The Semi-Wadcutter Bullet

Semi Wadcutter - Don't Necessarily Overlook It

A bullet design that used to rule the roost but today is certainly underutilized is the semi wadcutter. The semi-wadcutter is something of a middle ground between hard bullets such as full metal jacket and hard-cast rounds and softer and expanding rounds such as soft-cast and hollow point rounds.

Not that a semi-wadcutter won't expand, of course; some are designed to do so and some aren't.

Today, they're great target and handgun hunting rounds, and some are well-suited to work as personal defense rounds...if you choose the right bullet. Here's what you should know…

What IS A Semi Wadcutter?

The neat hole punch of a semi-wadcutter bullet

Wadcutter rounds, including semiwadcutter rounds, are designed to punch a big, neat hole in whatever they shoot.

A wadcutter bullet is - for all intents and purposes - a flat-nosed bullet with no taper, that's crimped totally into the case. Basically it's a big lead plug inside the cartridge that doesn't stick out above the shoulder. There are a few different construction methods (hollow base, double-ended and beveled-base; roll-crimping vs taper-crimped, etc.) but that's the basic idea.

Typical use for wadcutter rounds is as practice and competition rounds. They punch big, neat holes in paper and that comes in handy when it comes to scoring a shooter.

Semiwadcutters are a little different. Instead of being crimped inside the case, a semiwadcutter has the sharp shoulder of the wadcutter, but with a nose that's concentrically smaller than the base of bullet.

The nose of an SWC - as they're often called - can be an extended flat point or a cone with a truncated (flat) nose. The sharpness of the cone's taper depends on the bullet design. They can be sharp or gently rounded, such as the Keith semiwadcutter.

What Are Semi Wadcutter Bullets Used For?

what are semi-wadcutters used for?

Semi-wadcutter bullets actually have a number of applications.

The primary advantage is that they can be loaded faster than wadcutters, while retaining the clean-punching properties of a wadcutter round. This allows for use of a heavier bullet at higher velocity, without the risk of leading (where lead from the bullet fouls the barrel and other parts) which are a typical consequence of wadcutter rounds loaded to high velocities. Since the weight of the bullet is reduced, there is also less recoil than if one fires hardcast bullets.

From there, the design of the SWC round determines the use.

The Keith semiwadcutter has a gentle fillet to the nose, with a wide, flat nose and a pronounced meplat (the shoulder) at the crimp of the case. Keith bullets are especially well suited to hunting, as a larger bullet can be loaded without the typical expense of case capacity for propellant. Thus, you can put a big, heavy bullet over a generous amount of powder. This is perfect for a hunting round, as you get good penetration and wound channels that go through bone with the wide nose of the Keith bullet. Therefore, the quarry can be downed quickly.

The classic lead semiwadcutter has a pronounced conical taper after the meplat, allowing for a faster round that punches a large hole in the target. However, one distinct feature is the lack of a jacket - the Keith has a jacket - which does lead to deformation of the bullet if it strikes bone. The lead semiwadcutter is a great target round, a good hunting round, and a serviceable defensive round though overpenetration is definitely a concern.

Then we have the former gold standard of defensive ammunition: the lead semiwadcutter hollowpoint, or LSWCHP. This round has the sharp conical taper and rounded nose of the LSWC round, but with a hollow point. Like the LWSC round, it can be loaded heavy and fast, but with the soft cast lead and hollow point, expands well...though not as well as a quality JHP.

The LSWCHP was formerly THE law enforcement round. They were the most reliable expanding ammunition until jacketed hollow point bullet construction began to improve drastically in the 1970s. More than one person has opined that the 158-grain .357 Magnum LSWCHP is the best self-defense round a person can get.

Why Aren't More People Using Semi Wadcutters?

Using a semi-wadcutter round

While the semiwadcutter is a classic bullet design, with a lot to offer, there are a few ways in which they have been overshadowed.

Modern jacketed hollow points expand more reliably than they used to and as a result, overpenetration isn't as much of a danger as it is with a nonexpanding bullet such as most wadcutters. They've also come down in price over time and have become far more widely available, making JHP a little more viable as self-defense ammo.

Similarly, controlled expansion bullets are more preferred than non-expanding bullets in hunting. Lever-action carbines gave way to bolt-actions and the soft-point slow expanding bullets that dominate that market. No need to bother with a .44-40 that will work at 200 yards when your Nosler Partition works better at 400.

Additionally, wadcutters and semiwadcutters are thought of - somewhat erroneously - as being the sole province of revolvers. Semiwadcutters will feed reliably in semi-automatics, so it isn't necessarily the case, but since the wheel gun has fallen out of favor with most of the gun-buying public...why bother? Most people are just fine shooting FMJ at the range and today's hollow points are perfectly suited for defensive purposes.

That said, the SWC is still a viable bullet selection for woods carry, handgun hunting and does make a good choice of defensive round with the right choice of bullet design.

Sam Hoober 

About The Author


Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.

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