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October 27, 2006

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A Shovelful of Salt, Part III

Terry Weiland, who writes about guns for Gray’s Sporting Journal, has come out with a new book called Dangerous-Game Rifles, which is published by Countrysport Press, and is full of excellent information on rifles that will bankrupt you and scramble your brains both.

However, in his otherwise exemplary chapter on expanding bullets, there is the following:
“…In August, 2005—twelve years [after its introduction]—Winchester finally admitted that the Fail-Safe [bullet] was a failure and announced its replacement, the “Supreme XP-3...” Now that the Fail-Safe is on the way out the company is no longer reluctant to condemn both its accuracy and terminal performance.”

This is so wildly out of sync with what I know that I called Glen Weeks, who is in charge of Winchester rifle ammo development and read him the above quote.

“The only part that’s true,” he said, “is that we’ve stopped making Fail-Safes.”

The Fail-Safe is a complicated bullet that was difficult to manufacture and expensive to sell. Not enough people were buying Fail-Safe ammo, so it was dropped. Fail-Safes were not the most accurate bullets ever, but they were plenty accurate enough, and their performance on game, from my experience, was exemplary. I’ve used them in .270, .30, and .338, both here and in Africa, and regard them as the top of the heap for a controlled-expanding bullet. In fact, I just spent a bunch of my own money on six boxes of .270 WSM Fail-Safe loads which I found in a Bass Pro Shop near Denver.

My gun-writing colleague Ross Seyfried flatly says that the Fail-Safe is the best hunting bullet around. If any of you have Fail-Safe experiences, I would appreciate hearing of them.


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No Fail-Safe comments from me, just Core-Lokts, but is "rifles that will bankrupt you and scramble your brains both" a grammaticlly correct term?
GOD, I can't type worth crap today!

Ralph the Rifleman

I found some in .270win on sale, so I purchased a couple boxes to try them out...that's as far as I have gotten with them.


Think I observed the Fall-Safe bullets in ’95 during an Alaska caribou hunt. One guy used a 270. Another was using a 338 Mag.

Shots were long and there was lots of wind [and rain. Lord, how it’d rain!]. I don’t recall either hunter having problems. I personally took a 270 bullet out of one large caribou. It was on opposite side of entry in the rib cage just under the skin: Perfect mushroom shape with those pretty, vertical black lines. I don’t know if the bullet shed any weight.

I have never used those Fail-Safe bullets. I have used Speer Hot Core and Serria Gameking bullets for 90% of my big game hunting.


The only experience that I ever had with a failsafe was a bad one. A friend shot a 130 lb doe with a 180 grain failsafe in 30-06 at 150 yds. The doe was quartering towards him. The bullet entered on the shoulder and lodged just under the skin on the opposite hindquarter. The failsafe bullet broke the front shoulder, traveled through all the internal organs and broke the hip bone, and still did not expand one bit. When recovered, the failsafe appeared to have lost its nose, but had NO expansion otherwise. Needless to say, the deer did not go very far, but I was not impressed with the performance. I explained to my friend that this bullet was made for much larger game, and not for deer. If he had shot the deer straight through the chest, broad sided, I think we would have had a very small hole and little damage, leading to a tough tracking job. Just my 2 cents.

Thanks for the great blogs, Dave. Keep up the good work.

Ed J

I think therefore I'm dangerous.Back to the subject I think many of the failures are due to the wrong bullet. A few years ago a friend of mine told me it to two shots to put a whitetail deer down. The gun he was using? A 460 wheaterby. All It did was 1/2 inch hole in, 1/2 inch hole out.

Mike Shickele

I tend to think that all of the bullets that are available on the market, and have been on the market for a while, at least do a passable job of their intended purpose.
The Fail Safe might not have been a failure, but failed commercially due to it's high price.
With me, if I can't fire at least a few hundred of each bullet every year, just to stay in practice, without going into the poor house; then I need to think about a less expensive bullet.


Brian M

Hey Dave I purchased and used fail safe bullets one year, about 10 years ago. I handloaded them for my 3006. I killed a couple deer with them, one was a nice 4x4 mule deer, as he trotted out of sight. He was with another buck, the other one was smaller. I had spotted them bedded a half mile or more away in a prairie area of southern Alberta. I thought I had them figured out and could sneak in without them noticing me. Wrong. They were up and moving when I got there. They were not alarmed enough to do the 2 mile kangaroo hop, but nervous. I managed to cut them off and close the gap to 350 yards but they were moving. I was tired, I could not keep up so I did the best i could aimed and let one fly as they slipped into a coulee. I got "lucky" and managed to hit him in the rear hips. He dropped right there, I was stunned to say the least. When I made my way over there (slowly I was wiped by this point) the buck was still very much alive and I had to fisnish the chore, this was my first sign that the tissue damage was not severe (Even though the shot placement was poor, I expected more shock after smashing the biggest bones in the mammalian skeletal structure). When I was skinning him, I realised the bullet busted both of his hip joints (on a decent Mule Buck)and exited leaving a 30 caliber hole. there was hardly any tissue damage, again lucky since the bullet passed throught both hind quaters, but not real great from a trauma perspective. Other people had said the same thing to me.
The best I ever got was close to a 2 inch group with those bullets, my brother could never get even that, my Dad has always been a nosler fan so he never even tried. I still own some slugs, but I never figured they were worth burning anymore powder for. I was extremely lucky to have gotten that buck, and theoretically the penetrating power of the fail safe helped, but I was not impressed. Since that time I have followed the gimmicks always willing to try out the newest stuff. I have been happy with very little until recently. The accubonds by nosler seem to fly straight and now, three moose, and 7 deer(Alberta deer) (My brother and Dad are shotoing the accubond hanloads as well) later I have to say I am really impressed. I tried the hornady version, and can't get them to group for me, I have no idea why, to be honest I have always liked the hornady bullets, but their bonded stuff won't fly for me. If all else fails I go back to a heavy sierra gameking. The 3006 loves the 180's and I have a 300 ultra mag that will shoot 3 shot 3 inch groups at 334 yards (300 meters) witht he 200 grain gamekings. It is fun stuff though, I love the gimmicks, some work some don't, but if it sounds like it might I will always be experimenting. I was looking at the XP3 bullets again today in a a magazine. After this season, I will try a box to see how they fly.

Anyway I for one, won't miss the failsafe.


Bart Snyder

I tried failsafe ammo in my
winchester model 70 270 wsm. They would not group or come close. I could not site in my rifle with them. I switched to partitions and got good groupings. Then tried a couple more failsafes, same thing, high and right. Needless to say, the failsafes got to go.


I've owned lots of rifles, and with the exception of my Marlin 336 CS in .30-30 (which isn't picky about any ammo), I've never had a rifle that grouped Winchester ammo worth a damn. I've owned several Winchester rifles that were good shooters with the right ammo, but Winchester ammo wasn't it.


I tried hand loading some failsafes in my 270 WSM. I found a load that grouped well, about 1.5 inches, but I only shot one critter with them-a coyote. No expansion, and none expected, just a dead coyote. I think it's way to tuff for whitetales.

O Garcia

Hi Dave,

Where is Ross, by the way? After leaving RIFLE, he pretty much disappeared. I miss his pieces on old, really old rifles, shotguns and handguns.

I think Ross preferred the Fail Safe because he also preferred breaking the shoulder. He also likes the Partition, the Barnes X and the A-Frame, although he is quiet on the Trophy Bonded. These deep-penetrating bullets suited his shooting style because they could survive encounters with bone. On the Ballistic Tip and other quick expanding boattails, he often took the opposite side vs. John Barsness, a Ballistic Tip advocate who I think likes to shoot game in the ribs into the lungs. Different styles, different bullets.


I've seen lots of folks use the term "break the shoulder" and I just have to comment. first, there is no shoulder joint in a deer. the shoulder blade free floats which gives the critter its incredible agility. I think what people are referring to is the high shoulder shot, which also involves the spine. it is a devastating shot to the critter but destroys lots of meat. I prefer the "behind the shoulder double lung shot because it is always lethal and causes less meat loss. plus its easier in less than ideal conditions.

John McLaughlin

I've used them in handloads in a 270 Weatherby mag at 3300fps for years. Get 1" gruops or less and have killed everything I've shot them at (AZ mule deer). For me a great bullet and will miss it when I run out of my stash, glad I bought 20 boxes a few years ago.

Ralph the Rifleman

Good point, and I agree, aim for the lung area on deer(located inside the front leg approx. 1/3 the way up the body)this is a good area for quick kills with minimal meat loss.This info standing, there are times when breaking critical bones are a better choice to stop an animal.Bears, for obvious reasons, and meat destruction is not a factor, but also if I were on a guided hunt for deer, on the last day,sun going down, and a trophy is quartering away from my position "out yonder" I'll go for breaking bones to stop him as soon as possible.My biggest deer to date was a 210 lb whitetail which I shot running away from me(approx.80 yard shot?)aiming for the backbone, my bullet struck the right side/rump pelvic bone.The deer rolled over, and made a 20-30 yard blood trail that resembled a sidewalk. It was not a kill shot for sure, but it made for an easy follow-up/finishing shot.

Ralph the Rifleman

BTY...caliber used on the 210lb deer was 7mm Rem Mag, 160gr partition-I believe w/62grs of H870 powder?FYI-RR

Tom Behnke

I have used failsafes quite often in both .270 win and .338 win mag and have watched my dad use them in .30-06. We have had excellent results on everything that we have shot with them. We have taken many
Elk, Mule Deer, Antelope, and also Caribou, Black Bear, and Wild Boar. So far I have never recovered a bullet. Penetration is super even when a lot of bone is hit. Meat damage is always very minor. There is always a nice exit hole aproximately 1"-2" that leaves a good blood trail. Accuracy is not match grade but is fine for big game hunting at 1"-2" groups. This bullet has always expanded at long range and always held together at close range. I will miss the fail safe a lot. I only wish that I could have tried them in many other calibers. It is really to bad that people will not spend a few more bucks for good ammo. I make very little money but that is one thing I don't mind paying more for. I have had many bullet failures but never with a failsafe. Now I guess I'll have to settle for my second favorite - a great bullet also - the Barnes Triple-Shock X-Bullet.

vince strahmann

I cannot say enough about failsafe bullets. I have probabally shot over 10 Sub half inch groups using the 230 grain factory loaded failsafe bullets out of my .338 win mag. It has also accounted for a long string of 1 shot kills including Moose, Caribou, Black Bear, Black tail deer and Feral Reindeer. I have also taken An Alaskan Peninsula Brown Bear and although it did take more than one shot the bullets performed flawlessly. The only failsafe bullet I have ever recovered out of an animal traveled diagonally through the right rear hindquarter of the Brown Bear all the way through the length of the Bear and was resting against the skin on the left front shoulder( wich was broken ). The bullet had expanded perfectly with one petal broken off. I am going to buy up as much of the factory loaded 230's that I can find!

Ed Purvis

When FS's hit the market in the '90s I bought a few boxes in .300 Win Mag and I remember well that the first deer I shot hit the ground with authority. Broadside shot @ 150yd. The autopsy blew my mind and an entry hole into the ribcage, literally, into which I could insert my clenched fist. Massive amount of blood shot tissue surrounding entry hole, but not the exit hole which more resembled an entry hole as it was only an inch or so in diameter.
The second buck also was a one-shot stop. The deer was facing away and the bullet entered 2 inches to the left of the anus and broke the femur and traveled the length of the deer through the body of the deer, not the internal cavity, final stopping in the neck behind the left ear against the skull, perfectly mushroomed with all petals intact. It was awesome sight to behold. Tissue damage was not bad at all and most of the ham was perfectly edible, tenderized if you will.

I'm a fan of the Fail Safe though they are not for shooting tiny groups...only for killing your intended target which is what it's all about anyway.

Dave I have several boxes of the .30 cal component FS's for reloading if you want a couple. Let me know

Daniel H. Fisher

In my opinion, the Winchester Fail Safe ammunition is premium hunting ammunition that performs admirably. In my experience, I have obtained very reasonable groups with this ammunition. Winchester classifies this ammunition as CXP3, but the ammunition is extremely effective for killing light, thin-skinned game (CXP2) and large, heavy game (CXP3).

The Winchester 300 Win. Mag. 180 grain Fail Safe ammunition has excellent accuracy for hunting ammunition. I use this ammunition in a Browning semiautomatic 300 Win. Mag. Lightweight Stalker with a BOSS. (The BOSS is a combination of a muzzle break and adjustable weight that allows the rifle to be tuned to different factory loads.) I shoot ½-1” groups at 100 yards using a rifle rest.

The bullet is very lethal. I have shot numerous whitetail deer with this bullet and they were all recovered within 10 to 150 yards. I also use this bullet to field kill bison by shooting the bison in the head at 25-30 yards. Now that is a real test for any ammunition. With other bullets, multiple shots are required, but with the Fail Safe: one shot, one kill!

Let me provide one example of the accuracy and lethality of this ammunition. I shot a very large 9 point atypical whitetail buck on December 10, 2006. As I had read the blog before hunting, I made a point to study the kill in detail.

The animal traveled approximately 50 yards and dropped dead. The bullet entered the buck centered vertically just behind the shoulder, which is where I was aiming. The bullet traveled at an angle to the rear through both lungs and the liver. The exit wound in the hide was twice the size of the bullet. While processing the animal, I observed that the bullet had started expanding upon hitting the ribs and was fully expanded by the time it exited the body. The bullet left a large wound channel in both lungs and the liver. Now that is the type of performance that I like to see in a hunting bullet!

I am very disappointed that Winchester decided to discontinue making this ammunition and supplying the bullet. Fortunately, I have been able to purchase enough bullets and ammunition to last me several decades. Hopefully, Winchester will again make this superior CXP3 ammunition again one day.

Thank you for giving people the opportunity to express their opinion about this very fine ammunition. I am pleased to see that other hunters have also enjoyed success with this ammunition.

P.S. I have documented the pathology of the wounds using a digital camera. If anyone is interested in viewing the awesome power of this bullet, please contact me.

ed harlan

The comments above cover the story if you add them all together. In my 270 , here in pennsylvania, they work. They are a bit more than your shelf stacked ammo, and they are not benchrest quality, however the deer and a few hogs fell without much worry. Exit holes are not as a rule inpressive. At the distance hunting shots where I look for game, always less than 100 yards, it does what you can expect. How much can you reasonably ask for?

Karl Short

I just returned from a black bear hunt in southeast Alaska. I used 180 grain fail safe bullets in a 300 Weatherby Mag.

I shot a nice (7 foot +) black bear at a measured 260 yards.

The bullet performed very well. It made a very good wound channel and put the bear down very quickly.

I have also used it on Sitka Blacktail deer on Kodiak a lot. What I like is that it makes a small wound channel in the deer, not destoying very much meat on its way through, but is tough enough to hold together if a Brown bear tries to take it from me.

I wish that they still made this bullet.

Paul Egeness

I know I am a late-comer to this line of discussion, but I just learned about Winchester phasing out the Fail-Safe when I went to purchase some more. I was not happy.

I have taken black bear ( the only thing I choose to hunt) with both the 30-06 180 grain and the 338 Win Mag fail safes and have been suitably impressed with the performance of the bullet. The internal organs (heart, lungs, arteries, etc.) were simply mush.

The bears died right where they were standing with not even a death moan. (of course that is difficult to do with no lungs.) Tracking was never necessary, but if it were a blood trail would not have been a problem, so copious was the bloodletting both internal and external. Winchester has a big shoe to fill with their new bullet, which I won't have to buy for another year or two. I may just switch to a Barne's triple shock.

I have also taken black bear with 35 Remington Cor-Bon heavy loadings and 45-70 in heat treated hard cast lead and the new Hornady leverevolution cartridges and all of those bears have been dead-right-there as well. One shot kills each.

I hunt on the ground over bait and all shots have been taken from 10 to 20 yards, so the accuracy of the cartridges used has been a moot point for me. I am more interested in terminal performance. The fail-safes have never failed.

clay packer

Call it a peculiar coincidence, but I've owned a bunch of rifles and not a one of them would group ANY Winchester ammo worth a damn. .243, .270, .30-30, .30-06, .35 Rem, and .45-70 - Federal, Remington, Hornady all would group well in some weight. Winchester ammo (Fail-Safe included) were all over the place.

Clay Cooper

clay packer
Winchester ammo (Fail-Safe included) were all over the place?

Are you using the same scope on the rifles you listed?

Try this little test for scope accuracy. Place the scope or scoped rifle unloaded of course on a solid rest and aim it at something safely. Without moving/disturbing the scope or scoped rifle, look thru it. Move your eye up and down and all around. Does the crosshairs remain fixed on the target or does it move off the target when you move your eye. You not find a Simmons Scope on any of my rifles because of this. 25-06 with ½ moa went to a 4+ with the Simmons. Leopold Scopes are #1 for all my rifles!

clay packer

Clay Cooper,

Each rifle had its own scope (except the .45-70 - it had peep sights). Scopes were Leopold, Nikon, Burris, and Bushnell. Barrels were allowed to cool after 3-shot groups were fired. One .30-06 I used to own, an Interarms MK X w/a Bell and Carlson stock, would put 165 grain and 180 grain cartridges in one-inch groups (or smaller) all day, unless I was shooting Winchester ammo (silvertip, Fail-safe, partition gold), and the groups would open up to about 3-4 inches. The scopes were fine. Finicky rifles.

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