Handgun Hunting:
Big Bullets for Big Critters


This cape buffalo was taken in Zimbabwe with a .500 S&W Mag. using a 440-grain hard cast bullet.
Mark has taken multiple buffalo in his career, and this bull fell with one shot.

In the past, we’ve discussed bullets and what’s necessary for tackling hogs and deer — an army of handgun hunters pursue those more than most other game. However, there are those adventurous souls who enjoy the challenge of confronting really big, perhaps dangerous, game with a handgun. One must carefully choose a bullet for taking game such as cape buffalo, water buffalo, huge brown bear and similar animals.

I’ve observed some heated arguments over this topic — social media is a stomping ground for many self-proclaimed authorities. I’ve seen several cases where individuals were postulating about the best bullet for buffalo or other giant beasts, and yet they have never seen a cape buffalo or a giant brown bear, much less taken one! Make no mistake; I’m not an expert on anything — my wife would testify to this fact on a stack of bibles. But I have taken a multitude of really big animals from all over this planet, and I have experienced a thing or two.

Northern Precision Custom Bullets and Swift A-Frame are two prime
examples of premium bullets designed for large critters.


There are a couple of factors to address before we face the charging rhino. First, precise shot placement reigns supreme regardless of what firearm you’re shooting. No bullet, regardless of size, will compensate for a misplaced shot. Knowing the anatomy of the game is beneficial. You must know where the vitals are located before squeezing the trigger.

Since we’re explicitly discussing giant critters, penetration is imperative. Some of these animals — cape buffalo, for example — have tough, thick hide, massive muscle tissue and heavy bone structure. It takes a well-constructed bullet to punch through all of this before reaching the vitals.

The physical properties of every bullet differ according to the intended application; preferences may and will vary. Depending on composition and construction, bullets of the same weight and diameter with identical velocity may exhibit totally different results on game. As a general rule, bullets that expand more will penetrate less. Likewise, a bullet that expands less will penetrate more. FMJ or non-expanding bullets are often used on elephant and rhino — even hippo and buffalo in some cases.

Premium bullets designed for hunting large or dangerous game are not cheap. If you’re looking to cut corners on cost, look somewhere else. Some of these hunts for giant critters are downright expensive and skimping on bullet selection is not logical.

Left to right: Buffalo Bore .44 Mag. 305-grain L.B.T.-L.F.N., DoubleTap .500 S&W
Mag. 400-grain WFNGC and HSM Bear Load, .460S&W Mag. 325-grain hard cast
are examples of heavyweight bullets designed for big animals.

A Few Examples

Swift A-Frame bullets have a proven track record on big critters. Swift bonds the lead core to the jacket. In most cases, this process allows the bullet to expand slightly, leaving a mushroom effect while retaining weight. These bullets have been a favorite for many handgun hunters and are available in various calibers, including their 300- and 325-grain bullets for the 454 Casull.

Northern Precision manufactures custom bullets in different weights and styles. Their bonded core bullet is another example of a projectile that, under most circumstances, expands slightly while maintaining nearly 100% of its original weight. The company also provides a heavy tapered jacket for big game where penetration is necessary. Northern Precision is now offering spitzer bullets designed for the 454 Casull in 300- to 375-grains with custom options that include bonded cores and a heavy copper jacket. The bullets are also available in a flat tip, truncated conical shape with a pure lead core and heavy jacket.

Buffalo Bore loads a Mono-Metal bullet made of copper or brass in their “Dangerous Game” line-up. They are advertised to be cleaner burning than hardcast bullets. Buffalo Bore states these Mono-Metal bullets penetrate deeper than typical hard cast. The company is well-known in the handgun hunting arena, and I’ve shot their ammo for years. I’ve yet to use their Mono-Metal bullets but am anxious to give them a shot. These Dangerous Game loads are available in a 265-grain 44 Mag., 300-grain .454 Casull and .460 S&W Mag.

Several ammo companies offer heavy hardcast bullets such as HSM, Buffalo Bore and DoubleTap. The composition of the alloy in cast bullets determines performance. My friend and experienced caster, Dick Thompson, can modify cast bullets to his liking by mixing the right percentage of antimony, pure lead, and linotype, along with water quenching and powder coating. He took a cape buffalo last year with his hard cast bullets, which performed flawlessly. In Zimbabwe, I took a dandy bull with a .500 S&W Mag. using a 440-grain hardcast — the only cape buffalo I’ve taken with only one shot.

Regardless of bullet choice, proper shot placement is paramount and the slug must be capable of serious penetration. Choose wisely.

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