Here’s an unlikely pair: A gentle big-bore built for a lady, and a beastly buffalo-stopping shooter-stomping cannon with no pretensions whatsoever.
The beauty is built on a smooth-as-silk Remington 700 action, rebarreled in .458 with a muzzle brake, chambered for the .458x2” American cartridge, custom stocked in American walnut with elephant ivory grip cap and fore-end, and elegantly checkered, engraved and finished. Custom gunsmith Gary Reeder built this handy little carbine for his wife, Colleen. She promptly took it out and dropped an American bison in its tracks with one precision shot to the neck.
The .458x2” American cartridge is a .458 Winchester Magnum shortened by ½-inch. You can think of it as a shortened .458 or as a belted 45-70 magnum, its power being in that range and making it suitable for lightweight big-bore rifles intended for North American game except the great bears. I chronographed Reeder’s handloads with 400-grain bullets at 2000 fps, with 350-grain bullets at 2150 fps. That’s some pretty decent power at close range. Lever-gun hunters and handgun hunters have killed African buffalo with less. Of course, lever-gun and handgun African buffalo hunters use only hard-cast lead bullets, because at those low velocities you’ve got to have an extremely hard bullet to get good penetration on thick-skinned game, so you have absolutely no expansion and no hydrostatic shock or any of the other mysterious dynamics of jacketed bullets moving at a good rate of speed. Penetration alone can be a good killer with a properly placed shot but, as often as not, an animal with the personality of an African buffalo may take a while to come to terms with the fact that he’s been hit. The softnose bullets loaded in the .458x2” are meant for North American game, where life, and death, are a little easier.
The beast started life as a Ruger M77 in .458 Win Mag, was upgraded and rechambered for the considerably more powerful .460 A-Square Short, tamed only slightly with a screw-on muzzle brake and made even more rugged with a tough synthetic stock. This is a rifle that has seen some action, as you might infer from its magazine floorplate which is engraved with the big words, “Zimbabwe ’95.” Reeder rescued it from a gun show some years ago and its past remains a mystery. The .460 A-Square Short is based on a shortened .460 Weatherby case, thus avoiding the excessive velocity of the Weatherby round and delivering more effective power in a more efficient case. I chronographed handloads with 500-grain bullets at 2375 fps, which is just about ideal for stopping dangerous game in Africa.
Handling and shooting both rifles alternately was like standing in a warm springtime sun with an occasional cooling breeze. The Remington was indeed smooth and gentle, supple and light, fast-handling and responsive. But I kept looking at the carved ivory and engraved metal and checkered walnut and admiring it and worrying about getting it dirty. The worn old Ruger, with its beefy black stock, long barrel and heavyweight punch to the shoulder stirred imaginings of slinging sweat and slugging it out with some tough old Syncerus caffer bull. I should have made an offer on that .460. The only things I didn’t like about it were the muzzle brake, which could have been removed, and the synthetic stock, which could have been replaced, though I must say the stock was a proper shape and comfortable fit and sure helped soak up the recoil. I could have had the whole thing refinished and taken all of its ugliness away, but then I wouldn’t know when to stop and I would end up making it look more like the fancy Remington. It’s hard to apply reasonable restraint when you turn a gunsmith loose on a gun. And when there’s enough blood on it, an ugly gun can be quite beautiful.
Being realistic about it, neither a push-feed Remington action nor the friendly little .458x2” American cartridge is really appropriate for Africa. Neither was ever seriously intended to cross any ocean. Art Alphin’s .460, on the other hand, outdoes the popular .458 Lott and vaunted .470 Nitro Express and is in the same energy class as the .470 Capstick and .505 Gibbs. A 500-grain bullet traveling at 2300-2400 fps is a proven African standard. That’s the velocity range the best bullets are designed for these days. Much faster than that can lead to bullet failure, premature expansion, lack of penetration, jacket separation, all kinds of awful things. Which is why the few PHs who carry rifles chambered in the .460 Weatherby cartridge invariable load them down. And they usually shoot them in rifles with Mauser-type actions as well. The Ruger action of the beast had been slicked up pretty good racking those big cases in and out of the chamber. And somebody’s untold adventure story must reside behind “Zimbabwe ’95.” I like pretty rifles. But I like rifles with character even more.
I have another beauty and the beast story for you.
Krieghoff makes a beautifully cased gun set which includes its slim boxlock action and butt stock along with two interchangeable sets of side-by-side barrels, a shotgun set in 20-gauge and a rifle set in 9.3x74R, each set of barrels furnished with its own appropriate fore-end. The combination has all the expected Krieghoff features. These include its excellent double trigger system; the combined tang safety/cocking device which, after you get used to it, is easy to use and makes a lot of sense; and, on the double rifle barrel set, an adjustable muzzle wedge integrated in the front sight ramp for fine-tuning regulation.
With shotgun barrels attached, the Krieghoff makes a handy, and very fancy, 20-gauge upland bird gun. With 9.3x74R rifle barrels attached, the same Krieghoff makes a classic African double gun that is much too light for its caliber. Seven pounds is fine for 20-gauge bird loads, in fact it may be a few ounces on the heavy side. But seven pounds is simply not substantial enough in a rifle intended for heavy game and churning out more than 3,500 foot-pounds of energy. The 9.3x74R is the rimmed equivalent of the legendary 9.3x62 Mauser and is in the same class as the flanged version of the 375 H&H Magnum. It’s an elephant gun. To enjoy an afternoon shooting Georgia quail and African elephant without the bother of carrying another gun may be a fine fantasy, but it calls for a little too much compromise for comfort. At least for my comfort.
You don’t notice it shooting the 20-gauge, but the stock configuration of the Krieghoff is not really designed for heavy recoil either. For me, the stock is too straight. There is not enough drop at the heel and not enough pitch, so that instead of the full butt nestling in my shoulder, the small and rather pointed area of the toe tends to bear down there, operating as a fulcrum that lifts the muzzle into the air and the too-thin comb sharply into my cheek bone. I’m afraid, after cropping a small herd of elephant, I would be in too much pain to go after a covey of quail for dinner.
The Krieghoff is an elegant, innovative and well made gun. This particular one makes a beautiful little 20-gauge shotgun, but a rather beastly African rifle. Such a split personality should come as no surprise to those of us who concluded long ago that all guns are female after all.