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Thread: Express bullets

  1. #1
    Member The Kid's Avatar
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    Default Express bullets

    Since at least the late 1800s there has always been a faction in the world of making hunting rifles that has believed and advertised that lighter bullets, coupled with higher velocity, produce faster kills on game. I have studied this in passing over time, mostly running across an old advertisement or story in some of my readings of vintage material. Until the last couple weeks I had really never given it too much thought. But after I procured an interesting bullet mould it set me to thinking about the concept.

    I believe it was Rigby who is credited with coining the term, naming his specially proofed, slow twist, high velocity (for the time) rifles after the Express Trains in London. These muzzleloaders used a short conical bullet with a larger than normal powder charge, and were advertised as hitting light a speeding locomotive and suitable for all manner of game.

    The BPE cartridge rifles followed shortly after the self contained cartridge came into common use. And were followed by the Nitro Express offerings when cordite came on scene. All of the major British gunmakers were participating now, with Westley Richards among others, using all kinds of "trick bullets" to initiate expansion, and if most contemporary accounts are to be believed they generally expanded WAYYY too much.

    Meanwhile across the pond here in the US, Winchester had at least two "Express" cartridges that I'm aware of. The 45-90 had an Expess loading, which contained a 300 grain bullet at elevated velocity, some of the old adds quoting the flattened trajectory are a little funny today when you plug the figures into a ballistics calculator to find that trajectory was improved by a couple of inches at best. They also had the 50-110 Express, with special sights regulated for the load. The 50s were also twisted for a 300gr bullet that was available as a HP, talk about low BC, aerodynamics of a heavy button from a watchcoat. I cannot imagine that penetration was very good either. Strangely the same case loaded with a heavier bullet at lower speeds never caught on, try finding a 50-100-450 chambered Model 1886, I believe that less than 500 were built even though it would seem that anyone should be able to see which was the better loading for large game. The heavier bullets were not suited to the Express rifles as the rifling twist was too slow.

    A few years later we had the Savage Arms company pushing first the 22 Savage HiPower and later the 250-3000. Both were designed by ballistics genius Charles Newton, and both were cited as giving unbelievable results on all manner of game imaginable. They even ran an add claiming that the 22 HiPower was great medicine for Indian tigers of all things, I guess the odds of someone trying it and living to say they were wrong were slim.

    About the same time as Savage was pushing their mega velocity cartridges, the English were back at it again. My favorites from this era were the BSA designed cartridges, if one reads the descriptions for them in Taylor's African Rifles and Cartridges it is plain to see that speed was the goal, at all costs to effectiveness on game. The 33BSA used a 130gr bullet of light construction if I remember right. Holland and Holland had some scorchers in their lineup during this time as well.

    This whole whirlwind of research and rereading was prompted by my recent procurement of a rather odd bullet mold. It is an old Cramer two cavity for 45 caliber rifle bullets. One cavity drops the mundane and steadfast old Lyman designed 405gr RFP for the 45/70. The other cavity, the one that caught my interest, drops a hollowpoint. I had initially thought it was the Gould 330Gr HP, designed for deer hunting and a mold I've always wanted to try. But after casting a few I thought the cavity looked awful deep so I weighed one, imagine my surprise when instead of 330ish it tipped the beam at 248 grains! I had to rezero the scale and weigh some Sierras to make sure it wasn't broken. And then a lightbulb flashed, I had a mold for an Express bullet, one I've never heard of or found mentioned in text, but the concept is certainly the same or so it seems to me.

    I know the incredibly light for caliber plus high speed thing never really took hold, even the Weatherby cartridges use normal weight bullets most of the time. But this is something that intrigues me and think I may try to use one of the bullets from my mold for a blackbear this spring. I just thought the forum needed a new topic that was a little less serious, so come on fellas tell me I can't possibly kill a bear with such a light bullet with a low sectional density.

  2. #2
    Supporting Member Amigo Will's Avatar
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    We search for better in all things and most times the public knows if it is or not. Those were intresting times for the hunter and for sure when Nitro hit the field to replace BP carried in a coat pocket.
    Now left only to be a turd in the forrest and the circle will be complete.Use me as I have used you

  3. #3

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    [QUOTE=The Kid;1218}
    I know the incredibly light for caliber plus high speed thing never really took hold, even the Weatherby cartridges use normal weight bullets most of the time. But this is something that intrigues me and think I may try to use one of the bullets from my mold for a blackbear this spring. I just thought the forum needed a new topic that was a little less serious, so come on fellas tell me I can't possibly kill a bear with such a light bullet with a low sectional density.[/QUOTE]

    The smallest rifle I've ever heard of being used on a black-bear is a 14 cal. Sooo, I'ld use your bullet in my 45-90 Enfield on black bears.
    " Americans will never need the 2nd Amendment, until the government tries to take it away."

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    Member Akheloce's Avatar
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    Default Express bullets

    I think that as long as you're not salvaging meat, and the game is thin skinned, and has light bone structure, then fast and light is just fine.

    I believe that bullet construction should be matched to velocity, and toughness of game. Too far in either direction lessens effectiveness. In your case, I think a 250ish grain expanding bullet on black bears sounds just about right.
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    The problem with light for caliber, high velocity bullets is that they shed velocity equally fast. Bullet construction is typically best over about an 800 fps window, and marginally good for another couple hundred. So your 180 grain 30-06 load is good from the muzzle to about 450 yards before the expansion characteristics start to become iffy (1,000 fps drop). A 110 grain 30-06 load will start out at 3500 instead of 2800, but has dropped 1000 fps by the time it reaches 250 yards. If you make the bullet soft/frangible enough to open at 400-500 yards, it will most likely disintigrate at closer ranges. Penetration to vital organs is the key to killing shots, and high speed projectiles require a lot more innovation to do this at longer ranges.

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    Member hodgeman's Avatar
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    I think a certain segment of riflemen are always fascinated by velocity. Even today Barnes is marketing a tipped TSX that is rather light for caliber and prints some blistering speeds. I shot a pile of deer with the '06 and 125gr bullets and with the behind the shoulder shots the result was efffective and dramatic. I eventually learned better but I think about all those deer sometimes and wonder what the 110gr TTSX in the .308 would do...

    Regarding the .22 Hi-Power and tigers- I've seen a photograph of a missionary to China with two very dead tigers and the Savage 99 in that cartridge. I imagine it could go very wrong and (probably) eventually did.

    IIRC- the 235gr was one of the first loadings for the great .375 H&H and I'd imagine shooting them into heavy game is the reason they're pretty hard to come by anymore....

    I think that raw velocity can be turned into an effective element for harvesting game...but it takes a lot of things working right at the same time. The early Weatherby guns made their reputation by firing much too soft bullets at unbelievable velocity (for the day) and had as many devout adherents as critics. Given the mono-metal bullets (like the TTSX), I'm reading some stuff from guys with the .257 and .240 Weatherbys that are taking game that I'd think out of their league and it may be time to re-examine what a 85gr bullet at 3600+ fps is actually good for.
    "I do not deal in hypotheticals. The world, as it is, is vexing enough..." Col. Stonehill, True Grit

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