Anyone who knows enough about shooting will appreciate the bullet’s role in determining a rifle’s long range capability. While the rifle, the shooter, and the scope certainly play a large part in determining the overall effective range, it is the bullet’s aerodynamics and ability to overcome air resistance during flight that will ultimately influence the rifle’s long range success.
So what bullet is best for long range shooting, and how do you go about choosing the best bullet for you?
For many years, the open tip match bullet was regarded as the king of long range bullets. In recent years however, very low drag (VLD) bullets have broken new records in long range performance, and are rapidly becoming the preferred bullets for long range shooters across the world.
While the modern VLD bullet has become superior in many ways, they are not always the most suitable choice for a particular setup, as some rifle’s are unable to properly stabilise the bullet. So let’s dig a little deeper into long range bullet options, and hopefully assist you in determining which bullet might be the best choice for your long range rifle.
It all Starts with Ballistic Coefficient
Ballistic Coefficient, commonly referred to as the bullet’s BC, is the measure of a projectile’s exterior ballistic performance, and how well the bullet penetrates and overcomes air resistance during flight.
Ballistic coefficient is essentially a measure of how streamlined or aerodynamic a bullet is, and is expressed as a number. The higher the number, the better the bullet will be for long range efficiency. A bullet with a BC of .535 will therefore outperform a bullet with a BC of .462
There are two common BC’s that you may come across when dealing with long range rifle bullets – namely the G1 and G7 BC’s, which are two different methods of calculating exterior ballistic performance.
- G1 Ballistic Coefficient – this is the older system of measuring BC and is more suitable for flat based bullets, although many bullet manufacturers use this coefficient for boat tail bullets as well, as it is more commonly found.
- G7 Ballistic Coefficient – this is an updated equation and the preferred system of measuring a BC for long range bullets. It provides more accurate and reliable results when calculating trajectory using a ballistics program, so use it when it is available.
When you’re looking for a new bullet that will push your rifle’s accurate effective range to its absolute limits, start looking at bullets with the highest BC possible. We will give you our top 10 recommendations shortly.
The Open Tip Match vs. Very Low Drag Bullet
The Open Tip Match (OTM) bullet, sometimes referred to as a boat-tail hollow-point, is a target bullet that was designed for long range accuracy. For many years the open tip match bullet was classed as the best bullet for long range precision.
This was until Very Low Drag (VLD) bullets came to be known. These bullets are longer and more sleek in character, with a long secant ogive. They overcome air and wind resistance far better than any other bullet, and are often the modern bullet of choice for long range shooting.
But if VLD bullets are superior, then wouldn’t they be the obvious choice? Well not necessarily. The reasons are as follows:
- Shooters may find that VLD bullets are too long to properly fit into their rifle magazines.
- The barrel’s twist rate may not be able to properly stabilise a VLD bullet, classifying the bullet as marginally stable or unstable during flight.
Under these conditions, the open tip match bullet or a more traditional boat-tail bullet may be the better choice.
Will My Bullet Stabilise Properly?
In order for a bullet to meet its maximum ballistic coefficient potential, it requires a certain amount of gyroscopic stability. This gyroscopic stability is produced when the barrel’s twist rate and muzzle velocity are sufficient to impart enough spin onto the projectile.
Faster twist rates impart more spin onto a projectile, and are often capable of stabilising heavier and more aerodynamical bullets, while slower twist rates may struggle, and in severe cases may cause a bullet to tumble from the very start.
Hornady created an excellent VLD bullet for the .223 Remington, which has increased effective range tremendously in some AR-15 style rifles. Let’s use Berger’s Twist Rate Satiability Calculator to determine if this bullet would stabilise in two different AR-15 rifles.
We can see here that the VLD bullet in the rifle with a 1:9 twist does not properly stabilise, and as a result, the BC is compromised by 11% under these shooting conditions. It would therefore be advised to select a different bullet that is capable of properly stabilising in this barrel.
What is the Best Bullet Weight for My Caliber?
Bullet weight can play a huge role in long range accuracy for a number of reasons, and it is no surprise that some rifles will prefer a certain bullet weight over another.
While heavier bullets are generally the better choice when it comes to long range shooting, this isn’t always the case, so some experimentation may be required when the best possible long range accuracy is your goal.
Let’s use the following two .308 Winchester cartridges to demonstrate the advantages of using a heavier bullet over a lighter option.
Hornady 168gr HPBT Match
- G1 Ballistic Coefficient: 0.450
- Effective Range at Sea-level Pressure: 975 meters
|Distance||Velocity||Bullet Drop||Wind Drift|
Hornady 178gr HPBT Match
- G1 Ballistic Coefficient: 0.530
- Effective Range at Sea-level Pressure: 1075 meters
|Distance||Velocity||Bullet Drop||Wind Drift|
And the results are as follows:
- Velocity – the heavier bullet starts off at a slower velocity due to its extra mass, however, as the range increases, the heavier bullet retains velocity better and ends up superseding the lighter bullet. The heavier bullet takes over in velocity shortly after 300 meters.
- Trajectory – the lighter bullet retains a flatter trajectory initially, but the drop evens out at 700 meters, and by the 900 meter point the heavier bullet has incurred 3% less drop than the lighter bullet.
- Wind Drift – the heavier bullet experiences around 15% less drift in the wind.
- Effective Range – the heavier bullet is capable of outshooting the lighter bullet by approximately 100 meters in effective range.
While it is evident that a heavier bullet is the better choice when it comes to long range shooting, it is important to ensure that the bullet will properly stabilise in your chosen rifle.
Our Top 10 Rifle Bullets that Excel at Long Range
The following Match bullets are well worth exploring, with various weights and calibers available:
- Hornady’s Boat-Tail Hollow-Point (BTHP) Match
- Nosler’s Custom Competition
- Sierra’s Hollow-Point Boat-Tail (HPBT) Match
The following VLD bullets will excel at long range performance, but may struggle stabilising in some barrels, and may be a little on the long side for certain magazines:
- Hornady’s A-Max
- Nosler’s Reduced Drag Factor (RDF)
- Berger’s Very Low Drag (VLD) Target
- Berger’s Hybrid Target
- Hornady’s ELD (Extremely Low Drag) Match
- Nosler’s Accubond Long Range (LR)
- Sierra’s Target Match King (TMK)
By use of the following chart, we will use 168-grain .308 Winchester bullets from our 10 recommended long range bullets list to demonstrate the differences in ballistic coefficient and bullet length.
|Brand||Bullet (168gr)||BC (G1)||Length (in)|
The chart shows us that the Sierra TMK has a far higher BC than the Sierra HPBT Match bullet, but the bullet is longer by 0.142in or 3.6mm. This means that the TMK will gain around 20 percent in additional effective range, but will require a faster twist rate and a magazine that allows for an additional 3.6mm of cartridge length.
We hope that we’ve managed to give you a good understanding on the requirements to select the most suitable long range bullet for your rifle.
If you are in search of a VLD bullet with the highest BC, use Berger’s stability calculator to ensure that the bullet with have enough gyroscopic stability in your rifle.
And lastly, don’t buy bullets in bulk before having tested them out in your rifle, as it is a well-known fact that some rifles don’t like certain bullets – for no explainable reason.