On his first African safari, Texan Jack Carter fired seven 300-grain bullets from his .375 H&H Magnum into a Cape buffalo bull, seemingly with very little effect. Only after receiving another half-dozen bullets from a .458 Winchester Magnum did the great beast call it quits. Moments later a somewhat shaken Carter decided the hunting world needed a better bullet for use on large and tenacious game, and in 1988 he headed back to Africa with one of his own design. Called the Bear Claw, its copper jacket combined a long, solid shank at the rear with a lead-filled cavity up front.
Bonding the lead core to the jacket kept everything together during expansion. The combination of a soft lead core up front along with a solid chunk of metal making up more than half the length of the bullet at the rear added up to both reliable expansion and high weight retention. Along about the same time, Carter also came up with a nonexpanding bullet called the Sledgehammer Solid. Both were sold under the Trophy Bonded name.
Carter intentionally designed the Bear Claw with one shortcoming. Realizing other companies already made fine deer bullets, his goal from the very beginning was to come up with a bullet of extremely tough construction, one best suited for use on moose, elk, brown bear, and the big stuff of Africa, especially when the bullet would be fired from a magnum cartridge. For this reason, the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw (TBBC) was designed to expand rather slowly to a comparatively small frontal diameter for extremely deep penetration, and that made it less than ideal for use on deer-size game, especially when impact velocity had dropped off at long range.
A big break for Carter’s business came in 1992 when he reached an agreement with Federal for that company to load his bullets in several cartridges in the Premium lineup of ammunition. As it turned out, his production was sufficient to continue filling individual-box orders from hunters across the country, but it did not come close to meeting the quantities needed by a large manufacturer of ammunition. In 1993 it was mutually agreed that in order to meet both demands, all Bear Claw bullets would be made at Federal’s plant in Anoka, Minnesota. And while Carter continued shipping bullets directly to his customers under the Trophy Bonded label, from that point on they were being made by Federal. Sometime after Jack decided to retire from selling bullets, Federal began to offer them as reloading components through Speer of Lewiston, Idaho, (both Federal and Speer are owned by ATK Ammunition Systems Group).
It is important to mention at this point that Bear Claw bullets made by Jack Carter and Federal differ slightly in jacket composition. Whereas Carter’s jackets were pure copper, those made by Federal consist of 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc. This was done to make the bullet more compatible with high-speed production machinery. The change was approved by both Carter and Federal’s engineers only after thorough testing on game revealed that terminal performance had not been compromised.
The Trophy Bonded Tip
As I mentioned earlier, the Bear Claw is deadly medicine for the larger game animals, but it is a bit on the tough side for use on deer-size game at long range. Federal covered that base in 2008 with the introduction of the Trophy Bonded Tip (TBT). Its construction is the same as that of the Bear Claw except for a polycarbonate expansion initiator at the nose and a slightly deeper cavity for the lead core. The sharp tip up front along with a boattail at the rear increases ballistic coefficient (BC) considerably, which in turn flattens trajectory and increases downrange energy delivery. The 7mm, 160-grain TBT, for example, has a BC of .520 compared to .407 for the 175-grain TBBC of the same caliber.
The new Trophy Bonded Tip bullet actually turned out to be better than anticipated. Its average weight retention after expansion usually runs around 90 percent, which is only about 5 percent less than for the TBBC, with part of that weight loss due to shedding the poly tip during expansion. Grooves formed into the shank of the TBT reduce chamber pressure and reduce bore fouling at top velocities, while its nickel coating eliminates tarnishing and gives the bullet a “Premium” look. During development of the TBT, the decision was made to add the pressure grooves to the Bear Claw and Sledgehammer bullets as well and to also coat them with nickel. Those changes took place in 1999.
So which do you choose for what? First of all, the difference in weight retention of the two expanding bullets is not enough to make a decision on. Since the TBT is designed to expand to a larger frontal diameter when meeting lighter resistance, it is a better choice for use on deer-size game, and while it does not offer quite as much penetration as the TBBC, it drives deeply enough to handle any big-game animal in North America and most of what the world has to offer so long as the proper caliber and weight are used. The TBBC is accurate enough for its intended purpose, but the TBT is usually more accurate.
The family of Trophy Bonded Tip bullets will surely grow, but for now they are offered by Federal in various weights in 17 different cartridges among Premium Vital-Shok loadings, ranging from 130 grains in the .270 Winchester to 200 grains in the .338 Federal. It is also available in several High Energy loadings of the .270 Win., .308, .30-06, and .300 Remington Ultra Mag.
The Trophy Bonded Bear Claw is available in nine cartridges of the Premium Safari family, beginning with 175 grains in the 7mm Remington Magnum and ending at 500 grains in the .470 Nitro Express. Those who handload will be happy to learn that in addition to various sizes of pistol and rifle primers, Federal also offers a number of unprimed cases from .243 Winchester to .338 Federal as well as the Trophy Bonded Tip, Bear Claw, and Sledgehammer Solid bullets in all diameters and weights offered in the Premium lineup of factory ammunition. Trophy Bonded bullets are no longer available from Speer.
And how does the new Trophy Bonded Tip bullet perform on game? Read on to find out.
In years past I had taken a few head of game with the Bear Claw bullet, but had not gotten around to trying the new Trophy Bonded Tip until hunting mountain grizzly in Alaska in April 2010. Choosing among the various caliber options came easy when I learned that Federal would be introducing a new 7mm STW loading with the 160-grain version of the relatively new bullet. I own several rifles in that chambering, but for the hunt I decided to choose between the very first two built by Kenny Jarrett back in the 1980s. One is the rifle I used when introducing the cartridge as a wildcat in the May 1988 issue of Shooting Times. Readers who go back apiece might recall that I called it 7mm STW No. 1, and it was built as a switch-barrel rifle with a second barrel in .416 Remington Magnum. I call the other Jarrett rifle 7mm STW No. 2; it has an extra barrel in .358 STW and is the one I used to take my first brown bear (as reported in the September 1992 issue).
While packaging with the proper markings for the 7mm STW factory load was ready to go, the ammo would not become available until several months after the hunt. A small quantity of 160-grain TBT bullets were available, but unlike what you will see in factory ammo, bullet and case had not received their nickel coating and the polymer tip was clear rather than orange in color. I duplicated the upcoming factory load as closely as possible with components that Federal would likely use when loading it. In addition to the 160-grain TBT bullet, I chose the Federal case and 215 primer. For powder I went with Reloder 25, which is made by Alliant, also an ATK company.
I settled on 79.0 grains of Reloder 25 for muzzle velocities of 3,255 and 3,229 fps in the two rifles. The barrel of rifle No. 1 has digested quite a few more rounds through the years, and while its velocity was a bit lower, it still averaged 0.71 inch for three-shot groups compared to 0.65 inch for rifle No. 2. Either rifle would have worked, but for sentimental reasons more than anything else I decided to hunt with 7mm STW No. 1.
On hunts in the past I had taken a couple of brown bears, but this was my first hunt for the smaller mountain grizzly. After flying into the Eskimo village of Unalakleet on the eastern shore of Norton Sound of the Bering Sea, we traveled about 35 miles north on the famous Iditarod trail to a tent camp located near Whale Back Mountain. It takes only a second or two to kill a bear, but finding one to shoot often requires many long days of serious hunting. Despite the fact that we were in prime grizzly country, eight days came and went before finding one, and as luck and hard hunting would have it, the bear was even better than I had hoped for.
We spotted the animal on the last afternoon of the hunt. As we maneuvered into position and I prepared for the shot, my guide peered into his rangefinder and whispered, “319 yards.” I prefer to get closer when shooting potentially dangerous game, but with only a few hours of daylight remaining, we ruled out attempting to do so. And besides, there was no wind to push the bullet off its intended path, the bear was standing broadside, and I would be shooting from the prone position with my rifle resting steady over a daypack. On top of that, I would be shooting an accurate bullet from a rifle that had earned my total confidence while taking all sorts of game during more than 20 hunting seasons.
Immediately upon taking the 160-grain TBT close behind its shoulder, the bear stumbled forward about 20 yards and dropped stone dead before I could load a fresh round into the chamber. Penetration was certainly adequate–the bullet passed completely through the chest cavity and exited the far side, giving more than 2 feet of penetration. Considering how quickly the bear died, internal damage had to be quite extensive, indicating excellent expansion.
If Jack Carter were alive today, I am sure he would be as proud as I am of a magnificent animal taken by a modern version of the great bullet he designed back in the 1980s. Taking the bear with a faithful old rifle called 7mm STW No. 1 added a second layer of icing to the cake for me.