STORY AND PHOTOS BY PHIL MASSARO
Failure, it is often said, is the greatest teacher. In the hunting and shooting world, failures have inspired some innovative minds. John Nosler experienced bullet failure when hunting a huge Canadian bull moose and that incident led to the development of the Nosler Partition bullet.
Jack Lott ended up further off the ground than he intended to be when he was tossed by a Mozambican Cape buffalo after his .458 Winchester failed to stop it, and that led to the .458 Lott. Similarly, the story has it that it was another Cape buffalo bull that got his adrenaline up and simply refused to die that set Mr. Jack Carter to thinking he wanted to develop a better bullet, and he did: Carter was the brains behind the
Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, one of the best hunting bullet designs available.
Carter was an IBM executive who enjoyed hunting Africa – with famed gun writer John Wooters – and especially enjoyed the dangerous game animals. Carter wanted a bullet that would be utterly reliable, in both the expansion and penetration departments, even on the thick skinned animals. Admittedly, he took much inspiration from Bill Steigers of Bitterroot Bonded Core Bullets, but what Carter ended up with was a
unique design that would prove highly effective as a dangerous game bullet.
There weren’t an awful lot of bonded-core bullets on the market in
the 1980s, and the techniques used to join the jacket and core differed as well. Carter’s designs went through some revisions – including changes to the depth of the lead core, which would change how much and how fast the bullets would expand – but his choice of a pure lead core and a pure copper jacket made for a sound design. Carter’s bullet wasn’t cheap, but those serious about safari happily paid the price for his product.
Carter sold his company as he got on in years (staying on as a consultant) and the investors licensed the design to the folks at Federal Premium Ammunition. With the volume of ammunition that Federal produces, there was no way that the orders could be met on the machines Carter used, so production moved to the Federal facility. The pure copper/pure lead formula didn’t stand up well to the high-speed machines Federal was using, so a bit of zinc was added to the jacket. The result was a bullet that had different terminal properties than the original design; the jacket fragmented and premature breakup and poor penetration was an issue. The bullet went through some redesigning – being produced at the Speer facility – and actually left us for a while, but it is back now, strong and consistent as it ever was.
ONE OF THE BEST features of the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw is the lead core’s position: it is located in the front of the bullet, with the rear of the bullet being homogenous gilding metal. This does a couple of things, both of which are equal parts of the success of the Bear Claw.
First, it limits the amount of expansion possible, because the core only runs so deep; the solid shank behind the lead core will not expand. Secondly – and this is something I greatly appreciate in a bullet to be used for dangerous game animals – it keeps the bullet on a straight course once it strikes hide, bone or flesh by keeping the weight forward. Historically, the round-nose bullets from a century ago earned their reputation by giving straight-line penetration; the center of gravity was located midbullet, and the wound channel was – more often than not – in a straight line along the path from the muzzle. Spitzer bullets, especially today’s designs with a long ogive, have their center of gravity further rearward, and like a rear-wheel drive car in the snow, will tend to kick out to one side or the other once resistance (the animal) is met. The famous story about the 5.56 NATO bullets being designed to tumble is untrue; the simple fact of the matter is the FMJ spitzer bullet tends to exit with the heavy section (the rear of the bullet) forward. Keep the bullet weight forward, and you will see straight-line penetration. The Trophy Bonded Bear Claw does exactly that.
Expansion usually runs at least twice caliber dimension and weight
retention is pretty consistently above 90 percent, unless shots are very close.
The beauty of the bonded core design is that the structural integrity of the bullet will not be compromised, even on close shots from a fast magnum cartridge, yet the front end will expand reliably to all sane hunting ranges. I’ve also found that the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw is an accurate bullet, in both the common, all-around calibers like .30-06 Springfield, 7mm Remington Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum, as well as the big guys like the .375 Holland & Holland, .416 Rigby and .470 Nitro Express.
While the ballistic coefficient isn’t exactly on par with the sleeker designs – I find the Trophy Bonded Tip better suited to hunting shots at longer ranges – it is good enough to be used at normal hunting ranges, giving a very useable trajectory and retaining energy well.
The modern iteration of the Federal Trophy Bonded Bear Claw is
immediately identifiable; the projectiles
are nickel-plated, easily differentiating them from the originals. The slightest amount of lead is exposed at the meplat, and Federal has redesigned the bullet with grooves on the shank, to minimize fouling and offer consistent performance in a multitude of firearms.
In its loaded ammunition line, Federal offers the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw in 7mm Remington Magnum (175 grains), .30-06 Springfield and .300 Winchester Magnum (200 grains), .338 Winchester Magnum, .35 Whelen (225
grains), .375 Holland & Holland (250 grains) and .45-70 Government (300 grains). In component form, Federal now offers the Trophy Bonded Bear
Claw in .375-inch diameter (250 and 300 grains), .416-inch diameter
(400 grains), .458-inch diameter (500 grains) and .474-inch diameter for the .470 NE (500 grains).
Whether you’re headed to Alaska, Africa or Australia, or planning a hunt
for elk, moose or bear in the contiguous 48, you can’t go wrong in choosing a Trophy Bonded Bear Claw.