Premium .458 Caliber Bullets


Feb 6, 2013
I will insert photos as I have time.


c 2005 by Andy Tillman

Raising and butchering North American Bison as a young man graphically taught me that a high impact velocity with a premium bullet of large sustained frontal area always killed a bison more quickly and humanely than a heavy bullet of low or moderate velocity. This is contrary to the conventional wisdom among many African hunters who select bullets of the highest possible Sectional Density (SD) and seldom exceed 2,400 fps muzzle velocity. In preparing for my own African buffalo and elephant hunt, I wanted to identify the .458 caliber bullet’s that would withstand point blank impact from a .450 Dakota or similar high velocity cartridge.

I evaluated twenty-four premium .458 caliber bullets over a four-year period. Bullets were fired from a .458 x 404 improved and 450 Dakota. The .458 x 404 is similar to a 460 GA but with a 25 rather than 15 degree shoulder which makes it unnecessary to fire-form basic-brass prior to hunting. This rifle was leant to me by Bill Steigers. Metalwork on the P-17 Enfield action was by Tom Burgess and the walnut stock by Al Biesen. This rifle has a .460 groove barrel with 1-10 inch twist. I later used my own 450 Dakota which was built on a CZ 550 action from Ed Plummer of American Hunting Rifles in Hamilton, Montana. AHR supplied the heavy 1-12 twist barrel, muzzle brake, metallic sights, and Model 70 style safety and trigger. It was plated and stocked with a McMillan BRNO 602 stock by ROBAR of Phoenix, Arizona. Shawn Thomason of Craigmont, Idaho made it all work. Both rifles had quick twist barrels to help stabilize mono-metal and premium bullets.


Due to the high expansion ratio of these large capacity cases, medium burning propellants like IMR 4064 and RL-15 provide high velocity with relatively modest 90 – 104 gr. powder charges. IMR 4895 and Varget were somewhat faster burning than 4064 and RL-15, but were very dense and may be preferable in slightly smaller capacity cartridge cases or with longer bullets. IMR 4350 was useful for reduced loads at low chamber pressure but behaved erratically at maximum loading density and fouled badly. Vhita Vouri 550 showed promise with the heavier bullets. I standardized on RL-15, which worked equally well with all bullet weights. The 450 Dakota case had a 100 – 150 fps advantage over the 458 x 404. This was most useful with the 450 gr. bullet. The two cases were very tolerant of normal changes in reloading components and bullets. I used Norma, RWS and HDS .404 brass, and factory Dakota which has held up to 7 reloads without losing a single case. The 400 and 450 gr. Bullets, including the Barnes solids, grouped into one inch of each other at 100 yards from the Dakota. The 500 gr. bullets were four to nine inches low depending on velocity. A 17 pound bag of #8 shot and/or a PAST recoil pad was used to protect my shoulder when shooting off the bench.


I knew from thirty years of evaluating bullets and weapon effects that 5-gallon nylon buckets filled with water closely duplicated live animals. To stop most .458 caliber soft points requires three or more five-gallon nylon buckets filled with water. I standardized on those from Home Depot which cost $4.95 apiece. It costs $15 - 25 to recover a single bullet. The buckets have a 0.090” wall thickness, are 11 inches in diameter, and were secured with a matching lid which can usually be re-used. When aligned front to back they have a 1 ½ inch air space between buckets due to the width of the lid and a ½ inch taper from the top of the bucket to base. I calibrated the water buckets with Remington .416 Remington ammunition, which is loaded with 400 gr. Swift A-Frame bullets. These will perforate 3 buckets and dent the front face of a 4th. The Swift’s expand to .78 caliber at point blank range and maintain 95% weight retention. At 100 yards the .416 Swift expands to .759 caliber and 97.5% retained weight.

Pictured, L to Rt. 400 grain .416 Swift recovered at point blank and 100 yards.

These bullets were compared to the late George Hoffman’s extensive collection of .416 caliber Swift A-Frames recovered from African Cape Buffalo. Mr. Hoffman measured typical expanded bullets for me in July of 2001. They averaged .80 - .85 caliber and 90% weight retention. The correlation between bullets recovered in water buckets and Mr. Hoffman’s collection is 91% for expansion and 95% for retained weight. The nylon buckets can be used over a wide velocity range, and closely duplicate test shots into IWBA calibrated gelatin with bullets as diverse as a 147 gr. sub-sonic 9mm JHP or a 55 gr. 5.56mm FMJ at 3,200 fps. The nylon buckets significantly reduce the diameter of an expanded bullet compared to firing into a homogenous water tank. IWBA tests have concluded that water by itself, in either a water tank, cardboard milk jugs, or plastic zip lock bags, will over expand a bullet by about 20% compared to live animals. A protocol has been developed by the IWBA for water soaked newspapers, but it is so complex and time consuming that I would almost rather use gelatin. The nylon buckets are a difficult target, and are capable of ripping the solid copper wings off a Barnes X or the bonded “bear claws” off a Trophy Bonded Bear Claw.

Mr. Hoffman told me that, “The 400 Swift will penetrate both shoulders and be under the skin on a broadside shot every time. If you get behind the shoulder it will go completely through most of the time.” This correlates to penetrating the rear of the third can and bouncing off the front face of the fourth. I calculated the permanent wound cavity produced by each bullet by converting the caliber of the recovered bullet to square inch of frontal area and multiplying times penetration. This is a very conservative method of determining relative wounding power since the temporary cavity of a high-energy rifle bullet is much larger than the expanded bullet. Only IWBA calibrated gelatin or live animals can accurately measure temporary cavity. However, I was able to make relative comparisons of the bullets to each other by recording whether a bullet left a diameter entry or exit wound in the nylon bucket, broke off a large piece of plastic, split the bucket open from top to bottom, or even tore the bucket in two! I added one inch of penetration for a large dent on the rear face of a bucket, and another inch for an exit. A bullet which penetrated a bucket but did not dent the inside rear face was given credit for ½ of a bucket (5 1/2 inches). Buckets were elevated to the same height parallel to the ground as the rifle’s bore on three saw horses.

Despite the high correlation between bullets recovered from Cape buffalo and the test medium, I do not contend that recovering bullets in water filled nylon buckets is science. It is a simple and consistent method to filter out totally inappropriate bullets, and suggest those that will be most successful for the intended purpose. If a bullet does not perform well in a nylon water bucket it certainly will not do so in a 1,600 pound testosterone filled bag of red meat!

400 GR.

Pictured L to Rt. 400 grain Barnes X, 400grain North fork bonded soft point, 400 grain Trophy bonded Bear claw, 400 grain Woodleigh.

With a SD equal to a 180 gr./.308 or a 250 gr./.358, a 400 gr. .458 should have no problem holding up to an impact velocity equal to a 30-06 or 35 Whelan. Yet most African hunters would never consider using a bullet with a SD of .272 on the “Southern Buffalo.” As the penetration of the 400gr. Barnes X, North Fork, and TBBC demonstrate, the SD of a bullet in the box is not nearly as significant as the SD of the expanded bullet itself!

400 grain Barnes X.

L to Rt. 400 grain Barnes X, 450 Barnes X tripple Shock, 500 Barnes X.

The 400 gr. Barnes X and 450 gr. Northfork CP had more penetration than any other expanding bullet. That’s right, a 400 gr. Barnes had more penetration than a 500 gr. Barnes. Frontal area appears to influence penetration more than any other characteristic, even retained weight. The 400 gr. Barnes blew off all four X petals and was reduced to a 283 gr. wad cutter, but it penetrated 4 cans and nearly punctured a 5th. That is equal to 46 inches penetration, seven inches more than its nearest competitors, the 450 and 500 gr. Swift. As the bullets modest permanent wound cavity (10.3 cubic inches) indicates, losing so much frontal area has an adverse effect on its lethality. Sure, it might shoot from pelvis to pleural cavity on a buffalo, but it will also take much longer to exsanguinate than if it was hit with a high expansion bullet like the 450 gr or 500 gr Kodiak. The Barnes X is essentially an “expanding solid.” Without it’s X petals, the Barnes averaged just .534 caliber. Since monometal’s have modest expansion, the .375 and larger calibers make most sense in the Barnes X. In these large capacity cases, all three bullets had similar pressure and velocity as their peers. All three weights of the Barnes X have the same depth (1/2“) and diameter (1/4”) of hollow point. Only the length of their bearing surface is different. This bullet is probably best used in the .458 WM.

400 grain North Fork.

The North Fork was the most reliable 400 gr. and one of the most effective bullets regardless of weight. It actually had more penetration and expansion than the reference standard .416 Remington. And it had as much or more retained weight as a 450gr. Barnes X, 500gr. TB Speer or conventional 510 gr. Winchester RNSP! The North Fork had four inches more penetration than a .416 Remington despite having more frontal area to overcome and slightly less retained weight. How is that possible? More energy. The .450 Dakota can easily reach 2,700 fps from my relatively short 21 ½ inch barrel. Anyone who owns a .458 Winchester magnum (WM) can closely duplicate the effectiveness of a factory .416 Remington by using the North Fork or TBBC.

I tested the 400 gr. North Fork twice at point blank (PB) range and once at 100 yards. Weight retention was 364 gr. at PB and 388 gr (97%) at 100 yards. Expansion was a uniform 0.819 diameter at PB and 0.843 at 100 yards. Penetration was 39 inches at PB and 34 inches at 100 yards. Despite its relatively light weight, this is one of the most consistent premium bullets available. The North Fork appeared to have a safety margin of at least 150 fps before fracturing the expanded mushroom. You can just barely see the rim of the solid copper base imprinted beneath the bonded mushroom. The NF maintained 42 gr. more weight than the TBBC and penetrated ½ more water buckets. As Mr. Hoffman observed, this would probably mean the difference between finding a bullet underneath the hide on the far side of a buffalo’s shoulder or exiting and leaving a blood trail. The North Fork is readily available and accurate. The semi-spitzer design chambered as smoothly as a FMJ-RN. Mine were shipped the same day the order was received. The grooved driving bands of the NF provided many locations to crimp the case neck into the bullet, and were useful for sealing the loaded ammo with a lacquer weather sealant, but did not appear to reduce chamber pressure compared to its peers.

From buffalo, point blank range.

From 5 gallon water buckets, point blank and 100 yards.

400 grain Swift.

The 400 gr. Swift was not tested since it has a very large meplat, and is intended for use in the .45-70. Oddly enough, the 400 gr. Swift is available in 450 Dakota ammunition. The 400 gr. North Fork would be a much better choice.

400 grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw.

The Trophy Bonded Bear Claw (TBBC), which is actually 390 gr., is no longer sold as a reloading component. I purchased mine prior to the sale of Federal who owned Trophy Bonded to Alliant Industries (Speer). The TBBC is an excellent bullet and is still available in Federal .458 WM ammunition. The North Fork and TBBC are both bonded core with a “solid shank,” a design which is also used in the South African Rhino bullet. Bill Steigers of Lewiston, Idaho made the first bonded core hunting bullet, the Bitterroot, from copper tubing in 1965. In 1972 he made a large batch of 300 gr. 375 caliber “Ackley Solid Base Expanding” bullets from extruded copper rod. While none of his later imitators have given Bill Steigers credit for developing bonded bullets 40 years ago, he asked and received permission from P.O. Ackley to use his solid base design, and then greatly improved it by bonding the jacket and core. The experiment with the solid base Bitterroot’s was abandoned after African tests on Cape buffalo demonstrated that it was inferior to his original design. The late Jack Carter, the founder of Trophy Bonded, popularized the bonded “solid shank” ten years later. The widespread availability of CNC machines and new copper alloys has made the solid base design much more useful than it was thirty years ago. It solves one basic problem facing any bonded bullet maker and that is how to seal the base of a tubular bullet that is filled with molten lead during the bonding and annealing process.

400 grain Woodleigh.

If the 400 gr. Barnes under expanded, it’s probably fair to say the 400 gr. Woodleigh over-expanded. It retained a bit more weight than the Barnes but “only” penetrated two cans, which is still equal to many of the best .308 to .375 caliber bullets made. While this would probably make a shoulder-to-shoulder shot on most medium sized game, the bullet mashed flat and is in danger of fragmenting. Fergus Bailey in Australia uses the 400 gr. Woodleigh in his lightweight Sako re-chambered to .458 Lott. He has killed many wart hogs with this combination, and reports the bullet exits completely at a reduced velocity of 2,400 fps. Dr. Norbert Hansen of Germany has used this bullet extensively for plains game in his .458 Lott. I would probably recommend it for the .458 WM only.

At 2,600 fps a 180 gr./.308 Woodleigh, which has a similar velocity and SD as the 400gr./.458, expands only 1/2 of the way down the bearing surface of the bullet. At 3,380 fps it still retains 140 gr. and has ¼ inch left of the bearing surface yet to go! Duncan McPherson has demonstrated that heavy bullets continue to expand over a longer dwell time than lighter ones. I’m not sure when the mass of the bullet becomes so great it adversely affects the Woodleigh, but it appears to with bullets as light as a 270 gr./.375 which turns inside-out like a badminton birdie at 2,900 fps in my .375 H&H Improved.

The 400 grain Woodleigh was one of the most accurate bullets of this test, grouping into a single ragged hole at 100 yards with 98 grains RL-15.

425 GRAIN.

425 grain Rhino.

A 425 grain .458 is a non-standard but useful bullet weight. I could easily reach 2,650 fps with RL-15, just 50 fps less than a typical 400 gr. With a SD of .289, the 425 gr./.458 is equal to a 160 gr./7mm or 225 gr/.338. This is certainly adequate if not ideal for a premium bullet, especially one that uses a solid base configuration. The Rhino has been available internationally since 1999, and is manufactured by Kobus Van der Westhuizen of the Republic of South Africa (RSA) and sold in the U.S. by their distributor Bill Isenbarger of Houston, Texas. I ordered mine by E-mail on a Wednesday night and they were shipped by Fed Ex two days later. At $33.20 per box of twenty, they are less expensive than a Trophy Bonded Speer but 50% more than a similar Woodleigh or North Fork. The 425 grain is a spitzer. Rhino also makes a bonded 485 grain and 500 grain RN and a 500 grain monometal solid. They are moly-coated and required 4 gr. more powder to reach similar pressure levels as non-coated bullets.

The 425 gr. Rhino survived at PB range better than the 485 gr. Rhino despite over 200 fps greater impact velocity. This well demonstrates the importance of testing your hunting bullets prior to going on safari. The 425 gr. Rhino lost one of it’s four expanded “propellers.” The 485 gr. Rhino lost three of four. The 425 gr. Rhino’s spitzer shape may have delayed expansion compared to the heavier Rhino’s RN. I sectioned both bullets and they appear to share a 3mm thick jacket, the thickest jacket of any bullet tested. The cavity for the lead core appears to have been made with a 5mm wide drill bit 18 mm deep. Neither bullets had any taper to the inside diameter of their jacket. This may adversely affect the bullets ability to expand at lower velocities. I would advise anyone shooting either bullet from a low velocity cartridge like the .458 WM to recover one in water buckets at typical hunting ranges prior to actually using them. When this thick jacket is swaged into a spitzer rather than a RN, the jacket almost completely covers up the meplat, leaving very little exposed lead. To encourage expansion and reveal some of the lead core, the manufacturer appears to have used a dual diameter drill bit to decrease the thickness of the jacket at the meplat. This gives the lead core of a sectioned bullet a coke bottle profile that is highly unusual.

The 425 gr. Rhino penetrates 2 ½ water buckets, and has a permanent wound cavity of 14.7 cubic inches. This is similar to a 450 gr. Barnes X which had less expansion but more penetration, or the 500 gr. Trophy Bonded Speer which had similar penetration. Damage to the water buckets was modest and is consistent with delayed expansion. Like the Barnes X line, the Rhino’s probably have a very narrow velocity envelope within which they maintain the expanded propellers. While the Rhino bullets share the same basic architecture of the original Trophy Bonded Bear Claw or North Fork, they are relatively crude in comparison. A tapered and swaged (rather than drilled) jacket would provide a greater retained weight, FA and velocity envelope. The 425 gr. Rhino consistently shot 1-3 inches higher than the 485 gr. Rhino with no difference in windage. It can certainly be used as a light plains game bullet in conjunction with a heavier bullet for dangerous game.

450 GRAIN.

Pictured, L to Rt. 450 grain Barnes X, North fork bonded soft point, 450 Swift, 450 Kodiak.

With a SD of .307, the 450 grain .458 should have as much or more penetration as a comparable 175 gr./7mm, 200 gr./.308, 250 gr./.338, or 300 gr./375. That’s good company and sufficient reason to try this under-appreciated bullet weight. The 450 gr. offers somewhat reduced recoil compared to the 500 gr., and larger temporary cavity due to 100 – 150 fps greater velocity. There are three exceptional monolithic solids available in this weight range, all of which were easy to regulate to the same point of impact as the premium soft points.

450 grain Barnes X.

The 450 gr. Barnes X is 0.16 inches longer than a typical 510 gr. RNSP. With a rotational velocity of 2,905 revolutions per second (rps) in a 1-10 twist, the 450 gr. X bullet did not tumble in the complex target array and had an acceptable blend of penetration and frontal area. Experienced Barnes users will recognize the distinctive “square” profile of this X bullet. The 450 gr. maintained the base of each X petal, which gives the bullet a square rather than round appearance. Frontal area is increased by 40% over the 400 gr. and the permanent wound cavity is increased by four cubic inches. One petal was recovered near the first can and another in the second. The second and third cans were crushed, indicating a sustained temporary cavity. Nick Caico, from Seaford, NY, shot a cape buffalo forward of the hip with a 458 Lott at 2,450 fps, and recovered a perfectly expanded 450 gr. X bullet in the lungs, a distance of at least 4 ½ feet. This is entirely consistent with my results. The .458 Barnes has a narrow velocity range that the X petals will remain intact, but the 450 gr. is likely to expand as intended at normal hunting ranges. Nick’s bull was shot at 90 yards as he ran uphill. Expansion was 0.92 caliber. This compared to just .711 caliber at the higher velocities used in my test. I prefer the 450 gr. X to either the 400 or 500 gr. Barnes. It does not yaw like the 500 gr. or blow off its front end as easily as the 400 gr. The 450 gr. Barnes RN solid fed reliably, was accurate, and easy to regulate to the same point of impact as the other 450 gr. bullets. Unfortunately, it has been replaced with a banded FN in their 2005 catalog.

450 grain Barnes Triple Shock.

The Triple Shock has four narrow grooves cut into the bearing surface of the bullet which may reduce pressure, and provide a reservoir for copper fouling. At 1.519 inches long, only the 500 grain Barnes X is longer. The width and depth of the HP appeared to be unchanged from the original Barnes X line. I could easily reach 2,509 fps in my Dakota. This was the first Barnes X type bullet that shot accurately in my rifle. Even during load development with 2.0 grain powder increments I was able to build a nice group at 50 yards, stringing bullets in a single vertical line as the powder charge was increased. It eventually turned in a 1 ¼ inch group at 100 yards. The Triple Shock did not foul my barrel like the original Barnes X did either. Many Barnes X shooters blame copper fouling on a rough bore, but my rifle would print virtually one hole groups with Woodleigh, North Fork, and Trophy Bonded bullets, and shoot a 3-4 inch pattern with the Barnes X. The Triple Shock works.

Expansion and penetration was similar to the Barnes X. Due to higher MV, the Triple Shock lost a bit more weight and FA, averaging .284 square inch. Retained weight was just 79%. It lost all four X petals, but held onto them longer than the original Barnes X. I recovered the first petal in the rear of bucket #2, and the remaining three in the rear of bucket #3. The fragments average 22.3 gr. each. The bullet veered off course just 1 inch in #3 and #4 and bounced off the front face of the 5th bucket. I gave it credit for 44 inches penetration. The Triple shock may have retained its X petals longer than the original Barnes X due to my 1-12 twist putting less pressure on the expanded X petals than the 1-10 twist. The Triple Shock did not appear to tip, and with an expanded length of 0.936 inches was adequately stabilized at 2,509 rps rotational velocity. The larger FA of the 450 gr. NF-CP did much more damage to the third water bucket than the Triple Shock even though they had similar penetration. The extra retained weight and FA of the NF really did make a difference. Permanent wound volume was a modest 12.5 cubic inches. The Triple Shock did not disturb any of the water buckets. They were left standing on the test stand, and I was able to actually re-use the last two buckets, which was very unusual. I suspect the Triple Shock would retain its X petals at 100 yards. While there are certainly more effective bullets, I would hunt with it. Some hunters will find great comfort in knowing they are shooting what is essentially a one inch long rod of solid copper that is .60 caliber in diameter.

450 grain Kodiak.

One of the most rewarding discoveries of this test was the Alaska Bullet Works Kodiak. Their 450 and 500 gr. RNSPs were two of the top seven bullets in the test. The 450 gr. expanded to over an inch in diameter and retained 94.7% of its original weight! Only the 500 gr. Kodiak and experimental 418 gr. Bitterroot had a larger permanent wound cavity. The bullet expanded to just 0.049 inch past the base of the bullet, compared to 0.137 for the 500 gr. Kodiak. I would consider this to be ideal expansion. It was fired from a 1-10 twist and was very stable, showing no signs of tipping. This is one of the best .458 caliber bullets in the world and is equally at home on a .458 WM in SE Alaska as it is on a 450 Dakota in Zimbabwe. Company spokesmen claim it will shoot through and exit both shoulders of a 9-foot brown bear from a .458 WM. This is consistent with my test where it penetrated 2 ½ buckets of water. The Kodiak jacket tapers from 30/1000 inch to 50/1000 at the heel in a five degree taper and is made from 95-5 copper/zinc. The RNSP has a relatively blunt 1-½ caliber ogive, which is similar to the 500 gr. Woodleigh. The 450 and 500 gr. Kodiaks are loaded in Buffalo Bore .458 WM ammunition. I recommend this bullet for use in .458 WM, Lott and Ackley class wildcats. It’s blunt ogive and short length is most appropriate for cartridges that are limited to a 3.6 inch OCL or less.

While the Kodiak may appear to have over expanded, it is not in the least bit fragile, brittle, or in any danger of fragmenting. It has a deep covering of lead still bonded to the jacket. This compares very favorably to the 500 gr. TBS which “washed off” the lead and left a thin film of solder covering a jacket which appeared to be no thicker than a varmint bullet. According to company spokesmen, Alaska Bullet works has been making bonded bullets since 1980, and can bond 40 .458 bullets a minute, and 90 .30 calibers a minute. They are among the least expensive bonded bullet in the United States, and demonstrably better than ones costing twice as much. Look at these bullets photographed from their base; it makes all of the other bullets look like a medium bore. African hunters frequently site the need for extreme penetration because buffalo so often turn and run when hit. All I can say is that if you hit a buffalo with either the 450 or 500 gr. Kodiak you won’t need a follow up shot! (Nor will you over penetrate and wound a buffalo standing behind your target). Experienced African hunters have told me that this would also make an excellent lion or leopard load. The Kodiak and Barnes X bullets were the least accurate of this test but still shot into 2 ½ - 3 inch dispersion at 100 yards, which is more accurate than any shooter can maintain off-hand with a large bore rifle.

450 grain North Fork Soft Point.

Pictured 400 and 450 grain at point blank and 100 yards.

The 450 gr. North Fork is the obvious choice for an all-around dangerous game bullet in this caliber. During the course of this test, it soon became obvious that the 400 or 450 grain NF’s were in a class by themselves. One of them would become my standard reload. As a result, I tested this bullet twice at PB and twice at 100 yards. The first test shot was loaded with IMR-4350 powder which later proved to be erratic at maximum loading density. The recovered bullet had a large polished center like it had smacked the rear of the third bucket, but there was no obvious dent in the off-side nylon wall so I gave it a penetration of “only” 2 ½ cans, or 28 inches, even though it had probably penetrated a full 33 inches. Twenty-eight inches of penetration would yield a permanent wound cavity of only 14.6 cubic inches, or 28% less than the 400 gr. NF. This surprised me so much I retested the 450 gr. a second time loaded with RL-15 and chronographed the shot. Muzzle velocity was 2,547 fps. It exited the rear of the 3rd can and bounced off the 4th. Unlike conventional bullets which may over expand, the North Fork penetrates farther the faster you shoot them. I gave it a penetration of 35 inches, which is similar to the 450 gr. Barnes X. Once I switched powders to RL-15 or IMR 4064, I had no more surprises with any of the bullets. I tested the 450 gr. NF twice at 100 yards and it penetrated 35 inches both times, expanded to 0.833 diameter, and retained 439.2 gr. (97.6%) weight. This is equal to a 19 cubic inch permanent wound cavity. The four recovered bullets are nearly identical.

An aquaitence recently shot three Tanzanian Cape buffalo with the 450 gr. NF at 2,580 fps from his 450 Dakota. All three were one-shot kills. The recovered bullets weighed a uniform 416 grains with a diameter of .88 caliber, a 95% correlation to my water buckets. Two shots were broad-side behind the shoulder and were recovered underneath the hide on the opposite side. One ran 40 yards and died before a second shot could be fired, and the other died in his tracks despite no shoulder, spine or Central Nervous System (CNS) involvement. The third bull was shot front-on in the chest. He stumbled backwards and died in his tracks. One-shot kills like this are very unusual in Cape buffalo and are a testimonial to a remarkable man and bullet.

Mike Brady, the owner of North Fork, recommends the 400 gr., “For moose, lion, brown bear, and eland-class,” animals, and the 450 gr. for buffalo. If I had to load 40 rounds of ammo for a ten-day safari to Tanzania tomorrow, I would probably select the 450 gr. NF even though it was not quite as consistent as the 400 gr. NF. As the photos demonstrate, the North Forks have a substance and structural integrity that is a confidence builder when facing an animal that is three feet wide and six feet long with a bad attitude. North Fork also makes a 450 gr. monometal solid with a truncated Flat Nose which is turned out of the same H4 copper alloy as used in the soft point. It is a dual diameter bullet, with seven driving bands, and about 50 fps less pressure at similar loading density as the soft point. It was more sensitive to OCL in my rifle than North Fork’s original RN-FN which I tested in the wooden stop-box. Some rifles may require use of a Dremel tool to smooth the edge of their feed ramp.

450 grain North Fork Cup Point.

Pictured CP far right next to Barnes TSX at similar velocity.

The North Fork Cup Point (CP) is an expanding solid, the only bullet really like it in the world. The CP is based on North Forks monolithic FN solid. The CP is just 0.027 inch longer than the FN and has a shallow concave hollow point machined into the meplat. The side walls of this wide but shallow HP are thicker than a conventional HP, there fore the name, Cup Point. The CP holds about 1 grain (0.1 cc) of water which is curiously enough, identical to the volume of the Barnes X or Triple Shock HP. The FN and CP are both made from the same H4 solid copper used in North Fork’s bonded soft point. The CP has five full diameter driving bands which spin the bullet, a sixth in the middle of the bullet that helps align it in the bore, and a full dimension heel. The bearing surface between driving bands has been reduced to .4465 diameter. I examined several recovered bullets and this reduced surface area does not contact the rifling. As a result, the FN and CP have less pressure than conventional bullets and required 2- 4 grains more powder charge to reach a similar velocity level as the other 450 grain bullets.

The CP expanded to an average .614 caliber and blew off less than 1/3 of the expanded mushroom entering the second water bucket. Compare this bullets dimensions and expansion with the Barnes X line and you will see that Mike Brady’s innovation offers more penetration and retained weight than the 450 grain X bullet, and more penetration than the 500 grain X. While the impact velocity of this bullet was relatively high, it is within the envelope of a 300 gr/.375 or 370 gr./.416, and I would expect similar behavior from these CP solids. The CP split the first water bucket completely in two like the better soft points, a top to bottom split in the rear of the second bucket, and blew out ½ of the base on the third. Damage in each water bucket was proportional to velocity. The CP should offer a deep and predictable wound profile which is certainly appropriate for large dangerous game hunting. It closely resembles the wound profile of a .416 Remington with the reference standard 400 grain Swift, but with one full bucket more penetration. That’s saying something. It produced more damage to the third bucket than any other bullet.

Despite it’s great penetration, the permanent wound cavity created by the CP is less than all but three other expanding bullets, but 50% greater than a monolithic FN. That is exactly what most users would hope for. While the CP is a very conservative bullet design it is well executed and at slightly less velocity would probably have maintained 100% weight retention and 0.73 caliber expansion. The CP equaled or exceeded the penetration of the 400 Barnes X and 450 gr. Triple Shock, but did so with 25% more FA. It tied with the 400 X for the greatest penetration of any expanding bullet in the test. African hunters who have traditionally loaded one SP followed by a magazine full of FMJ’s for buffalo hunting will hail this bullet as the most significant innovation since smokeless powder. It is both an expanding bullet and a solid. We know from it’s first African outing in 2004 that the CP expands modestly at .404 Jeffery and .470 Nitro velocities and shoots stem to stern on Cape buffalo. It is comforting to know that it will also hold up to use in higher velocity cartridges. The 450 gr. CP remained point forward through out its bullet path and showed no signs of tipping or tumbling when fired from my 450 Dakota with 1-12 twist.

North Fork has managed to improve on the A-Square concept of a “triad” of bullets. The North Fork SP, CP and FN could be fired into a single ½ x 1 inch group at 50 yards with express sights, and about the same with a 3 X scope at 100 yards. Why look any farther?

450 grain Swift.

The 450 gr. Swift was a bit of a disappointment. The bullet had a more frontal area than the NF and a bit less retained weight, yet it penetrated 3 ½ cans of water! And it did so consistently. Based on the reputation of the .416 Swift, I conducted three test shots. One lost its front core and was recovered in the fourth can of water weighing 292 gr. and .517 diameter, a second fractured but did not separate, and a third remained intact. The last two bullets were nearly identical at .863 caliber and 90% retained weight. A 250 gr./.375 Swift with much less SD, withstands 3,050 fps impact in my .375 Improved which has a 1-8 “ twist. The heavy .458’s really are hard on a bullet! The 450 gr. Swift is loaded in Remington .458 WM Safari ammunition. At a modest 2,250 fps it is likely to be among the best factory ammunition available. At high velocity, with a 22.8 cubic inch permanent wound cavity, it will probably kill 40% faster than a .416 Remington. (If it does not blow off its front core). I cannot explain why it has more penetration than the North Fork, other than it was fired in a 1-10” twist barrel. The expanded Swift is 0.15 inch shorter than the NF, so it may be inherently more stable. It showed no signs of tipping. I would trust this bullet at velocities up to and including the .458 Lott (2,350 fps).


465 grain A-Square Dead Tough.

Pictured, L to RT, Dead Tough, Woodleigh RNSP and Hornady Interbond.

The A-Square “triad” of bullets is once again available in the United States. This includes the bonded Dead Tough, fragmenting Lion Load and Monolithic Solid. I tested the Dead Tough (DT) and Monolithic Solid (MS). The 465 gr. DT is shorter than either a 400 grain Barnes X or North Fork which makes it appropriate for cartridges with modest powder capacity like the .458 Winchester or Lott. A 465 grain bullet is unusual in the English system, but is equal to 30 grams in the metric. If I can’t kill a buffalo or elephant with a bullet weighing 30 grams, I think I will just stay back in camp drinking whiskey and telling lies. The 30 gram DT and MS can easily reach 2,500 fps. It’s SD is > to such well regarded calibers as the 250 grain/.338, 500 grain/.475, 570 grain/.510, and 750 grain/.585. With a SD of .317, a 30 gram .458 should be adequate with almost any premium bullet design. The 30 gram DT is loaded in A-Square’s .458 Winchester ammunition. Most users would select the 500 grain DT for a large capacity case like the Dakota, but since the A-Square was the most expensive bullets of the test, I wanted to see how it would compare to the 450 grain North Fork which became the reference standard by which all other bullets were compared.

The jacket of the Dead Tough covers the radius of the RN to ensure reliable feeding but this may encourage the bullet to expand inward rather than outward. Out of respect for the manufacturer, I tested the A-Square twice. Despite a .350 diameter meplat of exposed lead, the DT had very modest expansion. It averaged .662 diameter in two short, asymmetrical propellers. It retained less than 400 grains weight and despite its modest weight and short overall length, was the 5th longest recovered bullet of the test. The lead core appears to have a high antimony content which would explain why it crumbled rather than mushroomed. The bullet’s jacket should control expansion, not the core. The DT had excellent penetration as you would expect from a bullet with a FA of .334, either sticking in the rear of #4 or bouncing off the front face of #5. (This is similar to the 450 gr. Barnes Triple Shock). The second bullet veered one inch off track in #4 and had identical penetration (43 inches) for both shots. In medium weight bullets I prefer the North Fork SP and CP, Kodiak, and Triple Shock.

485 GRAIN.

485 grain Rhino.

The 485 grain Rhino is probably intended for the 450 Nitro which is regulated with a 480 grain RN. Since I favor velocity over mass when using premium bullets I was happy to try this heavy weight rather than the more conventional 500 grain Rhino. Sectional Density is .330 compared to .327 for the 480 grain and .341 for the 500 grain. With 20mm of solid copper behind the base of the lead core, there is little reason to favor an even heavier bullet. The width and depth of the core is 5 x 15mm, with the same un-tapered 3mm thick sidewall as the 425 grain spitzer. Since the bullet is a RN, a dual diameter drill bit was not necessary to thin the jacket near the meplat. Both Rhino’s functioned flawlessly through my un-modified CZ feed ramp. The 485 gr. Rhino appeared to have a 50 fps velocity advantage over 500 gr. bullets at similar pressure. Due to their lighter weight and moly coating, I could increase the powder charge 4 grains over a 500 grain un-coated bullet. Even in the large capacity Dakota case, this is a useful bullet weight.

I recovered two 485 grain Rhino bullets. The first test shot was 2,527 fps, 86 fps faster than the 2,441 fps average velocity I had established as a working maximum during load development. This unexpectedly high velocity was probably due to a combination of using a new can of RL-15 powder and not having previously coated my barrel with moly coated bullets. The Rhino lost three of its four expanded petals, and retained only 78% of it’s original weight. It penetrated 3 ½ water buckets and averaged .761 caliber. This results in a permanent wound cavity of 17.6 cubic inches. This is probably slightly more damage than it deserves credit for, but like the 400 gr. Woodleigh and 500 gr. Barnes X, the expanded bullet shape was difficult to measure accurately. Damage to the water buckets was predictable, but fairly shallow. The first bucket was torn in two and the front face of the second split vertically, with a small split in the rear of the second bucket. A diameter sized hole was found in the front face of the third and fourth bucket. This sequence of events is consistent with the bullet losing most of it’s FA in the first two buckets. The bullet appeared to tip sideways as it entered the 4th bucket. Two 22-36 grain bonded jacket fragments were found nearby the first and second water bucket.

Four deep, round indents were imbedded into the heel of the Rhino’s “solid shank” near the base of the bullet. The bullet expands into four individual propellers rather than a uniform mushroom, which reduced its effective FA but may be more likely to cut rather than crush tissue. The propellers must have hit the heel of the bullet with some force to make such a deep indentation. The expanded propellers of the 485 grain Rhino were not as wide as those of the 425 grain Rhino. Curious.

I retested the Rhino again after adjusting the powder charge 2.0 grains and recorded a second shot at a more realistic 2,426 fps. This bullet retained three of its four propellers, and 93.5% of its weight. What a difference 85 fps makes! Penetration was slightly less than the first shot. The bullet veered off course one inch in the 2nd and 3rd bucket, and two inches in the 4th, striking the interior sidewall near its entry point. I gave it credit for 35-36 inches penetration. A bullet which expands in a uniform fashion like the Swift and North Fork will track much straighter than one with asymmetric propellers. The FA (.472 square inch) was somewhat greater than the first shot. The permanent wound cavity was at least 16.5 cubic inches, slightly less than the first shot. The damage to the second and third bucket was greater on this shot, showing the importance of frontal area. The 485 grain Rhino was not as tolerant of high velocity as the North Forks , original TBBC, or even the 425 grain Rhino. But it is probably superior to the heavier TB Speer. The expanded propellers appear to be quite brittle at their base. My reservations about the unusually thick jacket not withstanding, the Rhino is best utilized in a .458 Lott or slower cartridge. The Rhino’s were accurate and functioned well in my unmodified feed ramp. The bullet profile with small flat meplat and radius ogive would make a nice FMJ.

500 grain bullets continued in next post.
Excellent write up on premium big bore bullets.
Looking forward to seeing the photos.
Thank you for all the time and effort you devoted to this project, it is very interesting and greatly appreciated.

Fine information you have garnered. Thank you for your work and for posting this information.
Great job on the write up. I will be using the 450 TSX in my 460 Bee.
I have added data for the excellent 500 grain Nosler Partition. Due to word limit I cut and pasted remaining article after the 550 grain Woodleigh over to the Conclusion section.

The Nosler has the most penetration of any 500 grain soft point. As such it will be the first choice for many African hunters.

Fotis, I am not familiar with your 4cartridge. What is your Muzzle Velocity with the 450 grain TSX?
This is an outstanding write up. Lots of great knowledge transferred here. Thanks for sharing it with us.
Speer 350gr FN most excellent in Marlin 45/70 Trapper with 48.0 of IMR 4198.
Excellent Write up on Prem bullet performance!
Prem bullets performance only 2 or 3 come to mind Swift / Kodiak and Woodleigh all 350gr in 45/70.
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Great write up; information dense, and packed with practical experience.

I'm not expert in rifles for African game, but I think the SMAW in your profile picture would beat them all.