The Best Big Bore Rifles

Ruger AfricanThere’s nothing like shooting a big bore calibre rifle — and here are four of the best.

Big bore calibre rifles have always fascinated me. Their sheer size and the ability to pack tons of knock down energy is simply impressive and, when hunting dangerous game, they are the weapon of choice.

But the question could readily be asked, “What actually qualifies as big bore rifle?” From my perspective, the minimum calibre has to be a .375. The .375, in many African countries is also the minimum calibre permitted for hunting dangerous game. I have owned my fair share from a .375 Holland & Holland (H&H) to a .458 Winchester Magnum with a number of calibres in between, including my favourite a .416 Remington Magnum.

Most have been Remingtons but there were a couple of exceptions, including a Sako and a Bruno. I have also shot my fair share of old English big bore double rifles where, when looking down the barrel, I was sure I could have dropped a quarter down the barrel without it ever touching either side. Oh my, what an experience, and I can assure you that I did not shoot them off of the bench.

What constantly surprised me about all the big bores I have owned is how well they shot. Prior to jumping on the big bore bandwagon, I had always assumed that it would be all but impossible to expect Minute Of Angle (MOA) accuracy from such a massive cartridge. Or how could one possibly shoot tight groups when your teeth rattled every time you pulled the trigger. Well, let me assure you that a number of the big bores I have owned and still own will shoot into better than a 1/2 MOA. Yes, you read it correctly, not MOA but better than a 1/2 MOA. They often left me in awe with the kind of accuracy they would generate despite their size and recoil. Better, in fact, than a number of my mid-sized calibres. I have hunted them in Africa, Australia, America and right here at home in the Canada. On one safari all I used was a .375 H&H, taking everything with it from game as small as a duiker to as large as a monster bull hippo that had decided to terrorize the inhabitants of a remote African village. They have also accounted for cape buffalo, leopard, numerous plains game such as eland and kudu, as well as water buffalo, wild boar, bison and moose.

I would now like to delve into my favourite four and detail why the .375 H&H, the .375 Ruger, the .416 Remington Magnum and the .458 Winchester Magnum are at the top of my list.

.375 Holland &Holland

The .375 H&H has been around for quite a spell, in fact since 1912. This is a true classic cartridge that has over the years garnered a real following as an ideal all around cartridge for Africa — particularly for medium to large game, and especially for someone who may be a bit recoil sensitive but still wants to tackle some of the larger African game. While recoil can still be a factor to contend with, it by no means is as heavy as some of the other big bores. It also provides very good accuracy and is relatively flat-shooting with sufficient energy to take most game — over 4,000 ft-lbs at the muzzle. It has also gained popularity in North America as a good choice for bison, moose, elk, and of course, Alaskan brown bear. I have used it on all except for elk. However, when it came time to hunt cape buffalo I opted for a .458 Winchester Magnum and was glad I did. (As I will explain later.) I have owned at least three rifles chambered in .375 H&H. All shot well and one in particular, a Remington Classic, shot extremely well with 270- grain Hornady round-nose bullets and Winchester 760 powder. I recall shooting five, three-shot, 100-yards groups that averaged out at .93 inches with that load… a couple of which were right at .50 inches. Can’t do much better than that. Velocities with this load averaged just a tad shy of 2,700 feet per second (fps) — not too shabby either.

.375 Ruger

By no means can this calibre be considered a classic as it has only been on the scene for a few years. Ruger actually teamed up with Hornady to develop a cartridge that would rival the .375 H&H in a shorter barrel and in a standard-length action. They accomplished this in spades. While the case is only slightly larger in diameter than a .30-06 case, it has the same overall case length. At the muzzle with a 270-grain bullet this amazing new cartridge can generate a velocity of 2,840 fps with 4,835 ft-lbs of knock-down energy. This is one fine new cartridge that is likely to be around for some time. I have tested both of the Ruger offerings in this calibre, the Alaskan and the African. Wow, do they shoot! The Alaskan, in its short 20-inch barrel, shot Hornady 300-grain Round Nose factory ammo into .370 inches and the 270-grain Spire Point into .540 inches. Simply outstanding accuracy. Velocities averaged, respectively, 2,530 and 2,690 fps. The African with its traditional walnut stock did not fare quite as well with the 300-grain Round Nose grouping at .750 inches and the 270-grain Spire Point at one inch. But, as expected, the velocities with its longer 23 inch barrel were faster (2,640 and 2,810 fps). What a fine cartridge for both North America and Africa or, for that matter, anywhere one may want to hunt game that requires some additional knock-down power.

.416 Remington Magnum

This is unquestionably my favourite big bore rifle. It is a Remington and, believe it or not, it is one of the most accurate rifles I own. I will not bore you with details other than to discuss one trip to the range that typifies this rifle’s and cartridge’s capability. Using 300-grain Barnes X bullets with four different grain weights of IMR 4064 powder, this rifle shot four consecutive three-shot groups into a mere 1.25 inches. Two of these three shot groups were .280 and .445 inches, in other words — one round hole. With velocities that can exceed 2,900 fps, this 300-grain bullet is able to generate 5,500 ft-lbs of sheer power — that is more than a 1,000 ft-lbs of energy than the .375 H&H can deliver. All this power was certainly requisite on an Australian water buffalo hunt where I had but a brief moment to shoot a bull of a lifetime that unfortunately was quartering away but face on. As the bull was about to depart for environs unknown, it was shoot now or cry later. The .416 came through in flying colours as the bullet entered the very front edge of the right shoulder and was trapped as a perfect mushroom under the skin on the back of the left shoulder. I later weighed this bullet and was more than a little surprised that after breaking both shoulders not only did it retain its shape but it still weighed in at over 290-grains. Was I impressed or what? (This this buffalo ended up as number nine in the SCI record book for quite a number of years.)

I have hunted bison, wild boar and a variety of other game with this rifle and , to my recollection, it performed flawlessly on all the game I have taken with it. It is one deadly combo. I must confess, however, that early on I had a KDF muzzle-brake installed on it for two reasons. First, to reduce the recoil, mainly because I liked to shoot this rifle so much that it was pounding me up at the range and second, I wanted to reduce muzzle jump, particularly when I was hunting dangerous game just in case a second shot was required. I also full length glass bedded the stock, both have no doubt contributed to the fine accuracy this rifle can deliver.

.458 Winchester Magnum

We had been on the tracks of a herd of cape buffalo for the better part of half a day when we could finally hear them ahead of us in the thick brush, so we slowed our pace down to a crawl. Then, without realizing it, we found ourselves right in the middle of the herd. We suddenly had buffalo all around us and I can assure you it was one mighty uncomfortable feeling. We had unknowingly, and in error, ended up way too tight and then it really was ugly when a huge bull stood up out of waist high grass and swung around to face me at less than 25 yards. My adrenalin was through the roof and all the Professional Hunter could utter was “Shoot him now!”

I can assure you at that point I was more than little pleased I had in hand my .458 Winchester Magnum with a 500-grain solid up the spout. The .458 Winchester Magnum is an awesome cartridge and has gained a solid reputation as a deadly game-stopper and many an African PH carries one for that very reason. With a 500-grain bullet it will generate over 5,500 ft-lbs of energy. Plenty to stop a charging buffalo. My rifle, as with all my big bores, would shoot these massive bullets into less than MOA. Once again, I would turn to Barnes for both the 500-grain full metal jacket and round nose bullets. With IMR 4895 powder they would virtually shoot both into the same point of impact at 100 yards; an ideal combo for any dangerous game you may want to hunt. However, it was punishing to shoot so I kept my range time down to a bare minimum with this rifle —until I discovered a reduced load that made it a joy to shoot.

I would be hard pressed not to recommend any of the four but, if push came to shove, and if I were looking for an all around medium to large game rifle, the .375 Ruger would be a great choice or, if looking to up the ante and include all the world’s dangerous game, I would look no further than my all time favourite, the .416 Remington Magnum. They are a blast in more ways than one.

Are You Looking For More Shooting Articles?

Get Hunting & Fishing Articles On Facebook!

Do You Like What You’re Reading? Subscribe To Western Sportsman Print Edition Today!

This entry was posted in Articles, Gear, Hunting and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.