A-FRAMES IN AFRICA By Terry Wieland
The business of designing a good game bullet is not rocket science: It merely has to expand on impact, hold together, and penetrate in a straight line to the vitals. Simple.
If it’s highly accurate, so much the better, but if accuracy was the only criterion we could hunt with match bullets. We can’t, and we don’t, for reasons too varied to go into here, regardless of whatever snake oil the purveyors of modified match bullets try to sell you on YouTube. A good game bullet is one that does the job even when it seems like everything has gone wrong; a match bullet only performs on an animal when everything (!) goes exactly right — and sometimes not even then.
Anyone who has done any amount of real hunting will never depend on everything to go right, because is very seldom does.
As velocities increased with every succeeding generation of magnum cartridges after 1950, a serious search began for bullets that were tough enough to withstand the stress. Nosler’s Partition was the first. It was a variation on the RWS H-Mantle, a German game bullet that had been around a while but which was never freely available in the U.S.
In 1984, Lee Reed, the founder of Swift Bullets, took that idea further with a more substantial wall of copper between the front and rear lead cores, and improved the idea by bonding the lead core to the copper jacket.
If the Nosler Partition had a fault, it was that it did not lend itself to calibers bigger than .375. Typically, a Partition expands quickly on impact, shedding its front core as it penetrates, creating a generous wound channel. You then dig the bullet out from under the skin on the far side and find that it retained about 65 per cent of its weight. Reed wanted his bullets to retain at least 95 per cent.
The resulting “A-Frame” design was not as aerodynamic as the Partition; it had a more rounded profile — almost a round-nose in some calibers. But it proved to be adaptable and to work well even in the very largest and heaviest, such as the .458 and .470, the two most popular calibers for dangerous game through the 1990s.
Over the years, makers of bullets that tried to compete with the Partition complained that it was not as accurate because of its three-part construction. They were aided and abetted by some writers who, presumably, had either never used Partitions or were simply on the take. Some of the very best groups I have ever shot with hunting rifles have been done with Partitions, and I am talking about three shots in under a half-inch at 100 yards. Even when they don’t deliver to that elevated standard, however, I have never found Partitions inaccurate to the point that I looked elsewhere.
My experience with A-Frames has not quite measured up to that, but honesty compels me to admit that I have never set out to do a comprehensive accuracy test with them either. Also, my experience with them on game has been mostly limited to stuff like Cape buffalo, using a .450 Ackley or .458 Lott.
Although A-Frames are available as small as .257, they may not be the best choice in every application. For example, if I were to go hunting pronghorn antelope with a .257 Weatherby, I would probably not use A-Frames. In 1990, I had an unfortunate experience with an impala in Tanzania. An impala’s about the size of a pronghorn, and I was using the then-new (and no longer available) Trophy Bonded Bear Claw 115-grain .257. It was too tough, went between the ribs on both sides, did not expand at all, and we spent the next hour chasing the impala in the long grass. The softer Partition, I’m convinced, would have dropped that impala right there.
Where the A-Frame really shines is in larger calibers, intended for bigger animals, at closer ranges. The opposite of the above experience happened in Alaska, a couple of years earlier, with an incoming brown bear (17 yards), a .300 Weatherby, and a 150-grain Partition. I was expecting a deer, got the bear rushing in instead, and the bullet disintegrated on its chest bones. It turned the bear long enough for another shot (and another) and it eventually dropped when I broke its neck, but in that situation a 180- or 200-grain A-Frame would probably had done it immediately.
For those who don’t handload, A-Frames are available as premium loadings in a variety of factory or semi-custom ammunition. If I had to use factory .458 Lott to hunt Cape buffalo, I would almost certainly use some of that. It is simply a great bullet — no snake oil, no YouTube-video hogwash, no sexy apps. Pure performance, pure and simple.