Remington 700 BDL Safari Grade .375 H&H Magnum Rifle
By David Tong
I purchased this rifle in 1978 for $385, somewhat before my twentieth birthday, and I owned it for over twenty years. It remains close to my heart nearly twenty years later.
By the time I bought this rifle, I had already digested some old safari stories and read about the great British rifle builders, including Holland & Holland. I thought the .375 H&H was the best all-around cartridge using bullets of over .30 caliber, as it has the requisite downrange trajectory and retained energy.
I bought a Safari Grade 700 BDL thinking that I might take it to the Dark Continent someday. I would learn it and its cartridge inside out, modify it for fit and feel, handload the round in all three of its popular bullet weights (235 grain, 270 grain and 300 grain) and shoot it as much as I could.
There is some dispute as to whether Remington’s Custom Shop built these rifles, as the delivery time for an order was about 4-5 months. They were a slight cut above the regular 700 BDL, as those usually had a high gloss DuPont resin stock finish with skip line checkering, black plastic (with white line spacers) fore-end tip and grip cap and standard polished metalwork.
Instead, the Safari Grade's straight grained, black walnut stock had a traditional ebony grip cap and forend tip (with white line spacers) and a satin oil finish. There were two cross pins to prevent stock splitting under heavy recoil; these were covered by ebony plugs on both sides of the stock. The three panel, hand checkering was cut at about 20 lpi in a traditional point pattern and wrapped around the forend. The butt was protected by a black recoil pad and quick detachable sling swivel studs were installed.
The wood was standard grade and the oil finish failed to seal the grain completely. More coats of oil needed to be applied.
The barrel had a heavy magnum contour. At 24” and bored out to .375, the rifle weighed right at 9.25 pounds on my scale without a scope and balanced weight forward without being slow or cumbersome. The supplied iron sights consisted of an open rear sight that was ramp adjustable for elevation and a ramp mounted gold bead front sight.
Since I was working in a gunsmith’s shop at the time, I ended up doing some stock work to try and improve things to suit both my dimensions and taste. I removed the Monte Carlo, making the comb flat with only a little drop at heel, to optimize it for an aperture rear sight. I did not care much for the sharp edges on the forend tip and grip cap, so I sanded their edges down with a gentle radius. I then removed all of the thin stock finish applied at the factory and rubbed on many coats of linseed oil to seal the wood pores. Later on, when I realized that the factory recoil pad was little more than a rubber end cap with about as much recoil mitigation as you can imagine from that description, I installed a brown Pachmayr Decelerator pad.
I fitted a Williams peep sight that attached directly to the pre-drilled and tapped holes on the left rear receiver wall. The tiny front factory sight was replaced with a large diameter Marble’s brass bead sight for a faster sight picture. I hand checkered the front sight's ramped base, its visible retaining screw, as well as the action screws at 50 lines to the inch.
In those days before product liability attorneys ran firearms companies, I removed the action from the stock and ground the thumb safety lever’s tang off to allow cycling of the bolt with the safety “on.” Using the factory screw, I adjusted the trigger pull weight down to a crisp 3.25 pounds.
One of the things that has become legendary about the .375 H&H cartridge is that all three bullet weights will often shoot pretty close to the same point of aim up to 100 yards. During my tenure with the 700 BDL, I shot all the aforementioned bullet weights in my handloads and confirmed this to be true, only slight elevation differences that would have been inconsequential up close.
Typically, I full-length resized new Winchester brass, taking care to lubricate the interior of the case neck to avoid case stretch when withdrawing the case past the expander ball in the RCBS dies. I then took the cases down to minimum overall length using an RCBS rotary case trimmer and deburred using their hand deburring tool.
I used only Federal 215 Magnum Rifle primers and DuPont IMR-4350 or IMR-4831 powder, in 74-80 grain charges. This was in contrast to my concurrent loading of the .308 Winchester, which uses half that much powder!
Given that my eyes were much younger then, I was able to shoot some pretty remarkable groups at 100 yards from the bench. I think the best three shot group with that Williams Aperture and that fat front brass bead sight was 1.125” using the Speer 235 grain semi-spitzer. I considered this pretty good shooting and the rifle's basic mechanics were sound.
About the only thing that went wrong mechanically occurred when I glass bead blasted the bolt and re-blued it. Evidently, either the media or the bluing salts got behind that tiny extractor’s seat in the circumferential bolt face and prevented me from closing the bolt over a case rim, so I had to have the rivet drilled out and replace the extractor. If there is an Achilles’ heel to the Model 700 action, it is this extractor and its push-feed operation that makes it less than desirable for a rifle designed to shoot game that could bite, stomp, or horn you to death.
I once took the .375 to Western Pennsylvania for opening weekend of whitetail deer season, which was just after Thanksgiving. A number of guys in a traditional and very modest deer camp raised their eyebrows about my “howitzer,” and I replied that it probably recoiled less than their lightweight .300 Winchester Magnum sporters. Each who tried it from the sight-in bench had to agree with me and was amazed at its controllable power.
The recoil of a .375 is not trifling, at between 35 and 40 ft. lbs., but this is no worse than shooting Magnum buckshot or slug loads from your typical pump shotgun and no one really complains much about those. Truth be told, if given a choice between repeated shooting a seven pound pump shotgun and that 9.25 pound .375, I would opt for the H&H round every time.
If I still handloaded for the great old round, I’d opt for some custom dies, so that I could neck size only, using a chamber cast for precision. This to avoid over-working the brass by full-length sizing, as head separation about 1/8” above the belt occurs after only three or four firings.
Belts were initially put on cartridge heads in 1912 to allow accurate head spacing with a tapered case and a minimal shoulder. The considerable body taper of the .375 H&H case allowed the use of British Cordite (smokeless) long stick powder and avoided problems with extraction and ejection. On modern cartridges with sharp shoulders, they merely distinguish the “Magnum” status of the cartridge.
I prefer a standard rimless case that headspaces on the shoulder. I suppose one could go the "improved" route and blow the case out and square off its shoulder, as Roy Weatherby did with his original .375 Magnum, but then you’d burn even more powder, develop more recoil and the .375 is enough as it stands, both in terminal power and recoil.
That Remington 700 BDL Safari rifle was one of the easiest and sweetest shooting irons I’ve ever owned and I rue the day that I decided to sell it. There’s an empty spot in my heart for another .375 to this day, even if squirrels and jackrabbits shot on the run were the only quarry it killed during my tenure. If one can do that with an iron sighted .375 on running jacks, it seems to me a Kudu or a Cape buff is doable.
Copyright 2014 by David Tong and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.