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Written by Georg Grohmann   
Friday, 27 February 2009 13:31
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First published in Magnum in March 1994 under the title Downloaded .458 – The Double Problem. It is reproduced here (re-edited to bring it up to date) with the kind permission of the publisher.

Downloading the .458 Win Mag

Box lock double (with side plates) in .458 Win Mag, built by Johann Fanzoj of Ferlach, Austria In the last 20 years, or more, American ammunition makers have been downloading the .458 Win Mag, to the degree that it is no longer considered to be a suitable calibre in some circles. Velocity of 500gn factory ammunition is now quoted at around 2040 fps, and Frank Barnes states that actual velocities scarcely top 1900 fps.1 This is hardly better than the 45-70! It is a great disservice to the calibre, not to mention the unfortunate owners of .458 rifles, especially if they are not handloaders.

In recent years, The Gun Digest has been listing three factory loadings using 350, 400 and 465gn bullets, with more impressive ballistics.2 I have not had the opportunity to test these. Judging by previous experience, I think it likely that their velocities are overstated, and while they may do well in bolt-action rifles, they are unlikely to group correctly when fired from a double, which has been regulated with the 500gn bullet. Besides, it is the 500gn bullet that the .45 calibre is all about! When I first wrote this article, I assumed that the downloading of the .458 was done to create room for a new .45 calibre. This proved to be wrong. The downloading was due to this calibre’s early ammunition problems. However, I was blissfully unaware of these for a long time. Except for 40 rounds, which served as benchmarks for my reloading, I did not use factory ammunition. Also, large bores were not very popular in Oz when I first got my .458, and the Australian Shooters’ Journal rarely showed an interest in Africa and its doings. So I only came across the .458’s ‘problems’ some time after I returned from Oz in 1982.

My guess, for what it was worth, went something like this: there is no doubt that it was a mistake to shorten the parent .375 H&H case from 2.85” to 2.5”, to create the .458 Win Mag! I was never convinced by Winchester’s argument that people would buy it more readily because it could be built on standard length actions (read M-98/M-70.) The shorter bolt throw could have been a point in favour, but I do not remember that this was mentioned in 1956, when the .458 was introduced. It seems to me that the short-bolt-throw syndrome is a more recent fad. It might make a difference in theory, but in practise you have to slam the bolt back until it hits the bolt stop. So a misload because of long bolt travel is really just carelessness. And anyway, a difference of .35”? I ask you! Anyhow, Winchester defeated their own point by building their ‘African’ model on the heaviest, most solid action they could produce. By bolt-action standards it cost a fortune, even in 1956.

The short case limits what can be achieved by way of velocity, and hence restricts the usefulness of the calibre – to the extent where a .45 calibre factory load, based on the full-length .375 H&H case would be quite desirable. This fact has kept several wildcats of such configuration alive and well: they are closer to what the .458 Win Mag should have been in the first place. Nevertheless, in the mid-‘70s Winchester 500gn factory fodder, chronographed from 24.4” (62cm) barrels, averaged about 2070 fps, which equates to 4750 ftlbs and 67.7 of Taylor’s “Knock-Out Values”3 (TKOVs) (2070/4750/67.7). This is more than sufficient for any African application. I do not know whether any 500gn factory round ever achieved the velocity of 2130 fps, claimed on the back of the cartridge boxes in the ‘70s.

Since the late ‘70s, there has been a worldwide revival of medium to heavy big game calibres, led by the British Nitro Express calibres, and there have been occasional American additions, such as the .416 Remington. More recently, we got the various offerings from A-Square, Dakota , Rigby and others, in .416, .450, .470 and .500 calibres.

I would not have surprised me back then, if Winchester or Remington had been planning to introduce a new .45 cal big game round, based on the full-length .375 case; i.e. something along the lines of the .450 Ackley, Barnes, Mashburn or Watts. All these wildcats can launch a 500gn bullet at well over 2400 fps. At 2200 to 2300 fps they operate at pressures eminently suitable for the tropics, so any one of them makes a good African rifle.

Since this was first written, the .458 Lott has found a home at A-Square and more recently at Hornady, and has established itself as probably the best of the .45 cal variants. At 2.8” its case is slightly shorter than that of the .375 H&H, and case and chamber are configured in such a way that .458 Win Mag cartridges can also be fired in the Lott. The Lott will do well over 2300 fps from a 22” barrel. And A-Square now make and sell rifles, cartridges and cases in .450 Ackley. We also have the .450 Dakota and .450 Rigby – and the wildcats are all happily with us still. So I do not think that there is room for yet another commercial .45 calibre. And, anyhow, the full-length .450s are really overkill, as their needlessly high penetration is a liability, rather than an asset!

Another thing which happened since this article first appeared, was that I got the opportunity to test several different batches of old .458 Winchester factory ammo (of old yellow box fame) with a view to establishing what lay behind all those reports, stories, rumours and accusations about failures of .458 Win Mag cartridges in the days of yore. I shall cover that subject under another heading, below.

Suffice it to say here, that there were failures. But contrary to popular belief in certain quarters, old (1970s) Winchester ammo was not loaded with ball powder, but with a small-log, cylindrical, double base powder. None of the cartridges I had for testing contained compressed powder, neither was it caked. It was, however, cemented by chemical action. There were also undersize bullets. The end results were, in some cases, disastrous. Not only were velocities much reduced (as low as 1856 fps in my tests) but there were both hang fires and misfires!

As for ball powder ‘caking’ in compressed loads, this is another very persistent story. All I can say here is that I have been loading Win/Olin 748 ball powder in my .458 since October 1974. In unfired cases, my standard load is slightly compressed, yet I have never had a problem. In 2002, in order to check up on this, I disassembled some .458/748 loads, which I had put together in 1982! There was a little clumping of the powder, but no more than in cartridges I checked six months after loading. These rounds were re-assembled and then chronographed together with some cartridges, which had not been disturbed. Average MV was 2060 fps, exactly the same as what I got in 1982, when I checked some of the same batch of reloads. Nevertheless, I have been assured by others, that they had to “dig out ball powder with a packing needle” from the cartridge case, after the powder had been compressed. Both Winchester and Somchem powders were accused of this. I haven’t found it so, but then I never use heavily compressed loads, whether ball or single-based 'log' powder!

I believe that Winchester changed over to ball powder in the .458 some time in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. In Baron in Africa,4 Brian Marsh wrote that the change to ball powder solved the problems. Others, however, continued to have troubles. I will deal with all this below under the heading: THE .458 WINCHESTER – SAINT OR  SINNER?. So let us return to the original story.

Regulating Doubles
The people who suffer most from this down-loading are those who had doubles (especially Side-by-Sides – S/S) built for the cartridge in the early to mid-‘70s, when the demise of the British Express calibres seemed to be just around the corner. These rifles, regulated for the factory ammunition of the day, will no longer shoot properly with the current anaemic offerings.

There are a fair few such rifles out there – including one ordered by the late John T. Amber (Mr. Gun Digest) after seeing what I am practically certain was my .458 double, at Johann Fanzoj’s workshop in Ferlach, Austria. The day before, Johann had just test fired it for the first time, and the two barrels put their bullets into less than 2” at 60 meters. Mr Amber was suitably impressed. The event is described in an article called Europe in the Rain, (in an old edition of the Gun Digest5) John Amber’s account of his 1974 pilgrimage to European gun makers.

Georg's .458

Box lock double (with side plates) in .458 Win Mag, built by Johann Fanzoj of Ferlach, Austria

An S/S double is regulated by changing the rate at which the barrels converge towards the muzzles: proper grouping is achieved by a combination of barrel time (i.e. the time the bullet takes to travel up the barrel, not muzzle velocity per se) and rifle swing. As the barrels lie on either side of the gun’s vertical plane of symmetry, firing the right barrel swings the muzzles to the right, while the opposite happens with the left barrel. Ideally, the bullet should always leave the muzzle when the fired barrel is parallel to the line of sight. However, bear in mind that temperature affects the burning rate of powder, and hence muzzle velocity and barrel time.

In practise, S/S doubles are regulated to shoot parallel at very low temperature. With rising temperature the powder burns faster, muzzle velocity increases, barrel time decreases, and the bullet leaves the muzzle before the barrel has swung parallel to the line of sight. While the heavier recoil induced by higher velocity increases the swing rate, the effect of shorter barrel time always outstrips that of the swing. So at higher ambient temperatures, the shorter barrel time causes the right and left bullet paths to converge and cross at some distance from the gun. Under the African sun, this crossover point appears to have been at about 70 yards for most British doubles.

Many doubles also show a degree of vertical crossover. That is caused by slightly differing profiles, and hence different expansion and vibration patterns of the two barrels. This alters their relative position at varying temperatures and muzzle velocities and, with it, the departure angle of the bullets.

When the chamber blocks are machined to their final dimensions, the inner surfaces, where the blocks will be joined by hard-soldering, are cut so that chambers and barrels converge at a slight angle. An angle, which the gunsmith knows to be correct for the calibre/load combination he is building. In my double, the centre-to-centre measurement at the muzzles is .25” less than at the chambers.

Physically, regulation is then accomplished as follows: when the rifle is still in the white, after the chamber blocks have been joined, but before the barrels are hard-soldered together, the necessary degree of barrel convergence is established by test firing. The space between the barrels is packed with suitable steel wedges; the barrels are clamped together and are then fired with the desired load. If necessary, convergence is adjusted by fitting different wedges, firing again, etc, until the group is satisfactory. Needless to say that only very small adjustments are in order here, since barrels which have been bent to any degree will ‘wriggle’ when getting hot and, therefore, shoot all over the place. In other words, the breechblocks of the barrels must have been cut and joined at as near as dammit to the correct angle in the first place! Once the barrels group correctly, they are soldered together and ribs and sights are installed. This done, the rifle is test fired yet again and, hopefully, still groups correctly – otherwise the whole process has to be repeated. Regulating requires considerable time and skill, which helps to explain why doubles are so frightfully expensive!

From the above it is evident why most doubles will shoot only one load accurately. A 1900 fps load, fired from a double regulated with 2070 fps ammunition, will shoot very wide of the mark indeed! It will also shoot high, as the barrels now have more time to rise in recoil, before the bullet leaves the muzzle!

Regulation of different loads can be achieved, however, as witnessed by the old claim of Holland & Holland that their ‘all-round’ calibre, the .375 H&H, would shoot bullets of 300, 270 and 235gn weights to substantially the same point of impact. I am not sure that the bench-rest fraternity would have agreed, but for practical African hunting purposes with open sights it was true, at least for double rifles. It was achieved by using below-maximum loads for the 235 and 270gn bullets. Check the MVs of the old Kynoch loadings in these two bullet weights, and I think you will agree that they were below the possible maximum, even with the cordite of the day.

I believe that H&H designed their .375 double around the 300gn/2400 fps loading (loadings of the flanged - rimmed - cartridge were lower than those of the belted round) and then experimented with lighter bullets and charges until they found those two combinations (235gn at 2700 fps and 270gn at 2600) which followed about the same trajectory as the heavy load, over the first 100 yards or so.

This was achieved by carefully balancing barrel time against muzzle rise and muzzle swing. In practise, Holland's claim meant that the impact points of the three bullet weights stayed within three or four inches over open sight hunting ranges, inside 100 yards, or so. The 300gn FMJ would not have achieved this, but then it was used only at very short range. This applied to the original cordite loadings. When handloading with modern powders, a lot of experimentation would be necessary to achieve the same results, as current powders have different burning rates, and barrel times would be different, even when the exact same muzzle velocities are obtained!

More than one modern handloader, obsessed with the demon Speed, has complained to me that he couldn’t get the 270gn pill shooting to the same point as the 300gn in his bolt action, let alone any double, and that the old claims to this effect were, therefore, bunkum!

Not so, the thing was done by matching barrel time and rifle swing, as described above. Remember also, that due to the great rigidity of the two-barrel combination, muzzle flip is considerably less in a double than in a single barrelled rifle. Hence an S/S double launches bullets of varying velocity at departure angles, which differ considerably less than they would from a single tube.

Neither is the above just theory: I have been able to duplicate this effect in my own .458 double, by getting it to group with lighter bullets (300 and 350gns) as well as the standard 500gn. Naturally, the MVs of the lighter loads are 300 to 400 fps lower than possible maximum.

Right: All jacketed bullets are Hornadys. L/R 300gn HP, 350gn RN, 500gn RN (large 'blue' nose) 500gn RN (small 'blue' nose) 500gn steel jacket FMJ. 400gn CL and 500gn CLGC. Cartridges behind bullets are loaded with bullets shown in front, except shell on extreme  right, which is Winchester factory FMJ. Second  (not yet fired or annealed) and third cases from right are converted .375 H&H brass.

Choice, Feeding and Handling of the .458 Double
I ordered my double from Johann Fanzoj in January 1974, and received it in October of the same year. Financially, I could not have picked a better time: I was living in Australia then, and the Australian Dollar was particularly strong in the mid-‘70s. Also, Mr. Fanzoj was not as well known then as he is today, and was not commanding the exulted prices he now charges! (Actually, he has retired since this was first written, but his shop is going as well as ever. It is now led, I believe, by his daughter.) The complete rifle, a boxlock with side plates, including airfreight and customs duty, cost me less than A$ 1500 – about one and a half months’ salary at the time. Today it would cost closer to two years’ toil!

I chose the box lock because it presents a large cross section of metal to the stock, to transmit recoil. It is less likely to split the tang than a side lock, on which the vertical lock-to-stock interface is at least one third smaller, while four finger-like extensions of the stock surround the locks, almost begging to be split! If you are about to blow your life savings on some delectable old British side lock double, take a very close look at the tang of the stock and the underside of the pistol grip: sometimes this has been so cunningly repaired, that it almost defies detection. But it might not stand up to a lot of shooting!

Calibre-wise, it was a poor time to choose, as the British Express cartridges seemed to be on their last legs, BELL components and ammunition notwithstanding. It took a friend of mine two years to get a hundred .400 Nitro cases out of BELL! Johann listed the .470 Nitro amongst his offerings, but I chose the .458, in order to be safe. Had I realised then, that the Nitro Express calibres would make the comeback, which they have since made, I would have had the double built in .470 Nitro. Had I known then, what I know about the NE calibres today, I would have opted for the .500-3”. In retrospect, choosing the .458 was the wrong decision, although the difference between it and the .470 is not that great, when the .458 is handloaded.

Let me now share with you my experiences with reloading for my .458 double: while the short case is a bit of a handicap, with the correct choice of powders it can be made to perform satisfactorily and safely.

I asked Johann to regulate the rifle with Winchester factory solids, as the solid is the most critical load, and because I want all my rifles to be happy with at least one useful factory loading, in case I ever run out of my own concoctions. Sometime in 1974, I bought two packets of Winchester factory ammo: 20 rounds each of 500gn solids and 510gn soft points. The blurb on the back of the boxes claimed 2130 fps for these, but once I received my double, they chronographed 2060 to 2090 fps, depending on temperature (from 24 3/8” - 62cm - barrels). Both types of cartridge were loaded with an ‘extruded’6 double-base powder, resembling IMR 4320 in shape, but more olive in colour. The 510gn JRN loads contained 67gns of this powder, while the 500gn FMJs were driven by 63.4gns. In neither load was this powder compressed! (Prices on right make you cry?)

I then tried to duplicate the performance of the factory loads, using 500gn Hornady projectiles and most of the IMR powders, without success. I will not bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that I tried everything from IMR 3031 (IMR 4198 was not available in Oz at the time) to IMR 4350. IMR 3031 worked with 500gn cast lead GC bullets, but with jacketed ones, all these powders gave too much pressure before I reached 2060 fps – all but 4350, that is. With that I ran out of case capacity at about 1900 fps. I also tried Norma 200, with the same result. Now, before you ask: I did make chamber casts, which came out identical and well within specs, and both barrels ‘slugged’ .4575”.

Eventually, it was the late, great Elmer Keith, who saved the day. I remembered having read one of his Gunnotes, in which he quoted a friend’s .458 loads, using Winchester/Olin 748 BR. I never throw out any gun or hunting magazine, so after digging through a sizeable pile, I found the note in the Guns & Ammo of June 1972. I can hear someone ask: “Why didn’t the nitwit just look it up in one of the loading manuals?” Well, while the powder was available, none of the then current manuals7 had any information about Olin ball powders; neither did any loading info come with the powder! Elmer’s friend8 used from 73 to 79gns of 748, so I started with 73gns. I found this to be THE powder for the .458 at the time, and I am using it to this day, as I have some of it left. Since returning to SA, I found that S321 is even better!

After the usual experimentation, I settled on 77.5gns behind the Hornady 500gn bullets, in converted .375 cases (initially, I could not get .458 cases in Oz: “Good God, man, what do you want with tank shells like that?”) In proper .458 cases, which have a slightly lager internal volume, I use 78gns. Both loads produce 2060/4710/67.4 to 2080/4800/68 at temperatures up to 30° C. I have never chronographed them at higher temperatures. All indications of pressure point to 50.000 cup or less, even at 35° C, the highest temperature at which I have fired this ammunition.

With these loads the two barrels shoot parallel up to about 25° C, after which some crossover begins to appear. To me, that’s perfect. Recoil is moderate – the rifle weighs 5kg (11lbs) and is exceptionally well balanced. How well balanced the following story will illustrate.

At the upper end of George Str. was what was then the biggest gun shop in Sydney – Smith’s Sports Store. Although he sold all types of firearms, owner Mick Smith had only one love in his life, and that was shotguns. He was, in fact, a past Australian shotgun champion. Off George Str., back-to-back with Smith’s, was a small gun shop owned by Ferlach-trained Heimo Petzl. The two shops were interconnected, and Mick used to bring his repairs through to Heimo.

One day, when I did not long have the double, Heimo made a pair of spare firing pins for me, from the blanks Johann Fanzoj had sent along with the rifle. He had just finished testing those (by firing off primed cases into a sack-covered hole beneath his floor boards!) when Mick Smith came through into Heimo’s shop. Now Heimo and the two or three inevitable hangers-on were familiar with Mick’s idiosyncrasies. So when Mick spied the engraved gun, exclaiming: “What’s this, what’s this?” Heimo handed over the double butt first, so that Mick could not see the muzzles.

Mick, who was a short, stocky, powerful bloke, probably in his late 40s then, threw the rifle to his shoulder repeatedly, aiming at various targets of opportunity on Heimo’s shelves, exclaiming: ”Beautiful, marvellous, fantastic – what is it?” “It’s a .458, Mick.”  Heimo said. “A 45-what?” “It’s a rifle, Mick!” Well, Mick’s face dropped about two feet, and he almost THREW the double back into Heimo’s hands! “Oh!” he said, adding something rude, and walked back to his own shop, forgetting what he had come for. Everyone had a good laugh, except myself, until Mick’s predilections had been explained to me.

The point is, of course, that if anyone as familiar with shotguns as Mick Smith was, can pick up a 5kg rifle and think even for 30 seconds that it is a shotgun, said rifle must be pretty well balanced! And it shows in the shooting: the double points itself, so to speak, and a quick second shot is very easy.

Handling is helped in no small way by the full, beaver-tail fore end, which is so often derided by admirers of the traditional English splinter-style stock. To these purists I can only say this: I would not dream of changing the fore end of an original British double. But this is not a practical form of stock! I believe it was made that way to help balance the rifle, as due to the limitations in steel metallurgy in days of old, barrels had to be built heavier than they are today. So as much weight as possible was saved by attaching only a minimal fore end. It was necessary, looked elegant and became de rigueur. I have no problem with that. However, the beefier fore end of Ferlach doubles makes controlling recoil much easier. It will also protect your fingers from burning on hot barrels, should you ever be fortunate enough to find yourself in the path of a buffalo stampede.

Once back in South Africa, I began to experiment with Somchem powders, and S321/75 was so happy in the .458, that I never tried any of their other powders in it. A load of 74gns behind a 500gn bullet, in converted .375 cases, ignited by Winchester 120 primers, gives exactly the same MV as my pet 748 load. It also shoots to the same point of impact. In fact, S321 is preferable to 748, as it does not have to be compressed even slightly, in loads up to about 2080 fps.9

So there is no need for anyone with a .458 double, regulated with 1970s ammunition, to be frustrated by today’s deknackered offerings. Buy yourself some good 500gn bullets and some S321, and start experimenting, say from 68gns upwards, until you find the gun shoots right again. At 2070 fps, 4750 ftlbs and 67.7 TKOVs there is no reason to retire the rifle, just because modern factory loads are limp-wristed!

Do not, however, waste your time and money with monolithic bullets, unless they are a fair bit lighter than 500gns. The 500gn monolithics are too long for the short .458 Win case. They intrude too far into the powder space, and I doubt that you would get much more than 1900 fps, before you run out of powder space. The pressure might also get too high.

Several makers offer monolithics in lighter weights, but I have never experimented with those: there is nothing wrong with modern steel-jacketed solids. If you don’t like steel-jacketed solids, go the whole hog and use Speer’s African Grand Slam tungsten bullets. Due to their higher sectional density, they are shorter than steel jackets, leaving more precious powder space than the steel jackets do. With these bullets much higher speeds can be achieved, though this is only useful in bolt actions, as they do not have the regulation problem. Speer’s own reloading manual quotes a highest MV of well over 2200 fps for the tungsten solid!

Below, then, are my favourite loads, as well as the two old (1974) Winchester factory products, all of which shoot well in my double.

Case Powder Bullet
Primer LOA MV Pressure
gns/type make/gns/type inch fps
WW 67.0  FL Win 510 JRN Win 120 3.32 2090 OK - 50.000cup?
WW 63.4  FL Win 500 FMJ Win 120 3.32 2070 OK
WW(.458) 
77.5/748 Hdy 500 JRN Win 120 3.30 2070 OK
WW(.458) 78.0/748 Hdy 500 FMJ Win 120 3.28 2070 OK
WW(.458) 77.5/748 Hdy 350 JRN Win 120 2.94 2100 mild
WW(.375) 77.5/748 Hdy 300 JHP Win 120 2.94 2090 mild
WW(.375) 74.0/S321/75
Hdy 500 JRN Win 120 3.30 2070 OK


ABBREVIATIONS

FL
Factory Load JRN Jacketed Round Nose (soft point)
FMJ Full Metal Jacket LOA Length Over All
fps feet per second MV Muzzle Velocity
ftlbs foot-pounds S/S Side-by-Side
GC Gas Check TKOV Taylor’s Knockout Value
gn(s) grain(s) Win 120
Winchester 120 (LR primer)
Hdy Hornady WW Winchester/Western
JHP Jacketed Hollow Point


CAVEAT

As chamber and barrel dimensions may vary, and since the author has no control over readers’ reloading practises, any results you may obtain from using the above data are strictly for your own account. SO START LOW AND WORK UP CAREFULLY!

 

THE .458 WINCHESTER – SAINT OR  SINNER?

THE .458 SAGA CONTINUED.
This article was first written in 2003, but spent 3 years sitting somewhere pending publication, after which it was decided that it was too 'confrontational', and hence couldn't be published. I have since amended it slightly and updated it, but the basic information remains the same.

Some time in late 2001, gunsmith Craig Klintworth and I were thrashing out the old Win ammo problem story, both Craig and his (then) right-hand man Rogan Stuart having hit me with the old compressed-ball-powder-failing-to-ignite legend again. I have had many people tell me that ball powder was the reason for the .458’s early failures, and I must admit, that I have read this more than once in American gun/hunting publications, from the early '80s virtually to date. But Winchester only changed to ball powder in the .458 some time in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. Before then, the .458 was loaded with a cylindrical, short-grain double-base powder. Craig then gave me four rounds of old Win FMJ ammo for testing.

That there were failures of .458 Win ammo is not in doubt.  However, I believe that the published reasons for same got a little mixed up over the years. Early experimenters, who checked on the .458’s problems (Jack Lott springs to mind, as do Bob Hagel, Ken Waters and others) correctly called the powder used ‘double-base’, but  some later writers, who merely got on the band wagon, equated this with ‘ball powder’, in the days when Winchester was indeed using ball.

I own a .458 Win in double persuasion. It was built in 1974 by Johann Fanzoj (now J.F. Sen.) of Ferlach, Austria. I have written up loading for it in the above article Doubles, Loads and the .458, so will not repeat much here, except to say that, had it been obvious in 1974 that the British Nitro Express cartridges would make the come-back they have since made, I would have had the double built in .470 NE cal. Had I known then what I know about the NE calibres to-day, I would have ordered it in .500-3”!

When chronographing .458 Win 500/510 gn factory loads (of which more anon) in ‘74, I got velocities of 2060 to 2090 fps (from 62cm – 24.4” barrels) depending on temperature. Nothing like the 2130 fps claimed on the back of the packets. I believe that the early ammunition, which Winchester took to Tanganyika when testing the .458 before its launch, actually did give 2150 fps. However, this gave sky-high pressures in the hot tropics, and the charges were reduced, before the .458 was offered to the public. I do not know whether any of the early .458 ammo of the late ‘50s and the ‘60s ever did produce velocities of 2130 fps, as per the blurb on the back of the ammo boxes.

I could not achieve 2060 fps with the 500 gn Hornady bullets and any of the ‘suitable’ IMR powders, nor with Norma 200, without running into too high pressures. I made casts of the chambers and ‘slugged’ both barrels. I found the chambers to be well within the spec. range, while both barrels ‘slugged’ .4575” – no problem there!

So, in October ’74, I tried Olin (WIN) 748 BR (Ball Rifle) powder, following a tip in one of the late, lamented Elmer Keith’s Gunnotes. This worked a treat, though in new cases it had to be slightly compressed, and I am using it to this day, as I have a fair bit of this powder left. And I have never experienced any problems. I have tried Somchem’s S 321/75 (another ball powder) 74 grains of which gave identical velocities to my 748 loads. It is perfect, better than Olin 748, as it is slightly faster burning and does not have to be compressed in loads up to about 2080 fps. For details please see the above article Doubles, Loads and the .458, or better still, an article by Org Ehlers,10 as he used a much more recent batch of S 321.

Left: Somchem's S 321 ball powder is the all-time champion for loading the .458 Win Mag, and other large straight-walled cases.

After the discussion with Craig, I got out some 748/500 gn Hornady loads, which I concocted in 1982! I pulled the bullets from several of these cartridges to check the state of the powder. There was a little clumping, but no more than in cartridges I pulled six months after loading. Neither was there any visible degradation of the powder. After re-assembly, these loads gave a uniform 2060 (+/- 10) fps average from both barrels (as did several control rounds, which I had not tampered with) precisely the same as they did 20 years before. So much for the ball-powder-gives-squib-loads legend!

In his his book Ndlovu, The Art of Hunting the African Elephant,11 the best modern book on the subject I know of, elephant hunter, PH and author Richard Harland quotes American friend and hunting client Bill Ellis, ‘an experienced reloader’, on the use of Win 748 BR: “I loaded some .458 with 748 Ball Powder… The muzzle blast was spectacular, and the recoil was punishing. A friend of mine and (an) avid hunter, a big man of 6’7” and 225lbs, fired my loads while resting the rifle over the hood of his Chevrolet Blaser (sic) truck. The muzzle blast from the first shot stripped a V-shaped area of paint from the hood, which extended from the muzzle to the opposite side of the hood. He had tears in his eyes from the recoil! This was proof enough for me and I abandoned Winchester 748.”

Well, first off, firing any cannon like this over a truck bonnet is apt to modify your paint scheme. Though in this case the blast was obviously excessive, it has little to do with the powder used, but is caused by the flame, and especially by the abrasive effect of the powder residue – a hard, gritty ash!

Secondly, the fireworks described were most certainly NOT due to the use of 748 BR powder! I have been using 748 BR in my .458 for over 30 years and have never had anything like the above happen! A load of 77gns of 748, behind a Hornady 500gn bullet, ignited by a Winchester 120 primer, gives 2060 fps, exactly what my Hornady Handbooks (Vol 2, 3 and 4 - Vol 1 had no data for Win/Olin ball powder) say it should! The recoil certainly gets your attention, but it is manageable: I have fired up to 20 rounds (10 rounds would have been the average) at a sitting from the bench during load development, and the worst I ever got was a mild headache. And I stand 5’4” in my socks and weigh 135lbs!

We will never know what was wrong with Bill Ellis’ reload. It could not have been an overload, as it is simply impossible to cram more than about 80 gns of 748 into the .458 case, and still seat a 500gn FMJ bullet. However, something was most certainly, and drastically wrong with it. So here are a couple of possible scenarios:

1.    I have often noticed that reloaders of my acquaintance have ‘borrowed’ small amounts of powder from their pals (myself included) to try out a new powder - and avoid the risk of sitting with a whole can of useless powder, if the trial didn’t work out. When ‘lending’ out powder, I always personally marked the container into which this ‘borrowed’ powder was decanted with a felt pen, putting on the make and type number. But I have more than once observed odd and unmarked vessels containing small amounts of powder on the shelves of other reloaders. When asked about these, some maintained that they knew what the powder was, but many had forgotten! My advice in either case was the same: “Use this powder as fertiliser and tip it out over the daisies, before it causes you to push up the daisies from below!” Using 748 loading data with another, faster-burning powder could account for the events described by Mr. Ellis. In fact, unless the burning rate is only slightly faster than that of 748, it could blow up the rifle!

2.    A load of 80.6gns of 748 BR, the heaviest load using a 500gn bullet sanctioned by Hornady, has to be heavily compressed (about which more below) and unless the case mouth is heavily crimped into the bullet's cannelure, will push the bullet forward, until the powder is no longer compressed. This might cause the bullet to practically touch the lands, when the cartridge is chambered, and would lead to a drastic rise in pressure, when that load is fired!

Richard Harland also quotes Don Heath, of Zimbabwean National Parks and one of the official examiners of aspiring PHs, on A-Square .458 ammunition, which had such a heavily compressed charge, that the powder pushed forward most of the bullets over time.12 This is a rather long story, and is best read in Richard’s book. What surprised me was that there was no mention of high pressures! A few loads chronographed gave original velocities, the rest all gave sub-standard velocities! So presumably, the bullets were not pushed out far enough to contact the lands of the test rifle. In a case like this, where the loads had proved safe in their original configuration, all that is required to bring them back up to scratch is to run them into a seating die, re-seat the bullets and re-crimp the case mouths!

Now to Winchester factory loads: in 1974, I bought two packets of Winchester factory rounds: 20 x 500gn FMJs (Lot # 7GK42) and 20 x 510gn soft points (I no longer have the Lot No) to use as bench marks for re-loading.  Johann Fanzoj regulated the double for me using the Win 500gn solid load, since I figured that, reloading notwithstanding, the rifle should be able to handle a factory solid load as well.

When chronographing these factory loads in late ‘74, they gave velocities from 2060 to 2090 fps, depending on temperature. I pulled two of each kind, and found that the 510gn soft point loads contained 67gns of powder and the 500gn FMJs 63.5gns. But it was NOT ball powder, neither was it compressed! There was about 1 mm of space between powder and bullet in the solid loads and about 2 mm in the softpoint loads. It was a short-grain, cylindrical, extruded double-base powder, resembling IMR 4320 in shape and size. (IMR powders are single-base, of course).

The cartridges, which Craig gave me, were 500gn FMJs (Lot # 94CK11). We have no date for this ammo, but the lot number suggests that it was made much later than my shells from ’74 (Lot # 7GK42 for the solids), which I bought as a standard for my own reloading. I disassembled three of Craig’s cartridges, and got the following: bullet diameter .457”, .455”, .4555”. Bullet weight 500.55gn, 497.40gn, 497.30gn.  Bullet construction could only be described as shoddy: the bases of the steel jackets showed tool marks, and the lead cores all had ‘fish tails’ flattened by the powder during bullet seating. One was so large, that a piece was cut off by the case mouth during seating.(Unthinkingly – I wasn’t planning this article at the time - I removed the fish tails from the bullets and binned them, before I got around to weighing or photographing. You just can’t win them all!) Powder was the same short-grain extruded powder as in my cartridges of ’74 vintage. Weight 63.5gn, 63.74gn and 63.4gn.



Right, top: Box and batch No of components shown. On the centre picture, note stuck-together powder grains on left of the little pile. Scale divisions are mm. Picture at bottom shows 5oogn Winchester steel jacketed FMJs. Note corrosion stains and powder grains stuck to base of the middle bullet.

The load was obviously the same as in my old ‘74 ammo, both as to powder type and weight. Neither was the load compressed: same 1 mm air space. But what a state that powder was in! It was almost completely cemented (as distinct from caked ball powder) i.e. the grains had stuck to each other, but the original air spaces were still present. The powder grains had also changed colour. The fused mass looked like some greyish-white sponge!

Where it was fused to the case walls and bullet bases, it had blackened the brass and the jacket steel, indicating a chemical reaction. Assuming that it was nitro-glycerine, which leaked out of the powder and reacted with the surrounding metal, one must expect a loss of energy and hence lowered and erratic velocities. In addition, fused powder presents a smaller surface area to the primer flash than loose powder, exacerbating the loss of velocity. There was also evidence, that the primers had been affected to varying degrees by the nitro-glycerine, which leaked out of the powder.

The burning rate of double-base powders depends primarily on the nitro-glycerine content – the higher the NG content, the faster the burning rate – and nitro-glycerine becomes rather thin and mobile at high temperatures. In addition, the fast powder needed to cope with the high expansion ratio of straight-walled, large calibre cases required a relatively high nitro-glycerine content.

I had to scratch the powder out of the cases with a small screwdriver. The only loose powder I found was at the top of the case, obviously loosened by the bullet being pulled. Much powder was also stuck to the case walls and bullet bases. However, in my tests, I carefully removed all powder for weighing, and then returned the powder to the case after breaking it up into individual grains again. I then measured the length of the case above the powder surface and subtracted the length of bullet from the centre of the cannellure to the base. This gave me the clearances mentioned above. Besides, one can just hear and feel the powder move in the re-assembled cartridges.

I am not surprised that someone, who pulled the odd bullet under field conditions, would be led to believe that the powder was compressed, seeing that the powder was fused solid. And unless he was an experienced reloader, he probably would not have realised that the powder had changed colour. However, the fact that many powder grains were stuck to the bullet bases and the case walls, and the attendant dark corrosion spots,should have given him pause for thought.

After seeing the state of this ammunition, I got out my old packet of factory Winchester 500gn FMJs from ‘74, which I had sparingly used as a reference over the years. It still had six original cartridges left. I pulled two and got: bullet diameter .4575” and .4575”.  Bullet construction was perfect, and their bases looked as though they had been finished off by a Swiss watchmaker! Powder weight 63.55gn and 63.55gn.  Powder pristine and completely free flowing. Absolutely no discolouration of the brass inside the case, or of the bullet bases. In fact, the results were identical to what I found nearly 30 years before, when I pulled and checked the first two rounds out of this same packet in October ‘74! Now storage conditions are important, so let me just say that summer temperatures in my ‘gun room’ in the old timber farm house in New South Wales, where we lived from 1977 to 1982, got up to a measured 35° C, and may have been higher at times.

Rigt, top: My solids from 1974. Bottom: Perfect components from that box.

From all the above I conclude the following: firstly that the powder in Lot # 94CK11 and my Lot # 7GK42 is a double-base powder, in spite of being cylindrical, and secondly that prolonged storage under very hot conditions led to the leaking of some nitro-glycerine from the powder,{footnote} It is interesting to note that Cordite, the original double based powder, and very sensitive to high temperatures pressure-wise, does not  appear to have had the problem of nitro-glycerine leaking out of the powder! {/footnote} which caused fusion of the powder, staining of case walls and bullet bases, and degradation of primers.

Ball powders have a lacquer/graphite coating, to prevent the leakage of nitro-glycerine, and also to help control the burning rate. The extruded double-base powder did not have this coating. In other words: had ball powder been used in the .458 Win from the word go, it is less likely that the abovementioned problems would have occurred, though if temperatures are high enough, even ball powder may not be immune. I have not experienced any problems with my ball powder loads, even though they were subject to fairly high temperatures at times. And, finally, ‘Ball Powder’ is a registered trademark of Winchester (Olin) Corp. (Incidentally, I believe that Somchem’s ball powder technology was acquired from Winchester/Olin).

As for undersize bullets, there was also evidence of this, though I did not pull a sufficient number to be able to confirm diameters as small as .450”, as claimed by Jeff Cooper. Many PHs complained about undersize bullets, notably Terry Irwin. In fact Terry, before buying .458 Win ammo, tested each cartridge by inserting the bullet into the muzzle of his rifle, and rejected all, which slipped in more than a short distance. Each satisfactory round was then chambered, since he had found that the bolt of his Westley Richards could not be closed over some of the Winchester cartridges! Once .458 ammunition from other makers became available, Terry used that and had no further problems. In fact he then had only praise for the .458! {footnote} See Memoirs of an African Hunter by Terry Irwin, pp 116, 117. {/footnote}

Someone, I believe it was Jeff Cooper, actually came across some bullets, which could be pushed right into the barrel. So those must have been about .450”! (Or perhaps the lands of that rifle were a bit worn?) Now .450” is bore diameter! Not only would a .450” bullet allow much of the combustion gasses to be lost via the barrel grooves, so that the muzzle velocity would be greatly reduced, it would also not be rotating! I can well believe that such a bullet could bounce off an elephant’s head, especially if it arrived sideways.

I have not come across any Winchester bullets larger than .4575. Neither has anyone else, as far as I know. Now this is interesting, as it suggests that Winchester deliberately used undersize bullet sizing dies, to get a longer life out of them, but kept a sharp eye out for oversize bullets! Once the dies were worn open beyond .4575, they were replaced!

All pulled ammo was reassembled, and on 22nd Feb. 2002, Craig and I went to Cecil Payne range in Roodepoort and test fired it and some other original ammo, which had not been tampered with.  Results were interesting. We used a .458 FN rifle of Craig’s and my Ferlach double. Barrel length of the FN was 25”, not sufficiently different from my double to affect the test, and we got similar results from both. The speeds quoted below are instrumental velocities, taken on my Ohler P35, about 12 feet from the muzzle. For muzzle velocity, add about 10 fps.

Win 500gn Solid Lot # 7GK42 (1974 vintage) double rifle: 2092 fps, 2072 fps (slightly sticky extraction for these, probably caused by the 2092 fps round) 2038 fps, 2052 fps. Interestingly, the two high readings were from the two pulled and re-assembled rounds. I crimped the cases into the cannellures of the bullets, after adjusting the seating depth to get original LOA. Explain it who can.

Win 500gn Solid Lot # 94CK11, double rifle: 1856 fps, 1939 fps, 1947 fps, 1969 fps. The first three were the re-assembled rounds.

Win 500gn Solid Lot # 91RH32, FN rifle: 2082 fps, 1943 fps, 2008 fps and 2037 fps.

Win 510gn SP (loose cartridges - no Lot No), FN rifle: 2034 fps, 2016 fps, 1994 fps, 1999 fps, one hang-fire, one misfire. I pulled the misfire and got the usual fused powder and stained case walls and bullet base. In addition, the primer compound had degraded into a crumbly mess, the result, I think, of reaction with the nitro-glycerine that leaked out of the powder. I replaced the primer and re-assembled the load. When I fired this in my double, I got 1928 fps.

Subsequent to this test firing, I got some more cartridges from Craig, to disassemble and try to photograph the contents, to get some visual proof to accompany this article. I specifically selected a full packet of Lot # 94CK11 (500gn FMJ) in the hope of finding some more fishtailed bullets. To my surprise, the ammunition in this packet was much better made than the four cartridges of the same Lot No, described above. Although I pulled the bullets from six or seven cases, I found no further fish tails. (The previous four FMJ cartridges came from a box, which also contained some SPs, so it is possible that the FMJs had also come from a different box and lot, originally.) The powder, however, was just as fused as in the cartridges described above. Bullets were also undersize: the largest diameter was .4555”, the smallest was .4550”. For further comparison, I pulled one bullet each from three packets with different Lot Nos and got:

Lot No Bullet Type
Bullet Weight gns
Powder Weight gns Bullet Diameter
91RH32 FMJ 498.85 65.5 .4550”
6BD92 SP 510.60 63.4 .4560”
13BD92 SP 509.40 63.6 .4555”

NOTE: Powder weights must have been slightly higher before the nitro-glycerine leaked out!

All powder was the same cylindrical short-grain type, as described above, and all powder was fused, with the attendant colour change and staining of case and bullet metal, except in one cartridge. Interestingly, the powder from that one particular shell was dark, ‘loose’ (i.e. not fused) but sticky and could not be poured back into the case (for reassembly) through a funnel! The powder had a distinctly greasy feel, so I assume the moisture was nitro-glycerine, which leaked out of the powder.

To sum up, then: as far as I am concerned, the .458 Winchester got its bad press not from some inherent fault of the calibre, but from the instability of the powder (used in the early years) under very hot conditions. There is also some evidence that quality control was not always what it should have been, but I accept that even perfectly made log-shaped double base powder will deteriorate during prolonged storage under very hot conditions.

.458 vs .470
One final cat among the pigeons: the .458 is often compared with the .470 Nitro Express. The .470 has an admirable reputation, so it can well serve as a base for comparison. This type of comparison always stresses that the .470’s 500gn bullet was lobbed at 2150 fps, and since this velocity cannot be achieved with 500gn bullets at safe pressures in the .458, the latter calibre is, therefore, inferior. Sounds reasonable on the face of it. Unfortunately, this type of argument compares apples with pears!

At the 2002 AIM Shooters Show, I obtained from David Little (to-day’s Mr. Kynoch) a facsimile reprint of an old ICI ammunition catalogue.{footnote} A printer’s code on a back page suggests that this booklet was originally printed in 1953.{/footnote} It has tables of specifications in the back, giving, amongst other pertinent information, the muzzle velocities for all calibres they produced ammunition for, and the barrel length from which this velocity was obtained. All bar one of the NE calibres were chronographed from 28” barrels. Now turning to p 116 we find the following entry: .470 NE, 500gn bullet, 2125 fps (NOTE: NOT 2150 fps!) obtained from a 31” barrel - the only NE calibre they had to use a 31” barrel for, to obtain a halfway presentable MV! I discussed this with David Little and he told me the following: when chronographing original Cordite NE ammunition, they found that the velocity gain/loss per inch of barrel length was 5 to 10 fps between 31” and 28”, 15 to 20 fps between 28” and 26”, and 40 to 50 fps between 26” and 24” (depending on calibre and other factors).

Now speaking of double rifles, 31” barrel lengths are practically unheard of today. In the early days of the transition from black to smokeless powder, 31” and 28” barrels were not uncommon. But at least from the period after WWI, shorter barrels became more and more accepted. After WWII, few rifles with 28” barrels were built. Long barrels are simply too unwieldy for most people. Some time ago, I had the privilege of inspecting the .470 of Dave Ommanney (Winchester’s Man-in-Africa in the ‘60s and ‘70s) in Craig Klintworth’s shop. It sports 28” barrels. Now Dave was very tall (over 6 feet, judging by photographs ){footnote} See White Hunters, by Brian Herne, p 208 and From Sailor to Professional Hunter, by John Northcote, p 252.{/footnote} and no doubt this barrel length suited him. However, I am built much closer to the ground, and to me it felt like swinging marlin tackle. Hence the preponderance of 26” and 25” barrels (and even the occasional 24”) since WWII.

Left: columns are L-R barrel length, breech pressure in tons (Imp), MV, ME, V50, E50, V100, E100.

In spite of the shortening of barrel lengths, the .470 NE was able to maintain its good reputation. So now let us see what the .470’s muzzle velocity would be from a typical 25” barrel. Assuming an average velocity loss of 7 fps per inch of barrel length between 31” and 28”, we come down from 2125 fps to 2104 fps. Assuming a loss of 17 fps per inch between 28” and 26”, we get down to 2070 fps. Cutting back from 26” to 25” we would lose another 45 fps and be left with a muzzle velocity of only 2025 fps. Yet the .458 is said to be inadequate at 2060 fps, even though its 500gn bullet has a higher sectional density than the 500gn bullet of the .470 (bullet diameter .475”). Doesn’t make sense to me.

Unfortunately, I have never had the chance to shoot buffalo, or any other dangerous game with my .458 (time and money were never present together), so I cannot argue with those who consider it inadequate for this purpose, other than by technical comparison. However, I did shoot an eland bull with it in July 2000. The bull was browsing, with some other eland, almost broadside on, at what I thought to be about 60 meters, but later turned out to be 125 paces. It was late in the day, the sun was already down and I must have stuck the front bead up a bit. Instead of going through the area above the heart, as intended, the 500gn Hornady SP (the old 1970’s version with a very small lead nose) went high, through both shoulders and then hummed off into the distance! The bull crashed at the shot, but then got up and travelled another 25 paces! They sure are tough! When we got up to him, he was as dead as charity. Now I would not call that a shabby performance for any calibre.

Anyway, I believe the .458 to be adequate for all heavy game, but have not the practical experience to convince anybody. No matter. If you are interested in what the .458 can do, read Ron Thomson’s book Mahohboh.{footnote}Mahohboh, Ron Thomson, Africa Safari Press, Schoemansville, RSA, 1997.{/footnote} Ron spent a great part of his life with the Rhodesian Dept. of Parks and Wildlife, where he rose to become Game Warden-in-charge of Hwange National Park. He was involved in elephant control, cropping and management from 1960 onwards, and shot an enormous number of elephant with a .458 and Winchester factory ammunition! The book is required reading for anyone interested in hunting and conservation. I have by now read it four times and am still learning from it. Excellent!

Another excellent book is Richard Harland’s The Hunting Imperative.{footnote}The Hunting Imperative, Richard Harland, Rowland Ward Publications, Johannesburg, 2001.{/footnote} This, too, I have now read several times, and it is another ‘must read’.

Richard first started hunting elephant in 1959, at the age of 15, under the guidance of Paul Grobler, another giant of elephant hunting of the last century!{footnote} Richard wrote Paul’s biography: An African Epic, by Richard Harland, Rowland Ward Publications, Johannesburg, 2003, another ‘must read’.{/footnote} Richard became an honorary game warden at age 17, gaining a lot of experience shooting ‘problem animals’, mostly elephant. In 1964, at age 20, he was accepted as junior ranger by Parks and Wildlife (on half pay, until he turned 21!) and was stationed at Mabala-uta{footnote} This is the sandpaper fig (skurwefy, Ficus capreifolia) a shrub or sometimes a slender tree, up to 7m high, found on river terraces, often forming dense thickets. It has large (10x4 cm) leaves, with a very abrasive surface like sandpaper, used as such in the bush. The name means literally ‘to smooth the bow’.{/footnote} in the Gonarezhou, then still State Land, later to become a National Park. He too, shot a huge number of elephant during control and culling operations. And yes, you guessed it: he also relied on a .458 and Winchester factory ammo, almost exclusively. In 2005, Richard had another book published, which deals exclusively with elephant and elephant hunting, yet another ‘must read’.{footnote} Ndlovu, op. cit.{/footnote} There is a chapter on the .458,{footnote} Appendix I, p 357 ff.{/footnote} which is required reading for anyone interested in the calibre. It kills a lot of myths!

Interestingly, neither Richard nor Ron had an ignition/MV problem with .458 Winchester factory ammunition, even though most of their elephant culling was done in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when the .458 was still loaded with extruded (cylindrical) double-base powder. Ron mentioned that some people were bad-mouthing the .458, but he obviously didn’t buy those stories!{footnote} For Ron’s only comment on supposed shortcomings of the .458 see Mahohboh, p 95.{/footnote} Richard wrote that he had heard of such problems, supposedly due to compressed powder, but had never experienced any himself. When a shot didn’t drop the elephant, he always assumed that to be due to error on his part. In retrospect he wondered whether perhaps the unusually long (28”) barrel of his Mannlicher allowed more time for the ‘compressed’ powder from any faulty rounds to burn, thus giving sufficient velocity.{footnote} See The Hunting Imperative, pp 98, 149, 150.{/footnote} I disagree with this. Of course, Richard couldn’t have known then that the problem was not due to compressed powder, but to chemical degradation. The long barrel would have helped a little, but it could not restore nitro-glycerine, lost due to reaction with case walls, bullet bases and primers! And anyway, Ron had no trouble using an FN with, presumably, a 25” barrel.

Why, then, did neither Ron nor Richard experience any ammunition problems, when so many other hunters did? I think the answer to that question is this: with the enormous amount of culling (both elephant and tsetse control) and the bite of sanctions, the Rhodesian Parks and Wildlife Dept. was chronically short of ammunition, even though they imported it by the case lot when they could get it. No ammunition ever sat on the shelves long enough for chemical degradation to become a problem, as it took both heat and time for this degradation to become serious. PHs like Terry Irwin, John Northcote and others were using only a small fraction of the ammunition used by Rhodesian Parks and, therefore, had to buy their ammo from some dealer’s shelf, where it may have been baking under a hot tin roof for six months!

This leaves the question why neither Ron nor Richard experienced problems due to undersize bullets? I can only surmise that two to three thou. undersize (which, judging by my measurements, appears to have been typical) was not a serious problem, and that bullets as small as .450” were rare. Besides, it would take the coincidence of badly degraded powder, degraded primer and a .450” bullet to produce a catastrophic failure.

So here we have three highly experienced elephant hunters (Richard Harland, Terry Irwin, and Ron Thomson) who have nothing but praise for the .458, provided good ammunition was used. To me, their opinion is far more pertinent than that of some gun writer, who may never even have set foot in Africa.

In closing then, to anyone contemplating the purchase of a new .45 calibre heavy rifle, I would say take a look at the .458 Lott.{footnote} A-Square and Hornady now produce factory ammunition for it.{/footnote} It is more versatile in reloading, especially with long, monolithic bullets,{footnote}Monolithics cannot be used in the .458 Win, unless they are considerably lighter than 500 gn. The 500 gn monolithics are too long and don't leave enough powder space{/footnote} and can be loaded to produce higher velocities at lower pressures than the .458 Win can. On the debit side, the taller cartridge incurs the penalty of a longer bolt throw, and hence, a magnum action. The long bolt travel also makes quick follow-up shots more difficult. Finally, felt recoil is higher than that of the .458 Winchester, unless the Lott rifle is built a kg or so heavier.

To anyone in possession of a .458 Winchester rifle I would say stick with it. Its performance with judicious hand loading should be more than adequate.

I have been told that some PHs still had problems with .458 ammunition, even when it was loaded with ball powder. I have not experienced this myself, but then I am not a PH, have never used or carried factory ammunition in the field, and my own reloads have never been subjected to temperatures much higher than 35° C. And it appears to me that prolonged storage under very hot conditions is the likely cause for the .458’s ammunition failures. I would very much like to hear from anyone who has personal experience of this.

We have set up a forum for readers to comment on the .458 Win Mag. Pro or con, please send in experiences - hunting or reloading and target shooting. The link can be found at the end of this article.

Caveat: Loads shown in this article were safe in the author's rifle. As internal dimensions of barrels (chamber size, freebore and groove/land measurements) can vary between individual rifles, and since neither Game & Gun nor the author have control over readers' reloading practices, any results you may obtain from using the data in this article are strictly for your own account. So reduce the loads shown here by at least 10% and work up in small increments.


Footnotes
1 F.C. Barnes, Cartridges of the World, 1989/6th Edtn, p 196 – in General Comments on the .458 Lott.
2 GUN DIGEST, 2006/60th Edtn, p 236.
3 John Taylor, African Rifles and Cartridges, The Gun Room Press (reprint), Highland Park, NJ, USA, 1977, p 13.
4 Brian Marsh, Baron in Africa, Safari Press, 1997, pp 120, 121.
5 GUN DIGEST, 1976/30th Edtn, pp 173, 174.
6 ‘Extruded’ is really a misnomer: yes, the cylindrical powders are extruded, but so is ball powder! It is tumbled, then rolled and flattened after extrusion.
7 I had the Pacific (later incorporated with Hornady) and the Hornady manuals, both published in 1967.
8 Bob Ray, of Ray Marine Dist. Co.
9 If anyone still has powder from the Musgrave era, MR100 should work almost interchangeably with S321. In fact I believe that these two powders are the same, but early Somchem production was marketed under the Musgrave label. Remember, however, that during the early years of Somchem’s powder production, there were usually slight differences in burning rate from batch to batch, hence the batch numbers on different powder lots, as well as new loading data with each batch. Once Somchem started to export their powders, production volumes increased. This made it economically viable to keep large stocks of different powder batches for blending purposes. Hence we no longer have batch numbers on Somchem powders.
10 How Bad is the .458 Win? Org Ehlers, Magnum, March 2002, p 80.
11 Mag-Set Publications (Pvt) Ltd, Harare, Zimbabwe, 2005, p 359 ff.
12 Ndlovu, pp 97, 98. Unfortunately, we are not told the powder type and weight.



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