14 minute read

BULLET BULLETIN: BONDEDCORE VS. MONOMETAL BULLETS

BULLET BULLETIN

Modern hunters have the privilege of choosing from some of the best premium bullets ever created.

BONDED-CORE VS. MONOMETAL BULLETS

Comparing and contrasting two great designs for traveling and stay-at-home hunters.

STORY BY PHIL MASSARO • PHOTOS BY MASSARO MEDIA GROUP

With less than 30 minutes of shooting light remaining, we decided to take our chances and hold our position in order to let the eland herd feed toward us. There was a bull in there with a good head, and rather than risk a stalk, we gambled that he’d come clear and o er a shot.

Good fortune was with us, and when the bull turned at 340 yards, I sent a 180-grain Federal Trophy Bonded Tip bullet – handloaded for my .300 Holland & Holland – and saw the bull pile up within 30 yards. Upon examination, we discovered that even at that distance, the bullet had penetrated the entire width of the eland and exited to who knows where.

Projectile technology has inarguably improved over the last three or four decades, to the point that it has enhanced the capabilities and performance of even our most common cartridges. The .30-06 Springfield and .270 Winchester were excellent designs with the cup-and-core softpoint bullets of their day, but load them with a bonded-core or monometal softpoint and you have a di erent experience altogether. But which of the two designs is preferable?

A standard cup-and-core bullet – using a lead core inside of a copper jacket to reduce lead fouling and over-

expansion – has been a popular choice for hunters since the latter part of the 19th century. It does, however, have its own set of issues, including jacket/ core separation upon impact as well as rapid expansion, which can lead to insu cient penetration.

There have been many attempts to build a better mousetrap, going all the way back to John Nosler’s Partition bullet, which came to light as the result of cup-and-core bullets disintegrating on a moose’s shoulder. Nosler used a partition of copper jacket material to separate the lead into two pieces – fore and aft – in order to allow the front to

A 180-grain Federal Fusion bullet recovered from a Minnesota whitetail deer; note that the jacket did not separate from the core.

expand and yet keep the rear intact for deep penetration. It remains a sound choice to this day.

CHEMICALLY BONDING THE copper jacket to the lead core is another method of slowing expansion to allow the bullet to penetrate deep into the vital organs during expansion, and many di erent models are available to today’s hunter. While match-grade target bullets – which are not concerned with any sort of terminal performance – may print tighter groups than hunting bullets, many of today’s premium bondedcore designs are extremely precise. In fact, never before have we seen such accuracy (or more properly, precision) from hunting projectiles.

Most manufacturers o er a bondedcore design of some sort, including Federal’s Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, Trophy Bonded Tip, Terminal Ascent and Fusion; Hornady’s InterBond and DGX Bonded; Swift’s Scirocco II and A-Frame (the latter being a partitioned bullet with the front core bonded); Nosler’s AccuBond and AccuBond Long Range; and Norma’s Oryx and BondStrike designs. Australia’s Woodleigh Bullets makes their Weldcore roundnose softpoint with the same profile as the old Kynoch projectiles, which were used to regulate so many British hunting rifles, yet they have bonded the core to the jacket. This bullet has served me very well in Alaska, Africa and here in my native New York for game animals ranging in size from black bear and whitetail deer to kudu and zebra.

It was Randy Brooks who implemented the idea of removing the lead core of the conventional bullet, resulting in a projectile comprised entirely of copper alloy. After acquiring the Barnes Bullet Company – Fred Barnes himself having produced heavy-for-caliber lead-core bullets – Brooks released his famous Barnes X hollowpoint monometal. The initial iterations were met with mixed reviews – some rifles loved them, but none of them were mine – and copper fouling was an issue, so revisions were made.

The modern TSX and TTSX bullets

Nosler’s E-Tip is a copper-alloy monometal with a polymer tip, perfect for those areas where lead-core bullets are prohibited. Nosler’s AccuBond is a flat-shooting bullet that can handle highimpact velocities and yet still expand reliably at slower velocities.

Randy Brooks had the idea to remove the lead core entirely, resulting in the Barnes X, and ultimately the TSX shown here.

are accurate, open reliably and retain nearly all of their original weight. When pursuing dangerous game with thick hide, tough bones and the ability to stomp or gore you, a copper-alloy monometal bullet makes good sense. It has gained popularity of late, with many companies o ering one or more monometal designs. Nosler’s E-Tip, Hornady’s CX, Federal’s Trophy Copper, Norma’s EcoStrike, Cutting Edge Bullets’ Raptor and South Africa’s Peregrine Bullets are all great examples of monometal hunting bullets with sound reputations.

COMPARING AND CONTRASTING the two designs, you’ll find that while both share a high percentage of weight retention, this is about where the similarities end. The bonded-core bullet can have the same general shape as its non-bonded counterpart, yet the copper-alloy bullet of the same caliber and weight as a leadcore bullet will invariably be longer. Copper is less dense than lead, and to make up the same weight – maintaining the caliber dimension – the bullet will be longer if it is of the same shape, i.e. spitzer boattail, etc.

Since those monometals are longer, the center of gravity will be changed, and the heavy-for-caliber models will often require a faster twist rate in

Three 525-grain Barnes TSX bullets, fired from the .505 Gibbs and recovered from a Zimbabwean Cape buffalo bull. The Barnes TTSX (Tipped Triple Shock X) shares the same monometal design as the TSX, but uses a polymer tip to improve the ballistic coefficient and initiate expansion.

order to stabilize the longer bullet. Looking at factory ammunition, you will find that the monometal o erings are often lighter than standard loads with lead-core bullets, depending on the cartridge. For example, the popular 6.5 Creedmoor uses the 140-grain lead-core bullets without issue, and that load is the standard for long-range shooting. Switch that to a copper-alloy monometal – be it the Winchester Copper Impact, Barnes LRX or Hornady CX – and you’ll see the bullet weight drop o to somewhere between 120 and 130 grains.

Some will frown upon the drop in bullet weight, but with the weight retention so high, the terminal results are usually on par with heavier leadcore bullets. If you’re looking to use a lighter monometal at truly long ranges, you may be frustrated with the way the energy and velocity drop o , but for hunters at sane ranges, it shouldn’t pose too much of an issue.

There are some states and areas that prohibit the use of lead-core ammunition for hunting, so in those areas there isn’t much of a choice, but many hunters simply like the performance of these designs. The monometals work just fine on lighter game, but really show their value on larger species, as the combination of high weight retention and reliable expansion can quickly destroy vital organ tissue, resulting in a quick,

Peregrine’s BushMaster bullets are made in South Africa, using a copper-alloy hollowpoint capped with a brass plunger, which drives the sidewalls out radially. Professional hunter Poen van Zyl and author Phil Massaro with a Mozambican Cape buffalo bull, taken with Peregrine BushMaster monometals from a Heym Model 89B in .450-400 NE 3-inch.

humane kill.

I’ve used 150-grain monometal bullets in my .300 Winchester Magnum to take animals as large as kudu and waterbuck in Africa; they will certainly do the job on whitetail and mule deer here in North America. For a dangerous game bullet, the Barnes TSX and Peregrine BushMaster are two of my favorite monometals, as they handle thick hide and heavy bone very well. I’ve loaded both to handle Cape bu alo bulls, and they’ve performed perfectly.

The bonded-core bullets also allow

a hunter to utilize a bullet of slightly lesser weight, yet still deliver the needed penetration. I’ve relied on a 165-grain Swift Scirocco II where I’d of that bullet will hold together, even at maximum impact velocities. Generally speaking, when I want to hunt with lighter bullets in a given

Three 500-grain Peregrine BushMaster bullets from the author’s Heym .470 NE, recovered from a pair of Cape buffalo bulls. Weight retention was in the high 90-percent range. A 250-grain Woodleigh Weldcore from the author’s .318 Westley Richards, after penetrating the entire length of a kudu bull. Bonded-core bullets consistently give that kind of performance.

normally reach for a 180-grain cupand-core, and have hunted confidently when a close shot presented itself, knowing that the structural integrity

This kudu bull fell to a Texas heart shot from Massaro’s .318 Westley Richards, using the 250-grain bondedcore Woodleigh Weldcore roundnose bullet.

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The Federal Trophy Bonded Bear Claw is a sort of hybrid, having a short yet bonded core in front of a heavy copper base, keeping much of the weight forward.

The Norma Oryx bullet is bonded at the rear of the bullet, allowing the front to expand, yet keeping the rear of the bullet intact.

caliber, I reach for a bonded-core bullet. Load the .375 H&H with a 260-grain Nosler AccuBond, or the .338 Winchester Magnum with the 200-grain Trophy Bonded Tip, and you’ve got a surprisingly flat-shooting combination, capable of taking game at longer ranges. Load the same cartridge with heavier premium slugs and you’ve got the capability of taking the larger species.

SOME WILL TELL you that a premium bullet isn’t needed at all, and that a number of species were nearly pushed to extinction before the jacketed bullet became popular. While they may be

The Cutting Edge Raptor is a monometal bullet designed to break apart; the front of the bullet breaks into blades for severe trauma, while the base remains at caliber dimension for deep penetration. Hornady’s DGX Bonded is an improvement over the earlier cup-and-core DGX, and has gained favor among African professional hunters.

The Federal Trophy Bonded Tip is the son of the Bear Claw, and is one tough bullet.

correct about the latter half of that statement, there is no telling how many game animals were wounded and not recovered because of poor bullet performance. Couple that idea with the scarcity of tags in some states, or the cost of some hunts today, and the investment in a premium bullet is minimal and is indeed a worthy insurance policy.

I hunt with all sorts of projectiles, but in general I will reach for a bonded-core or monometal premium design if I’m traveling for a hunt in order to hedge my bets. I definitely want a premium bullet when it comes to dangerous game animals, and in my opinion it doesn’t hurt to use them on a deer hunt here at home. Just as I want the best optic and rifle I can a ord, I also want the best projectile I can get my hands on. More often than not, that is a bonded-core or monometal design. 

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