• Kev Thomas Writes

Rhino Bullets: As African as their Name

Above: A .375 H&H Rhino 380gr Solid Shank core bonded bullet. recovered from under the skin on the opposite side to its entry on a buffalo. This wasn't an infrequent occurrence with this superb bullet on buffalo and eland.

It isn’t often you get a bullet manufacturing enterprise start off in the manufacturer’s spare bedroom but that’s exactly what happened in East London, Eastern Cape, South Africa. The enterprises owners Kobus and Shirley van der Westhuizen began their Rhino bullet production in a spare bedroom inside their home, and then as it expanded, they moved it into the garage. As Shirley remarked a few years back when I was chatting to them about the business, “After a while it got messy producing bullets in a spare bedroom with black marks all over the carpets!” – Probably an understatement if ever. It may have been humble beginnings, however from the garage they soon had to relocate to bigger premises to cater for demand, Rhino Bullets is certainly a productive enterprise by small business standards and their manufacturing premises are now a hive of activity producing what in the most simplistic terms South African and international sport hunters want. Bullet reliability coupled to consistency by way of field performance.

It was back in 1997 when Kobus, a keen sport hunter himself with many decades of infield 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 South African market. Being a practical man with an interest in all things ballistic, he started to experiment. He was determined to develop a bullet suitable for all African hunting conditions. His professed intent too, was that his range of bullets would be extensively tested in the African 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 though, manufactured out of copper pipe during the spare bedroom days didn’t work out as hoped. The copper proved to be too fragile. Not dissuaded he stubbornly persisted with his experimentation. At the same time he continued getting ongoing feedback on his products field performance from professional hunters, re-loaders, and ‘gun nuts’, and it wasn’t too long thereafter that the Rhino bullet range evolved.

Above: Showing the excellent mushrooming on recovered Rhino bullets.

In tandem with his bullet development Kobus also began to streamline and improve his entire setup by re-tooling on the production side. First, he obtained a Swiss Head-Sliding Auto Cam machine which he modified by removing all of 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.

All of this though was not without problems; the first of which was although his early bullets were opening or mushrooming satisfactorily, 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 that Kobus was making his own dies and found they weren’t lasting longer than about 15,000 bullets. Obviously too, and because he couldn’t clone a die exactly the result was fairly large variances. To overcome this, he found a company which manufactured tungsten dies for him. This left him with one last major problem which was swaging by hand. It 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 Swede 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 which further 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 are 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, a fair amount of research has been done internationally by bullet and powder manufacturers 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 that 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.

When I was still an active professional hunter on the Southern African safari circuit my initial introduction to using Rhino bullets took place after I’d first heard and read about their 380gr Solid Shank core bonded bullet. This particular bullet weight intrigued me because it would seemingly allow the .375 H&H to step up another notch in further enhancing its already venerable reputation. It’s probably worth mentioning from an interest point of view if nothing else, that throughout my hunting career I’ve been a dyed in the wool Nosler fan. However, and after ordering a box of 380gr bullets I loaded them in front of 63 grains of S355 (A South African Somchem powder) and got close to their advertised 2180fps on the chronograph. On paper I was also impressed with the grouping, so I departed for Zimbabwe in a confident mindset.

My inbound client was British, and with the current UK embargo not allowing British hunters to Zimbabwe to take in sporting rifles Jamie was going 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 Zimbabwe’s Bubye Valley Conservancy, Jamie’s priority was a buffalo with a mix of other plains game shared between him and his son Josh. His buffalo which we tracked on the second day was one of a four dagha bull coalition and after closing to within 45m of them in the thick stuff; we sat, watched, and waited. Although suspicious of something his bull eventually stepped forward from behind a tree, and offered the perfect 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 minutes wait, we soon found blood and about 60m further on a very dead buffalo. The bullet’s terminal ballistics had certainly impressed me and we recovered the bullet under the skin on the far side. Because the bullet had performed so well, we continued using those 380gr Rhino 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: The massive haemorrhaging in a buffalo caused by a Rhino 380gr Solid Shank core bonded bullet is clearly visible in this photo.

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. Since then I’ve had a number of clients make use of the 380gr Rhino solid shank core bonded bullets I’ve loaded for my .375 H&H. I’ve also given some to young learner PHs in Zimbabwe whose only real source of bullets are those clients may leave behind post safari. Despite having also loaded some 340gr Rhino monolithic solids for my .375 H&H I never had occasion to use them in the field although I’m sure they too would’ve performed admirably, and in keeping with Kobus’s high hands-on manufacturing standards.

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