Bullet Basics

Defining The Myriad Uses,
Shapes And Styles Of Projectiles.

Last year I wrote a column titled, “They Aren’t Bullets” concerning how our idiotic news media is forever referring to loaded ammunition as bullets. It is not—bullets are simply projectiles. Also they are not “heads” as is done on some Internet auction sites. They are bullets.

There exists a vast array of bullet types. Today we have jacketed bullets and lead-alloy bullets, plus the relatively new all-copper bullets caused by the politically-inspired hysteria about lead dangers.

Bullet Styles

Jacketed bullets consist of a lead-alloy core covered in a gilding metal jacket. Jacketed bullets come in many styles and configurations. Regardless of whether meant for rifles or handguns, there are full metal-jacketed ones (FMJ) most seen in military ammunition. Then there are hollowpoints and softnoses (JHP and JSP). Hollowpoint rifle bullets can be target types which are not meant to expand. The hollowpoint is there to move the center of gravity rearwards for better stability at distance. Hollowpoints that do expand are meant for shooting live critters so the expanding bullets do maximum damage. In rifles those are usually for varmints, but in handgun bullets they are most often meant for self-defense.

Softnose jacketed rifle bullets can be spitzers, roundnoses and roundnose/flatpoints. For rifle shooting, there are flat-base jacketed bullets and boattail jacketed bullets and they exist in both target types and hunting types. A common misconception is boattail bullets give better accuracy, which is actually a misnomer for precision. It’s not necessarily true. Some of the most accurate (precise) target bullets I’ve ever fired in rifles capable of sub-1/2 MOA groups have been flat base.

The true origin of boattail bullets was for long-range shooting in machine guns circa World War I. The flight characteristics of boattail bullets increased maximum range of bullets fired from high power cartridges such as the German 8x57mm Mauser or American .30-06. Consider this: Strip the fins off of a German V2 rocket from 1945 and its profile is exactly the same as a boattail bullet. Somewhere along the way hunters got the idea boattail bullets were ideal for them too, but in actual fact they offer little or no significant advantages inside 300 yards or so.

Now let’s turn to lead alloy bullets. There are two basic types: Cast and swaged. Cast bullets are formed when molten lead alloys are poured into molds expressly cut so the finished bullet drops in a certain shape, weight and diameter. Cast bullets are mostly produced by handloaders at home or by commercial casters who sell bullets in bulk.


Pouring your own lead alloy bullets is the easiest manner by which home handloaders can try a wide variety of bullet weights and shapes. Here, on the semi-auto’s slide are (from left to right) roundnose and roundnose/flatpoint bullets, which are optimum for functioning in autoloaders. On the revolver barrel (from left to right) are a variety of cast bullets in wadcutter, conical, roundnose/flatpoint and semiwadcutter with gas-check designs. All are fine for revolver shooting.

Home casters have several advantages. They can alter their lead-based alloys for hardness, and to a minor degree, to change bullet diameter. They also have the choice of hundreds upon hundreds of designs for rifle and handgun bullets, and finally they are not at the whim of panic buyers who cause unnecessary shortages. The disadvantage to home casting is time and space.

Cast handgun bullets come in many shapes: wadcutters (WC), semi-wadcutters (SWC), roundnose (RN) roundnose/flatpoint (RN/FP), plus hollowpoint (HP) and hollowbase (HB). WC’s were developed for paper-target shooting because they cut full-caliber holes. SWC’s do the same but are also commonly used for hunting. RN’s are archaic and were actually called “balls” in the early days of cartridge-firing handguns. The only advantage they offer to my knowledge is they slide easily into revolver chambers and almost always feed well in autoloaders.

RN/FPs were developed for use in tubular magazine lever- and pump-action rifles and carbines so the nose of a bullet did not endanger the primer of a round ahead of it in the magazine. They can also perform well on game. All the above type bullets can be had as plain-base or gas-check types, except I’ve never seen a WC meant for gas checks. The purpose of a gas check is to protect the bullet’s base in high-pressure loads. They are seldom needed for handgun bullets traveling under about 1,000 feet per second.


All of these cast bullets offer good shooting from most .30 caliber rifles
despite their differences in nose shape. These include (from left to right)
the Lyman mold No. 31141 flatnose, Lyman 311291 roundnose, Lyman 311299
semi-spitzer, RCBS 30-200SIL flatpoint and Lyman 311284 roundnose.


These five bullets, all loaded in .30-06’s, illustrate some of the many configurations
available in jacketed factory made bullets. They are (from left to right) 150-grain
flat base spitzer, 150-grain boattail polymer nose spitzer, 150-grain boattail spitzer,
155-grain hollowpoint/boattail for target shooting, and 155-grain boattail, polymer
nose target bullet.

Cast rifle bullets come in spitzer, semi-spitzer, roundnose and roundnose/flatpoint styles with again, the latter types coming about due to tubular magazines. Most cast bullet designs from .22 to .375 for use in high-power rifles are gas-check types. Big-bore rifle bullets often are plain base because they are shot at slower speeds but gas-check versions are fairly common too. A good cut-off velocity would be about 1,400 to 1,500 fps. Under that and rifle bullets usually do not need gas checks, but over that they do.

Swaged lead bullets can be had in all the above styles with even a few made to take gas checks. (Remington’s old 240-grain lead SWC .44 Magnum load was one such.) They are necessarily soft because they are cold-formed by squeezing in massive machines, although a minor number of handloaders do take upon themselves to cold form their own bullets with hand-powered equipment. Being soft, swaged lead handgun bullets usually work best when fired under about 900 fps. Swaged lead rifle bullets under .45 caliber are seldom encountered.

And that is a brief synopsis of bullet basics. Remember they are projectiles: Just one component of several needed for a fully loaded cartridge.
By Mike “DUKE” Venturino
Photos: Yvonne Venturino

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