“Wonderful” is an adjective to describe how full of wonder and amazement something is. It has been applied to music, art and creation itself, plus a myriade of other objects and even to some persons: “She’s a wonderful person!”, it has been said of some mothers, for example – certainly true of my mom.
Lots of positive adjectives could rightfully be applied to the .458 Winchester Magnum when used in a rifle that complements its character and attributes. Currently, a thread on the 24hr Campfire forum is titled: “The great .458 Winchester Magnum. Everyone should own at least one!”. It’s now at 111 pages and contains encyclopedic information and knowledge… if you can also appreciate some lighthearted jesting.
But there are some professional writers for outdoor-sporting type magazines who still appear to be in the dark of the .458 Winchester Magnum’s true capabilities — or wilfully blind! According to them, the .458 Lott has filled the void of what the .458 Winchester Magnum should have been from its beginning in 1956. “So, today, there’s really no need for a .458 Winchester that falls short on its promises and can’t possibly keep up with a much better creation in the Lott”, or so that has been the spewed propaganda for a potential gullible, wannabe hunter of large and dangerous game!
I’m not sure when or how I first learned about the .458 Winchester Magnum. When my good friend, Glendon Rae, said he was going to Kenya as a missionary and would be taking a .458 Winchester Magnum for big game hunting, I thought that was awesome! That was in 1960 or ’61, and I was already aware of the cartridge, but unsure of how that came about. Anyway, for years to come, when they returned from Kenya on furlough every fourth year, they visited us in Quebec and he gave details, with 35mm slide shows, of his hunting ventures until it was shut down in 1977.
<A Winchester M70 in .458 Winchester Magnum
His rifle was a Winchester M70 African in .458 – one of the originals – and his ammo was Winchester’s own, softs and solids, that worked as they were supposed to on everything he shot, including elephant and Cape buffalo — he’d shot many of each over a period of several years — never a squib load or misfire. A .300 magnum – perhaps the H&H – was used on plains game with equal success — keeping in mind that he wasn’t a handloader.
I’ve yet to fire a factory round in any of the three .458s I’ve owned: my first a Ruger M77 with a 22″ barrel and tang safety – which I much prefer to any other type. My current No.1 Ruger Tropical in .458 Win also has a tang safety. That may have something to do with the fact of my blind right eye that has forced me to shoot from my left side since I started shooting a BB gun as a youngster having had an accident to my right eye at age six. Whatever the reason, I much prefer an ambidextrous tang safety. Additionally, I have relatively small hands that makes it difficult to hold onto the pistol-grip of a rifle with my left hand and reach the safety on the wrong side (for me) in a right-handed bolt action.
My handloads for that first .458 were for a moose hunt using the 500gr Hornady RNs at about 2000 fps – obviously not a max load. The propellant was H4895, 69 grains ignited by F215 M primers. They shot 1-hole groups of three at 100 yards. But I didn’t get a chance on a moose that season – in part due to the remnants of a hurricane that went through our hunting area. The next spring I did shoot a young bear at 75 yards using the 350gr Speer at around 2345 fps/ 4273 ft-lbs. It was a going-away shot that took the bear behind the short ribs and came out behind the head, removing several inches of spine and the back of its head. But that young bear was tough! It still had enough spunk left to clamp its jaws on a 3″ exposed root of a tree and we literally had to pry it off – when it was stone-cold dead!
My next .458 Win Mag was the CZ 550 with a true Magnum Mauser-length action and box, and a 25″ barrel. It was long and heavy compared to the compact and stout Ruger M77. BUT! It taught me how capable and “wonderful” a .458 Winchester Magnum could be when given its due respect! Its balance belied it’s weight, its accuracy superb and it’s versatility and power unmatched by anything I’d previously or later owned – including my .340 Wea. Mag. On June 30/08, Temp +20C, elevation 900 ft, three 500gr Hornady RNs averaged 2286 fps/5801 ft-lbs (corrected MV) over 80 grains of H4895, ignited by WLRM primers in Winchester cases. COL was 3.53″. That CZ550 taught me what a .458 Win IS, not “wants to be”!
Since that experience, the Ruger No.1 in .458 (my 3rd .458) has shot that same bullet to 2317 fps/5960 ft-lbs using 81 grains of H4895 (1 grain more), same primers and brass and COL. That was in May, 2019, eleven years later from a 24″ ported barrel! And it has made OVER 6000 ft/lbs energy from particular loads since.
< From my Ruger No.1 Tropical in 2020: (Pic on the header) Instrumental reading at 15′ from the muzzle. Corrected to MV = 2787 fps/6036 ft-lbs from a 350gr TSX.
But now it’s time to slow things down as it’s been awhile since I’ve seen another elephant in our back yard. But one morning this past week, at 6 a.m., there was the biggest-fattest coon on our back deck I’ve ever seen anywhere! And that’s no hyperbole! When I stepped out and confronted it, it backed into a corner of the deck, stood up with eyes large and glaring, and snarled at me! He was two-feet tall (later I measured where the top of his head was)! I took a step in its direction and growled back! At that, he decided I might be meaner than he was, so swung around and had real difficulty escaping by squeezing between the spokes of the railing, then waddled across the back yard to the chain-link fence, climbed over and down the other side to disappear in the trees of a neighbour’s property… man, was it ever lucky that I didn’t have my .458 Win in hand! That thing must have weighed 25 lbs at least! Have you ever confronted a coon that big without a .458 Win? Even a 5 lb coon can be dangerous if cornered… and you try to pick it up!
Back to sanity… almost!
In reading, listening to, and watching some videos — articles, stories and videos alike would make all gun stuff pretty serious! And if you are at the right end of a big boomer, and confronting a real hairy monster, like a 700 lb grizzly, then matters tend to get more than a little tense! What would you – in real time – prefer to have between your hands as a rifle? Think about that in palpable terms – if you haven’t! And let’s say you’re hunting elk… and have one on the ground with the guts out… and alone!
I’ve thought about that sort of thing quite a bit – we don’t have grizzly in these parts (that we know of) but we do have some pretty aggressive bears that might covet your deer, bunny or grouse!
Have you ever used your Big Bore for deer, bunny or grouse? It makes for good practice! Once on a bear hunt with a friend my age – who was a novice hunter – I’d shot a medium bear with my Ruger #1 in .45-70 LT. The load was a 500gr Hornady RN at ~2200 fps, about the same as a max load from a .458 Win with a 22″ barrel. My British friend was a witness to all that and wanted a chance at a bear for himself. A week later we were at the same location and a family of coons went grocery shopping at our bait setup! I instructed him to start shooting as they would clean out the store before another bear got a smell of anything. He was shooting .308 Win handloads of 165s I’d put together for him. With a British military background, he opened fire knocking off two while three others took off for cover in the surrounding trees. My friend weighed in excess of 300 lbs, so was not the most mobile citizen in Canada, so I ran after the largest remaining and caught up to within 35 yards or so, and let loose with the same load I’d used on the bear the previous week… that coon literally exploded with fur and guts adorning branches of the surrounding trees! Yup! .458 ballistics will work on coons too!
< Uninvited guests to a party for bears!
There are two typical reasons (excuses?) why many hunters say they don’t need or want something as ferocious as a .458 WM: 1) They don’t need it for hunting, and 2) They don’t want the expense. Yet: 1) They use “ridiculous” cartridges for hunting bambi anyway!, and, 2) There’s no end of expense they go to, to have three more 6.5 Creeds!
So my take is: 1) They’re afraid of “the pain”, imagined or real, and 2) They don’t want to be criticised (or laughed at, ridiculed?) by friends or others for showing up at the range or hunting camp with something that doesn’t “fit” the occasion. We’re going to be criticised by some regardless of intent, but “be true to thyself” – meaning: we must maintain “self respect” in all decisions and choices.
So, go ahead and try that BIG BORE, not because I said so, but because you want to! If you really don’t want to, don’t let me or anyone else make you feel guilty or inferior.
Me? I’ll tote my .458 Winchester Magnum to the range and to the woods, not conscious of the feelings or thoughts of others, but only aware that if I meet up with a 25 lb coon, it’ll be in big trouble!
I might even test one of those 550gr Woodleighs… or better yet, a 600gr Barnes Original! Do ya think that’ll be “enough gun”? One gun and one load for coons and big bears! Say…. aren’t they related?
< “Whacha doin’ up there, son?”