What is a ‘Ballistic Tip’?

Ballistic Tip : in danger of becoming ‘Hoover-ized’

Apologies for starting with a pun, but nowadays there are loads of bullets out there with synthetic tips. They come from a variety of manufacturers, in many eye-catching colours, along with plenty of claims as to their aerodynamic efficiency, accuracy and knock-down energy.

To a large number of shooters any one of these plastic-headed projectiles is referred to as a ‘ballistic tip’. True, it is a ‘tip’, and the ‘ballistic’ efficiency is usually pretty good, but…..

When you do the housework – you can’t always be out hunting – no doubt you do the ‘hoovering’. Of course, there is a chance that you might be using a Hoover to do it; but these days it’s just as likely to be a Dyson, a Samsung, Miele, Bosch, or any one from a number of other manufacturers. But you will still be doing the hoovering, rather than the vacuuming.

Going back to the bullets – so when is a ballistic tip not a Ballistic Tip?

Ballistic Tip is a registered trade mark of Nosler, the world-renowned bullet manufacturers based in Bend, Oregon, USA.. Nosler first introduced their polymer-tipped projectile in 1984. From the outset Ballistic Tips attained massive popularity amongst home-loaders, and it wasn’t too long before ammunition manufacturers, such as Federal and Norma, recognised the fact and started adding the bullets to their factory lines. And then everyone else seemed to jump on the bandwagon.

So, whilst every Nosler Ballistic Tip bullet has a coloured polymer tip, with different colours denoting the various calibres, none of the other brands of similarly tipped bullet is a Ballistic Tip. Amongst many others, Swift call theirs the Scirocco, Hornady has V-Max, A-Max, SST and Interbond, Barnes the TTSX and LRX, Sierra with BlitzKing, and so on.

Not even all polymer tipped Nosler bullets are Ballistic Tip. The company also produces Accubond, Ballistic Silvertip, E-Tip, and the very subtly named ‘Varmageddon’!

But let’s return to the real Ballistic Tip. There are two distinct styles: Hunting and Varmint. Outwardly they look pretty similar, but it is what’s inside that makes the difference. Here’s how Nosler describes the difference:


1 Nosler Ballistic Tip®
Streamlined polymer tip, color-coded by caliber, resists deformation in the magazine and initiates expansion upon impact.2 Fully-Tapered Jacket and Special Lead-Alloy Core
 Allows controlled expansion and optimum weight retention at all practical velocity levels. The heavy jacketed base prevents bullet deformation during firing.3 Heavy Jacketed Base
 Acts as a platform for large-diameter mushroom.4 Ballistically Engineered Solid Base®
Boat tail configuration combines with the streamlined polymer tip for extreme long-range performance and for easier loading.

1 Nosler Ballistic Tip®
Nestled in the jacket mouth is the streamlined polymer tip, color-coded by caliber.

2 Ultra-Thin Jacket Mouth
Assures violent expansion at either end of the velocity scale.

3 Varmint Jacket Wall Design
 The uniform, gradual thickening at the bullet’s mid-section is designed to keep the Ballistic Tip® Varmint together until impact-at any velocity.

4 Ballistically Engineered Solid Base®
 Boat tail configuration combines with the streamlined polymer tip for extreme long-range performance and for easier loading.

You will immediately observe the difference in design of the copper jacket. With the Varmint, notice how the polymer tip sits on top of a void, allowing impact with the target to drive the tip back into the lead core, with the ultra-thin jacket mouth allowing instantaneous violent expansion. Meanwhile there is slight thickening of the jacket towards the base, ensuring that the bullet holds together at ultra-high velocities. Look at the Hunting, and see the difference in internal shape: the jacket steadily tapering back to a thicker, heavier base giving a much more controlled expansion and weight retention, resulting in reliable stopping power without undue meat damage.

As with any bullet, aside from the legions of shooters that love the Ballistic Tip there are the detractors. However, in my experience this is largely down to using a bullet inappropriate to the quarry that you are stalking/hunting. Utilise the optimum bullet in a suitable calibre, and you are on to a sure-fire winner.

As an interesting aside:
Some years ago I visited a well-known bullet manufacturer – not Nosler – and was shown around the factory. This was shortly after the company had started adding a polymer tip to one of their popular bullet designs.

I asked “Is there any noticeable difference in accuracy and performance under hunting conditions?”

The response: “No. But it makes them look prettier, so we sell more”

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