January 27, 2023
By Tom Beckstrand
The past few years have seen the ascendance anddomination of, very low drag (VLD) bullets across various rifleshooting disciplines. The reason behind this shift is the average consumer’s education on the benefits of VLD bullets, which include flatter trajectory, improved energy retention and less drift in the wind. In the past, limited manufacturing ability left variations in rifle chambers that could make VLD bullets erratic performers. However, modern manufacturing and the consistency it produces has eliminated our concerns.
The latest chapter in rifle bullet modernization comes in the form of Hornady’s CX bullets. These monolithic bullets benefitted from Hornady’s investment in a Doppler radar system that allowed them to test and refine the shape and composition of these advanced projectiles. The CX is the first product the world has seen using a modern and sophisticated VLD design applied to monolithic expanding bullets loaded in factory ammunition. Sure, boutique bullet manufacturers have come up with some fine VLD mono-metal bullets, but none have so thoroughly vetted their designs, built those bullets in mass manufacturing and then loaded them into commercial ammo. Those honors are reserved for the new CX.
The Leg Work
Building a new bullet requires a lot of effort. Hornady has been busy during the last few years designing and bringing to market new cartridges including the 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC and .300 PRC. They’ve become adept at knowing what it takes for a bullet to succeed at long range. Hornady has also been making GMX bullets, its original copper guilding metal projectiles, since 2009. The CX is where those two worlds collide.
The first order of business was to start shooting new bullet prototypes across a Doppler radar system to test the results of each design change. One of the first things Hornady did was refine the shape and number of the grooves cut around the bullet’s circumference. The grooves are cut into the bullet’s bearing surface, which serve a couple of functions. The first is to reduce the friction between the bullet and the bore as it moves down the barrel. The second is that those grooves exist to improve the bullet’s ballistic coefficient (BC), or aerodynamics, in flight.
The shape of those grooves took a lot of testing to perfect, but the effort resulted in optimal BCs.The shape of the bullet’s nose, or ogive, was next to be improved. Longer and pointier noses make for better BCs, but there is a point of diminishing returns. Make the nose too long or too pointy can make a bullet impossible to stabilize. Air pushing on the bullet’s nose has a lever to work against the bullet’s center of gravity. Make the lever too long and, no matter how fast the bullet spins, it won’t stay stable in flight. There’s also the issue of a pointy nose being temperamental for accuracy. A sharp angular surface on the nose makes it difficult for the bullet to center in the rifling as it moves from the chamber into the bore. Unfortunately, the only way to determine what works best is to start where the math says and then refine from there. Hornady is one of the few ammunition companies that has both the instrumentation and the personnel capable of navigating this process.
The result was a monolithic bullet with an ogive and bearing surface optimized for maximum BC. The final step was to incorporate Hornady’s unique Heat Shield tip to further increase the CX’s performance. The Heat Shield tip does two things to maximum performance. The first is it that it lends high-BC uniformity to every CX bullet. Every tip is made from special heat-resistant polymer that won’t deform from the friction and pressure experienced during high-speed flight. The pointy nose stays that way so the BC remains constant.
The Heat Shield tip also kick-starts bullet expansion on impact. Monolithic bullets take some encouragement to expand once they hit a target. The material
from which these bullets are made isn’t as soft as lead, so it takes more velocity to achieve similar expansion. One way to improve bullet expansion is to put a polymer tip on the bullet’s nose and place it over a hollow expansion cavity, similar to a hol- low point. When the bullet impacts the target, the polymer tip pushes down into the cavity and forces the nose to separate into petals that peel back under resistance. Without the polymer tip, the bullet would need to penetrate several inches before opening. As the bullet’s impact velocity decreases, the amount of penetration required before expansion increases. So, a polymer tip is an easy solution.
I had an opportunity to hunt whitetail deer with the CX bullet during the fall of 2021. Its ballistic and terminal characteristics played an active role in making the hunt successful.
I was sitting in a blind overlooking a Nebraska cornfield when a buck wandered into it while feeding. He kept to the field’s perimeter, so my shot was longer than I liked. There wasn’t much I could do about it. I waited until he was quartering to me with his back feet on a raised bank that placed his body at a downward angle. My shot entered above the shoulder on one side of his body, traversed his chest cavity, destroyed both lungs, and exited behind his ribs on the far side. The distance between us was 466 yards.
The high BCs of the CX line allowed my bullet to retain muzzle velocity and extend the range at which the bullet could impact and reliably expand by about 100 yards over previous GMX designs. The CX needs a velocity of about 2,000 feet per second (fps) for reliable expansion and, under the conditions in which I was shooting, meant that I had a range of about 550 yards. Had I been shooting a less aerodynamic bullet, there was a good chance it wouldn’t have expanded; instead it would have passed through without sufficient terminal effects.
One of the reasons monolithic bullets are popular is the amount of penetration they offer. The reason for the increased penetration is the reduced expansion rate once inside the animal. Copper gilding metal doesn’t deform as fast as lead. Even though I was hunting whitetail, my buck had a bigger body. The angle at which I fired meant that I needed penetration to get to both lungs and to create a large exit wound. Tracking blood would have been easy should it have been necessary. The CX handled all of these duties admirably.
Another reason monolithic bullets are popular is their toughness when passing through bone. One of my hunting preferences is to put the bullet right on the animal’s shoulder because it usually allows for taking the lungs while greatly reducing the animal’s mobility. Few things are sadder than having to track and potentially lose a wounded animal. A broken shoulder often minimizes the distance a wounded animal can cover.
Hornady’s new CX bullets and ammunition offer rifle shooters the ability to reach out further and more effectively than before with mono-metal projectiles. Hornady has suffered through the optimization process of trial and error to create ammunition and bullets that shoot accurately from a wide variety of firearms while offering the highest BCs, greatest retained energy, and minimal wind drift.
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