At a recent contest involving the shooting of large rifles in five-shot strings at African-game targets while a stopwatch ticked, one of the contestants stepped to the firing line with a Ruger No. 1 single shot. There was much muttering among the spectators (many of whom had hunted dangerous game) that such a rifle was something only a man with a death wish would use for real.
I’m with them.
Sometimes you really have to throw the lead fast, and a falling-block rifle is not helpful. (As it turns out, this particular No. 1, a handsome custom job by Griffin & Howe, had been to Africa, and had killed a buffalo.)
Falling-blocks had a brief and limited vogue in between 1872, when the Farquharson made its appearance, and 1910 or so when the bolt-action achieved ascendancy. Frederick Courteney Selous, who killed all sorts of African game in excessive numbers, used a Farquharson. But this was in an era when African game was naïve and unsuspecting.
Today, when it’s time to sling lead or die, you want either a double rifle or a good bolt gun. So, here’s a look at each.
The Double Rifle
A good double rifle offers the fastest two shots around of any type of big gun. It’s not fast in the manner of a Powerful Assault Rifle because of the weight and recoil, but it’s pretty damned quick. Nor do doubles point like a good shotgun, as I have read, and may have written. (Show me a 15-pound shotgun sometime.) They’re distinctly muzzle-heavy, but they do get on target fast.
They can also be reloaded very quickly. The shoot I mentioned at the start of this post has been won more than once by a friend of mine who uses a .375 H&H double, and he has practiced until he can snap it open, pop in two rounds, and snap it closed, in 3 to 4 seconds. He holds two cartridges in the fingers of his left hand, shoots, snaps the barrels down, dumps in the two fresh rounds, and flips the barrels up. He’s practiced this to a fare-thee-well, which I doubt one double rifle shooter in 10,000 has done.
The main debate among double-rifle users is, extractors versus ejectors. Extractors raise the empties up out of the chambers so you can pluck them free and burn your fingers. Ejectors throw them clear of the rifle, saving you that step, but do so with a distinctive ping that says to whatever is trying to kill you, “He’s over here. You can come and kill him now.” The anti-ejector faction also points out that ejectors are more complicated and therefore more likely to fail when it’s really inconvenient.
I used to think that any proper bolt-action rifle for shooting unpleasant animals had to have a dropped magazine. In case you’re not familiar with the term, this means a magazine that has much larger-than-standard depth to accommodate three, rather than two, or four, rather than three, colossal cartridges. This is to enable you to sling lots of lead without reloading.
As it turns out I think I was wrong. My .416 Remington, which was built by Kenny Jarrett on a McMillan action, holds one up the spout and three in the non-dropped magazine. When I whined to Buzz Charlton, my PH (who carries a .500 NE double for business), that I only had four shots available, he said, “You better hope you never get to the point where you need a fifth shot.”
I bought the rifle in 2005 because you can crank aimed shots out of it as fast as any big bolt-action I’ve ever used. And the truth is that I’ve never needed more than one shot. When approaching a downed buffalo, it’s considered good manners to give him the rest of the magazine, and I’ve always done so. But it was a formality.*
An amazing number of bolt-actions do not feed worth a barrel of Old Hog Sh*t. Never mind shooting fast; with these guns, after you’ve fired your first round, you’re out of business. You’ll be frantically trying to clear the wretched rifle while your PH is busy saving your life, wondering if you were born stupid or have worked at it, because you didn’t check at home to see if the gun worked.
* That is, it was a formality after I relegated my .375 H&H to the role of medium rifle. The first two buffalo I killed with it went down kerplop, and I thought that it was just the ticket. The second two not only didn’t go down, but didn’t seem to mind it very much, despite considerable shooting and much anxiety on my part. Since then, I’ve used a .458, .458 Lott, and .416 Remington, and have never had an untoward incident. The Lott is, without question, the most effective, if you can hack the recoil.