Like every ethical hunter in the Western World, Andrew Venables wants a clean kill. The firearms expert reckons the bullet that does that best is not made of lead. It’s made of copper – because it’s such a fast bullet.

“Having spent a lot of time shooting lead bullets, particularly with boat tails, you end up with this situation: you find a piece of copper in the animal and not far from it you find a little mushroom back end of the lead bullet. This is called bullet separation and is what relatively inexpensive hunting bullets do. Now, if you pulled this out of a dead animal you could fairly ask the question: what stage in the animal’s instant death did the bullet fail? it killed the animal. But, technically speaking, the bullet fell apart.”

The company that solved this problem is Nosler. “A long time ago – probably 40 years ago – Nosler came up with the ‘partition’,” says Andrew. “It’s one of the ways of getting around this total destruction of a lead bullet. RWS also produced the H-Mantel. It’s a copper jacket in two parts. There’s a hard lead slug in the back, a copper jacket separating in the middle and soft lead in the top. The bullet is formed around the soft lead so the front end is designed, basically, to blow up.”

Andrew shows what remains of a bullet like this after it has been shot. “You can see that the front end’s gone, so 40% of the bullet weight is in the animal somewhere.

“This was a shot that was put into an animal that had been wounded some years ago. This is a .308 lead bullet with a plastic tip that was designed to expand. Shooting it at more than 400 yards at an animal that was going away with a broken leg, you can see it hasn’t really expanded much at all. That’s what we call ‘under-expanded’.”

Andrew finds that copper bullets perform better in these circumstances. He points to a Barnes TSX he extracted from a fallow deer he shot.
“It was shot at a quartering angle,” he says. “Normally, you can’t recover these because they go through, basically.

“It hit the bones but still retained more than 90% of its weight. Just one of the little petals snapped off. This is classic performance You will see this with the majority of brands of copper bullet you can buy.” Andrew says that the Hornady GMX and Barnes TTSX do the same. The bullet hits that animal at between 2,200 and 3,500 feet per second and only a couple of ‘petals’ of copper snap off as the bullet expands.

Andrew shows off a bullet he extracted from a kudu where the petals are so pronounced they are almost like rotor blades. ”Bear in mind that this is going into the animal rotating at between 25,000 and 30,000rpm. For examples of this in slow motion, Google ‘copper bullets ballistic media’.
For Andrew, add this effect to the rapid expansion and tremendous energy dump of a copper bullet and it beats a .308 round with a 170 or 180-grain bullet that, says Andrew “isn’t terribly quick”.

“If you’re shooting a wild boar in the shoulder with it, or a big red European stag, or a big African antelope, it performs well. But if you
put it into a roe deer in English woodland you can get insufficient expansion and not quite enough of an energy dump.

The future is – as they shotgun cartridge manufacturers have discovered with steel shot – basically down to speed.”

Click here to go to the Fieldtester rifle ammunition front page

Have a look at these films with Andrew:

Best copper bullets for deer


Lead-free ammo and meat damage


Lead-free ammo – what’s on offer?

For more from Andrew, including his blog, visit the WMS Firearms Training website
For more from Fieldtester, visit
Click here for more of our films with Andrew

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