Hunting Bullet Buyer's Guide .............[and Handgun Ammo Specs]....

By: Dan Carlson

Selecting the right ammunition for your hunting trip was pretty straightforward decades ago. It seemed that there were fewer calibers to choose from, and a bullet was a bullet in those days. Today you'll find myriad options on the ammo shelves at your favorite sporting goods store, and discussion of ammunition can often sound like a college lesson in aerodynamics if you don't speak the language. If you're new to shooting or just want to brush up on the lingo, hopefully this will help.

Hunting Bullet Buyer's Guide

The basics of modern hunting bullets center on three areas: design, shape and weight. Design has to do with the construction of the bullet. It can be a projectile made entirely of lead, made entirely of another metal such as copper, or a combination of metals such as a lead core or interior encased in another kind of metal.

Shape is rather self-explanatory, but it is closely tied to a bullet's design. The abbreviations used to indicate bullet shape and design are often also related to the construction. Here is a partial list of popular shape/configuration designations found in modern rifle ammunition:


BT Boattail (pointed tip with the perimeter of the base angled inward)


Boattail hollow point

BTHP Boattail hollow point (boattail with a hollow-point tip)


Cast bullet

CB Cast bullet (jacketless and cast from a single metal or alloy)


Full metal jacket

FMJ Full metal jacket (bullet core enveloped in a jacket except for base)


Flat nose

FN Flat nose (projectile with a very flat front)


Flat point

FP Flat point (tip tapers somewhat to a flat point)


Hollow point

HP Hollow point (tip has an open cavity for rapid expansion)


Jacketed flat point

JFP Jacketed flat point (sides are fully jacketed to an exposed flat tip)


Jacketed hollow point

JHP Jacketed hollow point (sides are fully jacketed to a hollow-point tip)


Jacketed soft point

JSP Jacketed soft point (sides are fully jacketed to an exposed lead tip)


Pointed soft point

PSP Pointed soft point (bullet tapers to a sharp, softer metal tip)


Round nose

RN Round nose (front of bullet is very rounded)


Round nose flat point

RNFP Round nose flat point (bullet front rounds to a sudden flat point)


Round nose lead

RNL Round nosed lead (round nose bullet made of lead or lead alloy)



SJ Semi-jacketed (metal jacket extends only part way up bullet sides)


Semi-jacketed hollow point

SJHP Semi-jacketed hollow point (hollow point partially jacketed)


Semi-jacketed soft point

SJSP Semi-jacketed soft point (soft point partially enclosed in a jacket)


Soft point

SP Soft point (bullet with a tip made of softer metal for rapid expansion)



SPTZ Spitzer (a pointed bullet with a flat, untapered base)


The final of the basic three bullet descriptors is weight as expressed in grains; the higher the number, the heavier the bullet. If you grab a box of cartridges for your .30-06 off the shelf and the box reads 165-gr. BTSP, you're holding a box of shells that will shoot 165-grain boattail soft point bullets.

Though these are the basics of bullet construction, ammunition manufacturers often throw their own designs and abbreviations into the mix. The Nosler Ballistic Tip and Winchester Silvertip, for example, are both jacketed, pointed bullets with their own tip material. Whenever there is any doubt in your mind about selecting the correct ammunition for your firearm, be sure to ask a sales associate or customer service representative before you buy, as most ammunition points of sale do not accept returns.

Weight retention is key to efficient bullet performance, especially on big game, and ammunition makers have a number of ways to ensure optimal expansion without the bullet coming apart. Nosler's famous Partition® bullet is one example. A specially designed jacket tapers to a soft point that will "mushroom" on impact and allow the jacket to peel back. This increases both shock and the diameter of the wound channel. What makes the Nosler Partition® special is that the core is divided into two sections - a front section engineered for optimal expansion, and a rear section designed to hold together and use its mass to drive the projectile deeper into game.

Bonding is another method of keeping bullets together on impact. It's a process whereby the copper jacket is "bonded" to the core bullet material (usually lead) in order to prevent the core and jacket from separating. Bonded bullets are an excellent choice for big-game hunters and have delivered impressive results in the field. Among the popular brands of bonded bullets available are Federal's Trophy Bonded® Bear Claw and Fusion™, the Swift A-frame® and Sirocco®, Speer's Grand Slam®, Remington's Core-Lokt® Ultra, Nosler's Accubond™ and Hornady's Interbond™ to name a few.

The solid bullet is one that has no jacket and core, but is one kind of metal throughout. Technically, musket balls and lead conicals are solids because they are lead all the way through, but these days some hunters in pursuit of big and dangerous game often opt for something more modern. Barnes makes an excellent solid copper-alloy bullet that performs very well on big and nasty game animals. Solids are generally not intended to expand but instead to dedicate all of their energy to penetration of thick hide and bone. There are expandable "solids" in the Barnes X™ line of bullets, and they're engineered to open large wound channels without the possibility of jacket and core separation, because no jacket or core is involved in their construction.

There is truly no shortage of choices when it comes to the selection of modern bullets that rifle hunters have available. Trial and error at a rifle range will teach you which bullets shoot best from your gun. Remember, however, when it comes down to the shot at that trophy of a lifetime, shot-placement is every bit as critical as the kind of bullet you shoot.