The Big Bore Nitro Express Cartridges

By Chuck Hawks

The big bore British Nitro Express cartridges were generally designed for use with cordite smokeless powder in single shot and double barreled rifles. Calibers run from .400 to .700, with the .450, .465, .470 and .500 Nitro Express probably being the best known and most popular.

These rifles (especially doubles) and cartridges are objects of romance. They bring to mind month long safaris in a sub-Saharan African country teeming with big game, pith helmets, hunting shirts with cartridge loops over the breast pockets and the simpler, perhaps more honest, time before the beginning of the First World War.

Somewhat surprisingly, there is still a keen interest in the big bore Nitro Express cartridges and the traditional rifles that shoot them are highly sought after on the used market in the UK, North America and Western Europe. New single shot and double-barreled big bore rifles of high quality are still being turned out in small quantities in all three places.

The .470 Nitro Express, which can be taken as typical of the breed, drives a 500 grain bullet carrying 5132 ft. lbs. of kinetic energy at a MV of 2150 fps. Due to their rainbow trajectory and the indifferent accuracy of the double rifles in which they are usually seen (2" groups at 50 yards with both barrels are considered good), all of the big Nitro Express calibers are usually considered to be about 100 yard big game cartridges.

I have been told that most game shot with such rifles is killed within 50 yards. Sometimes dangerous game is killed within a few paces, the shooter merely pointing the big double rifle like a shotgun. That kind of fast, close range shooting is where the double rifle and the big bore Nitro Express cartridges excell.

Note: A longer and much more detailed article about the big bore Nitro Express rifle cartridges can be found on the Rifle Cartridge Page.

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Copyright 2004, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.