September 23, 2010
An exclusive report on a new version of the famous Barnes premium bullet
There's a new bullet on the market, and it's going to get the attention of a lot of serious shooters. It was designed by Randy Brooks, owner of Barnes Bullets and inventor of the original X-Bullet. The X-Bullet first appeared on the market in 1989, after extensive development and field testing. (It was very successful, and Winchester adopted a similar design four years later called the FailSafe.)
Named the Triple-Shock X-Bullet, the new bullet can be distinguished from the original by three rings cut into its all-copper body. These rings--along with a redesigned cavity in its nose--offer several advantages over conventional hunting bullets.
The Barnes press release claims, "The new Triple-Shock X three-ringed bullet provides significantly greater velocities, lower pressures and less fouling without requiring an external coating. The bullet delivers a triple impact--one when it first strikes game, another as the bullet begins opening and a third devastating impact when the specially engineered cavity fully expands to deliver extra shock with maximum transferred energy."
Those are some pretty bold claims. To see if they really held water, I visited Randy Brooks at the Barnes factory. Together with Tim Janzen, who heads up the Barnes R&D and ballistic lab, we did some testing to see if they could verify those claims. Before we started shooting, I talked with Brooks about his new bullet design and how it came to be developed.
"Five years ago we were experiencing some fouling problems with our X-Bullet," he said. "We began experimenting with different ways to correct this, including a process that changed the molecular lay of the copper used in producing the X-Bullet. The revised molecular structure substantially reduced X-Bullet fouling. We'd met our goal, so we set the other experiments aside and incorporated the new process in our bullet-making technology. We also developed our XLC coating to reduce fouling even further.
Barnes' new .30-caliber Triple-Shock X-Bullet can be identified by the three grooves cut into its shank.
"One promising technique we shelved involved cutting a series of rings into the shank of each bullet," Brooks added. "A little over a year ago I reviewed my notes on those early experiments. After examining the results, I decided to cut some more rings in the X-Bullet body and continue the experiments where we'd left off. I wanted to see how the rings might further enhance performance."
During the summer of 2002, Brooks and his engineers experimented with various ring depths and cutting angles and moved the grooves up and down the bullet's shank. "We tried every combination and number of grooves we could think of," he said. "For instance, we even tried a combination of two shallow and two deep grooves cut into the same bullet. We eventually settled on using three grooves for our .308-inch bullet. The several cartridges and calibers we tested using the new grooved bullets showed pressure reductions of up to 13.4 percent, or 8,500 pounds per square inch. This meant we could load more powder to boost pressures back to SAAMI standards and safely produce higher velocities."
While the increase varied from cartridge to cartridge, Barnes' testing showed an average velocity boost of 125 to 150 fps. The improvement was slightly more dramatic with standard nonmagnum cartridges. For instance, 150-grain bullets fired from a .270 Winchester yielded 150 fps greater velocities, while a 180-grain Triple-Shock X-Bullet from a .300 Remington Ultra Mag showed an improvement of 125 fps. Loaded in a .243 Winchester cartridge, the 95-grain Triple-Shock X-Bullets delivered 195 fps faster speeds.
Brooks explained that cutting grooves into the bullet shank actually improves accuracy. He said, "Grooves provide kind of a relief valve as the bullet metal flows under pressure while traveling down the bore. Instead of copper being dragged from the front of the bullet toward the base, this material expands into the grooves. This, in turn, changes the harmonics in the barrel and produces tighter groups."
Janzen commented that after firing several hundred of the new bullets at the Barnes range, the accuracy improvement was roughly 25 percent. He said, "Some five-shot, 100-yard groups from a .300 magnum with 168-grain Triple-Shock X-Bullets have shown better than 1/2-MOA accuracy."
The Triple-Shock X-Bullet penetrated 31 inches, creating a massive wound channel.
In addition to lower pressures, faster velocities and better accuracy, the Triple-Shock X-Bullet features a redesigned cavity that is said to produce dramatic results on game.
"The X-shaped cavity at the tip starts opening under very little pressure," Brooks explained. "The tip begins expanding immediately on contact, delivering an initial transfer of energy to the animal's nervous system. As the bullet penetrates another inch or two, the four copper petals continue opening. The expanding bullet causes tremendous compression of trapped air and body fluids, delivering a second shock to the nervous system.
"After penetrating another three to six inches, the X-Bullet is fully open at more than twice its original diameter," he continued. "This further compresses trapped air and body fluids, delivering yet another deadly shock to the animal's system."
The Triple-Shock X-Bullet is designed to retain 100 percent of its original weight, and, according to Brooks, it penetrates 28 percent farther than any lead-core bullet on the market.
"Animals are killed by tissue destruction, not foot-pounds of energy," he said. "Destroy the heart and lungs, and you'll kill any animal. The new Triple-Shock X-Bullet--as well as the standard X-Bullet--is designed to reach the vitals of any game, regardless of the angle the bullet enters or how much tissue it must pass through."
Left to right: an unfired Triple-Shock X-Bullet, as it appears after first impacting and then after penetrating game.
Brooks recently killed a large whitetail buck with a .300 Weatherby Magnum during a spot-and-stalk hunt in Kansas. "The deer was quartering away f
rom me at a range of 100 yards," he told me. "I placed the 168-grain Triple-Shock behind the ribs, just forward of the animal's hip. It passed lengthwise completely through the buck, destroying the lungs and breaking the off shoulder as it exited. The deer folded up on the spot.
"This is a controversial statement, but I maintain that any bullet that doesn't exit game after a broadside shot is a failure," Brooks declared. "If the bullet stops inside the body, it didn't cause maximum damage."
I've shot several different animals with the Barnes X-Bullet, with uniformly excellent results. One big Montana mule deer took a single leap before collapsing in a lifeless heap. I'm knocking on wood, but I've yet to wound a single head of game hit with an X-Bullet. All have been quick, clean kills.
I saw my first Triple-Shock X-Bullet in January, well after the close of pronghorn, elk and deer seasons. I'm looking forward to testing the new bullet on game, but that will have to wait until sometime later this year. More than 250 head of various kinds of game have already been killed with Triple-Shock X-Bullet prototypes by members of the Barnes advisory staff.
In the absence of suitable flesh-and-bone targets, Tim Janzen created a 40-inch-long block of 10 percent ordnance gelatin. In cross section, the block measured eight inches square. To help the gelatin set up, the block was refrigerated overnight. The block was then placed at the end of the the Barnes 100-yard underground range. Standard specifications for gelatin-block testing call for a temperature of 39 degrees Fahrenheit. When we performed our test, the gelatin temperature had risen slightly to 40.2 degrees.
The rifle used was a custom-barreled Model 70 Winchester chambered for the .300 Weatherby Magnum. A 180-grain Triple-Shock X-Bullet was loaded ahead of 80 grains of RL 22, producing 3,300 fps of velocity at the muzzle. At 100 yards, this load punched three-shot groups measuring 5/8 inch (0.625 inch) between centers.
Fired from a .300 Weatherby Magnum, the 180-grain Triple-Shock X-Bullets punched three-shot groups measuring 5/8 inch (0.625) between centers. Range was 100 yards.
Once the bullet was fired into the end of the gelatin block, a plastic tube was inserted into the resulting hole. Red dye was then pumped into the cavity created by the bullet's passage. This produced a graphic picture representing tissue damage the bullet would create as it traveled through a target animal. The tremendous pressure ruptured the bottom of the block, allowing part of the dye to leak through.
The Triple-Shock X-Bullet penetrated 31 inches into the block. As it passed through the gelatin, it expanded from .308 inch to .660 inch, or more than double its original diameter. It also retained 100 percent of its original weight.
Firing these bullets at various velocities into a water tank gives a graphic illustration of how the new bullet incrementally expands when it first strikes, then travels through an animal. This corresponds to the bullet's Triple-Shock description.
For 2003 the Triple-Shock X-Bullet is available in five different calibers and 10 weights: 95-grain .243, 100- and 115-grain .257, 130- and 140-grain .277, 140- and 160-grain 7mm and 150-, 168- and 180-grain .308 versions. While three rings in the bullet body are standard, I'm told some future calibers may sport two (or maybe four) rings instead, depending on which configuration produces optimum results.
Considering the outstanding success the original X-Bullet has enjoyed, I'm betting the new Triple-Shock X-Bullet will be in high demand when hunting season rolls around. The promise of lower pressures, higher velocities, less fouling, improved accuracy and the X-Bullet's time-proven effectiveness on game will be hard to resist.