Bullets penetrate differently based on their design. Choosing the right bullet that corresponds with the desired shot placement improves efficiency.

As I continue to get to know more and more hunters and shooters, I realize just how basic most folks’ working knowledge is about rifles, ballistics, projectiles, etc. The magazines and internet are full of suggestions, pros and cons and some actual field performance reports. It can be confusing. The following are some tips about how to know which bullets to choose.

An honest self-examination must take place. Firstly, where do you like to shoot your game animals? Location is just as important as bullet performance. If you’re a “behind the shoulder” type, most any soft bullet will penetrate the ribs and expand in the vitals. If you are an “in the shoulder” type, a thicker-jacketed bullet would be more reliable due to its increased penetrative abilities.

As the accompanying graphic shows, not all bullets are the same. Collected by myself or close friends from game animals or test media, you can see various bullets perform in various different ways.

Growing up, I constantly was brow-beaten with the two schools of thought. The first school of thought believed that ideal bullet performance occurred when a lighter bullet penetrated to the vitals and fragmented, theoretically expending all its energy within the animal. The second school of thought was that one should load a heavy bullet that would penetrate the extent of the chest cavity, exiting the off side, theoretically causing more rapid hemorrhaging via both the entrance and exit wounds.

Neither are wrong in this case if your chosen bullet is compatible with your idea of perfect shot placement. Lighter, higher-velocity bullets with thin jackets seldom penetrate in heavy, bone dense areas such as the front shoulder. A bullet that splatters on the outside of the shoulder will not provide any kind of mortal wounding, merely lesions in the skin and underlying tissue, leaving your game animal free to escape.

Likewise, heavier, thicker-jacketed bullets need greater resistance for positive expansion. Thinner tissues such as the ribs do not provide much resistance, and these heavier bullets commonly pass right through without providing much shock. This will still result in the death of your game animal, but they may cover 100-200 yards before piling up.

The over-the-counter “Power Points and Core-Lokts” are very basic bullets and feature soft core, thin jackets designed to expand in minimal resistance. The “bonded core and monometals” are engineered to retain weight and require much more resistance for their expansion. Some efforts have been made over the years to combine the quick upset and deep penetration bullet theories with mixed results.

Each kind of bullet will be effective on our intended quarry if we pay attention to shot placement. Whatever your idea of perfect performance might be, there are likely several bullets out there that would fit the bill, provided you’re using an appropriate caliber for your intended game. If you do experience bullet failure, consider your shot placement — likely as not, you’re using the wrong kind of bullet for your desired shot placement. My advice to you is once you’ve found a bullet that works, stick with it. As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

What’s your go-to bullet? Email us at shootingthebreezebme@gmail.com.

Dale Valade is a local country gent with a deep love for handloading, hunting and shooting.


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