The bullet is changing. It is happening slowly, but it is happening.
The last twenty or so years have seen a couple of trends: firstly, the perfection of the monometal bullet, and secondly the adoption of the bonded core. Let’s talk monometals first.
Initially, I loved the concept. You have a projectile that is built of solid copper, much harder than lead, which simply won’t come apart. The problems associated with jacket separation were a thing of the past.
The only problem with these early monometals was the fact that they didn’t shoot well at all. The problem was solved by cutting grooves into the shank of the bullet, to reduce the bearing surface, and thereby reducing pressures and coincidentally increasing accuracy. The hollowpoint opens reliably, and it gives us hunters something to ponder.
The acceptable minimums, set forth by the shooting experts of 50 or more years ago, need to be reestablished. In other words, the rifles and cartridges, and even bullet weights for that matter, that were considered marginal in years past, are no longer marginal.
A good example is the .270 Winchester as an elk cartridge, which in the past has been considered too light. The monometal bullet has changed that idea; a good 140- or 150-grain monometal bullet will neatly dispatch any elk God ever put on earth. Another way of looking at it is from the bullet weight perspective. The performance of a .308 caliber, 150- or 165-grain monometal will be on par with a 180-grain cup-and-core. That changes things.
Now, about those bonded core bullets. By chemically bonding the core to the jacket, you get a bullet that will expand reliably, but the bonding process prevents any separation.
The grooved bullet shank shows its face again in the bonded core realm in the guise of the North Fork bullet. There are many little grooves along the shanks of these bullets, again reducing pressure and showing fantastic accuracy. My 6.5-284 Norma has put five 140-grain North Fork hollowpoints into ½ MOA routinely.
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The dangerous-game solids also have this ‘grooved shank’ feature, with the Woodleigh Hydrostatically Stabilized Solid coming quickly to mind. You’re starting to see a trend here.
How does this affect us handloaders? Well, in a couple of different ways.
When loading for these bullets you’ll see that the lower pressures they deliver can lead to a change in required powder loads. North Fork recommends lowering the powder charge by 4 percent or so to arrive at the same ballistics associated with bullets that have a smooth shank, while Woodleigh recommends using identical load data will give good results.
If you take a glance at the Barnes Reloading Manual, you’ll notice quite a few of the loads are compressed. This is mainly due to the fact that the copper bullets are longer than the cup-and-core bullets, and eat up a bit more of the case capacity. However, the manner in which the TSX and TTSX build pressures allow you to achieve the same velocities with less powder.
I have found the best accuracy with Barnes bullets while using the faster-burning powders. When it comes to grooved North Fork bullets, they are a bit of a different animal. They keep their weight forward, allowing for more case capacity, rather than less, and the tiny grooves will actually help to keep your barrel cleaner, longer.
As a matter of interest, the folks at North Fork have told me stories of bench rest shooters using the North Fork bullets as a ‘cleaning round’ to keep the bore clean in between round of match grade bullets. The North Fork company does not produce a reloading manual, so you’ll have to use other data and start from the bottom end of the spectrum until you find your accuracy level and speed you’re after.
These newer designs are here to stay, and I’m glad, because they have proven to be both very accurate, and to perform well on game animals. They just need to be handled with a bit of a different mind set.