Two Great and Totally Different Bullets from Swift


Swift A-Frame Bullets
Boddington and PH Mark Haldane with a nice Mozambique buffalo taken cleanly with a new Rigby in .416 Rigby, shooting 400-grain Swift A-Frames.

The bull was quartering to me at the edge of the herd, close enough that there was no reason to range him, probably 60 yards. I nestled the bead into the notch, got it on the point of the on-shoulder, and squeezed the trigger. The buffalo bucked hard with the impact, but so did the .416 on the tripod. By the time I got the bolt worked he was back in the herd and they were running, but he was slowing fast and quickly fell behind. As soon as he was clear I swung with him, quartering away this time, and fired a second shot at a bit over a hundred yards. This one rolled him, and although I fired a finisher when we approached, the lack of reaction showed it wasn’t necessary.

I was hunting coastal Mozambique’s Coutada 11 with Bill Hober of Swift Bullets, he with PH Craigh Hamman and me with Mark Haldane. Bill shot a great buffalo a couple hours earlier, so now we both had our buffalo, cleanly taken with no incident. Late in the hunt Bill decided to go after a second buffalo and had one available on license. So I went back into the swamps with Craigh and Bill. They picked up the tracks of two bulls traveling alone and found them bedded in tall grass. Bill almost got a shot but, at 20 yards, it was too close and too fast. They followed some more, but the two bulls crossed a deep papyrus channel. Craigh retrieved the swamp vehicle—where I was waiting—and we made our way through the papyrus, intending to pick up the tracks on the far side. Over there we faced a big expanse of saw grass, not just wet and dense but six feet tall and thus very dangerous. So we stayed with the vehicle, still looking for tracks.

Swift Bullets, Boddington
Damage from the buffalo that rammed the vehicle. No one was hurt and a couple of well placed A-Frames stopped the excitement.

One of the two bulls jumped up at 10 feet, and while Bill was reaching for his rifle it grunted once and attacked. The boss hit the door full force less than a foot from Bill, rocking the vehicle hard and knocking him down. The buffalo backed off, clearly thought about coming again, then turned away, partially hidden in the thick growth, apparently thinking some more. It was about that time when Bill regained his balance and got off his first shot, aiming for the spine at the base of the tail. The hit was actually a wee bit to the right, but it was close enough. The buffalo dropped, then struggled up and spun around, still wanting to fight. A second bullet, frontally under the chin, dropped him where he stood.

The bullets that did such devastating work on these two buffalo—plus Bill’s first bull, and another one that I shot—were 400-grain .416-inch Swift A-Frames, both fired from John Rigby .416s, both with open express sights. Bill Hober’s .416 Rigby is an original built in 1929; the one I used is one of the first new London-made .416s, built in 2014. Both the rifles and the .416 Rigby cartridge are classic choices for buffalo, but this story isn’t about rifles or cartridges; it’s about bullets.

boddingtonswiftbulletswithtargetThe A-Frame remains Swift’s “signature” bullet. It was developed (and is still manufactured) in the small western Kansas town of Quinter in the 1980s, with the company acquired by retiring Pepsi executive Bill Hober in 1993. There is actually nothing “new” about the Swift A-Frame. Rather, it blends multiple proven bullet concepts, along with ideal materials and careful construction. The dual-core concept was pioneered by Brenneke in Germany and advanced tremendously by John Nosler with his 1948 Partition. The concept is for the front core to expand. The rear core, harder in the Brenneke and protected by a wall of jacket material in the Nosler (and A-Frame), is designed to remain intact, improving weight retention and enhancing penetration. Core-bonding is also not new. Today there are many “bonded core” bullets, but Bill Steiger’s famous Bitterroot Bullet, though never available in quantity, was perhaps the first production bullet that chemically bonded the lead core to the copper jacket.

The A-Frame blends the two concepts. The front and rear cores are separated by a thick wall of jacket material, so the rear portion, or shank, of the bullet acts as the driver for penetration. The front core with exposed tip is bonded to the jacket. It will expand, and during expansion some lead will absolutely be wiped away. The core bonding minimizes that, so while radical expansion always limits penetration, penetration is enhanced by weight retention.

The A-Frame is a complex bullet that is costly to make and thus one of the more expensive bullets on the market. On the other hand, it is one of the most consistent bullets you will find, and this is how it works: Upon impact the front part of the jacket starts to peel back and the lead core, bonded to the jacket, begins to mushroom. Expansion of the A-Frame averages about 1.8 calibers, so a .375 will expand to about .675-inch; a .416 will expand to nearly .750, or three-fourths of an inch.

Expansion of the Swift A-Frame showing the characteristic bulge.
Expansion of the Swift A-Frame showing the characteristic bulge.

Obviously, it can and does expand considerably more than a homogenous alloy bullet, so it depends on what you want. Expansion ultimately limits penetration, so while the A-Frame, in my view, offers an excellent combination of expansion and penetration, it is not the deepest-penetrating of all bullets. This is not a bad thing. On lighter game an A-Frame will generally exit on broadside shots. On buffalo, even on broadside shots you can pretty much expect the A-Frame to stay in the buffalo so long as you keep your shot placement on the shoulder. In herds this is of critical importance!

There is an interesting phenomenon common to almost all Swift A-Frames recovered from game: The forward part of the shank, just behind the interior wall and behind the mushroom, will almost always be bulged or “squashed.” There is a reason for this. The rear core is not bonded. Upon impact it attempts to drive forward. Limited by the wall, it cannot go anywhere, so it creates this characteristic “A-Frame bulge.”

Whether in .375 or larger, the Swift A-Frame is an awesome bullet for buffalo. Because of its radical expansion it is also a perfect choice for lion. Combine that expansion with weight retention and deep, straight-line penetration, and it’s also an ideal bullet for big bears and larger non-dangerous game such as eland, elk, moose and zebra.

The Swift Scirocco (L) and A-Frame (R).
The Swift Scirocco (L) and A-Frame (R).

The Scirocco is now one of several “tipped-and-bonded” bullets. It is a much less expensive bullet (both to make and buy), and although weight retention is nothing like the A-Frame, I have found it to be one of the most consistent of the tipped-and-bonded class, with high weight retention somewhere in mid-80-percent range. It is a single-core bullet with the core bonded to the jacket. The base is boat-tailed, which enhances aerodynamics, as does the sharp polymer tip. The polymer tip also serves to initiate expansion, driving back into the core upon impact. Expansion is not limited as with the A-Frame’s interior wall, but it is controlled by the bonded core and thickness of jacket.

Average expansion of the Scirocco is around 2.3 calibers, so 180-grain .30-caliber might expand to .700-inch; a 160-grain 7mm (.284-inch) to .650-inch. With expansion like that, penetration must be limited, and will always be less than with the A-Frame. On the other hand, the Scirocco is not intended for extremely large game. Depending on caliber, weight, velocity and shot placement it often exits on deer, sheep, goat and small to medium African antelope…but is also often found “under the hide on the far side.” So if you’re a guy who likes exit wounds, stick with the A-Frame. If you follow the school that wants maximum damage to the vitals and energy expended within the animal, the Scirocco is a fine choice.

Swift Scirocco
The Swift Scirocco in .300 Weatherby Mag. is the perfect match for smaller game like this warthog.

Bullets recovered from game generally show a short shank surrounded by a fairly radical mushroom. Some core material almost invariably wipes off during penetration, but because of core bonding the majority of the lead core is found adhering to the peeled-back petals of the jacket.

The A-Frame is a great “African bullet,” first because of the tremendous size variance in African game, and also because genuine long shots are so rare in Africa that ballistic coefficient is not a primary consideration. The A-Frame is also a wonderful choice for larger, tougher game such as elk, moose, bears and other large bovines the world over. The Scirocco, on the other hand, is a wonderful bullet for deer, pronghorn, sheep and goats, ideal uses defined not only by size of animal but also the potential for longer shots. The Scirocco retains velocity well, and with its extreme expansion combined with weight retention it tends to drop animals very quickly.– Craig Boddington

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