The Legality Of Opentipped Match Bullets

At first glance, it would appear that hollowpoint match bullets—such as the Sierra and Hornady 168-grain and Sierra 175-grain MatchKings —violate the Hague Convention of 1907, which forbids "projectiles or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering." In the past, this clause has been found to encompass so-called "dumdum" bullets that mushroom or expand violently and break apart. Civilian ammo boxes describe match loads as "BTHR" meaning "boat-tail, hollow-point." Does that mean these rounds are illegal? Is it a war crime to use them?

U.S. Army Special Operations Command requested a formal finding on sniper use of match-grade hollowpoint bullets, which led to a study by W. Hays Parks, the Department of the Army's highest-ranking civilian Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer. A Vietnam combat vet and reserve Marine colonel, Parks is an accomplished high-powered rifle shooter and handloader, so there could not have been a better technical and legal expert to examine the issue. Here is his study's conclusion:

"The purpose of the 7.62 mm 'open-tip' MatchKing bullet is to provide maximum accuracy at very long range. Like most 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm ball bullets, it may fragment upon striking its target, although the probability of its fragmentation is not as great as some military ball bullets currently in use by some nations. Bullet fragmentation is not a design characteristic, however, nor a purpose for use of the MatchKing by United States Army snipers. Wounds caused by MatchKing ammunition are similar to those caused by a fully jacketed military ball bullet, which is legal under the law of war, when compared at the same ranges and under the same conditions. The military necessity for its use-its ability to offer maximum accuracy at very long ranges—is complemented by the high degree of discriminate fire it offers in the hands of a trained sniper. It not only meets, but exceeds, the law of war obligations of the United States for use in combat."

Thanks to Colonel Parks' study, a similar opinion was issued by the U.S. Navy's JAG, which applies to Marine and Navy SEAL snipers, too.

This cutaway view of Sierra BTHP Match (R) discloses that it's not a true hollowpoint and inflicts tissue damage similar to military ball (L).

A round's bullet path tracks its descent from the instant it exits a muzzle aimed parallel to the earth and indicates the amount a shooter must hold high when firing at longer distances. Here the advantage over a 7.62x39mm is obvious, but the higher velocity 5.45x39mm maintains a trajectory comparable to the .308 Match round.

Our final comparison is velocity, and here the long-distance .308 advantage clearly shows, despite the initial superiority of the 5.45x39mm bullet. Because the heavier .308 better maintains momentum, it overtakes the 5.45mm bullet at 400 yards, and by 600 yards it's decisively superior to either AKM round.

Now let's combine these ballistic effects. The .308 Match bullet strikes with considerably more energy, an advantage that increases with distance; it shoots truer and straighter in a crosswind; it is much flatter shooting than the 7.62x39mm and approximately similar even to the 5.45x39mm; and the .308 considerably exceeds these rounds'

velocity beyond 400 yards. Overall, this is a decisive ballistic advantage.

Put this together with the considerably-higher quality of a sniper's match ammunition, the greater accuracy of his rifle, the superb optics of his scope, and, cumulatively, there's a tremendous advantage to the sniper when engaging targets more than 400 yards away.

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