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Shooting Big Guns; 8, 4 & 2 Bore Shotguns, African Big Game Rifles, 700 Nitro Express & More

The lure of the magnum is not new. When the Dutch settled what today is South Africa they found that their weaponry was woefully inadequate for the surrounding game. Cape buffalo, elephant and rhino required some serious medicine to put them down. And lions were no push overs either. Because of the inefficiency of black powder, the only way to increase the power is to move up the projectile weight. Practical limitations put the velocity between 1,300 – 1,700 fps. The formula for kinetic energy is KE = M x V2, so energy increases with the square of the velocity but directly to the mass. Limit the velocity the only way to increase the kinetic energy is to add mass.

8 Bore, 4 Bore & 2 Bore Shotguns

The Boer’s (Dutch settlers in South Africa) answer was to use a flintlock 8-bore smoothbore with a 5 to 6 foot barrel and fired really big lead balls. The 8-bore spherical bullets weight about 860 grains or 56 grams at about 1,650 fps. By the 19th century these were pushing a 1,250-grain bullet at about 1,500 fps. But for elephant the 4-bore was the standard. This had a nominal bore of 1.052 inches, but most guns were 0.935-0.955 inches in diameter, closer to a 5-gauge than a 4-gauge. All the 2, 4, 8 and 10-bore where based on their shotgun equivalent bore diameter. In fact, in Britain you substituted gauge for bore in referring to shotguns. A 12-gauge in America is a 12-bore in England and so forth. As these guns based on shotgun nomenclature were referred to by ‘bore’. For comparison the 2-bore fire an 8-ounce or 3,500 grain projectiles, the nominal bore on these monsters where 1.326 inches, but cranked out 17,500 foot-lbf. of energy. It should be noted these guns are big and heavy. Not only that there was a percussion (exploding projectile) shell available as well. They burned 270 grains of powder. 2-bore shotguns where the commercial water foul ‘punt guns’ of the 18th and 19th centuries and where ‘boat’ mounted. The weapons varied from smooth bore to rifled. The paradox series were smooth bore with the last 6 inches or so of the barrel rifled. The 4 and 8-bores where more practical.

Shooters & Gun Bearers

These guns where so heavy that if carried the shooter was too fatigued to be an effective shooter. Hence the gun-bearer, not from laziness but practicality the European hunter depended on a trusty and brave gun bearer. Brave, his life was on the line and shooting prowess of the hunter as well as the hunter’s. He had to hand off the weapon and essentially was unarmed depending on the eye and ability of the shooter.

Best African Big Game Rifles

William W Greener of the 19th century, studied dangerous game solutions and arrived at the 8-bore rifled cartridge loaded twin barrel double as the best all-around gun for African dangerous game, elephant, rhino and cape buffalo. He felt recoil was higher in rifled weapons vs. smoothbore and Greener advocated that above the 8-bore all weapons should by smoothbore. Most cartridges were paper cases with a metallic head like shotgun shells, some were brass cartridges. Today the 8-bore is used to blast deposits from the sides of kiln, even during operation if need be.

700 Nitro Express

The largest commercially available cartridge today is the 700 Nitro Express. This pushes a 0.700-inch projectile at 2,000 fps weighing 1000-grains for 8.900 ft-lbf. of energy. Prior to that was the 600 Nitro Express. These are fired in exotic double-barreled rifles costing over $20,000+ and the rounds will set you back $20-25.00 or more per shot.