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Winchester Takes Hunting Bullet Technology Another Step Into The Future

by Layne Simpson   |  January 4th, 2011 0

Precision accuracy, reliable power, and deep penetration–Winchester’s new XP3 big-game bullet has it all.


I had seen plenty of elk during the first few days of a hunt in those Colorado mountains but not the one I wanted to take home. Thanks to another hunter who just happened to be on the opposite side of an extremely steep ridge I was easing along, my luck suddenly changed. The small group of elk he spooked could have run in any direction, but they made the mistake of heading downhill toward me at a fast clip.

As the herd bull raced across an opening in the thick timber about 80 yards away, I swung my rifle in .338 Winchester Magnum as I would swing a shotgun on a bobwhite quail and squeezed the trigger just as the intersection of the crosshairs in my scope caught up with the front of the animal’s chest. Never have I seen an elk bite the dust more quickly. As the 250-grain bullet passed through both of its shoulders, the bull’s nose hit the ground, and he did a complete tail-over-antlers somersault before coming to rest in a cloud of dust.

That hunt took place in October 1992, and my report on it appeared in the April 1993 issue of Shooting Times. Five of us were on that hunt, and we all took nice bulls at distances ranging from 45 to 410 yards with a new bullet scheduled for introduction to the market within a month or two. Three of the bulls dropped in their tracks, one ran another 10 yards before dropping, and the other gave up the ghost after about 60 yards.

Needless to say, we were impressed by the performance of the new bullet. The name of that bullet is Fail Safe. Winchester could not have come up with a more descriptive name for the bullet. As hunting seasons came and went, I took enough game with it to conclude that when used on elk, moose, Cape buffalo, nilgai, and other heavy game, it simply would not fail to perform properly.


The Fail Safe is a great bullet, but it has one flaw. It works perfectly on the larger game animals out to about any reasonable distance, and it is one of the few bullets available that will smash through both shoulders of an elk and exit the offside hide. It also works fine on smaller game at close to medium ranges.

But its performance on deer can become a bit erratic at extremely long range where impact velocity is too low to cause it to expand to a large frontal diameter. All big-game bullets share this same limitation, but most will expand at lower impact velocities than the Fail Safe. This holds especially true when the target offers light resistance to the bullet, as is the case with whitetails and pronghorn antelope.

Before going any further, I want to point out that Winchester should not be criticized for any of this. The company set out to design a bullet that could not be destroyed even when fired into heavy bone at close range, and Winchester did a better job of doing that than most bullet manufacturers.

At the same time, Winchester has offered ammunition loaded with bullets such as the Power-Point, Silvertip, and Ballistic Silvertip that are designed specifically for use on deer, and all do a wonderful job there. The problem with the Fail Safe has been with those hunters who incorrectly choose an elk bullet to shoot a 100-pound whitetail at 400 yards and then complain about poor expansion.


The new XP3 bullet’s body swells as it expands to ensure a large frontal diameter.

But Winchester (Dept. ST, 427 N. Shamrock St., East Alton, IL 62024; 618-258-2000; www.winchester.com) now has taken bullet technology another step into the future of components by introducing a bullet in a new line of Winchester ammunition called Supreme Elite. The new bullet is called XP3, which is short for Precision accuracy, reliable killing Power, and deep Penetration.

It is built tough enough to smash through bone and penetrate about as deeply on large game as the Fail Safe while at the same time its front section is capable of greater and more reliable expansion on deer-size game at long range where impact velocity is relatively low.

Tests performed by Winchester technicians in the laboratory and in the field revealed that the XP3 will retain upwards of 100 percent of its weight at extremely high impact velocities on heavy game, yet it is capable of expanding on light game at impact speeds as low as 1800 fps, or out to about 600 yards when fired from the .30-06 and about 700 yards from one of the magnums. Those maximum distances are several hundred yards farther away than any of us should be shooting at big game, and I mention them only as a way of emphasizing how well the XP3 bullet should work on deer and such at the ranges at which most of us actually do take our game.

The XP3 is solid copper alloy up front, and it has a cavity at the rear containing a lead core. A polycarbonate tip or expansion initiator positioned at the mouth of its nose cavity encourages the new bullet to expand at lower impact velocities. Its opposite end has important differences as well. A problem we discovered when using those prototype Fail Safe bullets on the elk hunt back in 1992 was a tendency for its jacket to swell up and fracture longitudinally at the front of the lead core.


Browning’s A-Bolt Mountain Ti


The rifle I used for testing the new XP3 bullet at the benchrest and in the field was an A-Bolt Mountain Ti from Browning, Dept. ST, One Browning Place, Morgan, UT 84050; 801-876-2711; www.browning.com. I own so many rifles that I am seldom tempted to add a new one to my battery, but I may not be able to turn this one loose. For the elk hunt in New Mexico I used a Browning lightweight mount to attach a Zeiss 3-9X scope, and that along with a Weatherby superlight nylon carrying sling and three .300 WSM cartridges in its magazine brought its weight to exactly 7.5 pounds. Browning makes the rifle light by using a receiver made of titanium, a metal that’s about 40 percent lighter than steel. That trimmed away four ounces when compared to the steel A-Bolt receiver, and another three ounces disappeared
when a composite bolt body sleeve was incorporated into the design. The stock, according to Browning, is 10 ounces lighter than the synthetic stocks on other A-Bolt variations. On top of all that, the Mountain Ti can be even lighter than the one I used. A rifle built around the supershort action used to house the .223, .243, and .25 WSSM cartridges is four ounces lighter. Chambering options in addition to the four I have already mentioned are .243 Winchester, 7mm-08, .308 Winchester, .270 WSM, 7mm WSM, and .325 WSM. Standard barrel length for all calibers is 23 inches.

I like a lot of other things about the Mountain Ti. Two of those things are the way it handles and feels. The Dura Touch Armor Coating on its stock is absolutely the best finish available on a synthetic stock. Its velvety surface texture is warm and friendly to the touch, and it offers a nonslip grip to cold, wet hands.

I also like that the two-position safety of the rifle operates positively but so quietly it will never spook the deer or bear or moose or elk I am about to shoot at close range. The new breed of short and stubby magnum cartridges is known to cause acute indigestion in some rifles, but the A-Bolt feeds them from magazine to chamber as smoothly as silk on silk. This is mainly due to the use of scissors-style struts rather than the more conventional flat spring to power its magazine follower. That system prevents the nose of a cartridge from tipping downward as it is being pushed by the bolt from the magazine to the chamber.

The swing-down magazine of the A-Bolt is another great idea from Browning. The magazine can be charged with cartridges in four ways, through the ejection port, as Paul Mauser preferred, with the magazine box swung down but still attached to the hinged floorplate or with it completely detached from the floorplate. Another option is to remove the empty box from the floorplate and snap in a loaded one. The latter two methods allow the magazine of the rifle to be recharged while the bolt is closed on a cartridge in the chamber, a great option to have on a rifle used for hunting potentially dangerous game.

Considerable overtravel prevents the A-Bolt trigger from ranking among the best, but it has a crisp 32-ounce pull with no detectable creep, which is plenty good on a big-game rifle. Other than that, the Mountain Ti is as close to perfect as we are likely to see in a big-game rifle for quite some time to come.

Winchester quickly solved that problem by inserting a steel liner inside the rear cavity. The steel lining was purposely omitted in the XP3 to allow it to swell to a larger diameter so that even if the bullet loses its front petals during expansion it will still maintain a relatively large frontal diameter. This is important in transferring energy to the target.

Bonding the lead core to the jacket prevents the splitting problem experienced with the original version of the Fail Safe bullet. On lung shots, the XP3 can be expected to retain upwards of 100 percent of its original weight, but as it goes with any bullet it is likely to lose a few grains when encountering heavy bone. A black Lubalox coating on the exterior of the XP3 cuts down on copper fouling in rifle bores.

Ballistic coefficients (B.C.) of the XP3 bullets are some of the highest in the business. The .30-caliber 180-grain version is rated at .507 compared to .391 for the Fail Safe. When both exit the muzzle of a rifle in .30-06 at the same velocity, the XP3 will be traveling seven percent faster and delivering 14 percent more energy once the two reach 300 yards.


The .30-caliber XP3 expanded at an impact velocity as low as 1800 fps.

That bullet, by the way, has the same B.C. as the Nosler Ballistic Tip of the same caliber and weight. Ballistic coefficients and weights for the three other XP3 bullets Winchester plans to introduce in plenty of time for the 2006 hunting seasons are .437 for the .30-caliber 150-grain XP3, .496 for the .270-caliber 150-grain XP3, and .500 for the 7mm 160-grain XP3.

Chamberings and bullet weights scheduled for release in 2006 are 150 grains in .308 Winchester; 150 and 180 grains in .30-06, .300 WSM, and .300 Winchester Magnum; 160 grains in 7mm WSM and 7mm Remington Magnum; and 150 grains in .270 WSM and .270 Winchester. Other loadings will become available as hunting seasons come and go. I am really looking forward to trying the XP3 in a number of other cartridges, especially the .338 Winchester Magnum and .375 Holland & Holland Magnum.

Comparing The XP3′s Accuracy
The XP3 is plenty accurate for big-game hunting. I compared the accuracy of the new .300 WSM 180-grain loading with four other Winchester loadings of that cartridge in a Browning A-Bolt rifle, and it held its own with the others in average group size. The details are listed in the accompanying chart. I was not surprised to see the new load shoot accurately, but I was surprised to see how closely all five loads compared in accuracy.


The .30-caliber XP3 retained 100 percent of its weight at an impact velocity of 2700 fps.

No load exceeded two inches at 100 yards, and four of the loads averaged 1.50 inches or less. Of course, this probably speaks as well of the test rifle as of the ammunition; the Browning A-Bolt Mountain Ti I recently added to my battery seldom shoots poorly with any load. It might also be of interest to note how close the five .300 WSM loads were in velocity. Maximum spread between them was only 52 fps with a mere 15 fps spread between four of them. Such uniformity among mass-produced ammunition is pretty darned remarkable and speaks quite highly of Winchester’s quality control program.

Shooting holes in paper with a new bullet tells us a thing or two about its accuracy, but the real proof is in how well it performs in the field. Two other hunters and I were able to do just that last October while hunting elk in New Mexico. We all took nice bulls, and two of the kills subjected the XP3 to tests at opposite ends of the performance spectrum.


Winchester XP3 Accuracy
Factory Load Velocity (fps) Accuracy (inches)
.300 WSM Browning A-Bolt Mountain Ti, 23-inch Barrel
Winchester Supreme Elite 180-gr. XP 2879 1.43
Winchester Supreme 180-gr. Ballistic Silvertip 2916 1.38
Winchester Supreme 180-gr. Fail Safe 2927 1.36
Winchester Supreme 180-gr. InterBond 2931 1.91
Winchester Supreme Super-X 180-gr. Power-Point 2921 1.51
NOTES: Accuracy is the average of five three-shot groups fired from a sandbag benchrest at 100 yards. Velocity is the average of 15 rounds measured 12 feet from the gun’s muzzle.

I shot my bull through both shoulders at about 95 yards, and the bullet exited the offside hide. Since impact velocity had to have been around 2800 fps at that range, it was about as severe as a bullet test can be. The elk was quite large, and to see an expanding bullet blast through so much heavy bone was indeed impressive. One of the other hunters proved how well the new bullet would expand at long range. He placed his bullet close behind the shoulder of a bull at 250 yards, and it too exited the offside hide. We were unable to recover his bullet for examination, but extensive internal damage told us that it had expanded quite satisfactorily at an impact velocity of around 2400 fps.

I knew during that hunt way back in 1992 that Winchester had a winner in the Fail Safe bullet. I’m just as certain today that the company’s new XP3 represents the next generation of bullet for the dedicated hunter.

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