By Joe Arterburn

Bullet choice is very important when selecting your gear for a hunt. While no bullet can guarantee a one-shot kill, using the correct bullet for the type of game that you will be hunting will greatly increase your odds of a quick, clean kill. Different bullets are made to do different jobs, and not all bullets are designed for hunting. When shopping for bullets and ammunition, you generally "get what you pay for”; meaning that your hunting ammunition is going to be more expensive than target or "range" ammunition. Price is actually a fairly good measuring stick of quality, as more expensive ammunition is going to be loaded with better components and manufactured to higher standards of quality. Premium hunting bullets and ammunition cost more money, but their performance on game is well worth the increased expense. This article will help you understand what to look for in a hunting bullet, and which bullets you should avoid using on game.

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Most rifle bullets fall into three general categories: Varmint bullets, Target bullets, and Controlled Expansion Big Game hunting bullets. Varmint bullets are designed with thin copper jackets and soft cores so that they will expand rapidly and fragment upon impact. These bullets are not tough enough to ethically kill big game such as deer, hogs, and elk.

Premium Hunting Bullets

Varmint bullets should not be used for hunting large game because they are not designed to penetrate the heavier muscle and bones of a game animal. Like varmint bullets, target bullets are also usually made with thin copper jackets and soft cores. Target bullets should not be used on game, as they do not have expansion characteristics engineered into their design. Target bullets typically will not expand at all or will fragment violently on impact. Either case is undesirable for use on game as the wound channel will be unpredictable, and usually not sufficient to damage the vitals extensively enough for a clean kill. Premium, Controlled Expansion bullets like a Nosier AccuBond® are designed specifically for hunting big game. These bullets are built to be tougher to retain weight and penetrate deeply. These bullets are also designed to expand consistently on impact so that they will create predictable,highly effective wound channels to kill game quickly and reliably.

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The three types of bullets most commonly used for hunting and shooting are Cup and Draw, Impact Extruded (Premium), and Homogeneous (one-piece). The first two, Cup and Draw and Impact Extruded, are made up of a lead core surrounded by a copper jacket. Homogeneous bullets are made entirely out of a single piece of copper or copper alloy with no lead, which is legally required in some states and hunting areas. The bullets best suited to hunting large big game are Impact Extruded and Homogeneous bullets. Due to their tough construction, these types of bullets expand consistently, penetrate deeply, and harvest game ethically.The biggest difference between Cup and Draw bullets and Impact Extruded bullets is the thickness of the copper jacket around the lead core. In general, a thicker jacket provides higher weight retention, deeper penetration, and better performance on game. Cup and Draw bullets usually have thin jackets that expand more rapidly on impact and don't always penetrate deeply enough to effectively damage the vitals to harvest game cleanly. Some examples of Impact Extruded Premium Hunting bullets are the Nosler Partition®, AccuBond®, and Ballistic Tip®. An example of a homogeneous hunting bullet is the Nosler E-Tip® which is made from a single piece of copper and features a polymer tip up front to help initiate expansion on impact.

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 Terminal Performance

 How a bullet is made will have a tremendous impact on how it performs on game animals. The way a bullet acts when it hits an animal is referred to as “Terminal Performance”. This is what the bullet does as it passes through the skin, muscle, bone, and vital organs of an animal. For a bullet to be effective, it needs to expand enough to make a large wound channel while also retaining enough weight to penetrate deeply to reach the vital organs such as the heart and lungs. If a bullet expands too much, it won’t penetrate as deeply, and if a bullet doesn’t ‘t expand enough, it will penetrate very deeply without doing as much damage on the way through. A premium controlled expansion bullet like a Ballistic Tip® has design features that balance expansion and penetration to create a good wound channel that penetrates deeply enough to damage internal organs.


 Bullet caliber (or diameter) and weight also have an impact on how well a bullet will perform on a game animal. In general,larger game calls for the use of larger, heavier bullets while smaller game can be taken with smaller, lighter bullets. This needs to be balanced with the choice of cartridge, as too large a cartridge will generate excess recoil and will be difficult to shoot accurately. Too small a cartridge, while easy to shoot, may not be powerful enough to kill a large game animal quickly and clearly.


 The most important factor when choosing a hunting bullet is whether or not it shoots accurately in your rifle. The best terminal performance in the world doesn't do you any good if the shot doesn't strike the animal where you are aiming. Every rifle barrel is different, and some will show a preference for different types or weights of bullets. Some rifles shoot lead-cored bullets better than homogeneous bullets, some rifles will shoot 165 grain bullets well, but don't like 180 grain bullets, while some rifles seem to shoot everything equally well. The only way to determine what your rifle likes is to experiment at the range. Before settling on a particular type of bullet and ammunition, don't be afraid to experiment with three or four different bullets to find which one your rifle likes best. As long as you are using a premium bullet designed for big game hunting that is heavy enough for the game you pursue, use the bullet that is most accurate in your rifle. At the end of the day, accuracy will promote confidence, and confidence in your equipment will help you be a more effective hunter.