Guys, this is part II of the Factory/Handload review that I promised. Reviewed are the Hornady, Sierra, and Remington 200 grain roundnose softpoints, the 180 and 220 grain Speer softpoints, the RCBS 200 FN, cast of wheelweights in both as cast and hardened conditions, the 180 Hornady Single Shot Pistol bullet, the 225 Nosler Ballistic Tip (for the handgun shooters out there) and the Hornady 125 grain XTP pistol bullet as a varmint blasting load.
All shooting was done into saturated phone books at the ranges mentioned. I did not load down to simulate long range impact; I actually tested it at long range. Phone directories were Lincoln, NE white and yellow pages, thoroughly saturated with excess water squeezed out and stacked in a row on a 1”X 6” board. Shooting was through one of three .35 Remington 336’s, all with 20 inch Microgroove barrels. Velocities were chronographed at 15 feet. I also would like to thank my friend Dave (7-30 on the Marlin forum; also visits Beartooth’s frequently) with helping me shoot, record data and haul hundreds of pounds of phone books around.
It still needs to be mentioned that these are phone books, not game animals; however, this sort of testing is useful in evaluating relative performance between the various brands and bullet types. I will still take the liberty of making comparisons between what I see here and the results myself and others have experienced on game animals using the bullets mentioned. It was an interesting project, and I’m still evaluating performance periodically to make sure nothing has changed. This information is current and applicable to bullets available as of this date. If anything changes, I’ll try to let you know as soon as I discover it. In many cases I have data on results that dates back 18 years or so. I haven’t noticed any difference in performance even during that time. All of the information in this post was reshot during the summer of 2003 and 2004, and repeated for verification if any doubtful data showed up.
The Hornady 200 grain roundnose softpoint
I have information on both new production and “reject” bullets that are 18 years old I used to get for about $5.75/100 straight from the Hornady plant in Grand Island Nebraska. Reject bullets were seconds for very minor visual defects. I cannot tell the difference in expansion between these older bullets and new production. I also had a box of storebought 18 year old bullets that I used to verify that the rejects were not giving atypical results.
The Hornady bullet has a reputation for being a “tough” bullet in the .35 Remington, and I can state that this is both a very true and untrue statement, as odd as that sounds. The Hornady bullet is a curious blend of rapid close range expansion combined with construction that makes it stop expanding sooner than any other bullet type tried in the .35 Remington. I used 33 grains of Reloder 7 to obtain 2140 fps for the testing of the Hornady bullet, about 140 fps faster than the typical .35 Remington factory load, but still mild as to pressures developed. I decided on this velocity as it is close to the speed of many published handloads. At close ranges, the Interlock ring in the Hornady bullet positively kept jacket and core together with no separation. The Hornady bullet had the smallest frontal diameter of the 200’s on close range impacts, and lost the most weight. The small diameter was a function of the weight lost in the nose of the bullet from higher velocity impacts. “Wound” channels were quite large in the phone books, with penetration averaging around 9 inches at 25 and 50 yards. At 100 yards the bullets retained more weight with a wide mushroom that sheared off less material. Penetration at this distance was around 11 inches, or slightly less than the typical 200 RN factory load, which does around 12-13 inches at 100 yards. At 200 yards there was no expansion whatsoever, but I did recover a few bullets that had sheared off jacket material without increasing the diameter of the bullet. Most were found unexpanded and had penetrated around 19-20 inches, often coming to rest slightly sideways.
The Hornady does have skiving cuts in the jacket, but they are not on the bullet tip nor are they complete perforations of the jacket like the Remington and Winchester 200 RN factory loads. These weakening cuts, really scoring of the jacket faintly visible behind the tip of the bullet along the sides ahead of the cannelure, are much less useful than if they were on the front of the bullet. What appears to inhibit expansion of the bullet once velocities get lower is the rollover of the jacket on the front of the bullet, effectively making the “hole” for the softpoint smaller and serving as a reinforcement that makes expansion more difficult to achieve at lower speeds. This rollover of the jacket, combined with skiving in the wrong places makes the Hornady almost backwards in terms of construction to, say, the Remington Core-Lokt. There is really no mechanism to open the bullet at low speeds like the slit jacket and scallops of the Remington. The skiving present in the sides of the Hornady bullet actually weaken the jacket, so when the minimum velocity threshold is exceeded, it does not expand the bullet a little, it expands it a lot. Said another way, the performance of the Hornady bullet is abrupt. When velocity drops below about 1650 fps, the bullet ceases to expand at all. When the Hornady does expand, it is to wide diameter or higher weight loss with somewhat less penetration than the other 200 RN’s. At longer ranges it ceases to expand while other bullets still open. In comparing my results to some of the fellow’s results at Beartooth Bullets, I note that they did not obtain expansion of the Hornady bullet at 100 yards, while my results were quite good at that range. I attribute this to the fact that their starting velocities were around 140-170 fps slower than mine. Comparing results, I would expect expansion to stop occurring in phone books at 2140 fps velocity at around 140-150 yards. I plan to retest at that range to verify that. If I were to use the Hornady bullet on deer as I have in the past, I would run it at 2200 fps or more to obtain expansion to the farthest possible range, but I would not attempt very long shots. I have had good results on a couple of deer, but these were not that far away, the furthest being around 50 yards. One unfortunate coyote also got smacked by the Hornady, launched at 2130 fps using H335 at about 60 feet. The bullet creased the side of the nose, removing the jaw, entering the chest and exiting between the front legs, leaving a ten inch diameter hole. I can state that’s the biggest hole I’ve ever shot in a coyote, and I’ve used some pretty powerful rifles to shoot them with. That helped to confirm the close range, almost frangible expansion of the Hornady bullet in the phone books.
Again, I must say that if you will use the Hornady, shoot it at higher velocities to obtain best results. If you want to run it around 2000 fps I might suggest one of the other component bullets as being more suitable. I am not saying that a nonexpanding 200 grain bullet would be ineffective, but I would prefer a bullet that expanded to one that did not. Bluntly put, the design doesn’t play to the 35 Remington’s velocities and strengths, which is adequate penetration and mushrooming at all realistic ranges from powder burn to 200 yards. I doubt most game would run off to a well placed shot, and I have had good results using it, but better can be had. To end this review on a positive note, I can state that the bullet held together well at the higher speeds even thought it lost a good amount of weight. A close range lung shot does quite a lot of damage to a deer, as I can attest from personal experience.
The 200 grain Sierra Roundnose
This bullet appears to be reasonably well suited to 35 Remington speeds, but I must note that I did my testing at all ranges at a chronographed velocity of 2200 fps. My intent was to stress the bullet on close range impacts, and this I did, but that didn’t seem the best policy for the 200 yard shooting. I should have done some of the 200 yard tests at 2000 fps muzzle velocity to see if expansion occurred at that velocity at long distance. That will be this year’s project to tie up the loose ends.
At 2200 fps, expansion at 200 yards was quite reasonable, about like the Remington factory load at 1985 fps. The difference is that the Sierra bullet jacket, while appearing to be drawn rather thin at the nose to promote expansion, lacks the skiving cuts of the Remington and Winchester 200’s and tends toward lopsided expansion as the peelback of the jacket is uneven. This lopsided expansion was evident at all other ranges as well, with a large frontal diameter that made penetration slightly (about 1-1.5 inches) less than the Remington and Winchester factory loads at the same range. At the closer impacts of 25 and 50 yards, the bullet jacket was loosened from the lead core when the cannelure was breached by expansion. Absent the cannelure, no mechanism locks the jacket to the bullet, and they are free to separate if conditions allow it. In phone books, the core was loose on closer impacts but the jacket was always found to be touching the core when the bullets were recovered. The bullets only came apart when they were in hand.
I would give this bullet points over the Hornady for better expansion at longer range, but maybe a few demerits for the lack of core/jacket cohesion. Even that is not much of a criticism, since the core was always found with the jacket, but I wonder if such separation might occur if the bullet hit, say, a large hog’s shoulder on a close range impact. It is also possible that due to the .35 Remington’s lower velocity this might be a bullet that could be used on a lot of game with no problem with jacket separation whatsoever. It may very well depend on what part of the animal was struck by the bullet. I doubt the Sierra would be a bad choice, but as 200 grain RN’s go there is another bullet that is demonstrably better.
The Remington 200 grain Roundnose Core-Lokt
I will not be evasive; I think this is probably the best and most suitable 35 Remington bullet available. Regarding construction, it is the most sophisticated bullet of the bunch. It has the old, original, true Core-Lokt construction, which is a thickened jacket midsection, tapering at both the nose and the base, with a scalloped jacket and barely visible skiving cuts in the corners of the scallops. This swelling in the middle, near the cannelure, prevents the core from separating from the jacket, even on close range impact. Believe me, I tried to hurt this bullet, and at 35 Remington speeds it cannot be done. I even got cute and tried inserting hardwood boards in the phone books at around a 3 inch depth to see if I could stress the bullets, and it turned out that this made it easier on the bullets, not harder. At a range of 6 feet at 2220 fps, the rollback of the jacket was approximately to the cannelure, and the expanded diameter was wide, but penetration was still around 12 inches, about 3 inches more than the Hornady that was fired at 2140 fps at 25 yard books. Depth of penetration when launched at 2220 fps was little different than the Remington factory load at 1985 fps at nearly all ranges, with maybe a half inch of separation between the two, which is in the range of error. Overall, penetration ranged from 12 to 14.5 inches, depending upon distance, with the deeper penetration at longer range, just like the factory loads. I cannot tell you if speeding up the Remington bullet 235 fps hurt penetration or helped, but gut feeling would lead me to think increasing the velocity might lower penetration slightly due to slightly larger expanded diameter. I doubt you could tell the difference on game as regards penetration. What, then, is the value of pushing the same bullet 235 fps faster? I thought I might attempt to show that by testing at 200 yards. Included are photos that show the difference in expansion when the Remington 200 is launched at 1985 fps (factory) and 2220 fps. Increased rollback of the jacket and somewhat larger frontal diameter are evident in the higher velocity bullets. The factory loads still showed very good expansion, however, and no doubt would be effective, as many users have attested. A different way to look at it is this: If you have been happy with the 200 Remington Core-Lokt factory load performance at 150 yards on, say, whitetail deer, then you’d obtain that same performance in bullet expansion from the handload approximately 60-70 yards further downrange. If you need the extra range, fine, if not, that’s okay too. For whatever it’s worth, I’ve had reports of whitetail deer and antelope taken with the Remington 200 Core-Lokt factory load (usually around 2000 fps) at over 200 yards, and the users reported that it worked just fine. That’s further than some would rate the factory load as capable of performing, but the field evidence seems to strongly back up the results of the testing I did.
The fact is that the Remington bullet works at any realistic 35 Remington speed, mild to fast. Here is a point that I think is very interesting-in all of the testing, which consumed more bullets than any other type, NOT ONCE did I recover a bullet that had tumbled. This despite shooting through holes left by the passage of other bullets (hey, it happens, whether you want it to or not). When doing so with some other bullets, they tended to tumble when encountering these voids. The Remington always penetrated nose first and exhibited extremely uniform expansion, no doubt aided by the scalloped jacket with the skiving cuts in the corner that do such a fine job of aiding expansion when velocities drop off at distance. I also believe that this skiving allows the bullet to expand at lower speed than brands that lack these features. This symmetrical, easy expansion means a symmetrical bullet that penetrates straight, but the thick midsection limits overexpansion at close range.
This bullet is suitable for almost everything you’d hunt with the .35, and even though the roundnose does not seem to connote “long range bullet” the Remington is the most likely to expand at distance of any of the handloading component bullets, save maybe the Hornady 180 SSP. The only other comment I can make is that the 180 and 220 Speer bullets outpenetrate it, but there are few situations where greater penetration than the Remington bullet offers is needed. For most uses I think it is the best bullet that can be used, and to top it off it is the cheapest of the 35 Remington game bullets. You cannot complain when excellent performance and low cost are combined in one projectile.
The Speer 180 Flatnose Softpoint
The 180 Speer has been offered as a handloading component for a long time, and Speer promotes it as being suitable for the .35 Remington in past and present editions of their handloading manuals. It is somewhat more streamlined than the various 200 RN’s, and according to Speer possesses a somewhat higher ballistic coefficient. Past editions of the Speer handbooks give this bullet a velocity of up to 2427 fps (using IMR 3031). It seems to be a pretty popular selection among .35 Remington handloaders, and the lighter weight may suggest a faster opening bullet than the various 200 RN’s. When actually tested in the books, however, it quickly becomes evident that this is a deeper penetrating bullet than the 200’s. It also tends to expand to a smaller frontal diameter than any other bullet save the similar profile 220 Speer. The jacket folds closely along the shank of the bullet, and penetration averages about 50 percent deeper than any of the 200 RN’s at all ranges.
It is difficult to see any skiving or weakening cuts in the jacket to aid expansion, but the jacket nonetheless peels back uniformly and did not exhibit the lopsided expansion of some of the other bullets. The core never came close to slipping, even when fired into the books at a range of six feet. Penetration was generally in the range of 17 to 22 inches, depending upon distance, with the deeper penetration at the longer 200 yard range. These bullets were fired at a velocity of from 2300 to 2380 fps using H335. The variation in velocity was due to temperature changes on the days the data was gathered, from quite hot (95 F) to around 45 degrees F. No real differences were noted with an 80 fps change in velocity, and I didn’t expect any. No doubt these velocities were higher than many are used to seeing from the .35, but they are documented handloads from manuals and are quite safe. The reason for the higher velocity was to stress the bullets on close range impacts and also due to the tough construction of the Speer bullet.
I also have a good collection of bullets that tumbled in the media when they encountered voids left by the passage of other bullets. I thought this was useful, as the upset of the bullet nose was evident, but expansion was less than those that had traversed wet paper pointed forward the entire length of their penetration. It was apparent that they experienced just enough resistance to upset the bullet somewhat, then tumbled, as they were recovered with the jacket folds pointing forward rather than rearward. This could be analogous to a bullet that just hits deer ribs and lung tissue before exiting the deer on a long range double lung shot. How effective this might be is a good question. My own use of the 180 Speer has been at the closer ranges, and I have used it with good satisfaction and noted the excellent penetration and good sized wound channels. In my opinion, it is entirely suitable for the .35 Remington, but as with most things there are a few important codicils to consider.
I have had reports from other users of the .35 that wound channels on game dropped off sharply at long ranges or low impact velocities, including use at long range in cartridges possessing much higher velocity than the .35 Remington. This seems to agree with some of what I have seen, but I think this can be overcome if velocities are kept at the higher levels and distances are not stretched too far. If you insist on using the bullet at the 2000-2100 fps velocities published in some loading manuals, then I would suggest using the Remington 200 Core-Lokt instead, as it is more suitable for lower velocities, opening better than the Speer 180. Where the penetration of the 180 might come into play is on tougher targets like feral hogs or black bear, possibly even timber range shots at elk where its greater penetration might prove useful. Since these animals take more killing, and due to the fact that the Speer is a tough bullet, additional velocity will not cause problems with underpenetration or core-jacket separation at higher .35 Remington speeds. Larger wounds also result from the higher velocity.
My rifles show notably better accuracy with the 180 Speer than with the 200 RN’s in most loads, but I am sure this can be a rifle specific thing. Try ‘em for yourself and see how they shoot.