When facing the most dangerous game animals on the face of the Earth, you don't want a bullet that goes to pieces when it matters most.
The Dangerous Game Bullets to Bet Your Life On:
- Nosler Partition
- Swift A-Frame
- Hornady InterLock
- North Fork Semi-Spitzer
- Woodleigh Hydrostatically Stabilized Solid
Those of us who enjoy the pursuit of dangerous game spend an extraordinary amount of time focusing on the gear we use; it has to perform flawlessly, as our very lives depend upon it. I’m not the kind of hunter who holds one form of hunting above another, as though dangerous game is somehow superior to other game animals, but I do know if my deer rifle malfunctions, odds are my life won’t be in danger. The same cannot be said for the truly dangerous game animals.
One malfunction — whether from an errant shot, a misfire or a bullet that simply doesn’t reach the vitals — and things can turn nasty in the blink of an eye. Rogue elephants, mauling leopards, grizzlies that just won’t die, or the charge of the Cape buffalo — ”Black Death” as he is affectionately known — all can very easily turn the tide with tusk, tooth, horn and claw.
While there are volumes written about appropriate cartridges and rifles for dangerous game, we must agree that in the end it is the bullet, and only the bullet, that does the job. Let’s look at what makes a good dangerous game bullet tick.
First, you’ll want a bullet heavy enough to penetrate sufficiently to reach and destroy the vitals from any angle. Second, you’ll want a bullet tough enough to resist premature expansion, which prevents sufficient penetration. Different animals require different levels of performance, but here are my choices for good dangerous game bullets, based upon my own experiences.
The Godfather of Premium Bullets still makes a fine choice for dangerous game, for anything smaller than elephant. Having been developed for penetration, John Nosler ensured his bullet would hold together by leaving a horizontal partition of thick copper between two lead cores; this way the front core expands upon impact, while the rear core stays intact to ensure deep penetration. This design has been with us since 1948, and, in any suitable dangerous game caliber at sane impact velocities, you’ll end the argument. Choose the heaviest weight for your given caliber for the best results.
This is my particular favorite soft-point for everything south of elephant. It is a design similar to the Nosler Partition in that there is two lead cores separated by a thick wall of copper, but in the Swift A-Frame’s case, the jacket is thicker, and the front core is chemically bonded to the core, slowing the expansion and increasing penetration. The A-Frame simply works. It is an accurate bullet that will retain 90 percent of its weight when recovered, and I’ve trusted it to perform all over the world, from North America to Africa, on game as gnarly as Cape buffalo. The classic recovered A-Frame has a slight rivet shape just behind the partition and expands well enough to wreck the vitals of the largest buffalo or grizzly bear, while often penetrating the entire animal. For dangerous game like buffalo, grizzly, lion and hippo, you really can’t go wrong with an A-Frame.
For a cup-and-core bullet to be used on dangerous game, I like the Hornady InterLock, preferably when in the round-nose configuration and with a high sectional density. Hornady makes some great models within this line, like the 300-grain .375-inch and 400-grain .416-inch. Both will cleanly take bear and buffalo and are just about perfect for lion. There is enough exposed lead at the nose to provide good, but not radical, expansion, and at the aforementioned weights the sectional density figure will be well over 0.300, the accepted minimum for good performance on dangerous game. The bullet’s cannelure locks the jacket to the lead core (hence the name), and among the other qualities, I’ve found these bullets to be very accurate. I also like the fact that Hornady makes them in lighter calibers like a 160-grain 6.5mm, or a 220-grain .308-inch, which would be perfect for the African leopard.
The Oregon firm of North Fork bullets makes a fine bullet for dangerous game. Its semi-spitzer bullets are a chemically bonded marriage of pure copper and pure lead, with the lead core taking up the front half of the bullet. The rear section of the bullet is a pure copper shank and the bearing surface is comprised of small grooves to keep pressures down. This design keeps the weight forward and it gives straight-line penetration, often exiting the offside of even the largest animals. North Fork also offers these bullets in heavier than normal weights, such as 350-grain .375s, 430-grain .416s, and 550-grain .458s. I firmly believe that the heavier bullets are a fine choice for settling an argument when things get up close and personal. The semi-spitzer meplat transfers energy quickly, and those few North Forks that have been recovered from game animals have shown good expansion. North Fork has a winner with this bullet.
The solid bullet, which has no exposed lead or is designed not to expand at all, is usually reserved for the toughest jobs like penetrating the skull of an elephant or for back-up shots on Cape buffalo or hippo. They are called upon when penetration is a must and the vitals must be reached from any angle. For decades, these bullets were comprised of a lead core, a thick steel jacket and a thin covering of gilding metal. That has changed with the Woodleigh Hydro solid. It is a monometal bullet with driving bands on the shank to reduce pressure and fouling, but the neat feature of this bullet is the small cup at the meplat. This tiny addition creates a hydrostatic shockwave, destroying tissue in an 8- to 12-inch radius around the entire path of the bullet, while the bullet exits at caliber dimension. This gives us a bullet that can be used on smaller game without the huge exit wounds, yet works perfectly for dangerous game. I used this bullet in Africa in my Heym .404 Jeffery, at 400 grains, and took impala and blue wildebeest very cleanly. I also put the penetrative qualities of this bullet to the test with two body shots on a huge-bodied Zimbabwean bull elephant. The Woodleigh Hydro passed through the entire body with two quartering-toward shots and put the bull down quickly and effectively. I think this design represents the future of dangerous game bullet technology. I know I’ll be using them again.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.