Nosler Hunting Bullets

By Chuck Hawks

Nosler Partition
Partition sectioned and expanded. Illustration courtesy of Nosler Bullets.

Nosler is a family owned business located in Bend, Oregon, USA. Designed by John Nosler and introduced in 1948, the dual-core Nosler Partition was the first of the modern American premium bullets. John had experienced bullet failure during a moose hunt and resolved to do better. The first Partition bullet was the result, designed to positively prevent jacket/core separation. John machined his prototype bullet jackets from blanks of gilding metal on a lathe, essentially drilling out both ends and inserting the front and back lead cores.

The original Nosler Partition spawned the premium bullet business in the U.S. Nosler Partition, AccuBond and Ballistic Tip bullets are truly premium bullets. Unlike many competing "premium" bullets that are created by inserting a lead core in a "cup and draw" formed gilding metal jacket, just like a conventional soft point bullet, Nosler bullet jackets start as copper alloy slugs that are formed by impact extrusion. This allows precise control of jacket dimensions and, in the case of the Partition bullet, the use of two cores separated by a bulkhead (partition). Precision impact extrusion is a more expensive way to manufacture bullets, but Nosler feels that the benefits are worth the extra effort and cost. Nosler bullets are widely available in premium factory loads from Winchester, Federal, Weatherby, Norma and others, and as components for reloaders.

Winchester has gone so far as to partner with Nosler, creating the Combined Technology (CT) bullets offered in Winchester Supreme factory loads. These include the Ballistic Silvertip, essentially a Ballistic Tip with a silver colored plastic tip and Lubalox (black oxide) exterior coating and the AccuBond CT, which is similar to the Nosler AccuBond with a Lubalox exterior coating. Nosler offers the CT bullets as components to reloaders. Comments about the standard Nosler versions of these bullets also apply to the CT versions.

Nosler's famous Partition bullet remains the flagship of the Nosler line. It might be the best all-around hunting bullet ever made. Partitions are built with dual cores inserted into an "H" form jacket, thus the Partition name. They have an exposed lead tip like a soft point bullet and an exposed lead base like a "hard ball" bullet, which from the internal partition aft they pretty much are. Even if a Partition bullet were to lose its entire front portion, the shank behind the partition will continue to penetrate like a FMJ bullet. Jacket thickness, taper, core hardness and the location of the internal partition vary, depending on bullet weight, caliber and intended use.

In my experience, Partitions are not usually as accurate as Ballistic Tip and AccuBond bullets. My .257 Weatherby Mark V, for example, will shoot into about 1 MOA at 100 yards from a bench rest using Weatherby factory loads with Ballistic Tip bullets and about 1.5 MOA with Weatherby factory loads using Partitions. I attribute this difference primarily to the exposed lead at the base of the Partition bullet (which I figure has to be deformed by the heat and pressure of firing) and secondarily to their internal complexity. Simple bullets are usually more accurate. However, Partitions are sufficiently accurate for big game hunting purposes and their terminal performance is absolutely deadly. If you want a target bullet, Nosler makes them; if you want the best bullet for your next elk hunt, get a Partition.

Unlike some controlled expansion premium bullets that emphasize excessive weight retention and deep penetration over expansion, the Partition expands readily and kills light framed animals quickly, yet still offers sufficient penetration to reach the vitals of large animals. John Nosler could have made the Partition "harder," but found that about 65% weight retention maximized killing power in .270-.30 caliber bullets and produced optimum results. Of course, as with other Nosler bullets, the smaller caliber, lighter weight Partitions are designed to expand more readily than large caliber, heavy Partitions. I have read that the medium and big bore Partitions (those from .338 caliber and up) typically retain over 85% of their original weight.

Partitions are offered in a wide range of calibers and bullet weights, ranging from .224/60 grain to .458/500 grain. They are Nosler's most expensive bullets; the 2012 MSRP for a 50 count box of .308/180 grain Partition spitzers is $44.

The Partition established Nosler's reputation, but it was an expensive hunting bullet. Seeking a lower cost, extremely accurate alternative that might compete with the soft point and match bullets marketed by other bullet makers, John Nosler created the Solid Base bullet.

The Solid Base was a soft point, boat-tail bullet that featured a tapered gilding metal jacket with a solid base that, internally, extended above the boat-tail. The solid base resisted heat and pressure deformation when fired and countered the typical boat-tail bullet's propensity to slip its core after impact.The Solid Base jacket was produced from a solid gilding metal slug by impact extrusion, a method that had never before been applied to bullet making. Impact extrusion was so successful that it was later applied to forming Partition bullet jackets and today all Nosler bullet jackets are impact extruded.

By the 1970's, the Solid Base was an established and successful hunting bullet available in calibers from .22 to .308, but more was to come. Remington had introduced the first American tipped bullet in the 1930's, the Bronze Point. (Bronze Point bullets are still offered in Remington .270 and .30-06 factory loads.) The idea was to replace the soft, easily damaged, pointed lead tip of a soft point spitzer bullet with a hard tip that served as a wedge to initiate bullet expansion. The ballistic coefficient of the bullet was improved and tip damage was eliminated. I believe it was during the 1950's when the Canadian ammunition manufacturer CIL took the Remington Bronze Point concept a step farther by introducing a bullet with a plastic tip that, if memory serves, they called "Saber Tip."

At some point, someone at Nosler had an epiphany and combined a polycarbonate tip with the Solid Base bullet and the Ballistic Tip bullet was born. Since the plastic tip can be any color, Nosler assigned different color tips to different calibers. The Ballistic Tip is very accurate, has a high BC and expands rapidly, maximizing the shock to the animal's system. Early examples perhaps expanded too violently, killing light framed animals very quickly with heart/lung shots, but penetration on larger game was sometimes found lacking. Nosler increased the jacket thickness and refined the bullet's performance, increasing penetration. Today, the Ballistic Tip is one of the most versatile and popular premium bullets on the market and it has sparked a "tipped bullet" revolution. Practically every major bullet and ammunition manufacturer has introduced a tipped bullet to compete with the Ballistic Tip.

Like all Nosler bullets, Ballistic Tip bullets are internally designed for the game on which they are likely to be used. From the .308/180 grain bullet on up, Ballistic Tips feature heavy jackets and are primarily intended for use on large animals. The lighter, smaller caliber Ballistic Tips are optimized primarily for use on CXP2 size animals. Typical weight retention is 50-60%. Ballistic Tip hunting bullets are available in diameters ranging from .243" to .323" (8mm). The similar CT Ballistic Silvertip bullets are available from .243-.338" and include a 300 grain .45-70 RN bullet. Although substantially less expensive than Partition bullets, the sophisticated Ballistic Tip remains a premium bullet, costing about twice the price of an economy soft point bullet. The 2012 MSRP is $25 for a box of 50 .308/180 grain Ballistic Tips.

Introduced in 2001, the Nosler AccuBond is basically a Ballistic Tip with a bonded lead alloy core. It retains the Ballistic Tip's form, high BC and excellent accuracy. All AccuBonds have white polycarbonate tips. The bonding of core to jacket positively prevents core/jacket separation after impact, increasing weight retention and penetration compared to a Ballistic Tip. Using the expansion and penetration characteristics of the Partition bullet as their design goal, Nosler technicians refined the performance of the AccuBond to match. Weight retention is typically 60-70%. Nosler claims a minimum impact velocity of 1800 fps.

Like all Nosler bullets, the internal design of each AccuBond bullet is tuned to its anticipated use. Jacket thickness varies depending on caliber and bullet weight. The AccuBond is a very refined bullet that can trace its origins back to the Solid Base. Like the Partition whose performance it emulates, the AccuBond is a very versatile bullet, ideal for mixed bag CXP2/CXP3 hunts. Due to its high BC, it is especially well suited for high velocity, long range calibers. AccuBonds are available in diameters from .243-.375". More expensive than the Ballistic Tip, the 2012 MSRP for a box of 50 AccuBond .308/180 grain bullets is $35.

Nosler freely admits that the E-Tip lead free bullet "was designed and developed out of necessity, as more and more state agencies and local ranges imposed 'no-lead' restrictions on hunters and shooters." Introduced in 2008, this is a monolithic, gilding metal, boat-tail bullet with a nose cavity plugged by an OD green polymer tip to raise its BC and initiate expansion. The E-Tip makes the best of a nanny state imposed bad situation.

Its terminal performance is rather like a Barnes X-bullet, but the E-Tip is sleeker and easier to load due to its boat-tail base. Because it is made of gilding metal, not pure copper, it has less propensity to "copper foul" bores and grooves are not required in the bullet's shank. Minimum impact velocity is set at 1800 fps and nearly full expansion occurs above 2500 fps. Like other monolithic copper and copper alloy bullets, the E-Tip performs best at high impact velocities. Weight retention is typically about 95% and, unlike pure copper bullets, the E-Tip's expanded petals are unlikely to break-off. Penetration is extreme. As I write these words, the E-Tip is perhaps the most advanced monolithic bullet on the market. Comparing .308/180 grain bullets, E-Tip's retail price is about 25% higher than AccuBond and 50% more than Ballistic Tip. The 2012 MSRP for a 50 count box of .308/180 grain E-Tips is $41.

Summary and Usage

Not counting the CT bullets, Nosler offers four lines of premium big game hunting bullets: Ballistic Tip, AccuBond, E-Tip and Partition. Within those four lines there are suitable Nosler hunting bullets for practically all cartridges and calibers from .22 centerfire to .458 Magnum. Nosler bullets are highly regarded around the world and especially in Africa and North America, where the majority of big game animals are killed.

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

Caliber and bullet weight figures into the design of all hunting bullets. A 90 grain .243 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. One that Nosler started is the fad for tipped bullets. Bonded core bullets are "in" as I write these words. Manufacturers feel compelled to offer the latest bullet styles to their customers.

If you are using a Nosler Ballistic Tip in a caliber and weight suitable for the game you are hunting, you probably don't need an AccuBond or Partition. For example, the 130 grain Ballistic Tip is a good choice for deer hunting with a .270 Winchester rifle and it is hard to see how the same caliber and weight bullet from the Partition line would make any difference in killing power.

Where an AccuBond or Partition might make a difference would be if you are using a caliber and bullet weight that is marginal for the game being hunted. For example, If I were shooting a 150 grain bullet in my .308 Winchester rifle, I'd rather shoot an elk with a Partition than a Ballistic Tip. The Partition's greater weight retention should deliver deeper penetration and at least partially compensate for the bullet's lack of sectional density.

Comparing AccuBond to Partition, their terminal performance is designed to be similar. The AccuBond's advantage would be at very long range, because of its higher BC. I especially like tipped bullets for high velocity or magnum rifle cartridges, such as the .243 Winchester and .300 Wby. Magnum, as I figure these calibers are more likely to be used at long range. For standard velocity rifles, I'd stick with the Partition.

If you live in a state where lead core hunting bullets are prohibited, you will have to use E-Tip 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 extreme penetration might be required.

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Copyright 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.