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Barnes Triple Shock

SUCCESSFUL HUNTER – JAN/FEB 2004

Barnes Triple Shock
by Dave Scoville-

I suppose you could say this piece took about eight years to write, since it actually began back in 1995 or so on a house boat in the upper reaches of Lake Powell. Randy and Coni Brooks, Roberta Montgomery and I rented a houseboat with mutual friends, including Jake and Karen Jacobsen, for the 4th of July weekend for several years. We fished a bit, did a little exploring in the canyons, and Coni entertained us by leaping off 50-foot rocks into the blue/green lake – while holding sparklers!

Since Randy and Coni are the owners of Barnes Bullets, I suppose it was only natural that bullets, rifles and cartridges were mulled over as well. Back then, it was vogue for folks to complain about the X-Bullet – it fouled barrels and didn’t shoot well in some rifles.

Be that as it may, with my background in engineering, it seemed the fly in the ointment, so to speak, in the X-Bullet design was the solid copper shank that prevented the rifling from engraving the bullet without having a place for the displaced copper alloy to go. Lead core jacketed bullets don’t engrave the rifle perfectly, but the copper jacket caves in somewhat, limiting contact between the jacket and the lands to a somewhat narrow area in the middle of the lands. Because the shank of the X-Bullet is solid copper, it can’t cave in, causing copper alloy buildup, which in turn causes pressure to rise somewhat over lead core bullets.

Having used cast bullets extensively over the years, where the driving bands engrave the lands with a mirror image, close examination of recovered bullets revealed the lead engraved by the lands was literally shoveled to the rear, spilling over into the lubrication grooves. So, the lube groove, by proxy, also served as a relief groove to prevent the lead buildup – as opposed to having a solid lead shank.

As a kid back in the late 1950s, I was also aware of the Nosler Partitions, which in those days were made on screw machines, but were also easily identified by the groove cut in the shank over the top of the partition. I’ve said it many times since, but John Nosler didn’t cut those grooves in the early Partitions because he didn’t have anything to do on Saturday afternoon. No, it was to prevent, or alleviate, pressure buildup when the lands hit the solid shank over the partition. The Nosler Zippido carried several grooves in the shank as well.

With that general background, back in 1995, I suggested to Randy that he ought to (should) cut a series of grooves in the shank of the X-Bullet to relieve pressure and limit fouling that builds up in some barrels. If my hunch was correct, when chamber pressure is allowed to build more uniformly, rather than abruptly when the solid X-Bullet slams into the rifling, it should be more consistent from one shot to the next. And by minimizing fouling, the X-Bullet should shoot as well as any lead core bullet.

Another factor to consider was the depth of the grooves. Back in the 1980s, I took the time to test and recover hundreds of cast bullets that were cast in a one-of-a-kind mould from NEI. My theory at the time was the depth of the lubrication grooves and their shape should have a determining effect on accuracy. So one cavity in the two-cavity mould cast a bullet with radiused lubrication grooves, and the other bullet had flat-bottomed grooves.

Those tests revealed a number of factors, but one of the most important was that flat-bottomed grooves expand under pressure and radiused grooves collapse, like the folds in an accordion. But because the flat-bottomed grooves expanded under a certain amount of pressure, depending on the load and the alloy hardness, the conclusion was that the diameter of the bullet across the bottom of the lubrication grooves had to be .010 to .012 inch less than bore diameter of the barrel. Otherwise, using a bullet of BHN 16 or so with 42,000 psi, the recovered bullet revealed land engraving on the bottom of the lubrication grooves – this in spite of the fact the bore was .300 inch and the bullet groove cast at .290 inch! In some instances, the lube groove diameter expanded even more. It was also observed that the bullet with the radiused lubrication grooves was prone to collapse under pressure and foreshortened, whereas the bullet with the flat-bottomed grooves held its shape and the foreshortening was minimal.

From those experiments, it appeared it wasn’t sufficient to just cut flat-bottomed grooves in the X-Bullet, but the diameter across the grooves had to be something less than bore diameter for the caliber of interest; otherwise, the bottom of the grooves would expand to engrave the lands, thus negating the purpose of the grooves in the first place. That is, they should serve as “relief” grooves that accommodate the displaced copper alloy. The groove diameter of the bullet would be sufficient to guide it accurately down the barrel. So it was and is with cast bullets, and it seemed reasonable to me that the same principle would work with copper alloys, like the X-Bullet.

(Around 1997 Ed Schmitt, the manager of product planning at Lyman at the time, and I designed a series of bullets for Lyman with grooved noses, to provide a relief groove for alloy that might be displaced by the lands when the nose of the bullet upsets and foreshortens. The series included the .22 245646, 6.5 268645, .270 280642, .30 311644 and a .45-caliber 457643. The .22-, .270-, .30- and .45-caliber bullets are listed with load data in the current Lyman 48th Edition Reloading Handbook, and I’m told 311644 is still a steady match winner.)

Over the following years I managed to get Randy to build a few X-Bullets for my old Winchesters, namely .30 WCF and .348 WCF with crimping grooves, but it wasn’t until a couple years ago that he made up a special run of .411 X-Bullets for the .405 WCF, again with a crimping groove.

That was the turning point. It seems that Tim Janzen was doing some tests down in the lab with a .405 WCF Model 95 Winchester that was fitted with an Oehler Model 43 strain gauge. (The 43 does not yield absolute pressures that mirror psi or CUP, but it does provide a relative measure to identify pressure variables in a single barrel with any given set of components.) He inadvertently used a bullet without the crimping groove. When the error was discovered, they shot the test over, using bullets with crimping grooves. Bingo, the bullet with the crimping groove produced about 6,000 psi less pressure than the ungrooved bullet. (Interestingly, a similar test was done several years before for the .348 X-Bullets, but no one thought to compare pressures from grooved and ungrooved bullets.)

At that point, a few bullets were test fired with three grooves. Pressures dropped again, while velocity pretty much matched that produced by the ungrooved bullet. Following those trials, a series of tests with .30-caliber X-Bullets was conducted with similar results: pressure dropped, velocities increased and, more importantly, barrel fouling was reduced and accuracy improved. With that, Jessica, Randy and Coni’s oldest daughter, sped off to Alaska and killed a caribou with three-grooved bullet. When Jessica returned, she called yours truly and outlined the results, which up to that point were unknown to me. She was ecstatic.

Brief tests with the 7mm “Ringtail” have since shown the bullet does shoot well and barrel fouling is minimal. In my 7x57mm Mauser, three-shot groups usually span .5 inch or so, but then I’ve never seen the lousy accuracy in my rifles that some claim for X-Bullets in their rifles. So, from my point of view at least, the issue of accuracy is moot.

That’s how it was until Rob Fancher (Greenwood and Gryphon, Ltd., 123 Massasoit Avenue, PO Box 85, Barrington RI 02806), the PR guru for Swarovski, called to invite me on an antelope/mule deer hunt on the Tillard 55 Ranch near Glenrock, Wyoming. I jumped at the chance to hunt with the Tillards, folks I’d never met but had heard many good things about, including the general quality of their big game animals.

I was also interested in the opportunity to finally hunt with what has come to be known as the Barnes Triple-Shock. I remarked to Randy only a few months back that it was ironic I was somewhat responsible for the bullet, but it seems I was one of the last to actually field test it.

So, I asked Randy to make up a batch of 185-grain, .338-inch Triple-Shocks with three grooves since he was only making smaller calibers at the time. He didn’t have any without the blue coating (XLC), so he made up a batch of Triple-Shock XLC bullets. Talk about overkill. The blue coating was designed to overcome some of the fouling and accuracy problems, as was the grooved shank, and I had both. It was, however, the prettiest bullet I’ve ever seen – blue with three brilliant copper-colored grooves.

Loading the Triple Shock XLC over 59.4 grains of Reloder 15 in .338 Scovill brass, I didn’t even bother to chronograph the loads. Using the same rifle, a Ruger Model 77 MKII (rebarreled by Mark Hendricks) with a Swarovski 4-12x scope that was used for pressure tests for the .338 Scovill in the Barnes Reloading Manual Number 3, three shots printed inside .4 inch, and I called it quits when the group was centered over the point of aim about 1.4 inches high at 100 yards. In the Barnes lab, that same rifle boosted the 185-grain XLC to 2,967 fps, and it was expected to produce similar velocity with the same bullet. With three grooves cut in the shank, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual speed was a shade over 3,000 fps. Either way, accuracy was fine.

Then it was off to Wyoming, finally to get the opportunity to use the Triple-Shock, the result of an idea that was conceived on upper Lake Powell over the 4th of July 1995 and discussed and cussed on several occasions thereafter.

Following the day-and-half drive from Prescott, the first order of business was to check in and dump my luggage at the Higgins Hotel, smack in the middle of downtown Glenrock. The owners and hosts Mike and Judy Collings were genuinely gracious and hospitable in getting me settled and pointing out the best spot to park the Ram Charger, since the streets were torn up for utility work. That evening we had dinner in the spacious hotel dining room and retired to the bar for a few last minute reminders from Casey and Marty Tillard regarding the hunt.

In a nutshell, the Tillard 55 Ranch is huge with a good population of antelope and mule deer. I was to hunt with Casey, who had just returned from Africa on a hunt for plains game, and Rob would ride along. Our other hunters would go out with Marty. Jim Morey, president of Swarovski Optik North America (SONA) was due in at the end of the week.

I can’t begin to recall the number of buck antelope we saw on the first day. Certainly they numbered up around 100 – a good percentage of which would have been shot had they been anywhere else in the world but on the Tillard ranch. I’ve been fortunate to have killed a number of fine antelope over the years, and it was a wonderful experience to just see all the animals and be able to pick and choose without the pressure of filling a tag.

Casey, in his mid-20s, was an absolute joy to hunt with. His knowledge of hunting and of the animals on the ranch was invaluable. Everywhere we ventured in the early hours of the day, deer and antelope popped up – four bucks here, five more there, two over there, three more . . . then a break for lunch, and back at it in midafternoon.

Since the antelope were so plentiful, it was decided to concentrate on them so we would be less distracted in the pursuit of mule deer. With that settled, Casey spotted a fine pronghorn in a saddle that offered some measure of a stalk – and a chance to get out of the vehicle. (The Tillards don’t want hunters shooting game from the truck and will tell you that up front, or you will find that out when they purposely drive away from an animal that could be shot from over the hood of the truck.)

We made our way along, and with Casey in front, he located the buck and motioned for me to get into position. I missed a “gimme” at 240 some odd yards. The shot was high, so when the buck stopped to look back at what Casey ranged at 215 yards, I managed to center the shot through the lungs. The buck took off and stopped again out about 300 or so yards. He was going down when I pulled the trigger, so the next bullet hit him a shade high in the back. The buck was a bit better than I had bargained for on the high plains of Wyo-ming, but that’s okay, I’ll take it.

We hauled the antelope back into Glenrock – a 15-minute drive from the ranch – and turned it over to the folks at Country Style Meats (106 N. 4th, Glenrock WY 82637) with instructions: “If it isn’t steaks, it’s burger with about 10 percent suet.” Then we went mule deer hunting.

The Tillard 55 Ranch is typically Wyoming, broad prairies broken by draws and coulees among rolling hills – miles and miles of it. The technique was to drive the ranch roads up high, or at least with some measure of altitude, and glass the low lying brush-covered coulees. Early in the day, deer were seen moving about regularly. Then, as the day warmed up – it was shirt-sleeve weather – we had to sort them out in their beds, masked against the gray slate-colored earth that rose vertically out of the bottom of the dry washes. Of course, Casey knew exactly where to look for them, and I had hunted similar country in Oregon for many years in the Pueblos, Steens and Trout Creek Mountain ranges. It was like going home.

In due course, Casey decided to take a walk along the edge of a mesa that extended between two coulees. There was a good buck down there, but at something over 600 yards, we couldn’t put it down as good enough, considering the quality of animals on the ranch. So we backed off and found two more fine animals a mile or so down the ridge. They too would have been shot if they were anywhere else in the world but on the Tillard ranch, and we let them go.

How good were they? Well, I’d say they would score roughly in the mid-150 to 160 range, Boone & Crockett, with 23- to 25-inch spreads, and would push 250 pounds on the hoof. Bucks that scored over 200 have come off the place, but I didn’t see one – rats!

The next morning we located at least five bucks before noon. It was a tossup as to which was best, but I decided to hold off a bit longer. The best of those bucks was taken later in the day by another hunter.

The following morning we ventured back into the rolling hills and glassed the draws and coulees. Ap-proaching an area where we had seen a fairly decent 3×3 the day before, Casey decided we might go for a walk while Rob drove the Ford around the rim to pick us up on the other side.

We hadn’t walked much over 400 yards when Casey spotted a 4×4 bedded in the bottom of a shallow, narrow draw. Looking a bit closer, another buck was bedded a bit farther up the draw. The 4×4 was obviously better than anything we had seen, so I decided to take the shot, although I told Casey I really didn’t want to shoot that animal while it was in the bottom of the hole. So, I fiddled around a bit and the buck took notice, at which point he got up and made his way up the far side of the draw, stopping on a flat area 75 yards or so from the top.

With the buck standing broadside at a range of 180 yards or so, I positioned the rifle on a clump of sagebrush, snuggled into the stock and tweeked the trigger. The shot was dead center in the lungs, but the buck took two big leaps, jumped off the ledge and landed in the bottom of the hole some 30 feet below, just a few yards from where he was bedded previously. So much for trying to make the guide’s life a bit easier. In due course, we managed to get the buck out of the hole and back up on the ledge, took some photos and then headed for Glenrock.

That evening, Rob shot a fine 3×3 that jumped at the shot, and it too landed in the bottom of a hole, although not quite as deep as the gully mine fell into.

The next day I left the pronghorn to be caped and mounted at Stan Taylor’s Wildlife Creations Interna-tional (PO Box 1195, Glenrock WY 32637) and headed for Prescott with the firm conviction I would return someday soon to hunt with the Tillards. Not necessarily to hunt for a better mule deer or pronghorn, but simply to hunt with Casey and Marty again – a great hunt with fine folks. Who knows, maybe I could get Randy to make up a run of .45-caliber Triple-Shocks for the .45-70 or .45-90 Sharps, and we could have a “real” hunt on the wide open Wyoming prairie.