A better question, given that the vast majority of popular rifle bullets are boat-tail, is why flat-base? KEEP READING
Good question! I have something that at least has elements of an answer.
A boat-tail bullet is the standard for the majority of rifle bullets, and the domineering choice of long-range shooters. Competitive Benchrest shooters favor flat-base bullets. Flat-base is also popular with varmint-hunters: the stellar Hornady V-Max line for good instance.
We all want best accuracy, so why the difference? Consider the overriding characteristic of a flat-base bullet: it’s shorter. Now, since not all flat-base bullets are shorter overall than a same-weight boat-tail (they’re usually not), I seriously need to clarify that!
Clarification: a flat-base can be shorter, and lighter, than it would be if the same ogive or nosecone profile used then added a boat-tail. More: if they’re both the same weight and at least similar in profiles, a flat-base often has a longer bearing area than a boat-tail bullet, again because the boat-tail is sticking down there, or not. These are both a bonus to Benchrest or any other shorter-distance circumstance where utmost precision is the goal. (When I refer to capital-b “Benchrest,” I’m not talking about a shooting rest, but a competitive sport.) Shorter bullets allow slower barrel twists (bullet length, not weight, chiefly governs needed twist). Slower twists offer a miniscule improvement in damping a bullet’s orbital pattern in flight, and considering the likewise near-caliber-size 5-shot groups these folks are after, that matters. Bullets fly in a spiral, like a well-thrown football. Again comparing those with similar profiles, flat-base bullets stabilize faster and sooner than boat-tails, it’s a smaller spiral. Bullets with longer bearing areas tend to shoot better “easier,” less finicky. And, flat-base bullets can provide more cartridge case capacity.
All those good points make it sound like flat-base provide superior accuracy. They might. By my experience, they do, but! Distance defines the limit of that truth.
The boat-tail provides an aerodynamic advantage, and the farther it flies, the greater this advantage. There are well-founded beliefs that boat-tails are less influenced by gas pressure thrusting against the bullet base. A good and most knowledgeable friend at Sierra told me that a boat-tail has an effectively more concentric radius at the base due to the junction point created by the angle on the tail and the bearing surface. Further, a flat-base, is, in effect, harder to make so that the base will have a radius that’s as concentric with the bullet bearing surface. Manufacture care and quality (related), of course, makes that more or less true or false. If the idea is that a good boat-tail is “easier” to make, that this shape makes the end product more forgiving of manufacturing errors, then I’ll accept that since it’s pretty hard to argue against, but, again, I really don’t think that boat-tail designs simply take up slack in quality tolerances. I’m sho no rocket-surgeon but I know that the tail slips the air better.
This can get pounded completely into the ground because adding a boat-tail (and I’ll show a great example of just that) to a similar nosecone also adds weight to the bullet, and that increases BC. It’s not exactly a chicken-egg question, though, because the tail helps otherwise.
You might have also heard said that boat-tails shorten barrel life because the angled base directs burning propellant gases more strongly at the barrel surface. They do, and many steadfastly uphold that as a reason against them. More in a bit. However! Beyond 300 yards, at the nearest, there are no disadvantages in using boat-tail bullets that come close to surpassing their advantages.
There’s another debated advantage of a flat-base and that is they tend to shoot a little better in a barrel that’s about to go “out.” I’m talking about a good barrel that’s pushed the limit of its throat. That one is true too!
And speaking of barrel life, another is that flat-base bullets produce less flame-cutting effect than boat-tails. A barrel lasts longer if fed flat-base. True! Flat-base bullets “obturate” more quickly. Obturate means to “block,” but here it means to close a hole, which is a barrel bore, which means to seal it. The angled boat-tail creates a sort of “nozzle” effect. Can’t much be done about that, though, because when we need boat-tails we need them. That is, however, a big score of help for the varmint hunter.
There is a relatively obscure “combo” out there called a “rebated” boat-tail. This has a 90-degree step in from the bullet shank (body) to the tail. It steps in before the boat-tail taper is formed (they look like a flat-base with a boat-tail from a bullet a couple of calibers smaller stuck on there). It’s common for competitive .308 NRA High Power Rifle shooters, for instance, to switch from the popular Sierra 190gr MatchKing to a Lapua 185 rebated boat-tail when accuracy starts to fall off due to throat wear. Sure enough, the Lapua brings it back for a couple hundred more rounds.
If anybody with heavy equipment making bullets for sale out there is listening: I’d like to see some more rebated boat-tail designs! It is, though, a challenge to make precisely.
So. What? So what? Well, if you are big into small groups, I very encourage some experimentation with flat-base bullets. Again, distance is the only limit to their potential goodness. 100 yards, yes. 200 yards, yes. 300 yards, no!
This article is adapted from Glen’s books, Handloading For Competition and Top-Grade Ammo, available at Midsouth HERE. For more information about other books by Glen, visit ZedikerPublishing.com