Bullets: Sizes, Calibers, and Types [Basic Guide]

Why The Difference?

In most cases experts agree that among the massive listing of new development in the modern center fire rifle or handgun ammunition comes the major advance in the design of bullets themselves. As varied cartridge types evolve from light short range cartridges to much longer range or harder hitting big bore rounds, the design of each bullet needs to change drastically.

So as to progress with a clean start here I will review the basic types of bullets being considered within this review. To be sure a bullet is not just a bullet and the type and design of the projectile can varie greatly much of the time.

Bullet Types


Full Metal Jacket

Starting with the military variants in bullets we will note the development of the “ball” bullet design as applied to a combat style projectile that meets the rules of war as per the Geneva Convention. Ball bullets, or sometimes known as full metal jacket rounds are one solid copper covering in the form of a jacket over a lead core. The bullet is designed to reduce expansion upon contact with a warm target, versus the hollow point open lead tip designed bullet that will be also cover in this listing of projectiles. 

In many cases the military surplus ball bullets are sold for informal target shooting, varmint shooting where expansion is not an issue, and the shooter wants to maintain a low cost factor regarding ammunition expenditures. I shoot ball often when setting up a basic zero with a new scope or rifle, and also shoot it on small prairie gopher and prairie dog targets out in the wide open county of the central western United States. The problem with ball as a bullet design is that it can go through a whole lot of material and even ricochet a very long way, making it a poor choice for use in any populated areas.

Armor-Piercing Bullet


30-06 AP M2 Armor Piercing

As a close cousin to the ball bullet is the AP round, or armor piercing bullet. In general this military bullet is identified by the black tip painted on it. These are just what the term implies. The bullets are designed to penetrate light armor and are very dangerous if used again in areas where target backstops are questionable or people are about. In terms of basic bullet design these two different bullets carry the long o jive ( bullet shape at the main body and nose, ) and a boat tail rear section of the bullet which aids in maintaining bullet velocity and accuracy to long ranges. 

Solid Bullet


With a move to very large game an additional full jacketed bullet is offered, but this time it is machined out of a solid piece of copper and it is dubbed as a “ solid”. Solids are shot when brain shots or other nerve interruption targets are selected, being these are not considered good choices for taking vital area shots on game. These bullets are set aside for very large caliber weapons such as the 458 Winchester, 600 Nitro ( English, ) as well as other related very large came cartridges. Solids are not very streamlined in that they are almost always used at close range, and make use of a stubby round nosed designed with a flat bullet bases that are built for strength versus aerodynamic design.

Hunting Bullet


Getting into the hunting bullet types we have the old school and standard based H.P bullet, or hollow point type design. This bullet retains a copper jacket, but the lead core is exposed at the bullet tip and allows the bullets frontal section to roll back and expand when contacting a resistant target. This is called mushrooming, and can expand the bullet as much as twice its normal frontal size. In almost all cases manufactures that offer different bullets in their ammunition will also offer this basic bullet. In the Remington line it is called a Cor-lok, and in the Winchester line it is called a Power Point by example. Because the bullet is based on a simple design it s cost effective much of the time, and I know of many local mountain hunters here in Western South Dakota that use them in the timber country, and even on the open prairie when stalking speed goats or mule deer. A point in fact is that I like them a whole lot as applied to whitetail deer hunting as they have what is referred to as rapid expansion against light skinned targets.

Designer Bullet


Hornady-Ammunition

The next and final example of a general bullet design are the “designer” bullets as I call them in that they are making a move into the space age of projectile development by way of special alloy materials, polymer or plastic tip expansion control materials, and experimentation with shapes regrading down range velocity retention and performance.

Because a bullet goes through three major regions of space during flight the engineers at places like Federal and Hornady to name a couple are always searching for the letter perfect bullet design that will fight the negative forces that drive a bullet off its mark at longer ranges.

Hornady Ammunition by example offers a bullet called the ELD design. This bullet uses a unique shape that is long and very pointed. The base of the bullet is of the angled boat tail design, and the material at the very tip of the bullet is designed to push expansion upon contact, but is made of a materiel that will not over heat and cause the bullets tip to turn on itself ( melt due to speed friction ) and thereby cause the projectile to drift off course.

What we call “Poly” bullets today have taken over the industry in terms of offering specialized long range and hard hitting game harvesting rounds of ammunition. These bullets will make use of varied types of internal design features and companies like Nosler, Sierra, Speer, Winchester, Hornady and Berger, to name only a handful offer massive numbers of designs in these specialized long range target, game, and military based projectiles. 

Caliber / Bullet Sizes

There is always the question among the non shooting types of people everywhere, and that is why all the different cartridge sizes on the market today? In effect, who needs all those different sized cartridge and the massive number of different caliber rifles and handgun in use across the board that go with these varied sizes in bullets?

I always try to answer the question this way. Sir, do you golf? Answer, is almost always yes. Ok, how many golf clubs do you take out onto the golf course and why? At that point the subject changes fast. As can be expected we have many cartridge sizes and rifle bore types because not every firearm or cartridge is designed to take on the same task.

Small Bullets, Light targets And Long Range

.22 Caliber


Image Source: Lucky Gunner Ammo – 22 LR – 40 Grain CPHP – CCI Velocitor – 50 Rounds

Starting with the 22 caliber bullet we can see both military applications ( 5.56 NATO,) and target/sporting use as well. Very light 22’s are found in cartridge like the 22 Hornet. This cartridge and bore are used for small game, close range varmints and also make for an outstanding turkey rifle where legal. Because the 22 is a jack if almost all trades in the smaller rounds just illustrated it is a work horse around a ranch or even closer range high timber hunting. When moved to the the .223 Remington the round is a good solid 600 yard varmint cartridge, and to be sure it has taken its share of deer as well with correctly placed shots.

Speed up the 22 caliber and your into the .22-250 Remington, 220 Swift, 22 Creedmooe, and very new, being much loved by this writer, .224 Valkyrie. These are longer range fast movers, and as such tend to be very much favored by coyote hunters that shoot for fur taking profit. In effect, the 22 caliber round and bore size center fire rifle is about the most flexible cartridge we have in use today. As to exact numbers of cartridge type in this caliber here please do not ask. The subject can cover volumes of pages and still not reach the end of the list. I have written books on the use of a single cartridge long range design and I can tell you for a fact I have not exhausted the subject at all.

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.25 Caliber


F.I.E. Titan 25 ACP Pistol

Moving up from the 22 caliber cartridge the move into the quarter bores is a natural transition here. These are the 25 caliber bullets and what they are is designed to be very flat shooting ( almost straight line to the target, ) very accurate in many types of rifles, and own the prairie as long range prong horn ( antelope ) game harvesting tools. Starting out as a wildcat round many years ago, and that means built by an guy in his loading room and given the name 25-06, This cartridge type and caliber is featured in the Remington factory offered 25-06, and a number other cartridge case types like the 25 WSSM, 25-35 Winchester, and the heart of the beast the 257 Weatherby Magnum, of which I have made a living with for about four decades. The 25 caliber carries some positive grain weight as in a good 120 grain or better bullet, retains high velocity in the “06” case, or Weatherby Magnum round, and shoots dead flat to 400 yards. Hair on with the cross hairs in the scope as the deer hunters say, and your bringing home the winter meat, or super trophy without a question. While some would not agree at all I would put my 257 ( 25 caliber ) Weatherby up against any critter on four legs that walks in North America. Roy Weatherby, the designer of the cartridge and many other Weatherby Magnums always took that rifle / cartridge to Africa and stated it was his favorite of the whole Weatherby lot. 

Low recoil, very flat fast bullet speeds, and hard hitting game harvesting ability make this a very popular choice among riflemen that know their craft. 

6.5 Caliber


6.5 Creedmoor

With a very slight move upward we land on the .264 caliber bullet. Here we have cartridges like the 6.5X55 Swedish,.260 Remington, and .264 Winchester Magnum.

None of these are jokes at all, in fact the 6.5 Swedish was the birth place of the very modern and popular 6.5 Creedmoor, that has become the new American sweet heart in cartridge choices today. In the big leagues the .264 Winchester Magnum is king. This cartridge with the .264 bullet will push a 130 grain big game bullet at almost 3000 f.p.s, and as such is a real friend among long range mountain to mountain goat hunters.

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.277 Caliber


While I have covered the previous cartridge / bullet sizes extensively I will condense the remaining examples due to space restraints. The .277 that carries the .270 Winchester, .270 WSSM, and.270 Weatherby Magnum hold great appeal among big game hunters. Mov ing into the 7mm bullets we find the popular 7mm-08 and the aging, but still very viable 7mm Remington magnum at the forefront.

.30 Caliber


Testing 30 cal British 303 for big game hunting. Hornady advanced design bullets upgrade an old cartridge

When we get to the 30 caliber bullets the cartridge listing goes ballistics in a way because now the 30-30 Winchester, 30-06 Springfield, and 300 Win mag, Weatherby Mag, and a host of other big 30’s take stage center. Modern day writers that condemn the 30-06 by example as being old and out of date are quite far off base. This 30 cal round and bullet development are the gold standard for center fire ammunition. Almost all of the designs have been blue printed off the 30-06 Springfield bullet and case.

In the larger super heavies in 410, 45, heavy Nitro’s in 300 and 600 departments, the game plan is simple, more powder returns more bang for the buck. 

Remember this point, as the cartridge case gets bigger it holds more power and a larger bullet. More powder means more energy driving the bullet and that means accuracy and delivered energy to much longer range is an end product here. Want to shoot Alaskan brown bear? Better have enough rifle and matched bullet. Bigger the better in this case. 

I have passed many different bullets in this review. The 20 caliber in the Ruger 204, the 32-20, or new Federal 325 in the light lever rifles for farm and ranch use, as well as the old 221 Remington and dozens of wildcat and additional special options. Selection when it comes to bullets and cartridge go into the hundreds., I would suggest if interested further start reading and using the net a great deal of the time.

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Conclusion

I wrote this using the format I have because so often today we see shooters new to the sport questioning the different types of cartridge calibers and bullet types. What I have seen due to the C-19 mess world wide is that the.223 Remington, 9mm Luger, 243 winchester, and yes 30-06 Springfield are being manufactured as first line offerings and sell like wild fire everywhere I have taken the time to observe a big box sporting goods stores ammo shelves. 

I have been an avid outdoorsman all my life. I have hunted and fished most of the Eastern United States for over three decades. During my tenure as a hunter, I have taken most every North American game animal with either a rifle or bow.Smaller game animals I have taken too many to count. I hunt duck, rabbit, dove, and squirrel every season and take a number of coyote each year which are open season in my area. I greatly miss the quail seasons of my youth but they have all but disappeared across the regions that I commonly hunt.

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