.470 NITRO EXPRESS
The .470 Nitro Express, introduced to the British gun trade in 1900 by Joseph Lang, became extremely popular and was adopted by many gun makers. Its prominence is not entirely due to good performance in the field – politics, and to be more direct, British colonialism played an important role in its rise.
In India and Sudan the locals were getting fed up with British rule and several uprisings had to be quenched. As Britain had been using the Martini Henry .577/.450 for military purposes for some years and many British officers, as well as Indian noblemen, had acquired sporting rifles in the extremely popular .450 Nitro Express for hunting, the local Indian and Sudanese rebels had access to good supplies of British ammunition. In an effort to kill the ammunition supplies for the many .450s in “illegal” hands, the British government banned the use of .450 calibre rifles and the importation of .450 ammunition.
The British officers and hunters visiting the two colonies had to find a replacement and the .470 Nitro Express, a member of the .470/.475/6 family of cartridges ( Cartridges of the World lists four) became for some reason immensely popular.
Launching a 500gr bullet at an advertised 2 125fps it was deadly on anything India and Africa could dish up. Solids (actually full metal jacketed bullets) put buffalo and elephants down with ease while softs were mean medicine on lion and tigers. Being a rimmed cartridge, and with a good number of hunters preferring a double for dangerous game hunting, it was natural that British gun makers would adopt the .470 Nitro.
Even today Holland & Holland, Purdey and others are still making guns chambered in .470 Nitro and they are not the only ones. European manufacturers such as Chapuis, Krieghoff, Sarasqueta, Heym, Beretta and Francotte to name just a few, also produce doubles in this calibre as does Butch Searcy in America. Ruger’s No 1 single-shot rifle is also available in .470.
The .470 Nitro Express differs a little from several of the old English big-bore cartridges. Being introduced in 1900, it was never a black powder cartridge and like the cases of some of the .470/.476 family of cartridges, its case too sports a slight shoulder. Like other big-bores in its class, the .470 Nitro Express is a short-range buffalo and elephant stopper. It does its best work at ranges under 75m and with open sights. It can be used out to say, 150m on large antelope or the big cats, especially when fitted with a scope. Yes, even these big-bore doubles can be scoped successfully, but normally one would reserve the .470 for close-range work.
Although doubles are fine guns and have a real “Out of Africa” safari look and appeal, I am not particularly fond of them. You often hear comments like: “This rifle truly points like a well-made English double”, when someone picks up a rifle and shoulders it. Truth is very few big-bore doubles, even the English ones, point and handle well – for me at least. I have only hunted one animal with a double but have used a wide variety on the shooting range, firing a large number of rounds. I find them heavy and clumsy, especially modern European doubles.
The only well-balanced ones I have handled were those dainty doubles made for small calibres such as the .303 and the 9.3mm family. My choice would be a single-shot on a Ruger No 1 action but, as you all know, single-shots are, for obvious reasons, not recommended for following up dangerous game. Doubles of course, have one big drawback – they are pricy, very pricy.
Anyway, a double in .470 Nitro Express is not a bad choice for a man who regularly goes after dangerous game (provided he is comfortable shooting a double). Factory rifles are readily available in South Africa as well as ammunition (Federal and RWS), as well as components for reloading. Barnes, Woodleigh, Swift and others make bullets while Norma, Federal, Bertram, Horneber and Kynoch cases can be ordered. S365 seems to be the best local powder for the .470 – 103 to 109gr of S365 will do the trick with 500gr bullets.
The minimum suggested load is good for about 2 070fps while the maximum will launch a 500 grainer at approximately 2 230fps. When using a double the only problem reloaders have is to find a load that will regulate properly. Ideally you do not want the bullets to strike more than one inch or 25mm apart at 50m.
The .470 is a short-range stomper of heavy game and can be stretched to reach out to 150m if need be. So, if you like doubles and are prepared to spend the money you will not be sorry if yours come in .470 Nitro Express.
Illustration of cartridge used with permission of Pierre van der Walt, who owns the copyright.