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Posted June 1, 2009
Barnes recently published test results on their website at the following url:
*NOTE – In response to this article, Barnes rewrote the introduction of their report to address some of these points.
I encourage you to read their report before you continue reading this article. They shot Berger, Nosler and Barnes bullets into bone encased in ballistic gelatin at impact velocities consistent with (according to Barnes) 100 yard and 1,000 yard shots using a 7mm WSM and a 300 Weatherby. They also list accuracy results which I will address later.
Based on the opening text at the top of the report it seems that Barnes is working to provide the hunter with reasons why he should use Barnes instead of Berger or Nosler. The opening text says that “(Barnes is) finding that more hunters are choosing one bullet and discounting another simply because of a BC value. For hunting applications, frankly, this is unethical and careless for many reasons.”
Since Berger’s have the highest BCs among all bullets used for hunting we believe they are referring to hunters who are choosing Berger Hunting VLD and we couldn’t disagree more with their comment. In truth, Barnes’ comments and test results have not been able to provide any factual evidence supporting their opinion that it is “unethical and careless” to choose the high BC, highly successful Berger Hunting VLD. Instead they have proven with their test results why Berger Hunting VLDs work so well on game. They also published some very unsafe information but I will get to that later.
Marketing Hype at Work
Regarding their opinion that it is “unethical and careless” to choose a bullet based on BC we disagree completely (of course) but not just because our bullets have high BCs. The fact is one of the most significant aspects of ethical hunting is the ability for a hunter to achieve proper shot placement. There is no arguing that terminal performance is important however if you can’t put the bullet in the right spot construction means very little.
A bullet with a high BC provides a hunter with less drop and drift along with higher impact velocity. Combine increased velocity retention (better drop and drift performance) with Match Grade quality (not Made for Match Shooting, which is different) and you get a bullet that is easier to put in the right spot. To ignore this important aspect of a hunting bullet’s performance is “unethical and careless”.
Another important consideration in choosing a bullet that is ethical for hunting is, of course, terminal performance (how the bullet performs upon impact with the animal). Barnes states that “not nearly enough focus is on the proper construction and function of the bullet.” The reality is most hunters don’t have the time, facilities or materials needed to focus their attention on the construction and function of hunting bullets. Hunters rely on bullet makers to provide products that work properly for their listed purpose. Hunters then use these bullets in the field and each product (like all products) develops a performance reputation.
Berger’s rapid growth as a popular game hunting bullet is due to producing consistently repeatable, successful results in the field. Why it works so well is hardly worth focusing on if you are a satisfied hunter with better things to do with your time. I believe that what Barnes wanted to say is “not nearly enough focus is on the proper construction and function of the (Barnes) bullet.”
Barnes marketing hype continues with the opinion that “a match bullet is designed to punch paper, NOT to take down big game at close or even longer distances.” To me this is one of the most ridiculous and insulting statements a bullet maker can say out loud to hunters. Has no one ever considered that you can make hunting bullets using Match Grade quality materials, procedures and tolerance!? Of course you can! Any bullet maker can if they want to but they choose not too because either they don’t know how or it is easier to make bullets of less than Match Grade quality.
Personally, I believe that bullet makers who believe that hunters don’t want Match Grade quality in their hunting bullets are out of touch with the advancements in hunting rifle manufacturing quality. With both improved factory hunting rifles and the ever increasing number of custom built hunting rifles we are seeing Match quality performance becoming the expected result. Many hunting rifles are capable of sub ½ MOA and even ¼ MOA accuracy. This level of performance is unlikely with anything less than Match Grade quality hunting bullets.
I still shake my head when I hear someone say “Match Grade bullets are for punching paper”. Not anymore! To be clear, many Match Grade bullets are only for targets and not suitable for hunting. We make several bullets that are meant for target only. They say “Target” right on the label. What I am saying is that “Hunting” and “Match Grade” can and do coexist. Berger Hunting VLDs say “Hunting” on the label and the color of the box (blaze orange) makes the intended purpose of these bullets very clear even though the label also says Match Grade.
Important and Dangerous Science Based Inaccuracies
Barnes published test data in their report that is important to discuss in the interest of establishing science based fact. The first one I’ll comment on is less scientific than it seems but can’t be called marketing hype since it is printed test result data and not an opinion. They display two charts listing group size for five groups; each group is made with five shots (similar to benchrest competitions with which we are very familiar at Berger).
Bergers have been comparison tested for precision and accuracy against the best target and hunting bullets for decades by gun writers, at the range for personal enjoyment, in the field by hunters and in rifle competitions of every size. The results from these comparisons are well known by most serious rifle shooters. The result that Barnes publishes listing that their bullets shoot nearly half as small group sizes as Berger is an unusual result that many who have shot both brands will find hard to agree with. I am not saying their results are fictitious as I have no evidence to suggest they are. I am only saying that it is inconsistent with typical results.
Barnes does state under each chart that “Berger bullets typically produce better accuracy when shot in a throat designed for VLD style bullets.” This indicates that even Barnes knows that their results are very unusual although we are not sure what they mean by “throat designed for VLD style bullets.” There are no throat designs made specifically for the VLD that I am aware of in any hunting or competition rifles that have proven to be more successful than typical throat configurations.
Barnes goes further with science based inaccuracies with the velocities they publish. This may not have been intentional but the results are dangerous. I am referring specifically to the velocity shown for all the bullets listed under the 1,000 yard performance through bone into ballistic gelatin images. Before I get into that I must explain how I came to these conclusions. The chart below lists the data. Using the velocity Barnes listed for tests at 100 yards and the BC for each bullet you can determine the velocity from the muzzle all the way to 1,000 yards. I encourage others to do this with their own software.
For several years Bryan Litz has been fire testing nearly every popular long range bullet to establish true and comparable BC data. Bryan’s efforts have produced a wealth of information which will soon be available to all shooters in his book Applied Ballistics for Long Range Shooting. For this article I was able to use Bryan’s G1 BCs for all the bullets listed except for the Barnes 7mm 150 gr TTSX. For this bullet I used Barnes published BC of .450.
Bryan found through his extensive testing that Barnes published BCs are typically 5% higher than actual. This is likely due to the fact that Barnes’ BCs are tested over 300 yards; Bryan’s are tested over 600 yards. In other words, Barnes published BCs may be perfectly accurate for the speed range they are tested, and the 5% discrepancy is likely due to the velocity dependence of BC. In this case I left the BC at .450 since I do not have scientific evidence that this particular BC is incorrect.
Using this data there are several facts that reveal themselves. The most important regarding hunter safety is Barnes’ published 1,000 yard velocities. These velocities are not achievable using the velocities reported for the 100 yard gelatin test. More importantly, the muzzle velocities needed to achieve the reported 1,000 yard velocities are so high that they are at best not achievable at all and at worst extremely unsafe should a hunter attempt to achieve their published 1,000 yard velocities for any of the bullets listed.
Another fact that reveals itself related to down range velocity is Barnes’ focus on 1,000 yards. If you achieve the muzzle velocities needed to match their 100 yard reported velocities (which are hotter than most manuals list but are not out of reach by those who work up their loads safely) the point at which the bullet’s velocity falls below 1,800 fps is at distances less than 1,000 yards.
All Berger Hunting VLDs perform effectively at 1,800 fps impact velocity or faster. On my chart, I list the yardage where each bullet’s velocity is slightly faster than 1,800 fps in the “Suggested Lethal Range” column. You can clearly see that none of the bullets listed are going 1,800 fps or faster at 1,000 yards. (I accept that the other brands may have slower velocities at which they can still work but if impact velocity is much slower than 1,800 fps kinetic energy falls below generally recommended levels)
Unethical and Careless?
Based on the results from their testing Barnes’ focus on 1,000 yards is frankly confusing. First, they report impact velocities at 1,000 yards for all the bullets tested that are not safely achievable in the cartridges used. Then they ignore entirely that none of these bullets are suitable for 1,000 yard game hunting. They are all too light and are going too slow for this application. Berger Hunting VLDs are able to effectively reach farther than the other brands but even we don’t recommend game hunting at 1,000 yards.
I suggest that those who seriously consider trying to hit an animal with a Barnes bullet at 1,000 yards based on the provided data should reconsider this decision. Ask any serious 1,000 yard competitive target shooter if they would use any Barnes bullets in a match and see what they say. Keep in mind they are shooting at a known 1,000 yard range that will not change and on a target that won’t move and they still won’t do it during a match.
Highly experienced hunters who take shots at 1,000 yards do so fully aware of the risk and after much experience at that distance with the right gear that they know works. I am not suggesting above that hunting at 1,000 yards isn’t done successfully but those who do it are on the extreme edge of the game hunting bell curve. Long range hunting for most hunters is at a range less than 1,000 yards at which they know for sure they can make the shot. For some hunters, long range hunting is done at 300 yards. For others long range hunting is at 600 yards. Hunting at these long ranges is ethical if the hunter uses the right bullet, is practiced using their gear and certain they will make the shot. So I must ask the question, based entirely on what Barnes’ report suggests, who is being unethical and careless?
Barnes Proves Why Berger Hunting VLDs Work on Game
Setting aside the “who is acting ethically” question for a moment the Barnes’ bone in gelatin test is meant to show terminal performance on impact with bone and tissue. Barnes specializes in deep penetration and high weight retention bullets. This is something they have been doing for a long time. They don’t want to consider that there are other ways hunting bullets can be successful. Instead of evolving, Barnes will stay focused on convincing hunters that their way is the best and only way hunting bullets should work.
It is our position at Berger that an enhanced alternative option to this type of bullet is a bullet that penetrates the first inches of tissue and bone and then dumps its energy through fragmentation into the vital area of the animal. Barnes’ tests prove that their bullets still work the same as they always have and that our bullets perform exactly as we describe.
You can clearly see from Barnes’ images of their bone in ballistic gelatin that the Berger Hunting VLD penetrates through bone and then fragments into the area of the animal’s vital organs. This action cuts through tissue (internal organs) and transfers the bullets energy as this fragmentation occurs. This transfer of energy produces tremendous hydrostatic shock (much more so than a lower BC bullet that arrives on target with a reduced velocity). When the hydrostatic shock and the torn tissue (from the fragments) combine it creates a consistently lethal and larger wound cavity deep inside the animal’s vital organs area.
The extensive tissue and organ destruction along with higher levels of energy dumped into the internal tissue usually puts the animal immediately into shock which drops them in their tracks. They quickly succumb to blood pressure loss and/or multiple organ failure. Those animals that manage to stay on their feet after impact from a Berger Hunting VLD will not last long with this amount of internal destruction. This is why we say that “They won’t run away from a Berger.” Some might call this slogan marketing hype but it is in fact a brief description of the actual results you can depend on when using a Berger Hunting VLD.
From the beginning we have promoted Berger Hunting VLD as an alternative option. Bergers do not act like Barnes or Swift or any other deep penetrating and high weight retaining bullet. A Berger Hunting VLD does not dump its energy into the ground or tree on the other side of the animal. Our bullets do not create an exit wound (exit wounds can occur depending on animal size and impact velocity) for the specific purpose of creating a blood trail so a hunter can track their wounded game. We prefer that hunters enjoy their results immediately by watching the animal go to the ground when it is shot. We also prefer that the animal die quickly with a minimal amount of needless suffering.
Game hunting is done by an individual or with a few close friends. We understand that it is a very personal and frankly spiritual experience. Each hunter knows what type of experience they are looking for and each hunter should go into the field completely confident that their gear will get the job done the way they expect it to work. We understand that every hunt has the potential to be a once in a lifetime experience.
If you feel you need a deep penetrating, high weight retaining bullet to have the best experience then by all means please shoot Barnes or any of the many others brands that produce the same result. If you understand how the Bergers work differently and this performance appeals to you then give the Berger Hunting VLD a try. Based on the overwhelming number of positive feedback we are getting from hunters who already use them on game I can assure you that you will not be disappointed.