Speer Hunting Bullets

By Chuck Hawks

Speer bullets
A selection of Speer bullets. Illustration courtesy of Speer Bullets.

According to his friend Jack O'Connor, Vernon Speer, the founder of Speer bullets, started making bullets during World War II using spent .22 rimfire cases as jackets. At the time, civilian hunters/reloaders were unable to buy bullets due to military demand. Speer prospered and from such humble beginnings rose the respected Speer Bullets, one of the major U.S. bullet manufacturers. The company is now owned by industry giant ATK, but still operates out of Lewiston, Idaho.

One of Vernon Speer's last accomplishments was the Hot-Cor bullet, which was introduced some 48 years ago. A Hot-Cor bullet is made by filling a drawn gilding metal jacket cup with molten lead, rather than the pre-formed lead core used by most bullet makers. Speer claims the Hot-Cor process eliminates the problems associated with air pockets in the lead core and the lubrication used to insert the core in the jacket. The result is better core/jacket integrity and less chance of the core slipping from the jacket after the bullet impacts a game animal, which translates to potentially better weight retention and deeper penetration. I have never heard of any problems associated with the cooling and consequent slight shrinking of the hot lead core.

Bullet expansion is controlled in the Hot-Cor by means of a tapered jacket that increases in thickness toward the flat base. Weight retention in ballistic gelatin testing is claimed to be 70-75%. Hot-Cor bullets are offered in diameters from .257-.458" and with various nose profiles, including spitzer, semi-spitzer, flat point and round nose.

The Hot-Cor is basically a soft point bullet with an exposed lead tip and performs as such, making it a good general purpose bullet. In appropriate calibers and bullet weights, it is suitable for all CXP2 and CXP3 game. Hot-Cor competes in the marketplace with the Sierra Pro Hunter, Remington Core-Lokt, Winchester Power Point, Hornady InterLock and similar bullets in terms of both price and performance.

The Speer Boat Tail bullet is Speer's long range offering. It is manufactured in the conventional manner, using a drawn gilding metal jacket into which is inserted a pre-formed lead core. The 13-degree boat tail gives this bullet a higher ballistic coefficient (BC) than a flat base bullet, making it more suitable for long range use. Impact velocity is typically lower at long range, thus the Boat Tail is made with a thinner jacket than a Hot-Cor bullet of the same caliber and weight to facilitate expansion. Compared to a Hot-Cor at the same impact velocity, the Boat Tail will provide more expansion, which creates a larger frontal area, increases shock to the animal's system and reduces penetration. To better avoid jacket/core separation, the Boat Tail's jacket is made with a heavy heel section.

This bullet competes with the Sierra GameKing, other conventional boat tail/soft point bullets and the various tipped/boat tail bullets of conventional construction (not bonded core) in the marketplace. It is excellent for use at long range on CXP2 game and on the lighter species of game, such as pronghorn antelope or Coues deer, at any range. Boat Tail bullets are available in diameters from .243-.375".

Bonded core bullets are all the rage, so new to the Speer line is the Deep Curl bonded bullet. This uses a pre-formed lead core and a plated jacket, resulting in what Speer describes as an electro-chemical bond. The core and jacket are fused at the molecular level. (Speer pioneered plating bullet jackets with their TMJ handgun bullets.) The Deep Curl technology sounds identical to the process that creates the bullets used in Fusion factory loads. Speer's parent company ATK also owns Fusion, so that makes perfect sense. The Speer Deep Curl is formed with a slightly cupped flat base, said to aid accuracy. The bonding of jacket to core virtually eliminates the possibility of jacket/core separation after impact, ensuring high weight retention.

In terms of terminal performance, Deep Curl offers more expansion than Speer's premium Grand Slam, with consequently less penetration. Weight retention, however, is even higher than the Grand Slam, typically about 85% in ballistic gelatin at impact velocities less than 3000 fps. Caliber selection runs from .243-.338" at this writing and will probably expand. (Fusion bullets are already offered in .35 Whelen and .45-70 factory loads.) The Deep Curl is priced about like conventional soft point bullets, including Hot-Cor, yet allows Speer to compete with higher priced bonded bullet offerings from Nosler, Hornady, Swift, Remington and others.

Speer introduced the Grand Slam in 1975 as their premium bullet. Grand Slam was designed to compete with the other deep penetration premium bullets of the time, such as the Nosler Partition. As such, it is more expensive than the other Speer bullets.

It uses a flat base and what Speer used to call a "mag-tip," meaning that there is no exposed lead tip unsupported by the jacket. The original Grand Slam's two section lead core of different hardness's has been abandoned in favor of a monolithic lead alloy core injected into a gilding metal jacket cup at 900-degrees F via the Hot-Cor process. This simplification also improved accuracy. Grand Slam is built with a heavy, tapered jacket up to 45% thicker than Hot-Cor jackets with internal flutes at the nose to facilitate expansion. There are internal heel folds near the base to mechanically lock the jacket and core together, something like the Hornady InterLock in concept. The Grand Slam has a crimping cannelure, which also helps to hold jacket and core together. The result is less expansion, higher retained weight and deeper penetration than more conventional bullets like Hot-Cor. Grand Slam bullets are offered in calibers ranging from .243-.375".

Grand Slam is a good choice for CXP3 game in appropriate calibers and weights, for mixed bag CXP2/CXP3 hunts and when hunting large for caliber game. If you were hunting elk with your .257 Weatherby, for example, the 120 grain Grand Slam would be an appropriate bullet choice.

For a while the Grand Slam was challenged within the Speer line by marketing Federal's Trophy Bonded Bear Claw bullets under the Speer name to reloaders. (ATK owns both Speer and Federal.) As a businessman, I have never seen much point in competing with your own product line and ATK has apparently figured this out, returning the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw to the Federal brand as Federal's premium bullet and leaving the Grand Slam as Speer's flagship bullet.

Summary and Usage

Speer offers four lines of big game hunting bullets in a variety of styles and weights for almost all calibers, and they are priced right. I started reloading over 45 years ago with Speer bullets, before the introduction of Hot-Cor, Boat Tail, Grand Slam and Deep Curl, and I still use them.

Like the other major bullet manufacturers in the U.S., where deer hunting rules, most Speer 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 very large game. A 285 grain .375, for example, is not a deer bullet!

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.

Speer produces four 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. For example, bonded core bullets are "in" as I write these words. Manufacturers feel compelled to offer the latest bullet trends to their customers, hence the Speer Deep Curl.

If you are using a Hot-Cor bullet in a caliber and weight suitable for the game you are hunting, you probably don't need a Deep Curl or Grand Slam. For example, the 150 grain Hot-Cor is a good choice for deer hunting with a .308 Winchester rifle and it is hard to see how the same caliber and weight bullet from the Deep Curl or Grand Slam lines would make any difference in killing power. In addition, Hot-Cor is about half the price of Deep Curl.

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

Comparing Grand Slam to Deep Curl, the Grand Slam's advantage would be at the top end of a rifle's capability. Both are versatile, all-around bullets suitable for mixed bag hunts. Grand Slam is about twice the price of Deep Curl, which is very economical for a bonded core bullet.

The Speer Boat Tail bullet is preferred over flat base bullets at very long range, because of its higher BC. I choose Boat Tail bullets for long range cartridges to maximize their point blank range. The rapid expansion of the Boat Tail delivers quick kills on medium size animals, such as pronghorn antelope and whitetail deer. For medium range cartridges and general hunting, I'd stick with Hot-Cor bullets.

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Copyright 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.