The all-round African rifle
Having put it through its paces on safari in Zambia, Derek Stimpson argues the case for the .450/400 Jeffery as the ultimate all-round calibre for African game.
Much has been written about the all-round rifle for Africa. For most people, that would be the .375 H&H, and with good reason. However, I'd like to go back to the early 1900s, before the .375 was introduced, and look at my own favourite all-round rifle for both plains and dangerous game.
Having hunted in the Luawata concession in the remarkable Luangwa valley in Zambia, we decided to return for another hunt. The Luawata concession lies between the North and South Luangwa National Parks and is run by two dedicated professional hunters of great experience. Our previous hunt had been with Athol Frylinck, but this time Athol was away and we were in the hands of his partner, Adrian Carr. Adrian, who grew up in Zambia, is the son of the late Norman Carr, the highly respected PH and conservationist.
Having previously hunted in the dry season – September/October – we decided to return in July for a different experience of the area. With much cooler weather – temperatures dropped to 12˚C at night and rose into the low 30s rather than the 40s – and with more water in the area, the game was more widely dispersed.
We had flown up directly by charter from Lusaka and, at breakfast the next morning, we were treated to the sight of elephants coming across to our side of the river in single-file – a spectacular start to our safari.
Once again, I had brought my Jeffery .450/400 x 3" double rifle no. 13111, built in 1903, which had previously been owned by the Marquis of Aylesbury, according to the crest on the oval. This is, in my view, the ideal double rifle. A strong boxlock ejector of high quality – one of those made for Jeffery by Leonard – it is fully engraved, very accurate and at 10lb is ideal to carry and comfortable to shoot. Its 24" barrels make it very handy when in thick bush and the balance is wonderful which makes quick and accurate shots possible. It can potentially handle any game and the 400gr bullet has good sectional density which gives the solid excellent penetration.
At some point a claw mounted telescope had been set into the rib and, incredibly, it still shoots accurately – muzzle-width apart at 50 yards, both with or without the scope. I had already shot buffalo with it and find that a telescopic sight certainly helps in thicker cover, even at very close quarters, allowing one to see more detail and achieve more precise shot placement. Of course, a scope also allows one to shoot at longer ranges – I had shot a blue wildebeest at 140 yards and a 4" group of four shots on a target at 200 yards. The drop was about 10".
After breakfast we set out in the usual way in the Land Cruiser looking for buffalo tracks. We learned from Adrian that some of the large old bulls, which will separate into small bachelor groups later in the year, might still be with or near the main herds.
On the first day we did see some buffalo, but nothing worth pursuing. On the second and third days, all buffalo seemingly disappeared! Plenty of game was seen, but not a buffalo in sight. On the fourth day, however, we had an interesting encounter with three old bulls. We attempted to follow them up a hill where numerous large black rocks proved quite a distraction – looking very like buffalo! However, the bulls were impossible to approach closely – the ground was difficult and they were very nervous. One of the trackers noticed that one appeared to be wounded, possibly caused by poachers or, more likely, villagers protecting their crops. Sadly, we could not find his tracks as there was no obvious blood trail.
It is worth mentioning that in this area one meets a lot of elephants. We had some rather tense encounters including one wonderful occasion when we stopped to let a group cross the track in front of us as they made their way down to the river. A number of bulls were wrestling with each other in the river next to us, their ivory crashing together loudly. It was a truly awesome sight.
Finally, on the fifth day, we spotted some buffalo feeding on the opposite bank of a dry riverbed and we were able to creep up the bank in front of them. We spotted two shootable bulls on the right-hand-side and, as we crawled up the bank, we came into full view of some cows we hadn't spotted, some 40 to 50 yards away. Very slowly, we sank back to our knees as I carefully raised the rifle. The two bulls slowly fed towards us until, after 10 minutes, they were directly in front of us. I waited until one was clear of the other and squeezed off a shot on his shoulder. As I did, I felt a small movement but, judging by the bull's reaction, Adrian felt confident that it was a good heart shot.
After five minutes we followed up and found that the bull had gone about 200 yards and was still on his feet with a companion beside him. The other bull was making a fuss, bellowing and crashing about the bush, but eventually moved off as we closed in. At 40 yards I could see his chest through the bush, so I put in a central lung shot which really went home. He ran another 30 yards before going down, expiring as we watched.
My instinct had been right; the slight wobble had put the first shot about three inches left of my point of aim. The bullet went through the chest cavity, slightly forward of the top of the heart, rupturing a lot of major blood vessels, so he wouldn't have gone far. On butchering the animal, we noticed the extensive damage to the lungs and Adrian noted that the 400gr bullet had caused greater damage than a .375 would typically have done. Bulls hit with a .375 high in the lungs have been lost – much less likely with the larger .400 calibre. It is also notable that many .375 users are now loading 350 grain bullets, or even heavier.
Following a successful buffalo hunt, we decided to use the remaining time we had to look for a bushbuck and a kudu.
Returning to camp the following day, a bushbuck suddenly ran across the track in front of us and into some thick cover. We stalked into the myriad of pathways through the thick undergrowth and, after half an hour, Adrian spotted the buck 85 yards away and slightly below us. It was looking straight at us, presenting a quartering shot. Adrian put the sticks down but could only get two legs of the tripod settled in the grass. I got straight on them and, as he held them steady, I squeezed off and the buck dropped. It was all over in two or three seconds.
The shot entered the lower neck and the 400gr soft point bullet ended up under the skin of the flank on the other side, having retained 80 per cent of its weight.
On the last day we spotted an old, lone kudu bull and stalked around in a circle to ambush him. He came across our front in some straggly bush at about 90 yards – and lay down! I was on the sticks ready, but we could only see his horns. At Adrian's suggestion, I slipped a solid into the right chamber as there was some thin brush in the way of the shot. We could not improve our position and to move without alerting him would have been difficult, so we waited – an hour and a half! When he finally stood up, he was broadside on and took a step forward. I squeezed the front trigger and the bullet hit him in the centre of the chest, putting him straight down. He was an old bull – one horn tip was worn down and healed lion claw scars were on his chest and algae growth on the backs of his ears. We kept the whole skin as well as the head.
So, with the .400 Jeffery I had shot, during four hunts in two countries: three buffalo, a warthog, a Kafue lechwe, a blue wildebeest, a bushbuck and a kudu. That is to say, a range of animals from small to large in size, and at distances varying from 30 to 140 yards. The effect of each of the shots was notable. The animals went down, or didn't go far, even in the case of the last buffalo. The buffalo that I shot on the previous visit to Zambia had been a one shot kill. The rifle is a comfortable weight to carry all day, and recoil is not particularly noticeable. It is without doubt an ideal calibre for buffalo and, if ever you have the misfortune of running into a problem elephant, with the .400 you are also reasonably well equipped.
I can see why the .450/400 would have been the all-round rifle in the early 1900s and, in my books, it still is.
The various .400 cartridges have remained classics in their own right. Jeffery's cartridge was introduced around 1900, the .404 in 1905, the .425 WR in 1909, and the .416 Rigby in 1911. In 2002 Holland & Holland introduced their own .400, based on their belted magnum case. Given the right weight and configuration of rifle, I believe they are all excellent and will handle any game.