As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I consider myself more a hunter than a competitive shooter. As such, I feel that I have a critical responsibility to get game animals down as quickly as possible. In other words, they need to be killed as efficiently as is humanly (and humanely) possible. This is a touchy subject for some of my friends – even those who love guns, but who don’t hunt.
On multiple occasions, I have been chided by friends for “killing wild animals.” The ironic nature of this chiding is that it often comes as they sit at my table eating my rib-eye steaks, sausage pizzas, hamburgers etc. However, their concerns and criticisms are a good reminder that I have a duty as an ethical hunter to use the appropriate equipment and components to kill my quarry as near to instantaneously as possible.
I am also a research scientist/professor and so I do analyses for a living. I need data collected before I feel comfortable forming an opinion about a product used for shooting or hunting. On a recent Namibian trip, with Jamy Traut Hunting Safaris, I used a bullet with which I had not previously hunted – Hornady’s Extremely Low Drag – Expanding, or ELD-X.
This particular Safari centered around hunting a mature, tom leopard. Having no experience with leopard hunting, I reached out to my buddy Mark Haldane of Zambeze Delta Safaris to ask his advice on whether this bullet was appropriate for these dangerous cats.
Over the past 35 years, Mark has guided clients to 79 leopards. He knows his stuff and what works on these predators. Our interaction was comical, yet reassuring, concerning the appropriateness of my caliber and the use of ELD-Xs.
Me: “I am using a 162-grain ELD-X in the MG Arms Ultralight in 7mm Remington Magnum.”
Mark: “Niiiiiice – 300 or 7mm perfect with nice softs!”
Me: “I don’t want big exit holes!”
Mark: “Big holes are never an issue…wounded cats are…”
OK. So, I now knew two things about the rifle and bullet combination. First, it was very accurate (see bar graph and TTAG review).
Second, one of the most experienced leopard guides affirmed that, if I put the ELD-X where it needed to be, the bullet was soft enough to do damage to a thin-skinned animal and get it down quickly.
But this last point brought up another concern. I would also be shooting heavy, big-boned and muscular animals on my Safari; zebra and wildebeest would be taken for leopard bait and camp meat. Would this so-called ‘soft’ bullet be capable of sufficient penetration to anchor these tough animals, or would it disintegrate on impact and just wound?
Hornady’s claim on their website is that the 162-grain 7mm ELD-X was sufficient for whitetail and elk. I have great respect for the folks at Hornady and their products, but I reached out to another authority to check out this claim, Craig Boddington. His answer as to the appropriateness of the ELD-X for tough African game was: “I have taken a big elk, and two eland bulls, no issues! Both [Swift] A-Frames and Scirocco will retain more weight, but ELD-X will be fine for anything you are hunting!”
OK then. Two experts (plus, of course, the people at Hornady), two confirmations of the utility of the ELD-X for the game I would be hunting. I still wondered about the engineering required to make a bullet ‘soft’ enough for leopard and ‘hard’ enough for zebra, but direct testing of that attribute would have to come on my Safari.
A Springbok, a Zebra, a Hartebeest and a Wildebeest: First Soft, Then Tough
The first animal taken with the ELD-X bullet was a Damara Springbok. The shot was made as the ram quartered away from me through a window between Mopane trees at a distance of approximately 80 yards. The bullet-sized entry wound can be seen just behind his rib cage. The ram went only 25 yards after the shot.
In the following photo, my PH, Kabous Grünschloss is about to cool the ram down using water. There were several exit wounds from fragmentation of the ELD-X. Yet, as can be seen in this photograph, damage to the exit-side skin was minimal.
Though the skin wasn’t damaged, the action of the bullet internally was why the ram died within a few seconds of being hit. This pattern of limited external, but extensive internal damage was seen in every animal taken.
The result on this soft-skinned, light-boned Springbok gave me hope about the effectiveness of the ELD-X if I got a chance at a leopard. However, the fragmentation of the bullet on the Springbok had me worried about heavier animals.
I realize that I shouldn’t doubt Craig Boddington, but I just could not see how a bullet that came apart like that would have the penetration necessary to bring down something like a 750 pound zebra. What I didn’t understand was the engineering that went into producing a bullet that’s front-half fragmented, while retaining a core and base that didn’t come apart.
I ‘tested’ this feat of engineering by taking a series of animals that served for both leopard bait and camp meat. The first was a Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra taken to feed the big male leopard that was chewing his way through a huge amount of meat at one of our bait trees. We stalked the herd of zebra for 30 minutes until they finally hesitated within a Mopane woodland.
Kabous identified a stallion that was quartering slightly away. I asked for the distance and he looked through the rangefinder and called out “342 yards”. I adjusted my hold for the ~15 inches of bullet drop I expected and held just behind his on-shoulder. At the shot, Kabous yelled “You hit him!” The stallion ran approximately 50 yards and Kabous yelled again “He’s down! I see his hooves in the air!”
As expected, the entrance wound was bullet-sized in diameter. Unlike the Springbok, there was no exit wound. When we reached camp, I asked the skinners if they would mind trying to find any bullet fragments in the big stallion.
When they began skinning, we discovered two ribs broken at the entry site. There were small bullet fragments found along the path from the entry wound; the base and core were found intact resting against the off-shoulder. In answer to those who might wonder about tracking animals with only an entry wound from this bullet, there was a clear blood trail leading from near where the stallion was standing when shot to where he went down.
Hornady’s website describes their ELD-X bullets this way:
“Devastating conventional range performance: With high velocity 0-400 yard impact, the bullet continually expands throughout its penetration path. The thick shank of the jacket and high InterLock® ring keep the core and jacket together providing 50-60% weight retention.”
The portion of the ELD-X retrieved from the zebra weighed 88 grains, or 54% of the original 162 grains.
Along the bullet’s path, there was extensive damage to both lungs and the heart. Before turning to the bullet’s performance on a leopard, I want to mention two other ‘tough’ animals taken with the ELD-X.
The first was a Red Hartebeest shot just behind the shoulder at 280 yards. There was a small entry wound and, like the Springbok, several small exit wounds. With extensive damage to lungs and heart, the Hartebeest traveled around 50 yards after the shot.
Likewise, a Blue Wildebeest was taken with a nearly identical side-on shot at 300 yards. It too had several small exit wounds, with the fragments and base/core heavily damaging heart and lungs along the bullet’s path. This animal expired after only 30 yards.
Pièce de Résistance: Leopard
The dream part of my Safari was the pursuit of an African leopard. Though this is an ‘analysis’ article, I have to state that successfully matching wits with such an amazing animal brought feelings of both great sadness and unbridled joy. If you hunt, you will understand what I am trying to express.
As for the ELD-X bullet, it again performed extremely well. The bullet entered at the point of the on-side shoulder. The big tom was quartering strongly towards me at 64 yards when I fired. The small entry wound is easily visible in the following photograph.
The on-side shoulder was shattered on impact. Again, the bullet fragmented, causing several exit wounds. But, unlike what I had feared before using this ‘soft’ bullet, none of the exit wounds were large. Each of the multiple exit wounds are located just below my left arm in the following photograph.
Most importantly, after he fell from the branch on which he was standing, he was able to right himself, but then only ran for 15 yards before expiring. Upon skinning out the big cat, it was discovered that the lungs had been fragmented, the aorta perforated.
I think the results are clear. The ELD-X performed exactly as Mark Haldane, Craig Boddington and Hornady claimed it would. The engineering that went into this product has apparently resulted in a ‘both-and’ type of projectile.
The forward portion fragments upon expansion thus providing enormous shock energy within the animal. Yet no major skin damage is caused when the fragments exit. The base and core hold together providing deep, straight-line penetration on animals considered to be some of the toughest in the world – i.e. Zebra and Blue Wildebeest.
I intend to keep trying ELD-X bullets in my various calibers with the hope that they will be one of the most accurate for each of my rifles. That will give me another bullet in my reloading toolbox.
Now that’s hunt!
Can anyone speculate on what a trip like that ran, all-up? Over, back, professional hunter fees, tags, etc? Could it be done for 30 grand?
Likely yes. Considering the lockdown timing, outfitters had already bid on concessions, tag allotments, etc for the upcoming season. Then the travel ban hit.
I’ve seen some really enticing packages in Namibia and Zambia. The RSA just opened their borders a couple of weeks ago.
But summer is coming on down there. Not pleasant to hunt in that kind of heat. That, and the rut is over.
Pieter of Impact Shooting YouTube channel has hunted with these people a few times. Their pricing seems very reasonable.
They also have Black Friday specials going on right now.
While I can understand culling herd animals, how many big cats remain and what was the reason to cull a predator in this hunt, just curious?
Perfectly valid question. We weren’t ‘culling’ leopard on the trip. The trophy fees, daily rates, etc paid for this one animal goes to protect the entire conservancy in which we hunted. This protection protects the leopards (and other species) from being shot, poisoned and snared by the local agriculturalists who lose livestock and crops to the native species. The money hunters pay goes to compensate – more than compensate – the local villagers and thus the animals have value that leads to their conservation.
Sounds like good stewardship. Thanks for the clarification.
Im not in favor of hunting cats either but the author is correct. If you would like a very interesting, educational listen on the topic try this: https://www.econtalk.org/catherine-semcer-on-poaching-preserves-and-african-wildlife/
Nice write up Mr. Arnold. I’ve been using the Eld-X on deer and elk here. It’s a very good bullet.
Although for the tiny ten I’d be more tempted to use solids. (Small holes! 👍)
Congratulations on the Tom! That’s a beautiful cat.
Thanks, Tom. And, I still cannot believe that I actually was able to hunt for one of my ‘dream’ animals.
And, I thought I was going to pop a hernia holding him up during photographs. He was built like a linebacker – and I’m not!
Great article! A hunting story and an breakdown of a good bullet. A twofer. What’s not to like?
I’m not one for hunting (don’t want to kill anything at all if I can help it), but having grown up with hunters, I understand why people do it, and I do enjoy these articles a lot. Very cool.
It also helps a lot that hunting is also part of conservation, so that future generations can see and enjoy these wonderful wild creatures. I think if more people understood how that works, they’d be less judgmental about it.
Are you a meat eater? I ask, because most hunters are primarily interested in putting food on the table. No different than buying a steak that somebody else killing a cow for you. Very few hunt strictly for trophies, or just because they want to kill something.
I have no problem with hunting, but if what you say is true, then why not stay in your home country and hunt cows?
Hmm, because staying home a killing cows is not hunting. If someone just wants to kill something hunting is not an efficient way to do it. Buy a pen full of goats and a hammer. Of course, those guys usually started out as bed wetters, graduated to torturing pets and/or arson before moving on to becoming a serial killer. And wetting their beds again.
“because staying home a killing cows is not hunting.”
That’s my point. It’s about the hunt, not JUST putting food on the table. As you mentioned, there are more efficient ways of doing that. Not trying to be a party pooper here. I’m cool with hunting, but let’s be honest about it. I appreciate the articles and ammo reports.
I am a meat eater, yes. I’ve also visited a couple of slaughterhouses and grew up running around my grandpa’s farm, so I’ve seen every step in how the meat reaches my table.
I’m just not on board with killing something myself; I’ve done it and hated it (although the rest of the hunt was fun), so I’m not going to do it unless I absolutely have to.
Good to hear about the performance of the ELDX. I have been shooting the ELDM’s since they were first being sold. My go to bullet for 1000yd steel ringing. The Berger 200.20X is better but it also costs about fiddy cents a bullet. Been meaning to buy a box of X bullets to load in case I ever get to hunt dear again. My hunting grounds of 5 yrs are now million dollar home sites.
Hunt dear? Isn’t that some sort of spousal abuse?
Congrats on a successful hunt. I envy you, and others who can afford to do this. Other than ‘hunting’ trips provided by the USMC several decades ago, I’ve been limited to deer, hogs, small birds, and related N. American game. Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Spending $12,000 for TomCat steaks? Yeah, I hunt for the food. What a joke.
I don’t know anything about safaris but I’d much rather have solid kills than great hides.
I’d like to see a comparison between these and their SSTs
Namibia has few people and reasonable quantities of game. I have driven 4 or 5 hours on paved roads there and not seen another vehicle or person. That’s why the game is in good shape. There are a lot of leopards in Namibia also Cheetahs. Hunts are reasonable and the people quite nice. About the only country in Africa I would go these days.
Eld’s look like long range Sst’s. I took a lion with a 338 Sst. One shot in the chest. Worked fine.
How good did the Lion taste? Oh you didn’t eat it, you just wanted the “Trophy”. You professional hunters and your heads , mighty hunters from one hundred yards away. You have no right to claim them as trophies if the bullet is what did the killing.
And if my skimming the article is correct this fellow shooting the leopard had previously shot a zebra just for bait. What ever it takes to get that “Trophy”, right.
“Whull I’d really like to hunt humans, the ultimate prey, but I’m not that brave so I shoot animals and jack off instead.
For every animal he killed the money he spent to do so probably helped preserve the lives of ten others. Doesn’t matter if someone hunts for food or trophies. Either way it’s ultimately a win-win for the species.
My only personal experience with the ELD-X was a nice 8 point buck last year at 170 yards. It was a broadside shot, and left an impressive exit. The deer, not realizing he was dead, ran about 40 yards after being heart / lung shot. The weapon was a Mossberg MVP 20″ 6.5 CM loaded with 143 grain ELD-X
After that I bought a 6.5 AR-10 and a Bergara HMR Pro in 6.5. This year I successfully hunted land and will be moving out of Brea.
Hornadys A-max and ELD-X’s are widely available its one of there best attributions, even stores that have that tiny area with the most common components its Hornady they stock, that said it is good you brought up the A-frame and the Scirocco when it pertains to there ability to stay intact and retain weight there is no substitute for this feature id say there is a limit to game where there’s something to be said for its punch. Hornady’s offerings make up in in accuracy and availability but id be curious as to the experts opinion of the limit of the projectile. Awesome read thanks