The .404 Jeffery (.404 Rimless NE, 10.75x73)

By Chuck Hawks

The famous .404 Jeffery (also known as the .404 Rimless Nitro Express in the UK) was introduced in 1909 by Jeffery of England to duplicate .450/400 (3 1/4") performance in a cartridge designed for bolt action rifles. Unlike many British companies, Jeffery released the .404 for general use rather than retaining it as a proprietary cartridge. This wise decision insured the long term popularity of the cartridge and made it available to many shooters from other countries.

The .404 nomenclature is a bit obscure, as the cartridge actually uses a .423" bullet, and rifles so chambered typically have barrels with .412" bore diameters. Why the good folks at Jeffery chose to understate the bore diameter of their cartridge is unknown to me.

The .404 case is bottleneck in form, 2.875" long, has a gentle 8.5 degree shoulder, and a relatively long neck. The rim diameter is .543" and there is only moderate body taper. It shows its age, but doesn't look obsolete by any means. The loaded cartridge is 3.53" in overall length.

The .404 became quite popular as an African and Asian cartridge for heavy and dangerous game with British Empire and European hunters who preferred (or could only afford) bolt action rifles, as well as some hunters from the new world who made African safaris. On the Continent the .404 was called the 10.75x73, in accordance with metric cartridge nomenclature, and many rifles so marked have been turned out on Mauser and Mannlicher actions.

According to Any Shot You Want, the A-Square Handloading and Rifle Manual, the game departments of Kenya, Rhodesia, and Tanganyika adopted the .404 Jeffery for control hunting when those countries were part of the British Empire. It may well have accounted for more head of thick-skinned and dangerous African game than any other cartridge.

One of the .404's chief virtues is its relatively mild recoil as compared to the .416 Rigby and most of the big bore Nitro Express cartridges for double rifles. According to my Rifle Recoil Table a 10.25 pound .404 Jeffery rifle shooting a 400 grain bullet develops 41 ft. lbs. of recoil energy, while a .416 Rigby shooting the same weight bullet develops 57.2 ft. lbs. of recoil energy. Less recoil often means better shot placement, and better shot placement means quicker kills. Those African game departments presumably knew a thing or two about the efficient killing of thick-skinned dangerous game.

As originally loaded with cordite (British long strand smokeless powder), the .404 drove a 400 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2125 fps and muzzle energy (ME) of 4020 ft. lbs. This is the load that made the caliber's reputation. There was also a load for large thin-skinned game that drove a 300 grain bullet to a MV of 2625 fps with ME of 4595 ft. lbs., but this load was regarded as less certain on thick-skinned game.

Like most of the famous British rifle cartridges, the .404 fell on hard times with the dissolution of the British Empire, and nearly disappeared in the 1960's when the British loading trust quit loading cartridges for civilian rifles. But the .404, like the .416 Rigby, was too good to let die. RWS and Norma load .404 ammunition in Europe, A-Square offers .404 Jeffery factory loads in the US, and the British firm of Kynoch has re-introduced ammunition for many of the classic British big game cartridges, including the .404 Rimless NE.

There are a number of recent and current rifles offered in .404 Jeffery caliber. Ruger chambered their M-77 bolt rifle for the cartridge during the 1990's, Dakota Arms offers their M-10 single shot and M-76 bolt action, and the bizarre Szecsei & Fuchs double barreled bolt action rifle is also available.

At the end of 1999 Remington began introducing their line of long (.375 H&H length) beltless Ultra Mag cartridges, starting with the .300 Ultra Mag. 7mm, .338, and .375 Ultra Mags quickly followed as the basic case was necked up and down by the technicians at Remington. In 2002 Remington began introducing their Short Action Ultra Mag (SAUM) cartridges, built on shortened (.308 length) Ultra Mag cases. All of these calibers are based on modified versions of the .404 Jeffery case. The Dakota Arms line of proprietary standard (.30-06) length magnum cartridges, which includes the 7mm, .300, .330, and .375 Dakota, are also based on a modified .404 Jeffery case.

Modern powders allow some of the current .404 Jeffery factory loads to be a hotter than the traditional load, and these drive a 400 grain bullet (soft point or solid) to a MV of about 2300 fps. The .404 Jeffery is not a SAAMI (the US governing body) standardized cartridge, but the C.I.P. (European governing body) maximum average pressure for the cartridge is 46,444 cup or 52,975 psi.

In the US, A-Square loads their Triad of 400 grain .423" bullets in the .404 Jeffery to a MV of 2150 fps with 4105 ft. lbs. of ME. At 100 yards the velocity is 1901 fps and the energy is 3211 ft. lbs. The trajectory of that load looks like this (A-Square figures): +4.1" at 100 yards, 0 at 200 yards, and -16.5" at 300 yards.

.423" bullets are available from A-Square, Barnes, RWS, and Woodleigh. .404 Jeffery brass is available from A-Square, Bertram, Norma, and RWS. According to loads given in the A-Square Handloading Manual, reloaders can equal or surpass the modern factory loads. However, in deference to the age of many .404 rifles, A-Square suggests that handloaders limit MV to about 2170 fps. 71.0 grains of IMR 4064 will give a 400 grain A-Square bullet a MV of 2171 fps in an A-Square case using a CCI-250 primer. History has shown that a proper 400 grain bullet at that velocity is as deadly as it needs to be to take any game in the world.

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Copyright 2002, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.