Big Bore, High Power Hunting Cartridges

The following information on big bore, high power hunting cartridges comes from Rifles and Rifle Shooting by Charles Askins. Rifles & Rifle Shooting is also available to purchase in print.

Rifles for Grizzly Bear and Big Game of Asia and Africa. Lions, Tigers, Rhino, Hippo,—Elephant Guns.
Calibers.—.405 Winchester, .318 Westley Richards. .333 Jeffery, .400, .404, .450, .475, .500, .577, .600.

Most of the cartridges that are included in this class are built in Europe. They are of such variety and numbers as to preclude mention of more than a few, and those of a sort that American sportsmen might have occasion to use. I have seen fit to set the minimum caliber of this class at .318 and the striking force demanded at not less than 3,000 foot pounds. This is the minimum; nearly all the cartridges are larger, up to the .600 with a muzzle energy of over 8,000 pounds.

From the best information obtainable it seems that an African sportsman would consider an energy of from 3,000 to 4,000 pounds about the right thing for the larger African antelope, lions, and tigers. A striking force of from 4,000 to 5,000 pounds would do for rhino, hippo, and buffalo. Above 5,000 the weapon might be considered as purely an elephant gun.

It might be noted here that our own .405 Winchester is the baby of the lot, though it has been used very effectively on lions, leopards, rhinos, hippos, buffalo, and all game smaller than elephants by Roosevelt, White, and other Americans. In this country we are in the habit of considering the .405 a sort of hand cannon, but it is all a matter of comparison. The .600 Jeffrey strikes at one hundred yards with three times the force of the .405.

The .405 Winchester

This is the most powerful cartridge adapted to the lever action rifle, or in fact any American rifle except a few handmade arms.

Besides the work accomplished with it in Africa as mentioned, it is well liked by hunters who have made trips to Alaska and the Northwest for the giant brown bear, moose, and like game.

Whether it is powerful enough for African buffalo and rhinoceros is a debatable question, most people would decide not, and Roosevelt did a lot of hitting for one kill sometimes, but there is no disputing that it has all the knock-down qualities needed for the most rugged game in this country. The .405 is too destructive for deer, antelope, and animals of that size; neither can many men shoot such ammunition with the same accuracy that they could lighter charges. The man who is recoil proof and desirous of killing cleanly with one bullet should take very kindly to the .405.

One advantage of this cartridge should not be overlooked when comparing it with other big bores. It is shot from the fastest action of any ammunition at all approaching it in strength, and this must be given due weight where it might be necessary to give a dangerous animal more than one bullet. American hunters in Africa have always felt pretty safe with the .405 Winchester in their hands, whatever the beast they might be facing.

The .405 has a muzzle velocity of 2,204 feet, muzzle energy 3,206 foot pounds, 200 yard trajectory 4.85 inches, and the arm from which it is shot is model ’95 Winchester, weighing eight and a half pounds.

.318 Westley Richards, .333 Jeffery

These two cartridges belong to the most advanced type of big bore, high velocity, hunting ammunition. The .318 drives a 250 grain ball with a muzzle velocity of 2,500 feet; the .333 has the same weight of bullet which it sends at the rate of 2,600 feet. Both of the cartridges are loaded with projectiles of various kinds, weights, and shapes, full-mantled, sharp-pointed, soft-nosed, hollow pointed, and copper capped.

With the sharp-point, full mantled ball the Jeffery is said to have the greatest penetration of any hunting bullet made—sufficient to shoot c1ean through an elephant. Also it is one of the flattest shooting of rifles at long range, maintaining its velocity better than the lighter bullets of military design. The .318 is charged with Axite powder, the .333 with cordite, and both are declared to be extremely accurate at any and all ranges, even exceeding a thousand yards.

From reports of hunters in Asia and Africa the .318 and .333 will give a good account of themselves upon any game that lives. However, their especial field is long range shots in the open at game that requires hard hitting and yet is not particularly dangerous. Most Englishmen have a penchant for still more powerful ammunition where animals have to be shot in cover and stopped instantly, like a tiger for instance.

The ballistics of the .318 are, velocity 2,400 to 2,500 feet, energy at muzzle 3,400 pounds, breech pressure 19 tons, 200 yard trajectory 4 inches, weight of ball 250 grains. The .333 has an initial velocity of 2,600 feet, striking force 4,000 pounds, 200 yard trajectory 3 inches, length of bullet 1 1/2 inches, breech pressure 20 tons, shell contains a large air space, free recoil 35 pounds. Like the foregoing this cartridge is shot from double rifles, single-shots, and bolt-actions. Guns for the .318 are made by Westley Richards, the .333 by Jeffery.

.400, .404, .450, .475, .500. Jungle Rifles

There is a good deal of similarity in ballistics of the above cartridges, and I have not space to go into them in detail. Their velocities are all in the neighborhood of 2,200 feet, the bullets weigh from 400 to 570 grains, and the muzzle energies are from 4,000 to 5,200 pounds.

All are designed for the very largest game and especially for use in the jungle where a dangerous beast must be stopped in its tracks with a single bullet. Greener asserts that the .500 bore is the largest that should ever have been built in a cordite rifle, those larger having an unbearable recoil. It is impossible to obtain exact figures for the free recoil of the above cartridges, but I should estimate it at from 45 to 60 pounds. I notice our African game shooters are chary about shooting one of these weapons except when the case looks grave. In any event I doubt if anything heavier than the .475-80-500 Jeffery with a striking force of 5,000 pounds, is necessary to kill a whale.

One thing might be noted about these powerful cordite cartridges: All of them are loaded with an amount of powder which permits a considerable air space in the shell, in some instances the shell would hold nearly double the amount of powder placed in it. The purpose of this air space is to reduce breech pressure, which it is said to do very effectively.

Here is a statement from Jeffery in regard to this: “The Jeffery .400 case holds, when filled to the top of the case, 120 grains of water, and the 60 grains of cordite fill the space of 40 grains of water, cordite being practically one-third heavier than water.” We thus see that in this shell the powder charge takes up but one-third of the space. Mr. Jeffery gives the breech pressure of one of these giant cartridges as from 14 to 15 tons, something less than half that of the tiny .236-112 U.S. Navy, as originally built.

.577 Cordite, .600 Cordite. Elephant Guns

Formerly big game hunters, like Sir Samuel Baker and others, used eight and four bores for elephant shooting, loaded with from fourteen to sixteen drams of black powder and a spherical ball or a cylindrical bullet with hardened point. These huge arms have gradually gone out of use, being replaced by the .577 and .600 cordite rifles.

The .577 drives a bullet of 750 grains with a velocity of 2,050 feet and possesses a striking force of 5,680 foot pounds. The .600 Jeffery is the most powerful rifle made, not excepting the four bore. Its bullet weighs 900 grains, powder charge 100 grains cordite, velocity 2,000 feet. Both the striking force and the velocity vary somewhat with climate, being 2,000 feet and 8,000 pounds in England, compared with 2,100 feet and 8,700 pounds in India.

Mr. Jeffery naively states that owing to the recoil this rifle cannot be shot accurately at long range. I should roughly estimate the recoil at a hundred pounds and a man standing near it when it is fired should place pads in his ears and stand on his toes. I can safely recommend the arm to the hunter who is looking for power and deadliness.

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Big Bore, High Power Hunting Cartridges

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