Outer Edge-the new age of copper projectiles

Someone wise once observed that change is inevitable and in the modern context that has never been more true. Technological advances are commonplace in every field of endeavour and there’s rarely a day goes by that media outlets aren’t gushing about some ground-breaking discovery that has potential to change our lives.

A direct result is that conventional wisdoms are increasingly being challenged. Bullet design is a case in point. We’re using bullets today that even 20 years ago wouldn’t have been considered possible or practical, particularly so with the range being made in Australia by Outer Edge Projectiles.

OEP bullets are different in a number of ways. For starters they’re made from pure copper, a metal traditionally regarded as too soft and light for standalone bullet production except as an alloy. That’s no longer the case. The copper used to make OEP bullets is pre-tempered to ensure the finished product will consistently meet specific performance criteria. The temper of the metal is not changed by the manufacturing process.

The bullets are made in a state of the art CNC production machine. A copper rod is fed into one end and in due course finished bullets emerge at the other, having gone through all the various stages of production untouched by human hand.

The machine incorporates some of the best measuring equipment available to ensure each bullet has been machined to the highest possible standards of consistency in terms of diameter, concentricity, length, shape, weight and finish.

The bullets are then cleaned and coated with a proprietary lubricating finish that reduces pressures and minimises barrel fouling. Despite its colour the finish is not molybdenum disulphide but a non-toxic substitute that’s easier to clean. Uncoated OEP bullets are not available.

Unlike other copper projectiles, OEP bullets don’t use multiple driving bands to engage the rifling in a barrel. Instead they employ a waisted style of band engagement, its primary advantage being it helps lower pressures by reducing the surface area of the bullet in contact with the lands. By minimising the number of driving bands pressures are decreased, the ballistic coefficient (BC) of the bullet is improved which in turn often allows increased velocities.

For that reason all OEP bullets have a distinctive hourglass shaped shank, a design that has proved a game-changer in terms of long-range accuracy, producing groups as small as .09 MOA using loads recommended on their website.

The hunting projectiles OEP offers are tested in two different mediums - ballistic gelatine in the laboratory and dry sand in the field. In the field test 160 .308 projectiles were fired at velocities of 1500-3200fps. Of those, 141 were recovered. The average expansion rate was 108 per cent and only one projectile had lost more than one grain of its original weight.

Product range

OEP offers a range of projectiles that begin at .224 and finish at .50 calibre in designs and weights to suit both target and hunting applications. A list of the full range is on the Outer Edge website.

Target bullets

To meet growing demands of people shooting smaller targets at longer ranges, OEP has invested research and effort into producing outcomes that were previously unattainable. To be effective at truly long range a bullet must not only be stable at starting velocities but also at the other end where they’re beginning to run out of puff. After a decade of research and development and endless testing OEP has done just that.

Their advances are based on new twist rate standards, a change largely pushed by the US market. As an example, the old standard twist rate for a .243 Winchester barrel was one in 10^. These days many new .243 rifles have a one in 8^ or even a one in 7^ twist, simply because the new experience is that faster twist rates produce better results. That trend seems likely to continue and OEP is waiting for the process to mature across a wide range of calibres.

Hunting bullets

These are made in three styles ‑ hollow point, ball bearing tip and flat nose solids. The HP bullets are drilled in perfect alignment with the axis of the bullet, not punched as some other makes are. The hollows are quite small in diameter by jacketed bullet standards but also much deeper, extending to the base of the bullets’ ogive, an important design consideration that contributes significantly to weight retention and the way bullets expand and perform on impact.

As the name would imply, the ball bearing tip HP bullets have a small, hard chrome-coated ball bearing inserted in the hollow point. This gives the bullet a smaller meplat, making it more ballistically efficient and improving its BC by 7.5-15 per cent. It’s an interesting yet simple way to overcome the drag that a hollow point creates on the nose of a bullet in flight. Testing has shown no significant improvement in or detraction from the way the bullet expands.

Compared to conventional jacketed bullets, copper bullets are around 17.5 per cent lighter but have the same displacement regardless of weight. Being lighter they travel faster, are tougher than lead and provide more reliable expansion. Petals rarely break off and the bullets typically retain around 98 per cent of their weight with double diameter expansion. Generally that means they’ll create straighter wound channels with maximum effect, even if exiting the target animal.

Complete penetration with these projectiles isn’t the problem some hunters may think. If a bullet is placed to damage or disrupt major organs and break bone, it doesn’t matter if it goes out the other side ‑ the damage is already done. If the animal moves from where it was shot it won’t go far and there will be a blood trail.

For those who find that hard to accept, consider the humble .22 rimfire we use for rabbit hunting. Projectiles always go right through yet still manage to dump most rabbits on the spot. Copper projectiles perform exactly the same on larger species, one of the main reasons spent projectiles are so hard to find inside downed game animals.

Field testing

Because we’re practical people most hunters and shooters take a conservative approach to new products. We like to know what’s being offered, how it works and what advantages or benefits it has beyond what we already use. When Outer Edge Projectiles were first offered commercially to Australian reloaders four years ago, that’s exactly the position I found myself in. While OEP principal Steve Hurt is a long-time friend and I knew how much time and effort he’d put into the production of his bullets, I needed to be convinced that what he was promoting would work.

At the time I was shooting RWS 165gn 7x57 factory loads in the No.1 Ruger that has been my go-to hunting rifle for a decade or more. They’ve always performed so well in terms of accuracy and on-the-ground results I decided I wasn’t going to bother reloading for the rifle any more.

Steve finally convinced me otherwise, sold me a packet of his 132gn hollow point .284 diameter projectiles and sent me some loading data. Using RWS cases I put some test loads together and spent a couple of hours on my range trying them. Results were impressive. The Ruger usually produces groups of 25-30mm at 100m. All the test loads went into 25mm or less, the best topping out at just 17mm. On that basis I loaded more and took the rifle to South Australia on my annual pilgrimage.

The first animal I took was a wonderful fallow buck. He was standing almost face on when I shot him through the base of the throat at a little over 170m. He collapsed and when we dressed him out we found the spent projectile at the rear of his rib cage, perfectly mushroomed to 15mm, still retaining all its original weight. The following day I shot a sambar hind behind the front leg at 70m. Breaking ribs on the way, the bullet sailed through her chest leaving a substantial exit hole. She made no more than 50m before expiring. Since then I’ve shot red deer and feral goats with the same load, the bullets penetrating the animals but still delivering on the spot kills.

In Arnhem Land I took three buffaloes, a young scrub bull and a dozen donkeys with my .45-70 Winchester High Wall sporting rifle shooting 350gr OEP solids at 2050fps. All the buffaloes fell within 10m of where they were shot though as always, some needed additional encouragement to lie down.

Once they were on the ground all were shot again for safety reasons. Despite the multiple shots applied, only three projectiles were recovered. On that basis I’d say if any residual bullet energy was wasted on thin air, the buffalo didn’t seem to notice. The scrub bull made about 50m, running on memories with both lungs punctured and a hole through his chest. None of the donkeys moved from where they were standing.

A day later I shot another buffalo bull with some prototype 320gr hollow point projectiles, the first shot right through his rib cage. The second broke both scapula, clipped the spine in between and came to rest in the muscle of the offside shoulder. The bull dropped in his tracks.

More recently I’ve used OEP 112gr HP projectiles in my Browning A-Bolt in 6.5 Creedmoor to take goats and fallow deer. No projectiles have been recovered and none of the animals moved from where they were standing.

Overview

As I’m not a target shooter I can’t comment on the projectiles OEP makes for various disciplines. That said I’ve done a lot of work with OEP hunting projectiles and my experiences have all been good, bullets delivering quick and humane kills on a variety of game. Even so, I’ve talked to experienced reloaders who refuse to believe copper projectiles are capable of delivering the results OEP does. Apart from a fear of change and the need to rethink what they’ve always considered gospel, I’m not sure I understand why.

The key to achieving best results with OEP bullets is to ensure the maker’s instructions are followed to the letter, especially with regard to bullet seating depths. A minimum jump to the lands of .9mm (.035^) is required, with 1.3mm (.050^) preferred. The Cartridge Overall Length (COAL) is critical and loading data on the website must be adhered to, avoiding substitutions and starting low.

When they began, the OEP crew set out to make the best bullets available and are well on the way to achieving that. Demand for their bullets is increasing as shooters in the know spread the word. Here’s hoping OEP achieves the success it deserves. Copper has arrived and I doubt I’ll ever look at conventional bullets the same way again.

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