If you shoot much, you’ve probably heard of the Barnes X-Bullet. It was introduced back in 1989, and unlike traditional lead-core jacketed bullets, this number is solid copper and specially designed to expand reliably and consistently on game while retaining most, if not all, of its original weight.
It does all of that very well, but the shooting public took a while to accept the new approach to expanding bullets. Once accepted, though, the line hasn’t stopped growing or improving since.
One of the first improvements came during the moly-coating craze of the late 1990s, and Barnes’ response was the XLC bullet. It was nothing more than a regular X-Bullet coated with a robin’s egg blue proprietary dry film lubricant. Claims of velocity increases over the non-coated X-Bullet by as much as 200 fps were made and validated in the Barnes Reloading Manual Number 3. Actually, there were instances of even greater velocity increases. For example, the maximum load for the 180-grain Barnes X-Bullet in the .30-06 clocked at 2,796 fps. The coated bullet, however, bettered that velocity by a significant 295 fps. And lest anyone think that data was hedged in favor of the XLC, consider that even the slower Barnes loading exceeded the velocity of many 180-grain .30-06 factory loads.
My first exposure to a major X-Bullet variation was in 2003 while hunting Coues deer in Old Mexico with John Lazzeroni. Lazzeroni needed a bullet that would hold up to the formidable velocity his proprietary line of cartridges generated yet still deliver terminally on the pointy end downrange–even if it was at very long range. To that end, he showed me a grooved X-Bullet that was all black. The LazerHead, as he called it, was an X-Bullet made slightly undersize, grooved around its circumference, and then plated up to diameter using Robar NP2 PTFE dry film lubricant.
The grooves reduce the bearing surface and engraving forces on the bullet. This is an important improvement considering that all-copper bullets are longer than lead-core bullets of the same weight and diameter, and thus have a much greater bearing surface. That same year, Barnes legitimized the grooved X-Bullet as the TSX, and Federal began loading it in its Premium line of factory ammunition.
By 2006, the X-line had expanded to include the grooved MRX, or Maximum Range X-Bullet. There are two major changes with this bullet. First, instead of being all copper it has a rear core made of tungsten alloy. Second, the fine hollowpoint for which the X-Bullet is known is larger and plugged with an extremely pointy Delrin tip.
There are several effects from the tungsten core. It moves the center of gravity toward the rear of the bullet, and while that would tend to increase the overturning moment and reduce bullet stability, the core is denser than the copper it replaces, which makes the bullet shorter than the all-copper TSX, and that increases stability.
As for the tip, I’ve never known an X-type bullet to need one to facilitate expansion. It’s true that for the same weight and caliber MRX bullets have a higher ballistic coefficient than TSX bullets, so maybe there’s some benefit there. Ultimately, it may be that since this is Barnes’ premium rifle bullet, and polymer tips are in vogue on premium bullets, it’s there as much for appeal as for performance.
The most recent addition to the Barnes rifle bullet line is the Tipped TSX, or TTSX. It differs from the standard TSX in that it has a redesigned nose cavity with the Delrin tip found in the MRX bullet. Again, I’m not sure the tip is necessary for expansion, but it does allow the TTSX to have the larger hollowpoint cavity and still retain the pointed profile for increased ballistic coefficient.
Along the way there have been other Barnes rifle bullets that were or are not necessarily all copper–not the least of which are the lead-core Barnes Original and copper/zinc alloy Banded Solids.
The Burner VLC was a lead-core varmint bullet with the same dry film coating as the XLC. It was followed in 2001 by the economical Varminator and most recently the whimsically and aptly named Varmint Grenade. This highly frangible bullet uses a copper-tin core in a conventional jacket. The bullet holds together at high velocity, but literally vaporizes on impact with nearly anything down to the size of a grape. That frangibility greatly reduces the chance of ricochets, and performance on varmints is nothing short of explosive.
Similar is the Barnes MPG, or Multi-Purpose Green, bullet that uses frangible technology in bullets developed for use in 5.56mm or 7.62mm rifles on ranges where lead ammunition is prohibited.
The Barnes Reloading Manual Number 4 has rifle data for the Varmint Grenade, TSX, Banded Solid, MRX, and Barnes Originals. Because the original X-Bullet and XLC are discontinued, there is no data for them. Also, the TTSX and MPG are so new that they didn’t make this manual.
As I compare the data in Manual Number 3 with data in the new manual, it’s clear that the new banded bullets allow B
arnes to publish increased velocity loads. For example, in Manual Number 3, the highest velocity noted for the 130-grain .270 Win. X-Bullet is 3,167 fps. Using the 130-grain TSX or MRX, maximum velocity is 3,211 fps. While that increase isn’t Earth shattering, there are some new loads that are, and it’s indicative of the data’s direction. In case you’re wondering if you can use the new data with the older X- or XLC bullets or old data with the new bullets, the answer is, “No.” Maximum loads are different–significantly in some instances.
Not content to sit on their laurels with successful rifle bullets, Barnes also introduced the all-copper technology into such unique products as the XPB pistol bullet and the Expander MZ muzzleloader bullet.
Both the XPB and earlier Barnes Reloading Manual Number 3 were introduced back in 2001, but loading data for handgun bullets didn’t make it into that manual. Instead, Taurus marketed 20-round boxes of “Advanced Handgun Cartridges” loaded by PMC using Hodgdon powder and XPBs, which the company called the “Hex Bullet.” Clearly, the idea of an all-copper handgun bullet that expanded reliably and predictably and that retained most if not all of its original weight was a success, as Barnes expanded the XPB line, and by 2006 it included bullets for calibers ranging from .380 Auto to .500 S&W Magnum.
As with the rifle data, you won’t find watered-down loads in the handgun section, either. For example, data for the 275-grain .500 S&W Magnum indicates maximum loads with velocities significantly higher than Federal factory loads using the same bullet.
Data in the muzzleloader section of Manual Number 4 covers .45, .50, and .54 calibers. All of Barnes’ currently offered bullets–MZ; the pointed, boattail Spit-Fire MZ; and the tipped, boattail Spit-Fire TMZ–are included with loads using Pyrodex powder or pellets, Triple Se7en powder or pellets, and Goex blackpowder.
Beyond the handloading data, Barnes Reloading Manual Number 4 has the basic handloading instructions as you would expect. It also has interesting chapters on shooting and maintenance from writers such as Craig Boddington and Sam Fadala and concludes with extensive ballistic tables that shooters are so fond of pouring over. Lastly, one thing I really like about this manual is the personal touch afforded by customer photos that heavily illustrates not only the manual with great shots customers have made, but also the degree of success Barnes has had in bringing what was honestly a really strange product to the market so many years ago.