Kev Thomas Writes
Rhino Bullets: As African as Their Name
Above: The 380gr Rhino .375 H&H core bonded solid shank bullet recovered from under the skin on the opposite side of Jamie’s buffalo
It’s not too often you get a bullet manufacturing enterprise start off in the manufacturer’s spare bedroom. And yet that is basically what I learnt on a visit to East London, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province some 9-yearsz ago. Owners Kobus and Shirley van der Westhuizen began their Rhino bullet production in a spare bedroom inside their home. And from there it expanded so they moved it into the garage. As Shirley remarked during our interview, ‘After a while it got messy producing bullets in the spare bedroom because there were black marks being left all over the carpets.’
It may well have been humble beginnings, however, from the garage they soon had to relocate to bigger premises to cater for demand as Rhino Bullets is certainly a productive enterprise. When I visited, their manufacturing premises were a hive of activity producing what in simplistic terms South African and international hunters want; bullet reliability and consistency by way of field performance.
Back in 1997, Kobus, a keen sport hunter himself with some forty years experience became disillusioned with the inconsistent performance, and what he perceived to be the poor results he was obtaining with bullets available on the then local market. Being a practical man with an interest in all things ballistic, he started to experiment and was determined to develop a bullet suitable for African hunting conditions.
His professed intent too, was his range of bullets would be extensively tested in the hunting field and not just on the range, or by being fired into artificial medium only, before being placed on the market. Kobus’s first bullets, manufactured out of copper pipe during the spare bedroom days didn’t work out as hoped, with the copper proving to be too fragile. Not dissuaded he stubbornly persisted with his experimentation, getting ongoing feedback on his products field performance from professional hunters, re-loaders, and gun enthusiasts, and it wasn’t long thereafter the Rhino bullet range evolved.
In tandem with his bullet development Kobus also began to streamline and improve his enterprise by re-tooling on the production side. First, he obtained a Swiss Head-Sliding Auto Cam machine, which he modified by removing all its excess functions and focusing on bullet cutting only. He soon found too, that by using this machine he could cut a bullet jacket in 20 seconds, with a variable of about 1gr.
It wasn’t all plain sailing and there were problems, the first of which was while his early bullets were opening, they were losing their petals during the process. To overcome this, he annealed the copper and found the bullets then mushroomed correctly without petal loss, while also holding together at lower velocities. Another problem encountered during those early days was Kobus made his own dies, and found they weren’t lasting longer than about 15,000 bullets and obviously too, he couldn’t clone a die exactly, and as a result found there were big variances. To overcome this, he found a company that manufactured tungsten dies for him, leaving him with his last major problem which was that of swaging by hand. This too, wasn’t working so he turned to hydraulic swaging, and thereafter, production was on the up.
Once the early production glitches had been overcome Rhino Bullets began to see a steady increase in demand for their product on the local market, pushing their bullet production up to about 600,000 per annum. And then, as the result of a Swedish visitor hunting with Kobus, and experiencing first hand the field performance of Rhino bullets, by 1999 they’d launched into the international market, and began exporting to Scandinavia. This pushed production up to about 800,000 per annum.
Rhino bullet specs are impressive;
The bullets tapered sides give consistent expansion at close and long range at both high and low velocities.
The lead core bonded to the copper jacket make separation impossible with no bullet disintegration, coupled to deep penetration causing minimal meat damage.
The solid rear section of the bullet stops expansion at the correct diameter thus ensuring very deep penetration.
The bonding process ensures consistent high weight retention in excess of 95%.
Manufacturing methods help keep costs down.
The copper is heat treated to give optimal expansion.
Bullets re molycoated to protect and extend barrel life.
Uncoated bullets are available on special order for those who prefer conventional style bullets.
Relative to the last two points above, a fair amount of research has been done by bullet and powder manufacturers’ internationally on molycoated bullets and it’s been found that coated bullets do decrease pressure by 3 to 5%, all dependent on powder, bullet, and cartridge. Other findings indicate molycoating does reduce metal fouling, and under certain circumstances will increase accuracy as well as increase barrel life. Moly is a superb friction reducer and its bearing capacity is beyond the yield point of known metals.
As an active and veteran professional hunter at the time of my visit to Rhino Bullets, my initial introduction to using them had taken place a few years prior. I’d already heard and read of their 380gr Solid Shank core bonded bullet. This bullet weight intrigued me because it would seemingly allow the reputable .375 H&H to step up another notch in further enhancing its already venerable reputation.
Above: The 380grn solid shank core bonded bullet penetrated the buffalo and came to rest under the skin on the offside. The haemorrhaging at point of exit can be seen in the photo.
After ordering a box of 380gr bullets, I loaded them in front of 63 grains of S355 (a South African propellant) and got close to their advertised 2180fps on the chronograph. Being impressed with the grouping on paper I departed on safari. My inbound client was British, and with the current UK embargo not allowing British hunters to Zimbabwe to take in sporting rifles, he’d decided to hire my .375 H&H. This was to be his first hunt with me, although we’d met previously in South Africa. Hunting on the Bubye Valley Conservancy, his priority was a buffalo with a mix of other plains game shared between him and his son.
His buffalo which we tracked on the second day was one of a four dagha bull grouping, and after closing to within 45m of them in the thick stuff; we sat, watched, and waited. Eventually, the bull I’d selected although suspicious of something, stepped forward from behind a tree and offered the shoulder presentation we’d been hoping for. Jamie placed the 380 grain Rhino exactly where it had to go. The buffalo hunched, swung through 180º, lumbered off, and was immediately lost to view.
After the obligatory twenty-minute wait, we soon found blood and about 60m further on a dead buffalo. The bullet’s terminal ballistics had certainly impressed me, with us recovering the bullet under the skin on the far side. We continued using those 380gr Rhino bullets for the rest of the safari, sending to the skinning shed a slew of one-shot kills, including a kudu, blue wildebeest, waterbuck, warthog, zebra, and impala.
Above: An excellent Livingstone's eland bull taken with a single .380grn solid shank core bonded Rhino bullet while using my .375 H&H.
On another safari one year later at the same venue and using the same rifle/calibre/bullet combination Jamie took a variety of species including his eland. Thereafter, I had several clients make use of the 380gr Rhino solid shank core bonded bullets I had loaded for my .375 H&H, and I also gave some to young learner PHs in Zimbabwe, whose only real source of bullets are those clients may leave behind post safari. Up until my retirement from the safari industry in 2015 I continued using handloaded 380grn core bonded bullets in my .375 H&H and never suffered any failures in the field. Rhino bullets can be visited at https: www.rhinobullets.co.za