Several fitting adjectives could be ascribed to the .458 Winchester Magnum, such as: Wonderful, Great, Historic, Powerful, Famed, Practical, Useful, Superb, Exceptional… etc, but for this article I’ve chosen “Unique” because that seems best fitted to its timing, design, purpose and character.
< My former CZ 550 in .458 Winchester Magnum in a bear blind.
Post war Americans were not only emerging as the most militarily powerful nation but in economics as well. Many sportsmen were wanting to venture abroad to hunt the world’s largest and most dangerous game – which meant African. To that point in time, the most powerful and readily available made in America, by Winchester, was the British .375 H&H which had released its proprietary status to the public sector. And the big English cartridges loaded with cordite for large and dangerous African game were no longer in production due to the ravages of the war, thus the timing and economics were ripe in 1956 for Winchester to introduce an African model of its famed M70 in .458-caliber, the .458 Winchester Magnum.
It was destined to become the most popular and useful Big Bore in the hands of both clients and PHs alike in pursuit of Africa’s largest and most dangerous game.
A lot of water has flowed under many bridges since then, while both advocates and adversaries have picked their sides of a dispute over what in this article I’ll refer to Winchester’s 1956 creation as: “The Unique .458 Winchester Magnum”. Where it stands today, as a creation of one of the world’s most recognized and prolific rifle manufacturers, it is UNIQUE. There are competitors but none like it in it’s combination of universal acceptance, longevity, versatility, and with more than adequate power and manageable recoil. It stands alone when all that matters in this type and purpose of rifle are objectively weighed.
When I started writing blogs back in 2008, the .458 Winchester Magnum was compared with all other Big Bores still being manufactured or having reloading components available. The .458 Win Mag was near the top of my priorities. Now, with a clean sheet and a lot more experience with two distinct .458 Win Mags, I’ll venture again, but this time only in comparing the “Unique .458 Win Mag” with the .416s found in current reloading manuals.
Followers of these blogs already know that the two models of .458 Win Mag rifles to which I’m referring are a CZ 550 and my current Ruger No.1H. Of course, the CZ was a magazine rifle that held five down, plus one in the chamber, and it sported a 25″ barrel (like the original M70 by Winchester). The Ruger No.1H is, of course, a single-shot. You’ll probably want to know which is my favorite of those two.
The first edition of my reloading manual on the .458 Winchester Magnum was in 2008, and largely based on my reloading experiences of the CZ 550. The CZ was my second rifle in .458. Several years earlier I’d owned a Ruger 77 in that chambering with a 22″ barrel that only saw my first experiences in handloading a .458 Win Mag. The CZ took another level and taught me the full potential of that magnum cartridge in a Mauser magnum action and 25″ barrel. In 2011 the 2nd edition appeared with updates from an additional three years experience with that rifle in both handloads and hunting.
The Ruger No.1H has fired a greater variety of bullets and loads than the CZ, and that is ongoing. The CZ was sold in 2011.
In a comparison of the two there are these similarities and distinctions: Their ready-to-hunt weights would be close. In the CZ 550, there was a slightly longer but slimmer 25″ barrel. Then, of course, the true magnum Mauser action which together with the longer barrel made it six inches longer than the Ruger No.1H in OL. Also, the CZ could hold five down, plus one in the chamber. All that and yet it wasn’t heavier than my Ruger with one in the chamber and three in a stock cartridge holder. So the Ruger No.1H, as a bare-bones rifle, was actually slightly heavier than the CZ stripped of hunting essentials (ammo and scope). In plain enough language, that is telling me that the Ruger No.1H is more sturdily built. It does have a significantly heavier barrel. And the action of the Ruger No.1 is renowned for it’s strength.
Knowing what I do from hunting experiences and hundreds of handloads in each, if I had to pick one over the other it would be the Ruger No.1H
<This one, and also on the header.
But some will think, if not outright saying it, “But it’s a single-shot!”. No it isn’t! I have actually fired more handloads through it than the CZ which holds a pocket full of cartridges! A so-called “magazine repeating rifle” has the potential for a second shot somewhat faster than a so-called “single-shot”, depending on WHO the operator is of each! Personally, I’m not less at ease in hunting with a “single-shot” than a “repeater”. To each his own, of course. Ideally, if I lived in Alaska and had to deal with truculent bears on a semi-regular basis, I might prefer my old Ruger 77 bolt-action. But I don’t live in Alaska and the bears I hunt usually show up at baits at a reasonable distance with adequate time for a careful well-placed shot – which if well-placed ends the story right then and there! On the other hand, if I run into one unawares at very short range, I’ll get a “single shot” so I much prefer that one shot to stop trouble from happening! What about nerves? If I get a negative “case of nerves” at this stage of the game, I’d better quit while I’m ahead… don’t ya think?
It’s my strong opinion that a .458 Winchester Magnum, suitably handloaded, can handle any situation, good or bad, if the operator has the composure and experience fit for the task confronting him/her. That could be a brown bear at five yards or an elk on the side of a mountain at 400 yds. And all that from a single load: a 404gr Shock Hammer at 2500 to 2600 fps. Split the difference… call it 2550 fps. At 5 yds, impact velocity would be 2540 fps/ 5789 ft-lbs/ 154 TE. Cape buff have been dropped with far less! At 400 yds = 1810 fps/ 2940 ft-lbs/ 110 TE. Enough for a freight train! Seriously… that’s equal to an 1895 Marlin .45-70 at the muzzle! And that’s from one bullet and load only! There are literally scores of .458″ bullets and thousands of potential loads!
<These are a few: L to R: 500gr Hornady RN, 500gr African GS, 500gr Hornady RN, two 480gr Hornady DGX, two 450gr Barnes TXS, and a 450gr Swift AF.
How, then, does that compare with the most common .416s? (We’ll not include the .416 Weatherby as it stands apart from the others, though I did include it in my initial blogs that compared all common Big Bores with the .458 Win Mag.)
Generally, the .416s make between 2400 and 2500 fps for their heavyweight 400 grainers, so I’ll be generous in granting 2500 fps, though for long distance shooting a 350gr is much better. So, we’ll do this: The best weights for dangerous mammoths from the .416s vs the same philosophy from the .458 Win – which would be a 500gr and a 450gr vs a 400gr and 350 from the .416s. Finally, a 350gr – .458 vs a 300gr .416. That’d be fair, don’t ya think?
P2 – hopefully, I will answer any objective questions with objective answers.
Till the next…