Ammo Column 23.4
February 28, 2018
MATCHING THE BULLET TO THE SITUATION
Every year, the SHOT Show produces a stream of new-product announcements — before, during, and after. Predictably, many have to do with bullets and ammunition, and this year was no exception. It would be impossible to cover them all at one time, so we shall pick and choose our topics.
One of my all-time favorite bullet makers is Sierra, originally of California but now located in Sedalia, Missouri. Sierra was one of the early specialist companies founded after 1945. Others were Speer, Nosler, and Hornady. Since then, each has carved out a specific niche, although in recent years all except Sierra have branched out into related parts of the industry.
While Nosler and Hornady have added brass, loaded ammunition, and even — in Nosler’s case — complete rifles to their lines, and Speer has become part of a major conglomerate (Vista, née ATK), Sierra has stuck to its original plan: Making the finest match and hunting bullets they possibly can.
As with others in the industry, the SHOT Show produced a new-product announcement from Sierra: Seven new bullets in their renowned “MatchKing” series. These range from a 95-grain .224 to a 230-grain .308. All are aimed at the semi-booming “long range” market. At first glance, this would seem to have little impact on hunters. After all, no one hunts with these bullets, or even with rifles that can accommodate them.
Over the years, Sierra’s unquestioned prowess in making match bullets has spilled over into a reputation for hunting bullets that are among the most accurate in the field. In turn, however, this has tended to relegate Sierra’s GameKing bullets to also-ran status in the headlong rush to adopt “premium” hunting bullets for all applications. This, I believe, is a mistake.
Since 1990 — and I plead guilty on all counts — hunting writers have promoted tougher bullets that hold together, retain their weight, and penetrate. This is unlike many factory bullets from large companies — Winchester and Remington particularly — which at times seemed to evaporate on impact. Names like Trophy Bonded (now owned by Federal), Swift A-Frames, and Woodleighs took over as the bullets for the cognoscenti, and Sierras and Hornadys fell from grace.
I am still all for a bullet that holds together and penetrates, but just as there is such a thing as a bullet that is too soft, there are also bullets that are too tough. On impact with smaller animals, they behave like a solid, don’t open up, and zip on through, causing little immediate damage and leaving no blood trail.
In Africa, there are all kinds of animals that can and should be hunted using bullets that will open up more readily. Thomson’s gazelles, Grant’s gazelles, duikers, impalas, reedbuck, bushbuck — all are small, lightly constructed animals that present little resistance, and without resistance, no bullet opens up.
John Taylor was among the African hunters who insisted that, on such animals, no bullet was superior to a pure lead projectile (in black-powder days) and later, one that showed “a lot of blue” in the nose. The latter is a bullet with a light jacket and a good deal of lead showing, promoting rapid expansion.
Generally speaking, the Sierra GameKings are “soft” softs, whereas a bullet like the Nosler Partition or Swift A-Frame could be called a “hard” soft. GameKings open up reliably at lower velocities. This lower velocity could be the result of starting out slower or striking the animal at longer range. Regardless, it’s all to the good, and combined with Sierra’s consistently dependable accuracy, provides all-around loads that perform a multitude of tasks reliably.
Although Sierra has never produced loaded ammunition, more and more ammunition companies are loading Sierras as a “premium” load. Usually, these are MatchKings, in match ammunition, but sometimes they do it to provide a hunting load like those described above. HSM in Montana is one such.
I doubt that anyone at Sierra is losing sleep because its bullets are more associated with match shooting and ultra-accuracy than with hunting. In this age of long-range tack drivers, that’s an excellent reputation to have. I just hope they never decide to abandon the hunting market, because several of their bullets are among my favorites.
One bullet that should be noted is the .375 300-grain GameKing spitzer boat-tail. That bullet was developed long, long ago, specifically for the .378 Weatherby, as a long-range projectile for soft-skinned game. Essentially, it was to provide the same service as a 250- or 270-grain bullet in the .375 H&H, and it was practically unique in that regard.
There may have been no new hunting bullets in this year’s offerings from Sierra but, to the best of my knowledge, they did not discontinue any of my favorite bullets, of which there are a couple of dozen. And as long as Sierra continues to refine its match bullets, we can expect their game bullets to be pulled along in the slipstream, getting better all the time.