Twenty-five years ago Americans who dreamed of blazing African game trails had a major hurdle to overcome even before leaving home. Unless their rifles were chambered for .375 H&H Mag. or .458 Win. Mag., obtaining factory ammunition could be difficult, and, regardless of caliber, bullet choices were limited. Few dealers stocked big-bore cartridges, and hunters eager to shoot a double gun or magazine rifle bearing a legendary name such as Rigby or Westley Richards had to find custom loads or try clearing an international shipment from a European maker.
That changed in 1989 when Federal Cartridge targeted a small but growing market with Premium Safari, an extension of the company’s breakthrough Premium brand that combined stringent quality control with custom bullets—for a price. But cost didn’t stop big-game hunters from embracing ammunition that rivaled top-rate handloads, and soon a new generation was realizing the advantage of controlled-expansion bullets.
Initially, Premium Safari offered four big-bore chamberings in nine different loadings, so that along with .375 H&H Mag. and .458 Win. Mag., stalwart British rounds such as .416 Rigby and .470 Nitro Express were introduced in American gun stores. In short order, custom bullets such as the Nosler Partition, Woodleigh Weldcore, and Trophy Bonded Bear Claw (soft-point) and Sledgehammer (solid) were available in both plains-game and dangerous-game loadings. Despite spotty attention from the sporting press, safari hunters took notice.
Encouraged by that interest, Federal took another decisive step, announcing at the 1992 SHOT Show that it had reached an agreement with Trophy Bonded owner Jack Carter to manufacture Bear Claw bullets for loading in its Premium ammunition. Carter had been working on the development of the Bear Claw for a decade, and eventually settled on a design that utilized solid copper rod as the jacket material. The bullet’s shank remained solid copper, while the nose was machined with tapered walls that encapsulated a lead core. With the core inserted, extreme heat was used to bond it to the jacket. Through a progressive hardening process that allowed the softer nose section to open dramatically, even while the core remained intact, Carter was able to obtain consistent, controlled expansion. The nose opened significantly, but not too fast and too much to hinder penetration.
The result was an ability to smash through thick hides and heavy bones and reliably penetrate the vitals of the world’s biggest game animals. To test and promote his new bullets, Carter staged a safari to Tanzania and Botswana. His party, including Aagaard, killed six Cape buffalo with the improved design, and in the July 1993 American Rifleman, Aagaard, a former professional hunter from Kenya, reported, “Their performance was well-nigh perfect. … Up till then I had preferred to use solids on buffalo, as I twice had soft-points break up with similar placement and fail to reach the vitals.”
As Federal began producing the Trophy Bonded bullets at its Anoka, Minn., factory in mid-1992, it continued to work with Carter on their development. Where Carter had relied on 100-percent-pure copper jackets, Federal switched to gilding metal, a 95/5 copper-zinc alloy, which was more compatible with its high-speed screw machinery. Federal’s production retained the solid-shank concept with a small radius of the lead core exposed at the nose, but it sharpened that ogive in many calibers in order to increase their ballistic coefficients. Initial runs focused on high-demand smaller chamberings such as .270 Win., 7 mm Rem. Mag. and popular .30-cal. cartridges, and once production lines had perfected the process, work began on the bigger Safari rounds. Commercially loaded Trophy Bonded Bear Claw (TBBC) ammunition made its debut in the 1993 Federal catalog.
Though Federal was taking a lead role in serving big-bore shooters, it was not operating in a vacuum. The introduction of the .416 Rigby was accomplished in tandem with Ruger, which added the iconic chambering in its No. 1-H Tropical single-shot and M77 Magnum bolt-action. For 40 years, Americans had been catching the safari bug by reading Robert Ruark’s seminal “Horn of the Hunter,” and now they could follow the lead of Ruark’s hero, professional hunter Harry Selby, and realistically own a .416 Rigby. European gunmakers were also keen to tap this burgeoning interest, and by the mid- to late-1990s, Holland & Holland, Kreighoff, Merkel, Heym, Blaser and CZ were importing double rifles and bolt-actions, including dangerous-game models. The prospect of owning a Nitro Express double was now more than just a pipe dream, though still rather pricey.
Competing U.S. firms had also stuck their toes in the stream, as both Remington and Weatherby introduced proprietary .416 magnum cartridges and corresponding rifles in 1988. Because the ammunition was readily accessible and relatively inexpensive, the .416 Rem. Mag. gained a firm foothold, and before long both of America’s favorite hunting rifles, the Remington Model 700 and Winchester Model 70, were available in the new chambering.
Federal continued its flexible strategy in developing what came to be known as Premium Safari Cape-Shok. New caliber offerings included the .416 Rem. Mag. (1997), .458 Lott (2006) and .500 Nitro Express (2008). And though it had a vested interest in pushing Trophy Bonded products, the company aggressively added the popular Barnes Triple-Shock X-Bullet (TSX) in 2006 and Swift A-Frame in 2010.