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Solids vs MonometalsWhich is best? - Charlie Haley

The calibre of choice was the .458, partially because I own, like and use one, but mainly because it is perhaps the most common and popular heavy in the guiding and hunting industry. It is emphasised that the findings of these tests will be valid only for this calibre, and cannot be taken as any indication as to what may happen in any other chambering with different velocity ranges, bullet weights and other variables too numerous to mention. The choice of a suitable test medium was not so easy. The penetration medium used can profoundly influence the results obtained, and one must appreciate that the results obtained are valid for that medium only - that is, if one uses steel plates, or plywood blocks, or Aunt Matilda’s sago pudding, one can only safely assume after testing that ‘x’ bullet will out-penetrate ‘y’ bullet in steel plates OR plywood blocks OR sago pudding, and that the results do not necessarily have any relevance in any other substance. If one tries to be as realistic as possible, however, the medium chosen will have that much more relevance to the object in question. It therefore had to be something obtainable, relevant and able to be duplicated.

The Elephant Sandwich.
"Elephant Sandwich" completed and ready to go.

I am fond of water soaked telephone books as being a medium which reasonably duplicates animal tissue with regard to bullet performance, penetration, etcetera. I have used it before and am happy with it as a repeatable and relevant medium. On its own, however, it would be unsuitable for the tests I had in mind. Firstly I would need a HUGE length of them to stop a bullet as penetrative as a .458 solid, and secondly elephants do not merely consist of muscle tissue, but of bone (and other things) as well, and it is bone which is the real test of a good solid. It is those massive shoulder and leg bones and that vast honeycombed skull which separates the sheep from the goats as far as good bullets go. So, in order to be a) more realistic and relevant, and b) to reduce penetration to more manageable levels, I was going to have to incorporate some bone-like substance into these penetration tests.

The trouble was, what? I did have a selection of shoulder bones available, but the trouble with actual bones are their lack of uniformity. Very different results can be obtained if the shaft is struck (where bone is relatively dense and brittle) as opposed to the ends (where it is not so dense and brittle, but is larger). Furthermore, if a bullet strikes a curved bone surface at a bit of an angle then deflection is possible, which will further invalidate test results. Much thought on the subject and much discussion with doctors, biologists and the like revealed that a suitably dense and hard wood should suffice. However, after great effort to procure suitable wood was met with equal if not greater lack of success, I reverted to the bones. After all, it was the most realistic and relevant substance available, and wood has its own variables too - length of seasoning, residual dryness, density, part of tree from which taken, to name but a few. So, bone it was. Much effort went into ensuring that the bullets struck a relatively flat portion absolutely perpendicularly, that the same thickness was penetrated in each instance and that the same portion of bone was struck.

Article continues below.

Now came the choice of bullets. On the “conventional solid” side I chose firstly the Woodleigh, which is widely regarded as being the most stoutly constructed normal solid available, and the Speer African Grand Slam. The Speer is not truly conventional in that its core is tungsten. However, it does have a core, and as tungsten is even denser than lead, a 500 grain Grand Slam is even shorter than a normal solid, making it one of the best possible bullets available for the .458. The monometal bullets were represented by, firstly, some old A-Squares (the original Monolithics) and the Barnes Super Solids. These latter were 500 grain, as opposed to the 475 grain A-Squares, and were loaded to duplicate the speed of a conventional 500 grain solid. At this point it is relevant to mention that it is not a good idea to try and duplicate this in the .458. The greater length of a 500 grain monometal bullet means that its bearing surface is also that much greater, and thus pressures are increased. Bullets of greater bearing surface should be loaded to lower velocities to remain within safe pressure limits. This test was done under controlled conditions to observe the effects of solids and monometal bullets of equal weights at equal speeds. What I’m saying here is that don’t YOU try and pull this stunt, OK? It can be dangerous, and if you try it and get into trouble and disappear in a small mushroom cloud, I’m NOT the one!

A framework was duly constructed to hold the books and bones, and work commenced on our “elephant sandwich”. This consisted of 10cm of soaked phone books, 7 - 8 cm of hard, solid leg bone, a further 50cm of phone books and then a backing of pine blocks to act as a bullet stop should any of the projectiles manage to penetrate all of the foregoing - I had no idea of just what sort of penetration to expect. A total of five loadings were tested. On the conventional side, we had the 500 grain Woodleighs and Speer African Grand Slams, both launched at a speed of 2180 fps. On the monometal front were the 475 grain A-Squares at the higher speed of 2280 fps, and the 500 grain Barnes Super Solids at the same speed as the conventional solids - 2180 fps. The test rifle was a Winchester model 70 and the range of shooting was 5 metres. The fifth load was a control sample of a typical factory .458 load of some years ago. An ancient solid was pulled from a Winchester factory load dating from the 1970’s, and loaded to 1950 fps. This was typical velocity obtained from most factory .458 ammo a while ago, the designated 2130 fps notwithstanding.

This is how far the
premium solids penetrated.
solidsvmono_p3p53v5no6_ah.jpg - 22kb

Go to Page: 1 2 3 4 Related Articles: Hunting African Elephant Part 1
Hunting African Elephant Part 2
Hunting African Elephant Part 3
Fact File: African Elephant
Firearms: .375 on Elephant
African Hunter Vol.5 No.6 December 1999
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