Extraordinary Bullets

posted on October 5, 2010

Big-game hunters demand a lot from a bullet. Not only must the value-priced projectile punch cloverleaf patterns beyond 100 yards with the utmost regularity, it must also withstand violent, close-range impacts at velocities in excess of Mach 3, while expanding reliably at distances where half this speed is a godsend. If hunters were nearly as stringent in selecting a member of the opposite sex, most would own more guns, drive H3s and have far fewer tax deductions. But, that's another topic in itself. At least there is now a bullet that should satisfy even the most critical hunter—Barnes Bullets' new Tipped Triple-Shock X-Bullet (TTSX).

X-Bullet, Past and Present

Introduced in 1989, Barnes' all-copper X-Bullet was a radical departure from the premium, controlled-expansion projectiles available at the time, which employed either a cross-member or bonding to retain weight during upset. Without a lead core to shed during expansion, the X-Bullet typically retained nearly 100 percent of its weight and easily out-penetrated multi-metal projectiles. But just as quickly as the

X-Bullet garnered a reputation for superior terminal ballistics at moderate to high velocities, so did it for excessive fouling and pressure and lackluster accuracy. The long morsels of copper also occupied more prime real estate than their lead-core companions of similar weight, even when seated to the maximum cartridge overall length. And at low velocity—with the exception of the .30-30 and .45-70 offerings—expansion left much to be desired.

Barnes introduced the second version of the X-Bullet in 1997, the X-Lubricated Coating (XLC), which was the first successful attempt to correct some faults of the original projectile. A product of the molybdenum disulfide heyday, the XLC was an X-Bullet coated with a dry film lubricant designed to do much the same as moly—decrease friction and fouling, allow higher velocities, reduce cleaning time and improve accuracy—without the associated mess. While the proprietary coating lived up to its claims, criticism that probably originated from the difficulty in removing moly from bores, and the debut of the Triple-Shock X-Bullet (TSX) in 2003, ultimately sealed the fate of the XLC.

Originating on the TSX were several—two, three or four, depending on bullet length—horizontal grooves circumventing the bearing surface of the projectile. These channels served the same functions as did the dry film lubricant on the XLC—reduce friction and fouling and increase accuracy. Additionally, the channels gave copper displaced by the rifling a place to resettle. Although the TSX continues to be an excellent bullet for most big-game hunting, it is not the be-all, end-all design. Like its predecessors, most TSXs fail to reliably expand at the lower end of the velocity spectrum, and its length invades valuable case capacity. These problems were resolved with the introduction of Maximum-Range X-Bullet (MRX).

Debuting last year, the MRX has a blue, polymer tip that aids expansion by acting as a wedge upon impact. Besides helping upset, the tip also gives the bullet a sharp profile for a higher ballistic coefficient, which improves the bullet's ability to overcome air resistance in flight, flattens trajectory, reduces wind drift and helps deliver more energy on-target. Its shape is also consistent from cartridge to cartridge for better accuracy. To add a polymer tip without making the bullet overly long and further invading case capacity, a tungsten-alloy core was inserted into the shank of a shortened TSX, rather than constructing the projectile from a single piece of copper.

Tungsten being heavier than copper, the result is a projectile comparable in length to non-tipped, lead-core bullets of the same caliber and weight. And like the TSX, the MRX has grooves circumventing the shank. With all the MRX has going for it, price is not one of them. Since the MRX is more difficult and costly to manufacture than the TSX, it only makes sense the projectile has a premium. With the MRX commanding a price nearly double that of the TSX, most hunters are willing to sacrifice some performance to save money and therefore opt for the bullet's older sibling. Clearly this issue played a role when Barnes contemplated a new bullet design.

With an ever-increasing number of hunters using magnum cartridges and stretching range limitations, Barnes had to create a bullet capable of maintaining structural integrity for deep penetration during a violent, high-velocity impact at close range, yet provide a lethal wound channel at longer distances where the velocity could approach the 2,000-foot-per-second mark. The projectile also needed to be more reasonably priced than the MRX.

Designing a bullet that withstood a high-velocity impact was nothing new for Barnes, but working on the lower end of the velocity spectrum was a relatively new endeavor. To reach the low-velocity goal, Barnes essentially had two choices: Give the bullet a much wider meplat than the standard TSX, which would produce a cavernous cavity but negatively affect external ballistics, or change the profile slightly to accept a polymer tip. Since the MRX achieved that same low-velocity goal with a polymer tip, the choice was easy. In addition to terminal ballistics, the tip would also improve external ballistics. To make the new offering distinguishable from the MRX, it would wear a red tip.

Bullet Testing

Instead of utilizing a separate, heavier core to add weight and keep the new bullet's length similar to that of the TSX, Barnes changed the projectile's profile. The bullet's forward section was shortened and the meplat widened enough to accept the same-size polymer tip as the MRX, which in effect enlarged the hollow cavity. Combined, these features lower the velocity requirement for expansion and keep the 130-grain, .30-caliber TTSX to a bit more than 1/16-inch longer than the TSX. However, the bullet is still longer than most non-tipped, multi-metal projectiles, thus occupying more case volume. Because of the superb weight retention, it's possible to effectively use a lighter, and therefore shorter, TTSX bullet and achieve as good as or better penetration than heavier, lead-core projectiles, making the length issue of little concern. And unless you are dealing with very low powder capacity, the extra space occupied by the longer TTSX is negligible. By using only copper in the bullet's construction (save for the polymer tip), the price is inline with the original TSX and significantly less expensive than the MRX.

The grooves debuting on the TSX, and subsequently appearing on the MRX, proved effective enough that Barnes utilized the technology on the TTSX. However, having a longer bearing surface than the TSX or MRX, the TTSX has additional grooves.

Test Time

As Mark Twain once wrote, "There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." All abound, so rather than rehash a press release, I put the TTSX through a series of tests and will let the results speak for themselves.

The most important bullet characteristics with regard to terminal performance are expansion, weight retention, penetration and wounding qualities. Without knowing these, you are pretty much shooting in the dark as to bullet suitability for a particular game species and downrange performance. To test these traits across a spectrum of muzzle and impact velocities, I shot sample 130-grain TTSX bullets through a .300 Whisper, a .308 Winchester and a .300 Weatherby Magnum into Bullet Test Tubes with Extenders at 25 yards.

With a muzzle velocity of 2,013 fps, through the .300 Whisper the TTSX expanded to .541 inch, retained 129.2 grains of its weight, penetrated 14 3/4 inches and produced a .667-inch-wide wound channel. At a similar velocity, the TSX expanded to .439 inch, weighed 130 grains, penetrated 13 1/2 inches but veered severely off course at the 6-inch mark while creating a .638-inch-wide wound channel.

Propelled through the .308 Winchester at 2,878 fps, the new bullet enlarged to .614 inch, kept 129.3 grains of its weight, pierced 15 inches into the media and formed a 2-inch-wide wound channel. The most punishing evaluation came when I launched the TTSX from the .300 Weatherby Magnum at 3,562 fps. It penetrated all 20 inches of Test Tube and Extender and exited, but not before leaving a 2.371-inch-wide wound channel and shedding a single, 11.8-grain petal at the 11 1/2-inch mark. It's possible to argue the recovered bullet weight would be between 117.3 and 117.6 grains.

Considering the pre-shot TTSX bullets were within +/- .1 grain of their 130-grain prescribed weight, which is more consistent than several well-known, match-grade bullets, and the .41-inch tips weigh between .7 and .8 grain each, with the exception of the TTSX fired from the .300 Weatherby Magnum, all projectiles had 100-percent weight retention. Expansion, penetration and wound channels further proved the caliber of the TTSX design.

The benefit of the polymer tip is twofold, the other advantage being improved external ballistics. To show the difference between the TTSX and its TSX sibling, I plugged the muzzle velocities recorded while testing terminal ballistics along with the ballistic coefficient value of both bullets into an Oehler Model 43 chronograph/ballistics program and calculated the downrange velocity, trajectory, wind drift and energy delivered on-target. The results showed a slight advantage in all categories for the TTSX. For example, with a ballistic coefficient of .350, the 130-grain TTSX propelled from a .308 Winchester at 2,878 fps drops .9 inch less, drifts 1.04 inches less in a 10 mph crosswind, is 28 fps faster and has 27 additional ft.-lbs. at the 500-yard mark than its sibling, which has a BC of .340. Although these numbers aren't Earth-shattering, any advantage is just that, and who doesn't want an edge when hunting.

But what good are terminal and external ballistics if a bullet is not inherently accurate in design? To see what the TTSX was capable of in terms of accuracy, I worked up some .300 Whisper handloads for my Thompson/Center Encore. The ideal recipe turned out to be 16.5 grains of Hodgdon H110, a Winchester WSR primer, necked-up .221 Remington Fireball brass and the 130-grain TTSX bullet seated to give a 2.250-inch cartridge overall length. The load turned in a five, five-shot-group average of .69 inch at 100 yards. For a hunting bullet, that is very respectable accuracy.

For 2008, expect to see the TTSX in 110- and 130-grain .277; 120- and 140-grain .284; 130-, 150- and 168-grain .308; and 160-, 210- and 225-grain .338 versions.

If you are looking for an affordable, all-around, big-game hunting bullet that will reliably perform come hell or high water, at long or short range and at high or low velocity, the TTSX is the choice.


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