Sierra Hunting Bullets
By Chuck Hawks
Frank Snow, Jim Spivy and Loren Harbor formed a partnership in 1947 and founded Sierra Bullets. Initially operating from a Quonset hut in Rivera, California (hence the Sierra name), Sierra has painstakingly established a "Tradition of Precision." Since 1990, Sierra's modern bullet making and testing facility has been located in Sedalia, Missouri, USA. It includes a 300 meter underground test range, the longest owned by any bullet maker in the world. The accuracy of Sierra bullets is world famous and Sierra technicians are well known as "The Bulletsmiths." Sierra has dominated national and international match events for decades, but it is their best selling hunting bullets that are the subject of this article.
For the big game hunter, Sierra offers two bullet lines, GameKing and Pro-Hunter. Both are precision made bullets with lead alloy cores (four different lead alloys are used for bullet cores) and precisely formed "cup and draw" gilding metal (95% copper and 5% zinc) jackets. The weight of all Sierra hunting bullets is held to +/- 0.6 grain. Jacket concentricity is 0.0000" to 0.0006". Sierra does not market a "premium" bullet line, because they go to great lengths to make every Sierra a premium bullet.
Most Sierra bullets are soft points, but there are a few hollow points. All GameKing bullets have boat-tails to maximize their ballistic coefficient (BC). Pro-Hunters are flat base bullets. Expansion is controlled by core hardness and the thickness of the tapered jacket. When you are trying to build the best of anything, you don't have a plethora of lines. Sierra's two bullet lines are differentiated only by base configuration, not internal design, specification, quality of materials, assembly or quality control. In those important areas, all Sierra hunting bullets are the same.
I have used Sierra hunting bullets for many years and can attest to their consistent expansion, overall performance and exceptional accuracy. I have learned that when a rifle has an accuracy problem, sometimes just switching to a Sierra bullet solves the "problem."
Sierra bullets are sometimes criticized for their rapid expansion. Often, the bullet is found under the skin on the far side of a very dead game animal's chest. The reason they are recovered is that the animal died so quickly it wasn't able to run far. When field dressed, the lungs (assuming a double lung shot) look like they were put through a blender. What more can a hunter ask? As long as the animal is dead in its tracks, what difference does it make if the fatal bullet fragmented on its way through the creature's chest? The truth is, a bullet that fragments does more damage to vital organs, such as the heart and lungs, than a bullet that retains 100% of its original weight. I am not implying that most Sierra bullets fragment after impact. In fact, a great many form perfect mushrooms. I am just saying that it is not a big deal, either way. Bullet performance varies depending on impact velocity, something that many hunters tend to overlook.
The GameKing is Sierra's long range bullet, descended from their famous MatchKing target bullets. GameKing hunting bullets are recognized by their boat-tail shape. Most are spitzer soft points, but a few are pointed hollow points that resemble match bullets. Many reloaders favor GameKings because their boat-tail design makes them easy to seat and they are incredibly accurate.
GameKing bullets are offered in calibers ranging from .224 to .375. Expansion characteristics vary depending on the intended purpose of the individual bullet. The softest GameKing suitable for use on medium game is the 6mm 85 grain HPBT. It is an all-around .243 bullet, meaning it can be used on varmints and (with careful bullet placement) is effective on deer and pronghorn antelope. The hardest GameKing is the .375/300 grain, designed for .375 Magnum cartridges. It has the thickest jacket of all GameKings and a hard, 3% antimony lead core. It is designed for the largest thin-skinned game in both North America and Africa. The 2012 MSRP for a 100 count box of .308/180grain GameKing SBT is $35.07
Sierra's flat base hunting bullets constitute the Pro-Hunter line. Most are soft point spitzers, but some have round or flat points, depending on their intended application. Pro-Hunters are available in diameters from .243" to .458". The smallest and lightest Pro-Hunter is the 100 grain .243 spitzer and the largest and heaviest is the 300 grain .458 HP/FN for the .45-70. The newest Pro-Hunter, as this is written, is a 225 grain .338 spitzer. This should be a dandy killing bullet for elk hunters who favor cartridges on the order of the .338 Winchester Magnum. As with GameKing, the expansion characteristics of Pro-Hunter bullets varies depending on the intended purpose of the individual bullet. Choose a caliber and bullet weight suitable for the game you are hunting and you will have no problems. The 2012 MSRP for a 100 count box of .308/180grain Pro-Hunter spitzers is $30.33
I would submit that among modern bullets, over penetration is a bigger problem than under penetration. In order to advertise that "Brand-X Bullets retain 99% of their original weight," manufacturers have created a generation of bullets that expand minimally at modest impact velocities, leave a narrow wound track and expend most of their energy on the landscape beyond the animal. Even when perfectly hit, the all too common result is a wounded animal that runs a long way before expiring. Naturally, this substantially reduces the hunter's chance of recovery.
Another problem with many new bullet designs is that they are too complex. Simpler bullets are generally more accurate and more reliable. Sierra, to their great credit, has managed to resist both trends.
To summarize, Sierra focuses on building very high quality, accurate bullets of conventional design. All you need to do is choose a caliber and bullet weight suitable for the game you are hunting. Their GameKing and Pro-Hunter bullets typically expand rapidly while penetrating deep into the vitals. This creates a wide, quickly fatal wound track and a dead animal that is easy to find. How much weight a bullet retains after it leaves the vitals and whether it exits the animal is inconsequential. These are simple facts, often obscured by advertising hype.
Copyright 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.