How Bullets are Made

There are some incredible new bullets on the market.  Both the hunting market and the self-defense market have seen a great deal of new technology being applied into making bullets that have a flatter trajectory, perform exceptionally on impact and shoot more accurately than ever before.  Bullet companies are using exotic materials to build bullets now.  Powdered tungsten and super plastics, as well as, aluminum are being used instead of lead and brass jackets. 
I’m sure most of us have seen the movie, “The Patriot” where Mel Gibson melts the toy soldiers to make round ball bullets for his pistol and muzzleloader. In the old days making bullets was easy, all you did was melt some nice soft lead and pour it into a steel mold and out would come a bullet which could be loaded and used.  We got a little more sophisticated and decided to make the bullets a little more uniform, so we started to push the soft lead bullets through a tube to make them all a universal size. This helped make the bullets shoot better and more accurately too.  As we started to make bullets go faster, we found that the soft lead would start to melt and foul the barrel quickly.  Then we started to use a patch or wax lube on the bullets to help stop the fouling.  Harder lead was made by adding tin to the lead but the bullets would not expand as well as soft lead bullets, so someone came up with the great idea of putting a small copper base on the bullet and, WOW, we could make bullets faster and still have them expand when it hit a game animal! 
As the velocity of guns got faster and brass cased ammunition became the norm, jacketed bullets had to be made better and stronger so they could withstand the higher pressure and velocity.  Jackets on bullets were made of harder brass and this became the way bullets were made for nearly 100 years.  All they did was take a brass tube, melt or press in a soft lead alloy then run the jacket through a press that would form or shape the bullet to look like the bullets you see today.  The softer the lead alloy and the amount of lead exposed would determine how well the bullet would expand.  Then bullet makers became more complex and started to make the jacket a different thickness; being thinner in the front and thicker at the base.  That way the front of the bullet would expand more and the bottom of the bullet could drive deeper in the big game being hunted.  Then a company called Nosler took it to the extreme and developed a bullet that acted like two bullets.  The base of the bullet was a hard lead and tin mix with a very thick jacket, the front of the bullet was made with soft lead and a thin jacket.   And they went one step further and swaged a thick brass center in the middle of the bullet.  The front end of the bullet would open and expand very easily on the animal while the back half of the bullet would drive through to the other side of the animal making great wound channels and killing the animal more effectively.  This was the first of the so-called controlled expanding bullets.  I remember shooting some of the first Nosler partition bullets, they shot terrible as far as accuracy but they killed better than any bullet I had used before.  It took Nosler years to perfect this bullet to what it is now, which is a very deadly accurate bullet.
Barnes started to work with a solid copper bullet which had no lead inside of it at all.  They were making bullets on old screw machines then went to huge swaging presses to form the inside and outside of the bullet.  This was a new and unheard of technology! At first, it didn’t work very well but after years of research and feedback from hunters and shooters, Barnes finally made a bullet that would shoot well and open to twice its original size with penetration all the way through the game animal.  The inside of a Barnes bullet is built with a hollow cavity and small cuts to create a bullet that looks like a flower after it hits something.  The front of the bullet will pull back like the petal of a flower and yet hold together causing terrible damage and in most cases, full penetration of the game animal. 
Today, the newest thing with rifle bullets is to make them longer, heavier and slicker so they have a higher ballistic coefficient. A higher ballistic coefficient means the bullets fly farther and shoot flatter.  There’s one problem with making a hunting bullet for long range shooting; it has to be fragile enough to expand well when it hits at long range.  So many times if you take a closer shot on animals that fragile long range bullet will explode on the bone of the game animal and not get inside to do the intended damage, which means not killing the animal being hunted!  If you know all of your shots will be long range then these bullets will work great but watch out for close up shots. And I hope you, the hunter, can do justice by the animal you are hunting and put the shot where it needs to go.


Pistol bullets have come a long way also. There are some really dynamic bullets on the market now.  Lehigh bullets are one of my favorite self-defense bullets.  Made with a large hollow point and a fragile jacket they will do great damage.  Inceptor is making some really different bullets for handguns.  Some of the bullets are made from plastic and have special driving bands which cause the bullet to spin when it hits the object being shot.  I have seen photos of wild boars that have been shot with these bullets and the damage is pretty amazing.  I can hardly wait to get some of these bullets to test and shoot at the range to see how accurate they are.  Anyway for a shooter or hand-loader, there are lots of new bullets to try out.  I just wish I could get brass to load more ammunition!