Many have written on this theme; some being perhaps too scientific, others still being too simplistic for the intellectuals, and a few approaching this matter purely from a practical slant of “Does it work?”. Those of a scientific bent want the questions of “Why does it work?” and “How” to have priority.
I’ve already written a few blogs on this issue in the past. But new products in cartridges and bullets keep appearing in the market place, so updates and comparisons with those that have some history is inevitable.
Since this is a site for discussion of big-bore rifles and what we feed ’em, I’ll not go down “the broad road” of never ending discussion of small to sub-medium rifle cartridges that fill the pages of most hunting-shooting magazines and forums. The majority of readers, and others who want a discussion (ad nauseam) of the latest and “best” in 6.5mm, walk there.
It’s not that I’ve never had interest or investment in calibers and rifles from .223 to .308. As a matter of actual fact, I’ve owned and used (aside from several .22 LRs) a .22 Hornet, a couple of .223 Remingtons, a .25-06 (which I liked), three 6.5s, a .270 Win, five 7mms (including three magnums), three .30-06s and eight .300 magnums. And I handloaded all of those, except two that I recall — a 7×57 and one of the .30-06’s. Plus, I made handloads for a friend’s .308 Winchester.
Yes, I know that’s peanuts compared to those who own ten of each!
But I simply wanted to point out that I’ve never owned rifles that collected dust in a safe or cabinet.
For the last quarter century (or more) I’ve chosen to walk the “narrow road” of Big Bores and Mediums, with far fewer companions. I write my interests and experience, and there are those who seem to appreciate that, so I’m not alone or lonely in that regard.
Some who have experience with Mediums and Big Bores may tend to return to memories of the past as they age. If most of their experience has been with sub-mediums and small bores, then that broad path is where they continue to walk.
There’s nothing there that ignites my passion — except possibly a .300 magnum. That’s not to demean those who do, but whenever I go on a forum for an interesting discussion of hunting, shooting, reloading or cartridges and rifles, intuitively it’s on the Big Bore or Medium sections, and the animals suited to their application. Historically, I’ve written much about that so will not go into further detail here.
In the end-game, however, it’s the bullet fired by such rifles that determines ultimate results in the field. In that regard, there are five important factors involved:
4> Weight (SD)
5> Impact velocity
Let’s deal with those in order without suggesting any priority. Yes, construction is vitally important, but a pretty bullet sitting in a box isn’t going anywhere! Similarly, impact velocity is also very significant, but without the other factors it’s meaningless — nothing could be calculated. So…
If you’ve done much research or general reading on this topic, you already know that ongoing research by bullet manufacturers is indicative of their attempt to continually improve their products. Can you imagine the thoughts and feelings of a bullet manufacturer, that promotes their product as the ultimate projectile for any and all dangerous game, when a client using their DG bullets got stomped, gored, clawed or chewed by a ferocious beast that was only angered by those DG projectiles “guaranteed” to finish the job if the hunter put them where intended!
And that happens — even with today’s “wonder bullets”!
Just yesterday I was reading a thread on a well-known forum where a hunter was asking what would be the best bullet for a Kodiak bear from his .458 Winchester Magnum. And he wanted advice from those who had experience.
Guess what? Perhaps the best well-known guide/outfitter who is a terrific communicator and writer chimed in! None other than Phil Shoemaker! Phil had recently returned from a successful safari in Africa in which he used Ol’Ugly (.458 Win Mag) on Cape buffalo. Also, he’d finished off a wounded brown bear a couple of weeks AFTER his initial responses to the question cited above, using Ol’Ugly again that somewhat altered his first recommendations. What bullets? And what recommendations? When Phil speaks (or writes) the rest of us sit up and pay attention! But even he admitted, in so many words, that he’d made a mistake in the choice of bullets he used to finish off the wounded brown bear. Among others, he recommended the bonded 500gr Woodleigh. Because he had a stash of those, that is what he used on the wounded brown bear. After that experience he no longer recommends that bullet for brown bear because it took four shots to finish the job! They expanded too much and too quickly, so didn’t penetrate adequately. (I must add at this point that after viewing that bullet many times from pics on an internet forum that had been tested in media, I’d be very hesitant to put much confidence in it due to its expanded shape. While it retained most of its weight, it looked like a flattened fan with “wings” in all directions and practically no shank left! I didn’t think it would adequately penetrate — and Phil has confirmed that.)
Now there’s a man, among men, who is honest and straightforward in giving advice of “what works”, and what doesn’t. Ultimately, however, he had to learn all that from personal experience, which trumps theory or commercials.
While I’ve never hunted grizzly or brown bear, I’ve invested thousands of hours and hundreds of days and nearly sixty months in the pursuit of blacks, involving twenty-eight years and over thirty seasons. And I too had to learn what works best on black bears from both testing bullets in media as well as in the actual shooting of bruins, especially in the use of .458 projectiles. There are .458-cal bullets made for deer and others manufactured for elephant. That involves a very broad range of expectations from the same diameter bullets. Then, to further complicate matters, not all 300gr/.458-cal bullets are created equal, nor are 500-grainers! The 300gr Barnes TSX is a much tougher bullet than Hornady’s 300gr HP, with a BC of .234 compared to an advertised .197 BC for the Hornady — which is dubious! Why? Because Hornady ONLY claims a BC of .195 for their 350gr FP !!! I can’t get my head around that one!
And, as another matter of actual fact, there is at least one 350gr that will out-penetrate a particular 500gr while retaining 100 % of its unfired weight, while the 500gr held onto only 310 grains being stopped by the test media after only 6.5 inches of penetration! The 350, on the other hand, completely penetrated the 15.5″ of tough media, stopping against the final cardboard panel looking like an advertisement for that brand. The 350 was the 350gr TSX, and the 500 was the 500gr Speer Grand Slam that Terry Wieland pronounced a “good bullet” for African fauna of the large and dangerous variety, based on his tests in wet newsprint!
Phil, by the way, now recommends Barnes TSX, Hornady’s 500gr DGX (expanding), which he recently used on Cape buffalo, and Nosler’s 500gr Partition — expanding bullets only for bear. While he didn’t specify the weight of the TSX’s, he suggested a good 350gr should work well.
The problem with the 500gr TSX is that it’s too long and might loose it’s stability in flesh and bone. Plus, unless you have a long action where it can be seated “long”, it’s very challenging to get enough powder into the case to push it fast enough for expansion and stability in the tough muscles and bone of large game — even for the Lott! I could push it to 2300 fps from my Ruger, but have already invested in the 450gr TSX thinking that it’s a better overall bullet in being significantly shorter, and being able to push it at up to 2400 fps from my rifle, employing AA2230 gun powder.
So, my personal recommendation in .458-caliber for anything dangerous on this N.A. Continent would be the 350gr TSX at 2650 to 2750 fps. The 450gr TSX has a better SD and BC, so at 2300 to 2400 fps, it will hit harder but produce more recoil and a less flat trajectory. Either should work to 400 yards or so, depending on actual MV. They are promoted to give some expansion down to about 1600 fps. Of course, that is theory and it would remain to be seen if it works out that way. I shot a bear with the 350 TSX from my CZ 550 in .458 WM. MV was about 2750 fps, impact was around 2500 fps or so, but I don’t think the bullet expanded from a frontal shot on a medium bear. But the bullet never hit bone, making exit in the right-side flank. The bear ran a ways before making up its mind that it was dead. For a larger bear it should work very well, especially if it hits bone. I know Phil used the 400gr X-Bullet for some time on large game and it became his favorite. Unfortunately a 400gr TSX is unavailable. I think it would be the finest all-around bullet for big game if Barnes would make them. In lieu of that, one could make good use of the 350 TSX, or perhaps the 450 TSX.
Another bullet that shoots well in my Ruger #1 Tropical is the 450gr Swift AF (On far right of pic). Using H335, I’ve no trouble pushing it out the muzzle at +2400 fps/5900 ft-lbs. It’s copper and pure lead, so they tell us, with a partition, and the front core is bonded to the jacket. It has an excellent reputation, holding on to 90 to 95% of initial weight while penetration is very good, though perhaps not as good as the TSX of the same weight and application. The cause being that the TSX has gaps between its petals, so slows in flesh less quickly. In any case, I’d not hesitate in choosing either of those two for soft-skinned large game, as well as for bears, lion and leopard (big cats). Of course, recoil will be more severe than in making use of the 350 TSX by a factor of about 18% if each is driven at max velocity. And max velocity, or close thereto, is essential for confidence of good expansion for the TSX’s in particular. They are tough bullets.
An additional bullet that impresses me in .458-caliber is the Hornady 480gr DGX. I chose the 480gr over the 500gr for my Ruger #1 in .45-70 LT. In testing it from my Ruger in tough media (when the 350 TSX and 500gr Speer were also tested, plus several others — of which I gave a full report in late 2017) at a reduced MV to simulate impact on large game at about 100 yards, it completely penetrated everything, impacting a ledge of rock behind the test setup, leaving the clear imprint of a non-expanded bullet of .458″. That WAS impressive compared to some of the others! Hornady has since bonded the hard lead core to the steel jacket — which has a copper coating to protect the rifle’s barrel. With a flat meplat of about 1/4″, it will do severe damage even if it should not expand at a low impact velocity of about 1200 fps. And, I’d expect, at that impact speed, for it to completely penetrate a big whitetail (350 – 400 lbs?) from stem to stern, or visa-versa! Or a big bull moose completely through the shoulders!
Those are a few examples of bullet construction. And companies are now paying more attention to the structure of a bullet to ensure that they accomplish what the hunter expects while giving a sense of security in facing down dangerous game.
Most bullet manufacturers are now producing monolithic bullets — either all copper or copper alloys. Some specialize in bonded bullets (lead core bonded to a copper jacket or copper alloy jacket). It’s obviously essential, I believe, that we need to know before the fact that a bullet intended for large or dangerous game will expand while holding onto most of its weight, and penetrate not merely to vitals, but cause destruction in the process. Bullet construction, more that anything else, is the determining factor.
Next: bullet Profile and Caliber.