January 04, 2011
By Greg Rodriguez
By Greg Rodriguez
Slick new packaging, a fresh look, and some improvements make a great bullet even better. But as you can see from the expanded bullet removed from the water buffalo Greg dropped, the improved Trophy Bonded Bear Claw is just as good as the original in the performance department.
We were on the buffaloes' spoor at first light. The gaily-clad gaucho guide slithered effortlessly through the thick brush, with one eye on the track and the other ahead, looking for danger in the thick brush. We bumped them several times in the dense forest, but we never got a shot.
Eventually, we pushed the herd onto a giant, dried-up floodplain. We couldn't close the distance, so we eased around the edge until we found the herd bull. The distance was 180 yards, but I had faith in my accurate, new, Kevlar-stocked CZ-550, so I cranked the Leupold up to 6X, found the bull's beefy shoulder, and fired.
Asiatic water buffaloes are tough, so I wasn't surprised when the bull took the 300-grain Trophy Bonded bullet square on the shoulder and walked off as if it had been stung by a bee. I followed it in my scope and stuck another slug behind the last rib at a steep angle. The bull kept walking, so when it turned, I hit him again. Finally, the bull fell, but I paid the insurance anyway.
I was pleased to see that all my bullets hit where I intended for them to hit. The first had broken both shoulders and decimated the top of the heart and the bottom of the lungs. The two raking shots had lodged in the shoulders after penetrating more than 3 feet, and my insurance shot exited after passing through both shoulders. It was an impressive performance for the maiden voyage of the new, improved version of Federal's iconic Trophy Bonded Bear Claw.
A Great Bullet Gets Better
I've used the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw extensively since the mid-1990s. Its on-game performance earned my respect, but I must admit it wasn't always as accurate as I would have liked. Still, I was skeptical when Federal announced the new tipped version of the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw two years ago.
After extensive testing, the new tipped bullet won me over with its accuracy and terminal performance. I thought the changes were both warranted and effective, but I was pleased that it was restricted to .30 caliber and below. I was less than thrilled when Federal's Jason Nash told me the company was "improving" the Bear Claw in .375 and above for 2009.
The new bullet features three driving bands to reduce fouling and shank stiffness for improved accuracy. A new gilding-metal wire jacket is applied via an impact process. The new jacket material has fewer impurities, and the impact process results in less variation in jacket geometry. Thin, flash nickel plating reduces friction and fouling and eliminates the unsightly flux stains the old Bear Claw often had around the tip.
Those changes are not earth-shattering, but they combine to make a great bullet even better. Federal's testing has shown that the new bullet is accurate in a wider range of guns than the original. In my Kimber Caprivi and CZ-550 Kevlar, the new load shot significantly better than the original. And it shot at least as well as the original in my extremely accurate Hill Country Rifles custom Model 70.
On game, the new Trophy performed every bit as well as the original. The one bullet I recovered from my buffalo looked even better. It exhibited the expected double-diameter expansion and 97-percent weight retention, but the shank was noticeably longer than I'm used to with the originals. The bullet we recovered from the buff Nash shot looked exactly the same, right down to the longer shank.
I'll shoot another buffalo or two on my next safari to test the new bullet even further. But based on a long history with the design and the performance of the new bullet in Argentina, I'm quite certain the new, improved Trophy Bonded Bear Claw will remain my dangerous-game bullet of choice.
The latest addition to Federal's popular Fusion line is a 140-grain load for the 6.5x55. The new load shot well in Greg's CZ-550 FS in Argentina, where he used it to drop a Brockett deer.
The Fusion Line Gets Longer
I've been a fan of the Fusion bullet since I tested the pre-production version on a South African kudu cull several years ago. The electrochemically bonded bullet delivers premium bullet expansion and penetration thanks to weight retention that has averaged 85 to 88 percent in my testing. It's also a very accurate bullet. Combine that performance and accuracy with a price point on par with other manufacturers' budget-price, cup-and-core designs, and it's easy to see why the Fusion line has sold like hotcakes since its introduction.
The latest addition to the Fusion line is a 140-grain 6.5x55 load that's rated at 2,530 fps. It's no speedster, but the 6.5x55 has earned a reputation as a mild-mannered killer of game as large as European moose.
I didn't need that much horse-power to drop Argentina's diminutive Brockett deer, but I figured I could count on the Fusion's rapid expansion and pinpoint accuracy to help me anchor the tiny forest deer so that I wouldn't risk losing it in the impenetrable forest.
For my hunt, I paired the sedate 6.5x55 with another classic--CZ's full-stocked 550 carbine. The compact, fast-handling carbine seemed ideal for still-hunting the vine-choked jungle. Leupold's compact 2.5-8X riflescope completed the rig.
We crept through the jungle for two days before I jumped a shooter buck as we came around a bend in the trail. I dropped to a knee, found its shoulder, and touched the trigger just as the buck dug in its dainty hooves to flee. It managed a short dash, but the first animal to fall to the new Fusion bullet quickly piled up on the trail with a neat, .264-caliber hole in its shoulder.
One tiny buck does not a bullet test make, but I have total confidence in the Fusion design. The new 140-grain 6.5x55 offering is a neat line extension that will appeal to those of us who appreciate mild-mannered hammers such as the classic Swede.
Waterfowlers Get A New 20-Gauge Load
Today's waterfowlers seem to prefer increasingly powerful 12-gauge loads, but personally, 20 gauge is still my pick for duck hunting. I am pretty patient and usually shoot them close, so I've never felt handicapped with my 20. After all, #4s are #4s.
Federal's Black Cloud line of steel shot employs 60 percent Premium steel and 40 percent Flitestopper steel, which has a unique shape and a sharp belt around the middle that serves as a cutting edge to deliver deeper penetration and more devastating terminal performance. Federal's Flitecontrol wad stays with the shot column longer to deliver tighter, more consistent patterns. These two features combine to make Black Cloud one of the best, and most popular, steel-shot lines on the market.
The development of a Flitecontrol wad in 20 gauge and 10 gauge led to the addition of two new offerings for each. I tested the #4-shot, 3-inch, 20-gauge load in Argentina. Though we only hunted ducks one morning, my test was very revealing because I shot an equal number of birds (10 each) with Black Cloud and lead shot.
I know lead shot is illegal here in the States, but it's legal in Argentina. Shooting Black Cloud side by side with lead was a great way to gauge the new load's effectiveness against what is widely considered to be the most deadly shot material. As expected, lead reached out farther, but out to 25 or 30 yards there was no discernable difference between it and Black Cloud. Others in my hunting party experienced similar results from their blinds. I left my duck blind convinced that the Black Cloud line's popularity among American waterfowlers is well deserved.
Greg hunted with Wingshooting Argentina.