October 27, 2015
I will always remember talking to a rep in the industry after he left his gig at a famous bullet manufacturer many moons ago. I was commenting on a certain .264 caliber Match bullet's impressive Ballistic Coefficient (BC) when he rolled his eyes. "Marketing€¦" was his simple reply.
Since that initial splash of cold water, I've realized on a few occasions just how much truth there was in his one word answer. It wasn't so very long ago a famous Finnish bullet manufacturer offered a .308 diameter 155 grain HPBT Match bullet with an incredible .505 G1 BC. Many .308 Winchester shooters in the long-range tactical crowd revered it due to how fast you could drive it and it's too-good-to-be-true BC.
Eventually its manufacturer, *cough* Lapua *cough*, agreed its advertised BC was indeed too good to be true. After testing with Doppler radar, its G1 BC was lowered to a much more mundane .460.
This past August, I was invited to an industry event with Hornady to get a first look at a project they'd been working on since 2012: The Hornady Heat Shield. Basically, they had endeavored to develop a line of new ultra-long range hunting and match bullets.
Their goal was for these new bullets to have extremely high BCs and reliable terminal performance both at traditional (150 yard) and very long (800 yard) hunting ranges. During bullet development, the team of Hornady engineers working on this project decided to use conventional polymer tipped bullets, such as seen on their famous A-MAX line.
Why were bullets with synthetic tips chosen? Well, for a number of reasons including:
- Bullets with polymer tips can be made very consistently.
- The polymer tip can be designed to provide a very high BC.
- Polymer tips can aid controlled expansion of the projectile improving terminal performance.
The engineering team at Hornady went ahead and developed new projectile designs and, as is the norm, mathematically calculated out the ballistic coefficient in the traditional method.
When they had a chance to test the projectiles at long range using a Doppler radar system, however, the results were less than they expected. For those of you unfamiliar with it, Doppler radar uses high frequency microwaves to measure the Doppler shift in frequency reflected from a moving object.
Doing so provides precise, high resolution measurements of velocity, time of flight and distance traveled. Not only that, but it makes these measurements every one to two feet. So it is an incredibly precise and useful tool.
After measuring the new projectile design with Doppler radar, the engineering team had to scratch their heads for a bit before coming to the only possible conclusion. The polymer tips were melting and deforming slightly due to the heat experienced when shooting at very high velocities over very long distances.
This deformation had a negative effect on aerodynamics, effectively lowering the BC. It should be noted here that the tip material Hornady was using is the industry standard. So it was not confined to Hornady's new design, or even to Hornady. It must also be noted that standard velocity cartridges fired at shorter distances do not exhibit such problems.
Hornady's response was to bin their new design and perform a great deal of research. Doing so allowed them to come up with an entirely new material for their synthetic tips. Dubbed the Heat Shield Tip, they feature:
- A larger size for more heat capacity.
- Optimized Meplat diameter.
- Larger diameter shank for improved low velocity expansion.
The new tip material was then tested and compared to the standard polymer tip material in existing projectiles at both short and long range. At short ranges of 400 to 500 yards, there wasn't a noticeable difference between the two materials. For example:
Projectile BC Muzzle Velocity (fps) Range (yards)
50 grain VMAX (standard) .232 3,700 40
50 grain VMAX (Heat Shield) .232 3,700 400
123 grain AMAX (standard) .462 2,875 500
123 grain AMAX (Heat Shield) .486 2,875 500
150 grain SST (standard) .424 3,300 500
150 grain SST (Heat Shield) .433 3,300 500
However, when shooting at 800 yards and beyond with higher velocity cartridges, there was a noticeable difference. For example:
Projectile Standard Tip BC Hornady Heat Shield BC
6.5mm 140 AMAX .545 .610
7mm 162 AMAX .584 .627
.308 208 AMAX .619 .670
.338 285 AMAX .735 .789
All the above BCs were determined with Dopper Radar using data over 800 yards and corrected to standard sea level conditions.
So Hornady developed a new line of Match bullets for long range use called Extremely Low Drag Match. These are produced using Advanced Manufacturing Process (AMP) bullet jackets, Heat Shield Tips and are designed to provide very high BCs.
At the same time, Hornady also developed a new line of long range hunting bullets, called the Extremely Low Drag-eXpanding. This new projectile is intended to provide match grade accuracy combined with effective and reliable terminal performance at all practical ranges.
These will be offered in Hornady's new Precision Hunter line of ammunition. Now it is one thing to develop a projectile to provide reliable expansion and penetration through a specific velocity range. It is another thing to develop a bullet capable of reliable expansion and penetration at both 150 and 850 yards.
Normally if a bullet expands well at long range (low velocity) it over expands or fragments at short range (high velocity). Or if it expands well at high velocity it might not expand at all at low velocity.
Sound impressive? Yes it does, but how does it actually perform? Well, I had the chance to have a first look at these new lines while visiting Hornady. I watched a variety of loads being shot into properly calibrated ordnance gelatin at both high and low velocity.
The shots were taken to simulate a 150- and 800-yard impact. These were fired using special test barrels with specific twists to duplicate the projectile rotation at the distances being duplicated.
In the accompanying images you can see a .308 diameter 200-grain ELD-X projectile with the new Heat Shield tip with a 150- yard and 800-yard impact into ordnance gelatin. Note the 150 yard shot provides rapid expansion, within the first inch of penetration. Yet the expansion is controlled providing deep penetration out to 19+ inches.
More impressive is the performance of this projectile with a simulated 800 yard impact. Note that it begins to expand within the first two inches of penetration. Then it provides a large wound cavity while penetrating to approximately 24 inches.
During the development of the ELD-X series of hunting projectiles over 70 game animals were taken with them. Animals included Springbok, Eland, Antelope and Elk at ranges from 65 to 865 yards. Hornady claims no animals were lost to the Heat Shield ELD-X bullet.
Next I had the chance to spend the day on Hornady's 2,000-yard range with their Doppler Radar system. During this session a variety of Hornady AMAX, ELD-X, ELD Match and projectiles from other manufacturers were shot at distances of 1,620 yards and beyond. I'll list a few examples recorded during my time on the range.
We started off with a 6.5mm Creedmoor firing a Hornady 140-grain AMAX with a standard polymer tip. The Doppler recorded a muzzle velocity of 2,787 fps and a retained velocity of 1,712 fps at 800 yards. The G1 BC came in at .553 and the G7 BC at .279. As a comparison an identical projectile was fired featuring the new Heat Shield Tip. The Doppler recorded a muzzle velocity of 2,763 fps and velocity at 800 yards was 1,749 fps. The G1 BC was .588 and the G7 BC was .296. So simply changing the tip in the projectile provided a nice improvement in the Ballistic Coefficient.
Next a .300 Winchester Magnum loaded with the new Hornady Heat Shield 212-grain ELD-X was fired and tracked by the Doppler. It had a muzzle velocity of 2,803 fps and retained 1,903 fps at 800 yards. The G1 BC was .677 and the G7 BC was .340. This same load was fired again, but further out. The Doppler tracked it out to 1,620 yards. Muzzle velocity was 2,802 fps, retained velocity at 800 yards was 1,890 fps and at 1,620 yards it retained 1,140 fps. G1 BC was .666 while the G7 was .335. As a comparison a Berger Bullets 210 grain VLD-H was tested. The Doppler recorded a muzzle velocity of 2,811 fps and it retained 1,845 fps at 800 yards. This provided a G1 BC of .625 and a G7 of .315. Berger Bullets revised their BCs in an announcement a few days ago and the G1 BC recorded is identical to what they now list. Their G7 BC is almost identical what I saw on the range as well.
Such was not the case though when firing Nosler's 210-grain ABLR. With a muzzle velocity of 2,813 fps this load retained 1,861 fps at 800 yards. While the advertised G1 BC of this projectile is .730, our testing had it come in at only .634. Nosler's advertised G7 BC for this projectile is .366 and again it fell short during our testing coming in at .319. Retesting this projectile didn't help matters and provided a G1 BC of .633 and a G7 BC of .319. So there was a noticeable difference between the advertised BC of this polymer tipped bullet and how the Doppler said it was actually performing at distance.
My thoughts? I'm a big fan of Doppler radar and thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Hornady engineering team. They are a very talented group of guys who love what they do. Outdoor Sportsman Group isn't without our own talent though and our resident retired rocket scientist Layne Pierce was in attendance.
Mr. Pierce spent a good portion of his life working for NASA and doing calculations with a slide rule which kids these days would think impossible. He delved into the deep technical parts of the ballistics discussions. My time in the military aerospace industry was spent in the mundane manufacturing side, and I never had a slide rule. So I concentrated on listening and observing how the ammunition actually performed while trying to figure a way to abscond with their Doppler system.
In the days, weeks and months ahead there will be all manner of articles printed and comments posted on Hornady's new Heat Shield bullets. Some will be positive and some not. That is how the world works, especially the internet. I suspect much of the static which initially appears posted on the net will be by people who do not even fully understand what Hornady has tried to accomplish.
As time goes by serious rifleman all across the country will have a chance to try Hornady's Heat Shield bullets and loaded ammunition out on both paper and game animals. Then we'll have our answer as to how Hornady's Heat Shield ELD Match and ELD-X bullets stack up to the competition in the real world.
From the brief glimpse I have seen so far though, long range hunters are going to be impressed.