Nosler: The Anatomy of a Bullet By: William Lawson


Do you know how bullets are made? How about what they look like without their copper jacket? Are you aware that those answers depend on the type of bullet you’re looking at?

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I have to admit that I didn’t know much about that. Oh sure, I knew that all bullets are not created equal and, conceptually, that the design and manufacturing processes were different, but I never bothered to look deeper than that.

Well, in the video linked below, we’re given a quick look at how Nosler designs their bullets, and it’s very interesting.

Nosler rifle cartridge

John A. Nosler, A Moose, and a Bullet

The Nosler story begins in 1946 when John A. Nosler went moose hunting in British Columbia. Nosler sighted a big bull at close range and fired, fully expecting the moose to go down. The moose, however, had other ideas. Nosler required several more shots to bag a moose that should have only required one round.

Nosler Partition bullet
A poorly performing bullet led to John A Nosler creating the Partition hunting bullet.

Nosler determined that the bullet’s high velocity, combined with the close range, overstressed the simple cup and core bullets of the day. He decided he could do better. The next year saw Nosler test his new partition bullet on another British Columbia moose with far better results. The partition bullet has two separate lead cores, giving better terminal performance than the older style bullets.

The moose that wouldn’t go down hangs over the Nosler production floor as a reminder that quality matters. That led to Nosler’s motto, “Quality First.”

Nosler Moose
The moose that wouldn’t go down hangs over the Nosler production floor as a reminder that quality matters.

Nosler Bullet Manufacturing Processes

Nosler Senior Marketing Manager Mason Payer says, “When most people think of a bullet, they’re actually thinking of a cartridge. The bullet is just the projectile. Most people probably assume it’s just a simple chunk of lead with a copper jacket. They would have been right a hundred years ago.”

Nosler Senior Marketing Manager Mason Payer

Nosler uses two different manufacturing processes: cup and draw and impact extrusion.

The Cup and Draw Process

The cup and draw process is the simpler of the two. It starts with a thin copper ribbon or strip. Machines punch out discs which are formed into cups. The cups are then drawn into jackets. The lead core is inserted, and the jacket closed.

Cup and draw bullet manufacturing process

The cup and draw process is efficient and perfectly adequate for target or training rounds. But it can’t produce performance big game cartridges. That requires making the copper jacket thicker.

The Impact Extrusion Process

Performance hunting rounds require the impact extrusion method. The process begins with solid copper wire cut into slugs. New copper slugs are too hard and brittle to use, so the annealing process heats them to over 1,200 degrees to soften them up. Only then can they be drawn into jackets.

Copper wire and slugs
The impact extrusion process uses copper wire cut into slugs.

A punch conforms the slug’s inside to the desired shape as the jacket forms. A press then inserts the lead core and tapers the jacket. The final step is inserting the bullet’s tip.

Impact extrusion process

The impact extrusion method enables Nosler to engineer the bullet’s terminal performance. Controlling the jacket’s thickness along the bullet’s entire length allows controlled expansion, making Nosler’s purpose-built Partition, Accubond, Ballistic Tip, and Expansion Tip bullets possible.

Nosler performance bullets
The impact extrusion process makes Nosler’s performance bullets possible.

Engineering and Precision

Payer says that “There’s really a lot that goes into bullet manufacturing that most people don’t get to see…a lot that goes into the design of the jacket. There is a lot that goes into designing and constructing a bullet,” says Payer. There are “different parts and pieces that have to be combined together very precisely so that they’re not only balanced and accurate, but so that they perform well.”

Nosler precision

Nosler Quality Control

Nosler visually inspects every bullet, with any imperfection separated out. They scrap every performance affecting flaw. Nosler sells minor cosmetic imperfections such as light scratches or water spots as blemished product.

Nosler Quality control, visual inspection of each cartridge
Quality control includes a visual inspection of every bullet, casing, and finished cartridge.

Nosler has quality checks at every production step. Nosler tests each ammo batch on their 100-yard underground range. The tester fires 300 to 400 rounds per shift, examining group size, velocity, and pressure.

Nosler test firing
Nosler test-fires 300 to 400 rounds per shift.

Nosler’s Quality First Philosophy

“We know how much time and effort is invested into a hunt,” says Payer. “Everything that goes into that moment…we think about that every single day for every bullet that we make. There’s a lot of thought and engineering and testing that goes into designing those bullets so that we know exactly what they’re gonna do every single time. ‘Quality First’ comes down to the fact that the Nosler name is on the box of every product that we make.”