Premium .458 Caliber Bullets, Continued (Recomendations)


Feb 6, 2013
500 GRAIN.

Pictured L to Rt. 500 grain Barnes X, 500 grain Kodiak, 500 grain Swift, 500 grain Speer TBBC, 500 grain Woodleigh PP, 510 grain Winchester PP.

500 grain Barnes X.

It is difficult to estimate the frontal area of an expanded 500 gr. Barnes X because it has such a complex shape. I measured the bullet in three locations and averaged. This gave it a FA of 0.559 square inches, which is probably a bit more than it deserves. A number of other bullets had complex shapes, and a more accurate assessment would only be possible with digital imaging tools like Image J which can be downloaded from the National Institute for Health.

The 500 gr. Barnes X is 0.30 inch longer than a typical 510 gr. RNSP. That’s a lot! It is 0.168 - 0.177 inch longer than either of the next longest bullets. Even at a rotational velocity of 2,803 rps (2,334 fps) from the 1-10” twist, the 500 gr. X bullet did not stabilize in the target. (This is equal to a velocity of 2,725 fps in a standard 1-14” twist!) It turned over 180 degrees, and lost two of its four X petals. The first bucket was not torn in two like the other bullets, just split. (A 450 gr. GS FN solid does more damage). The rear of the second can was also split open indicating a modest but deep temporary cavity. The two remaining X petals expanded normally, but were work hardened and ready to fracture. You can clearly see a fracture line where the remaining petals were bent backwards a second time as the bullet re-oriented base forward. I was curious to determine exactly when the X bullet turned over and fired it into a wooden “stop box” consisting of 72 one-foot square ¾ inch thick plywood boards. I normally use this stop box to recover FMJ bullets. (See related article). The Barnes X had completely turned over 180 degrees by the 23rd board and expanded to .701 caliber. It was recovered in the 28th board. A FMJ at the same velocity will penetrate 70 boards.

None of this will disturb African hunters who accept the fact the X petals are almost always torn off the long, unstable monometals. Saeed al-Maktoum of the United Arab Emerate’s has killed over 100 cape buffalo with the 300 gr. Barnes X in his .375 x .404. Almost all of his recovered bullets are bent, show signs of tumbling and/or have lost their X petals. Despite the Barnes excellent reputation in Africa I don’t trust any bullet that is so unstable. Remember I shot the 500 gr. Barnes X in a custom .458 x .404 with 1-10” twist rather than a standard 1-14” twist, and was shooting 300 fps faster than possible in a .458 WM, and it still tumbled! Unless you are willing to order a 1-8 or 1-9” twist and push this bullet to maximum velocity in a .450 Dakota or .460 Weatherby, the .450 gr. Barnes X is a better choice. The 500 gr. X bullet had modest pressure despite its great length. Velocity and pressure appeared to be identical to the 500 gr. Swift in both the .458 x .404 and .450 Dakota.

500 grain Hornady Interbond.

Hornady has replaced their conventional 500 grain RNSP with the Interbond. It is the least expensive of all bonded bullets tested, and there is certainly no excuse for not practicing with your hunting ammo when using the Interbond. The Hornady is a relatively streamlined RN and is somewhat longer than a Woodleigh RN or conventional 510 grain RNSP. The Hornady did not hold up well to an impact velocity of 2,365 fps and I cannot recommend it for use in the large capacity Dakota case. The Interbond over- expanded and only penetrated to the rear of the second bucket. Most .308 Winchester ammunition can equal or exceed that. Retained weight was 349 grains (70%), with 86.6 grains of fragments recovered in the second bucket. The expanded bullet was recovered edge on stuck to the rear of the second bucket. The Hornady expanded into five star shaped fingers but three of these fractured. At maximum expansion it probably exceeded 1.7 inches across, which explains its modest penetration. As recovered it averaged 0.922 caliber. The Interbond mashed flat and was only .464 tall as recovered. The bullet appeared to have turned over 180 degrees as one of the remaining fingers was bent backward and then forward, and was about to fracture at the cannelure. It’s permanent wound cavity was 14.7 c.i., about like the 425 gr. Rhino, 450 gr. Barnes X, or 465 gr. Dead Tough. (recalculate for 23 inches pen). I actually have more faith in a good conventional bullet like the 510 gr. Winchester Power Point than the Interbond. Just bonding a bullet to a conventional jacket does not make a premium hunting bullet.

500 grain Kodiak.

Pictured 450 and 500 grain Kodiak.

The 500 gr. Kodiak had similar expansion as the 450 gr. Kodiak but only 17 gr. more retained weight. However, the heavier bullet penetrated ½ more water buckets. It was recovered half-way through, and stuck to the rear, of the 3rd bucket. One side of the Kodiak was bent backwards 90 degrees at the cannelure, so it was not quite as symmetrical as the 450 gr. Kodiak. This is a very tough bullet. To survive almost completely intact, while fully expanded after perforating five or six layers of nylon is an amazing achievement for a bullet without a Partition or solid base. The volume and duration of the temporary wound cavity must have been enormous, as it not only ripped the first water bucket in two; it actually crushed it into jagged pieces. (So did the 450 gr. North Fork). The energy transfer to the test stand was so great that it shattered two saw horses! I know of several credible reports of .375 and .416 caliber Bitterroot’s hitting Cape buffalo in the hip, rumen, or “paunch” (one of their four stomachs), and stopping the animal in its tracks, with one shot. The 500 gr. Kodiak should do the same. This bullet is the best-kept secret of African hunting. Whether you are shooting a .450 Nitro Express double rifle, .450 Dakota, or a well-used .458 WM from the Park Service, you need this bullet!

500 grain Swift.

The 500 gr. Swift was as reliable as the 400 gr./.416. It actually had more penetration than the reference standard while having over 20% more frontal area and 30% larger permanent wound cavity. It decelerates slowly and had enough residual velocity to split open the front of the third water bucket. Only the 500 gr. Swift and NF-CP managed to carry this much over pressure into the third water bucket. This is a significant achievement. (A .416 Swift will also split the front face of the 3rd bucket, which may account for it’s excellent reputation as a buffalo gun). The Swift had the highest retained weight of any bullet tested other than the experimental 418 gr. Bitterroot. The lead core is so dark, it is almost black, and appears to be made from pure lead.

Most Swift bullets when they are recovered from game have a characteristic “beer barrel” bulge in the bearing surface of the bullet, where the un-bonded rear core has migrated toward the Partition. While there was only 108 fps difference between the 450 and 500 gr. bullets, the heavier Swift is not even close to losing its front core. This puzzled me for two years until I measured the diameter of the two bullets bearing surface. The 500 gr. was a uniform .587 caliber. The 450 gr. was noticeably smaller at .517. The swollen rear core of the 500 gr. bullet supports the expanding mushroom much better than the lighter core of the 450 gr. I will probably re-test the 500 gr. Swift at 2,450 fps and see if it still holds up to point blank impact. I am 90% certain that it will. The Swift is available in factory 450 Dakota ammunition, and was one of the most effective bullets of this test. It was also one of the most accurate, routinely shooting into one inch groups with 96 gr. RL-15.

500 grain Trophy Bonded by Speer.

Based on the performance of the 400 gr. TBBC, and my experience with the Federal Trophy Bonded .223, .25-06 and .308, I had expected the 500 gr. TBS to be a reference standard by which all other bullets were compared. However it had the lowest permanent wound cavity of any soft point (9.5 cubic inches). Even a .338 Winchester with a 210 gr. Nosler Partition has a larger permanent cavity. The TBS has a very blunt ogive, and had to be seated deeper than any other bullet at 3.510 ocl. The jacket appeared to be made from gilding metal rather than pure copper, and was relatively brittle. At 2,412 fps it folded back alongside the bearing surface of the bullet, which greatly reduced its frontal area. The jacket of the original 400 gr. TBBC was made from pure copper and has a noticeably darker color than the 500 gr. Trophy bonded Speer. I don’t know if Speer changed the technical data package they received from Federal in any way, but it is possible to bond lead (which melts at 619 degrees F) but not anneal the copper jacket which requires >900 degrees F. This may be the problem, or it may be the thickness, taper, and composition of the jacket. Whatever the reason, it does not look like a typical “picture perfect” Trophy Bonded.

The .458 Trophy Bonded lost one 25.2 gr. fragment in the second water can and had a recovered diameter of .604 x .789. The nylon water buckets act as a “witness plate” and you can clearly see how the TBS had only one wing of its expanded “bear claw’s” intact as it exited the first bucket. This probably acted as a “rudder,” and tipped the bullet sideways 90 degrees. It “key-holed” exiting the second bucket. The solid base, which was worn smooth on this side, also confirmed that it had tumbled. The TBS measures .740 x .784 sideways (.456 square inch), and actually has more frontal area in profile than it does straight on. With a modest retained weight of 346 gr., and tumbling, the TBS “only” penetrated 2 ½ cans. It is most suitable in the .458 WM and Lott. The Speer was one of the most accurate bullets tested and would actually group into over-lapping clover leafs at 100 yards.

500 grain Woodleigh RN.

The 500 gr. Woodleigh has the same length as a conventional RNSP, and is available in two styles of cannelure. One has a simple rolled cannelure and the other, made for the custom rifle maker Darcy Echols, has a 1/16th inch wide crimping groove in front of the cannelure. I tested this version since I was concerned it might excessively weaken the jacket. According to their web site, the Woodleigh jacket is made from 90-10 cu/zinc “gilding metal.” This would probably be called “commercial bronze” in the United States. Neither alloy is as ductile as pure copper used in the Bitterroot and original Trophy Bonded bullets. Woodleigh claims to use 100% pure lead in their core, but the bright lead appears to have some tin or antimony content which may help bonding. The Woodleigh had the least pressure of any 500 gr. bullet and required 2 gr. more powder to reach similar velocity levels in the .450 Dakota. This sample was recovered at a modest 2,384 fps.

The Woodleigh did not fragment, and expanded into a large 0.612 x 1.15 diameter two- bladed “propeller.” It had 112 gr. more retained weight than a conventional 510 gr. Winchester RNSP. I gave it credit for 34 inches of penetration since it punched out a two-inch diameter piece of plastic in the rear of the 3rd bucket. The bullet was recovered inside the 3rd bucket and it did not dent the front of the 4th. The Woodleigh, like the Kodiak, quits expanding at the cannelure. As you can see from the photographs, this is not a good location to weaken the jacket! While the Woodleigh retained over 90% of its original weight, at these enhanced velocities, it would benefit from a thicker and/or more tapered jacket.

I visited Champlin Firearms, in Enid, Oklahoma recently and they reload Woodleigh RNSP and FMJ’s almost exclusively in their extensive collection of double rifles. Their experience is probably similar to that of Patrick Munn of Peachtree City, GA who used the 500 gr. Woodleigh at a muzzle velocity of 2,070 fps to kill a large bodied bull in Zimbabwe in 2001. The bull was at very close range at dusk and was hit behind the near shoulder. “Plop,” he went down. Retained weight was 421 grains. Expansion was about one inch. However, a higher muzzle velocity and/or a hit on either shoulder would probably have fragmented this bullet. At .458 Lott velocities, Bill Campbell from Pennsylvania, reports that the Woodleigh will penetrate from chest to large intestine on a cape buffalo.

500 grain Woodleigh Protected Point (PP).

The 500 gr. Woodleigh has recently been offered in a Protected Point (PP) configuration like that used with their 400 gr. bullet. This is a flat nose spitzer similar to the Swift. Since powder capacity and OCL are not issues with the .450 Dakota class cartridges, I would strongly suggest the PP rather than RN for these large capacity cases. The very small diameter meplat (.150 inch) may delay expansion compared to the RN. The PP expanded into three wide propellers while the RN at slightly less velocity expanded into two. The PP had noticeably more expansion as a result and averaged .938 diameter and .687 FA. Penetration was equal between the two bullets at 34 inches, breaking a hole in the rear face of the third bucket but being retained there. The PP retained 20 more grains as the mushroom was better supported by the three propellers and less lead was washed off. The recovered PP was 0.1 inch taller than the RN. The PP did not look in danger of fragmenting like the RN. While the PP’s permanent cavity was the third highest of the test, damage to the second bucket was more modest than the RN and was somewhat less severe than the third bucket of either the 450 grain North Fork or Barnes Triple Shock By the time the bullet expands it may have lost quite a bit of velocity. A slightly larger meplat might be appropriate, but I would certainly hunt with this bullet.

500 grain Nosler Partition.

The Nosler had the most penetration of any 500 grain soft point. This will make it the first choice of many African hunters. This bullet was released after my trip to Dande North in Zimbabwae and was the last tested in the series.

Specs are: 2341 fps, .79 x .795 inches expanded, 4 thick propellors mushroom, front core recovered in last (4th) water bucket which is unusual, .861 inch tall, .516 diameter beer barrel expansion of rear core (similar to a 450 grain Swift and much less than a 500 grain Swift), lead expansion .679 x .749, 44 + inches penetration (almost as good as a 450 North Fork Cup Point), 404 grains retained weight, plus 64.3 grain front core.

Test buckets for Nosler.

Bullet sectioned:

Conclusion. Not as impressive as the 450 NF soft point, 400 NF soft point, 450 NF Cup Point, 500 Swift, or 500 Kodiak. For instance the NF CP and 500 Swift split open the 3rd can and the CP had a bit more penetration. But it had a more impressive temporary cavity than the 450 Barnes Tripple Shock and the bonded TBBC by Speer.

I might also add that it "regulates" more closely with the Nosler FN solid than any other pair of soft and solid I have tried, and I have tried most of them. Almost identical velocity (like 1 or 2 fps) and perfectly overlapping point of impact.

I would happily hunt w the pair of them.

This proves once again that expanded frontal area governs penetration more than retained weight.

550 GRAIN.

550 grain Woodleigh.

Woodleigh offers a 550 gr. RN for use in large capacity cases like the .450 Dakota. The SP and a matching FMJ (with a SD of .375!), is offered in factory .450 Dakota ammunition at a velocity of 2,250 fps. I did not test this bullet as I had reached my tolerance level for recoil, and my hunting experience has taught me to within reason value velocity over mass. A thicker and more ductile jacket would probably control expansion more reliably than additional SD. Due to less frontal area and more mass, I would not be surprised if this soft point penetrated four water buckets. The penetration of the FMJ in a quick twist should be impressive.


I tested three other .458 caliber bullets, including an experimental 418 gr. Bitterroot, the 450 gr. GS FN, which is a monolithic copper solid, made in South Africa, and the conventional (un-bonded) 510 gr. Winchester RNSP.

418 grain Bitterroot.

As a favor to me, Mr. Steigers made a handful of .458 caliber Bitterroots that came out of his swage die at 418 gr. Bill is 75 years old and has not made any bullets for two years. I don’t know if there will ever be a commercially available .458 caliber Bitterroot, but I have included the data from this test as an inspiration to other premium bullet makers. A 98% weight retention without using a Partition, monometal, or solid base configuration at 2,650 fps from a bullet with a SD less than that of a 225 gr. .338! There is as much craft as science in producing bonded bullets, and Mr. Steigers has a 25-year head start on all of his competitors. The expanded Bitterroot’s look a lot like a 450 or 500 gr. Kodiak except they have a tapered jacket which is 0.65 inch thick at the heel. This keeps the mushroom from bending backward at all. The six-caliber ogive and soft annealed pure copper jacket allowed the 418 gr. BBC to be fired at less pressure than a 400 gr. North Fork and TBBC. Only the 500 gr. Kodiak had a larger permanent wound cavity, and with a uniform 1.012 inch diameter (0.97 square inch frontal area) and 250 – 300 fps more velocity, the BBC would undoubtedly have the largest temporary cavity of any bullet in the test.

450 grain GSFN.

I could not recover the GSFN is water buckets. It exited four buckets plus six ¾ inch plywood boards used as a backstop, and is still going for all I know. It penetrated over 50 inches of test media. It nearly split the first bucket in two. The bucket was barely attached at the base, indicating at high velocity, the monometal FN does not give up much temporary cavity to an expanding soft point. The second bucket was crushed front and rear, and third split open (like the 500 gr. Swift) indicating the bullet had barely slowed down. It exited the third bucket with a diameter-sized hole and tumbled coming and going in the fourth can. It exited six ¾ inch plywood boards used as a back stop sideways. Permanent cavity was only 8.3 cubic inches. George Hoffman told me before he passed away that he would never allow his clients to shoot FMJ bullets at buffalo. The chance of injuring another animal was too great. (It is not uncommon for several hundred buffalo to travel together). Dr. Ron Berry from South Dakota, shot a Botswana cape buffalo through the front leg (humerus), that perforated the heart with a .416 Rigby using a 385 gr. GS FN at 2,509 fps. Even though it had perforated the heaviest bone in a buffalo’s body, it still made a 1 ½ inch diameter entrance hole in the heart and a greater than 2 inch exit. The buffalo died within 40 yards of the shot. While some of the bullets I tested would probably destroy all or most of the heart, that is excellent performance from a monometal. The larger diameter .458 at a similar or greater velocity should be even more effective!

510 grain Winchester.

The 510 gr. Winchester RNSP was chosen as a conventional base line because like all other Winchester Power Points, it has a brass jacket with a flash coating of copper. The brass jacket is relatively soft and ductile compared to 95-5 copper-zinc (gilding metal) used in most jacketed bullets, and I predicted that this would be the best of the conventional RNSP’s. A 270 gr./.375 caliber WW Power Point can easily withstand 3,000 fps in my .375 Improved. Yet the heavy .458 requires a much higher SD to perform as well. There is some truth to the conventional wisdom that a SD of .300 or more is necessary for large bore bullets! Look at the recovered Winchester compared to the 500 gr. Woodleigh or Kodiak, and you will see why I am so impressed by the Power Points. The thick ductile jacket of the Winchester stopped expansion 0.029 – 0.068 inch sooner than either of the bonded bullets. This is entirely due to the thickness and composition if its jacket.


Pictured, the 450 and 400 grain North Fork soft point at 2550 and 2750 fps recovered from Cape Buffalo at nearly point blank range.

Pictured, 400 and 450 grain North Fork at point blank and 100 yards.

For hunters who use a big bore to hunt small to medium sized game, or for shooter’s who are still getting acclimated to the recoil of a big bore rifle, the 400 gr. North Fork can be used with complete confidence at any velocity up to 2,750 fps. It groups to within one inch of the various 450 grain bullets, and it would actually be possible to use the lighter bullet for small to medium sized game and the matching 450 grain soft point and solid for buffalo and elephant. However, I firmly believe in adopting one reload for each rifle or pistol I own, particularly a DGR. Due in large part to the versatility and availability of the three North Forks, and excellent selection of 450 grain bullets, I have standardized on the bonded 450 gr. North Fork SP.

The monolithic CP and FN exactly overlap point of impact with the SP at 50 and 100 yards. For hunters who absolutely must have a traditional 500 gr. bullet at 2,400 fps, I sincerely recommend the 500 gr. Kodiak, Swift, or Nosler.

An honorable mention must go to the 450 gr. Barnes Triple Shock, 450 gr. Kodiak, 450 gr. North Fork CP, and 500 gr. Woodleigh PP. I would hunt dangerous game with any of these bullets.

Outstanding overview of the big bore bullets.
Thank you for posting.

Very awesome test! That is really something. Those all look pretty danged good. Northfork does make some amazing bullets, that is for certain!