The Solid Bullet Debate

Discussion in 'Rifles, Bullets, Barrels & Ballistics' started by Eric Stecker, Jun 19, 2009.

  1. Eric Stecker

    Eric Stecker <b>SPONSOR</b>

    Jul 27, 2007
    To All,

    A debate started on a different thread (link below) that was not consistent with the subject of that thread. This thread is the result of my suggestion to move the debate to an appropriate thread so the discussion can remain focused (as much as these things do). You are encouraged to read the other thread but since it is very lengthy I will basically start this conversation from scratch.


    I know you to be very intelligent. It is likely that I am about to learn some valuable lessons. Based on some of your comments on the other thread it appears that you are less interested in exploring the subject and more interested in proving me wrong. I've been beat up before and consider these beatings life lessons so let's away.

    Your last post on the other thread included this statement:

    I must admit that I can only engage in a debate over the generalities of commonly available solid bullet (up to and including 30 cal) performance. I have no experience with the cases, propellants and barrels to which you are referring. Since these items are not well known (or even available to the public) you may be correct that this debate lacks any value. I will leave it to you to decide whether it is worth engaging.

    I told you that on a new thread I would respond to your following statement:

    Since I know absolutely nothing about your new bullet or the cases, propellants and barrels you are referring to I can only speak on those solid bullet of which I am currently aware.

    I disagree. Competition target shooters are interested in two things; precision and accuracy. Over the decades of the development of target shooting competitions every possible combination has been tried by someone in the hope that they would find a better mousetrap. Solid bullets do not make it to the range on match day for the vast majority of target competitions.

    Those who do use solid bullets (50 cal) are frequently asking us to build them jacketed bullets. They are unsatisfied with the MOA performance of the solids they are using but admittedly these solids perform better than existing jacketed bullets in this application. This one target competition exception and the fact that there are few absolutes is why I would not say that solid bullets are "always" less accurate jacketed bullets.

    I disagree with this when I consider it from my point of view. A solid bullet is made with materials that are lighter than lead. Two bullets with exactly the same shape will have the same BC if both bullets weigh the same. Since a solid bullet weighs less it will have a lower BC. If you are comparing a very long, sleek solid to a blunt jacketed bullet of the same weight then sure the solid can have a higher BC but this is not a fair comparison.

    I understand that your statement does not refer to a comparison. This however is the basis for any statements I've made regarding the BC of solid bullets. I will concede that I agree with your statement if we are talking only about a solid bullet not being restricted to a low BC. Of course this is possible once you define "what is a low BC?" I am certain that once this question is answer it will be possible to construct a solid bullet that will have a BC that meets or exceeds this standard.

    I must add to this that if the BC standard used to define "low BC" is high enough to require the solid to be extremely long then the construction of this very long solid no matter how well it is made is subject to other realities that will affect its ability to be precise. Unusually long bullets requiring faster than typical twist rates will spin at very high RPMs. This is no problem if everything is in perfect balance around the axis but even if the bullet is perfectly balanced by construction the barrel and rifling can affect balance in ways that the bullet maker can't control.

    Additionally, I said I do not know anything about the cases, propellants and barrels to which you are referring. However I am aware enough to know that if you or those you work with have discovered a combination which is capable of pushing a solid bullet at remarkably high velocities then BC will of course be positively affected. Also, if what you say is true that this new combination is capable of such velocity that no jacketed bullet could withstand the forces then that would also make me agree with the first statement regarding accuracy. There would be no comparable jacketed bullet that could be used as a comparison to define inherent accuracy under these conditions.

    I disagree but this is admittedly a subjective assessment. It would be difficult to quantify this to a standard so each hunter must make their own judgment based on the information available. I'll add that my subjective opinion is based on my understanding of existing solids shot with readily available cases, propellant and barrels. If you have developed a combination that performs differently than existing solids then I may agree with this statement should your combination prove to be effective at ELR hunting.

    You may say that if my assessment is subjective then I am unable to make such a statement and that making such a statement is no different than what I criticized Barnes of doing. The problem with this argument is that things that cannot be quantified must be left to judgment. It is my judgment that Barnes comments are unsupportable. Stating that choosing a hunting bullet based on BC is "unethical and careless" is not a supportable statement. I believe based on other comments you've made that you agree.

    I believe our statement with which you take issue is supportable. It may not be supportable in a manner you define as conclusive but I do not answer to you. I answer to the many hunters who use our bullets successfully. Those who use them know that I am correct when I say that the Berger Hunting VLD is the most capable bullet for dispatching quickly an animal at long range. In my opinion making it the most or "only" (sales short hand) ethical option.

    I have been putting myself and my product out there for decades. You stated that;
    I believe that the consistently successful results achieve by the product I produce says more about me than my ability to debate with you. I engage in these "conversations" for the sake of the shooters and selfishly for my own education. My inability to match your intellect hardly makes me or most of those who engage these forums ill equipped. Only one man in history could speak on subjects against which no one could successfully debate.

    There. The target has been painted and I am eager to hear your comments so that I may expand my knowledge of such things. I'll remind you and state for those who did not read the other thread that I have no interest in engaging in a Ford vs. Chevy pissing contest. If you have come up with a revolutionary development then this will be good for shooting and I support it. Many folks are working hard to do the same thing and if you are successful then you are to be congratulated.

    My statements above are commonly held beliefs about existing solid bullets and I encourage you or anyone to develop a solid or any bullet that advances the shooting sports. It is only through evolution (or a revolution in your case) of products and active interest in new and better ways of doing things that the shooting sports will thrive and grow.

    Last edited: Jun 19, 2009
  2. noel carlson

    noel carlson Well-Known Member

    Mar 3, 2009

    As a point of initial clarification, the life of Christ is not a grounding for debate, as a general proposition, per se. His qualifications arise from atoneing capacity, not academics. It would not be an indictment of his brand of virtue to fail a freshman physics exam. My comment to you was over-the-top upon review. The point I intended to make is that there is no reason that you should be prepared for this specific "debate" (your term).

    We will just have to disagree on the import of the Berger video claim. By that token however, I would expect you to cut Barnes slack on that "ethics" issue... and it was clearly a major bone of contention within your article.

    Regarding the points in your response, I wrongly assumed that Bryan had briefed you on at least some aspects of my work... until I recalled that he is under an NDA, and possibly wanted to avoid the topic altogether. That is just the type of guy he is.

    " 'I disagree'... that solids are not inherently less accurate."... The fundamental limitation to common solid design in this regard has to do with engraving, both in consistent friction, and in-bore cant properties. That weakness is turned into an asset when precision turned engraving-bands are used, and this idea is, at least, 100 years old (not revolutionary).

    " 'I disagree'... that solids are not restricted to a low BC."... You make an assumption about the lead density advantage in short bullets (less than six calibers). This advantage not only evaporates past six calibers, but becomes a liability. If you were able to make a seven-caliber jacketed bullet, and somehow flatten the pressure curve enough to achieve a high exit velocity (3,000+ fps), the required spin rate (~500,000 rpm depending on caliber) still becomes problematic. By contrast, a copper projectile has the perfect specific gravity for this convergence of conditions. Once more, this is neither a revelation, nor revolutionary.

    Not to punt, but I am going to be inaccessable for the remainder of the day. I invite everyone to feel free, and "fire away" irregardless. I will get back tonight.


  3. Michael Eichele

    Michael Eichele Well-Known Member

    Jan 6, 2003

    The best thing to do here is ignore noel. He goes off like this every time there is a bullet discusion.

    You dont need to prove anything to us. We all KNOW what your bullets are capable of.
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2009
  4. steve smith

    steve smith Well-Known Member

    Jul 4, 2001

    Bergers have far exceeded my expectations! On paper and in game.
  5. phorwath

    phorwath Well-Known Member

    Apr 4, 2005
    I'm game for this discussion. I'd like to hear what you're up to Noel. You and Eric are both sharp and knowledgeable in your areas of specialty. I'm a part-timer. If we get an exchange of technical information - everything bullets - I expect an interesting "state-of-the-art" thread. I look forward to it.
  6. cavtrooper94

    cavtrooper94 Well-Known Member

    May 10, 2009
    All I need to know is that my 308 pushing 175 gr VLD's put 5 in a group the size of a dime, and they kill the crap out of everything they touch.

  7. BryanLitz

    BryanLitz <b>Official LRH Sponsor</b>

    Mar 8, 2007
    I'd like to weigh in on a couple aspects of this discussion regarding the interesting physical contrast between solid and conventional (lead core) bullets.

    First was the point of inherent accuracy (precision, to be precise).

    Not considering the rifle, only the projectile, there are a few things that will affect inherent precision. Most notably; the balance of the bullet, and it's alignment. Keeping in mind that both of these components of dispersion are proportional to spin rate, there are several pro's and con's for solids and conventional bullets regarding dispersion.

    Inherent precision of solids.
    1. No jacket so no worry about jacket run out, which is a potential source of imbalance for conventional bullets.
    2. No imperfections associated with forming the ogive (square and level top to the lead core inside the ogive and meplat irregularities).
    3. Freedom to design the most optimal configuration of bullet diameter and driving bands for minimizing in-bore tilt.

    1. A solid bullet of equal weight as a conventional bullet requires a faster twist rate. The major components of dispersion related to twist rate are magnified by the faster required twist.
    2. Consistency of material density. I don't know this for sure, but I suspect that a lead core that's swaged would stand to have a more uniform density (and therefor better balance) than the material that's used to make solid bullets.

    Inherent precision of conventional (lead core) bullets.
    1. Slower twist requirements
    2. Possibly a more consistent density (homogeneous) core.

    1. Jacket is a possible source of imbalance
    2. Imperfections from swaging procedure (top of core and meplat imperfections)

    I'm not trying to paint a picture that one type of bullet is better than another, just sharing some thoughts about the considerations regarding inherent precision of the two types of bullets.

    Like Eric, I have never seen anyone at a rifle match of any kind using solid projectiles. However, I don't think that proves that solid bullets can't be made to achieve high precision; it just means no-one has actually been able to do it yet. Maybe the odds are stacked too much against solid bullet precision, or maybe no-one has tried hard enough yet. Time will tell. I don't think any of the pro's or con's in the list above are decisively in favor of one or the other, just a different and unique set of challenges for each technology.

    As for ballistic performance (BC) potential...

    There are also pros and cons.

    Ballistic performance for solid bullets
    1. More freedom to create aggressive shapes that are not possible, or easy to make consistently using swaging (for example, needle sharp points).
    2. Higher achievable max velocity.

    1. Density. In my mind, this is the biggest downside of solid projectiles. To match the conventional (lead core) 'heavyweights', less dense projectiles have to be extremely long, so long that extremely fast twists are required. There is a limit to how fast you can expect a barrel to spin a bullet.

    Density is very important to the potential ballistic performance of a projectile. The materials that are commonly used for solid bullets (copper, bronze, steel) all have lower density than lead, so they have to make up for it in profiling.

    If the solid is made with a profile that's 10% lower drag than the conventional bullet, and the solid is 10% lighter, then the two bullets will have essentially the same BC. In this example, the solid has an advantage because it will achieve a higher muzzle velocity (because it's lighter), and having an equal BC, will beat the conventional bullet.

    The above example is possible, even likely when comparing a low drag solid to a high drag conventional bullet, but when compared to a conventional bullet that's already got a good profile, it will be very hard to make up 10% of drag. Maybe 3 to 5%, but probably not enough to make up for the lower weight of the solid. In this case it's still not clear which is 'better' because the solid will have an advantage in velocity, but with a slightly lower BC. If the solid does come out on top, I wouldn't expect it to be a large advantage.

    Everything changes if the solid can be made with a material of equal or greater density than lead. In that case, the external ballistic performance definitely would be in favor of the solid.

    If the bullet and riflesmiths figure out how to make a heavy weight solid (180 grain 7mm, 230 grain .308, or 300 grain .338 for example) shoot consistently, it will likely have an advantage over the conventional bullet in BC due to superior profiling. But if the challenges of stabilizing a super duper long heavy solid are met, then the conventional bullet can just put on some weight, use a faster twist (but still not as fast as the solid requires) and be back in the game. Wildcat bullets come to mind as an extremely heavy line of conventional bullets with demanding twist requirements. I doubt any solid bullet made from material less dense than lead can be made as heavy as the heaviest wildcat bullets and be made to fly consistently with stability.

    In my mind the ballistic performance comes down to the trade-off between better achievable profiling (in favor of the solids), vs the higher weights (in favor of the conventional bullet).

    As with the inherent precision issue, I don't think that one or the other will always, necessarily have better ballistic performance.

    And I really don't believe that 'just because solids haven't been superior to conventional bullets so far means they can't be successful'. I think it's just a matter of someone solving the unique challenges of the technology, optimizing the design, and simply succeeding where others have failed.

    Even then, when the technology of solid bullets has gone as far as it can, I don't think it can be an all around superior option. As with all things, some performance measures will favor one more than the other, and people will make their individual choices based on their application and circumstances.

    Last edited: Jun 19, 2009
  8. Michael Eichele

    Michael Eichele Well-Known Member

    Jan 6, 2003
    Thats right.

    One or the other CAN be more forgiving for a given circumstance. For instance, if I had to shoot a 1600# moose through the shoulder at 25 yards with my 300 RUM using 180's at 3350 FPS, a Berger is far down on the list of viable options (at least for me). On the top of the list for those paramteres are Barnes X bullets. However, if the shot was 950 yards, I would much rather use the Berger.

    I also believe that all copper bullets could be improved dramatically. Personaly I feel that from a match standpoint, all copper could be a very strong performer IF and WHEN they are made properly for the application. As of yet, there are not any real options or real match friendly all copper bullets. Lets face it, the BC's are too low and the overall accuracy just has not been there consistently. It doesnt meen that it isnt possible.

    For now, jacketed lead is the king. Maybe it is because we have been using this type for so long, or maybe there is something about it that works.
  9. grit

    grit Well-Known Member

    Mar 23, 2005
    Bring the bullet(s) out. Never mind all the theoretical debate. Make an introduction, present your data, and let us see what you've got.
  10. justgoto

    justgoto Well-Known Member

    Apr 11, 2009

    Actually... if "500,000 rpm" isn't "revolutionary" I don't know what is!


    *runs away*
  11. noel carlson

    noel carlson Well-Known Member

    Mar 3, 2009

    ...A very pragmatic request, which will have to be subordinated to higher priority short-term considerations. There are multi-track patent, and other time sensitive issues involved. For preliminary performance results, and early prototype photographs, search the threads at Sniper's Hide. In the alternative you can contact me about signing an NDA, as this remains a work(s)-in-progress.


    I believe your assumption of excessive spin induced dispersion is placing unfounded limitations upon the gains captured by extreme projectile length. Think rather of "fitting" a velocity dictated mass within an aerodynamically optimized shape. The key to in-bore cant mitigation is in the interaction of rifling geometry, and progressive engraving-band deformation. In essence, the ZA "floats" within a continually renewed bearing surface for incredible axial alignment. This was an unexpected surprise benefit of the gain-twist, and provides a good example of system interdependence. I am thinking the best way of propagating this thread is to cover individual components, and bring them together in an order which makes the interactions clear.

    "Debate" at both the sub-component, and systemic levels will be easier.

    Incidentially, I have found no density variation within the copper rod stock.


    Since this will be the first coherent public summation of the project, I need to credit the late Hays Zeigler, a supremely talented ballistician, and senior research director at ATK's propellant lab. He inspired this project back in 2004 by making me aware of RDX/HMX based propellants, which have as their only shortcoming; a propensity of "eating small arms barrels for lunch".

    This family of propellants unleashes a tremendous amount of energy in a flat pressure curve, and allows either the use of short barrels and equivalent velocity, or extreme velocity with standard length barrels. Every other component follows logically from this foundation.

    Tomorrow I will cover barrel development in a qualitative manner, and answer questions to the degree possible without compromising confidentiality.

  12. royinidaho

    royinidaho Writers Guild

    Jan 20, 2004
    I'm in for continuing this thread....

    I think we are going to learn something. This is a good debate.

    For my part, though I love Bergers in "regular cartridges" there are none that will work in in any of the guns I now or will hunt with in the future. They are just too extreme and/or larger cal. than what Berger has available. (I'm sad:))

    As for solids over lead core, I've tried Barnes in several calibers and have not been able to get them as accurate as swaged bullets.

    However, Lost Rivers shot great in my specific barrel. No one else's just that one. They were great at long and medium range.

    Also, why is one of the rifle smiths on here nearly screaming (my term) for a decent large caliber lead core bullet??? (if this question is out of bounds, strike it from the record.)
  13. MontanaRifleman

    MontanaRifleman Well-Known Member

    May 21, 2008

    Your ideas of a long range hunting bullet sound very interesting. Of course, the proof is in the pudding. I think Shawn outlined the requirements very well. I'll take a stab at summing up my thoughts on it.

    1) High BC, high velocity and accuracy are paramount. You know this already.

    2) Good, reliable terminal performance. If your shot placement is perfect and the bullet either lasers through or fails to penetrate, it can make for a very bad experience. For a one bullet at all ranges solution it would have to expand and provide adequate damage and penetration at short range as well as long. A one bullet solution is much, much more preferable to developing loads and carrying two cartridges for for short and long ranges. IMO, for a bullet to be reliable it would need structural integrity as well as certainty of expansion. I believe exit hole are very important, because they provide both penetration and, if necessary, a blood trial. The more mass a bullet retains, the farther it will penetrate. The more penetration the more damage. Some shedding of shrapnel and the resulting collateral damage may desirable. Good reliable performance will produce results with less than optimal shot choices.

    4) Low expansion velocities. IMO, to make what I call an "ethical" shot, one should be confident that the bullet will open and expand at the range it is fired to. Many bullets advertise about 1800 fps as their minimum performance velocity. If that velocity could be reduced to 1600 fps or lower it would increase minmum opening performance range.

    3) Twist rates and stability have already been mentioned. I'm sure you realize one of the challanges of making high BC bullets is stabalizing them. As mentioned, they usually require greater than normal twist rates for calibers. My guess is, that there would be a relatively small market for LR shooters looking for high BC bullets requiring custom barels with tight twists. There are a few here on this site, but most LR shooting is BR competiton type shooting paper. You might consider two or more offering in a particular caliber to include standard twist rates.

    So far, the closest thing I have seen to a perfect hunting bullet is the GS HV...


    They are a monometal bullet with driving bands similar to what you describe. Unfortunately, they dont have many high BC bullets in the HV style. They do have some in the SP style....


    Here are the advantages of the GS bullets as I see them.

    Their design results in higher velocities over other bullets of similar weight in the same caliber.

    They exhibit outstanding terminal performance.

    They are reported to be very accurate.

    They are reported to be very uniform and precise.

    They have a moly coating that facilitates both velocity and barrel life. Greater barrel life is a big bonus for overbore cartridge shooters. And their moly supposidly is easily cleaned and does not moly foul the bore and reduces copper fouling.

    Their biggest draw back is that so far, they have few high BC offerings in the HV hunting bullet. However their 177 HV in 30 cal has an advertized BC of .638. I'm a little skeptical of that, but if it's cloce to that for that weight bullet, combined with the increased velocity potential of the bullet, it far out shines anything else off of the shelf for LR hunting in the 30 cal.

    If you read through their site, you will find a lot of very interesting information on external and terminal ballistics. They know a lot about it.


    Last edited: Jun 20, 2009
  14. grit

    grit Well-Known Member

    Mar 23, 2005
    I'll run the search. I'll consider your offer. Perhaps you could estimate when you might present your product.