The .416 Barnes

By Chuck Hawks

The late Frank C. Barnes was the author of Cartridges of the World, now edited by M.L. McPherson, the standard reference work on cartridges of all types. He was also a noted wildcatter and experimenter. The .416 Barnes, conceived in the late 1980's, was the last cartridge Barnes designed before he passed away.

His intent was to provide a .416 cartridge intended for hunting large North American, rather than dangerous African, game. In other words, a lower recoil, big bore cartridge that would function properly in American single shot and repeating rifle actions, specifically the Marlin 1895 lever guns. The .416 Barnes was intended primarily to be an elk, moose, and brown bear cartridge.

Barnes based his .416 on the rimmed .45-70 Government case necked down to accept .416" bullets. The shoulder is fairly sharp but rather small, a matter of little consequence since the case headspaces on its rim. The case dimensions are as follows: rim diameter .608", head diameter .505", shoulder diameter .484", neck diameter .432", case length 2.112". The cartridge uses .416" diameter bullets and its overall length is pegged at 2.95".

Marlin has shown no interest in chambering for the .416 Barnes and there are very few (if any) suitable .416" flat point or blunt round nose, jacketed soft point bullets in the 300-350 grain weight most suitable for use in a lever action .416 Barnes rifle with a tubular magazine. Most of the bullets intended for .416 caliber Safari rifles weigh 400 grains and are too hard, too long, and too pointed. .416 Barnes reloading data is also scarce. These factors have served to limit the popularity of this wildcat despite the availability of suitable and relatively inexpensive rifles to convert.

Using a strong .47-70 single shot rifle, such as a Browning 1885 High Wall or Ruger No. 1, as the basis for a .416 Barnes conversion with a long throat would allow the unrestricted use of 350 and 400 grain jacketed bullets intended for the .416 Rigby and .416 Rem. Mag. cartridges. This would alleviate the bullet availability problem.

The 350 grain Barnes TSX, Speer Mag-Tip and Swift A-Frame bullets (SD .289) would seem to be good choices for such a rifle used for hunting large North American game. A 350 grain bullet at a MV of about 2100 fps should handle any North American game. The recoil, of course, would be considerable, similar to a .450 Marlin or .45-70 rifle of the same weight shooting a bullet of the same weight at the same velocity. The advantage of the .416 Barnes compared to the .45 calibers is the superior sectional density of its smaller diameter bullets.

The .416 Barnes loading data provided in Cartridges of the World shows a 300 grain soft point bullet in front of 54.0 grains of RL-7 for a MV of 2270 fps and ME of 3435 ft. lbs. Barnes also recommended 50.0 grains of IMR 3031 behind a 330 grain cast lead bullet for a MV of 2045 fps and ME of 3065 ft. lbs. 59.0 grains of H335 can be used to drive a 400 grain soft point bullet at a MV of 2155 fps and ME of 4125 ft. lbs. At that point you are basically back to a safari rifle load.

The rifle(s) and barrel length(s) in which these loads were developed is not specified. Additional details about these loads (cases, bullets and primers used) are not available, so reduce by at least 10% and work up slowly.

The .416 Barnes is a rational design that met Frank Barnes' original goals. It is a potent cartridge for large North American game. Unfortunately, Marlin has never chosen to chamber their new Model 1895 rifle for the .416 Barnes. Should they ever decide to introduce a .416, a ".416 Marlin" cartridge based on their .450 Marlin belted case could provide identical ballistics to the .416 Barnes, if they could induce Hornady or some other bullet manufacturer to supply a suitable 350 grain flat point bullet.

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Copyright 2006, 2014 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.