… suitable for what?
“Suitable” is a stronger concept than “adequate” when applied to hunting big game (BG), and dangerous game (DG) in particular. Most hunters of each class of game would think that way, I believe. “Adequate” is just OK, but “suitable” means it suits the occasion. Some authors use the expression: “perfectly suitable” – I’m unsure how an adverb increases the concept of something being more than just suitable! “Excellent”, on the other hand, would mean there’s nothing better. While several distinct rifle cartridges could legitimately be referred to as “an excellent choice” for specific species of game under particular conditions, are they downgraded in our thinking to just “adequate” because they are in a single-shot rifle? That which follows is with intent to cause further reflection on the issue…
< The Ruger #1 in .45-70 LT in this bear blind was loaded with the 500gr Hornady RN Interloc. The load was 75 grains of H335 in Remington nickel brass, ignited by WLRM primers for an average of 1.25″ for three at 100 yards. COL was 3.19″ and MV at 2190 fps/ 5324 ft-lbs.
In perusing several rifle-related Internet sites there is a lot of diverse thinking and experience in regard to our topic. And I expect the same from any responses I may get from readers. So, let me say up front that I’m fully aware of arguments both ways – for and against, and I’ve previously written on this theme. I’ve used single-shots, bolt-action repeaters, and semi-autos in field use for big game hunting. Also, currently I’ve pared-down my BG rifles to two (2): a single-shot Ruger #1 in .458 Winchester Magnum and a Tikka T3 Lite bolt-action repeater in 9.3 x 62 Mauser. So I don’t have a particular bias of one type of action over another for general use. In my experience, both have some advantages and disadvantages, which I’ll discuss later.
The question remains, however, about the suitability of single-shot rifles for BG hunting, including the possibility of DG.
That there are single-shot rifles available, and still newly made, that are chambered for big-bore cartridges suitable for any large or dangerous game should tell us that there’s a market for them. Ruger alone has chambered its Number One for several cartridges suitable for the largest of game, including DG: .405 Winchester, .375 H&H, 450-400, .416 Rigby, .458 Lott, .458 Winchester Magnum and .45-70. Most recently it’s been in the .450 Marlin. Then, the only issue as to enough “power” is suitable propellants and bullets — of which there are more than enough.
So then, the remaining concerns are two: the shooter and the rifle.
I doubt that any history book on African hunting would omit reference to Frederick Courteney Selous who used a black-powder four-bore muzzle loader for most of his elephant kills that numbered into hundreds! He is still celebrated for his love of adventure in wild places, knowledge of flora and fauna, pioneering spirit, hardy physique, intelligence, fearlessness and loyalty to The Crown of England having died in battle from a sniper’s bullet during a war on African soil. That’s the shooter, and his rifle was a single-shot for most of his hunting career. The history of the development of firearms was the main factor, but he used the most powerful single-shot of his era. There was nothing better. Though he used a 10-bore for lion, he was not killed by any of the “Big Five” or Dangerous Seven in using a single-shot, but by a sniper’s bullet in warfare.
When I finally came into possession of my first #1 Ruger in .45-70, for which I’d traded a M77 Ruger in .458 Win Mag, I knew it was the basic equivalent of the 22″ M77 in potential ballistics. Why, then, trade a bolt-action repeater for a single-shot when ballistics would essentially be the same?
< My former Ruger No. 1 in .45-70 LT. The Nikon scope is now on my Ruger No.1 in .458 Winchester Magnum.< The Ruger No.1 in .458 Winchester Magnum
The answer to that question is both simple and complex… which version would you like?
The simple one first: I’m very attracted to the looks and handling of a #1 Ruger – I’ve owned several. The second reason is the uncomplicated and durable action – not much to go sideways. And their compactness compared to a bolt-action with equal-length barrels, plus maintenance is minimal and keeping the barrel clean is an effortless chore.
In addition to all that, there’s no magazine that constrains Cartridge Overall Length (COL). That provides the good fortune of a longer COL than standard, permitting the use of longer/heavier bullets that don’t go deeper into the case than shorter/light bullets. More propellant space than normal is therefore available for longer-heavy projectiles. This results in a potentially more powerful rifle than predicted by handloading manuals or possible in factory loads. That is assuming a throat that permits a longer COL than standard specs. For that reason, I had the throat lengthened on my #1 Ruger in .45-70.
A very long throat already exists in the chamber of any .458 Winchester Magnum. The only constraint in COL for the .458 is the magazine, of which a single-shot has none. Yet in the final analysis, bullet length puts a constraint on the COL of any cartridge. A relatively short bullet for caliber in a cartridge will have a COL that’s shorter than a relatively long bullet for the same cartridge if both are seated to the same depth in the cartridge case.
<Bullets seated long in the two .45-70 cases (for my Ruger #1 in .45-70 LT) match the COL of the .458 with the case crimped into the cannelure of the 500gr Hornady. This allowed slightly more powder in the .45-70 cases because the brass is not as thick and heavy as the .458 brass. Of course, the .458 could also have the 500gr Hornady seated like the .45-70s, with only .25″ into the case making a COL of 3.59″ (same as the Lott). Longer bullets like the 450gr TSX could increase the COL in a .458 to 3.72″ when loaded for my Single-shot Ruger in .458 Win Mag. These can be pushed to 2400 fps/5755 ft-lbs from that rifle.
The complex answer will be evident throughout the following paragraphs.
After having developed several handloads for the #1 Ruger in .45-70 (I’d already had experience with a couple of 1895 Marlins in .45-70), I planned on a bear hunt using the 500gr Hornady RN Interloc at 1900 fps. The top load for that bullet was just over 2000 fps. (That was from an unmodified, slightly used #1 Ruger. My second #1 Ruger in .45-70 was a NIB, which later was slightly modified with a longer throat allowing longer seating of bullets.)
I can still, after three decades, recall the scene: Sitting in a makeshift blind in a semi-open area anticipating the sudden appearance of a mature black bruin from any direction, emerging from the surrounding woods. I had no qualms about the suitability of the load OR the need for a quick second shot! Quite simply, I was confident! And to this day, thirty years later, I know that confidence wasn’t misplaced. The anticipated bear was a no-show…. lucky bear!
< A similar type setting. That’s a bear bait in the blue barrel at 135 yards. But also note the doe in the center of the pic, and there’s a buck following her near the left edge of the photo.
Years later…. I’m in another blind that I built closer to home – 1 and 1/4 hrs driving distance, on Crown Land in the Haliburton Highlands to the northeast. By then, I was well into doing my own thing… choosing locations and baiting. I had a friend along – British – who wanted to see what this bear hunting business was all about, with the vague notion that he might like to give it a try. He was an ex-military from the Brit air command in maintenance of aircrafts’ electronics. So, he’d trained on the .303 Brit, a very good hunting cartridge, and I’d gotten him into handloading his own .308 Win in a BLR. That day preceded his commitment to a bear hunt, so he was there as an observer only.
My rifle was the new #1 Ruger in .45-70 for which I’d had my gunsmith give an extension to the throat. The 500gr Hornady could be seated 1/4″ into the case rather than 1/2″, with the effect of making the case 2.35″ in length. That permitted 75 grains of a ball powder, namely, H335, to be employed behind the 500gr Hornady making matters close enough to my former M77 Ruger in .458 Win with its 22″ barrel.
By times there are those (gunwriters and ballistic engineers) who know a little about a lot, while some other no-name entrepreneurs know a lot about little. Through the experience that involved hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of developing and testing handloads for modern .45-70s, I learned what worked best in accuracy and velocity. H335 worked best for heavy loads in that single-shot rifle. Period. H4895 was good but too bulky, not permitting enough for best performance in the relatively short case. And all that was prior to AA2230 becoming available.
That particular hunt in the Haliburton Highlands was informative in several ways: My overly fat Brit friend was as good as helpless in assistance because of mobility problems, but he did hold a rope for me as I hung the bear for skinning. I’d chronographed that load before the hunt and it gave an average instrumental reading of 2185 fps which corrected to MV = 2199 fps. And that was fairly consistent, as most times it was within 15 fps above or below 2200 fps. With that knowledge… how would it work on a black bear? It was made by Hornady for African soft-skinned fauna of the larger sort.
That was my closest bait setup for that area – 40 yards from blind to bait, shooting at a slight downhill angle. During the previous winter, I’d done a lot of bullet testing there shooting through a deadfall into densely packed snow. But the bears were undisturbed somewhere asleep in their dens.
< Some of these were “tested” through the deadfall and into densely-packed frozen snow.
That was a Spring hunt, and hunting bear over bait is a waiting game. However, just before noon a bear sneaks in. It steps over the deadfall at a quartering toward angle. Though not fully mature and lacking the weight when denning in December, it’s a good “eatin’ – size” so I aim just behind the left shoulder (to avoid spoiling the shoulder) and squeeze the trigger. The bruin sort of stumbles and falls back over the deadfall, and makes about fifteen to twenty yards back into the bush. A few seconds later we hear the death moans. We are on the side of a rocky ridge, so my friend is somewhat imprisoned there. I knew the bear was dead but don’t recall reloading… but I’m sure I did as a matter of habit.
As it turned out, the bear was more mature than I had at first thought. It was a dry female – the only one I’ve ever shot. She was about 175 lbs. The 500gr Hornady entered behind her left shoulder and made exit in the right flank with a two-foot long loop of bowl pinched by a .458-cal hole! The bullet never expanded but penetration was nearly 3 feet. If that bullet had a flat tip similar to the current DGX, the bear would have been DRT!
I reflected on what had happened: How much pressure would have had to build up inside the bear, ballooning its right flank to expand to such an extent that a 2 ft loop of unbroken bowel could exit through a hole that had expanded much more than bullet caliber before snapping back to approximate bullet size in pinching two diameters of bowel! And the bowel followed the bullet exit! That’s not only momentum! There, a great deal of energy also was at work in a thousandth of a second! According to the KE formula, at least 4882 ft-lbs at 2097 fps! But a lot of that energy was spent in the brush and earth beyond. Overkill? I don’t believe in such a thing! Had the bear been 575 lbs instead of 175 lbs, the result would have been the same – I’m sure of that! Later on, I did have a +600 lb bruin attending my bait, but it got shot by hound hunters. With guts out it weighed 565 lbs!
I’ve killed much larger bears with single-shot .45-70s, and they were DRT! It was not just the “power” but the bullet used. Yet the point of this is that I have full confidence in the results from a single shot, from a single-shot rifle, if it’s a true BIG BORE!
CONFIDENCE! Where does that come from and how is it achieved? To a great extent one is born with it, or not! You can see it in very, very young children. Or not. My wife and I, as great-grand parents, notice very young kids as we seem to have quite a few in “our tribe”! Then, as we go out shopping or in restaurants, we often speak of a child’s temperament, even as young as two or three years old. It’s quite apparent! Then we’ve studied personalities, and have had to work with quite a variety of them. Little children express who they are in many contexts — they don’t pretend like teens or even adults! If a kid is shy and retiring by nature, they show it! If confident and assertive, they also reveal that without pretense!
Also true of adults facing a challenge. Sure, most can learn confidence and even some assertiveness in their professions, but often it’s not “them” under most stressful situations. Either you have it or you don’t. But then, some are more confident in the “arts” but less so in mechanical repairs, for instance, while others are sure of themselves in most any thing they tackle, like my sister-in-law when living. She’d tackle anything, though not very good at any of them. But what she was good at was being confident to try anything! She thought she was a good cook – but wasn’t, yet she always came up with a meal on time! She tried carpentry… music… she “filled in” playing the piano at the church when the “real” pianist was away! A Swedish lady, who visited during the summer months, said to her one Sunday after the meeting: “I suppose you’re better than nothing!” And my SIL had a good laugh about it… she was undaunted!
So anyone can learn to shoot a BIG BORE and hunt with a single-shot. I expect that my long deceased SIL would attempt both in an afterlife if given the chance – but she’d not be good at it!
The moral? Almost anyone can learn to appreciate single-shot rifles for BG, though it’s not their… cup of tea?
< This was my second NEF single-shot in .45-70. It was very short, and powerful when handloaded. And has a break action. The 1.5 – 4.5 x 32mm Bushnell was appropriate for its purpose. I was wolf hunting.
Would I (personally) hunt Africa with my #1 Ruger in .458 Win Mag, including DG, if given the chance? Sure, why not? It’s been done, and will still be done as long as the ballistics are suitable and the PH approves. After all, it’s not like the African hunter is solo! He/she has an entourage. And, usually, it only takes one well-placed shot from a suitable rifle to end matters anyway! But the real deal is CONFIDENCE and a COOL-HEAD with PROFICIENCY !!
Multiple shots are no substitute! Ultimate confidence must be rooted in personal ability, NOT in the entourage, including the PH!
The left side of the brain is for logic and thinking – being rational. The right side is where emotions come from. In times of high emotional stress, the left side switches off!! Shooting at paper targets at home is one thing… but shooting at a big, mean hazardous creature coming for you at 30 mph is entirely ANOTHER! Our emotions in such an instant can shut down rational thinking!
I watch a lot of African hunts on YouTube. And I see… about 1/3 of the foreign hunters “mess up” with their multiple-shot rifles: JAMS!! Even professionals who write about these things, or go on safari in support of their clients! Yep! More than just a “few” times. I could name some names but I won’t. And a few have pulled the trigger on their bolt-action repeaters with a guide in front of them! Nerves perhaps? Anxiety? Fear? Lacking confidence in their ability? “Just in case stuff happens!”, or something hits the fan?
There’s just something about a single-shot that instils serious discipline! Like someone using a bow… or ML. You think before you act! You know… it’s something like wishing some people would put their brain in gear before opening their mouth! In the scenario of hunting anything, but especially DG: “Put brain in gear before pulling the trigger!” (Of course, that equally applies whatever the weapon – even a bow!)
That’s RULE #1, and the second is: PRACTICE until your rifle (single, double or repeating) becomes a part of you, AND YOU BECOME EXCELLENT IN PROFICIENCY, not just “adequate”!
< This was my first New England Firearms (NEF) single-shot .45-70. The load was a 465gr hardcast at 1900 fps that “flattened” the bear. In the pic it has been pulled out of 30″ tall weeds and grass, and eviscerated!
In contrary fashion, a repeating rifle can (not “will”) instil the thought or habit of thinking: “I’ve got plenty on tap just in case…” of what? Use our repeating rifles as though we’ll ONLY get one shot, as in most cases that’s all we’ll get that’s accurate! A followup needed, moments or minutes later? That’s lot’s of time for a single-shot rifle to become a repeater! And always keep in mind that a so-called “repeating rifle” only shoots ONE AT A TIME, and it’s the FIRST shot that matters most… so treat that first shot the same as we would if shooting a so-called “single-shot” rifle!
Now to be sure of where I’m coming from: I don’t recommend a single-shot rifle for a person with a case of “nerves”, and NEITHER a repeating rifle for a person who’s main confidence is in their repeating rifle. It’s one thing to own a powerful rifle capable of suitable ballistics – single, double or repeating – it’s entirely another to have mastery of it and self under all conditions regardless of the situation…..
Til the next… “The Masters of the art of ONE shot – Making it more than enough” P2