Hornady 143-grain ELD-X: Review & Hunting Performance Test
The Hornady ELD-X bullet is advertised as a technologically advanced, match accurate, all range hunting bullet. This review covers the 6.5MM 143-grain ELD-X, and focuses on how it performs as a hunting bullet.
I’ve been shooting Hornady bullets for as long as I’ve been hunting. Quite a few deer, elk, and bear tags were punched using SP InterLocks in several calibers. More recently, a 7 WSM firing the 162-grain AMAX has accounted for a variety of big game animals. I was looking forward to trying the new ELD-X, which blends the best qualities of hunting and match bullets.
This review will include a general description of the 143-grain ELD-X, load data, and detailed terminal performance results. This VIDEO supplements the review, and includes bullet trace and a few hunting kill shots.
When Hornady first released the ELD-X, one of the things that got the most attention was the Heat Shield tip.
While testing with Doppler radar, they noticed an unexplained increase in drag at distance. That drag was causing a degradation in B.C. beyond the normal loss due to decreasing velocity. They narrowed it down to the polymer used in the tip, which was apparently changing shape as it heated up. Because they were in the process of designing a new bullet, they decided to fix the problem.
The new Heat Shield tip is now used in the ELD-X, as well as the ELD-M bullets. Hornady published an excellent technical writeup on this testing, so I won’t waste review space on it. It’s a good read if you’re interested in the technical aspects of bullet testing.
There were plenty of skeptics surrounding this discovery, myself included. I’d had no problems with the B.C. I was using for the pile of 162 AMAXs on my shelf. I was more interested in the construction of the ELD-X, and how well it would perform while hunting.
The ELD-X (Extremely Low Drag-eXpanding) looks a lot like the ELD-M and the AMAX that preceded it. The 143-grain ELD-X most closely matches the outer dimensions of the 147-grain ELD-M, but their construction differs quite a bit.
Hornady set out to create an all range hunting bullet with the ELD-X. That’s a tall order when you consider all the variables involved. Most long-range hunters gravitate to high-B.C. match bullets fired at high muzzle velocities to maximize range and minimize errors. Match bullet designs typically allow a low impact velocity to kill cleanly, but can be sketchy when used up close.
Rather than the thin, uniform jacket used on most match bullets, the ELD-X tapers quickly to a much thicker shank section. Hornady added an InterLock ring, which on the 143-grain ELD-X, is located ~ 7/16” above the bullet’s base. This ring is designed to help keep the core attached to the jacket and limit expansion as it peels back.
The nose cavity is designed to allow the tip to initiate expansion on contact. Once it’s shoved in, the thin front section of the jacket rapidly peels back until it hits the InterLock ring. This creates the classic mushroom shape of an expanded bullet, with sharp jacket edges to cause bleeding.
Hornady claims expansion will occur at velocities as low as 1600 fps, but doesn’t quantify max impact velocity. Their own testing shows the ELD-X sheds part of its core and jacket during expansion in ballistic gelatin. Our testing and observation confirms that. Small amounts of jacket and/or core material were found on just about every exit wound.
Our initial testing included checking for consistency within a single box of bullets, as well as from lot to lot. We used four different lots of the 143-grain ELD-X during this review.
Hornady lists the 143-grain ELD-X as #2635. As far as I know, they’re only available in 100-count boxes. I bought one box each from the first three lots locally. The fourth lot came directly from Hornady. Using the average price charged by my local sources and one online retailer, a box of 100 will set you back $38.00.
I used a Mitutoyo caliper with Sinclair comparators to measure dimensions, and an RCBS Chargemaster 1500 for the weight check. The average dimensions, using 10 randomly picked bullets from each box across all four lots are:
- Weight: 143 gr (high-143.5/low-142.7)
- OAL: 1.430” (high-1.4315/low-1.4285)
- Bearing surface length: .467” (high-.4685/low-.465)
- Base to ogive length: .673” (high-.676/low-.665)
I think it’s a waste of time to sort bullets for my kind of shooting. I do check bearing surfaces from lot to lot, though. Within each lot, bearing surface lengths only varied by .0025” on the high side, and down to .001” on the low end.
The only outlier I noticed was the earliest lot had a BTO of .665” for all 10 bullets. The other three lots only varied from .672” to 676”. Did it make any difference in how they shot? None that I could measure on a target.
A good bullet review requires sending a bunch of rounds downrange and objectively reporting on the results. The kids and I logged 834 shots using the 143-grain ELD-X in 2017.
I didn’t spend a bunch of time punching paper with this bullet. In fact, my barrel log shows exactly 152 shots taken at 100 yards with rifles firing the 143-grain ELD-X. Load development was short and easy with both rifles we used for testing.
Most of our shots were taken at distances exceeding 500 yards. The longest recorded shot was 1540 yards, but most long-range shooting was done between 500 and 1200 yards. The closest shot came at 50 yards, taken while hunting. Targets used for long-range testing included steel plates, rocks, and a healthy dose of ground squirrels. Lots of ground squirrels.
Hornady lists a G7 B.C. of .314 for the 143 ELD-X. Using that value in my Kestrel Elite, a velocity correction of 10 fps was needed to validate at 1300 yards.
The two rifles used to test the 143 ELD-X are chambered in 260 Remington and 260 Terminator. They are built on very different platforms, but are proven performers with a wide variety of bullets.
The 260 Remington is chambered in a Defensive Edge Sheep Hunter. It wears a 24”, 1-8” twist Hart barrel. Topped with a Nightforce 2.5-10×32 NXS, it weighs just under eight pounds. I hunt with it when shots can come up close and personal, but aren’t likely to top a few hundred yards. It’s a sub-MOA rifle with loads firing the Hornady 140-grain AMAX and Berger 130-grain AR Hybrid.
The 260 Terminator started this season with a fresh barrel. For more information on this chambering, click HERE. It’s built on a tactical platform and is designed for precision shooting at long range. With a Nightforce 5-25×56 F1 ATACR, it tips the scale at just over 14 pounds. Prior to testing the 143-grain ELD-X with the fresh barrel, proven loads were used to confirm its potential. The 26”, 1-8” twist Hart barrel consistently provides sub-half MOA accuracy.
Here’s my load data for the 143-grain ELD-X. Keep in mind that these are final loads, not starting loads. Neither load is at max pressure for my barrels, but proceed slowly if you want to use them in yours.
- Lapua brass/.293” outside neck diameter/annealed
- CCI 250 primer
- 42.0 H4350
- 2.843” COAL (.020” off the lands)
- 2820 fps MV/ 14 fps ES
- Lapua 260 Rem brass formed to 260 Terminator/.292” outside neck diameter/annealed
- CCI 250 primer
- 49.0 Reloader 26
- 2.830” COAL (.020” off the lands)
- 2940 fps MV/ 10 fps ES
- Note that the 260 Terminator is not a 260AI. 3010 fps MV was achieved with a compressed load and no pressure signs.
We killed eight big game animals with the 143 ELD-X in 2017. Shot distances ranged from 50 to 820 yards, with an average impact velocity of 2370 fps.
The first four animals were whitetail deer, removed from an alfalfa field as part of a depredation hunt. We used the 260 Terminator with a suppressor for all four, with shot distances ranging from 276 to 380 yards.
Three of the does were shot at similar distances–356, 367, and 380 yards. The aiming point on each was the classic crease shot just behind the shoulder. All three were broadside. The first one collapsed immediately, and didn’t get back up. The other two were alert, and predictably took off on short sprints upon impact. All three bullets entered behind the shoulder, caused heavy bleeding from the chest cavity, and exited in a straight line. The 1”- 1 ½” exit hole in the hide was identical on all three deer.
Because all three bullets passed through without hitting a single scapula, there was very little damage to shoulder meat. There was some bloodshot under the shoulders, but nothing out of the ordinary. It was textbook bullet performance as far as I’m concerned.
We noticed a few tiny flakes of jacket material around the exit wounds of two of the does, but nothing on the third. No bullets or fragments were recovered.
The fourth doe was shot at 276 yards. Because of time constraints and the deer’s proximity to a property line, we decided to take a high-shoulder shot.
It was a near-instant death that we all like to see when we shoot an animal. The forward edge of the right shoulder was nicked on the entry side, but the bullet exited squarely through the left scapula. The ELD-X also passed through the spine, sending bone fragments into the chest cavity. Small flakes of jacket and core material were found in the exit wound, along with bone fragments. The left shoulder was damaged of course, and needed substantial trimming.
By the time we’d shot our fourth deer with the ELD-X, it was obvious we wouldn’t find an intact bullet. I wanted to get a look at one, so I rigged up a water trap.
Our water trap is simple—we line up several jugs full of water and shoot into them. The bullet penetrates as many jugs as it can, then comes to rest in one of them. I don’t claim it to be an accurate representation of what a bullet does in flesh and bone, but it’s an effective way to expand and recover a bullet without damaging it.
We set up six one-gallon coolant jugs full of water, plus a milk jug on either end of them. A 260 Terminator was used for the test, firing the ELD-X at 2940 fps MV. Impact velocity at 100 yards was 2800 fps. We fired two rounds, using fresh jugs each time. Both bullets penetrated to the third coolant jug.
When we poured out the third jug, we found the ELD-X had expanded to just past the InterLock ring. The jacket material had peeled back symmetrically, with the expanded diameter roughly twice the bullet’s caliber.
There were sharp, jagged edges all around. The core wasn’t attached to the jacket, but was recovered in the same jug. The total of the two recovered pieces of each bullet weighed 67.3 and 81.3 grains respectively. The bulk of that weight was in the jacket, with each weighing ~ 50 grains.
I was a little surprised to find the core separate from the jacket. The bullets I’ve found in the past with separated cores had massive damage to the jacket. There was no structure left to hold the core in those bullets. That wasn’t the case with the ELD-X. The “cup” part of the cup and core bullet was intact and retained its shape, and the core wasn’t damaged. It was obvious that both pieces penetrated every layer in a straight line together, and to the same depth.
I concluded that because the bullet had expanded beyond the InterLock ring, there was nothing left to hold on to the core. Momentum kept them together until they stopped and fell to the bottom of the jug.
In the end, I accepted the fact that it didn’t really tell me anything from a realistic hunting standpoint. Five layers of heavy plastic is much harder to penetrate than a deer’s skin. I needed a short-range impact on an animal to see real results. That would come toward the end of the review.
In early October, we headed to Wyoming for our annual pronghorn hunt. The 260 Terminator/143 ELD-X combination proved deadly on antelope.
That’s hardly a news flash. Antelope are small, thin-skinned animals that are easy to kill if you hit them in the right place. The wind, though, is always conspiring to make that a difficult task. I like an accurate .264-caliber bore rifle for this kind of work.
My daughter, Jessica, shot her pronghorn through the heart at 820 yards. She’s kind of a showoff like that, and made my buck at 587 yards seem close. Both bullets expanded, caused impressive bleeding, and exited with identical 1 1/2” holes in the hide.
Because Jessica’s buck was now our furthest kill with the 143 ELD-X, I was particularly interested in that wound channel. Under those conditions, the bullet hit the pronghorn with an impact velocity of 1993 fps. It obviously expanded before it hit the heart, but I couldn’t tell how much. The expanded ELD-X hit a rib on its way out, and exited through the edge of the right scapula. When I butchered that shoulder a few days later, I found a few core fragments below the exit wound. The were the only large bullet fragments we found during this review.
The next animal to fall to the 143 ELD-X was a mountain lion. The whitetail rut was just starting to ramp up, and I wasn’t the only one hunting the hillside that day.
I had just set up for an afternoon long-range ambush. I immediately spotted a whitetail doe feeding in the open with my Leica Geovid. Out of habit, I punched the range button. The HD-B told me she was 600 yards away and I needed 10.5 MOA to reach her. I started picking apart the timber behind her, looking for more deer. Within seconds, a brown flash came running toward her through the trees. My first thought was a buck was coming in to check her out, but when I saw the long tail swirling, I knew I was looking at a cat.
I rolled off the binos and chambered a round in the 260 Terminator. I dialed 11 MOA into the scope, and quickly found the lion in the lens. As it crouched at the edge of the trees, I estimated one minute of wind and held accordingly. I saw the bullet hit the cat at 620 yards. The lion jumped straight up in the air as the sound of the impact reached me. It flailed on the ground before jumping up again, then dashed off to the right.
The impact velocity on this shot was 2143 fps. The lion died 40 yards from where it was hit. The ELD-X penetrated its chest cavity, expanded, and left a clean 1” exit hole. I found a furrow in the dirt left by the bullet after it exited, but didn’t find the bullet.
The final shot for this review came during the last few days of Idaho’s general deer season. The rut was in full swing, and I was carrying the 260 Remington. A change in tactics was called for.
The kids and I spotted and passed on several two and three-year-old bucks over the past couple of weeks. Mature bucks were nowhere to be seen, and time was running out. The last night of the season that Jess could hunt with me found us in one our most productive areas. We stayed on a very wet stand until dark, but didn’t spot a single deer. It was depressing.
I returned by myself the following afternoon, and decided to hunt the same area, but from a different vantage point. The most likely shot would come at the treeline 300 yards away, so I set up accordingly. I settled in and started calling, trying to make myself sound like a lonely doe.
I caught movement from the corner of my eye, right at sunset. As I focused on it, I realized it was a buck below me, walking slowly through some reprod timber 50 yards away. I settled in behind the rifle just as he stopped with his head behind a small tree. When he stepped out from behind it, I knew he was a shooter. Unfortunately, he was looking right at me and I didn’t have a clear shot yet. He took one more step and quartered slightly toward me for a better look. I settled the crosshair on his right shoulder as close to the tree as I dared, and sent a bullet his way.
The ELD-X slammed into the buck at 2748 fps, one inch forward of the right scapula. It expanded and exited a few inches behind the left scapula.
The buck collapsed and started kicking, obviously hit hard. I did a mental high five, and let the adrenaline wash over me. I was quickly reminded though, that a mature whitetail buck is a different sort of animal. Much to my surprise, he decided the fight wasn’t over yet. He got up and started stumbling away, and didn’t offer a good follow-up shot. He stopped 20 yards later, and turned his head to the left as he passed between two trees. I lined up a shot on his neck and dropped him for good. That bullet passed through the third vertebrae, killing the buck instantly. I don’t like neck shots, but as a follow-up, it’s all I had.
There was no doubt in my mind that the buck would have died quickly without the second shot. When I walked up on him, there was a chunk of liquified lung material close to the initial exit wound. The expanded bullet had passed through the front of the lungs and the chest cavity was full of blood. There were a few small flakes of jacket material around the rear edge of the shoulder, but the bullet clearly exited intact.
The shot that impressed me the most, out of any taken during this review, was the neck shot. The vertebral column is tough to penetrate without destroying bullets. I haven’t had penetration problems in the past, but I’ve found a lot of jackets around these exit wounds. After skinning the buck, I picked through that shattered bone carefully. There were a few tiny pieces of core material mixed in with bone fragments, but no jacket.
The Hornady 143-grain ELD-X is a hunting bullet that will work across a broad range of situations. It delivered the precision, consistency, and lethality we need for long-range hunting. At the same time, it was tough enough for the close work.
There was a post on Facebook yesterday where the guy claimed Hornady ELD-X bullets were unpredictable. I couldn’t help but think how far off the mark that statement was. I can’t speak to all calibers, but I found the 143-grain ELD-X to be 100% predictable—eight times this year. It’s an excellent bullet for hunting deer-size animals, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use it again.
For more information on the ELD-X line of bullets, visit Hornady’s website, HERE. Thank You to Neal Emery and Hornady for supporting this project.