Say What? – African safari hunter on having to choose just one bullet for continent’s game: ‘It would most definitely be the Woodleigh Hydrostatically Stabilized Solid.’
The bull elephant was in mush – that was immediately clear – as his temporal glands were weeping down the side of his head. The night previous, he had destroyed the maize field that the village was counting on to survive the winter, rolling around HYDRO POWER like a drunken teenager and ruining their efforts.
We got on him early, and we got in close – 16 long paces to be exact – as my professional hunter advised me to take the bull in the heart. I eased the forend of the Heym Express into the sticks, and focused hard on that front sight; in spite of the short distance, you don’t want to botch a shot on a bull elephant.
The .404 Jeffery spoke, and I saw the dust fly on the bull’s hide. He took a half-dozen steps backward, and nearly went down as his rear end bounced off the ground.
Upon recovering himself, he started forward, but a second 400-grain .404 put him down for good. I’ll never forget the sheer enormity of the creature – this was a bull from western Zimbabwe, near Hwange Park, and they have the same build as the huge Botswana bulls; in fact they are one and the same, as they migrate from eastern Botswana to western Zimbabwe. His ivory wasn’t huge, but that was no matter. I was honored to have taken such a magnificent animal, and to see that all that meat went to the village to help them through the lean months. I noticed, upon investigation, that both bullets had passed through the huge body and exited, and was very impressed with that level of penetration.
Federal’s Woodleigh Hydro load in .416
Remington, fully capable of hunting the entire
world’s game animals. I HAD HANDLOADED my ammunition for this safari, a two-part venture stopping first in South Africa for plains game, and then onto Zimbabwe for a non-trophy elephant, but I chose something a bit different than the classic softpoint and solid combination: I chose the Woodleigh Hydrostatically Stabilized Solid. The bullet with the long name was the result of many years of scientific testing, in order to finally resolve the question of softpoint or solid. For decades, hunters in pursuit of thick-skinned game – animals like elephant, rhino, hippo, Cape buffalo and even giraffe – have relied on “solids,” those bullets with no exposed lead core, designed not to expand in an effort to give maximum straight-line penetration. Our early softpoint bullets, which were (and some still are) a simple lead core with a copper jacket around it, opened too fast when used against thick hide and heavy bone, sometimes giving poor penetration.
The solid bullets, while they would give excellent penetration, produced caliber-sized wound channels with very little blood. Older African professional hunters would insist on solids only for elephant, buffalo and hippo, and I can see the wisdom of that choice.
As the premium softpoints came onto the market, the PHs came around to accept their use, for buffalo anyway. The usual regimen was to use a softpoint for the first shot, and follow up with solids, should you need to shoot a buffalo running away, and need to penetrate the entire body.
By the time I began hunting buffalo, bullets like the Swift A-Frame, Barnes X, and of course the Nosler Partition had shown some of the professionals that the solids may not be needed, for buffalo at least.
Elephant and hippo, as well as what few rhino were left to hunt, definitely called for solids. Two bullets for the same rifle don’t always hit at the same point of impact, and the problem continued.
Woodleigh’s Hydrostatically Stabilized Solid – the Hydro, for short – does the job of both softpoint and solid, and does it well. Made of a specialized copper alloy, which gives structural integrity, yet gives the breech pressures of softer copper bullets, the Woodleigh Hydro uses a small cup at the nose, which serves to keep the bullet in a straight line through water-rich tissue and bone alike.
The cup creates a cavitation bubble, clearing the way for itself throughout the vital organs, and destroying all that blood-rich tissue. The shape of the bullet keeps the center of gravity where it needs to be to avoid tumbling upon impact, and Woodleigh has put bands on the shank of the bullet to engage the rifling and reduce friction and fouling.
I’ve found that this design results in a very accurate bullet. The nose design works similar to a wadcutter; it cuts a caliber-sized hole in the hide and flesh that doesn’t seal up like the impact of a round-nose solid can, and this guarantees increased blood loss and a quicker death.
I’VE USED THE Woodleigh Hydro on a good number of different game species, from the common plains game animals like impala, reedbuck, warthog and wildebeest, and have also used them for dangerous game like Cape buffalo and the aforementioned elephant bull, and they’ve all been quick and humane kills.
Upon autopsy, there was a cylinder of bloodshot tissue between 8 and 12 inches in diameter along the bullet’s path; I’ve found the larger the animal, the larger the cylinder of destruction. No matter what, the bullet earned my respect for the quick kills, but I would offer this piece of advice: Make absolutely sure there is not another animal standing behind your intended target.
I have yet to be able to recover a Hydro; they’ve all passed cleanly through, no matter the size of the animal or the distance. The cupped meplat can be a challenge in some rifles; I’ve seen where certain makes won’t feed them well, as they seem to get caught up on the feed ramp. However, my Heym Express feeds them just fine. In order to combat this issue, Woodleigh has installed a hemispherical plastic cap on the meplat of the bullet.
This greatly aids in the smooth feeding of this bullet, and the cap comes off upon impact so it doesn’t affect the terminal performance of the bullet. Woodleigh sells this bullet as a component part for those who reload their ammunition, but for those who prefer factory loads, Federal loads this bullet in their Cape-Shok ammunition line.
The Federal line includes the 9.3x62mm Mauser, the 9.3x74R, .370 Sako Magnum (all at 286 grains), .375 Holland & Holland Magnum (300 grains), .416 Rigby and .416 Remington (400 grains), .458 Winchester Magnum and .458 Lott (500 grains), .470 Nitro Express (500 grains) and .500 Nitro Express (570 grains).
Woodleigh’s component line stretches much wider; the Hydro is available in calibers from 7mm up to .585 inch for the .577 Nitro Express, giving the option of using these excellent projectiles in your favorite medium rifle. For those who want to use a .30 caliber for large bears, the Woodleigh Hydro might be the best answer to that question.
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I happen to be able to call Geoff McDonald – the owner of Woodleigh bullets – a friend; he and his team spend an extraordinary amount of time testing their bullets, not just in laboratory situations, but in the real world. The Woodleigh team, including McDonald and Graeme Wright, are well-versed in classic safari rifles and calibers, and are experienced African hunters. While these gentlemen are responsible for the origins of the Woodleigh Bullet Company, the Hydro is the brainchild of John Marozzi, an Australian metallurgist who had an incredible vision for a new bullet based on a tool used to make perfectly concentric holes down the center of brass rods.
Trust me, McDonald & Co. put that bullet through highly rigorous testing before putting their name on it. I’ve used many different projectiles on African safaris, and there are many good choices out there for hunters of all different species, but if I were forced to use just one bullet for everything, it would most definitely be the Woodleigh Hydrostatically Stabilized Solid.
STORY AND PHOTOS BY PHIL MASSARO