Hornady Hunting Bullets

By Chuck Hawks


Hornady Bullets
Illustration courtesy of Hornady Manufacturing Co.

Grand Island, Nebraska, USA is the unlikely home of the Hornady Manufacturing Company, one of the most successful and innovative bullet and ammunition makers in the world. Joyce W. Hornady owned the Hornady Sporting Goods Company, but in 1949 he closed the store and started a new career making bullets. Like fellow bullet making pioneers Vernon Speer and John Nosler, Hornady correctly foresaw the enormous increase in hunting, shooting and reloading that would occur after the end of the Second World War. In fact, Joyce Hornady (an engineer by training and education) and Vernon Speer collaborated to build a machine that recycled fired .22 rimfire cases into bullet jackets and ultimately bullets. Both men went on (separately) to found successful bullet companies and became giants in the industry.

In 1949, when Hornady founded his new bullet company, war surplus ammunition, brass and powder were widely available and cheap, but there was a shortage of hunting bullets. The early years were lean, but Hornady persevered and succeeded. His motto was "Accurate, Deadly, Dependable," which pretty well sums up Hornady hunting bullets to this day.

As the years and then decades slipped past, Hornady Manufacturing expanded and branched out into factory loaded ammunition. In 1981, JW was killed in a plane crash and Marvel Hornady became Chairman of the Board, son Steve Hornady became President, daughter Margaret became Vice President and her husband Don David became Chief Engineer. The Company remained family owned and continued to prosper and grow. Bullet making remains the core and largest division of Hornady Manufacturing, but the Company is also a leader in ammunition manufacturing (Hornady manufactures their own brass cases) and reloading presses, dies and tools. The factory at Grand Island has grown from two rooms to a modern 100,000 square foot facility and the number of employees to over 200. It is an American success story.

In the 21st Century, Hornady has become the most innovative bullet and ammunition manufacturer in the U.S. Hornady developed the brilliant .17 HMR rimfire cartridge, which became the most successful new cartridge introduction in decades and, in cooperation with Marlin and Ruger, several successful new centerfire rifle cartridges. LEVERevolution ammunition and FTX bullets have given classic lever action rifles a new lease on life and taken the performance of traditional cartridges, such as the .30-30 and .35 Remington, to new levels. Hornady has introduced (or reintroduced) some excellent, classic cartridges to the North American market, including the 9.3x62mm, 9.3x74R, .405 Winchester, .450/400 3" NE, .404 Jeffery, .416 Rigby, .458 Lott, .450 NE, .470 NE and .500 NE. Proprietary blended powder technology allowed Hornady to introduce Superformance factory loads that substantially improve the performance of many popular centerfire cartridges without raising pressure. (150 grain .308 at 3000 fps MV, for instance.) At Hornady, the hits just keep on coming!

All Hornady jacketed hunting bullets are made with tapered, gilding metal jackets formed by the "cup and draw" method and use lead alloy cores. For 2012, Hornady's hunting bullet lines include InterLock, SST, InterBond, FTX, GMX, and Mono-Flex. This is an unusually numerous and diverse big game bullet selection, the largest among all of the major bullet manufacturers. (Speer and Nosler get by with four big game bullet lines each, Swift and Sierra with two each.) In addition, Hornady offers multiple handgun bullet lines, three varmint bullet lines, match bullets and the specialized DGX/DGS safari bullets for CXP4 game. As you can see, Hornady is a very prolific bullet company. Here are brief descriptions of the various Hornady hunting bullet lines.

Hornady bullets start with the InterLock, the meat and potatoes Hornady bullet line. InterLock bullets are available in a very wide range of calibers, from .243-.458". InterLock bullets come with various point styles, including round nose (RN), flat point (FP), hollow point (HP), spire point (SP) and SP-RP. The latter is a Spire Point with a small, rounded lead tip that is offered in medium bore calibers and intended for use on very large or dangerous game.

The most famous Hornady bullet shape is the Spire Point. I have been using Hornady SP bullets since the mid-1970's. This is a pointed bullet with an elongated, nearly conical forward section called a secant ogive, instead of the curved tangent ogive nose form used by most manufacturers for spitzer bullets. The secant ogive is said to combine the most ballistically efficient nose profile with the optimum bearing surface. The benefits include lower drag, increased stability, flatter trajectory and excellent accuracy. Theory aside, over big game hunting ranges, I have never been able to see any difference between the performance of a Hornady SP and a standard spitzer bullet. The shapes are similar and both work well. The base of SP bullets may be flat or boat-tailed (BTSP).

Like all Hornady jacketed bullets, InterLocks are made with tapered, gilding metal jackets. The jacket nose is longitudinally grooved inside to aid symmetrical expansion. The bullet core is one-piece made of lead alloy and the lead tip is exposed. The core and jacket are manually locked together by means of a crimping cannelure around the middle of the bullet and an interior "Interlock" ridge near the base of the bullet. This system provides benefits similar to the equally famous Remington Core-Lokt bullet design.

I consider the InterLock an improved soft point bullet. InterLocks have a long record of good performance in the field and seldom slip their core after impact. These are excellent bullets for CXP2 and CXP3 game in appropriate calibers and weights. I have used them for a long time in various calibers with great satisfaction in terms of both accuracy and terminal performance. The .308/180 grain SP carries a reasonable 2012 MSRP of $34.57 for 100 bullets.

Hornady's very successful SST (SST stands for "Super Shock Tip") is essentially a secant ogive Interlock bullet with a red polymer tip. Introduced in 1998 in response to the popularity of the Nosler Ballistic Tip, it is a very low drag bullet with a high ballistic coefficient (BC). The 6mm and .257 caliber SST's are flat base bullets; all larger caliber SST's (6.5mm-.338") have boat-tails. The pointed polymer tip increases BC and initiates rapid expansion on impact. SST is one of the best long range bullets on the market. After initial expansion, its performance is similar to the standard InterLocks and in appropriate calibers and weights SST bullets are suitable for CXP2 and CXP3 game. Accuracy is usually excellent. The 2012 MSRP is $42.35 for a 100 count box of .308/180 grain bullets.

A step up from the SST in price and technology is the Hornady InterBond. This is Hornady's premium, bonded core bullet. Available in calibers from .243-.338, the InterBond looks like an SST without a cannelure. All InterBond bullets have a red polymer tip and a boat-tail. The absence of a cannelure is because this is not an InterLock bullet; there is no mechanical locking of core in jacket. Instead, the lead alloy core is permanently bonded to a heavy, gilding metal jacket. This jacket thickens internally in a manner somewhat similar to the Remington Core-Lokt to control expansion. The result is good initial expansion, high weight retention (usually around 90%) and deep penetration. InterBonds are typically medium weight bullets suitable for CXP2 and CXP3 game, depending on caliber. They are a good choice for mixed bag hunts. 2012 MSRP for a box of 100 .308/180 grain InterBonds is $74.37. As I said, InterBond is a premium priced bullet!

Hornady's FTX is the soft tipped bullet supplied in LEVERevolution ammunition. Externally, they resemble SST bullets, with a Spire Point, red synthetic tip and a crimping cannelure. The .308 and .338 FTX bullets have a boat-tail, while other calibers have a flat base.

FTX uses a one-piece lead alloy core and a tapered gilding metal jacket with a heavy base, but lacks an InterLock ring. The Spire Point shape gives FTX bullets a much higher BC than flat point bullets and makes these the flattest shooting bullets ever made for tubular magazine rifles. They are very accurate bullets, comparable to SST in my experience. FTX bullets are produced in diameters and weights specifically for the popular cartridges for which tubular magazine lever action rifles are chambered. These are: .308/160 grain (.30-30), .308/160 grain (.308 Marlin Express), .321/165 grain (.32 Win. Spec.), .338/200 grain (.338 Marlin Express), .348/200 grain (.348 Win.), .357/140 grain (.357 Mag.), .358/200 grain (.35 Rem. and .356 Win.), .430/225 grain (.44 Mag.), .430/265 grain (.444 Marlin), .452/225 grain (.45 Long Colt), .452/250 grain (.450 Bushmaster), and .458/325 grain (.45/70 and .450 Marlin). Use FTX bullets for the same game animals you would normally hunt with flat point bullets. If you are a lever action fan, as I am, these are the bullets of choice. The 2012 MSRP for 100 of the 160 grain .30-30 bullets is $40.21.

GMX is Hornady's entry in the lead free bullet market. This is a monolithic, gilding metal bullet with a large internal nose cavity, SST external profile and a red plastic tip to initiate expansion and raise the BC. Calibers range from .224-.338 and most have boat-tail bases. They tend to be light to medium weight for caliber. There are two cannelures for crimping and to reduce copper fouling. Hornady states that the GMX gilding metal bullet differs from solid copper bullets "in that it's harder, tougher and does not foul or increase pressure the way solid copper bullets do." Unlike most mono-metal bullets, GMX is claimed to be compatible with standard reloading data.

Like all monolithic hunting bullets, GMX expands best at high impact velocities. The minimum recommended impact velocity is 2000 fps to initiate expansion and maximum recommended impact velocity is 3400 fps. Judging by photos in the Hornady catalog, 2700 fps produces good expansion. Maximum expansion is up to 150% of original diameter, weight retention is typically 95% or more and penetration is very deep. External ballistics are essentially identical to equivalent SST bullets.

I am not a fan of monolithic bullets, except for special purposes. I feel they generally don't expand as fast or as much as a good lead core, soft point bullet like the InterLock and tend to over penetrate. They perform best when fired at very high velocity and are particularly inefficient at the lower impact velocities delivered by many of my favorite (standard) cartridges.

Although available in calibers and weights suitable for CXP2 game, GMX bullets are more appropriate for the toughest CXP3 game, where the projectile must penetrate thick hide and heavy bones. Monolithic bullets have become popular primarily because of intrusive and misguided government regulations. Like others of its type, the GMX is an expensive bullet. The 2012 MSRP for a box of 50 GMX .308/165 grain bullets is $44.47, or about $0.89/bullet. For comparison, a premium .308/165 grain InterBond bullet costs about $0.72.

MonoFlex is a GMX type, solid gilding metal bullet with a soft FTX tip. MonoFlex is intended for use in lever action rifles with tubular magazines. They look like a GMX, including the secant ogive, aggressive boat-tail and double cannelures, but are designed to expand at somewhat lower velocity. Their performance characteristics are otherwise similar to GMX, including 95% weight retention and very deep penetration. At this writing there are three MonoFlex bullets: .308/140 grain (.30-30), .308/140 grain (.308 Marlin Express) and .458/250 grain (.45-70 and .450 Marlin). 2012 MSRP is $44.25 for a box of 50 .30-30 bullets.

Summary and Usage

Like the other major bullet manufacturers in the U.S., where deer hunting rules, most Hornady hunting bullets are designed with deer hunting in mind, or at least as a consideration. There are exceptions, of course, such as the DGX, DGS and SP-RP bullets that are designed specifically for heavy and dangerous game.

Caliber and bullet weight figure into the design of hunting bullets. A 90 grain .243 bullet from any bullet line is probably going to be optimized for use on light framed medium game, such as pronghorn antelope and the smaller deer species. A 225 grain .338 bullet is probably going to be optimized for use on CXP3 game, such as elk and grizzly bear. This is simply common sense.

However, bullet makers produce different bullet lines and there must be a reason for this. A good part of the reason is marketing. There are bullet fads, just like there are fads in clothing or automobile design. "Premium" bullets and especially bonded core bullets that retain a high percentage of their original weight are "in" as I write these words. Thus, bullet makers feel compelled to offer such bullets to their customers. Any manufacturer likes premium pricing, as it puts more profit in their pocket.

If you are using a good conventional bullet, such as a Hornady InterLock or SST, in a caliber and weight suitable for the game you are hunting, you probably don't need a premium bullet. For example, the 180 grain InterLock SP (sectional density .271) is a good choice for elk hunting with a .30-06 rifle and it is hard to see how the same caliber and weight bullet from the InterBond line would make any difference in killing power.

Where a premium bullet like InterBond might make a difference would be when you are using a caliber and bullet weight that is marginal for the game hunted. For example, if I were using 150 grain bullets (sectional density .226) in my .308 Winchester rifle, I'd rather shoot an elk with an InterBond than an InterLock. The InterBond's greater weight retention should deliver deeper penetration and partially make up for the bullet's inferior sectional density.

Comparing InterLock SP to SST, the SST might provide more initial expansion, but their ultimate terminal performance is similar. After all, both have InterLock jackets. The SST's advantage would be at very long range, because of its higher BC. I especially like to use SST bullets in high velocity cartridges, such as the .243 Winchester and .270 Winchester, since I figure these calibers are more likely to be used at long range.

FTX bullets are the cat's meow for tubular magazine rifles. Their terminal performance is on par with the best flat point bullets and they substantially extend the maximum point blank range of the cartridge. At least in my lever action rifles, they are also exceptionally accurate.

If you live in a state where lead core hunting bullets are prohibited, you will need to rely on GMX or Mono-Flex bullets. Frankly, I think that monolithic copper or gilding metal bullets generally do not kill CXP2 game as quickly or efficiently, in most situations, as an appropriate lead core bullet. I would call them a special purpose bullet and avoid them, except when hunting very large animals where penetration might be at a premium.




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Copyright 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.


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