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Ammo Ballistics

Does Your .30-30 Benefit From a Boattail?

by Scott E. Mayer   |  June 1st, 2011 17

Check with any Highpower shooter worth a shot, and he or she will most likely tell you to use boattail bullets for the best accuracy. The 1,000 Benchrest crowd will probably tell you the same. But ask the “short-range” Benchrest shooters—-the ones who literally compare the size of one-hole groups to see who wins—-and you’re more likely to be sent after a box of custom-made flat-base bullets. Why the difference? Both long- and short-range shooters are looking for the smallest groups, the best ballistics, the greatest accuracy, and the highest possible scores. What works for one should work for the other, right? Not necessarily.

There’s less that can go wrong in manufacturing a flat-base bullet, with the main points being that the bullet is round and the base is square to the bearing surface, or bourrelet. Because they can be manufactured to higher tolerances and less manufacturing variables, flat-base bullets are inherently more accurate than boattail bullets.

Compared to flat-base bullets, it’s more difficult to manufacture accurate boattail bullets. Bullets are formed in dies, and the boattail alignment will always be off by 1/2 the amount of clearance between the punch and the die. Tolerances have to be extremely tight. In a manufacturing environment, it’s simply not possible to put boattails on perfectly square or perfectly straight.

Boattails increase the ballistic coefficient of bullets, which helps them overcome air resistance and wind deflection. The shape also helps the air flow transition over the heel of the bullet and reduces the base diameter resulting in less base drag. Understand that at supersonic velocity, nose drag is the primary drag component, so the base drag benefit of a boattail really doesn’t come into play until the bullet is transitioning to or at subsonic velocity.

The difference in the amount of drop between flat-base and boattail bullets won’t amount to much until well past the range at which most of us shoot, but the boattail’s better ballistic coefficient makes errors in wind deflection correction and range estimation more forgiving–especially for lower velocity loads. Whatever loss of accuracy there is from the boattail’s inherent manufacturing flaws are more than offset by their ability to overcome adverse or unknown shooting conditions.

So what should you shoot, flat-base or boattail bullets? Personally, I think that regardless of whether you’re shooting game or punching paper, you should try several brands of boattail and flat-base bullets and then shoot whichever one is most accurate in your gun at the range and in the conditions you intend to shoot. Whichever you choose, most Benchrest shooters who shoot at relatively close range will stick with the flat-base bullets until someone starts winning with a particular type of boattail, and the Highpower shooters and 1,000 yard Benchrest shooters will probably stick with boattails for their long-range benefits.

  • Mark Pipkin

    I handloaded Sierra Spitzer boattails in my 270 BDL (totally factory) and I was shooting about 1/2MOA. I can never fault boattails. Of course, Sierra seems to be at the top of the heap with all the records at Camp Perry. And, No. I don't work for Sierra.

  • John Mosses

    To Mr. Mayer's credit he is correct about a Boat Tail vs a Flat Base having a nominal difference in drop up to a certain distance. If we were to compare a 150gr Sierra Game King (BC 380) to a 150gr Sierra Pro hunter (BC 336) shot from a 30-06 with a both averaging a Muzzle Velocity of 2800 fps. At 500 yards there would be a 4 inch drop difference. A difference that could mean a successful hunt or not. With newer equipment and ballistic technology, todays hunters are able to reach these distances with much more confidence. Energy sustained would also be very different but but would maintain more than 800lbs. Enough energy for either bullet tip to penetrate soft skin game at that distance. The BT is able to maintain Supersonic until 900 yards while the FB can only maintain that speed up to 800 yards.

    All of this is lab work. In real life achieving the exact same speed for both would be more of a practice in patience and the right environments.

    So there is a reason why Long Range Shooters would want a higher ballistic bullet.

    -Send it

  • Kent Hall

    For hunting purposes – bullet construction is more important than boattail v flat base. The formula for retained energy does not incorporate any allowance for bullet construction. The ability of a bullet to penetrate on impact is more important than a high BC (boattail design). If your flatbase design shoots 4" lower than your boattail at 500 yds – make the propper adjustments in your scope and shoot away ! Several statistics apply: 1) more than 90% of whitetail deer are taken within 200 yds. 2) cup & core or match grade bullets work fine on whitetails (thin skinned game). 3) solid copper and bonded core bullets penetrate bigger game better – but are still quite effective on whitetails. While I would be happy to hunt whitetails at long range with cup and core/match type boattail bullets – I would NEVER pick the same bullets to hunt elk at any range. Likewise – if I knew for certain that my shooting ranges would never exceed 500 yds – no need for boattails. So pick your bullets and sight in your rifle/scope accordingly. However – if your rifle shoots great groups with solid copper designs that also have a boattail – go for it !! There is little, if any downside.

    Sooo – will a boattail design help your low velocity 30-30 ? Probably not. Will it help your high velocity 300 RUM past 600 yds ? Probably so.

    No – I don't work for Sierra nor for Barnes

  • http://first-edition-online.com Gene Williams

    I am devoted to the 220 Swift. I am developing loads for one now which I believe is my ninth Swift. From the first one, back in 1972, they each loved Sierra bullets.

    Traditionally I used the Sierra 52 HPBT/IMR 4064/37.5, or the 53 HP which is a flat base bullet, to occasionally 39 grains, Both bullets are superb. I am not a ballistic technician, so I guess I was too uninformed to realize the long range effect of the boat tail over the flat base. At Swift velocities they never failed to expand explosively.

    I killed truckloads of PA groundhogs with both, out to 300 yards. Now the Sierra blitz kings are available and accurate. I intend to unleash them on Montana prairie dogs, but flooding and foul weather has interrupted my plans.

  • Kent Hall

    Another issue I failed to mention: For any given caliber and bullet weight – a boattail design is a longer bullet than a flatbase of the same weight. Look at the picture used for this article and you can see the difference. Longer bullets take up more space in the brass and therefore slightly less powder must be used – resulting in lower muzzle velocities for equal wieght bullets. This is yet another reason why there is very little difference in drop or retained energy – until ranges get quite far out there. If you handload – load some Nosler Accubonds v some Nosler Partitions of the same caliber and weight and you will see first hand the difference. The Accubonds all have a boattail design and a plastic tip (therefore longer) – the Partitions have neither. Both shoot great groups and both perform just fine on game. You'll discover that the Partitions start with more muzzle velocity – and are not superceeded by the Accubonds till ranges are quite far. Soooo – another tradeoff.

    No – I don't work for Nosler

  • Burt

    Also, the flat base bullet seen in the photo has more bearing surface

    than the boat tail. ( The surface of the bullet that actually contacts the bore.)

    Therefore, more friction in the bore than the boat tail, and thus…should

    cause a little higher chamber pressure with the same powder charge, compared to the boat tail bullet.

  • Thomas

    I realize most who read this excellent article know better. BUT – It should be emphasized to NEVER USE POINTED BULLETS in firearms with TUBULAR MAGAZINES such as most common 30-30 lever-action rifles. There is a INNER-MAGAZINE DETONATION HAZARD DUE TO RECOIL BECAUSE OF A BULLET POINT RESTING AGAINST THE PRIMER OF ANOTHER CARTRIDGE. Elementary safety precaution? Certainly. Better SAFE than SORRY.

  • John K.

    Okay, So where is the info on the .30-30 ? I’ve been wanting to load up spitzer bullets for my lever gun for a long time, but can’t find any load data because of the tube magazine issue. In 40 years I’ve never had to shoot twice at a whitetail. One in the chamber, one in the tube, no problem.

    • smayer

      John, the title is a hook to get you to read an article that explains why boattails are most beneficial at lower velocity, and that cartridges such as the .30-30 are lower velocity for most of their trajectory.

      That said, Hornady does offer boattail, flex-tip spitzer bullets for the .30-30. Here is a link: http://www.hornady.com/

    • paul krawic

      there are now bullets made by hornady that give you the best of both worlds for your tubular 30-30.hornady now makes the leverevolution bullet which is a softer polymer tip designed specifically for tubular magazine rifles.in a common 30-30 you end up with an average of an extra 100fps at 100 yards and the polymer tip helps provide rapid expansion on contact.these bullets will add 100-150 yards to your old lever action and still be humane.this ammo is now available loaded by the factory under the hornady leverevolution name,look for it at any major dept store or gun shop,it can also be mail ordered from all the major suppliers,i.e. midway,midsouth,etc. as others have said i work for none of these companies,i just live in western south dakota where you often are happy to get a 400 yard chance at deer or antelope,and have seen the end results with a 30-30 at 300 yards plus.as usual with a longer range shot bullet placement is of primary importance but you have a little less bullet drop with this design and better expansion.the one shot i witnessed was a one shot drop with the animal taking 1-2 steps.

  • Mike Walker

    Another great article by Scott Mayer. I use Sierra Game Kings in my .270 almost exclusively. The main reason is I mainly shoot deer and hogs and I like the 130 Grain GK. It is fairly frangible and I love the way it will punch into the rib cage and open up, litterally wrecking the boiler room of a deer or hog. This leads to Bang Flop kills. However, larger calibers don't rely on frangibility as much and kill with penetration and a large wound channel. Either way, what counts the most is wreckage in the boiler room area of the animal and both will do it.

  • casey j. runkle

    i totally agree with the article, i recently had experince with this matter… an old 310 savage/stevens 30-30 bolt action rifle, and two styles of bullets in my reloading stock. both 150 gr. one was a boattail the other was a flat-base… so i did what any reloader would do…test loaded both bullets 10 rds. each.. with the bullets being the only variant… est. velocity by the load data used should have put the 150gr bullets at about 2500(+)(-) about a hundred or so with pressure well under maximum… test fired the rounds at the local range at 100 yds. from a bench with a bipod, open sights… flat-base bullets average of 3 , 3 shot groups, was just under 3" boat tail average was just over 5" … in my oppinion, the reason for better flat-base bullet accurecy from my rifle is better berring surface . or more of it that you have on a flat-base bullet compaired to a boattail, and at lower pressures (thoes comon with a 30-30 load) the disruption to the base of a bullet that helps seal the bore are acheived with a flat-base bullet….. boattail bullets tend to take a somewhat higher pressure to disrupt the base enuf to acheive this.

  • Doug Spencer

    Hi Casey – your old 310 settles the controversy for me! I bought a Rossi Rio Grande 30-30 A Sports Authority last spring and am gearing up to reload it. I live on Maui and only get to shoot once or so a month at a local 200 yd range. We get a lot of wind and I was considering boat tail bullets and even ordered some hornady 140 grain GMC's w/ flex-tip, but haven't started loading yet.
    The GMC are solid gilding metal – so your point about base obduration is well taken – gilding metal, being much harder than lead, probably won't obdurate at all! I was hoping to be able to load the 140 gr GMC's up to around 2250 fps or so out of my 20" bbl – but now I realize thats probably a pipe dream. I'll blow some powder and try it as I'd like to get a 250 yd load for The BIIIG Axis deer we have all over Maui. They are a great pest to the environment and farmers and golf course owners as they damage a lot of indigenous plants, eat much of the crops and destroy the greens. We can harvest up to 365 deer per person per year here (1 per day per person) and hunting cant even dent the population.
    I'm buying molds for med-hard cast lead bullets for the 30-30 and for my 357 mag. I'm considering trading the Rossi for a Marlin or similar that shoots 357 mag – almost as much velocity w/ cast bullets and cheaper to load and shoot and maybe more accurate out to 125 yds? Anybody got any suggestion for that?

    Maui Doug

  • Dexter

    Question,
    If you build a M-7 Remington in a 30-30 can you safely shoot more power? I know that the 30-30 is about 30 or 40K but new guns go at about 50 or 60k. Or is the brass just not designed for this pressure?
    Thanks
    DXB

  • P B McGeough

    Hi Gents:
    I have shot a model 24V Savage 30-30/20guage over and under for many years. It has been my midday gun when I am out pushing brush. I hand loaded a 165 grain sierra boatail for this gun to get a higher BC. It gave me 1000 ft lbs of energy and a twelve inch drop( at 300 yards) with factory velocity handloads instead of the 480 ft/lbs and 48 inch drop of the typical 170 grain Flat-nose.( 24 inch barrel is a helper too.)
    Hornady/Hodgdon worked together to produce a powder for handloaders called lever evolution and makes a 160 grain FTX Boattail that has a special soft-point suitable for tube Magazine Model 94s etc.( Hornady- 160gr-FTX-#30395) On the hodgdon Powder can is a load form the hornady loading manual(8th edition). On the hodgdon Can it shows 35.5grs= 2389 FPS from a 20" barrel and my 24" barrel gains 30ft/sec/inch=2509 fps.That is better than my old loads with the 165 gr BTSP. It brings the venerable pioneer 30-30 into the new age with renewed vigor. You can buy this as factory ammo from Hornady if you are not yet a Fanatic Handloader like this Northern Canadian!!

  • P B McGeough

    P.S- I don`t work for these companies either, but just contribute to their welfare when I buy their products like everyone else, especially since the component costs have gotten so expensive lately!!

  • P B McGeough

    P.P.S- I do have a 357 magnum Carbine( model 92 replica) but cannot recommend it for deer as the humane cutoff for Deer is considered to be 1000 Ft/lbs of energy as a minimum up here in the frozen North. It is fun and a grrrrrrrrreat toy, but not a humane hunting firearm for Deer. —— don't get me wrong. I would use it in a survival situation, but not when I have 270s, 308s and 30-30s in the gun safe. We are not allowed Handgun hunting in Canada unless you are a farmer on your own Land.

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