Hornady’s low drag, expanding bullet ‘delivers accuracy both at the bench and in the hunting fields.’Story by Phil Massaro Photos by Massaro Media Group
The rain had just subsided, though the streams were too swollen to cross. In spite of the fact that temperatures had risen significantly – the previous morning was in the low single digits – the runoff created a natural barrier between us and the mule deer buck we had just glassed on the hillside at over 1,000 yards.
So, with Plan A foiled, we regrouped and planted the seeds of what would become Plan B: glass the innumerable coulees, gullies and canyons in a frantic manner until we found a buck. Well-armed with both superior firepower and a positive mental attitude, we sallied forth, in spite of wet feet and rumbling bellies indicating the proximity to lunchtime.
My hunting partner Mike Mattly and I were discussing the finer points of magnum cartridges and domestic beer as we approached the first canyon we were to glass, when a pair of mule deer bucks – who obviously disagreed with my take on Coors Light – jumped out of their beds to find better conversation.
“On the left, he’s the one you want,” Mattly curtly stated. The rifle came quickly to shoulder, but a running mule deer will bounce more than run, so the shot wasn’t exactly a slam-dunk. Even through the recoil I could hear the bullet strike flesh, and Mattly’s congratulations assured the buck had gone down.
Mule deer bucks can be tough, but the 143-grain Hornady ELD-X bullet was tougher and, in spite of having almost 200 yards to slow down, worked perfectly. It was my first mule deer, and my first time in the field with the ELD-X, though it wouldn’t be the last for either one.
ELD-X IS AN acronym for the “Extremely Low Drag – eXpanding” bullet. The ELD-X is, to the eye, just another polymer-tipped boattail bullet. But once you pop the hood, there is a bit more going on, including some points that make it a great choice for the hunter. The 6.5 Creedmoor ammunition – from Black Hills Ammunition – we had on that mule deer hunt shot very well, and on the South Dakota prairie it made a great choice to deal with the definite possibility of a longer shot or a shot in a very windy condition, or worse: both.
While we have the choice of a good many bullets, the ELD-X is among the finest for these situations. Let’s take a look at the design concepts, and at the eye-opening discoveries that led to its existence.
Hornady, which is one of America’s most cherished bullet companies and has its roots in the post-World War II component bullet industry, is no stranger to bullet development. With founder Joyce Hornady pairing with Vernon Speer to use spent .22 Long Rifle cases to make bullet jackets – commodities, you see, were a rarity and handloaders didn’t have a lot to choose from – the company has a long history of interesting, effective and innovative designs. Their InterLock jacketed softpoint, which has long been a favorite of mine, remains a sound choice for any of the cervids, providing there is a sensible sectional density figure. The copper jacket is set into the lead core via a cannelure, and certainly moderates expansion, but even the spitzer boattail designs are limited in the ballistic coefficient department, based primarily on the shape of the exposed lead nose. Now Hornady isn’t the first company to put a pointed polymer tip on a bullet – that distinction belongs to Nosler, with their Ballistic Tip bullet – but they did follow suit, including their signature red tip on such bullets as the SST (Super Shock Tip), GMX (Gilding Metal eXpanding) and the InterBond bullet, with its copper jacket bonded to the lead core. It was during long-range bullet testing, using Doppler radar technology, that the ballisticians at Hornady made a startling discovery.
It became evidentthat something was happening to the polymer tip in flight, as the ballistic coefficient was dropping off rapidly as the bullet began to show the effects of atmospheric drag. The tips were melting due to friction, and that was causing the BC values to drop off significantly. So, Hornady’s engineers set to work to develop a tip that would hold up during flight, maintaining its conformation in order to help preserve the ballistic coefficient figures.
The result of their efforts was the proprietary Heat Shield Tip, which would resist the effects of atmospheric drag throughout the bullet’s trajectory, and it was a game-changer. The ELD-X bullet uses the Hornady AMP bullet jacket – prized for its concentricity – and a secant ogive and boattail for match-grade accuracy, in addition to an internal InterLock ring on the interior of the jacket, which will help keep the jacket and core together during the violent terminal phase of expansion. It is the companion bullet to Hornady’s ELD Match – a wonderful target bullet – and is almost, if not equally, as accurate.
IN SPITE OF Hornady offering a wide selection of hunting bullets of all sorts of designs, from the toughest to the most frangible, they chose the traditional cup-and-core design for the ELD-X bullet, presumably to mirror the construction of the ELD Match. But where the ELD Match has only to reach the target in a consistent manner, with no care as to what happens once the steel is rung or the paper is punched, the ELD-X has the responsibility of destroying enough vital tissue to result in a clean, ethical kill. Quite possibly as much a result of the desire to attain the most advantageous BC values as it was a result of the need for a higher sectional density for reliable penetration, the ELD-X bullets are all on the heavy-for-caliber side of things.
There are two 6mm choices at 90 and 103 grains, a 110-grain .257-inch-diameter, that 143-grain 6.5mm that worked so well for me in South Dakota, a 145-grain .277-inch-diameter, three 7mm choices at 150, 162 and 175 grains, a quartet of .30s – 178, 200, 212 and 220 grains – and a pair of .338s at 230 and 270 grains. There are some stellar ballistic coefficients among this lineup, including the 175-grain 7mm, with a G1 BC of .689, and the 270-grain .338, with a G1 BC of .757; both of these will perform wonderfully at longer ranges. The 212-grain .308 – with a G1 BC of .673 – couples well with the larger magnum cases like the .300 RUM, .300 PRC, .300 Norma and .30-378 Weatherby Magnum. If you recover an ELD-X from your game animal, you will find a high level of weight retention, often in the high 80-percent range, which is typical of a heavy-for-caliber cup-and-core bullet with a decent jacket.
I like the ELD-X as a general hunting bullet for the common species such as hogs, black bears, whitetail and mule deer, caribou, elk and even moose, if the caliber is large enough for the larger cervids. For the dangerous species like grizzly bears, I’d prefer a bonded-core or monometal design, but for the majority of species, the ELD-X will work just fine. I’m not able to testify whether the Heat Shield Tip holds together during flight or not, as every fired bullet I’ve been able to recover has been so badly deformed that it was impossible to ascertain what happened in flight. Nor am I able to determine what happens to other polymer tips. But I do know the Hornady ELD-X does what I need it to do: it delivers accuracy both at the bench and in the hunting fields, and delivers the terminal performance needed to ensure a quick, humane kill.