April 01, 2022
By Joseph von Benedikt
America has always been a nation of riflemen. From the longrifle-toting minutemen of the Revolutionary War to Billy Dixon’s long shot at the Battle of Adobe Wells from Sergeant York’s exploits in World War I up to the crack shots of modern PRS competitions, we live and breathe accurate shooting at far-away targets.
Hunters, particularly Western hunters who prowl wide-open country, have always strived to extend their ethical lethal capabilities. And while many pieces equal the complete puzzle, no single element of modern equipment has contributed more to accomplishing long-range capability than purpose-built long-range hunting projectiles.
Here’s a look at the best of the best, starting with the bullet that launched—and still typifies—the type and trend.
1. Berger VLD Hunting
Without doubt, this is the most universally accurate bullet on this list. With a bit of handload tuning, just about any rifle with a good, well-chambered barrel and properly bedded action will shoot half-MOA groups with a Berger VLD bullet. Plus, it’s a simple bullet. No tip. No bonding. No taper to the jacket. Simplicity, in this case, contributes to consistency. Excellent ballistic coefficients enable the VLD Hunting bullet to maintain velocity, which helps it buck wind and maintain energy way out there.
Its Achilles’ Heel is a somewhat unpredictable terminal performance. Most of the time, it penetrates 3 to 5 inches, then grenades into fragments, pulverizing the vitals and killing quickly. Occasionally, however, it fails to expand and penetrates through like a knitting needle. To minimize this tendency, avoid impact speeds of less than 1,800 fps. Conversely, the Berger VLD occasionally will grenade on the surface, leaving a grapefruit-size impact crater but failing to penetrate through the vitals. To minimize that tendency, avoid impact speeds of more than 2,800 fps.
Minimum recommended velocity: 1,800 fps.
2. Barnes LRX
This bullet features all-copper construction., and as a result, it’s impossible to break it up entirely into fragments on impact. Reliable, deep penetration is the hallmark characteristic of the LRX (Long Range X). Combined with moderate but predictable expansion, that penetration gives this bullet outstanding terminal performance marks.
Because copper inherently has less mass than lead, the LRX does not have a super-high ballistic coefficient (BC). Aerodynamics are good, but not great. On the plus side, the LRX is arguably the second most accurate bullet on this list, commonly shooting sub-half-MOA with a good handload.
An LRX will kill cleanly from any reasonable shot angle. It will usually exit, providing a good blood trail. Because it does not fragment at the nose, there will be a lack of secondary projectiles and fragments spiraling off from the bullet. This is good and bad: Good because meat is untainted by microscopic lead fragments; bad because the LRX sometimes doesn’t kill quite as quickly as a lead-core bullet usually does.
When stepping up in game size appropriate for a given cartridge—for instance, when hunting elk with the 6.5 Creedmoor—the LRX is absolutely the best choice for hunters because it penetrates out of proportion to its average, in essence enabling it to punch way above its weight class.
Minimum recommended velocity: 1,600 to 1,800 fps depending on caliber and weight.
3. Federal Terminal Ascent
Featuring a solid copper back half and a lead core bonded into the front half, this bullet is arguably the best all-purpose hunting bullet ever designed. It expands like a soft, rapid-expansion deer bullet; maintains its weight like a premium bonded dangerous-game bullet; and penetrates nearly like a monometal bullet. Reliably. Every time.
Aerodynamics are excellent, too, nipping at the heels of the best Berger and Hornady high-BC bullets on the market. A boattail and a space-age composite tip further enhance flight characteristics. Accuracy is excellent but can be elusive, requiring a bit more handload tuning than the more forgiving bullets on this list. Federal’s factory ammo featuring this bullet tends to shoot very well, grouping into one MOA or less from good rifles.
A nickel-plated jacket prevents any corrosion and provides a naturally lubricious surface. This minimizes bore fouling and benefits smooth feeding up the feedramp and into the chamber.
This bullet’s stand-out characteristic is consistent terminal performance. Thanks to its unique construction, the Terminal Ascent behaves nearly the same (that is, perfectly) whether impacting at 15 yards or 1,000 yards. Excellent mushrooming, high weight retention, and deep-driving, fast-killing capability is the norm.
Minimum recommended velocity: 1,400 fps.
4. Hornady ELD-X
One of the most universally capable and popular long-range hunting bullets on the market, the ELD-X is an accurate, fast-killing projectile and usually features best-in-class aerodynamics. A super-high BC enables it to buck the wind extremely well and hit with plenty of oomph way out there.
Hornady broke the mold and reset the way high-BC bullets are tested and classified by using Doppler radar to test and establish aerodynamic data. A Heat Shield composite tip resists in-flight erosion, resulting in consistent, non-changing downrange BCs. Match-quality construction enables forgiving, consistent accuracy.
Because it’s made with a soft lead core inside a relatively thin jacket—and the two are not bonded together—the ELD-X typically expands dramatically on impact and sheds a lot of weight in the form of fragments that spiral off from the primary wound cavity and create channels of their own. As a result, the ELD-X commonly provides spectacular, fast kills. Its one downside occasionally occurs at very close range, where high impact velocity stresses the bullet, and complete fragmentation can occur. As a result, it’s best to limit close-range shots to broadside presentations when using fast magnum cartridges.
Minimum recommended velocity: 1,600 fps.
5. Nosler AccuBond Long Range
Featuring the same core-to-jacket bonding that made Nosler’s standard AccuBond bullet a household name among elk hunters, the AccuBond Long Range (ABLR) boasts a stretched-out, streamlined profile maximized for aerodynamics. It has a very high BC and shrugs off wind, and so as a result it retains speed and energy well.
In rifles that like the ABLR, it’s a top choice for across-the-spectrum use on big game. It has one downside. For whatever reason, it tends to be somewhat finicky about accuracy. In most cases, careful handload tuning will result in good precision, so you may have to work for it.
Terminal performance on impact is dramatic. Huge mushrooming occurs thanks to the very soft lead core and thin copper jacket, yet courtesy of the bullet’s bonding, weight retention is usually still good. Massive wound cavities combined with reasonably good penetration are common and provide fast, clean kills.
Minimum recommended velocity: 1,300 fps.