Welcome to 2019! Time flies by quickly, and apparently more quickly as we age. It just seems like “yesterday” that I was out behind our Maritime house picking wild raspberries at age 4 or 5! But I have been on this earth for 83 years plus three days. What will 2019 hold in store for my wife and me? God alone knows, and I’m content to leave that matter with Him! Even Solomon was smart enough to realize that, and he was considered the wisest man who ever lived — apart from Jesus Christ, that is. What about you?
Me? I have a few plans, subject to His will of course. I still have a few rifles, and I’m still a member at our gun club. So THAT has promises! Life goes on…
At the end of a day, I retire for the night somewhere between 11pm and 12am. Up in the morning around sevenish. Clean up the kitchen, make some coffee, fry an egg, make some toast. Relax and enjoy my coffee, toast and egg. Breakfast over, greet my wife as she joins me in the kitchen. Her breakfast time. Dirty dishes rinsed in the sink and go into the washer. Start washer. Go to my office about 8:45 – 9am. Sit in comfy chair and turn on the computer for weather, news and emails. Sit and read my Bible, talk to the Lord. Another day has begun just like thousands before. What’s next?
Could be a variety of things from more reading to answering emails, making a phone call or driving my wife somewhere — though if in town, she drives herself.
It could also be writing these lines. Depends on moods and expectations, responsibilities and health needs/issues. I’m still a part-time pastor, so ministry is near the top in priorities, next to caring for an ageing wife, who is quite well except for some foot ailments. Then, I’m doing much better than a year ago when it was uncertain that I’d still be around for 2019. Really, I’m quite well, and hope to stay that way for as long as The Master sees fit.
I even have a temporary plan for a bear hunt in the Spring!
Now, as to Favorite BIG-GAME Rifles, Part 3 — this will focus on big-bore rifles I’ve owned, used and favored.
I’ve already made brief reference to the Ruger 96/44 as an odds-on favorite, so I’ll not dwell on that, except to say that it wasn’t a true Big Bore in any classical sense. It served its purpose for a decade and then “went down the road” without remorse.
My BIG BORES started with a Marlin lever-action in .45-70. After that came my first .458 Winchester Magnum in a Ruger M77 bolt-action magazine rifle with a 22″ barrel. I’ve explained all the details of this and future acquisitions in recent blogs, so will not give unnecessary details again. But what I want to describe is my experience and impressions from several .45-70s and the .458 Winchester Magnums.
I’d done a lot of research and reading on the Marlin in .45-70 prior to the first purchase of one. It was the “Classic” with a 22″ barrel and tube magazine under the barrel that held four rounds plus one in the chamber. It had a hard rubber red butt pad, white-line spacers, the double safety (that was hated by a few writers who grew up with “cowboy rifles” without the cross-bolt that blocked the hammer), iron sights, but drilled and tapped for a scope. COL for handloads could be extended a bit beyond SAAMI (2.54″), and psi could be pushed to 43,000 psi (some now claim 40,000). My first bear (a trophy) was harvested in northeast Ontario with one shot at 100 yards over bait. The bullet was a 400gr SPEER FP leaving the muzzle at about 1865 fps/3089 ft-lbs. Impact was around 1535 fps/2093 ft-lbs. But ft-lbs in such a scenario does not give an adequate picture of terminal results. That was a broadside shot into the lungs behind the right front shoulder. The entrance “hole” was about 2 inches. The bear rose up on its hind legs, went over backwards landing on all fours, took off as though chased by the devil, landing on its back in a patch of alders ten yards away with all four paws pointing heavenward. I gave it another for insurance that wasn’t needed. I had to get down from my “hand-built” tree stand, walking to where I thought the bear might be in the alder patch, while being grabbed onto by six-foot high raspberry cane with 1/2″ thorns. Finally, I found the bear on its left side. The right side was saturated from shoulder to tail with blood! I could almost see into the gaping wound, and said out loud, “I’ve destroyed the beast”!
Needless to say, my first impression of what a .45-70 could do to a big dangerous animal was lasting!
As told numerous times, I’ve owned several more .45-70s since, including three more Marlins. When newer powders came along, I learned that 400s and 405s could make over 2000 fps from 22″ barrels. AA-2015 soon became my favorite powder with COLs at 2.61″. Later still, depending on bullet weight, H4198 was used in conjunction with 350s and 400s. Anything heavier got H335. By then, I had three .45-70s in my arsenal: a Marlin, a single-shot NEF and a #1 Ruger LT. Which was best, and why?
In all, I’ve had experience with the four Marlins (only 1 with the short 18.5″ barrel), two H&R/NEFs and three #1 Rugers (actually, that includes the #1 Ruger LT before it was given the long throat – so while it was technically one rifle, when given the long throat it became a “new”/different rifle – so, yes, three. Plus the fact that I was involved with my son, who owned a #3, in the development of loads for the 500gr Hornady that gave the same results as my first #1 at 2000+ fps. That metal butt pad really hurt when that 500gr got over 2000 fps! And that rifle was about 1 pound lighter than the #1.)
Experience: By the time the 4th Marlin came along, I knew pretty much what they could do. It shot everything well — like MOA! Including a 465gr semi-hardcast at 1939 fps instrumental. Corrected to MV = 1949 fps/3921 ft-lbs (see pic).
And here are the results from one sitting at the range shooting the 405gr Remington (May 2009):
Bullet: 405gr Remington
Rem nickel-plated brass
SD = .276
BC = .281
MV = 2101, 2108, 2107, 2101 (corrected to muzzle = 2118 fps/4033 ft-lbs)
A good bear got shot with that load at 97 yards. It was flattened on the spot. Impact speed would have been about 1865 fps/3127 t-lbs.
NOTE:the impact velocity for that bear was what the muzzle velocity was for my first Marlin and first bear — but that was from a 400gr Speer, not the 405gr Remington.
That was my last bear shot from my last Marlin. It was “bang-flop”, DRT, etc. The bullet was a pass-thru from a 1/4 angle toward me, right front shoulder/neck to opposite flank just in front of left hip. But that bear wasn’t as big as the first. About 2/3rds.
So I have great respect and admiration for the Marlin in .45-70. With good loads and excellent bullets it can take on the world’s heaviest and most dangerous game… which it has done, though it would not be my first choice.
What more can I say? Well, for myself, it makes a lot of sense because of at least two factors: 1) I can shoot it from my left side without a hitch… and, 2) Where most of my hunting has taken place, it could be more than adequate for 90% of it — if using my own handloads. You know, in nearly four decades of ownership of Marlins in .45-70, I’ve yet to fire one factory product!
My first NEF/H&R gave excellent results. It didn’t have the wood stock, but a black synthetic. Barrel was a heavy 22″ with an excellent bore that was very easy to keep clean. Being a break action was simple and easy. It also had the ejector, not an extractor, which I very much appreciated. The extractor in this part of the hemisphere is not conducive to grabbing the head of a cartridge protruding about 1/4″ from chamber when wearing heavy mitts in -15C* weather!
It was also very accurate and strong — stronger than the Marlin as to the psi it could handle. I shot this nice 6-footer with one 465gr semi-hardcast at 70 yards. It too was a frontal chest shot, and a DRT! I lost sight of it in the tall grass it dropped so quickly as the light rifle came down from recoil. The bullet made muzzle exit at 1900 fps. Impact was about 1735 fps/3108 ft-lbs. Bullet was never found. Impact made a loud “thwaak” — that I didn’t hear being so close, but was heard by a neighbor who said to himself: “Either he hit a big tree or the bear”.
Later, I owned another version of the same rifle called a “Thumbhole” with a synthetic black stock and 22″ heavy barrel. It went wintertime hunting for wolf using the 325gr Hornady FTX at about 2400 fps. I came close to three wolves travelling together but missed them by about 10 minutes. It was the H&R version of the same company that made the NEF. But it had the extractor, not the ejector — and I didn’t like that so it “went down the road”. I had great respect for the NEF version but little love for the H&R.
Next up are the Ruger No.1s in .45-70. To cut to the chase, it was the new one purchased about two decades ago that became the favorite of those after I had the throat lengthened by 0.30-inch. That story has been told a few times so will not be repeated here. But that transformed it into the practical equivalent of a 22″ .458 Winchester Magnum. A lot has been written about it, so all you have to do is go back a short ways in these articles to get those facts. But the pics will tell pretty much all that needs be repeated: The first is of a 500gr Hornady at a registered 2198 fps; the second is of a 450gr Swift A-Frame at a registered 2305 fps. These were fired in April, 2001 with temps at around 50*F. Add 12 fps to each for correction to MV.
Lastly, my favorite BIG BORES are in .458 Winchester Magnum. I’ve owned two, and now own a third. The first had a 22″ barrel and a standard (30-06 length) magazine. The second had a 25″ barrel and a true magnum-length magazine of 3.8″. The one now in possession is a Ruger No.1 Tropical with 24-inches of barrel and no magazine being a single-shot. The barrel has the Mag-Na-Porting.
I’ve recently given descriptions of each, having the most experience with the CZ550 with the 25″ barrel. Factory loads have never been fired in any of them by myself. I don’t know about two of them since they were pre-owned, those being the first and third. The CZ was new-in-box to me, but I expect some test ammo was shot through its barrel before it left the factory. Other than that, I’ve developed my own loads specifically designed for each. They’ve taught me a lot!
The FIRST: the Ruger M77 – most loads fired at the range were the 500gr Hornady Interloc RNSP. I never pushed it to max though RL-15 and H4895 gave excellent accuracy at around 2000 fps. One or the other of those two powders went on a trip for moose, hopeful of sending the 500gr through the ribs of a bull. That didn’t happen. But the rifle was very robust in design and strength. Also, it carried nicely and gave confidence in the midst of a howling storm.
Choosing a lighter bullet for a bear hunt gave some trouble. At the time, I didn’t know about the very long throat that didn’t seem to work as well for accuracy or consistency. I fiddled with different bullets and powders for a few months — none of this seemed to improve the situation. So I sent off an S.O.S to a gun writer by the name of John Kronfeld who seemed to know quite a bit about the .458 Win Mag, asking how I might get the accuracy wanted for a bear hunt employing a 350gr at modest speeds. He was very gracious in a swift reply making several suggestions, but primarily pointing out that the main problem was the very long “freebore” of rifles chambered for that cartridge. He suggested to seat the bullet as long as possible (still having enough in the case) and give it a “taper crimp”. I thanked him for his helpful comments and gracious reply. Well, after more fiddling, I managed to use the 350gr Speer seated “long”, gave it a “taper crimp” over a modest dose of AA2015. That seemed accurate enough, somewhat consistent at about 2345 fps/4273 ft-lbs. While the bear that got shot with it was on the “smallish” side, I was very impressed with the results from that bullet! The bear was walking away from me at around 70 yards when I decided to shoot it. The bullet impacted the liver on the left side, took out 9 – 10 inches of spine and the back of the bears head! It still was going off into the forest beyond… That was back in the Spring of 1994. And that is the bullet I’d use today for bear if I could find any!
In the Spring of 2008, I purchased the CZ550 in .458 Win Mag. I could have bought the same rifle in .458 Lott but for some reason wasn’t impressed with that idea, knowing I could load bullets “long”, the same as I’d been doing with the Ruger No.1 in .45-70 LT. I really didn’t think that the Lott would give me much more, if any, and I always wanted another .458 Win Mag anyway. I was never dissatisfied with that purchase. Having a long magazine and a 25″ barrel, I was certain that 2200+ fps was easily possible from 500s since I was getting that from my #1 Ruger LT with its 22″. But also, I knew that the 350 TSX would be seated much longer in the longer case when crimped into the third (bottom) cannelure than possible in the .45-70 LT. In fact, it turned out that I got about 200 fps more from the CZ using that bullet than was possible in the Ruger .45-70 LT. How so?
Well, it’s quite simple, really. All loads for the Ruger .45-70 LT had all bullets seated to the same depth — allowed by the long throat. It didn’t matter if it was the 300 TSX or the 500 Hornady or the 450-X. They were all seated to .25 – .30″. So, the amount of powder volume available never varied. If it were H4198, that was 68 grs. H335? 75.5 grs. Same volume, same space. But H335 being a slower powder, and a ball powder, took up the same volume/space as the faster H4198, but worked best with the heavy-weight bullets. That is about the same load as employed in a .458 Win Mag behind the same 500gr bullet, but in a “normal” COL of 3.34″ in the .458 Win, the bullet is seated about 1/2″ (0.50-inch) whereas in the Ruger LT it is seated only .25″, meaning: that’s like adding .25″ to the .45-70 case, making it like it was a 2.35″ case instead of a 2.1″ case! See how simple that is! And since the wall thickness of the .458 Win case is greater than that of the .45-70 case, the available space for powder is nearly the same for the 500s but greater in the .458 for the 350s that are only seated to the bottom cannelure, or .30″!
But, if you load the .458 “long” the discrepancy between the two gets “longer” in favor of the .458! And since all .458 Win Mags have this very long “freebore”, bullets can be seated as long as the magazine allows — or in the case of my Ruger #1 Tropical in .458 Win Mag, you could seat the bullets as long as the BULLET permits with still enough of the shank in the case.
That’s what I did in the CZ550.
Here are a few early results from the CZ:
500gr Hornady/ 81 grs H4895/ WLRM/ COL = 3.53″/ Win brass/ MV = 2283 fps/5786 ft-lbs
350gr TSX/ 80 grs H4198/ WLRM/ COL = 3.44″/ Win brass/ MV = 2760 fps/5919 ft-lbs (I shot a bear with that load.)
500gr Hornady = 2251 fps/5625 ft-lbs (Old load for the CZ550). COL = 3.34″
350gr TSX = 2707 fps/5694 ft-lbs. COL = 3.46″ (new load for the “Tropical” but same components as for the former CZ.)
Now for the big questions: If I were to choose one .45-70 and one .458 Win Mag, what would they be?
In .45-70: the 1895 Marlin Classic 22″ barrel.
Why not the Ruger #1 in .45-70 LT? Because though technically still a .45-70, in ballistics it’s a .458 Win Mag. So, in my mind, it must be in that class, not in the .45-70 class.
In .458 Winchester Magnum: the Ruger Tropical.
Why? Because it is everything the Ruger #1 in .45-70 LT was and a bit more. Plus, it’s a fresh challenge that is needed at this time in my life. Then, with the extra weight and Mag-Na-ports it “kicks” less! And, I think it will perform just about as well in ballistics as the former CZ550. Then, I haven’t fired all the loads in .458 that I want to try. I just love a .458 Winchester Magnum!
Knowing what I now know, if I were thirty years younger and wanted to hunt all big-game with one rifle cartridge, what would it be?
Hands down, a .458 Winchester Magnum. It can do it all. None are more versatile. I’ll not say it would be a No.1 Ruger though. It might be, but owning just one big-game rifle gives lots of options. It could be a custom that I’d want to put a lot of time and thought into… and money!
Something like this… maybe.
But the #1 Ruger Tropical has some advantages as well: No long magazine, making it 4-inches shorter than the others while still having the unlimited performance of a 24-inch barrel that also allows extra-long COLs sans any sort of modification!
Til the next… What rifle/cartridge would “I” choose for a spring bear hunt over bait with the same outfitter I started with in May of 1989? That would be somewhere in Northeast Ontario. Spring bears of that area could easily go over 400 to 600 lbs! Should it be a sub-medium like a 7mm, a medium such as a .338 mag., or perhaps a larger bore like a .444 Marlin or even bigger still? Come back in a couple of weeks to see my answers — yes, that’s plural — and reasons.