As shooters we focus on many things - muzzle velocity, the effects of gravity, trajectory, bullet energy, even shooting technique - but the reality is that when we fire a round, all of these things become a battle between the round and the pressure of the air. How the bullet handles the air around it impacts the accuracy, speed, and impact it has should it reach its target. That is true whether you are shooting a bullet with a full metal jacket, a composite, or a regular type of projectile. Boat tail bullets have a way of dealing with the air around them so that they shoot truer at longer ranges.
Note - While many shooters use the terms round and bullet interchangeably, that will not work for this article. A round is a complete package - primer, powder, casing, and bullet. The bullet is the tip of the round and the projectile.
What is a Boat Tail Bullet?
A boat tail bullet is a bullet that is tapered at the back end like a boat. It is an engineering design that helps change the relationship that a bullet has with the air around it after the round is fired and during the bullet's flight.
We mentioned earlier that as shooters we focus on velocity, energy, trajectory, and other factors that may impact how true a bullet flies. One other aspect that rifle shooters should consider is the ballistic coefficient of the bullet.
The ballistic coefficient is the measurement of the bullet's ability to overcome the air pressure at the mid-point of its trajectory. The BC helps us to understand how bullet design changes the way the projectile impacts the target after the interference of air resistance along the trajectory.
In English - BC measures the way a bullet's performance changes based on its design and the physical impact of the air around it. In short, BC measures the drag a bullet undergoes once fired. It can be a useful measurement for those who shoot long distances, but not much of a concern for those who shoot handguns and pistols.
Boat tail bullets are one type of bullet design that help shooters of rifles shoot farther and with greater accuracy.
Advantages of a Boat Tail Bullets
Are there advantages to using boat tail bullets? There are. They include:
A Flatter Trajectory in comparison to flat-bottom bullets - There is less wind resistance so the bullet flies straighter with less of an arc. That means that the bullet travels less distance between the barrel of the rifle and the target.
Improved Impact - there is more energy at impact with a boat tail bullet than with a flat-bottom bullet. The boat tail travels less distance because it handles air pressure much easier than a flat-bottom bullet.
Higher Ballistic Coefficient - The taper on the back of the boat tail bullet means there is less air drag and that the shape of the bullet has an easier time slicing through the air. A higher ballistic coefficient means boat tail ammunition has less resistance in the air, has higher velocity, a flatter trajectory, and with greater energy at impact.
Lower Wind Deflection - The more aerodynamic design of high ballistic coefficient bullets means wind and air have less impact on the direction of the bullet. the result is a truer flight path with a faster time to target and greater impact at the target. Wind can blow bullets off target and air can slow bullets down.
Air vs. Wind
It is important to understand that air and wind are different. A cross wind can push your bullet to the side. Air (we talk about air density a lot in shooting) can slow down the bullet so that the forces of gravity have more impact - gravity being the force that pushed the bullet down during its flight.
Also of note is the bullet design at the tip. A hollow point can create an air dam causing greater resistance and a soft point may flex during its trajectory and cause the bullet to slow. Both have advantages in handguns and pistols and during some situations when you shoot a hollow point or soft point with a rifle.
Note: It becomes important to consider the final impact - what you want the bullet to do once fired. Hollow point and soft point bullets may do greater damage at the target but may also fly differently than a boat tail with high BC. Since you are likely self-loading, you have many options to "concoct" different recipes of rounds based on your needs as a shooter.
Boat Tail vs Flat Base
From what we have written thus far, you'd think that boat tail bullets are the end-all for rifle shooters. That may not be the case. In comparison tests, flat base bullets tend to become stable almost as soon as they leave the barrel. Boat tails can allow gasses from the barrel to corrupt their flight path as they leave the barrel. That means that the boat tail bullets are not sealing the bore as quickly as a flat base bullet.
Is One Better than The Other?
If there is an obvious problem with boattail bullets it is the fact that they can be more influenced by outside factors than flat base bullets. That means, for example, that if there is any wear in the barrel, it may affect how the boat tail flies over a longer range. A flat-based bullet has rapid expansion, which might give you better accuracy in less-than-perfect shooting conditions.
However, boat-tail bullets are almost always the choice when dealing with long-range shooting. Their higher BC means they handle the air better than a flat-based bullet. If you are looking for a long-range bullet, try a boat tail. The boat tail shape is sometimes a game changer and once you get used to how they act in different air situations, you can adjust how you load them and the bullet shape at the point - hollow point or standard. The hollow point boat tail has a lower aerodynamic advantage but can also offset the weaker impact energy of other types of rounds. Most boat tails are applicable in hunting bigger game at longer distances, competitive shooting, and range training.
Options for Boat Tails Include:
Hollow Point - best for times when more damage is needed at the target
Full Metal Jacket Boat Tail - Good for hunting, competitive shooting, and target training.
Standard Tip - A good choice for most long-distance shooting.
Why Consider Boat tails?
These generally offer a high velocity due to less drag and allow for a maximum range at the target. They are ideal for long-range shooting and target practice and that also translates into an impressive hunting round for long-distance targets.
Common Applications for Boat Tail Bullets
Hunting - A perfect option for a long-range hunting bullet, such as for goats or elk that are skittish. They also mean more options for taking down smaller predators at long distances such as coyotes, pigs, and wolves. Hollow point boat tail bullets can be impressive for larger game animals such as elk or moose.
Competitive Shooting - the increased BC and the flatter trajectory make the boat tail a good option for competitive shooting. While accuracy may suffer due to the boat tail's relationship with the barrel and gasses, it is far more stable in the air and that can mean all the difference in various shooting conditions.
Range Training - usually a full metal jacket boat tail is ideal for range training. The flatter trajectory and the tapered bullet base mean less base drag and higher muzzle energy.
Why Not Boat Tails for Revolvers and Handguns?
The primary reason why boat tails are kind of wasted on handgun and revolver shooters is that the distance to the target with either gun is so short. You will not likely get the same wind interference or air dam effect in a short target that you will with a long-distance target.
Boat Tail Bullets from Berry’s
Berry's offers two versions of the boat tail:
.223/5.56mm (.224) 62 grain FMJBT - BC = .276 - Overall Length .810 inches
.223/5.56mm (.224) 55 grain FMJBT - BC = .245 - Overall Length .740 inches.
We manufacture our boat tails with tight tolerances that produce consistent jackets for better shooting outcomes. These are both excellent options for target training, competitive shooting, and hunting.
Both bullets make a good base for those who reload and create custom rounds for specific purposes. Berry's offers high-quality bullets and reloading supplies including tools that help empower you to not only load your rounds but to also create rounds that are specific to your purposes.