The problem with wild game is that it appears at a time and distance of its own choosing. Finding a bullet that will perform perfectly, no matter if the animal is very close or at an extended range, is a near-impossible task.
The Hornaday ELD-X (Extremely Low Drag – Expanding) was designed from the ground up as a match-accurate hunting bullet that would provide optimal performance at all practical ranges. Terminal performance above 400 yards was emphasized, where the increased accuracy desired would matter without sacrificing close-range penetration due to bullet blow-up.
To perform at both short and long-range, a bullet must be stout enough to hold together when hitting muscle and bone at high velocity but also be soft enough to expand reliably at the lower velocities of extended range. This dichotomy is a puzzle that the Hornady ELD-X solves well.
So how did this wonder bullet come about?
As the bullet was developed and tested, the engineers noticed something unusual. The Doppler Radar readings of the bullet’s flight showed a significant decrease in the projectile’s ballistic coefficient as the flight progressed. The ballistic coefficient is how well an object overcomes air resistance during its flight, which, in turn, affects the projectile’s stability and retained velocity.
After this decrease was noticed, Hornady tested polymer bullets from every manufacturer and got similar results. Further research showed that the Delrin material used for the tip was deforming in flight from heat generated by friction with the air. At ranges under 400 yards, this deformation is not much of an issue for hunting, but it becomes a problem for precise accuracy at ranges beyond that.
So, Hornady developed a proprietary polymer for the tip that would hold up to the heat, appropriately called Heat Shield. This newer, harder tip presented a challenge, as Delrin will flatten on impact, aiding in expansion. The new material will not. Since the bullet could not function as a traditional ballistic tip would, Hornady had to get creative to get the desired results.
The basic principle is this: at close range (high velocity), the thin copper jacket will mushroom violently on impact and perform an energy dump into the target while penetrating deep. An Interlock ring midway down the shank keeps most of the bullet intact, but the front 40% of the projectile is shed in the wound cavity, unleashed to cause further destruction.
At the lower velocities of long-range, the ELD-X functions much like a traditional ballistic tip, or the classic Remington Bronze Point. The insert, called the Heat Shield Tip, is driven rearward on impact, mechanically initiating expansion. The weight retention is over 80% in this case, lending itself to deep penetration.
The stats are all well and good, but how does that translate into the real world? Apparently quite well. Standard rounds like the .30-06 or 6.5 Creedmore are slaying deer size game at 200 to 600 yards with one-shot kills.
Individuals using larger cartridges like the various 7mm and .300 Magnums are reporting quick, clean kills at ranges over 600 yards on game as large as moose.
The largest caveat to the praise given is some users report that at very close range, (usually sub-100 yards) bullet performance can be violent and erratic. At over 3000 feet per second, the ELD-X acts similar to a varmint round and detonates.
On thin-skinned game like a White-tailed deer, this is not a problem. On tough animals like elk or moose, it can lead to superficial wounds or fatal but slow kills from lack of penetration.
Factory data shows a muzzle velocity of 2940 fps with 3100 ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle for the 7mm Remington Magnum out of a 24-inch barrel. Many magnum rifles wear a 26-inch tube and will gain another 30-50 fps over these numbers.
The .631 ballistic coefficient (low wind resistance) of the ELD-X bullet means that the velocity (and therefore the energy) retained down range is very high. At 500 yards, the projectile is still traveling at over 2200 fps and retaining nearly 1800 foot-pounds of energy.
Compare that to the .458 ballistic coefficient of my old go-to of Federal Premium 165 grain Sierra Game King boattails. The Game Kings exit the muzzle at the same velocity as the ELD-X factory rounds but are traveling a full 200 fps slower by 500 yards, with the commensurate drop in energy delivered on target.
The ELD-X works as advertised. My sources note massive damage at close range on deer size game, with liquified lungs being a normal occurrence. Out at long range, the bullet performs more like a conventional soft point would at closer ranges. Wound channels are wide, and penetration is deep.
The bullet seems to perform its best beyond 200 yards based on reports. What the ELD-X’s accuracy and long-range performance allow is precision shot placement and improved terminal performance on large game at long ranges for the caliber used.
One individual used the ELD-X in a 7mm Remington Magnum to take an elk at over 460 yards, and it was pretty much a bang-flop situation.
As a caveat to this, it will pay to read the ballistics chart to know when your bullet will drop below 1600 feet per second. This is the minimum velocity for reliable expansion of the ELD-X bullet.
The ELD-X was designed to work on animals typically harvested with a given cartridge. For example, deer and elk with a .30-06. It will not enable you to kill massive animals with a small caliber.
So, going after elk with a .243 using this bullet is not recommended. (as an aside, Hornady recommends the ELD-X loadings for .243 through .257 Weatherby for deer size game only. The recommendation for elk starts at 6.5 Creedmore)
The ELD-X is meant for open range, not dense timber. While the explosive close range/high-velocity impacts can be impressive on medium game, they can result in losing a large animal. If you are using a magnum rifle in the brush, then choose another bullet.
However, if you are pursuing deer size or larger game where the chances of a long shot are high, and a close-up shot is slim, then this is your bullet.
The high ballistic coefficient and resistance to tip deformation from velocity-induced heat will keep your groups small. And the softer jacket and mechanical mushrooming created by the Heatshield tip ensure consistent performance on game at long range.
Can I Get it in My Favorite Caliber?
Hornady currently offers the ELD-X available in twenty-nine different calibers ranging from .243 Winchester to .338 Lapua Magnum. The list of calibers includes tried-and-true long-range rounds like the 6.5 Creedmore, .270 Winchester, and .300 Weatherby.
Hornady also loads the ELD-X in some less popular but effective long-range rounds like the .257 Weatherby, .300 Remington Short-Action Ultra Magnum, and the .300 PRC. (complete list here)
Is the ELD-X Available Separately for Reloaders?
The ELD-X bullet is available in 6mm/.243, .257, 6.5mm, 7mm, .308, and .338 bullet diameters for hand loaders. Weights range from 90 grains for the .243 to 270 grains for the .338. The 7mm and .30 calibers have the widest range of selection with three and four different weights available respectively. (see here)
Can Core – Jacket Separation Occur?
At very high velocity, the bullet has been shown to come apart partway through larger animals, with both the core and jacket usually found close to each other near the offside hide. This separation can result in dramatic and swift kills.
At extremely close range, where some Magnum cartridges exceed 3000 feet per second, bullet detonation may occur if a heavy bone is encountered. This can result in shallow wounds and possibly a very slow death.
Hornady has taken the step of loading heavy-for-caliber bullets in the magnum offerings of their factory ELD-X ammunition. The heavier bullet keeps the muzzle velocity down at or near 3000 fps while increasing downrange energy.
The Hornady ELD-X is a highly engineered precision bullet designed to bring match-grade accuracy and long-range terminal performance to the hunting field. It is a proven success in this regard.
If the hunter takes the time to become intimately familiar with their rifle and the ballistics of the cartridge, then they will be more than satisfied with the performance of the ELD-X. The bullet itself may not be magic, but its performance is pretty darn close.