What is it about the .404 Jeffery that revitalizes the passion of about .1% of rifle enthusiasts? How do I know it’s .1%? I don’t. But that sounds like a good enough educated guess. That’s one in 1000! Maybe that’s giving too much credit… I dunno. But perhaps that’s not quite fair to the one in 500 who think that just maybe, perhaps, possibly some day they might want to try one on for size. But it does get an ill-proportioned amount of chatter on at least one forum.
Nostalgia? It does have that going for it… at about a century old! Being designed to basically duplicate the 1890’s .450/400 N.E. flanged cartridge shot in doubles, it succeeded admirably in bolt-action magazine rifles as a rimless cartridge. Hornady has introduced a couple of loads for it while Barnes and Woodleigh have produced several bullets… in addition to Hornady of course. Then there are a few European firms that traditionally loaded ammo for the nasties of Africa. That is, right up into the 1970’s. Then it faded into oblivion.
The .404 was born in London by the Jeffery firm in about 1910. Made for African DG and plains game, it worked… pushing a 300gr in the neighborhood of 2600 fps and a Kynoch solid of 400grs at somewhere around 2100 and change (about the same as my Marlin in .45-70, except that that bullet was very strong and capable for anything up to and including elephant!). The sectional density (SD) of the 300gr was about the same as a 350gr in .458″, at .239 SD compared to .238 SD in .458″.
Comparing those numbers with my personal .458 Win Mag, the .458 has a distinct advantage. How so? Well, assuming that the .404 Jeff actually achieved those numbers–2600 fps from a 300gr, then my CZ should be a super performer on plains game, launching the 350 TSX at 2750 fps!
There’s little doubt that the Barnes TSX would be a superior bullet by quite a margin! Remember, it’s .423″ vs .458″, 300gr vs 350gr, 2600 fps vs 2750 fps, and 4503 ft-lbs of kinetic energy vs 5890 ft-lbs! And since the .404 Jeff is a longer bottle-neck case, it burns a larger dose of slower burning power to achieve about 76% of the ballistics of my .458 Win Mag!
But that’s not to cast doubt with faint praise… with today’s powders and stronger rifles it is quite capable of impressive performance… though nothing extraordinary. Barnes shows (from a 26″ barrel) about 2500 fps from their Banded. That’s 5550 ft-lbs! There’s no word on pressure but I suspect it’s right up there with any modern rifle cartridge designed for Africa’s grumpiest! Based solely on my internal ballistics computer program, the .416 Remington does show somewhat better results from a 400gr when the psi is the same… both from 26″ tubes.
But it’s not really about 300-grainers… because, as suggested, its meat and potatoes load was a very reputable 400gr Kynoch solid. So, let’s compare Empire to MacIntosh apples… you know, the .404 Jeff to the .458 Win Mag, using their best bullets and their best loads for the game normally intended for their use:
Oh, by the way, CZ-USA does chamber their Magnum Express Rifles in several interesting and challenging cartridges, including the not-too-common (anymore) .404 Jeffery. As you know by now, if you’ve been following these blogs, my own .458 Winchester is also a CZ 550 Magnum, not made in the USA but in the Czech Republic. The full-length magnum action for the US model, however, is manufactured in the same plant where mine was made (in Czech Republic). So we ARE comparing two brands of apples here… sort of.
Cartridge Bullet wt. Muz. Vel. S.D. K.E. Taylor KO
.404 Jeffery 400gr 2500 fps .321 5550 60.4
” ” 450gr 2300 fps .359 5285 62.5
.458 Win Mag 500gr 2260 fps .341 5670 74
” ” 550gr 2150 fps .375 5645 77.4
” ” 600gr 2050 fps .409 5598 80.5
Now, for some explanations before I get too many “yes buts”: The 450gr is available from Woodleigh for the .404J. And a 550gr for the .458WM is obtainable from the same source. As well, I have a couple of boxes of 600-grainers (Barnes Original) in .458″. I know there are still some of those stashed on some dealer’s shelves in my area.
The 2300 fps for the 450gr in .423″ is realistic (according to my computer program). So also, the 550gr in .458″ was an educated guess until I ran the ballistics–which confirmed it. And I also ran the ballistics (computer) on the 600gr and it comes out nearly identical to Barnes in their #3 manual. At 2050 fps from a 25″ barrel the psi stands at 62,740… well within safety factors. That 500gr load IS actual from my CZ at SAAMI COL. So, it looks like the .458 Win Mag (at least in the CZ) has a rather significant edge when barrels are the same (by the way… I did the psi thing for the 400gr in the .404J with a 26″ tube and a .25″ for the .458WM) as well as muzzle velocity (and here again, I allowed a couple thousand higher psi in the .404J than I’d consider “normal”).
So, the somewhat demeaned (by the armchair Xsperts) .458 Win Mag can more than hold it’s own against the old-timer .404 Jeffery. It (the .458 WM) is much, much cheaper to load for (especially if you are limited to factory ammo), has more sources for handloading components as well as the components themselves. In addition to all that, rifles for the .458 WM are not hard to come by. It may lack the cachet of the Jeff in the minds of the .1%, but for the rest of us who own and use the .458 Winchester, the .404 Jeffery has a LOT of catching up to do. Aside from that, it will NEVER equal the efficiency or ballistics of the .458 Winchester Magnum.
That’s my view from here… and it’s hard to argue with reality.
If you are one of the few owners and shooters of the Jeffery, I wish you nothing but success and happiness. Just don’t go on the forums boasting on it’s superiority over the .458 Win Mag, ’cause it just ain’t so!