Federal Cartridge has long been a leader in providing specifically developed and tailored handgun hunting ammunition utilizing dedicated premium-name handgun hunting bullets. In fact, it’s been head and shoulders above nearly every other major ammomaker in this regard. Now Federal has added yet another comprehensive family of handgun hunting loads to its already extensive menu: the new Vital-Shok Swift A-Frame line. Loaded with Swift’s proven handgun A-Frame bullet design, this new load category includes the six most popular centerfire revolver/single-shot handgun big-game hunting cartridges, including 180-grain .357 Magnum, 210-grain .41 Magnum, 280-grain .44 Magnum, 300-grain .454 Casull, 300-grain .460 S&W Magnum, and 325-grain .500 S&W Magnum.
These A-Frame loads now join Federal’s previous seven-caliber Barnes Expander solid-copper hollowpoint handgun ammo (including all the cartridges already listed plus the .480 Ruger) and the heavy, hard-lead Premium CastCore solid-bullet family in .357 Magnum (180 grains), .41 Magnum (250 grains), and .44 Magnum (300 grains). Combined with ATK’s separate Fusion-brand handgun hunting loads featuring the unique electrochemically bonded jacketed lead-core Fusion bullets (available in the same six chamberings as the new A-Frame lineup), this gives handgun hunters a list of offerings appropriate for an unparalleled range of species and hunting situations.
For quick expansion combined with near-total weight retention on thinner-skinned game, select the Barnes Expander loads. For deer-sized big game up to elk with the larger caliber offerings, Fusion loads are a premier choice. For bone-smashing penetration, choose the flat-nosed, hard-lead, CastCore line. And for an extremely tough, jacketed lead-core bullet that will expand yet still penetrate deeply with maximum weight retention and resistance to fragmentation, here’s the new Swift A-Frame family. The menu is nearly complete.
Swift’s A-Frame Handgun Bullets
Swift Bullet Company has come a long way since 1982, when founder Lee Reed started making jacketed rifle bullets from .22 rimfire hulls with Corbin tools. About two years later, he began production of a new rifle bullet design for large game. His idea was to build a stronger and tougher bullet than what was then available, based on the dual-core cross-member jacket design pioneered by the famed Nosler Partition. The outcome, a jacketed softnose design first marketed as the "A-Frame" in 1984, has often been described as a "Partition on steroids." In many ways that’s not a bad description. Like the Nosler Partition, the A-Frame features a smaller lead nose core and a larger lead heel core separated by an integral cross-member of jacket material. Unlike the Partition, the pure-copper jacket is proportionately much thicker and tougher, and both the nose core and the heel core are bonded and locked to the jacket by a proprietary process.
Other elements of the A-Frame design include a somewhat blunted semispitzer nose profile to resist recoil impact in magazines without deforming and a progressively tapered nose jacket to control the rate of expansion over a wide range of velocities. Critically, the fact that the lead nose core is bonded to the interior surface of the jacket means that the A-Frame is substantially immune to the propensity of other cross-member bullets to completely "shed" their nose cores as the nose jacket opens fully rearward.
The result is a bullet combining three critical performance features in comparison to competing products: controlled expansion to twice the original caliber diameter, 95-percent weight retention at all velocities, and deep penetration due to that greater retained weight. Swift’s reputation grew, not only among hunting-ammo handloaders, but also attracting the attention of manufacturers like Remington, Lapua, and Norma who began to load Swift A-Frames in their premium commercial rifle ammunition lines.
Plus, during the mid-1990s, as handgunning for big game began to occupy a growing portion of the overall hunting landscape, Reed and Swift’s new president Bill Hober decided also to apply the A-Frame principles to a line of handgun hunting bullets for magnum-power revolver cartridges, seeking the same improvements in performance compared to the relatively thin-jacketed conventional lead-core softnose and hollowpoint handgun bullets of the time.
The resulting Swift handgun A-Frames employed the same cross-member principle; thicker, controlled-expansion tapered jacket; and bonded nose and heel core design as the rifle A-Frames but with an open hollowpoint. They were tough. Tough enough to hold together and penetrate deeply on big, hard-muscled game, yet able to expand and create an impressive wound channel at handgun velocities.
I had the opportunity over a dozen years ago to try some of the early prototype 280-grain .44 Magnum handgun A-Frame bullets in hand-loads, and I was impressed. They were clearly much stronger and deeper-penetrating than conventional jacketed handgun bullets, nearly as much so as hard solid bullets, but still demonstrated remarkable upset and expansion, even from a 6-inch revolver. The shoulder bones of a big mule deer were no barrier to them, and their effectiveness on trophy boar was every bit as good. So when I heard the news that Federal had determined to load A-Frames commercially in a wide range of handgun calibers, I was delighted.
Federal’s A-Frame Handgun Ammo
One of the coolest things about the new Federal handgun A-Frame line is that it includes the .357 Mag., .41
Mag., and .500 S&W Mag. In the Swift catalog, the only component handgun A-Frame bullets offered have been varied weights of .44 and .45 calibers. Which is fine if all you want to hunt with is .44 Mag., a stout-loaded .45 Colt, a .454 Casull, or (more recently) the .460 S&W Mag., but not much help if you’re fond of using the .357 Mag., .41 Mag., or going all the way up to the big and increasingly popular .500 S&W Mag. Now, thanks to Federal’s exclusive arrangement with Swift Bullets for these additional calibers, you can have it all. Already loaded.
Federal supplied review quantities of five of the six new A-Frame loads, missing only the .357 Mag., which was not yet in production. I was disappointed, since I’ve enjoyed the challenge of hunting whitetails in the Midwest with an open-sighted .357 Mag. revolver for many years, and the idea of having a 180-grain A-Frame load at my disposal was immensely appealing. There are other 180-grain .357 Mag. loads out there, of course, and I recommend them over any lighter-weight bullets if you’re contemplating a .357 Mag. shoulder shot on a deer, but I guess I’ll just have to wait a little longer. On the other hand, I did get the new A-Frame .41 Mag. load, and no long-term Shooting Times reader needs to be told of my fondness for that cartridge. (Federal, incidentally, is the only ammomaker to include the .41 Mag. in all its individual lines of premium handgun hunting ammunition.)
Back on the unfortunate side, Federal was only able to provide two 20-round boxes each of the five loads in production because of limited availability. So I had to structure the review process pretty carefully. There was no room for just banging around. So I selected five revolvers, one for each cartridge provided, picking known-accurate personal guns that I’ve carried and hunted with for years. Since I already knew the handgun A-Frame bullet was a sound and effective hunting design, having proved it to my own satisfaction in that regard many years ago, the question to be addressed was simply whether Federal was loading them to appropriate velocity and energy and building them accurately enough for serious hunting.
Not that I had any doubts. Federal Premium isn’t called "Premium" for no reason. I set up a protocol for each load consisting of five rounds for chronographing and three, five-round groups from each load at two different target distances.
For the iron-sighted 4.62-inch Ruger .41 Mag. New Model Blackhawk (which is one of my favored companion sidearms for field use), I went with 25 yards and 50 yards. For the other longer barreled, scoped revolvers, I went with 50 and 100 yards. And that left exactly five rounds of each load for basic preliminary sighting-in. The results are listed in the chart on page 34.
Overall, the entire new Federal A-Frame handgun family is very well thought out. The selected bullet weights are entirely appropriate to the serious big-game hunting for which these cartridges are intended, and they are loaded to full-power hunting velocities. As for accuracy, well, any time I can put five rounds from a heavy kicker like the .460 S&W Mag. into 2 MOA at 100 yards from a hand-held rest, I don’t see a problem.
The Swift handgun A-Frames are good bullets, and Federal has used them to create a really good category of serious ammunition. Handgun hunters should be duly appreciative.