For African rifles and cartridges, there are very few absolutes. The closest I’ll come to making a flat-out blanket endorsement is for a product I’ve never seen nor heard of failing, a product so highly regarded that many professional hunters specify it by name to their clients. It is the Barnes X bullet.
In its updated guise as the TSX (for the triple driving bands) or the tipped TSX (with a polymer tip), the X bullet has been proving itself on tough African game for nigh on a quarter century. I’ve campaigned with X bullets on a dozen safaris and I’ve yet to have a single problem.
An X-bullet is an expanding bullet, often called a “soft” in African parlance, going back to the original lead-tipped or soft-nosed bullets of the Kynoch era. As an expanding bullet, the goal of an X bullet is to retain good penetration of heavily boned, thick skinned game like Cape buffalo, yet also mushroom to create a larger wound channel.
It stands to reason that the faster and more violently a “soft” expands, the better. I recently saw a graphic real-life illustration of just how quickly a Barnes TSX bullet in .416 Rigby (400 grains) expands.
We saw a nice zebra stallion a good distance out and my PH told me to hold on the top of his back. I did, and fired. He ran off but we caught him again at closer range and a shoulder shot put him down. When we examined the zebra, my first shot had hit exactly where aimed—not as much drop as my PH said to allow, obviously. The bullet had hit just at the top of the back, above the spine, where the skin is only about two inches thick.
The entrance hole was caliber sized, but the exit—after only two inches of tissue—was the size of a silver dollar. That was proof positive than a Barnes TSX opens up almost immediately on impact.
On the flip side, I shot a Cape buffalo last year and hit the bull with a quartering-on shoulder shot, again using a .416 Rigby with a 400 grain Barnes TSX handloaded bullet. The penetration was perfect, breaking the massive shoulder joint and plowing on through several feet of tough buffalo muscle.
I’ve hunted with Barnes X bullets many times now and it’s one of the few absolutes I’ll swear to in African cartridges. Pick whatever caliber you like, but make sure you’re shooting for the X.