6mm Varmint Bullets Tested

In recent years, largely down to the vast increase in interest in varmint hunting in the United States, there has been a proliferation in the numbers of thin-jacketed, frangible to the point of almost being explosive, lightweight bullets, many with polymer tips.

.243 Winchester has always been a fashionable round, encompassing as it does both vermin and deer-legal capability. Now we can obtain super-lightweight projectiles that bring .243 velocities up into the realms of .220 Swift, and three of these gravity-defying 6mm’s are examined in this article. From Hornady, we have the 58-grain V-Max, whilst 55-grain heads are produced by Sierra, with their BlitzKing, and Nosler’s Ballistic Tip. Of course Nosler it was, who really got synthetic-tipped bullets out onto the market, and their ‘Ballistic Tip’ has become a bit of a by-word amongst serious shooters throughout the world. These featherweight hell-raisers are designed for maximum expansion at the moment of impact: so I set out to see if they live up to the hype.

The first task was to make up a rack-full of rounds. New Norma brass was selected, with the cases trimmed slightly above their standard trim length at 2.037”. As a rule when loading the shorter bullets, I like to keep the already-fired cases at maximum length in order to aid bullet alignment on seating. With these smaller projectiles, unless you have a rifle especially chambered, your round is never going to be anywhere near the lands without the bullet falling out of the case. Federal large rifle Match primers were inserted, and 43 grains of Vihtavuori N140 powder were poured in. This is not a particularly speedy load, but one that has proved to work well in most rifles, giving both comfort and accuracy. Before seating the bullets, I weighed a sample of each make: as would be expected from three manufacturers of such standing, there was no significant discrepancy on their goal weights, although the Noslers read just fractionally lighter. The same seating die setting was used for each brand, which gave average overall lengths of 2.644” for the V-Max, 2.642” for the flat-based BlitzKing, and 2.634” the Ballistic Tips.

Then off to the range. Our test rig for this little experiment was a Sako 75 Varmint Stainless Laminated, topped with the Swarovski 4-16×50 PF ‘scope. Minor adjustments were required to get the Hornadys popping into the centre of the target at 100 yards. A subsequent ten-shot group, shot in two stages of five, measured ¾”. On to the Noslers, and the group shifted slightly up and to the left, but decreased in size to ½”. Lastly the Sierras, which did not shoot as tight as the others, and grouped at 1 ¼” – high and central. All these strings of shots were fired through an Oehler chronograph, which churned out some interesting statistics. Of course, none of these rounds had been specifically tailored to the rifle. No doubt a little time taken in doing so would result in pinpoint accuracy from any one of these quality bullets.

HORNADY
NOSLER
SIERRA
AVERAGE VELOCITY fps 3,579 3,580 3,559
STANDARD DEVIATION 11 9 14

The standard deviations directly correlate to the group sizes, as one might expect. But then Sierra, marginally the slowest, shot ¾” higher than the other two. Interesting……

After this it was time to switch targets and get out the fox. ‘Charlie’ consisted of our regular mixture of thoroughly saturated newsprint: perhaps not the absolutely ideal medium to be shooting into for ballistics testing purposes, but certainly one that yields some reasonably realistic results. What I wanted to find out more than anything else, was just how frangible these bullets really are. One after another the three different rounds were fired at as near identical targets as possible: the same weight of newspaper, and even the same quantities of water. The targets were then carefully peeled apart to reveal the damage done, and some fascinating results.

Both the Nosler Ballistic Tip and Sierra’s BlitzKing penetrated for about 1” before any really noticeable expansion occurred. Within 3½” the Nosler head created its maximum wound channel, and after 5” penetration had stopped altogether. The BlitzKing took an extra ½” to reach maximum trauma level, an addition that carried over to the stopping distance too. By comparison, Hornady’s V-Max actually managed just over 1½” of contained travel, but once it started expanding, boy did it let go! As a result, it was all over within 4”.

Wound Channels

Wound Channels

You can see from the following table exactly how the three fox-busters fared. The Ballistic Tip retained a pretty large proportion of its bullet weight, which gave a miserable result in the expansion stakes: a paltry 1½” x 1½” diameter maximum wound channel size. The Sierra was significantly better at 2” x 2½”, hardly anything of the bullet base left, but an amazing amount of recognizable debris collected. V-Max was the winner here, with its 3” x 3” diameter damage zone being just awesome!

HORNADY
NOSLER
SIERRA
Expansion started after (inches) 2 1 1
Maximum Wound Channel at (inches) 3 3 1/2 4
Maximum Wound Channel Diameter (inches) 3 x 3 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 2 x 2 1/2
Maximum Penetration Stopping Distance (inches) 4 5 5 1/2
Retained Jacket Base Weight (grains) 14.3 24.7 8.5
Overall Collected Debris Weight (grains) 19.4 29.7 21.9

 

The Shrapnel Collection

The Shrapnel Collection

With future hunting trips in mind, and for a bit of fun, I finished up by setting up the ‘prairie dog’ targets. These consisted of three well-shaken fizzy drinks cans, which I considered might give a pretty accurate idea of what would happen with a pesky varmint in my sights. Total annihilation was the answer! All three were comprehensively destroyed, with a couple of notable results: the remains of the Sierra can had suffered from severe shrapnel damage; whilst of the top of the Hornady can, there was absolutely no sign…….

Dead Dawgs!

Dead Dawgs!

All in all, I had had a very worthwhile and entertaining day at the range. As inevitably happens, the results throw up endless possibilities for further experiments, and no doubt the accuracy of the outcome will be questioned by some. The one thing I will have to do in the not so far distant future, is to add a little more powder to this load, work it up to a speedy maximum, and see if the order of merit is replicated at full power, whilst keeping an eye on individual group size and expansion performance: speed isn’t everything, first you have to hit your target consistently. Watch this space!
Ballistic Tip?