Hornady has revamped its range of varminting loads, and Mark Ripley is among the first to get his hands on the hotly anticipated new ELD-X bullet
The phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is never more true than when it comes to hand-loaded ammunition. Once you have your rifle shooting well with a certain load, my advice is to leave it alone, stick with it and learn how it shoots. So many people hit on a good load but can’t resist trying to squeeze a few more fps out of it, or tighten the group a tiny bit more, and never really get it sorted.
But issues can arise when a certain reloading component becomes unavailable or sold out, and you have to change your load or go back to the drawing board. The best way to start out in load development is to first find out what your local gun shop can readily supply you with and go from there.
I usually bulk-buy the components I need once I’ve settled on a load. For five or six years I used the same load in my .260 with good effect. I found that the Hornady A-Max 140 grain bullets were cheap, shot very well and with a good ballistic co-efficient of .585 (G1), making them good for long-range shooting. The A-Max also had another perk that made them popular, which was that they were classed as a target bullet and could therefore be sent through the post without the need to be entered on to your FAC. It was the V-Max bullets that were intended for hunting purposes, but shooters quickly discovered that the A-Max also expanded very well. Rumour was that the only difference between the two bullets was the box.
But talk arose of a new bullet from Hornady: the ELD bullet (extremely low drag), which boasted a ballistic co-efficient of .623 (G1) for a 143-grain projectile, quickly attracting the interest of long-range shooters and varminters alike. The ELD range of bullets are basically the same as the A-Max/V-Max bullets except for the tip. Hornady discovered that when the original bullets were pushed to higher velocities, the polymer tips began to melt and deform, which decreased ballistic co-efficiency. Once the bullet passed around 400 yards, the effects were more apparent. Hornady therefore developed a new material for their tips, which is resilient to heat – and so the ELD bullet was born. These bullets proved popular in the states, and production was soaked up for some time, so they only recently became available over here.
These bullets come in two ranges: the ELD-M (match) designed for target shooting, and the ELD-X (expanding) for hunting use. Unlike the A-Max, the ELD-M doesn’t seem to expand, so is therefore likely to pencil through small game. So for hunting and varminting, the ELD-X is clearly the one to use – and it seems to be just as accurate as the match version. As is typical of Hornady, the bullet weights are odd numbers in the ELD-X range (I’m sure there is a logical reason for this). The closest match to my old faithful 140-grain A-Max is the 143-grain ELD-X. Using the same powder charge and seating depth, the ballistics were very similar to the A-Max despite their slightly higher BC. This is possibly countered by their slightly heavier weight, which may well explain the odd numbers.
I’m far from being the greatest reloading boffin on the planet so can only speculate, but on paper the new bullets certainly seemed to shoot just as well. Although I seated the bullets the same as my original A-Max loads, I noticed that they protruded slightly further from the case and on closer inspection it would seem that they are slightly more tapered, meaning a little tweaking of the seating depth maybe required to get the best accuracy from them in relation to their distance off the lands.
After a lot of testing with these bullets shooting steel targets and bits of chalk at various ranges, I finally felt confident enough to try them on live quarry. Taking the rifle out early one morning on to the hill in rather windy conditions, I soon found a few test subjects around an over-populated warren on the bank. Ranging the first rabbit at 395 yards I was pleased with a solid thump and a coney that dropped on the spot. I ranged a second rabbit at 445 yards, dialled in the correct MOA and was again rewarded with a clean kill.
Both rabbits displayed similar ballistic trauma to what I would expect from the A-Max or V-Max bullets. The ELDs clearly expanded drastically, even on small game.
These rabbits are sold to a local zoo as animal food, so despite being a little battered they do not go to waste. I also had the opportunity to try them out on a pair of foxes a few days later, with shots at ranges of 185 yards and 340 yards. Both displayed exit wounds of several inches in diameter.
So it would seem that the new ELD range of bullets are indeed an improvement over the original and popular A-Max and V-Max models – good news, as these two have now been discontinued. I assume this change will also roll out with Hornady’s factory-loaded ammunition, which used to be loaded with these bullets too, once the older stocks are sold out.
The ELD bullets are still on back order at the time of writing, with a lot of retailers in the UK waiting for more supply. But if you’re looking to work up a new load, these new offerings are well worth testing out and are sure to offer good performance in almost any rifle once stocks are on the shelves and more readily available.
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