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Lab Tests

Join along as one of Barnes Ballistics Lab Technicians goes through the process of function testing a Barnes Bullet.

Choosing The Right Long Range Hunting Bullet

(Following is the “From The Lab” section in the April, 2009 issue of the Barnes Bullet-n. To become a Club-X member and receive our monthly newsletter, click here.)

From The Lab

Thad Stevens
Ballistics Lab Manager

It’s interesting when you stop and think about all of the different methods and tools we use, and various places we go to hunt. It’s kind of like a puzzle with pieces that each person fits together to provide him or herself with a great reward. What constitutes “the reward” varies from person to person, depending on an individual’s objectives.

Some hunt thick country where a long shot may be 100 yards. Others hunt high alpine basins where shots can vary from two to six hundred yards, or more. The fact of the matter is, when hunting trophy animals in wide open spaces more likely to be found in the mid-west and western states, a person will probably not be able to pre-determine the distance at which their shot will occur. Therefore, some hunters set personal limits as to the maximum distance they will take a shot. Others practice and hone their skills to feel confident in their abilities and equipment at extended ranges.

The proper cartridge and rifle combination is important, and normally where most begin. The latest and greatest “Super Magnums” have their place and can most certainly extend the range to which we effectively engage game. With that said, we also must understand that the rifle is still just a vehicle to get the bullet to the target. The bullet is what ultimately delivers our intentions to the target. Whether that’s simply punching a hole through a piece of paper, or bringing down a large bull elk. We have to match the bullet to its intended purpose.

When shooting longer distances, a lot of emphasis is put on marksmanship, as well it should. However, based on our experience and conversations with people, sometimes not nearly enough focus is on the proper construction and function of the bullet. We are finding that more hunters are choosing one bullet and discounting another simply because of a BC value. For hunting applications, frankly, this is unethical and careless for many reasons.

First, some bullet manufacturers publish Static BC values, which are simply an estimate based on the shape and external dimensions of the bullet. Barnes, and more recently a few other manufactures, publish what we call Dynamic Values. To produce a Dynamic Value, the bullets are actually fired and tracked over a given distance. Time of flight and atmospheric conditions are also part of the equation (click here to read about the Barnes Bullets procedure for measuring BC). This method of calculating BC may not put out the best numbers for the marketing department, but it is certainly the most accurate method and offers the greatest benefit to the end-user.

For example, let’s say one assumes the BC values assigned to a given bullet are correct. He then works up a load, creates a trajectory chart out to 800 or 1,000 yards, and heads for the hills. This individual could end up in trouble in a hurry. Why? Because we’ve found that the difference between static and dynamic numbers can be as great as 200 points or more in some cases.

Here’s a scenario: a .300 Weatherby firing a 180 grain bullet that’s moving 3200 fps with a zero range of 500 yards. If the bullet’s BC is off 100 points, shooting level at 900 yards, there is roughly a twenty inch difference in bullet drop, and a sixteen inch difference in a 10 mph wind. Remember, BC affects the bullet’s ability to slice through the wind as well. That’s a miss, or even worse, a wounded animal. Correct BCs are essential.

Next, bullet function should rate higher on an ethical hunters list than aerodynamics. Form should follow function here. If you are hunting with a bullet that has a great Dynamic BC value, but it lacks in the function department, what exactly have you accomplished? Maybe a great load for Camp Perry? For ethical long-range hunting, choose a bullet that will function not just at the extended ranges, but up close as well. You can’t always pick your shot. You may be well prepared to shoot long distances, but if a 400-inch bull walks around the corner in front of you, will you have the time to sprint backwards and away from the animal to take the shot that ensures proper bullet performance?

Accuracy is obviously an extremely important consideration. For long rang hunting, it doesn’t do you any good to have a bullet with a BC of .525 that hits like Thor’s hammer, but a three-inch group at one hundred yards is the best it will shoot.

It’s a good idea to visualize where the bullet could impact the animal, and how the bullet will perform at different points. Will it fragment just after entering the skin, failing to penetrate to the vitals? Will it connect with bone and fragment, causing a flesh wound? Will it simply not open and pencil through without causing much damage to tissue or vitals? These are things that should be considered, especially when shooting at long range. Poor shot placement or bullet performance at an extended distance limits exactly what one can do for a follow-up shot.

Also realize that if you are seven or eight hundred yards away, possibly across a canyon, that it may take a considerable amount of time to cover the ground between you and the animal. As ethical hunters, we owe it to the animal to not only make the shot count, but to choose the bullet that’s going to do the job as we have predetermined in our minds that it should.

So let’s answer this question: What does it take to bring down your intended game out to the maximum distance you’ve established for yourself? Obviously the size and constitution of the animal are factors, but some basic guidelines should be followed that can be applied across the board. First, the bullet must function at any given distance (close or extended if you are prepared for a long range shot.) Second, the bullet should shoot accurately from the firearm. Finally, evaluate the BC, but only after you’ve determined the bullet will achieve guidelines numbered one and two. There are things that can be done to compensate for a lower BC (within reason, of course) but not for poor function and accuracy.

Over the past few months, a series of tests were conducted in the Barnes Ballistics Lab. Bullets of various construction from a number of manufacturers were fired into simulated bone-gelatin at 100 yard and 1000 yard velocities. Accuracy was also recorded with a number of these bullets. The information gathered substantiates exactly what is outlined above. One bullet may not have scored an A+ in every aspect, but we can extrapolate the information from each test and determine which bullet will be the most effective and responsible choice for any given range. Bone gelatin is an extremely harsh bullet test, designed to simulate a shoulder shot on big game. The end results published here aren’t necessarily what a marketing department would choose to circulate, but a sort of “worst case” scenario to enable the serious hunter to make an informed, responsible decision.

The bottom line is that a match bullet is designed to punch paper, NOT to take down big game at close or even longer distances. One major bullet manufacturer backs up this statement and prints clearly on their boxes of match bullets that they are not intended for use on big game. This is a responsible, ethical recommendation to the shooting public.

When you purchase a box of Barnes Bullets, you are being supplied with more than just the bullet. You are getting an honest BC value, match grade accuracy and exceptional terminal performance over a wider range of velocities. Not to mention, a product that is tested afield extensively year-round all over the world by the Barnes proprietorship, employees, and a very demanding, yet loyal customer base.

7mm WSM 100-yard Accuracy Results

*Note: All bullets were shot in a standard test barrel with a SAAMI spec chamber. Berger bullets typically produce better accuracy when shot in a throat designed for VLD style bullets. The Nosler Ballistic Tips were shot with loads worked up from Nosler’s #6 Reloading Manual.

7mm WSM 100-yard Bone Gelatin Results




7mm WSM 1000-yard Bone Gelatin Results




.300 Weatherby 100-yard Accuracy Results

*Note: All bullets were shot in a standard test barrel with a SAAMI spec chamber. Berger bullets typically produce better accuracy when shot in a throat designed for VLD style bullets. The Nosler AccuBonds were shot with loads worked up from Nosler’s #6 Reloading Manual.

300 Weatherby 100-yard Bone Gelatin Results




.300 Weatherby 1000-yard Bone Gelatin Results




Barnes Expander MZ vs. Competition

We have always known that our saboted Expander MZ muzzleloader bullets are extremely accurate and deadly on game. Recently, we tested them against PowerBelt, as well as Hornady and Nosler saboted bullets. The results detailed below speak for themselves. They show why the Barnes Expander MZ is the projectile of choice for knowledgeable frontloader hunters.

Firearm: A Knight Disc Extreme, .50 caliber muzzleloader, serial # S039992 was used in all the tests. This gun had a 25.5″ barrel (measured from the muzzle to the front face of the breech plug). The barrel is a 8-groove, right-hand, 1:28″ twist rifling.

Machine Rest Tests

Accuracy, velocity and BC values were measured with the rifle’s stock removed and the firearm clamped in a machine rest. Oehler M55 Skyscreens and an Oehler acoustic target set at 100 yds were used to measure accuracy and velocity, and to calculate BC values. A paper backing was placed behind the acoustic target to verify group size and to check bullet stability.

Winchester 209 primers were used to ignite two 50-grain and a single 30-grain charge (total 130-grain equivalent) of Pyrodex Pellets. The barrel was swabbed between shots with one patch wet with Hodgdon Easy Clean Solvent, and one dry patch. A primer was then snapped to clear the breech plug prior to reloading. The test data below was based on 5-shot groups unless otherwise noted.

1. Barnes .50 caliber 250-grain Expander MZ with Black high pressure sabots.

Test 1 Test 2
Accuracy 1.3″ 2.2″
Muzzle Velocity 1944 fps 1930 fps
Std. Dev. 31 fps 12 fps
BC Value 0.151 0.151

Note: Test one was fired at the start of testing; test two was fired after the competitors’ bullets were tested.

2. PowerBelt .50 caliber 245-grain AeroTip Bullets with Green PowerBelt.

Test 1
Accuracy 7.3″
Muzzle Velocity 1546 fps
Std. Dev. 238 fps
BC Value 0.122

Note: Six shots were fired for this test. Velocity varied from a low of 1243 fps to a high of 1789 fps. The bullet holes in the paper target were not clean and round, and showed signs of yaw.

3. Hornady .50 caliber 240-grain (.429″) XTP Bullets with MMP Green plastic sabot.

Test 1
Accuracy 3.0″
Muzzle Velocity 1740 fps
Std. Dev. 108 fps
BC Value 0.181

Note: Velocity varied from 1596 fps to 1895 fps.

4. Nosler .50 caliber 250-grain HG Partition with Nosler tan colored plastic sabot.

Test 1
Accuracy 5.6″ / 20.3″
Muzzle Velocity 1652 fps
Std. Dev. 148 fps
BC Value 0.181

Note: Four of the five shots produced a 5.6″ group; one flyer opened the group to 20.3″. Bullet holes showed signs of slight yaw. Velocity varied from 1447 fps to 1787 fps.

Ballistics Gelatin Tests

Ten-percent ordanance gelatin was used in the following tests. Two 8″x8″x12″ blocks were set up 100 yards downrange, one block behind the other to give a maximum penetration of 24 inches. The blocks were calibrated with a .177 caliber BB gun prior to testing to ensure they were uniform. Four layers of heavy denim were placed in front of the gelatin blocks.

Test 1: A charge of two 50-grain (100-grain equivalent) Pyrodex pellets was used. The rifle was re-installed in the stock and a scope mounted and zeroed at 100 yards. The actual initial weight of the Barnes bullet was 250 grains; the PowerBelt weighed 248 grains.

Avg. Exp. Dia.
Final Weight
Barnes .50cal 250 gr Expander MZ 1 1739 fps 13.4″ 0.965″ 248.6 grains
PowerBelt .50cal 2 1265 fps 24″ 0.503″ 248.0 grains
245 grain AeroTip 3 1314 fps 24″ 0.500″ 247.2 grains

Note: Three shots were fired with the PowerBelt bullet. The first shot missed the gelatin completely and is not recorded above. The second shot had a muzzle velocity of 1265 fps and impacted the gelatin one inch from the side of the block. The bullet traveled in a straight line, penetrating both blocks completely. It hit ¾” plywood backing behind the last block and bounced back into the wound cavity four inches. The bullet was somewhat deformed; however, there was no expansion. The third shot with PowerBelt bullets impacted the gelatin slightly high but approximately centered. The bullet also failed to expand and penetrated the gelatin completely coming to rest against the plywood backing. The Barnes bullet expanded uniformly and left a large wound channel.

Test 2: As with our accuracy and velocity tests in the machine rest, we saw in test one that the PowerBelt bullets did not give reasonable velocity or accuracy when used in conjunction with Pyrodex Pellets. For this test we used 100 grains by volume of Hodgdon Triple Seven powder.

Avg. Exp. Dia.
Final Weight
PowerBelt .50cal 245gr AeroTip 4 1972 fps 15″ 0.745″ 229.2 grains

Note: Accuracy was somewhat better with the Hodgdon Triple Seven powder, and velocity was as would be expected. The bullet expanded; however, it did lose weight and fragments were evident between 6.5″ and 11.5″ of penetration. The wound channel was reasonable for a lead bullet; however, it was not as large as the wound channel created by the Barnes Expander MZ.


The Barnes Expander MZ was by far the most accurate of the four bullets tested. Bullet holes in the paper target were clean and round – and for a given powder charge, the Barnes bullet/sabot combination gave the highest velocity. The Barnes bullet also showed a larger wound channel and superior performance when fired into gelatin.