracy nodes at specific jump distances of 20, 40, 60 or more thousandths of an inch. This led to a new recommended tuning procedure that you can read on the Berger web site.

While no one can argue that the Berger Hunting VLD bullets produce often dramatic kills, more often than not with the animal overwhelmed and dropping at the shot, there have also been reports of failures to penetrate the heavy shoulder muscles of some western US big game animals. I've not seen this with the Berger hunting VLD bullets but I did see it with early Nosler Ballistic Tip bullets. Nosler has since responded by thickening the jacket profile near the rear of the bullet and most agree that it now performs properly.

Barnes on the other hand has developed an excellent reputation among hunters as a bullet that can be relied upon to penetrate the shoulder muscles of nearly any animal. I have found this to be true as many others have. However the Barnes TSX bullet due to both it's shape and the material it's made of result in a low BC. The range must be restricted to achieve the desired expansion threshold. The Tipped version of the TSX extends the range some what but they fail to achieve truly long range bullet status. In response to this Barnes introduced a high(er) BC bullet design they call the LRX (long range x bullet).

My 6.5 STW is a rifle that can stress the construction of any bullet to the limits so I thought it wold be a good tool to illustrate the difference between these two long range hunting bullets, the Berger 140 grain VLD and the Barnes 127 grain LRX. So off to the range I went with 10% Ballistic Gell blocks and video camera in hand. I loaded both bullets to a muzzle velocity of 3,350 FPS and shot each into the blocks. This got me in trouble with my wife as I used her portable card table. The energy generated from these loads was so great that the expansion forces drove the table legs 3" into the dirt and bowed the frame significantly, I hope I can straighten it.

But on to the results, here are a couple of pics pulled from the video. Can you guess which bullet is which?

Image
Image


Robert J Stokes

User avatar
mchughcb
Moderator
Posts: 10212
Joined: Tue Aug 25, 2009 2:55 am
Location: Melbourne Australia

Re: Terminal Ballistics of Long Range Bullets

Post by mchughcb » Mon Oct 05, 2015 8:44 am

I know bergers blow up so I'd say bergers the first one?
Correct me if I'm wrong :)

ebrownw2
Meister der jagd
Posts: 2308
Joined: Fri Nov 29, 2013 5:50 pm
Location: Oklahoma

Re: Terminal Ballistics of Long Range Bullets

Post by ebrownw2 » Mon Oct 05, 2015 8:53 am

That's my best uneducated guess too. Barnes on bottom. Is that the bullet visible in the pic just exiting the block?

dchamp
Meister der jagd
Posts: 982
Joined: Mon Jul 14, 2014 10:42 pm
Location: USA
Location: Bakersfield, CA

Re: Terminal Ballistics of Long Range Bullets

Post by dchamp » Mon Oct 05, 2015 11:04 am

Great post!!! I would agree with the first photo being the Berger Bullet.

I just got back from elk hunting late last night. I had a cow tag for an area just outside of Meeker Colorado. I was using my Blaser R8 in 6.5-284 with 140gr Berger VLD’s. My MV is 2877 fps and my bullet jump is .095”. The range of my shot was 264 yards.

The cow was standing broadside looking towards us with about nine other cows and a bull. When she was shot she bucked up a little and tried to take a step then collapsed. At first we found no bullet holes neither entry nor exit. After gutting her we discovered that the bullet went through the rear of her shoulder hit a rib while entering her chest then we found a small pencil size hole between two ribs exiting her chest. The chest cavity was nothing but congealed blood in soup. The heart was nowhere to be seen. One contribution to the lack of blood sign might be because she had a healthy layer of fat and was ready for winter. Either way the bullet worked and I have some tasty meat for the freezer.
Cow Elk Meeker CO.jpg
You do not have the required permissions to view the files attached to this post.
I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn't learn something from him. Galileo

The fact that Jellyfish have survived 650 million years, despite not having brains, gives hope to many people. sun-gazing.com

User avatar
stokesrj
Moderator
Posts: 5163
Joined: Mon Jun 17, 2013 12:41 pm
Location: USA
Location: Mesa AZ, USA

Re: Terminal Ballistics of Long Range Bullets

Post by stokesrj » Mon Oct 05, 2015 12:01 pm

Your test medium looks a lot more tasty than mine :)
The performance you describe with yor elk pretty much matches the performance I've seen in the field with the .264" Berger Hunting VLD. I've only shot one elk with a rifle but I've let several friends use my 6.5 STW with the 140 HVLD bullet, none have moved out of the place they were standing when hit. Most were broadside and the bullet placed through the ribs but two were through the shoulders. None exited but all turned the heart and lungs to patte. Most had a shotgun pattern of shrapnel on the opposite rib cage.
Robert J Stokes

User avatar
trazman
Meister der jagd
Posts: 1011
Joined: Mon Feb 21, 2011 10:52 pm
Location: Slovenia - Koper
Location: Europe Slovenia Koper
Contact:

Re: Terminal Ballistics of Long Range Bullets

Post by trazman » Tue Oct 06, 2015 2:14 am

Bob that is a great post! I am always interested in this stuff!
Tomaž Ražman
European Long Range Hunting
http://eu-lrh.com

User avatar
stokesrj
Moderator
Posts: 5163
Joined: Mon Jun 17, 2013 12:41 pm
Location: USA
Location: Mesa AZ, USA

Re: Terminal Ballistics of Long Range Bullets

Post by stokesrj » Tue Oct 06, 2015 7:04 am

The top picture is indeed the 140 grain Berger Hunting VLD and the bottom is the 127 grain Barns LRX.

Here is a picture of the permanent cavity left by the Berger.
Image
Notice that the bullet traveled approximately 2" before it began to disrupt a wide area. Then around 11" it ceased to disrupt a wide area and as evidenced by the lead streak was plowing through the gel cutting it's own path. The recovered bullet did not shed it's core but fragmented down to only 56.1 grains retaining 40% of it's original weight.
Compare the photo of the expanded gel block and you will see the permanent cavity corresponds well. There was a tremendous amount of force released between 2" and 11". Now consider the width of the average deers rib cage and you can imagine what would be going on between 2" and 11". This is what turns hearts and lungs into an unidentifiable liquid.
Bob
Robert J Stokes

ebrownw2
Meister der jagd
Posts: 2308
Joined: Fri Nov 29, 2013 5:50 pm
Location: Oklahoma

Re: Terminal Ballistics of Long Range Bullets

Post by ebrownw2 » Tue Oct 13, 2015 10:17 am

I've been hunting with barnes bullets almost exclusively for the past 10-12 years with great results. Never had any animal go very far, but have had a few that didn't die fast enough. Longest has probably been the moose I just took in Alaska at around 330yards. It was one of those few. Although he was anchored after the first shot with a broken front shoulder, the bullet didn't do enough internal damage to kill him. Well, eventually I suppose it would have, but you get it. It ended up being messy and required a couple more shots. Not ideal.

This post's timing, with that incident fresh on my mind, has convinced me I need to try the Berger VLD hunting bullets. I bought a couple boxes each for my favorite hunting calibers. Got the 87gr for my 243, the 150 grain for my 270win and the 250gr for my 338win. Now I just need to learn how to load them :)

Plus I need to justify all of that reloading stuff that's been accumulating out in my shop.

User avatar
stokesrj
Moderator
Posts: 5163
Joined: Mon Jun 17, 2013 12:41 pm
Location: USA
Location: Mesa AZ, USA

Re: Terminal Ballistics of Long Range Bullets

Post by stokesrj » Tue Oct 13, 2015 10:29 am

It's been pretty much the same for me too, I've never lost an animal using the Barnes X bullets, but I've had some die slow when shot at longer ranges. I'll be doing some more ballistic gel tests at low impact velocities to compare the two bullet styles as they would behave at long range soon.
Bob
Robert J Stokes

User avatar
stokesrj
Moderator
Posts: 5163
Joined: Mon Jun 17, 2013 12:41 pm
Location: USA
Location: Mesa AZ, USA

Re: Terminal Ballistics of Long Range Bullets

Post by stokesrj » Wed Oct 14, 2015 9:59 am

The mechanical method with which a bullet kills an animal and the level of understanding of it held by hunters varies greatly. A wide range of bullets work well, round nose, polymer tipped, bonded or not, they get the job done, and with few complaints, that is if the range is short, 0-300 yards and impact velocities are within the operating range of the bullet design. Once the range is extended the bullet shape becomes much more important. The bullets ability to reach the target with sufficient velocity and resulting energy requires a very efficient bullet shape and design. This is why long range hunters moved to the VLD shapes to begin with.

Berger is clearly in the lead for long range hunting bullets but others are moving in. This is why Barnes introduced the LRX design it is a way to compete with the long range VLD designs. Nosler followed suite with the Accubond Long Range. Nosler gets it, they paid attention to bullet performance at the low impact velocities typical of long range hunting. They designed the Accubond LR to open all the way down to 1,300 FPS. http://www.nosler.com/accubond-long-range-bullet/
The Barnes LRX is an improvement over previous Tipped TSX design for long range use, both in shape and expansion. The minimum expansion velocity of the TTSX is 2,000 FPS but the LRX will expand at a lower velocity, 1,600 FPS.

This will be the area I explore next to better understand long range terminal performance, impact velocities at 1,300 to 1,800 FPS. Now I just need to work up some reduced loads in those velocity ranges, mold some new ballistic gel blocks, and have at it.

Bob
Robert J Stokes

MauserMike
Posts: 117
Joined: Wed Jul 21, 2010 2:37 am
Location: Finland

Re: Terminal Ballistics of Long Range Bullets

Post by MauserMike » Wed Oct 14, 2015 1:17 pm

Thanks Bob!! This is so great! I keep reading your posts over and over again. I'm sure other members appreciate your enthusiasm too. I really enjoy this kind of in-depth approach to long-range hunting.

It's interesting to see these bullets compared. The AccuBond LR is something I've been thinking too. At 190 gr maybe too heavy for 30-06 in LR? Might be more suited to 300WM?
Good judgment is based on experience. Experience is based on bad judgment.

User avatar
sav338
Meister der jagd
Posts: 2233
Joined: Fri May 03, 2013 6:25 am
Location: Australia
Location: Melbourne

Re: Terminal Ballistics of Long Range Bullets

Post by sav338 » Thu Oct 15, 2015 4:03 am

Bob,
That's interesting and I look forward to seeing more of your results.
Here in OZ, Bergers are almost impossible to get . More options are great.
I might look into the Accubonds when I have a little more free time they are easier to get.
Cheers
Steve

User avatar
stokesrj
Moderator
Posts: 5163
Joined: Mon Jun 17, 2013 12:41 pm
Location: USA
Location: Mesa AZ, USA

Re: Terminal Ballistics of Long Range Bullets

Post by stokesrj » Fri Oct 16, 2015 7:32 am

Today I'm working up reduced loads to simulate long range impact velocities using Trail Boss in my 6.5x55 and 6.5 STW. The 6.5x55 holds 15 grains to the base of a seated bullet and the 6.5 STW holds 28 grains. Hodgdon advises that starting loads should be 70% of a full case and max would be a full but uncompressed case. Starting loads are therefore 10.5 grains for the 6.5X55 and 19.5 grains for the 6.5 STW when rounded to the nearest 1/2 grain. Hopefully, I'll find some loads that match the manufacturers claimed minimum impact velocities which are 1,800 for the Berger Hunting VLD, 1,600 for the Barnes LRX and 1,300 for the Nosler Accubond LR. I don't necessarily doubt the manufacturers claims, I just want to see what level of bullet upset happens at these velocities.
I've formed two more test gel blocks and verified callibration to the FBI 10% ballistic gel density standard. This standard requires that a steel BB fired at 580-605 FPS must penetrate 2.95-3.74" and these are about in the middle at 3.3" and 3.4". So I'm good to go, hopefully to the range tomorrow to continue testing.
Bob
Robert J Stokes

User avatar
chalky
Meister der jagd
Posts: 1550
Joined: Thu May 09, 2013 10:03 am
Location: Ireland
Location: Ireland

Re: Terminal Ballistics of Long Range Bullets

Post by chalky » Fri Oct 16, 2015 8:52 am

Best of luck Bob, look forward to seeing the results

Sent from my GT-I8190N using Tapatalk

User avatar
stokesrj
Moderator
Posts: 5163
Joined: Mon Jun 17, 2013 12:41 pm
Location: USA
Location: Mesa AZ, USA

Re: Terminal Ballistics of Long Range Bullets

Post by stokesrj » Sun Oct 18, 2015 10:34 am

It has proven more difficult to achieve the desired reduced velocity that I expected. Previous attempts with other calibers were easy, or I was just lucky.

I developed reduced loads using Trail Boss and H4895 for the 6.5X55 and Trail Boss only for the 6.5 STW beginning with the 140 grain Berger Hunting VLD.

We have seen what this bullet does at very high velocity and it is devastating. I wanted to see what it would do at 1,800 fps impact velocity which would simulate 600 yards for the 6.5X55 or 1,200 yards for the 6.5 STW. However, the highest velocity I achieved for my first attempt at the reduced loads was 1,600 FPS.

I knew this would be insufficient to expand the bullet based upon Bergers documented minimum expansion velocity of 1,800 fps. But seeing as I had already driven two hours to the range I decided to see what the bullet would do at this low velocity any way. I had a pretty good idea of what it would do based upon real life game shots I've seen made which when similar bullets impact at low velocity, they behaved much like a solid bullet but a poor one, due to the pointed shape and empty nose cavity that is easily bent to the side, they tended to veer off course. And that is exactly what this one did.

The bullet penetrated in a straight line for approximately 8" then tumbled. At this point it did swell the ballistic gel block minimally as you can see in the picture. As it tumbled it also veered off course dramatically, exited the block on the lower left side at about the 20" mark and impacted the dirt about three feet to the left of the block and about 5 feet out. It could have easily missed the vital organs of a big game animal.
Image
Robert J Stokes

Post Reply

Return to “Long Range Hunting and  Precision Shooting”