Best Bullets For Big Beasts

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

A timeline for the introduction and production of the top line premium bullets is presented - but first here are some (not all) South African examples of mostly dangerous game bullets. It is to be expected that in the land of elephant and Cape buffalo there will be a demand by hunters for indigenous bullet design dedicated to these beasts by the people who not only are engineers in an office but also hunters of dangerous game themselves. The prominent US offerings for African elephant and Cape buffalo are also presented and discussed:

The local Ballistix mono copper series. It has way too much expansion in my opinion and unsuitable for Cape Buffalo and elephant.

Good for giraffe where the shot is angled upwards and the bullet must not exit the animal and go an unknown distance over the trees.

9,3x62 with Ballistix 286 gr mono copper expanding bullets.

Impala non DG 200 gr at 3,200 ft/sec for the .375 H&H (and Ruger). Its 4x calibre wound channel on the 2,000 lb eland to the 20 lb duiker needs to be witnessed. Proper engineering needs no expansion.

Peregrine VRG-2 copper solid. Personal experience with it from Cape buffalo to white size bushbuck shows a 4x calibre wound channel and zero meat damage. An excellent design which makes bullet expansion unnecessary.

Rhino solids. Anyone who has seen how a flat nose performs on heavy bone of real big animals will never use a round nose bullet of any make again.

A US user's Rhino Solid Shank expanding bullets. This is a no-nonsense copper bullet with a soldered lead core in front. I have some experience with this bullet in .375 H&H and my pardner has extensive experience with it on Cape buffalo.

A 320 gr Rhino Solid Shank from a .375 H&H SAKO Forrester I took from a big giraffe bull. The bullet broke through the 1" skin, the inner scapula, broke a 1" thick rib, cut the main arteries above the heart, broke an opposite rib and scapula and bulged against the opposite skin.

The giraffe went 20 yards and was dead. There was very little meat damage and the bullet retained 98% weight.

My own preference on Cape buffalo is to have lesser expansion, and the reason my partner prefers a 380 gr Rhino SS for Cape buffalo from his .375 H&H at 2,200 ft/sec. Impact impulse of the two bullets are the same, with a little less expansion from the slower, heavier bullet.

A Rhino Solid Shank retrieved from a Cape buffalo. The excessive penetration ability of the .375 H&H is somewhat tamed by the 2x calibre expansion of the RSS which makes it excellent for eland and other animals where full penetration may be a liability. On giraffe, because the shot is upwards over the tree tops full penetration is certainly not wanted.

Peregrine VRG-3 Bushmaster. Must be the almost perfect bullet on any game. It always expands in an unpetalled mushroom with no weight loss, no matter the impact velocity or part of the animal it enters.

This Peregrine 300 gr VRG-3 Bushmaster from a .375 H&H penetrated both shoulders and cut the heart top chambers then bulged the opposite skin of the Cape buffalo. The only bullet that forms a perfect mushroom expanded head.

GS Custom FN copper alloy - slightly harder than Peregrines. Solids are shoulder-stabilised (flat nose) or dynamically (mass forward - or both. This bullet has very low bore friction.

Perfect performance. This 500 gr GS Custom FN was dug out from the ground after a coup de grace shot through an elephant's head.

The GS Custom 380 gr .416 bullet on the left was recovered from an elephant's rear skull after a frontal brain shot.

A similar 380 gr .416 bullet on the right was recovered from an elephant's body after it had broken the massive humerus bone and kept on penetrating for a further 3 feet into the body. Compare the Hornady DG Solid further down below with this performance.

The right hand bullet in the photo above, placed in the sawed open elephant humerus for scale.

New American kids on the Africa DG block

Nosler's brass monolithic. Note the resemblance to the Peregrine VRG-2 nose profile. Brass is more brittle than copper and since long ago proven unsuccessful on buffalo and elephant.

Hornady DGX expanding bullet for Cape buffalo and elephant, says Hornady. look at the following photo and read the many reports about this bullet in Africa.

Hornady DGX. A 4-component bullet with the front end open. The object of the front end design is unclear - there is virtually no expansion of bullet diameter, the petals just flatten backwards against the shank. Reports of quite worse failure than this are all over Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.

The Hornady DGS. A complicated 4-core bullet using a secret glue to stick the soft lead to its inner jacket, and that jacket to the outer "steel" jacket which is covered with copper plating.

Hornady DGS. This report from Zimbabwe. It is unclear whether this was the client's bullet or that of the PH. It did not even penetrate the shoulder meat but tumbled as it impacted the skin. This was the exact malady the previous generation Hornady round nose FMJ suffered -also an open rear end bullet with soft lead inside a too thin jacket.

Barnes: Still a brass round nose design 400 gr .416 monolithic solid. From the .470" and larger the front tip has been flattened as that gives in-animal bullet stability and deep penetration.

Barnes TSX. A no-nonsense effective performer. The slight reduction in muzzle velocity due to its higher friction coefficient is offset by its integrity when encountering thick skin and heavy bone.

The TSX after killing a Cape buffalo. Short expanded front end rolled into a mushroom instead of long petals flattened against the shank makes for good retained sectional density. We want the bullet to reach the heart and slice it open like a sword. Wide expansion is overrated by hunters.

While the TSX is the flagship of the Barnes series with impeccable performance on all game in Africa, here is a new contender by Barnes: The Banded Solid. This bullet has an uncanny resemblance to the Peregrine VRG-2 and as such should be the choice for the US hunter to Africa for both dangerous and non dangerous game if it is copper and not brass.

Like the Peregrine and GSC its flat nose does away with the need for expansion.

Solid Bullets: General considerations

Adapted from what GS Custom rightly see as the requirements for a solid bullet:

1. Be heavy enough to not break up or shed weight so that maximum penetration impulse is retained.

2. Be tough enough not to bend in the shank, preventing deflection from the bullet path and immediate lack of penetration, but must retain a certain level of tensile cohesion - meaning not too brittle - which is the old problem with brass.

3. Present a flat vertical face to the direction of penetration. This is the most efficient shape for disruption of tissue.

4. Have a centre of mass that is forward of the bullet centre so that it will remain heavy side ahead.

5. Be as short and stubby as possible to minimise the tendency to tumble in tissue (Why the very high SD of a 275gr .338 Win Mag makes it unsuitable for shoulder shots on Cape buffalo).

6. Have as much velocity as possible for elevated shoulder stabilisation, cavitation, momentum and particularly penetration impulse levels.

7. Be as kind to the bore of your expensive double or custom bolt action as possible.

To these I must add my often repeated advice to SA manufacturers: "Patriotism is not us that buy your product because it is South African-designed and built. Patriotism is YOU designing and manufacturing a product for South African hunters and shooters that is the best quality available in the world and the safest in the African field and on Africa dangerous game".

Too many bullet manufacturers put the hunter at risk of not only wounding his game but also of embarrassment - and possible danger to his life.

The myths and misconceptions about solid bullets

1. The USA BATF have declared all imported brass solids as having armour piercing ability (and therefore they ruled them as illegal.

It is a resounding nonsensical claim as big bore brass bullets shatter on the shoulder bones of Cape buffalo and elephant. Such perfect nonsense coming from an agency known worldwide for its unpunished Fast and Furious illogical actions makes that one can be pardoned for speculating whether there may have been industry lobbying against the importation of the impressive Impala series of lightweight bullets for thin skinned and soft-boned animals. These bullets utilise the supersonic shockwave all bullets carry as a method to cut a wound channel ahead of the bullet shank.

2. Solid bullets cause wounding because you need an expanded front end to increase the trauma of mechanical cutting of a large wound area.

Even a pointed full metal jacket bullet that passes through the heart top chambers kills an animal virtually in its tracks and have been used in Africa for at least 120 years without a problem to kill game from the dainty springbok to the Cape buffalo and elephant.

Since 1997 when GS Custom - followed by Peregrine - researched and employed the flat nose concept is has been shown that a flat nose monolithic solid bullet causes the most acute, deep, linear permanent wound channel of any design. GSC has on their website a photograph of a 380 gr solid from a .416 Rigby that shattered an elephant’s massive 9 inch thick humerus and carried on for a further three feet into the animal.

Flat nose bullets utilise the principle of “super cavitation” copied from the Russian very fast, long range torpedo’s of the Kursk class submarines. The bullet shank has little if any contact with the environment around it and penetrates astonishingly well. My first experience of the Peregrine VRG-2 was in Mozambique on Cape buffalo, waterbuck, kudu, sable, bushbuck and bushpig and I was an immediate convert. I am about to make the mind shift to never use any expanding bullet again, no matter what I hunt..

World timeline of the real Premium bullets:

1986 - The first Barnes X swaged/pressed bullets are available to the public in USA.

1988 - Goodnell bullets (Now Peregrine) enters the market in South Africa with lathe turned bullets.

1992 - GS Custom starts manufacture of lathe turned copper bullets with the HP range.

1994 - The West's arms embargo against SA is lifted.

1994 - Goodnell (SA) launches a brass tipped hollow point - the Bushmaster (now the Peregrine Bushmaster).

1997 - GS Custom patents and launches the drive band copper HP and FN bullets.

1999 - GS Custom launches the copper GSC SP (tactical/target) drive band bullets.

2000 - GS Custom enters the global bullet market.

2001 - GS Custom starts exporting to the USA, Europe and Australia/NZ.

2001 - Barnes launches the swaged/pressed, blue coated copper XLC bullet.

2002 - GS Custom supplies bullets ordered by Lutz Müller of Germany.

2002 - GS Custom supplies samples requested by a barrel maker in Montana USA.

2002 - Ferrobul in Norway launches a copper grooved bullet.

2002 - Hansen (Germany) launches a flat nosed solid copper/steel bimetal bullet.

2002 - Lost River launches a bronze nickel alloy turned tipped bullet.

2003 - Bridger Bullets of Montana start manufacturing brass copies of the bullets GSC supplied to the barrel maker.

2003 - GS Custom supplies bullets ordered by Don ?? from Texas.

2003 - Impala (SA) launches a brass grooved conical solid.

2003 - Lutz Müller visits GSC on the pretext that he wants the GSC distributorship in Europe.

2003 - Lutz Müller lodges a German patent on the GSC drive band concept and starts manufacturing copper KJG drive band bullets.

2004 - Northfork starts development of a grooved, flat nosed copper solid.

2004 - Groove Bullets, owned by Don ?? starts manufacturing copper bullets in Texas.

2004 - Goodnell stops producing bullets and continues in stainless steel goods.

2004 - Barnes launches the copper TSX grooved bullet and starts discontinuing the X and coated XLC bullets.

2004 - GS Custom supplies bullets ordered by Michael Mayrl in Austria.

2004 - GS Custom declines to supply bullets to Gian Marchet in Austria.

2004 - Rhino (South Africa) launches new solid brass truncated round nose grooved solid and discontinues their jacketed lead solid.

2005 - Northfork completes development of their copper FN solid. The front of the bullet looks remarkably like the GSC FN solid.

2005 - Groove bullets go out of business.

2005 - Bridger Bullets go out of business.

2005 - Dzombo launches a brass flat nosed (truncated round nose) grooved solid.

2005 - Gian Marchet (Austria) starts manufacturing copper drive band bullets.

2005 - Mayrl Bullets (Germany) starts manufacturing copper drive band bullets.

2005 - PBP in Norway starts manufacturing copper drive band bullets.

2006 - Mayrl withdraws from the market after an alleged scrap with KJG.

2006 - Frontier Bullets (SA) launches a copper copy of the Barnes TSX.

2006 - Barnes launches a turned, flat nosed, grooved, solid bullet in brass.

2006 - Lutz Müller's patent is terminated.

2006 - Mayrl re-enters the market with new designs as Styria Arms.

2006 - Barnes launches the tipped bi-metal copper/tungsten MRX. It is swaged/pressed.

2007 - Jaguar Geschoss (Germany) launches a copper drive band hollow point.

2007 - Nosler launches the gilding metal E-Tip tipped mono hollow point.

2007 - Barnes launches the tipped TSX.

2007 - Lost River goes out of business.

2008 - Hornady launches the gilding metal GMX.

2008 - Northfork goes out of business.

2009 - Northfork bought by new management, relocated and back in business.

2010 - Barnes Bullets bought by Freedom Group (who also owns Remington).

2011 - Barnes discontinues the MRX line and the FN grooved solid.

2012 - The ATF announces several brass solids classified as 'armour piercing' and prevents several manufacturers from further production. Copper solids are unaffected. 2012 - GS Custom starts a branch and manufactures turned bullets in the USA.

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