Harvester’s Saber Tooth Belted Bullets

By Dr. Jim and Mary Clary

Saber Tooth Bullets
Photo courtesy of J-Ron, Inc.

We will confess that we’ve never been fans of belted muzzleloader bullets. We prefer saboted 0.451” or 0.452” bullets for accuracy and knockdown power (as demonstrated on Jim’s ibex hunt). Additionally, we have never believed the advertising hype from CVA that their Powerbelt bullets make saboted bullets obsolete. Powerbelts are little more than soft lead Minie balls, they do not fly well, do not hit as hard as saboted bullets and they badly foul barrels. Their only benefits are that they are easy to load and require no lubrication. The plating on most belted bullets is so thin that it either wears or melts off before the bullet leaves the barrel.

While we don’t expect to resolve the long held views on plating here, we would like to point out some facts concerning copper plated bullets. During WWII, the U.S. army tested copper plated bullets versus copper jacketed bullets. They wanted to determine if there was any difference in bore wear and fowling of the barrels. The program was initiated based on the need to reduce copper utilization during wartime. They fired several hundred thousand rounds through M1 Garand rifles at Springfield Arsenal and on the Winchester range. Their results, believe it or not, were that there was no appreciable difference between the two. Those tests, as significant and convincing as they were, are not going to stop the debate regarding copper plated bullets versus copper jacketed bullets.

However, it should be obvious that whether you get lead fouling, fragmenting or flaking from lead based, copper plated bullets depends on the thickness and quality of the plating. In general, the term copper wash is used to refer to a thin electroplated coat, similar to what you see on .22 LR rounds and cheap belted bullets. Such plating is of little or no value in preventing lead fouling. While the military refers to their process as a copper wash, it is thick enough to qualify as a fairly decent plating job, sufficient to prevent significant lead fouling and barrel wear.

Having stated our views, we believe that quality belted conicals are acceptable short range bullets when hunting in heavy brush or wooded areas. Another reason that belted bullets are useful is the Colorado Division of Wildlife (Colorado DNR). These bureaucrats are still living in the 18th century with their prohibition against saboted bullets and pellets. There is no logic behind their regulation, just a complete ignorance of facts and prejudice against bullets that would make harvesting game more humane. It seems to us that, if the folks in Colorado had their way, we would still be using rolled brass cartridge cases and corrosive primers during the regular hunting season to insure that we were staying true to tradition.

Harvester’s Scorpion PT gold bullets have a reputation as high quality, saboted bullets at reasonable prices. With that in mind, we thought it would be worthwhile to test their Saber Tooth belted conicals. However, we would remind readers that belted bullets are not recommended for use with smokeless powder. They are undersize projectiles and provide a poor gas seal for smokeless powder.

There was quite a wait before we received the Saber Tooths for testing, as production was backordered several months. Our consignment of 270 grain and 350 grain bullets finally arrived in late March. After reviewing the ST specifications, we realized that these were not ordinary belted bullets. The core is swaged from virgin lead wire, which eliminates the variations in weight and balance that occur in cast bullet cores due to air pockets and/or inconsistent pours.

Harvester’s plating process utilizes virgin copper (of the same purity found on computer circuit boards), which adheres to the lead core very well. As such, it should not lead your barrel or flake off. Finally, the completed bullet is swaged a second time to insure uniformity. This process is referred to as a “restrike” by a major bullet manufacturer. If you want to remove the copper cladding from a Saber Tooth, you will need a very sharp knife or a grinder. Another unique feature of the Saber Tooth is the hex-star hollow-point nose. The design and punch for this was developed by Harvester to produce uniform expansion upon impact.

Jim headed to the Zia Rifle and Pistol range with his Savage 10ML-II, a fresh supply of IMR White Hots pellets and a can of Blackhorn 209 powder. We determined that 100 yards would be an adequate distance to test the Saber Tooths, as they are designed for relatively short range hunting. Prior to firing for accuracy, Jim fired a series of five rounds with both White Hots and Blackhorn, inspecting and cleaning the barrel after each shot. We used Wipe-Out in the initial scrub, as the patches will turn blue if there is copper residue.

There was virtually no copper residue and minimal lead fouling in the barrel when the bullets were shot with White Hots, just the usual powder crud characteristic of most black powder subsstitutes. With Blackhorn 209, the inside of the barrel was exceptionally clean, looking more like a modern center fire rifle barrel after firing. It was obvious that the process used to plate the Saber Tooth bullets produces a superior copper clad that substantially reduces lead fouling.

Our range results with the Saber Tooth bullets and pellets were mixed. With three White Hots pellets, Jim consistently shot 1 ½“ center-to-center groups at 100 yards off his bipod, if he swabbed the barrel between shots. However, without swabbing, he was unable to seat the bullets after the third shot due to powder fouling.

With the Blackhorn 209 powder, it was a different story. Jim loaded 105 grains (by volume) and obtained tight groups of 1” center-to-center at 100 yards, without swabbing between shots. It appears that the proprietary formulation of Blackhorn 209 burns away most of the powder and primer residue.

We considered the possibility of using a gas check that was approximately 0.002”- 0.003” smaller in diameter with the hope that we could shoot White Hots pellets without swabbing the bore. With that in mind, Jim used a single edge razor blade to cut down some black Crushed Rib Sabots to the same height as the factory gas checks and headed back to the range. He was able to load three pellets and fire fifteen consecutive rounds without swabbing. As before, he shot groups that averaged 1-½” center-to-center using a bipod. I would surmise that tighter groups are possible with both propellants if we had used front and rear rest bags. However, Jim wanted to shoot from the bipod that he uses on his hunts to obtain “realistic” groups.

Similar results were obtained with the 350 grain Saber Tooths, with respect to accuracy and loading. The bottom line is that both White Hots pellets and Blackhorn 209 powder produced excellent groups with Saber Tooth belted bullets at ranges of 100 yards. Depending on how and where you hunt, you must decide which propellant best suits your needs.




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Copyright 2010 by Jim Clary. All rights reserved.



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