Long range hunting bullet penetration test

The perfect long range hunting bullet… does it exist?

Alright, the answer is easy and it’s just a catchy title designed to generate interest… there’s no such thing as the perfect bullet, there are plenty of great ones and each rifle is different. That doesn’t mean the search isn’t enjoyable. See if you relate…

Spotting scope and the 7mm SAUM ready to scientifically decimate wet newspaper and phone books

You’ve found a load that consistently shoots ½ moa, holding great waterline even out to a kilometre. You think, ‘right, load development done.’ Roll forward a few months and you see a new projectile, and the little reloading Goblin jumps onto your shoulder and whispers…’what if it’s better?’

Alright, we admit it. We’re addicts. There is no perfect bullet… there’s just the current favourite! So, with a couple of new 7mm builds on the way and the chance to test some high quality 7mm, Aussie-made projectiles from Ken Melgaard at Copperhead, it was time to dust off the only 7mm currently in the cupboard – a lightweight 7mm SAUM that has done very little work since the New Zealand Mountain Challenge earlier this year.

Ken is well regarded in the bench-rest world for his projectiles, but we wanted a first-hand indication of how would they perform in a hunting situation before we dived headlong into load development. We decided it was time do a round of very scientific wet newspaper and phone book testing to look at expansion and penetration, with load development/group size a secondary concern at this stage.

For comparison’s sake we put the current SAUM load of choice, 195gr Berger EOLs, alongside some of Ken’s ultra-sleek 176 VLDs and the versatile 178 HBPT match projectiles. A couple of 175 eld-x’s were also thrown into the mix for the SAUM and the 6.5×47 got a run just for fun, with some 130gr Berger VLDs, 120 Barnes TSXs and 123 Hornady SSTs.

We set up a thoroughly soaked, duct taped 20cm thick stack of newspapers in front of a cardboard box full of wet phone books. Is it ballistic gel? Does it replicate hunting performance perfectly? No. But for a general comparison between projectiles to get an idea of frangibility and/or penetration, it would do the trick nicely. We headed back 265m (290 yards) down the hill to shoot, reasoning that it’s a common range at which we take game and therefore a good one to conduct our testing.

The 2 rounds of 195EOL’s cut such pretty little holes and we were mindful to keep the impact points well spaced

First cab off the rank were the 195 EOLs. Doing approximately 2500fps on impact, these things are a missile… and they didn’t disappoint. Both shots penetrated 35cm into the densely packed paper, creating a massive ‘wound’ channel. Measured at 20cm in, the open channel was almost 3cm wide (that’s 4x calibre diameter), with a ring of pulp and cracking that extended another 3cm for an almost tennis-ball sized area of damage. One projectile held together well, mushrooming nicely, while the other shed more weight and broke up substantially in the paper; we recovered two main fragments.

The next projectile up was the Copperhead 176gr VLD, and it also didn’t disappoint! It showed an impressive average penetration of 31cm, albeit with slightly less damage (2cm open channel, 4cm overall ‘cone of damage’) which is to be expected from the lighter projectile doing a similar velocity. The VLDs shed some weight but retained a good mushroom structure which we think contributed to their penetration.

The 178 HPBTs had a bit to live up to now, and they did! The penetration was about 28cm; we think their broader shape probably contributed to them dumping more energy early on in the target. The wound channel was indistinguishable from the VLDs’. One mushroomed well, and the other we recovered had broken up.

Lastly, another readily available, widely used long range hunting projectile was included for comparison purposes… the 175 eld-x. This bullet penetrated the least (25cm) and didn’t really maintain shape. The main wound channel was 1.5 wide at 20cm deep, with a cone of damage of 3.5cm, probably reflecting the fact that a lot of the weight/energy was shed early on. While it doesn’t stack up slaying wet paper, it may well provide quick killing on game due to the larger hollow point behind the polymer tip.

Our observations regarding the Copperheads in terms of accuracy were very preliminary in nature, but showed a striking difference between the two projectiles. The SAUM didn’t like the 176 VLDs at all, but that didn’t surprise us as it’s a short-throated hunting rifle designed to magazine feed. VLDs as a general rule shoot best with a solid jam (15-20 thou); our magazine length test rounds were about a 140 thou jump! In a longer action run closer to the lands they might be just the business; we’re very excited to see how they might go in the upcoming .284 Shehane!

The 178 HPBTs on the other hand, shot a 1/4moa 3 shot group straight off the bat at 290 yards, with only 0.3 inches (yep, 1/10 moa) of vertical. That group had a 20 thou jump. The next 3 shot group had a 15 thou jam, and it shot ½ moa. Both loads were comfortably within magazine length. Sometimes you get lucky and find a load straight up and maybe that’s what happened, but our early impression is that the HPBT Copperheads are both accurate and easy to tune.

Overall, the 195 EOL from Berger was the stand-out … surprise, surprise a heavy projectile traveling at high velocity did the most damage! That said, many rifles wont shoot the 195s; they require a quick twist and substantial case capacity. Do we think the Copperheads would perform well where a lighter projectile made more sense? Absolutely! We’ll be tuning the 178s in the SAUM as a backup load given the current Berger shortage, and the 153gr HPBTs are first in line for the new 7mm SAW build.

One of the Recovered EOL’s and the wound channel at around 25cm in, stanley knife is 10.8cm long

For those of you who like to look at data in tables, we’ve collated the results below, including the 6.5 bullets just for fun. For those more visually inclined, keep scrolling for pics of the recovered projectiles.


Average penetration (20cm wet newspaper, followed by phone books)

Open channel (@ 20cm)

Cone of damage (@ 20cm)

Weight retention (gr)

% Weight retention

195gr Berger EOL




86, 112


176gr Copperhead VLD






178gr Copperhead HBPT






175gr Hornady Eld-x






130gr Berger VLD (6.5mm)






120gr Barnes TSX






123gr Hornady SST







long range hunting bullet winner
Berger 195gr EOL – 51% weight retention, deep penetration, substantial expansion – huge damage


176 Copperhead VLDs – 48% weight retention, excellent penetration and expansion


178gr Copperhead HPTBs – 49% weight retention, good penetration, good expansion (and seem easy to tune!)


175gr Hornady Eld-x – 50% weight retention, rapid expansion, reduced penetration


Left to right for comparison: Old faithful 180gr Berger VLD, the SAUM’s new favourite 178gr Copperhead HBPT, and the super sleek 176 Copperhead 176 VLD


120gr Barnes TSX – 100% weight retention, huge penetration, minimal expansion


130gr Berger VLD – 71% weight retention, good penetration, good expansion


123gr Hornady SST – shrapnel