The date was the second week of May, 1989. The circumstance was in the middle of “nowhere”, somewhere in the northeast of our province, Ontario, where my hope was to shoot a black bear — my first. There were many “firsts” that spring. My rifle: an 1895 Marlin chambered for the well proven .45-70. Handloads: the 400gr Speer that was leaving the muzzle of the 22″ barrel at an average of 1865 fps. The area: barely outside the southeast corner of Algonquin Park. Ambient conditions: HOT, with swarms of biting (starving?) black flies! (Several, from south of the border, had never experienced anything like that, and decided “that experience” was not part of their expectations! ).
But despite the biting flies, I enjoyed those days but never scored on a bear. However, the next spring (1990) found me back with the same outfitter in the same general area. The rifle: The same. The load: The same. That time, however, I did score on a trophy-quality bear. The range was approximately 100 yards to the bait setup, and I waited until the bear presented a broadside shot… which happened almost immediately. The 400gr Speer hit exactly where aimed — just behind the right shoulder, midway up the body. The bear went over backwards and took off on a dead run… for ten yards where he piled up in a tangle of alders with all four paws pointing skyward. I paid the insurance from a standing position on the 12-foot high moose-hunting platform spiked to a huge hardwood where it separated into two large branches.
My first bear, but not my last. The last may be yet to come. My latest was in October 2015, taken at 87 yards with a single 250gr AccuBond from my Tikka T3 in 9.3 x 62, leaving the muzzle at a tad over 2700 fps. In between those dates (1990 to 2015), I’ve shot several bears with a variety of rifles and cartridges, having hunted them each year from 1989 to 2017 with the exception of one calendar year. In addition, due to health issues, I didn’t hunt in 2018. So far this year (2019), I’ve not hunted but plan to, God willing, in October – November.
So the number of bear seasons I’ve hunted from 1989 to 2017 number 27 calendar years, plus a few years where I hunted bruin both spring and fall, so the total exceeds 30. Of course, I didn’t take a bear every season they were hunted — I passed on some bears, and wounded a couple that were not found, and missed my shot on three others. But on average, I’ve taken a bear about every second year, though it didn’t always work out that way. By times I’d make a “run” on bears for two or three years in a row, then “nothing” for another two or three years.
But in that process I’ve learned what calibers work best, or better, from those I’ve tried. And, of course, over the years, including those mentioned, I’ve hunted other fauna like deer and moose, as well as smaller game. For example: I know from experience that I’d choose a .300 Win Mag over a .30-06 for all conditions where moose and whitetails might be hunted in the same season in the areas I’ve hunted them in Central and Northern Ontario.
NOTICE: I said what “I’d choose”, based on MY experience. You might be happier with something else. I shoot a .300 Win Mag as well as I shoot a .30-06 in a hunting situation. My longest “hit” from my .300 Win Mag was near 300 yards on a JACK RABBIT, and that was on my first shot! My .338 Win Mag (Browning A-Bolt SS) printed a neat cloverleaf of 3/4″ at 300 yards at our range using bench-rest style! I didn’t duplicate that, but it would shoot the same load at .5 MOA at the same distance on a regular basis! (That’s not .5-inch at 300, by the way!)
That’s not to boast, but to point out factually that I have more than a little experience with so-called “magnums” all the way to the .458. And 99.5% of the loads were handloads, or “hand loads”.
Now as to the arguments in favor of the .458 Winchester Magnum being MY first choice as a one rifle for all big game. Notice again: It would be MY first choice, knowing what I now know in using it with handloads compared to others I’ve used with handloads, under these terms and conditions:
1 > world-wide hunting of BG, including the African DG, but N.A. in particular.
2 > as a younger man.
3 > as a handloader.
While I have fired mega-loads from the three .458 Win Mags I’ve owned since January 1993 — the first one purchased proved it’s worth on September 28 of the same year. Within a couple of weeks, the load fired on Sept 28, ’93 went on a moose hunt, as backup in N. Ontario. It turned out that due to the tail end of a hurricane, the 22″ Ruger 77 in .458 Winchester Magnum got carried more than my “main rifle”. On the 28th it fired three 500gr Hornady RNs into 1/4″ center to center at 100 yards! It was a single ragged hole! (I’m sure you can find someone who can explain how to measure 3 shots into the same hole from bullets that are .458″ in diameter!) It wasn’t the hottest load from H4895 at a little under 2000 fps, but it sure was “magic” in my view! I loaded up fifteen of those for that hunt. But, of course, the moose didn’t cooperate due to trees crashing in the forest every so often! But I’ve never carried anything before or since in which I’ve had more confidence for moose under those physical conditions, aside the storm. Recoil was my last consideration — in fact it never was any consideration at all. The rifle ready to shoot was around 9.3 lbs with scope and ammo, and the same length as a Rugger 77 in a 22″ .30-06. I had traded a rifle for it with no money involved.
Later, it went on a bear hunt and the 350gr Speer at 2345 fps flattened a bear at 75 yards. The damage was awesome in a going away shot. I’d owned at least a couple of .45-70s prior to that, and so was not “overwhelmed” by such an experience. But I was “sold”on Big Bores for bears; at least two in the salt from .458” projectiles — a 400gr and a 350gr, both from Speer.
In between the first and the current, I owned a CZ550 with a magnum action and 25″ barrel made in the Czech Republic. With that one from 2007 to 2011, I went to school on the possibilities of a .458 Winchester Magnum. For instance, I found that the 500gr Hornady could be safely driven from the muzzle of the 25″ barrel at 2200 fps, or more, from at least four powders: H335, H4895, AA2460 and AA2230; and all that within SAAMI COL at 3.34″. Of course, the action and chamber allowed a COL of up to 3.78″ for the long monolithics, if wanted, surpassing the .458 Lott!
In all, I developed loads for most of the following bullets. But the one that intrigued me for our game (moose, deer and bear) was the 350gr Barnes TSX at 2750 fps/5876 ft-lbs that shot into MOA. I had confidence in it to 400 yards for moose (at above 1600 fps impact — enough for expansion according to Barnes).
Currently, since August 2018, my .458 Winchester Magnum is a Ruger No.1 Tropical (Pic on the header). I started shooting it with known handloads from that date. Of course, winter had intervened before starting up again in late April of this year. In all I’ve fired it over 130 times employing 11 different bullets from 500s on down to the 300 TSX, using several different loads for each bullet, two brands of cases and seven distinct powders. One primer throughout has been employed, the WLRM.
The following is representative:
300gr TSX at up to 2980 fps/5915 ft-lbs from H4198
350gr TSX a very good load at 2760 fps/5919 ft-lbs from H4198
350gr Hornady at 2510 fps/4895 ft-lbs from H4198
350gr Hornady at 2000 fps/3108 ft-lbs from RL-15
400-X bullet from Barnes at 2590 fps/5957 ft-lbs from H4198
405gr Remington at 2075 fps/3871 ft-lbs from RL-15
450gr Swift AF at 2414/5822 ft-lbs from H335
450gr TSX at 2402/5764 ft-lbs from AA2230
470gr hardcast at 2087 fps/4545 ft-lbs from H4895
480gr Hornady DGX at 2353 fps/5900 ft-lbs from H4895
480gr Hornady DGX at 1810 fps/3491 ft-lbs from RL-15
500gr Speer GS at 2312 fps/5934 ft-lbs from H4895
500gr Hornady at 2317 fps/5960 ft-lbs from H4895
Notes on the above and projected tests for the future:
1 > My Ruger #1 has a 24″ Mag-Na-Ported barrel, and the typical long throat of all .458 Win Mags, plus no magazine to constrain COL. So all of the above loads have had their bullets seated as long as practical. While I didn’t give the COLs of each, or charges of the various propellants, yet the Barnes monos and all the other bullets were seated from about SAAMI 3.3″ to a max of 3.71″ for the 450 TSX not crimped into the bottom cannelure. Crimped, they measure 3.68″. Those exceed the Lott at 3.6″. Others of the 500s equal or exceed 3.6″ in COL. I don’t need to crimp any bullet in the single-shot Ruger. And from hundreds of rounds through my former Ruger #1 in .45-70 LT, never was crimping an issue even though all bullets were seated no more than .25 – .30″. And never a problem with a bullet being, or becoming, “loose” in the cartridge. I employ the same practices for the Ruger #1 Tropical in .458 WM.
2 > All of the Barnes TSX bullets from the 500s, 450s, 350s and 300s, can be driven at an MV that will permit them to still exceed 1600 fps at 400 yards – the limit for expansion in big game proposed by Barnes. Even though their 500 and 450 will start much slower than the 350 or 300, they will retain the velocity much better due to better sectional densities and ballistic coefficients.
So in effect, one can tailor their bullet weight and MV to the game animal and expected range limit.
Some of the above loads are maximum, and some, obviously, are reduced loads.
3 > Down the road, God willing, I have expectations to produce several more reduced loads for the likes of wolf and deer in woodlands, such as the 300 TSX at around 2500 to 2700 fps, and a 350 Hornady FP around 2000 fps for woods hunting. Of course, there are many other possibilities as well, such as lobbing a 470 cast lead at 1250 or a 300 Hornady at 1600 fps. There really are few limits.
But from a 250gr Barnes all copper (made for the .45-70) poking along at 2200 fps to the Barnes 500gr solid moving out at the same speed, what is there left to quibble over?
Nothing in my estimation. So make mine a .458 Winchester Magnum for anything from gophers (good for practice) to the grumpiest, anywhere at anytime!
Next up: other choices in Big Bores and Mediums.