If you tell your professional hunter you’re loaded up with Swift bullets, you’re almost certain to get a smile! We have lots of great hunting bullets today and all of us have our favorites…but the Swift has to be on almost anyone’s short list of the “best of the best.” The challenge for many of us has been that Swift has made bullets, not ammunition. Remington has long offered both Scirocco and A-Frame bullets in some cartridges, and of course custom loaders will load any bullet you want, but in general Swift bullets have remained the province of handloaders…until now! Meet Swift High Grade factory ammunition, long in the planning and just now starting to ship.
The bullets loaded in High Grade ammo are, of course, Swift, so let’s start there. The original is the Swift A-Frame, developed in the small western Kansas town of Quinter in 1982. The A-Frame is a dual-core bonded bullet with the front core separated from the rear by a wall of jacket metal. Expansion is radical, but so is weight retention: With the front core bonded to the jacket, very little of the lead wipes away during penetration. A Swift A-Frame can be expected to retain at least 95 percent of its original weight.
Although Swift is still located in Quinter, Kansas, in 1994 the company was purchased by Bill Hober. Bill and his son, Tony, still run the business, and further Swift bullets are their brainchildren. Today there are really five different lines of A-Frame bullets: Bonded Rifle Bullets from .25 to .35 caliber; Bonded Heavy Rifle Bullets from 9.3mm (.366) to .509; Bonded Lever Action Rifle Bullets in six diameters from .30 to .509, blunt-nosed and intended for use in tubular-magazine rifles; and Bonded Revolver Bullets in five diameters from .357 to .499. Swift also loads some of these revolver bullets in discarding sabots for .50 and .54-caliber muzzleloaders.
In the 1990s Hober developed the Swift Scirocco, then improved the design into the current Scirocco II. The Scirocco is a polymer-tipped bonded-core bullet with a boattail base, designed for aerodynamics as well as terminal performance. It expands across a wide velocity range, and typically retains more weight than any other “tipped and bonded” bullet. At close range and high velocity, weight retention may be as low as 80 percent, but average weight retention is usually at least 85 percent. Scirocco II bullets are available in nine bullet diameters from .224 to .338.
The newest addition to the Swift family is the Breakaway solid, a lead core non-expanding bullet with a discarding polymer tip on top of a concave nose. Obviously intended for use on the very largest game, it’s available in nine diameters from 9.3mm to .509. Although it’s still very new, I’ve used this solid for elephant and buffalo. The nose shape tends to deliver a heavy initial blow, and penetration is deep and straight.
HIGH GRADE LOADINGS
Okay, so these are the bullets that form the basis for Swift’s new High Grade ammunition. There are actually four separate lines within the High Grade brand: Medium/Big Game; Lever Action; Dangerous Game; and Heavy Revolver. This is a fairly ambitious startup that includes a total of 30 different cartridges. As might be expected, not all will be instantly available, but ammo should start rolling out of Quinter about the time you receive this issue of SAFARI. Swift has always been a premium bullet, and their intent is for High Grade ammo to be a premium line: Good components, including top-quality brass and primers, and each cartridge is Hernon water-tight sealed. Lever Action and Medium/Big Game have traditional brass cases, while the Heavy Revolver and Dangerous Game lines have nickel-plated cases.
The Medium/Big Game line initially includes Scirocco II loadings for .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, .270 Winchester, 7mm Remington Magnum, .308 Winchester, .30-’06, .300 Winchester Magnum, .300 Weatherby Magnum, .300 Remington Ultra Mag, .338 Winchester and .338 Lapua. There are also Swift A-Frame loadings in heavier bullet weights for cartridges from .270 through .338 Lapua. The initial Lever Action loading is limited to a 350-grain loading for the .45-70.
The Heavy Revolver line includes .357 Magnum, .41 Remington Magnum, .44 Remington Magnum, .45 Colt, .454 Casull, .460 S&W Magnum and .500 S&W Magnum. The bullets are bonded-core A-Frames, and the bullet weights are heavy-for-caliber, for example, 180 grains in the .357 and 300 grains in the .44.
Although the A-Frame has a great reputation among bear hunters it’s probably fair to say that the tough A-Frame is often thought of as an “African bullet,” and of course Africa’s largest game is the primary use for solids. So it’s no great surprise that the Dangerous Game line is the most robust of all, 12 cartridges, including some that are typically hard to find. High Grade Dangerous Game has both an A-Frame and a Breakaway solid loading for each, though not all the Breakaway loadings will be immediately available. The Dangerous Game cartridges are: 9.3x62mm, .375 H&H, .375 Ruger, .416 Remington Magnum, .416 Rigby, .404 Jeffery, .458 Winchester Magnum, .458 Lott, .470 Nitro Express, .505 Gibbs, .500 Nitro Express, and .500 Jeffery. Wow!
There’s no mystery about how Swift bullets perform on game. They work, and they work extremely well. Putting them in factory loads creates a whole different set of criteria, and it must be understood that any factory load is just one set of components: case, propellant, primer and projectile. Some rifles are going to shoot a given factory load extremely well, some will undoubtedly shoot it poorly, and the average is somewhere in the middle. All an ammunition manufacturer can do is use good components, a propellant with a burning rate suitable for the case, and try to ensure the highest level of cartridge-to-cartridge consistency.
At the range, I can check velocity over a chronograph and make sure the velocity is within specifications for the cartridge, and I can group for accuracy in my rifles. I can’t tell you how Swift High Grade ammo will group in your rifle. Heck, I can’t even tell you what the velocity will be in your rifle…obviously barrel length makes a difference, but there are fast barrels and slow barrels depending on a few ten-thousandths variance in internal dimensions. So, I went to my range with High Grade .30-’06, 180-grain Scirocco; and .375 H&H, 300-grain A-Frame…and two rifles in each chambering. Here’s what happened.
The .30-’06 load clocked an average of 2,614 feet per second (fps). The standard velocity for a .30-’06 with 180-grain bullet is 2,700 fps, but that’s with a 24-inch barrel, and my barrels were 22 inches. So the velocity of this load is fine, not fast, but within normal specs. The two .30-’06 rifles were a Ruger M77 and a Ruger American; the M77 was topped with a Leupold VX6 2-12X, while the American wore a Leupold VXIII 4.5-14X. Obviously I had plenty of glass, which helps when shooting groups!
The M77 is an old friend. I wouldn’t call it a super-accurate rifle, but it generally produces groups from 1.25 to 1.5 inches with loads it likes. I’ll be honest: It didn’t like this High Grade load. Groups were consistent at just under and just over two inches, so I could hunt with that load, but I know the rifle can do a bit better. I gave up and moved on to the Ruger American.
This is a relatively new rifle and hasn’t been shot much but, like every Ruger American I’ve seen, it has produced some very good groups and I’d call it a solid one-inch or one MOA rifle with good ammo. This rifle liked this load: My average (three-shot groups) was .94-inch, with the best group a tiny cluster measuring .432-inch. You bet I’ll take that any day!
A .375 H&H with 300-grain bullet is standard at 2,530 feet per second from a 24-inch barrel. In recent years, I’ve noticed that quite a few .375 factory loads run slow. Hey, no buffalo will ever notice a difference of 70 or 80 fps, but I’ve clocked some current .375 loads that were down around 2,400 fps. That means that you don’t have the energy level you think you have, specifically 3,453 foot-pounds of energy instead of the 4,265 foot-pounds the cartridge is rated to deliver. So when I stepped to the chronograph I was curious—and then delighted. Using the 24-inch barrel on my Montana Rifles .375, I got an average of 2,597 fps, which is a significant bonus (4,500 foot-pounds).
The two .375s were the Montana rifle and a CZ 550, both topped with Leupold VX7 1.5-6X scopes. It’s not quite as easy to shoot groups with a .375, and the low-power scopes don’t help, but the .375 H&H tends to be an accurate cartridge, and both of these rifles shoot pretty well. My group average with the CZ was 1.4 inches, which is pretty much what I expect from that rifle. Typically, the Montana rifle is a bit more accurate, but on this particular day, my group average was 1.6 inches. Either way, that is plenty good enough accuracy for anything anybody needs to do with a .375. I found it interesting that the two rifles together produced an average group size of 1.5 inches, extremely consistent.
Look, the A-Frame is a performer on heavy game. It was not designed for match-grade accuracy, and is rarely considered a really accurate bullet. The Scirocco, on the other hand, was designed as a more aerodynamic bullet for use on lighter game at long range. It tends to be very accurate, but every rifle tells its own story. With certain loads in certain rifles, I’ve gotten exceptional accuracy out of A-Frames. Usually I’ve gotten good accuracy out of Sciroccos, but no two rifles will shoot the same load exactly alike. My Ruger 77 doesn’t like that High Grade .30-’06 load, but my Ruger American loves it.
That’s always the challenge with factory ammo, but in choosing the right bullet for any given hunt, we often make compromises between the best accuracy and the bullet performance we want (and need) for the game at hand. With Swift High Grade, we now have Swift’s legendary bullets readily available in Swift factory ammo. The initial offerings certainly don’t include all popular chamberings, but it’s an extremely robust startup selection, and no doubt it will grow. For Swift, this is huge, a bold move…and for the many of us who shoot factory ammo, now we’ve got more choices…loaded with Swift bullets!–Craig Boddington