Brass Fetcher Ballistic Testing

Arming the British empire through two World Wars, the 303 British rifle is ballistically similar to the 308 Winchester but not quite the same amount of rifle. For all practical uses the 303 British is an excellent rifle choice for self-defense and medium game hunting. While the ‘laws of war’ do not allow for soft point ammunition to be used, the British have developed many excellent bullet variations to make the 303 British more versatile.

If you have ever had the misfortune to walk into a gun store and have to deal with a clerk who is not only not a ‘gun person’ but someone who is passively hostile towards gun ownership, you will be familiar with the term “dumb dumb bullets.” This was my experience in the early 2000s when I went into a ‘big box store’ to buy a certain type of 9mm JHP ammunition. The clerk berated me for wanting ‘dumb dumb’ bullets. That sounded like the stupidest thing I’d ever heard but I didn’t know what he was talking about so I went home and looked it up.

The British army experimented with dum-dum bullets, which were the standard Mk II FMJ bullet with the jacket removed in the tip area to expose the lead and allow for expansion upon impact. In a battlefield dominated by things like chlorine gas and artillery, one might wonder what leg protesting nations have to stand on when protesting the issuance of a certain type of small arms ammunition by a competitor nation. But that is exactly what happened and within a year or two, the dum-dum arsenal was no longer turning out dum-dum bullets.

Coincidentally I am sure, the Mk VII FMJ round was introduced after the banning of the expanding Mk II—Mk VI ammunition. The Mk VII fills the front 1/3 of the bullet length with aluminum, plastic or wood in order to push the center of gravity of the bullet rearward to induce tumbling inside of a fluid target. Being a Spitzer design, that has the ability to hurt people, the Mk VII could accurately be called the first modern military rifle bullet.

The innovation and fascination with this cartridge do not end there. There are (were) armor piercing 303 British cartridges, tracer and incendiary. This is not uncommon for military rifle cartridges but what is unique is that there were also explosive rounds developed that were designed to engage German dirigibles. There was also a ’observation round’ which was the Mk VII round with incendiary compound replacing the aluminum or wood filler. This was intended to aid machinegunners in observing their bullet impacts and correcting fire.

Standardization between NATO militaries after World War II saw the British army drop the 303 British and replace it with the 7.62x51mm NATO. Given the long service record prior to that, there is no indication that this was done because there had been problems with the 303 British terminal performance in the past. It was simply done in the interest of retaining ammunition compatibility in the event of a large-scale war against the Warsaw Pact nations.

Today the cartridge continues on as a low-cost hunting rifle or just a ‘fun gun to shoot.’ It excels in both applications. I have tested this cartridge, using the Speer Hot-Cor 150gr Soft Point, at 100 yard, 125 yard and 200 yard impact velocities. The performance of this cartridge gives an average penetration depth of 18.7 inches in ballistic gelatin and good bullet expansion. If this bullet is taken as any indication, the 303 British, using reasonably-priced softpoint ammunition, is more than adequate as a deer hunting rifle. Using the same softpoint ammunition will allow this firearm to be adequate for self-defense usage as well.

More Info


10-percent Ballistic Gelatin Shots
See how well this caliber stacks up against the FBI performance requirement of expansion and 12.0” or deeper penetration depth.


Speer 150gr Hot-Cor Report
A report evaluating the function of the 303 British Speer 150gr Hot-Cor over 200 yards distance.

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