December 27, 2018
Whether we agree on the practice of “precision hunting,” as it politely can be termed, it’s a driving trend. However, until recently, projectiles were limited. Interestingly, the trend possesses such momentum that it’s influenced the ongoing search for the perfect projectile. Federal’s new EDGE TLR (Terminal Long Range) bullet was designed expressly to fill the needs of long-range hunters.
Touted to provide unprecedented terminal performance across a vast velocity impact window, coupled with very high Doppler radar-generated ballistic coefficients, Federal’s EDGE TLR bullet is an aggressively redesigned version of the company’s outstanding Trophy Bonded Tip (TBT), which in turn has roots in the legendary Trophy Bonded Bear Claw.
Before diving into just what makes the EDGE TLR special, let’s revisit the characteristics that make a long-range hunting bullet capable.
Ideally, a long-range hunting bullet needs outstanding aerodynamics—measured in terms of ballistic coefficient (BC)—in order to maintain its velocity as it rockets through the atmosphere. Without retaining velocity, a projectile can’t expand and create a clean-killing wound channel at extreme distance, nor can it maintain adequate levels of system-disrupting energy.
It goes without saying that any purpose-designed long-range bullet—whether for punching paper, ringing steel, or harvesting game—must be accurate.
How accurate? Serious precision hunters insist on half-MOA or better because it’s much easier to hit an 8-inch vital zone at 800 yards with a rifle that averages 4-inch groups at that distance than one that averages 8-inch groups. In the latter case, any human error at all—and there’s always some—will result in a missed or wounded animal. Sure, most big-game species offer vitals bigger than 8 inches, but that’s not the point.
Additionally, in order to dispatch ethically, no matter whether impacting a cross-canyon elk at 900 yards or a high-timber mule deer at 40 yards, a bullet must be engineered to expand adequately at very low impact velocities yet maintain integrity at very high impact velocities so as to not fragment entirely.
Historically, several different big-game bullets achieve one or two of those characteristics, but not all three.
Owing to enterprising design over the past decade or so, several specialized projectiles have closed the gap, achieving near perfection. Berger’s VLD Hunting and Elite Hunter bullets offer extremely good accuracy, great aerodynamics, better-than-the-rest consistency, and acceptable-with-limitations terminal performance. Nosler’s AccuBond Long Range (ABLR) offers good aerodynamics, good terminal performance, and—with diligent handloading—adequate accuracy. Barnes’s LRX offers excellent accuracy and top-shelf terminal performance but has BCs that are lower than competing designs.
About three years ago, Hornady’s ELD-X hunting bullet raised the performance bar much higher via Doppler radar-confirmed BC numbers, cutting-edge engineering and composite tip materials, and an admirable accuracy spec (10-shot half-MOA groups at 200 yards). It comes really close to long-range hunting bullet perfection.
However, each of these designs has at least one weakness. Berger bullets occasionally “rivet” at the nose and don’t expand at all or fragment into nothing on impact and fail to adequately destroy vitals. Nosler’s ABLR can be difficult to tune and tends to have lower-than-advertised real-world BCs. Barnes LRX bullets, being solid copper, just can’t achieve the spectacularly high BCs that lead-core projectiles can. And Hornady’s ELD-X occasionally fragments and separates when encountering heavy bone during close-range impacts.
EDGE TLR Basics
Federal’s EDGE TLR has a weakness, too, but at least the company isn’t sailing under any false pretenses. It makes no claim that the bullet is a half-MOA projectile. Rather, according to a conversation I had with company spokesperson JJ Reich, Federal expects sub-inch to inch-size 100-yard groups out of good-quality rifles. (Bonded bullets with thick jackets are far more difficult to build consistently than thin-jacketed, cup-and-core projectiles; long-range bullet engineers must compromise either terminal performance or maximum precision.)
Candidly, 1-MOA accuracy is less than serious precision hunters and armchair experts prefer. However, assuming there is an accomplished rifleman behind the trigger, it’s still adequate for taking deer-size game to 700 yards or so and bigger critters like elk and moose even farther. Plus, the EDGE TLR’s other characteristics make it a viable candidate indeed. Let’s take a look at those characteristics.
Like the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw and Trophy Bonded Tip, the EDGE TLR’s rear half is monolithic. It simply can’t fragment into pieces, no matter how fast it impacts or how large a shoulder bone it encounters. That rear portion will maintain its shape and mass and drive incredibly deep no matter what, where, or how fast it hits.
The front end features a lead core bonded into an aggressively tapered jacket. The core will never separate, and the on-impact result is invariably a beautifully shaped mushroom with minimal weight loss. Penetration is outstanding, and the wound cavity is devastating.
Hornady recently discovered via Doppler radar that standard Delrin polymer tips, when fired at the high velocities generated by most hunting cartridges, heat and erode from atmospheric friction. As a result, BC degrades en route to the target, and unfortunately, it degrades unpredictably. That’s one reason that Berger’s VLD Hunting bullets dominated for so long where superb precision and consistency was prized above all else—they have no composite tip to erode and change BC characteristics mid-flight.
Hornady’s solution was to engineer an all-new heat-resistant composite tip material. We’ve covered that before, so we needn’t go into it here. Importantly, though, Federal’s new EDGE TLR bullet features a similarly heat-resistant tip. Dubbed the “Hollow-Core Slipstream,” it has a glass transition temperature—the point where the composite material takes on rubber-like properties and becomes susceptible to erosion—of 434 degrees.
As I understand, it’s basically the same tip material used on the company’s TBT bullet, with one update: The tips are hollowed out from the rear. Why? Federal’s R&D gurus discovered that hollowed-out tips collapse at very low velocities—as low as 1,350 fps—and expose the underlying gaping hollowpoint, resulting in consistent, massive expansion at pedestrian velocities.
The exterior of the bullet features one groove around its middle. Termed the “AccuChannel groove,” it improves accuracy and eliminates pressure spikes by providing somewhere for displaced material to flow as the bullet takes the rifling. Both the exterior of the bullet and the cartridge case are black nickel plated to eliminate corrosion and provide a naturally lubricious surface. It looks cool, too!
During very high velocity impacts, the EDGE TLR holds together better than all competing long-range hunting-bullet designs except the Barnes LRX, and at very low velocities it expands better than, well, anything else. Plus, courtesy of its half-monolithic, half-bonded construction, it holds its mass, creates the perfect mushroom shape, and kills game very quickly, very cleanly, and very predictably no matter the impact distance.
Putting It to a 10-Day Test
Recently, my friend Namibian PH Jacques Strauss and I conducted a study on the .30-caliber 200-grain EDGE TLR while culling plains game, shooting several species of vastly differing sizes at a broad spectrum of distances, intentionally taking broadside, quartering to, quartering away, and stem-to-stern shot presentations. Over the 10-day study, we recovered 10 bullets from game animals, fired at distances ranging from 15 yards to 997 yards.
Accuracy variables, projectile flight time, animal unpredictability, shot execution challenges (the human factor), and the reduced probability of a first-shot kill give me serious pause. Plus, until recently, bullet performance across a vast spread of impact velocities was unpredictable and often unsatisfactory.
However, the nature of the EDGE TLR and its intended purpose dictated testing it at extended range as well as common hunting distances. Torn between journalistic integrity and my game-sniping ethical doubts, I resolved to test it at extreme range if exactly the right opportunity presented, i.e., a calm, stationary animal with large vitals, no wind, perfect prone shooting position, and a savvy spotter.
Getting best-possible accuracy with the EDGE TLR was critical to such a test. After a conversation with Bartlein Barrels’s Frank Green, I ordered one of the company’s superb single-point cut rifled, handlapped, gain-twist barrels. Its 5R rifling morphs gradually from a 1:10.5 to a 1:10 twist.
Dave Manson of Manson Reamers crafts some of the finest chambering tools in the world, and under his guidance, I ordered a .300 Win. Mag. reamer with a modified throat; one he’s documented to provide stellar accuracy with a broad range of factory ammunition.
Steve Pratt of Elk Meadow Performance cut the barrel to 23 inches (to make carrying it with a suppressor more palatable yet not give up significant velocity), mounted it on a stainless Kimber 8400 Montana action I had been hoarding for just such a project, chambered it with the Manson reamer, and Cerakoted the action with a black matte finish. After his partner, Roland Black (the finest action-bedding guru I know), pillar and glass bedded the barreled action into the carbon-fiber Kimber Montana stock, Pratt painted it black with green, orange, and yellow spiderwebbing reminiscent of the fall colors in my beloved high Rockies.
With a Bushnell Elite LRHS 4.5-18X 44mm scope mounted, my SilencerCo Omega threaded onto the muzzle, and the trigger tuned to a crisp 2.5-pound pull, the rifle puts Federal’s 200-grain EDGE TLR bullets into sub-MOA clusters, generally averaging around 0.75 inch at 100 yards. Because knowing precise shot distance in contemporaneous atmospheric conditions is critical when shooting long, I programmed the rifle’s specs and specific ballistics into a Kestrel paired with my Bushnell CONX rangefinder, and the ballistic solutions it provided proved to be right on the money. I added a Spartan Precision Equipment magnetic quick-detach Javelin Bipod, which carried easily in a pocket and installed in seconds, yet left the fore-end with a clean profile nicely compatible with shooting sticks.
“If you’re really going to test a bullet,” said Danie Strauss, veteran PH and Kowas Hunting Safaris owner, “you must test it on oryx—nothing is harder on a bullet and nothing is harder to kill.”
My first kill with the EDGE TLR came at 300 yards from the standing sticks because the thick underbrush prevented a sitting or prone position. The rifle put the bullet squarely on the point of the quartering-to oryx bull’s shoulder, centering the heart, destroying both lungs, and lodging under the hide mid-ribcage on the off-side. Although it penetrated a massive amount of dense muscle and severed five ribs during its journey, the expanded bullet is so perfect it could be used in an ad.
Strauss (perhaps the finest guide for big kudu bulls in Namibia) shares my reservations about shooting game at extreme ranges, but he agreed that the technical nature of this bullet test required it. So the next evening we glassed a shallow, sweeping valley and found two old, short-horned oryx bulls. Getting prone among the sharp, rib-bruising rocks atop the ridge, we waited as the bulls moved closer. Tiny insects swarmed the dead air, indicating a complete lack of wind, and the lowering Namibian sun was behind us, creating perfect conditions for long-distance testing.
Finally, one bull fed broadside at 520 yards, and I dropped him in his tracks with a high shoulder/spine shot. We would later discover that bullet passed through, but the finishing shot I put into the “V” where the bull’s brisket gave way to his abdomen ranged up through the bull’s vitals, narrowly missed the spine, and lodged against the hide in the forward half of his withers after some 32 inches of penetration.
With one bull down in excess of 500 yards, we searched for and found the second bull walking away. Wind and light conditions still appeared good when it stopped broadside at 924 yards. With a fresh range and dial-up generated with the CONX, I triggered a careful shot and hit the bull. He ran, slowed, and stopped. I fired again but missed to the left. Dust from the impact indicated the bullet was drifting decidedly from right to left. The sun had just dipped below the horizon, and there was a wind rising in the valley.
With the bull now standing at 997 yards, I ran a quick calculation, held for wind, and fired again. The dramatic whuck of the EDGE TLR impacting the bull drifted back to us. “Solid hit,” whispered Strauss. “Wait. He’ll go down.”
He didn’t. We were bullet testing, so I fired again, and then again, each time the sound signaled a solid hit.
Later forensics showed that the second shot—betrayed by the growing wind—was the only one that missed. We recovered four bullets from the carcass. Three demonstrate perfect expansion; the fourth had struck a camelthorn branch, tumbled, and impacted the bull sideways. As a result, it did not expand at all.
With technical long-range testing out of the way and ideal bullet performance recorded, we breathed a sigh of relief and went back to hunting the way we both prefer: getting close. Over the next week I shot old, heavy-bodied blesbuck, eland, impala, springbuck, waterbuck, and two jackals between 92 yards and 295 yards, intentionally choosing quartering or straight-on shot presentations and recovering several more bullets. Performance was outstanding, but collecting a bullet after a very close-range impact proved challenging.
While performing necropsies on the various animals harvested, I focused on three wound-channel characteristics. Trauma, meaning the extent of tissue damage, effect of impact on bone, and the shape of the wound channel; depth, meaning how deep the bullet penetrated relative to the structure (bone, muscle, and vitals) it encountered; and path integrity, meaning how straight the bullet penetrated after impact, particularly where heavy bone was encountered in the early stages of the wound channel.
In each case performance was exemplary. Trauma was extensive, without unacceptable levels of meat loss.
Depth was adequate to outstanding; the shallowest penetration I measured was on an eland cow—the EDGE TLR penetrated 14 inches, turning a 4-inch section of the spine where it dips between the shoulders to a thousand matchsticks and punching through the heavy shoulder blade. That’s very good. On the other end of the penetration spectrum, I measured 30-plus inches in several cases.
As for path integrity, it was stellar. In all cases, the EDGE TLR bullets drove straight and true no matter what sort of bone structure they encountered.
Once home, I weighed and measured each of the nine recovered bullets that impacted without interference (eliminating the one that struck a branch and tumbled) and averaged the results in both weight retention and expanded diameter. Weight retention averaged 182.3 grains (91 percent), and expanded diameter averaged 0.629 inch (over double the original diameter).
Those numbers are outstanding even at ideal, medium-range shot distances. Keeping in mind that this is the average of nine bullets that impacted between 15 and 997 yards, that result is literally unprecedented and superb beyond comparison.
To ascertain precision potential, I accuracy tested and chronographed the 200-grain EDGE TLR factory load in four different .300 Win. Mag. rifles, including a Remington Model 700 AWR, a Nosler M48 Long Range, and two custom Kimber Model 8400s. One of the latter is my go-to favorite walnut-and-blued-steel rifle (color-casehardened by Doug Turnbull), and the other is my recently customized Kimber I wrote about earlier. Both wear Bartlein barrels. The results are listed in the chart on page 54.
Is Federal’s new EDGE TLR the be-all, end-all of extended-range hunting bullets? Not quite. If it provided consistent sub-half-MOA accuracy, it would be. However, I am comfortable stating that it provides the best “at any range” terminal performance available.