by Jason Baney, Assistant Editor, and Lacy Baney, Editorial Staff
The Whidden Pointing Die System is a tool designed to profile the tips of jacketed bullets to reduce aerodynamic drag, and enhance ballistic consistency among a set of bullets. Done right, the pointing process can increase the Ballistic Coefficient (BC) of bullets and thereby lessen the effects of crosswinds, reduce flight time, and maintain supersonic flight longer. Pointing is also done to decrease the variance in drag from one bullet to another, thereby reducing the expected vertical and horizontal dispersion among a group of bullets fired together.
Jason Baney has been working with a Whidden Pointing Die for quite some time, testing pointed vs. non-pointed bullets with an extremely accurate 6BR rifle, at distances out to 1030 yards. After much testing, he has concluded that the Whidden Pointing Die does work. It enhances BC, as demonstrated by observed reduced drop at long range. And, it appears to improve BC consistency, as evidenced by reduced vertical dispersion of pointed-bullet test groups. [Editor's NOTE: Evidence that bullet-pointing boosts effective BC is very solid -- the reduction in bullet drop is undeniable. And Jason's tests definitely do suggest that pointed bullets disperse less vertically than un-altered bullets at long range. However it's a stretch to say "if you point-up your bullets, your verticals will shrink by X percent". A LOT more testing (with a variety of calibers) really needs to be done before we can confidently assess how much of an effect bullet-pointing has on group vertical dispersion.]
Support Your Site
Bullet Pointing and the Promise of Better BC by Jason Baney, Assistant Editor, and Lacy Baney
If you knew you could take your favorite load and increase the bullet's ballistic coefficient via a simple process, would you? Well, now you can ... by "pointing-up" your bullets with a Pointing Die. Don't expect miracles, or guaranteed match wins, but do expect increased ballistic efficiency and uniformity.
"Ballistic Coefficient" or "BC" is a term used to represent the relative aerodynamic drag of a projectile. The higher the number, the better the bullet retains velocity in flight and resists side winds. BCs can be calculated mathematically from bullet shapes and sizes, but it is preferable to determine BC from observed bullet flight performance. Most common match target bullets have a BC from about 0.400 to about 0.700. Higher is better.
Background--The Uncertainties of Bullet BC When you buy a box of bullets with the BC printed on it (or you look up the BC on the company's website), most people expect that to be an accurate, consistent value. Unfortunately, that is not the case, no matter what color box (green, yellow, silver, or red) holds your bullets. Even though the bullet maker may publish a BC, whether it is a computer-generated average, or a series of observed values covering different velocity windows, that doesn't mean that is always an accurate value. In the real world, many variables affect the actual aerodynamic drag of a bullet. (And in truth, the BC of a bullet is dynamic--i.e. it changes as the bullet slows down along its trajectory.)
In addition to that, not every bullet within a box or lot has the same BC. As is normal in life, we are stuck with the bell-curve. Within a batch of bullets we can have a variation of several percentage points. This has been shown by others using multiple chronograph arrangements. 1000-yard, dual-chronograph tests conducted by Larry Bartholome and Ken Oehler showed that plastic-tipped (105, 140, and 155gr A-max) bullets displayed the lowest BC variations. Next best was Sierra's 30-caliber, 155gr Palma bullet. These bullets all showed under 0.010 BC extreme spread (ES). The worst performer showed 0.040 BC extreme spread. Larry and Ken tested over 30 bullet types. The average observed extreme spread was 0.019 points of BC value. In other words, in a "typical" box of bullets, one bullet could have a 0.500 BC while another could be as low as 0.481.
Why BC Uniformity Is Important at Long Range If your bullets vary significantly in their drag factor, or BC, there is no way they will print tight groups at long ranges, except by sheer luck. All other factors (velocity, neck tension, brass quality etc.) being equal, a bullet with less inherent drag (higher BC) will impact higher on the target than a bullet with more inherent drag (lower BC). The bigger the variance in true BCs among your bullets, the larger your vertical spread will be on the target.
To put this in practical terms, we'll use my 2920 fps, 6BR load as a benchmark when shot at 1000 yards*. These numbers show how inconsistent bullet BCs translate to vertical spread on the target. In these examples, Extreme Spread refers to the difference between the highest bullet BC and the lowest bullet BC. (E.g. if Bullet A has a BC of 0.570, and Bullet B has a BC of 0.530, the ES is 0.040.)
At 1000 yards ….
1. An Extreme Spread of 0.010 in BC values in a group yields about 3.75" of vertical. Take note--that is the kind of BC consistency a serious 1000-yard shooter needs.
2. An Extreme Spread of 0.020 in BC values yields about 6.75" of vertical. (Remember the AVERAGE BC spread found in bullet samples was 0.019, so this is typical.)
3. An Extreme Spread of 0.040 in BC values generates nearly 12.5" of vertical. That's more than a full Minute of Angle!
Plainly, the smart long-range shooter wants to do everything he can to minimize BC variance among his bullets. Otherwise, he is "doomed" from the start. There's no way he can shoot even 1 MOA groups at 1000 yards if his bullet to bullet BC varies by 0.040 (or more).
So, then, how do we ensure that our bullets are consistent in BC values? Well, the quest for consistency has lead to two methods, Meplat Trimming and Bullet Pointing, discussed next. "Meplat" refers to the extreme forward tip/point of a bullet. Most match bullets have meplat diameters between 0.045" and 0.060". From a drag standpoint, small meplats are good and large meplats are bad. Meplat diameter directly affects the flight of a bullet. Basically, the smaller the diameter of the meplat, all else being equal, the lower the drag, and the greater the effective BC. That's why the Whidden Pointing Die's main mechanical function is to reduce meplat diameter.
* Ballistics calculated with Point Blank software for 70° F, 500' altitude. "Low" BC is 0.530.
When you cut the meplat diameter by one-half (say 0.060" to 0.030"), you reduce the frontal surface area to one-quarter of its original value! This is why meplat consistency is so important.
Meplat Trimming -- More Uniformity, but More Drag As Well Uniforming meplats to reduce bullet to bullet BC variance has become popular in the past few years. Dave Tooley was the first to offer a widely-available tool to trim meplats. Several others followed suit with meplat trimmers that performed the same function. Trimming the meplats of a batch of bullets will, normally, make their BCs more consistent. That's a good thing. However, meplat trimming shortens the bullet tip, increasing the actual meplat diameter. That, in turn, reduces BC by a few percentage points. So trimming meplats has both positive and negative effects. You do get less variance in BC, but you make your bullets less slippery (reduce BC) in the process.
Bullet-Pointing -- Better BC Plus Better Uniformity Bullet pointing is a process that yields the benefits of meplat trimming without the negative side effect of increased drag. When "pointing up" the bullet tip, we reduce the meplat diameter. This promises to reduce bullet-to-bullet BC variance AND reduce drag at the same time. The bullet-pointing process has been around for a while, but there was no ready, available source for the special tooling required.
John Whidden of Whidden Gunworks has made bullet-pointing available to the masses. Though Whidden's Pointing Die System costs more than meplat trimmers, it may be worth the extra coin to those that want to enhance their BC a bit. Whidden has come up with a very effective bullet-pointing tool that's within the budget of many shooters. The Pointing Die body itself retails for $210.00, and each caliber insert is $40.00 each. The pointing die works with standard 7/8" x 14 reloading presses, as well as the Forster Co-Ax, and one can buy inserts to fit most bullet calibers, even .338. (At right is the Pointer Die core. Positioned above the caliber-specific insert, this is what actually "points-up" the bullet tip.)
With Whidden's tool, the process is incredibly easy. A little lube on the meplat, and a stroke of the press and you have a pointed bullet. (We explain in greater detail below how to adjust the Pointing Die for optimal results.) The process takes very little pressure on the press handle and can be done very quickly. View the video to see for yourself.
Testing Pointed Bullets -- Putting Proof on Paper
John Whidden claims his Pointing Die System can increase individual bullet BC by up to 5%, while reducing BC variance among a set of bullets. If true, there are significant benefits to the pointing process. Higher BC equates to shorter flight time, less drop, and importantly, less wind drift. Improved BC consistency among a set of bullets should also, theoretically, result in smaller group size (all other variables being equal).
Can Whidden's claims be confirmed by Field Testing?
The short answer is yes. My tests indicate that bullet pointing can be every bit as effective as Whidden states. When testing 6mm caliber match bullets, I have seen a BC gain of 1.5% to 10% by simply pointing the meplat down to about 0.033".
If the Bullet Pointing System really works, one would expect to see two important changes in bullet performance. First, if pointing improves BC, the pointed bullets should drop less, meaning the group would form up higher on the target (with the same load, same point of aim). Second, if the BCs are more consistent, one might expect to see less vertical dispersion in a long-range group. My tests (at 1030 yards) confirmed both effects. With Berger 105s, the group center of the pointed bullets was 8" higher than the group center of unpointed 105s. With Clinch River 106s, the pointed bullets impacted a whopping 18" higher than unpointed CR 106s.
With both Bergers and Clinch Rivers, the pointed bullets had a smaller vertical spread -- quite a bit smaller. However, since so many variables can change vertical dispersion, it's hard to predict just how much your vertical might improve. I can say that every round-robin test group I shot with pointed bullets had tighter vertical than groups shot simultaneously with unpointed bullets. That, by itself, is significant.
Berger 105s Berger 105gr VLDs are very pointy to begin with, with a meplat diameter of just 0.047". Using the Whidden Die, I pointed these to about 0.033". I fired some test groups at 1030 yards running pointed bullets against unaltered bullets (5-shot groups, round-robin style). Bullets that were simply pointed-up impacted about 8" above the unmodified bullets -- based on a comparison of group center to group center.
I did another comparison with bullets that had been pointed once, then trimmed back 0.005", and finally re-pointed another 0.005". This set of pointed/trimmed/re-pointed (PTRP) bullets impacted only 5" higher than the unaltered bullets (again comparing group centers). The meplats on the pointed/trimmed/re-pointed bullets were about 0.001" to 0.002" larger than the bullets that were simply pointed. Velocity ES on all the groups was between 9-14 fps.
In both cases just mentioned (using round-robin simultaneous comparisons), the pointed-up bullets also yielded groups with tighter vertical spreads. The vertical for pointed bullet groups was typically one-half to two-thirds the size of the vertical spread for groups of unmodified bullets.
Clinch River 106s The Clinch River (CR) 106s started with 0.056" meplats which were 0.009" larger than the Berger 105VLD). The CRs were then pointed down to 0.033" just like the Bergers. Again, shooting 10-shots, round-robin with five unaltered bullets and five pointed-up bullets, there was nearly 18" between group centers! See photo at right to see the actual difference in point of impact between the two groups. That means vertical drop was reduced by nearly 1.7 MOA simply by pointing the meplat! The vertical dispersion (with pointed bullets) was much tighter also. [Editor's NOTE: The pointed bullets' tighter vertical is intriguing. However, more testing, with larger samples, needs to be done.] The velocity ES for the 10 shots fired (pictured) was 19 fps. Remember, this is as close to simultaneous fire as you can get.
EDITOR's NOTE: It's not easily visible from the photos, but, prior to shooting, Jason marked the test bullet jackets with different color inks for pointed and non-pointed. These colors transfer to the target paper on impact. That way there was no possibility that a pointed bullet impact would be confused with a non-pointed bullet hole.
Big Gain in Effective BC with CR 106 As you can see, the group center moved up 18" as the result of bullet pointing. If you calculate that shift with a ballistics program, you'll see that you have to add about 0.055 to a bullet's BC to produce the same effect at this particular velocity. So pointing had a huge impact on the observed BC of the 106gr Clinch Rivers. The improvement was the equivalent of changing the BC from 0.530 to a 0.585!
Note: In the photo, the very bottom shot was a goof up by me as I picked a case that was 0.5gn lighter than the rest by accident! All other brass in these experiments was weighed ± 0.1 grain. So even omitting that shot, it is still clear that the point-up process produced a huge (0.055) BC gain for the Clinch River 106s.
How to Use the Whidden Pointing Die
Here's the procedure I use with the Whidden Pointing Die. Basic set-up is simple, but it takes some fine-tuning to get the amount of point-up just right.
First, gather up some out-of-spec bullets from the same lot that you want to point. You will use these to help set the proper amount of point-up. Next, place the correct, caliber-specific sleeve in the die body. Then slip the base unit (which supports the bottom of the bullet) into a .308-sized shellholder which fits in the top of the press ram. With the base in place, raise the ram until it contacts the sleeve (which is spring loaded) and set the die lock ring (making sure you can see the numbers on the micrometer). Unscrew the micrometer, then set a bullet on the base and raise the ram. With the bullet inside the die, screw down the micrometer until you feel contact with the bullet (this may take some "rough" adjustment using the die stem if changing from larger to smaller bullets).
Keep screwing the micrometer down and pointing the test bullets until you see the meplat is nearly closed (it should measure 0.030"-0.040"). If you go too far, you will either see a bulge in the jacket below the pointed-up area (with larger diameter bullets), or you will see the meplat beginning to extrude into the lube/pressure relief hole in the end of the die (with smaller diameter bullets). I personally like to point up just a little too far, then use the dummy bullets to back off just enough to get rid of the bulge or extrusion.
Pointing AND Meplat Triming for Maximum Uniformity You can combine bullet pointing with meplat trimming to make a "perfect" meplat. A quick meplat trim after pointing, followed by another few thousandths of point-up, produces a nearly ideal meplat (only plastic tips will be better). When combining pointing and trimming, I like to trim about 0.005" off then point-up another 0.005". So you are actually doing three steps: Initial point up, meplat trim (with any of the available tools), and lastly a final point-up. You may find you need a little more than 0.005" based on the inconsistency of the meplats. This extra process of trimming and re-pointing may not show up on paper, but it gives you confidence that you have the best bullet tips possible.
CONCLUSION I've discussed the effects of bullet pointing with other shooters who have comparison-tested "normal" vs. pointed bullets. We all concurred that pointed bullets impacted higher. In other words, less scope elevation was needed to attain a given point of impact. This would confirm that the pointed bullets have less drag--meaning that their functional BC was increased. Importantly, the increased BC also means that the bullets will exhibit less horizontal dispersion caused by wind, plus flight time will be reduced slightly. Most testers also observed reduced group vertical dispersion with pointed bullets compared to normal bullets. This suggests that pointing did indeed reduce bullet to bullet BC variance, making the pointed bullets more uniform in their long-range aerodynamic drag.
Bullet Pointing--the Bottom Line To quantify the effect of bullet pointing, with 22- to 30-caliber bullets, my tests indicate you can expect a reduction of vertical drop at 1000 yards between 0.4 MOA and 2.5 MOA. In other words, pointed bullets need 0.4-2.5 MOA less scope elevation to reach 1000 yards. (Other shooters who have tried pointed bullets report similar results.) Smaller bullets and bullets with large meplats benefit most from pointing since the meplat is a larger percentage of the frontal area. The 2.5 MOA gain was seen with a .223 Rem and mentioned on Whidden's site. Note, the amount of BC gain will vary depending on your starting meplat diameter. As seen in the examples above, the Berger 105 VLD, which starts with a very small meplat, did not gain as much BC as did the Clinch River 106, which starts with a +0.009" larger meplat.
I definitely think bullet pointing is a beneficial process. It boosts a bullet's BC, and reduces the BC variance among a set of bullets. Bullet pointing is certainly much less labor-intensive than trimming meplats by hand. I think this coming year will find many shooters experimenting with bullet pointing. It seems to offer very real advantages, with no observed downside. At this time, there has not been much scientific testing of bullet pointing, but all the reports I have personally heard from shooters that have tried pointed bullets, confirmed beneficial results on the target.
Some may think the gain is not worth the cost, but it depends what you are after. If you want to boost your BC a bit, and make your bullets more ballistically consistent, all indications are that Whidden's Pointing Die System will do just that. If you want to purchase a point-up die set, contact John at Whidden Gunworks in Nashville, GA.
Whidden Gunworks www.whiddengunworks.net 2264 Mark Watson Road P.O. Box 969 Nashville, GA 31639 Phone: (229) 686-1911 Email: info [at] whiddengunworks.net
TOPICS: Ballistics, Ballistic Coefficient, BC, B.C., bullet, elevation, dispersion, meplat, bullet design, bullet tip, ogive, jacket, uniforming, bullet pointing, John Whidden, Jason Baney, 1000-yard, Wind Drift, Elevation, Clicks, drop, drag, drag profile, windage, accuracy, Berger Bullets, Berger, Clinch River, Sierra, Sierra Bullets, VLD, Match King, Ballistic Tip, A-Max, Hornady.