May 21, 2018
As I see it, the new Dangerous Game eXpanding (DGX) bonded bullet is a milestone for Hornady. It represents the culmination of everything that's been learned about hunting the world largest species for generations and the blend of Hornady's state-of-the-art engineering. If guides and hunters had access to the DGX bonded bullet during the age when the .375 H&H's reputation was being formed, perhaps other larger cartridges may not have been invented. Regardless of caliber, we have better options than hunters of centuries past.
Since 2007, Hornady has been in constant development of its dangerous-game lineup. Borrowing from the knowledge acquired from generations of legendary sportsmen and fueled by their own passion for such experiences, Hornady has risen as a leader in this segment with its Dangerous Game Series (DGS).
Ten years ago, similar bullets lacked the bonding now standard in Hornady's DGX line. These bullets span from .375 to .510 inch in diameter. As attested to by many — to include G&A's Craig Boddington — poor "softs" often fragment during expansion after penetrating hair that covers a thick leather hide and dense bone. The majority of these animals are found on the African continent, but Hornady's latest bullet has proven itself on large game such as bear and moose across the northern hemisphere.
Bullet failure during a dangerous-game hunt has gotten many people injured and a few dead. In some instances, it's not the hunter who is hurt by an animal with a predisposed temper but the guide or trackers. Though the experience can be intense, it's the hunter's job to be ready to effectively shoot when the moment calls for it. Therefore, choosing the right bullet for use on dangerous game is a matter of great responsibility.
In 2006, G&A publisher Mike Schoby was on a hunt in Zimbabwe for Cape buffalo when a soft bullet was shredded after passing the shoulder. Its fragments did little to damage the buff's vital organs, which led the guide and trackers on a perilous stalk following a blood trail through tall grass. Minutes later, they startled the wounded buffalo, which turned and charged from 10 yards. Unfortunately, the raging bovine wasn't stopped until it was shot and killed with solids.
Dangerous-game hunting is serious business, more so in cases where bullets fail to perform. But it doesn't have to be. A combination of preparatory training, fitness, the right rifle and ammunition will provide today's thrill-seeking sportsman a collection of unrivaled memories.
Do you need a bigger caliber? It has been well storied that former G&A gunwriter Jack Lott sustained injuries from a wounded Cape buffalo in Mozambique in 1959. He had been hunting with a .458 Win. Mag., and concluded that a more powerful cartridge was required for dangerous game. He spent decades developing the .458 Lott and A-Square became the first commercial manufacturer of it in 1989.
The .458 Lott was based on a modified .375 H&H cartridge, which is regarded by some African professional hunters (PH) as the minimum to hunt buffalo with. Still, many PHs prefer cartridges whose caliber starts with a number "4." While interviewing several PHs and hunters during the last two years, I've learned that the .375's reputation as an adequate caliber for dangerous game largely stems from bad experiences involving poor shot placement and the use of solid bullets for the first shot. Before the 1990s, solids of various metals were too often the only option available to these hunters. Solids are better at penetrating to the vitals of tough animals, but the effectiveness is limited by their expansion and placement. Softs, on the other hand, have a reputation of deforming too early or tearing apart when scraping past bone and piercing dense muscle.
Hornady offers solids in its DGS line, which should accompany a hunter's loadout of DGX bullets.
Big-game hunters sometimes prefer to load a rifle with a round or two of softs for their expansion followed by a round or two of solids for situations that turn scary and penetration is a must. In fact, PHs and experienced hunters surveyed in my travels arranged solids and softs for intuitive access along their ammunition belts or inside cartridge wallets worn on the hip.
Being that Hornady's latest DGX bullet is bonded, it acts as if it were a hybrid in my opinion. With weight retention near 95 percent measured from recovered bullets in G&A's field tests, the DGX rivaled the retained weight of our tested solids and exceeded that of conventional softs. Additionally, each DGX projectile's profile mimics that of the corresponding solid for similar external ballistics. However, the DGX expanded, on average, between 11/2 to two times the original diameter just as Hornady advertises.
The DGX bullet is based on a lead-core design that's now bonded by a proprietary process to the bullet's copper-clad steel jacket. I've asked different Hornady representatives several times as to what the secret sauce is that's bonding the bullet beyond the obvious mechanical engineering. It's no surprise that they refused to reveal details about their bonding process. After recovering nine of my own bullets from various big game species, I can confirm one thing: It works.
Proving the Bullet
In 2016, I joined Hornady's Neal Emery for a buffalo hunt with Chifuti Safaris (chifutisafaris.com) and carried Kimber's Talkeetna in .375 H&H loaded with Hornady's new DGX bonded ammunition. Emery carried the same bullet for his .375 Ruger, a brilliant rimless cartridge that offers increased case capacity over the H&H and modern case design. Developed in partnership between Hornady and Ruger, the .375 Ruger's case features a tapered body and sharper shoulder than the .375 H&H. Unfortunately, I believe that its acceptance has been stymied by its Ruger suffix. Only Ruger has been interested in offering a rifle for it since competitors seem insistent on avoiding the appearance of promoting another brand by chambering it in their rifles. To appreciate the .375 Ruger, you'll have to purchase a variation of the Ruger M77 African, Guide Gun or find a No. 1.
The hunt took us to the Nuanetsi conservancy of southern Zimbabwe, a region known for large leopards and a variety of plains game. PH Rex Hoets was our guide who tirelessly worked to identify fresh spoor in the morning and pursued tracks of the oldest buffalo that usually trail a herd (i.e., "dagga boys").
For seven days, Hoets and I stayed on track of herd bulls until two lone dagga boys and a cow unknowingly approached from the direction we were heading. From less than 25 yards on sticks, I fired a single DGX bullet into the forward shoulder of the biggest male while it was on the move. It fell dead 20 yards later. Hornady's DGX performed flawlessly. Subsequently, I hunted several other species of large plains game with consistent one-shot results. Three days later, an exhausted Emery managed to stop another old bull with his .375-caliber DGX bonded bullet, which was placed precisely under a horn and through its skull.
Compared to other cartridges whose names start with "4," the .375s remain the most recoil-friendly choices for shooters.
And the .416? H Mark Gemmill guided my 2017 return to Zimbabwe for buffalo with Charlton McCallum Safaris (cmsafaris.com). He believed a rifle chambered for .416 is the best for hunting any game found in the world."
What sounded like an ambitious statement began challenging my predetermined conclusions as I listened to him describe other hunts.
"If I have a client having a hard time finding a mature bull and they want to shoot a small animal such as an impala, we can take a break and do that," Gemmill said. "The .416 will cleanly take smaller animals without damaging their beautiful hides. And, if we're cornered by something that wants to hurt us or eat us, the .416 can stop that, too."
Almost like the .375, the line of Hornady's .416 cartridges span the classic Rigby loading to the more efficient Ruger cartridge. Additionally, there is a .416 Rem. Mag., which is available in a variety of platforms.
Following the success in 2016, I returned to Zimbabwe with an elegant Kimber Caprivi in .416 Rem. Mag. to hunt buffalo in the northeast corner along the Zambezi river that borders Mozambique and Zambia.
Hornady's .416 DGX bonded bullet weighs 400 grains. Felt recoil was very managable in the Caprivi, and three-shot groups yielded several three-quarter-inch results at 100 yards.
The .416 Rem. Mag. is a belted case with a bottleneck that borrows its case from the 8mm Rem. Mag. (its parent). Though initially expected to replace the .416 Rigby, its introduction in 1988 renewed interest in the .416 caliber, which eventually led to the partnership between Ruger and Hornady that created the .416 Ruger in 2008. Performance between the .416 Rem. Mag., Rigby and Ruger seem to mimic one another, and each offer certain advantages that have more to do with comparing rifles than chambers. The DGX bullet in each load features the same 400-grain bonded copper-clad, steel-jacket lead core.
To hunters looking to hunt the largest of dangerous-game animals, the .416 cartridges are most often preferred among Africa's PHs for their clients. They have a reputation for effectiveness and managable recoil in field situations. As Boddington advises, "A dangerous-game hunter needs to keep shooting, reloading and shooting until the animal goes down and doesn't get up." For that, you had better be able to stay on target, fire, recover from the felt recoil and shoot again.
I heeded Boddington's advice last year while hunting Zimbabwe's Dande communal land. On the morning of our fourth day, Gemmill and his keen-eyed trackers located a mature, wide bull in a small herd that led to a stealthy stalk to circle ahead of the group and to avoid being winded. On sticks, I felled the buffalo on the first shot with a well placed DGX bullet clipping the heart and entering its lungs. Unbelieveably, the bull attempted to stand and fight as I rechambered and continued firing and loading five more times until he bellowed a deep, gutteral death groan.
The Last Shot
While the .416 should have killed that bull as effectively as the .375, my years of hunting remind me that the determination of the animal being hunted and our ability to damage vital organs are the most important factors that affect success. You can do your part in picking the gear and practicing for the shot, but a stubborn buffalo often has a say in whether or not it goes down without a fight. That's the allure of dangerous-game hunting.
Once you've hunted an animal that can kill you, you can't help but be changed. There are few adventures in a person's life aside from combat or extreme sports that equate to the experience enjoyed by dangerous-game hunters. And each of these can have the same effect. If you survive with a certain mindset, a part of you will always crave the pursuit again.
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