Ever flipped through the reloading section of an outdoor supply catalog? If you have, you’ve seen the hundreds of bullet types available for just about every caliber under the sun. Jacketed, hollowpoint, partition, softpoint, bonded, capped, frangible…the list is exhaustive and more than a little overwhelming. Each bullet type has unique features and drawbacks depending on what game you’re hunting, at what distances, and in what environments. Some feature lofty claims about delivering increased lethality, more reliable expansion, and superior accuracy. But there’s one bullet type—perhaps the simplest and oldest design—that works decently for almost any situation: the solid. Although it’s largely been ignored for the flashier, more contemporary bullets on the market, solids continue to serve as a respectable do-all option.
They’re frequently relied upon by professional guides and hunters who absolutely must deliver a lethal shot to protect their client from dangerous game or put down a poorly hit animal. Among the famous hunters who swore by solids were such greats as Karamojo Bell, Ernest Hemingway, and Peter Hathaway Capstick. Hemingway wrote of them, “Shooting by anatomy from any angle with solids is the deadliest and most merciful way to hunt.”
What makes them a good choice?
- They penetrate deeply. “The solid is designed to penetrate through whatever animal matter it runs into, in an undeviating line, as far as is physically possible, given its caliber, weight, striking velocity and resistance encountered,” wrote Capstick in his book, “Safari, The Last Adventure.” Solids by their very nature don’t deform much or expand upon impact the way many other bullets do.
- You won’t always get ideal, broadside shots at game. As Capstick so aptly phrased it, “Game doesn’t stand around looking like calendar paintings of the Harford Insurance stag.” Shooting at game angling away, standing straight on, or offering nothing more than the old “Texas Heart Shot” means your bullet will have to travel through more tissue and potentially bone to reach vitals. That requires a deep-penetrating round, not something that will mushroom or fracture immediately upon impact, expending its energy prematurely.
- Meat damage is minimized. “I have no idea whatever how many thousands of smaller antelope plus lion and leopard, I have shot with solid bullets. Not only has there never been a problem, the meat damage and skin disruption have also been minimal,” wrote Capstick. Again, without the dramatic expansion or splintering of other bullet types, solids make a comparatively neat hole right where it counts.
- They’re versatile. You may not be hunting for grizzly bear, but if you’re in their habitat, there’s a chance you could end up facing one down. Your soft-point bullet may work well for the elk you’re pursuing, but is it going to perform in a pinch against 800 pounds of raging bruin bearing down on you? A solid bullet will punch through thick fur, muscle, and bone to reach the off switch on any critter.
Some mistakenly believe that solids will drill right through an animal without delivering the requisite damage to guarantee a swift and merciful kill. Although it’s true that less kinetic energy is transferred to tissue if a bullet doesn’t expand, fragment, or tumble, a high-velocity rifle round doesn’t only create a wound channel in the path of the bullet. When it strikes the target, it delivers what’s known as temporary cavitation. A pressure wave is created as the projectile enters the body, stretching and damaging surrounding tissue. Organs, which have low tensile strength, may actually rupture from this effect—even if they’re only adjacent to the wound channel and not in the direct path of the bullet.
Additionally, as Capstick points out, “Not only will the properly designed and constructed solid slug put a lovely hole through any organ it’s correctly directed at, it becomes triply deadly if it touches bone, because it will smash it and, with the imparted velocity, turn the shattered chunks thereof into the biological equivalent of grenade fragments.”
Solids have long been considered preferable for dangerous game or big, heavy-boned African game, yet somehow they’re still viewed as inadequate for anything smaller. Logically, if solids perform well on the largest, most dangerous game, why wouldn’t they perform admirably on thin-skin game, too? Capstick wrote, “Of course, the solid is recognized as most effective against the real heavies that would otherwise disrupt a soft-point expanding bullet by the weight and resistance of muscle and bone tissue. But if it’s so acknowledged to be effective against the really big game, why would anybody apply the backhand, topspin logic to conclude that it would be less so against smaller game with less resistance?”
Not a magic bullet
For their versatility, solid bullets are not perfectly suited for every situation, nor is there no place for other bullet types. Bullet technology has made immense leaps forward in recent years, and many other options—when matched correctly to the quarry and conditions—can deliver superior results to the old-school solid. But if you’re looking for consistent performance, the ability to handle both dangerous and non-dangerous game with the same bullet, and deep penetration, they’re a potent option. According to Capstick, “Solids aren’t magic. Like any bullet, they must be placed in vital areas. Still, if you do your job, they’ll do theirs.”