View Full Version : Winchester Fail-Safe bullets?

August 15, 2006, 11:20 AM
Last year was my third season elk hunting, and the first year that I was successful. But something about that day last fall has been bugging me. I'd like to figure it out before I go out again in October. Bear with me here....

I have a 300 WSM for elk. For ammo, I've been carrying Winchester Supreme 180 grain Fail Safe (http://www.winchester.com/products/catalog/cfrdetail.aspx?symbol=S300WSMX&cart=MzAwIFdTTQ==&use=8&type=33). Last fall, I got very lucky on opening morning when 7 cows and a bull appeared in the trees 55 yards away from where I was sitting (I paced it off later). After they looked at me for a few seconds, they turned broadside and ran down the hill. As soon as the cows got out of the way, I had an easy (but split-second!) shot between trees at the broadside bull who was just beginning to run. The bullet entered his right side, just behind the shoulder and near the center (top to bottom) of the chest. He ran downhill about 30 yards and dropped.

There was a small entrance wound on the right side, where the bullet passed through a rib. The heart and liver were in good condition, but the lungs were just a mass of jelly and the chest cavity was full of blood. But there was no exit wound on the left side. I wasn't exactly performing an autopsy or searching for the bullet, but I never did come across the bullet or any fragments. And there was NO exit wound. We skinned him out back in camp and still found no exit.

According to the ballistics charts, the bullet was moving about 2800 fps and carrying 3000 ft-lbs of energy when it connected on a medium-sized bull. Did it just break up in the chest cavity? I'm thinking that if the bullet expended ALL of it's energy on the target without exiting, that's a good thing. But I'm not sure about that, and I expected to find an exit.

So the questions are:
1. Why didn't the bullet exit?
2. Is this a concern?
3. Why am I not handloading? (That ammo is EXPENSIVE!)

Wild Bill Bucks
August 15, 2006, 11:41 AM
#1 Get Nosler Partition bullets. Failsafes are great on smaller game but not as good on heavy, thick bodied game. Bullet tends to expend all energy on impact, and doesn't penetrate as well as the partitions.

#2 Big concern if you have to trail a wounded animal. Entrance wounds don't leave a very good blood trail to follow.

#3 Can't think of a reason. Ammunition is to expensive NOT to.:D

August 15, 2006, 04:34 PM
1. Why didn't the bullet exit?
2. Is this a concern?
3. Why am I not handloading? (That ammo is EXPENSIVE!)

1. Get any bullet that will retain it's mass... Noslers are OK, but Barnes is better. If you like the "ballistic tips" Barnes has a new one called the MRX that has a tungsten core behind the all copper mushroom... :eek:

2. No, I've seen this happen with a number of bullets...
Once I had the same experience you had and all I could find of the bullet was a copper cup at the back of the BT. However, if you want the bullet to pass all the way through... see number 1. above... Barnes retains nearly 100% of original mass... :)

3. Your guess is as good as mine?? :rolleyes:
Reloading would be more fun and you could work up loads for accuracy that would surprise you. :D

If you'd rather not reload, get Federal Vital Shok which uses Barnes bullets... ;)

Art Eatman
August 15, 2006, 05:33 PM
Funny-odd: A few years back, I heard a bit of discussion about the Fail Safe bullets, in south Georgia. Guys quit buying them because they didn't open up as other bullets did. Just blew on through.

Me, I dunno.


Wild Bill Bucks
August 16, 2006, 12:08 PM
Just working off of memory here, but about 10 years ago,Winchester brought a bullet out called "The Black Talon". Looked an awful lot like the Fail Safe looks now, only a lot harder. I think they quit making it because it was so hard it would not expand, and was detrimental to officers in the field with vests.

I'm just guessing, but do you suppose, the Fail Safe bullet, is a replacement for the Black Talon, only softer ?

August 16, 2006, 07:02 PM
I thought the Black Talon was a pistol bullet...???

The replacement is the same but no longer black... Ranger???

Did they make a rifle bullet called the Balck Talon too??? :confused:

August 16, 2006, 07:22 PM
That's exactly wat i was thinking pointer.

August 16, 2006, 07:54 PM
The Black Talon is a pistol bullet (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_talon).

This is kinda weird. I had always thought that the Failsafes were on the strong side, and intended to be used on large game (elk, bear, etc), and that is how Winchester markets them. I'm offering my non-expert, non-professional opinion that you got that one in a million fluke where a premium bullet fails to preform. It may have been made on a Friday afternoon. :confused: :p

That opinion is worth exactly what you paid for it.

Art Eatman
August 16, 2006, 07:57 PM
More dredging up from memory: I discovered AFTER loading and shooting some 150-grain .30 BTs and getting poor accuracy and pressure signs, per an article in a gun rag: BT jackets are harder than regular copper jackets. Don't load your normal pet load, but back off more than the usual five percent and work up.

Believe it, unless the manufacturing process has changed...


August 16, 2006, 09:59 PM
It's entirely possible that the bullet stayed together and came out unnoticed as I was gutting the elk. I wasn't really searching for it at the time, just sort of half-way watching for it.

So the bullet may have performed as advertised, but it certainly didn't exit the other side. It did kill the elk with one shot, so I can't complain. I just expected it to pass through at that close range.

I appreciate everyone's input. Thanks!

Edit: Interesting article on bullet performance here. (http://www.gun-tests.com/performance/mar96premium.html)

August 17, 2006, 01:41 PM
1. Why didn't the bullet exit?
2. Is this a concern?
3. Why am I not handloading? (That ammo is EXPENSIVE!)

#1- The bullet performed optimally. It expended all its energy INSIDE the animal, therefore it did not exit.
#2- The elk died as expected, no follow-up shot was required, and the bullet penetrated well. What are you supposed to be concerned about?
#3- I am not sure why you are not reloading, but after paying $2 per round for the factory stuff, I would venture a guess that you will start soon!

The recommendation for Nosler Partitions is OK, as the Nosler Partition used to be the standard against which all other hunting bullets are compared. They lose about 10-25% of their weight in a big tough animal, but they always work. But the recommendation for the Barnes MRX is ignoring the fact that the FailSafe bullet is constructed basically the same as the MRX, with the exception of the tungsten core (FailSafe has a lead core). The FailSafe has a solid copper front end with pre-scored petals that open up, same as the Barnes.

August 17, 2006, 02:03 PM
1. The bullet may have hit a bone and veered off course, traveling further down the side of the elk.
2. I wouldn't lose sleep over it.
3. Because the there's a good amount of difference between the $2 per round that you pay and the $.50 per round that I pay for .30-30. :D Then again, I'll probably never hunt elk.

August 18, 2006, 11:57 AM
Ok, I know very little by comparison to the fellas above.
Help me out here.
He went 30 yards. His lungs were a mass of jelly.
Is 30 yards too far? That is like, what, 1.28 seconds for an elk? From a dead stop? Because it was a lung shot, that should have the best chance to pass thru due to the air pockets on the lungs. It didn't. It exploded the lungs.

If no exit hole, the bullet isn't too hard or it would have sailed clean pass thru at 2800 fps. Right?
I shoot a 270 WSM and am concidering the same round for big game. Winchester Supreme Fail Safe.

It looks like the bullets work. Am I wrong to assume if it works, don't fix it?
This is a posative testimonial to me, not a negative unless I am missing something.

Wild Bill Bucks
August 18, 2006, 12:35 PM
About 2 or 3 years ago one of the guys at the lease shot a small buck with a 30-30. Got a high lung shot on it, and it ran about 80 yards before it died.
NO BLOOD where it was standing and took me about 20 minutes to pick up small blood spots about 40 yards from where it was hit. After about an hour of looking for small spots of blood here and there, we finally found the deer. NO EXIT wound. When we cleaned the deer his lungs were mush, but it took a lot of time and trouble to find it.

If the deer goes down pretty close to the bang, then there's no problem, but if you don't get an exit wound, and the deer decides to run a while, they can cover a lot of ground before they die.(Especially here in SE Okla. as thick as the brush is)

I am not much of an expert on Fail safe bullets, but I have shot a LOT of Noslers and Combined Technologies bullet, and I can't think of a single time that one of my bullets hasn't gone through the game.

Front shoulders on a 300 lb hog are pretty thick, and the Nosler Partition, will go through both shoulders and leave a huge exit wound, letting the animal bleed profusly, so tracking, if need be, is easier.

I'm sure there are a lot of bullets out there, that will work just as well, but it is hard to get away from something that works.

August 18, 2006, 03:17 PM
As you say the bullet did exactly what you wanted and the animal was dead within a short distance. With high velocity rounds such as this 55 yds is very close indeed and they do very often expand very rapidly particularly on soft wet tissue like lungs ( mostly water) the same shot at 100 - 150yds you would have had an exit wound most likely and more so at greater distances, it would still have killed it ok but you dont get the explosive expansion at lower velocity/ greater range. Ive noticed this a lot with 243 and 270 as well using fast loads.
Just enjoy it and try some home loads, Nosler partition, Barnes Xs, etc are all good.

August 18, 2006, 05:28 PM
Help me out here.

After reading all the responses, I've reached the same conclusion as you, Desertfox. The bullet worked as it should have.

I raised the question because my past experience with deer (never shot an elk before this one) is that the bullet should have exited. But you can't argue with a dead elk lying 30 yards from where you put a single bullet into it. I'll be taking the same ammo with me again this fall.

But I am starting to look seriously at reloading equipment. Thanks, everyone!

August 19, 2006, 01:53 PM
I am going to try the Nosler Partition. Too many experienced hunters recommend them to me. I suppose a good side by side comparison would answer some questions on flight and accuracy. The expansion/mushrooming of the round and how well it stays together are the factors unseen to me, until I field dress the animal.
Barnes-X looks like a similar bullet but, I have found some noslers that I am going to field test next week.
Once again, experienced hunters recommended the Nosler and not just one or two.

August 19, 2006, 02:40 PM
+1 for the noslers
+1 for the Barnes triple x (no experience with the MRX)

bullet could have stayed in there and richocheted around and ended up lodged in some other organs.

I have been shooting elk with the 7mm Rem mag and 338 win mag and never had a problem with not exiting. Couple of years ago shot a nice medium bull elk at around 120 yards (high lung shot also) with the Federal Premium Vital-Shok Ammunition 7mm Remington Magnum 160 Grain Barnes Triple-Shock X-Bullets and he stumbled and fell 15 yards later, huge exit would no need to worry about blood trail. Same thing with another large bull elk at about 200 yards with the Federal Premium Vital-Shok Ammunition 338 Winchester Magnum 210 Grain Nosler Partitions . Dropped over dead with a massive exit right behind the shoulder, poured out the insides.

August 20, 2006, 03:49 PM
I know a fella who absoultely swears by them, he shoots .270 same as I do and tells me he's never had to use a follow-up shot with these bullets.

Personally after shooting several mule deer with a .243 with Nosler partitions i would go that route if you are not comfortable with your current round.

It sounds to me like that was a perfect kill but Its always nice to have that extra little bit of insurance offered by an exit wound.

August 21, 2006, 02:38 PM
Desert Fox

The Nosler Partition and the Barnes X are on the same side in the battle for the best bullets...

I have used the Nosler Partitions for forty+ years...

These last few years, I have switched to the Barnes Triple X because it retains 99-100% of original mass.

The Nosler retains about 65-75%.

Which one do you think will be more certain to pass through a large and/or more difficult to kill big game animal like Elk, Hogs, Moose, Bear and large Mule deer...

I have seen a big bull elk run about 400 yards into a stand of trees after being hit quite well with a .338 Win Mag. If I hadn't been up on high ground the hunter would probably not have found his bull... I was able to point him the way from my vantage point...
Hmmmmmm, Pointer ;)

I have read of a cow elk that ran off about 200+ yards into a stand of trees... with two .270 Win slugs in her.

The hunter was an experienced local Montana man and was attacked and killed by a She-Grizzly while he was gutting the cow...

You will not be sorry if you use the Federal Vital-Shok.
Federal teamed up with Barnes to make this exclusive cartridge for a very good reason...

A cheaper way to solve your problem is the new Fusion bullet... Great retention of 80 - 90%.

The reason you've heard more from the Nosler is that it's been more widely available...until now.

The Brand new MRX Bullet is the epitomy of game bullets... for now it will be a little difficult to come by... but, next year it should be available in several popular calibers. :)

September 5, 2008, 09:30 AM
I've used them since the early ninety's and love them. I bought a box of nearly every shell offered in 92 and my RemSS 7MM shoots the fail safes the best. I've taken mule deer out to 320 yards and 4 elk from various yardages with one shot each. Not one of them traveled more than 30 yards after the shot. I love this bullet!

Problem----They no longer make it and I'm upset. I've looked all over the internet for remaining supplies of the 180 gr shells and cant find any. I guess I will have to spend the money and do my shooting with each shell again to find the one my gun likes the best.

I remember an elk hunt in colorado the year that Federal came out with their new shell that was supposed to be the -CENSORED--CENSORED--CENSORED--CENSORED--CENSORED-. I bought a box to try and hated them. Same grain but my gun wouldnt hit the broadside of a barn. Put one of the fail safes in and busted a squirrel at over a 150yrds.

Does anyone have a line on where I might pick up some of these rounds? I would stock up if i could find them.

September 5, 2008, 12:05 PM
I thought the Black Talon was a pistol bullet...???

The replacement is the same but no longer black... Ranger???

Did they make a rifle bullet called the Balck Talon too???

They did make rifle ammo called Black Talons as well...


September 6, 2008, 12:44 AM
I'm going out elk hunting with 180gr .308 Fail Safes this year. I've been using 180gr Barnes XLCs with great success but am switching for a couple of reasons: First, I am a handloader, I like to tinker and try new things. I have 100 180gr Fail Safe bullets sitting on my shelf asking to be shot. Second, I have been having the same experience as you with my kills with the Barnes...no exit.

My elk kills, all pretty clean kills (save one), have resulted in no exit. I'd prefer one.

I took a bunch of bullets out into the woods and shot them into wet phone books. No, not scientific at all, but at least it gives potential comparisons.

The 180gr Fail Safe penetrated the most, followed by a tie between the 180gr Partition Gold and 220gr Partition. (surprisingly, my 1:12 twist .308 fires 220s accurately up to 200 yards.) Next was the Barnes bullets followed by 180gr E Tip, 180gr Partition, then 180gr Core Lokt.

I agree with previous post that firing 50 yards away is probably why your bullet did not exit. My kills have been under 100 yards, and I may expecting too much from my little .308 in terms of penetration, but I'm going to keep working in the "lab" to find out...you should too.

My Barnes kills have netted a couple of beautifully expanded bullets; they open as advertised. However, I have seen petals shear off as well, so they are not perfect.

I do understand your desire to get the through-and-through. Two years ago I made a poor shot and wounded an elk, tracked her for 8 hours before we lost the trail. Never found her and I'm sick to this day about it. Keep tinkering.


December 14, 2009, 11:50 AM
i have used a number of bullets obviously with varied results. But this last november i watche my brother shoot a failsafe from a 30-06 ackley improved at 2800 fps about 200 yds into the right hind leg hitting the bone that continued through the oppsosit front shoulder before getting stuck in the the hide on a 4 point bull. when we got the bullet home it retained 171gr/180gr. to me theres no better bullet. if anyone knows where to buy them i am more than interested.

December 14, 2009, 02:08 PM
Winchester has replaced the FailSafe bullet with the new XP3 bullet. Similar design, similar performance. If you cannot find XP3 bullets to reload, you may want to try the Barnes MRX bullet, a similar design.

December 14, 2009, 02:17 PM
Winchester has replaced the FailSafe

Indeed. It is now only available in the 350(?)gr .375" variety. All other calibers and weights have been discontinued; with the .375" being discontinued this year, I believe. (You can still find retailer stock in most stores. It's not a fast-moving bullet.)

December 15, 2009, 02:12 AM
You saw the carcass and I did not, but I would guess the bullet got caught in or just beyond the opposite shoulder under the hide, , which would be a pretty hefty piece of bone and muscle on an elk which might help to explain why it didn't exit.

I did not know that Black Talon's were available as a rifle bullet!!!!!!!!!!!

Back to the OP. The "failsafe" had a partitioned, hardened rear core which I want to say was steel, but I could be mistaken. My understanding was that it was a controlled expansion bullet "plus" for use on big animals, like elk and bear, and not a whitetail bullet, though it would certainly do the job when applied right. Most of the big name gun writers were high on it as an enhancer to your favorite caliber for big animals. BARSNESS liked it in '06/165 for elk (maybe it was 180?) and SEIFRIED liked it in .270, calling it the best .270 bullet ever made, in an article in the early 90's.

What little use I have seen on whitetails indicates that they are a "harder" bullet and do not offer as much expansion on our 125-150 lb deer as std soft points, ballistic tips, or the old original silvertip.

With that hardened rear core, you might call it a "Partition on steroids".

Am I understanding the bullet is being discontinued?????????

December 15, 2009, 11:18 AM
on my deer that is, to track easier,
plus where's all that lead go if it doesn't exit? (not a real concern just hate giving the anti's more "ammunition" pun intended)

posted this on another thread;

Have always shot Remington Core-Lokt 150 gr in my 30-30 and .308 and no complaints.
I recently got the 30-30 back from dad and handed down to my son. He just took a mature doe, 100 lbs dressed weight, at 50 yds with Federal Power-shok. It was all the local store had. While the deer was as dead as any I was less than impressed with the bullet.
It hit a rib square just behind the shoulder and left no clear exit hole. Very little blood sign tho she only went 50 yds and piled up. Up butchering it appears the bullet fragmented and just peppered the cavity with little pieces, a lot of damage just under the skin around the entrance hole. Lost a lot of meat off that shoulder.
anyone else use this ammo? normal?

December 16, 2009, 02:57 AM
That doesn't sound right. I wonder if the bullet clipped something prior to hitting the deer, and so was unstable prior impact? Was it an open shot or brushy?

I'd think a 150/30-30 would sail right through a 100 lb whitetail at reasonable distance (under 100-150)

December 16, 2009, 04:51 AM
I recently got the 30-30 back from dad and handed down to my son. He just took a mature doe, 100 lbs dressed weight, at 50 yds with Federal Power-shok...
...It hit a rib square just behind the shoulder and left no clear exit hole. Very little blood sign tho she only went 50 yds and piled up. Up butchering it appears the bullet fragmented and just peppered the cavity with little pieces, a lot of damage just under the skin around the entrance hole....

50 yards + PowerShok = failure.

It's not a knock against you, your dad, or your son. It's just the way the ammo is. I believe they are now loading the PowerShok line with low-end Speer soft points. However, some of the first runs had Winchester Power Points as the projectile (odd combination, I know). I hate Power Points, but think it might be a slightly better choice than the Speer; as far as expansion (consistency is another issue - no two power points are ever the same).

Either way, you're looking at terrible performance, at that range. The velocity causes the bullet to open too fast. Then, it strikes a rib (while fully expanded), and completely disintegrates.

Bottom line: The shooter was too close with a "weak" bullet design. If close shots are the norm, invest in some 'controlled expansion' ammo.
If close shots are uncommon; stick with what you know, and be prepared for explosive expansion of cheaper cup-and-core bullets.

(For the record - I'm not an uppity, my-bullet-is-better-than-your-bullet, kind of guy. My favorite bullet is the Remington Core-Lokt, and I took a Doe Antelope with 100gr Federal PowerShok ammo in my .243 a few years back. It's just the way expansion works...)

December 16, 2009, 09:03 AM
Thanks gents.
Shot was wide open, probably less than 50 yds. Didn't mention that 2 weeks before he shot a little button buck with the Federal at maybe 75 yds broke the shoulder and the bullet did exit.
Like I said Remington Core-lokt has always worked well and not going to be switching ammo based on the distance, so i'll be sticking with that, guess I'll save the rest of this box for shooting old canned goods (talk about fun).
Curious is Federal cutting costs? had trouble with their .22 casings failing to eject from my Marlin I'm thinking thinner casings, swell up too much to get out.

December 18, 2009, 04:05 AM
I read in a shooting mag somewhere that the core Lokt was thought of as the best cup and core std bullet in its class.

A 100 lb white tail is not a very big animal. To think that a 150 @ 30-30 velocity went to pieces on skin and a rib at 50 yds is a bit disturbing.

I loaded some 150 FN 30-30 bullets in .308 Win for a guy one time, he wanted some "reduced recoil" ammo for his boys, and I had the FN's (Hornady's) on the shelf. I reduced the load to book minimums, say 2500 fps, maybe a bit less.

Guy reported that they killed like lightning, and often did not exit. Wanted me to load some more. 'Course they were running about 500 fps over 30-30 vels.

And I have gotten us a long way from the OP, sorry

December 18, 2009, 04:49 AM
at high velocity and close range, that bullet likely broke apart. I used to use the nosler accubond CT from winchester in my 7mm. It was claimed that they wouldnt break apart. :rolleyes: they have really good accuracy in my gun, but ruin way too much meat. the only times the bullet didnt absolutely destroy the animal was at 200 yards plus. Im getting into hand loads now, and will be using the barnes TSX bullet. Have read great things about them, and i doubt they will ever break apart, unless they hit steel.

December 22, 2009, 04:03 PM
My uncle swears by them in 30'06. I stick to the more basic 308 Winchester in 150 grains soft points. I shot a doe for the freezer with the soft points and she dropped in her tracks. I waited and about five minutes later here comes a four pointer that I hit with a Fail Safe; he flipped backwards, got up and took off running with a broken right front leg. I never found him. It might have been that I zeroed the rifle(M-77 Ruger) with the soft points and the Fail Safes were of a different grain or powder charge. I don't know but from now on I'm sticking with the rounds that have worked best for me; they're not sexy looking like the Fail Safes or XP-3s but they do the job.

December 22, 2009, 04:42 PM
I had purchased a box of Black Talon in 300win mag. Nickel case, black teflon coated bullet. Very hot load. Only time I have been brused. Could not find any consistency with it.

I hit a mule deer with my 300, standard Federal soft point. Lots of damage, no exit, no fragments (I did the butchering and wraping).I uspect the bullet ened up in an organ that was discarded at gutting.

December 22, 2009, 05:18 PM
ive shot a couple big white tail does with my 7mm loaded up with 150gr sbt game kings.

at 150, and 220 yards. both exited, large exit hole. neither went more than a couple of steps.