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MRX in Africa

MRX in Africa
By Payton Miller

This article appeared in the December 2005 Guns & Ammo, and is reprinted here with the author’s permission.

In the past, whenever I heard more experienced hunters claim “the bullet’s the thing”-usually when the conversation shifted to super-premium projectiles-I’d always nod in agreement. Thing was, with most of my big-game resume having revolved around deer, antelope and wild hogs, I was pretty much giving lip service to what I considered a rather shopworn catchphrase.

Until now, that is.

After two weeks in Namibia’s 66,000-acre Eden Wildlife Trust (eden-wildlife.com), running Federal’s new super-premium Maximum Range X-Bullet through a Kimber 8400 in .300 WSM, I’ve developed a sincere appreciation for upscale, deep-penetrating bullets. Granted, for most stuff old standbys work fine. But when you pay a lot of money and go a long way to shoot bigger, tougher game than what’s available locally, high-end projectiles make sense.

And if flying to Africa to bag stuff as tough to score on as sable doesn’t qualify as the right venue for a super-premium, I don’t know what does.

Besides being an offspring of the Barnes Triple-Shock X-Bullet, the MRX has something else going for it when you stop to consider that, in this age of environmental concerns on the range and in the field, the MRX is lead-free, comprising a 99.95 percent-pure copper jacket over a tungsten/tin core, which is claimed to move the center of gravity rearward, thereby enhancing ballistics, penetration and accuracy.

The tip is of made of Delrin, and although those on preproduction samples were black, production loads will sport a bright-blue tip. And, like the Triple Shock X, the MRX features the three rings/grooves on the bullet’s shank, which are said to relieve pressure and change barrel harmonics, resulting in enhanced accuracy and higher velocities.

Still, as is the case with the Triple Shock, it’s those four sharp copper petals that do the damage as they peel back. And from the Kimber 8400′s 22-inch barrel, the 180-grain preproduction load used by me, Kimber’s Dwight van Brunt and ATK/Federal (and former Winchester) ammo-development whiz Alan Corzine was clocking a very impressive 3,050 fps.

I’d originally brought along an 8400 in .325 WSM with two boxes of Federal’s equally new 200-grain Nosler Partition loading. However, the ripple effects of airline baggage snafus tend to increase in gravity on overseas flights. In short, I got separated from the rifle in Atlanta. By the time I’d hit Windhoek, Namibia, and jumped on a charter prop plane to Eden, about 200 miles east, the .325 WSM was four days behind me. Fortunately, at camp Dwight had a spare 8400 in .300 WSM.

At first I was a bit skeptical about a .30-caliber anything for my first trip to Africa. My first looks at gemsbok and kudu-let alone eland-reinforced the fact that big African critters are, well. . . big. And they’ve got the size and headgear to be potentially hazardous. But my concerns proved groundless over the next 12 days.

The first specimen I took was a nice gemsbok in a small clearing at about 170 yards. I’d been hunting with Jamy Traut, Eden’s 38-year-old head PH. We’d made a nice 300-yard stalk through the brush and belly-crawled to a spot where we could get a shot at what Jamy figured was a 39-inch cow.

One shot from prone, my elbows anchored into the powdery red Kalahari sand, did the trick, the gemsbok piling up after a short run into the brush. Complete penetration low through both lungs, a 50-yard dash, and it was all over.

It worked excellently on a nice 1,600-pound eland at just under 200 yards-a double-lung shot folded him up after a 30-yard run, resulting in grudging praise from PH Wouter Hugo, who said simply, “Up to now, I would have never recommended any .30 caliber for eland.” When you stop to consider that eland can weigh up to 2,200 pounds, Wouter’s initial misgivings sound quite reasonable.

The longest shots of the trip were around 300 yards, which is the exception in Eden rather than the rule. I watched Dwight make a very credible shot at that distance on a nice gemsbok. Good placement, a short run and then over and out. Alan took his red hartebeest with a single shot as well at just over 300 yards-again, a one-shot stop with the MRX. Things by this time were getting pretty predictable.

Despite its “Maximum Range ” billing, relatively close shots didn’t seem to affect the performance of the MRX any. We took a broken-horn kudu for camp meat at about 50 yards-perfect bullet performance again. Complete penetration low through the chest and an “almost in his tracks” collapse.

The real challenge during the hunt-for me, at any rate-was taking a sable, those magnificent, powerfully built black antelope with imposing backswept horns that can measure more than 40 inches in length and distinctive white underside and throat markings. Several years ago, Eden, under the visionary leadership of Leon Jooste (who happens to be Namibia’s Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism), reintroduced them to the area, along with black rhino and elephant. We’d been tracking one in the late afternoon Tuesday-Jamy; his tracker, Jonah; and I-but never closed in enough to get a shot (or, in my case, a glimpse) despite Jonah’s Herculean climbing efforts.

Every now and again he’d scramble up a Kalahari apple leaf tree, which, besides offering an excellent, although precariously swaying, vantage point, provided the only splash of green in the dull red-sand/brown-thornbush landscape. This was the drill: I’d sneak, crawl, carefully pick my way through thornbush for several miles, following Jonah and Jamy’s lead, occasionally glancing at Jonah’s impassive face for any hint of imminent action.

It was during this particular stalk that I encountered my only snake-a rarity during the Namibian winter. It was a tiny, white-and-tan viper about eight inches long and looked like a miniaturized version of the larger, much-feared puff adder. “Peringuey’s adder?” I asked, trotting out the only bit of herpetological trivia I could cull from hours of watching khaki-clad snake wranglers on the Discovery Channel.

Jamy examined it with professional interest. “Nope, they’re farther to the southwest. This one’s a horned adder. One of them got me on the foot a couple of years back. Swelled up like a melon. Hurt like hell. I was out of business for a week or two.”

Nodding nervously without taking my eyes off the deceptively innocuous-looking viper, I gave it an overly respectful 10-foot berth and continued on my way. Although the stalk proved fruitless, it was an excellent lead-in to the events two days later.

This time I was with Eden’s other ace tracker, Kamati. After nearly four miles of tracking through brush, I finally got my first glimpse of what I’d been after before, a black shape with eye-popping backswept horns about 75 yards away. Problem was, he was screened pretty well by brush, and it was impossible to tell how far behind the screen he was. If he was close to it, I figured, even a slightly deflected shot might do the trick. I rested the rifle on Kamati’s shoulder as he whispered, “Shoot, shoot!” I shot, and the sable swapped ends and took off. We continued tracking it for another two miles. No sign of a hit. I was relieved; next-best thing to a solid hit is a clean miss.To be honest, I don’t know whether I hit a branch or just tanked the shot.

After winding through several acres of a relatively open area, Kamati stopped and pointed to the left. About 100 yards away, in a blessedly clear shooting lane, was the sable, head-on and looking at us. I grabbed the sticks from Kamati, set up, put the crosshairs of the Leupold 4.35-10X variable (which I pretty much left on the lowest setting throughout the hunt) dead-center on his chest and squeezed. The sable dropped at the shot; the 180-grain MRX plowed straight through his entire length and stopped at the left hip.

Out of 18 or so trophy and meat animals taken with the new bullet between the three of us, I personally saw only three bullets recovered-two from angling shots on eland and one from my 100-yard frontal shot on a sable. Everything else-including kudu, red hartebeest, gemsbok and blue wildebeest-was pretty much shoot-throughs, with one-shot kills being the norm.

Most of my previous field experience with premium controlled-expansion bullets had been with Winchester’s excellent FailSafe in a variety of calibers. At Eden’s zeroing range, the MRX seemed to group better than what I’d seen with the FailSafes; at least from the three Kimber 8400s we had with us, groups with the MRX averaged about an inch. At any rate, in my limited African experience, game over here seems to be the raison d’etre for tough, penetrating bullets.

The first recovered MRX I saw, from Alan’s eland, looked like a ballistic-gelatin specimen that had been photographed for a magazine advertisement: uniform expansion, uniform petals and weight retention in the 80-plus percent range. When I finally got my sable bullet back from the skinners, it looked pretty much the same. And as Jamy put it, “Penetration is vital on African game.” No argument here.

Everybody, of course, likes a picturebook broadside opportunity that first shot, but African game doesn’t have to be in the Big Five to rate as tough, and once something is hit and moving away, it’s incumbent on the shooter to shoot again. Quickly. And in those cases, the angle is often less than ideal, meaning you may have to shoot through parts of an animal that you don’t want in order to get to where you do want.

The new Federal Maximum-Range X-Bullet appears to have an excellent future in store for it. Eventually, it should be available as a reloading component from Barnes. But until that happens, it’ll more than justify its upscale niche on retail ammo shelves.

Editor’s note: All animals taken at Eden go for camp meat or to feed locals in surrounding towns and villages. Eden supplies meat to feed 700 orphans (the AIDS epidemic has hit the region hard) every week in the town of Grootfontein, about 60 miles away. To book an Eden hunt, contact Atcheseon & Sons; (406) 782-2382; www.atcheson.com.