.450 Ackley Magnum

August 27, 2013 in Gunroom by Hunting Legends

African Outfitter Back Issues: CONTENTS – June / July 2007 – (Vol 2/4)

The .450 Ackley Magnum – Roy Vincent

In recent years, we have seen the introduction of many .458 caliber-based factory cartridges like the .450 Dakota and the .450 Rigby.

The .450 Ackley Magnum - LionMy son Alan (right) used his .450 Ackley to stop this lion’s charge

Yet, we tend to forget that Wild Cat cartridges like the .450 Ackley Magnum has a long history of service to hunters of dangerous game. It achieves the ‘mythical’ performance level of 2300–2400 fps with 500 grain bullets considered to be ideal, especially for professional hunters who are often in a situation where they have to back up hunting clients in dangerous situations and where a cartridge that does the job is essential.

Components for the reloader are freely available and relatively inexpensive. The .458 diameter has the widest choice of projectiles available of all the big bores. The case diameter allows a 5 to 6-round magazine capacity in some rifles, and in a pinch, even other ammunition can be used, when the airlines lose suitcases with vital ammunition.

Designed by P.O. Ackley in the early 1950s the .450 Ackley pre-dates the .458 Winchester Magnum and in the opinion of many, should have been produced by Winchester in 1956 instead of the .458 Winchester Magnum, whose limited powder capacity at the time gave rise to some serious problems. However, the development of modern propellants has improved the handloader’s situation giving the .458 Winchester Magnum performance to match and even exceed the original velocity of 2130 fps with 500 grain bullets without excessive powder compression.

The .450 Ackley provides a worthwhile velocity increase over the .458 Winchester Magnum of approximately 200–400 fps, and 100–150 fps over the .458 Lott, depending upon whether factory loads or hand-loads are compared and what propellants are available for hand-loading.

The .450 Ackley Magnum - LionA nice buffalo shot in the Chete Safari area

When Parker Ackley brought out his .450, there was a lot of wildcatting taking place which led to many variations of .450 caliber cartridge designs. Most of these were for use in magazine rifles based on the .375 Holland and Holland, belted magnum, case and in the larger calibers the .375 H&H Magnum case was obviously necked up and expanded in different ways. There is a limit to how many forms can be provided from a single cartridge type. This resulted in many cartridge designs being very similar even though they were developed independently of each other. The performance levels and field results were often indistinguishable from one another. Among the .450 cartridges, the .450 Barnes supreme is with some very minor dimensions identical to the .450 Ackley, but did not become as popular with shooters as did the Ackley version. The .450 Watts, .450 Mashburn Magnum and the .458 Lott are identical to each other with the exception of the Lott’s nominal cartridge length being 2.800″ instead of 2.850″. More discussion about cartridge length follows further on.

The .450 Ackley and Barnes Supreme can be accurately described as improved versions of these three cartridges, i.e. with minimum body taper resulting in a shoulder and parallel neck section giving a more uniform neck tension to the seated bullet. The constant taper on the others results in uneven tension on a seated bullet. The practical effect of this is of no consequence. However, the bulge on the case created by the seated bullet is obvious on closer inspection.

All of the above-mentioned cartridges can be safely fired in a .450 Ackley chambered rifle, the possible exception being the Barnes Supreme as it is so similar that minor variations in dimensions could prevent chambering. However, if it can be chambered, it can be used as long as it is a known ‘safe’ load. Examples of Barnes Supreme must be very rare and unlikely to be encountered. Many owners of .450 Ackley rifles have taken to using .458 Winchester Magnum ammunition when Ackley ammunition was unavailable or too expensive. Now that .458 Lott is factory loaded it can also be used. The fired Lott cases are simply fire-formed to the Ackley chamber. The .458 Winchester Magnum cases fired in the Ackley chamber form a small neck (about 1 mm long). This does not preclude re-loading these cases. Resizing in a .458 die brings the neck back to the correct dimensions. The stretching of the brass will reduce case life to less than it would be if fired in a .458 chamber.

Surprisingly, when the .458 Winchester Magnum rounds are fired in a .450 Ackley chambered rifle there is very little velocity loss. This is contrary to expectations due to the longer bullet travel before engaging the rifling lands, creating, in effect, a long free-bore (throat or leade)

I have personal experience involving about a dozen .450 Ackley rifles firing .458 Winchester Magnum rounds. All of the rifles were converted from .458 Winchester Magnum to .450 Ackley and were fired before and after rechambering to check the velocity loss resulting from the change. In all cases the velocity loss was minimal and usually not more than 20 to 30 fps, which is within the shot-to-shot variation of individual rounds, manufacturing lots and brands.

The .450 Ackley Magnum - LionRoy Vincent with a 65LB Wankie elephant bull

Factory .458 Winchester Magnum rounds of various makes and vintage – some very old – fired in several different rifles chambered for the .450 Ackley, produced velocities ranging from 1923 fps to 2107 fps. The velocity spread is again within the expected variation of .458 Winchester Magnum factory ammunition fired in factory standard .458 Winchester Magnum chambers.

When using other cartridges in the .450 Ackley rifle, particularly the .458 Winchester Magnum, it is essential to re-zero the sights. Experience has shown that there can be a considerable change in point of impact, depending on individual rifles characteristics. This can result in point-of-impact changes exceeding 12 inches (300 mm) at 100 metres. This is not surprising as there can be up to 400 fps velocity difference with 500 grain bullets.

Factory-loaded ammunition is currently made by A-square and Superior in the USA. The cost of this ammunition in South Africa is no doubt very high and availability problematic due to lack of demand. This means that large-bore rifle enthusiasts need to hand-load ammunition to reduce cost and for the enjoyment this gives those of experimental inclination. Fortunately, there are a wide range of bullets available in .458 diameter ranging in weight from 300 grains to 600 grains in both expanding and solid form. Many premium hunting bullets are made for big game hunting by most bullet makers including our own South African makers, such as Stewart Bullets and Rhino Bullets, among others. Ken Stewart at Polokwane makes cases with the correct head-stamp and there is a strong possibility that ammunition will also be available in the near future.

.450 Ackley ammunition can be made from commonly available .375 H & H Magnum cases. There are different methods of achieving this as described below:

Method 1: This the method I prefer. Expand the cases as fully as possible using incremental sizes of expander plugs up to .510″ diameter. Full-length size, with the die carefully adjusted to headspace on the shoulder. R.C.B.S. makes expander die .375″ – .458″, which can be done in one pass. Additional tapered expanders can be turned on a lathe with diameters from .450″– .480″ and .480 – .510. They are then drilled and tapped to fit the expander rod of the die. A normal working load can then be used resulting in the remaining unexpanded section of the lower part of the case fully fire-forming to fit the chamber. Some prefer to anneal the neck and shoulder area before the expanding process to reduce splitting. I have found doing so can result in insufficient neck tension of seated bullets. If the correct heavy duty case lube is used and care is taken expanding incrementally very few cases, if any, will split. Nickel-coated cases seem to be more likely to split than plain brass, so I avoid them if possible.

Method 2: Expand the case neck only as far as is necessary to accept a bullet of choice used for fire-forming, such as cast or less expensive 300 grain bullets. Neck size in the die. This ammunition can be used for practice with powder charge producing sufficient pressures to fully form to the full case dimensions in the chamber.

Method 3: Fire-forming cases without using (expensive) bullets can be achieved by using sufficient pistol/shotgun powder, approximately 20 grains or more as required to fully form the cases to the chamber. Tamp wads of toilet paper down tightly over the powder to fill the case. Alternatively powder charge, followed by a wad of toilet paper, mealie meal, and another wad of toilet paper to keep everything in place. Point the muzzle vertically and fire. The report of these loads is very loud and it makes a mess, and it might even be possible to start a fire. Wear hearing and eye protection, and do not point the rifle at anybody as it can kill at close range. Uneven case mouths sometimes result using this method. Some trimming would then be required to eliminate the unevenness.

The .450 Ackley Magnum - LionFrom left: .450 Ackley; .458 Lott; .458 Winchester Mag; the next two are both .450 Vincent Long; and the last two .450 Vincent Short

When using .375 H & H cases to form .450 Ackley case a shortening of the case to less than the nominal 2.85″ will occur. Trim all cases to 2.76″ or to the length of the shortest case if one wishes to crimp the bullet. I suspect this shortening of the cases is the probable reason the .458 Lott case length is normally stated as 2.80″. The crimping cannelure will not be in the correct position due to the shorter cases, requiring the bullet to be seated too deeply if a crimp is to be in place. Unless a canneluring tool is available it is best to do without crimping. My experience has shown that the neck tension and a full or slightly compressed powder charge keep the bullet secure, unless left in the bottom of the magazine while the rifle is fired repeatedly. Be sure to cycle the bottom round to the top before topping up the magazine. .416 Remington Magnum cases can be used, requiring much less dimensional change to conform to the .450 Ackley chamber. The resulting cases are longer than those made from the .375 H & H.

Cast bullets work very well with the .450 Ackley and can give excellent results on game. It is best to stay with gas check design. Cast bullets of up to 550 grains can be driven to over 2100 fps if desired, depending upon the alloy used in casting.

Locally, the most suitable propellant for this cartridge has been Somchem S341 due to it’s medium burning rate and, importantly, its bulk density allowing heavier charges than the extruded propellants. I have not tried S355, so cannot comment on possible results, but speculate that it would give excellent results as its burning rate would seem to be about right if it is not too bulky to reach its potential in this cartridge. S32l and S335 provide good performance with 500 grain bullets – in the 2200–2300 fps range. Both these propellants are suitable with the lighter 300 grain – 400 grain bullets, and cast bullets. They also have application with reduced velocity loads, where it is desired to replicate .458 Winchester Magnum velocity. S335 is preferable due to its greater bulking factor, and no doubt S355 would be suitable too.

As a matter of interest, highest velocities recorded to date have been achieved with imported propellants. There are many other propellants available overseas within the burning range suitable for this cartridge that have not been tried, but could provide results as good or even improve upon Winchester 748 and Reloader 15. Top velocity achieved with these propellants are 2423 fps and 2425 fps respectively without signs of excessive pressure in the test rifles, using 500 grain bullets. Du Pont IMR 4320 has also proven to be excellent and Norma 203B should provide the expected performance. Somchem’s S355 is similar to IMR 4320 and would likely produce similar excellent results.

Another important consideration is rifle magazine length. Required minimum length for the .450 Ackley is 3.6 inches. Longer than this is desirable allowing greater flexibility of loading. Magazines of 3.8 inches or longer allow bullets to be seated further out providing more powder space and flexibility in loading some of the longer bullets. 500 grain Barnes X bullets are so long that they have to be seated very deeply, thereby greatly reducing capacity and consequently cannot be driven to the higher velocities that this cartridge can achieve with conventional bullets. It is best to stick to .450 grain X bullets in this cartridge, or accept a reduction in velocity with the 500-grain version.

Foremost among the many rifles that can be adapted to this cartridge, are BRNO 602 and CZ550 chambered for .458 Winchester Magnum. A simple chambering job and some important work on the receiver feed rails to ensure reliable functioning of the longer round is all that is required to convert one of these rifles. Front sight height will need changing to bring ‘point of impact’ to ‘point of aim’.

If the original stock is retained it is prudent to rebed and install cross bolts if not provided by the factory, to cope with the increased recoil. Replacing the stock with a laminated stock or a good synthetic version (like the Macmillan), is a wise option.

Any rifle action can be used that provides the required magazine length and bolt travel as a basis for building a custom rifle for this cartridge. P14s have been the basis of many rifles built for the .450 Ackley. Parker Ackley built many of his rifles for this cartridge on these actions that require considerable work to refine into a sporting rifle. Remington 700, Ruger Magnum, Pre 64 M70 Winchester, Super grade M70 Winchester and the many magnum Mauser actions reproduced these days by several rifle makers’ work well for this chambering.

A benefit of using the .375 H&H case is that it allows a magazine capacity greater than with those cartridges based on the .404 and 416 Rigby cases, due to their greater diameters.

Field experience with the .450 Ackley is extensive providing a very satisfactory performance in the hands of many hunters, both amateur and professional. It has been a popular round for use by professional hunters for many years and in fact was only superseded in popularity in recent years by the .458 Lott, with the introduction of factory-made rifles and ammunition. Field results with the Ackley have shown exemplary performance, which would be difficult to improve upon. Penetration with solid bullets is excellent and some results have been astounding. Buffalo shot in the nostril have been penetrated full length with the bullets recovered under the skin of the back leg. Penetration on elephant is sufficient to reach the brain from almost any angle.

In early 1968, we were testing two dart guns developed by a gunsmith in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The gunsmith’s friend, Jeff, had brought a .450 Ackley built on a Magnum Mauser action as backup. This rifle was offered for sale a little while later and unfortunately I could not come up with the asking price of seventy-five pounds (US$150). Two elephant cows were darted with Scoline, a muscle-paralyzing drug working on the respiratory system. Both cows went down after a short run, within about 80 metres of each other. Jeff was tasked with watching the first whilst the rest of the party was examining the second. After a quick examination of the second elephant it was rapidly decided to put them down by shooting. Shouting at Jeff to do so, resulted shortly in a vicious buzzing not too far over our heads. The gunsmith, a heavy-set fellow, ducked involuntarily, and got cramp in his thighs and could not stand straight for a while. This caused a great deal of hilarity among the rest of us. Needless to say we were not amused by Jeff’s carelessness in shooting towards us, which could have resulted in tragedy. He was surprised that the 600-grain Barnes Solid, of the original type made of heavy copper tubing, completely penetrated the cow’s head with considerable remaining velocity to depart over the horizon!

It is stated in “Cartridges of the World”, that the .450 Ackley rifles cannot safely fire .458 Winchester or .458 Lott, because of its bottleneck design and potential head spacing problems. This is absolute nonsense as the method of creating Ackley cases requires fire-forming of cases to fit the chamber when not formed by the manual case-forming operation. Further, all .375 H&H derived cartridges headspace on the belt unless the hand loader elects to headspace on the shoulder to conform to his particular rifle’s chamber dimension by adjusting the sizing die. The .458 Winchester Magnum and .458 Lott lack any form of shoulder and rely entirely on the belt for correct head spacing. A well-know PH in Zimbabwe has a P14-based rifle built for him by the late Parker Ackley, which he has been using for over 30 years. He has fired thousands of .458 Winchester Magnum cartridges through his rifle with completely satisfactory results including using this rifle on a large buffalo cull during the mid 1970s. As soon as he could again obtain Ackley ammunition, he used this and has not had any problems related to chamber erosion from firing so many of the shorter rounds.

The following reloading data is given for information purposes only. Reduce all maximum loads by 10% and work up slowly, watching for any pressure signs. Safe working loads will give extended case life with the components you are using without the primer pockets becoming loose. All dimensions are given in inches and weights in grains. Velocity is given in feet per second. (fps). All cases were made from .375 H&H Magnum brass.

RELOADING DATA – .450 ACKLEY MAGNUM

RIFLE BRNO 602 25 INCH BARREL

 

 

RIFLE CUSTOM P 14 ACTION 24 INCH BARREL

 

550 Cast gas-check bullets produced 2223 fps using 80 grains of DuPont 3031 which is similar to Somchem’s 335.

Rigby and Mauser

August 27, 2013 in Gunroom by Hunting Legends

African Outfitter Back Issues: CONTENTS – October / November 2007 – (Vol 2/6)

MR RIGBY AND THE MAUSER – Johan van Wyk

MR RIGBY AND THE MAUSER

The Mauser action of 1898 is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best bolt action ever invented. Copied by dozens, used by millions and coveted by collectors the world over, the Mauser simply keeps on doing the job in spite of its old-fashioned looks and a whole legion of grandiose claims from a bunch of wannabe successors, all of whom seem to fall by the wayside one by one as time goes by.

Peter Paul Mauser’s Model 1898 started life on the drawing boards in the Mauser factory at Oberndorf as a successor to the 1895/1896 series of military actions. The 1895/1896 action was a tremendous success for Mauser, entering military service in numerous countries as diverse as Chile and Sweden and attaining almost mythical status in the hands of a comparatively small number of the hard-headed but determined and gutsy burghers of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic during the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899–1902. What Paul Mauser realised, though, was that it could be improved further still, and the 1898 Mauser, or K98 as it would become known, was the result.

The most important improvements to the K98, in addition to the battle-proven design of the earlier action, was a third locking lug on the rear of the bolt shaft and a feature that cocked the action on closing the bolt rather than the other way around. The first improvement strengthened the action considerably and the second, together with reduced lock time, improved accuracy. All in all, they made the new action much more suitable for sporting use than the older design, and I would not be surprised if this was part of Mauser’s motivation for redesigning the action in the first place.

The year 1898 also saw the introduction, by John Rigby & Co, of the .450 3¼” Nitro Express, a round that changed the face of dangerous game hunting forever. For the first time, hunters could exchange their heavy and cumbersome 8-bore rifles for lighter and handier versions chambered for the new express round and still take on the mightiest of animals without being under gunned. Parallel to developments in the double rifle field, many of England’s and Germany’s rifle smiths and ballisticians also set their minds to developing a range of calibres for use in the strong new K98 action. Both countries at the time ruled over vast, game-rich colonies in both Africa and the East and the growing demand from settlers and fledgling game departments for cheap, reliable rifles in suitable calibres held considerable commercial promise for the rifle makers of both countries.

The only bolt action in production in England at the time was the Lee-Enfield, used by the British Army in .303 calibre. Although the Lee-Enfield was a superb military rifle (both it and the .303 cartridge would continue to serve the British Army throughout both World Wars and into the 1960s) it wasn’t strong enough to cope with the pressures generated by many of the larger cordite-loaded cartridges developed during this era. The K98 provided the answer. Although history has not yet provided the answer as to who approached whom, the Mauserwerke appointed the well-known London firm of John Rigby & Co as their agents in England during 1900.

Rigby’s distributed Mauser actions to the English gun-making trade and many firms began making superb Mauser-actioned sporting rifles, in many instances chambered for their own proprietary calibres like the Westley Richards .318 and .425, WJ Jeffery & Co’s .333, .404 and .500, Rigby’s .350 and .416, Holland’s .300 and .375, and George Gibbs’s .505. The only tragedy of this development was that many of the established English makers gradually phased their lovely single-loaders (such as the Gibbs-Farquharson) out of production as they came to the realisation that the Mauser was both cheaper to produce and a more suitable weapon for hunting dangerous game.

The Mauserwerke themselves were not idle during this period, either, and they marketed sporting rifles in various different grades and a whole bunch of calibres almost right from the beginning. The famed Oberndorf Mauser sporters were well-made and sold as a rule for slightly less than the best English rifles on the same actions. The Type A Mausers, the top of the line commercial Mauser, were slightly better-finished rifles specifically aimed at competing with the better English-made rifles. The result was a commercial success and an original sporting Mauser rifle is today, when in original untouched condition, a highly sought-after collector’s piece.

During their time as the Mauser agents, Rigby’s built a wide variety of rifles on Mauser actions, most notably a great many in .275 (7×57) calibre. One of Rigby’s best-known clients during this period included a Scottish big-game hunter by the name of Walter Dalrymple Maitland Bell – the world would bestow upon him the name “Karamoja”, named for the area in North-Eastern Uganda he favoured as a hunting ground for heavy-tusked elephants. Bell was somewhat of an individualist when it came to rifles and calibres for dangerous game. Instead of the .450-class of large bores favoured by most hunters of the day, Bell preferred smaller calibres, such as the .256 Mannlicher,.275 Rigby, the .303 and the .318 Westley Richards Accelerated Express as his weapons of choice when hunting the big fellows.

Although he invested in a few larger bore rifles in later life (on his last trip to Africa during the 1920s, for instance, he used a double .450/400 NE by WJ Jeffery & Co) Bell will forever be associated with the .275 Rigby and the fact that he hunted in the region of 800 elephants with a series of these little rifles, made especially for him by Rigby. The famous American author Robert Ruark once owned one of Bell’s original .275’s and, in a nostalgic trip down memory lane, took it on safari to Uganda’s Karamoja region during the late 1950s under the guidance of the famous Harry Selby.

Bell owned and used no less than six .275 Rigby’s during his lifetime (some of the later ones were even fitted with early telescopes), a .416 or two, as well as a .22 Savage Hi-Power, also built on a Mauser action for him by Rigby and delivered on 31 May 1929. In hindsight, and considering the amount of elephant hunting that he did with small-calibre rifles without the benefit of professional backup of any kind, Walter Bell probably owed John Rigby a large amount of gratitude for ensuring that his favourite ‘small bores’ worked as reliably as they did in the face of the big ones.

Another well-known hunter of years gone by who entrusted his life to a Rigby rifle in the face of dangerous game was that famous hunter of man-eaters, Colonel Jim Corbett. Just like Walter Bell, Corbett owned a Rigby .275 and used it very successfully on at least one tiger bent on making mincemeat out of him when he could not bring his .450/400 NE double to bear in time. Corbett also commented favourably on his little Rigby’s superb handling. John “Pondoro” Taylor, the famous Irish elephant hunter, poacher and author, owned a number of Rigby rifles throughout his long career and had nothing but praise for them.

Rigby had a large influence on the development of the K98 action for sporting purposes. According to legend, it was as a result of a request from Rigby that Mauser began to make a specially lengthened version of the K98 during the early 1900s. Rigby designed and introduced a cartridge during 1911 that could only be used in a longer action than the standard K98. Both became the stuff of legend: the action was, of course, the famed Magnum Mauser and the cartridge the .416 Rigby.

Of course, being the official Mauser agent in England gave Rigby somewhat of a monopoly in the supply of Mauser actions to the rest of the trade and, with capitalism being what it was even during the early 1900s, they exploited this advantage to the fullest. A good example of this is the fact that they refused to supply Magnum actions to the rest of the trade and it is only after the Rigby monopoly came to an end that other cartridges specifically meant for use in Magnum-length actions were developed. As a result, cartridges like the .505 Rimless Magnum by Gibbs came to be developed specifically to cater for the elephant-hunting fraternity. Although other makers introduced large-calibre magazine rifle cartridges during this period, notably the .404 Jeffery and .425 Westley Richards in 1909, they could be made to work in a standard-length Mauser action and it was really only a few years later, when the longer actions became available to the trade in general, that Magnum Mauser-actioned rifles were chambered for these and other cartridges by other English makers.

Rigby’s monopoly as the Mauser agent came to an end in 1912, just before World War I. By that time, the Mauser action was the whole of the English gun-making trade’s undisputed choice as a bolt action and Mauser probably realised that were was money to be made by releasing actions such as the Magnum to the trade in general. As far as I am aware, no record has been made public of the effect of this step on Rigby as a firm, but their reputation as a maker of best-quality Mauser-actioned sporting rifles was by this time so well entrenched that I am willing to wager that the effect was just about negligible.

Rigby also ordered a number of actions from Mauser specifically designed for use with rimmed cartridges. A small number (no more than about twenty in total) of Rigby-Mausers were made chambered for the .303 cartridge on custom-made actions with a modified sloping magazine box and extractor claw to ease feeding and extracting of the .303’s rimmed case. They also made a modest number of rifles for the rimmed .400/350 NE on similarly-modified Magnum Mauser actions.

The Mauser is today, more than a century after it first became available, still the preferred choice of most of the world’s custom gun makers, and that includes the surviving English makers, such as Holland & Holland and Westley Richards. Almost all the catalogues proudly proclaim that Mauser-actioned rifles may be ordered on “new-built or original” Mauser actions, depending on the customer’s choice.

John Rigby’s original London-made Mausers are today, after all these years, still considered by many the yardstick by which all other dangerous-game magazine rifles are measured. For some strange reason, the current owners of the Rigby company (these days based in Paso Robles, California) seem to have forsaken the Mauser to a large degree and a recent catalogue proclaims that they now offer their smaller-calibre magazine rifles with Winchester Model 70-type actions rather than the Mauser, a fact that I find more than a little sad considering the proud historic association between the Mauser and Rigby names.

If you are lucky enough to own an original Rigby-Mauser, you are the proud owner of a piece of gun-making history. These rifles represent the happy confluence of Peter Paul Mauser’s design genius and John Rigby’s gun-making brilliance and attention to detail and, as such, they are at the pinnacle of the gun-maker’s art as far as bolt actions are considered. Rest assured that the ghosts of men like Taylor, Corbett and Bell are probably looking down at you from across the Big River every time you take your old Rigby out of its case and use it for its intended purpose: hunting Africa’s big game.

Big Double Rifle of Pondoro Taylor

August 27, 2013 in Gunroom by Hunting Legends

African Outfitter Back Issues: CONTENTS – June / July 2007 – (Vol 2/4)

Regarding John Taylor’s last double rifle – Mauritz Coetzee

During the early beginnings of 2007, I was fortunate enough to start corresponding with Tony Sánchez-Arinõ, one of the last remaining great elephant hunters.

Regarding John Taylor's last double rifle


During the course of many faxes and the exchanging of ideas, I mentioned to Tony that I did have an article on the sale of John Taylor’s last double, a John Wilkes .450 3½ inch.

Tony responded quite promptly with a request that the article be faxed as soon as possible to his home in Valencia, Spain.

The reason why I actually mentioned the article on John Taylor’s last double rifle was simply because Tony referred to this double in his book, “Elephants, Ivory and Hunters“.

On page 114 of this book Tony makes the following observations: “I have seen magazine articles stating that Taylor’s favourite calibre was supposed to be the .500 Nitro. Some quote the .450 Nitro and other calibres, but in fact he always preferred the .465 Nitro, though his last rifle (rarely used against elephant) was a .450 Nitro with a box lock action by John Wilkes. I have discussed this matter at length in correspondence with Taylor, so I know this to be correct” (“Elephants, Ivory and Hunters“, page 114).

Regarding John Taylor's last double rifleJohn “Pondoro” Taylor in London, 1958

Quite eager to supply Tony with the article on John (Pandoro) Taylor’s last double, there was however one slight problem.

I had sent the August 1970 edition of the Guns & Ammo magazine to Koos Barnard of Man/Magnum magazine three years ago. The reason for this was simply to supply Brian Marsh, well-known author, with some additional information on John Taylor’s rifles, since Brian Marsh wrote extensively on the legacy of Pondoro.

A quick phone call to Koos Barnard solved a potential problem and a very old edition of Guns & Ammo arrived a few days later.

The article on John Taylor and his supposedly last double was written by Jacques (Jack) Lott, well known author and rifle enthusiast. Jack died in 1995 and I can quite vividly remember a toast I shared to Jack Lott’s life with Joe Coogan, Coenraad Vermaak and Ronnie Rowland out in the northern Transvaal.

The essence of the article by Jack Lott centred on the sale of a John Wilkes box lock double in a .450 3½ inch persuasion – serial number 4988, which was sold to an American buyer, Steve Miller.

Dated 5 August 1965, the bill of sale states that John Taylor, Box 177, Mozambique, Portuguese East Africa had sold one John Wilkes London-made double rifle, serial number 4988 to Steven G Miller from the USA. It also stated that Steven Miller resided at Doornkloof, Irene in the Transvaal, South Africa.

Furthermore, the rifle is described as item number 5 on John Taylor’s firearms permit issued on 11 June 1965 and also expiring 11 September 1965.

A piece of paper was also photographed and is shown in this article. Dated 7 July 1965, PEA it says the following: “To Steve Miller, a ‘young’ old African hand from far older ‘old’ African Hand – John Taylor”.

Regarding John Taylor's last double rifleTony Sánchez-Ariño (left), Louis Weyers and Eric Rundgren in the Transvaal, 1966

As to the bill of sale, it shows that Louis Weyers signed as a witness to this document. Imagine my disappointment when Tony phoned me on 1 April of this year only to inform me that the sale of John Taylor’s last double was a complete hoax! Tony knew about the existence of this article.

The whole debacle is in fact discussed in a later publication by Tony, “Elephant Hunters, Men of Legend” (2005).

This book is the most complete discussion on the elephant hunters of yesteryear and as such the lives of great hunters, such as George Rushby, “Samaki” Salmon, Eric Rundgen, Harry Manners and John “Pondoro” Taylor are discussed.

The whole problem around the so-called sale of John Taylor’s last double rifle is contained in the dating of the ‘sale’ of this gun.

As Tony Sánchez-Arinõ mentions, John Taylor arrived in 1957 in London and died in 1969 in London without having left London since his arrival in 1957.

Apart from this, an old friend of Tony, Louis Weyers, a grandson of General Smuts, shown on the bill of sale as being a witness to the transaction, knew nothing about the sale of the Wilkes double. His signature was fraudulently added onto the document.

What is extremely sad about this whole episode is the fact that John Pondoro Taylor was in reality living a life of poverty in London, unaware that money was made in his name under false pretence.

Like other great elephant hunters his final years showed a recurring pattern of loneliness and poverty. A typical example here is “Mickey” Norton, who shot around two thousand elephant. Like Taylor, he died at the age of seventy six in poor health and poverty.

As to the article by Jack Lott on John Taylor two positive issues came from this article. Firstly, the recognition that John Taylor’s “African Rifles & Cartridges” will forever remain unmatched for its contribution to big game hunting. Secondly, a realisation of the impact John Taylor had on the people where he hunted. The late Jack Lott, quite correctly, described this impact in the following manner: “Pondoro somehow impressed his personality on the land and it’s peoples, for the name John Taylor is something to conjure with in the vast span of Africa lying north of the Limpopo, east of the Kalahari, South of the Rovuma and especially the lower reaches of the Zambezi. This is Pondoro territory, the haunts of a hunter who during his lifetime was a legend and as a legend lives on. ‘Sala gahle Pondoro’ (goodbye, Pondoro)”.

One should ask however, whether the original buyer of this gun, Steve Miller, and the subsequent owner mentioned in the article, Dr C Robert White, ever got to know the real circumstances surrounding the John Wilkes .450 3½ inch double.

Whilst working on this article I got to think about the chances of finding this John Wilkes double rifle serial number 4988 ever again. I am glad to inform you that I managed to trace this gun and its owner to Colorado in America. This whole episode will be covered in a later article.

Favourite rifles for Africa

August 27, 2013 in Gunroom, Hunting Info by Hunting Legends

African Outfitter Back Issues: CONTENTS – June / July 2007 – (Vol 2/4)

Favourite rifles and terminal performance – Mauritz Coetzee

Favourite rifles and terminal performance

In the 5th edition of “Cartridges of the World”, the late Frank C Barnes made the observation that old soldiers never die, and that the same apparently applies to old military cartridges.

Considering that the 45/70 Government cartridge was adopted by the American military in 1873, and the fact that this old timer is still going strong in 2007, surely warrants the title of being labelled a classic cartridge. Throughout the years this cartridge, whether in black powder or modern propellant configuration, has been available in factory chambered rifles by all major American rifle manufacturers.

This includes Remington, Winchester, Marlin, Ruger and the Navy Arms Company. The obvious difference obviously lies in the strength of the rifles manufactured a 134 years ago and the rifles currently chambered for the 45/70 Government. The old single-shot ‘trapdoor’ Springfield rifles of 1873 are simply not suitable for loads used nowadays with the modern Marlin 1895 (SS), including the Marlin Guide gun and Ruger No 1 single-shot rifles. To a certain extent the same applies to the original Winchester 1886 lever-action rifles regarding top-end loads.

Favourite rifles and terminal performance

What is relevant today is that modern factory ammunition with a 300 grain .458 diameter bullet is loaded to velocity levels of around 1 800–1 850 feet per second for modern rifles. Remington specifically loads a 405-grain bullet at an average velocity of 1 270 feet per second for the older types of rifles. This corresponds to the original loads of a head bullet of 405 grains at 1 285 feet per second.

In Africa, like in America and Canada, countless hunters have found that a 300 grain bullet at a velocity of 1 850 feet per second, especially for bush conditions, is a deadly combination.

The Hornady loading manual (fifth edition) lists loads with a 300-grain bullet to velocity loads of 2 000–2 100 feet per second for Marlin model 1895 rifles. In the same manual, 350 grain bullets were tested to 2 200 feet per second in the Ruger No 1 single-shot rifle.

Favourite rifles and terminal performance

Locally this cartridge can be loaded with S321, a ball propellant, which in terms of burning rate lies between IMR 4198 and IMR 3031. S341, another ball propellant (± IMR 4064) as well as S335 (± IMR 3031) have also delivered excellent performance levels with the 300 to 350/360 grain bullets.

Mark Goosen is one of many local hunters who are dedicated 45/70 fans. During the last five years, he has used this cartridge in his Marlin 1895 (SS) rifle against all plains game found in South Africa, as well as buffalo (see African Outfitter Volume 1/4). During late 2006, he also managed to hunt a giraffe bull with a 360 grain Rhino solid at a velocity of 1 930 feet per second. He used the same combination against the buffalo bull.

For all-round use when hunting impala, blesbok and warthog for example, the old style 300 grain Hornady .458 hollow-point bullet is used. With this bullet, 59 grains of S335 with a CC1200 primer delivers a velocity of 1 970 feet per second. For general use against animals like blouwildebees (brindled gnu) and eland he utilizes the 360 grain Rhino soft.

Favourite rifles and terminal performance

Mark readily acknowledges that the 45/70 cartridge is by no means the optimum ballistic combination against game such as buffalo. In the case of his buffalo hunt the 360 grain solid penetrated both shoulders of the buffalo.

It needs to be mentioned that the 360 grain Rhino solid in the ultra strong Ruger No 1 single-shot rifle, can be pushed to a velocity factor of 2 140 feet per second, thereby closely comparing to the original .404 Jeffrey loads of 2 150 feet per second with a 400 grain bullet.

All in all, Mark is totally satisfied with his 45/70 Marlin rifle. Apart from being very effective for short-range bushveld hunting applications, the rifle is a typical example of a gun design well over a hundred years old and still relevant in 2007. If one can close one’s eyes for a few minutes, images of Indian war parties and clashes with settlers can appear rather quickly. What a colourful cartridge this 45/70 is indeed!

500 Jeffery Big Game Rifles

August 27, 2013 in Firearms, Gunroom by Hunting Legends

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Thank you for visiting our site, we trust that you will find the information provided useful and informative. We also look forward to seeing you in Africa on your BIG 5 SAFARI soon! Please feel free to click on any of the links provided and see what we can offer you:

There are two basic requirements for a cartridge when hunting the big stuff in Africa: STOPPING POWER and PENETRATION

There has always been and most likely will continue to be in the future, a debate amongst gun enthusiasts as to which rifle in the world meets the above requirements. Shooting bullets of more than 500 grain and at velocities in excess of 2300 feet per second, requires some gun – believe you me!

Let’s take a look at the famous Jeffery, certainly a rifle and manufacturer which has stood the test of time. For many people super high velocities and high energies are like a drug, the more the better. THEY ARE WRONG!

We have been in this business long enough to stand our ground on this argument and we have also seen our fair share of big game trophies shot, by virtually any calibre you can think of in this class. Beyond a certain point no more killing power is needed. Animals are living creatures, not armoured cars as some romantic Africa Would Be Game Hunters like to promote on their get rich quick dvd’s. You can kill an elephant or buffalo only once, not twice …. For example, the capacity of the .500 Jeffery is larger than the .460 Weatherby and if loaded to the same pressure level of 55,000 psi, it would produce superior balistics, but to what end? The following information is credited to well known author Tony Sanchez-Arino.

We hope that the following facts will help you to better understand some important points about the .500 Jeffery:

  • A bullet of 535 grains (34.5 grams), at 2 400 feet muzzle velocity, takes 0.0709 of a second to cover 50 metres, 0.1467 to 100 metres and 0.2274 to 150 metres.
  • With a side wind of 2.20 metres per second the bullet has a deviation of 6 milimetres at 50 metres, 22 milimetres at 100 metres and 50 milimetres at 150, which produces a very high accuracy level.
  • The trajectory of the bullet is: 1,5 centimetres high at 50 metres, 0.0 at 100 and 7.5 cm low at 150, which is similar to many smaller calibres shooting a bullet less than half the weight of the .500 Jeffery.

The famous ammunition factory of Norma in Sweden has recently introduced a new line of cartridges named the “African Professsional Hunter”, including most of the more popular calibres but altering the traditional ballistics, increasing the bullet weight between 5 and 12%. The Jeffery is also on the list, with the following innovations:

  • The bullet is 570 grains instead of 535.
  • Muzzle velocity 2 200 feet per second, at 50 metres 2 097 and at 100 metres 1 997.
  • Muzzle energy 6,127 ft/lbs., at 50 metres 5,568 and at 100 metres 5,050 foot pounds.

Now, we don’t necessarily agree with the Norma heavier bullets, however, we can say this unconditionally – The .500 Jeffery is a serious and powerful stopping rifle for big game hunting in Africa! A rifle we believe is about to be re-born in Africa and certainly up to any test which comes it’s way!

500 Jeffery Doubles (384 x 294)

Makers of best guns, double barrelled rifles, and bolt action magazine rifles for over 100 years. Specialist makers of rifles for hunting large and dangerous game throughout the world, and long associated with such impressive proprietary cartridges as the Jeffery .600 and .500 rimless, the .475 and .450 No. 2, the .450/400 3”, the .404 and others Today Jeffery’s continue this tradition with an even wider range of specialised calibres, the rifles for which are hand-made in their central London workshop. In addition to custom gun and rifle making they are able to offer the following services:

  • Specialist gun-fitting.
  • Repairs and renovations to W. J. Jeffery guns and rifles, and other makes.
  • Supply of cartridges and ammunition, gun and rifle accessories.
  • A varied and extensive selection of best new and second-hand guns and rifles always available.

500 Jefferies (384 x 283)

PRICE GUIDE FOR CUSTOM GUNS AND RIFLES

Bolt Action Magazine Rifles

These are generally in the following calibres: .243 Win, .270 Win, .275 Rigby (7 x 57mm), 7mm Rem Mag, .30/06 Springfield, .308 Win, .300 Win Mag, .300 H&H, .338 Win, . 375 H&H, .416 Rigby, .404 Jeffery, .450 Rigby, .458 Win & Lott, .500 Jeffery.

Other calibres quoted on request. W. J. Jeffery & Co. build rifles on both original Mauser actions and those currently manufactured which conform to original Mauser specifications. BRNO actions are also used.

Other commercial actions are available on request. Prices range from £5,500 to £14,000 depending on type of action, calibre, grade of wood, engraving, open and telescopic sights, quick detachable mounts, case etc.

Double Barrelled Rifles W. J. Jeffery & Co. manufacture both box-lock and side-lock ejector side by side double rifles in the following big game calibres: .500, .470, .375 H&H, 9. 3 x 74 R. Other calibres quoted on request. Prices for box-lock ejector with traditional deep scroll engraving, case an fittings – from £20,000. Prices for best side-lock ejectors – from £40,000 (£30,000 for calibre 9.3 x 74mm).

Best Side by Side Shotguns 12 and 20 bore available with deep scroll engraving as standard. Holland & Holland style action with assisted self-opening – from £30,000. Beesley/Purdey style action – from £34,000. Special engraving, game scenes, carving, gold inlay etc. quoted seperately. Prices are shown for export only and all contracts are conducted in pounds sterling. For U.K./E.U. orders (non-export) VAT at the current rate is payable on the above prices.

If you want to hunt in Africa with the best in the business, contact us today for your FREE NO OBLIGATION QUOTE!

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W. J. JEFFERY & Co. 22 Wyvil Road London SW8 2TG Tel +44 (0) 20 7622 1131 Fax +44 (0) 20 7627 4442 Email shop@jroberts-gunmakers.co.uk www.wjjeffery.co.uk