Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Benelli M4 Northerner Review

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In my ever-winding quest for the perfect defensive 12 Gauge as a wilderness companion in the North, I have tried a plethora of good guns. I have shouldered even more bad ones, and put them down, ranging from double to semi, and one barrel to three. The moral of this story and all my 12 Gauge defensive gun reviews remains that no gun is perfect, but all are a collection of compromises from which you select the features you appreciate most. For instance, this review is the first part on the Benelli M4 I’m going to do, and what I’ve gained with the M4 in magazine capacity (now at a fully Canadian-legal 8 shells, I’ll explain further on), sights, and semi auto action, I’ve lost a bit on overall length versus my 14” pumps with regards to cost, and weight. Nothing is perfect, but some things are very good; among the later stands the M4. The tough, and incredibly reliable M4 is the US Marine Core’s primary combat shotgun, serving in conjunction with the Mossberg 590A1, which will again be used as my comparison shotgun just as in the Keltec KSG review. The M4 is classic milspec, extremely well thought out with completely tool-less takedown, good and extremely durable controls, and build quality reminiscent of a fine diesel engine. I say diesel, because this gun is no sports car, but one tough bastard of a customer with a finely finished exterior belying its ruggedness forged in gritty conflicts across the globe.

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The M4 operates via a gas system dubbed “ARGO” by Benelli, standing for “Auto Regulating Gas Operated”. The system is comprised of two short-stroke pistons with two solid rings, and four spiral fluted rings, the spiral flutes ensure the pistons rotate as part of their self-cleaning function. Self cleaning they truly are, after more than 200 shells the initial cleaning revealed pistons which were still clean with only the slightest traces of carbon, some carbon particles left on top of the magazine tube as the only real indication of use. The system is auto-adjusting as claimed, with my gun now cycling everything from ultra-light Winchester 7.5 shot 1 ounce trap loads in the cheap steel base “low brass” hulls, Winchester reduced recoil grey-hull “Feather” slugs, to 3” Magnum Federal loads. Before break in, the M4 did not like the ultra-light trap loads one bit- I didn’t expect it to, and I didn’t blame it. Much to my surprise, it began digesting them without drama after about a hundred and fifty shells of break in. This was a boon to my speed drills, as burning the two cans for Federal XM127 milspec buckshot I bought with the M4 too fast would prove costly with the volume of practice I enjoy. That is one nice benefit of a pump shotgun, like my 14” 590A1, it will digest anything and I regularly practice speed drills with cheap birdshot. My favourite casual drill is to place fired shotshell hulls on twigs protruding from Northern scrub, in a fan downrange in front of me, at varied ranges. I try to knock them off as fast as possible, and I had planned on this with the M4 but in my rush, had bought ultra-light shells. Well no matter now, it eats them like a fat kid does smarties.

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I’ve mentioned before my motivation for owning defensive shotguns is I work remote in Northern Canada, flying helicopters in Grizzly (Brown Bear to my American friends) country. A good bush gun is an insurance policy like no other, and a 12 Gauge by far the most versatile of them all, from stopping charges, to dispensing flares, bean bags or banger shells, or filling the pot with Grouse. It took some acclimatizing, to be comfortable with a semi auto for the role, as I was trapped in thinking only pumps were suitable. With the reliability of this M4, I’m revising that idea, however a pump is still easier to bring into action when carried chamber empty, mag loaded, as in my favoured carry condition. One drawback to the M4 is it requires me to use my trigger hand to cycle the bolt, or my left hand by rolling the gun to the side, before a good grip can be taken and the trigger pulled. This consideration is one true drawback to the semi for my role, but once the chamber is loaded, look out… I can hit with this M4 instinctively in a way reminiscent of my good upland double. It is a true point and click interface, and takes the thinking out of aiming. I hit much to my surprise at a similar rate with my 14” 590A1, however, pellet counts and accuracy lag significantly behind the effortless M4. It’s one of those guns that allows the shooter to forget the forced mechanics shooting, and rather focuses one on simply punching targets. It’s natural, and a feeling in shotguns I normally associate with a good upland double. Trigger is clean, and surprisingly light, allowing rapid “taps” without having to jerk the trigger, a nice and refreshing change from some of the more economy shotguns I’ve tried.

The Safety: Right and Left Sides

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Manipulating the gun’s controls is for the most part natural and comfortable, though I prefer the 590A1’s tang safety to the small, behind trigger safety of the M4. This safety would be my only real ergonomic complaint with the M4, it is OK, akin to a Remington 870, but when one is accustomed to Mossberg’s superior and ambidextrous thumb actuated tang safety, everything lags behind. For me, going back to safe causes me to sweep the muzzle slightly to the side to get my fat thumb into the crevice formed by the junction of the pistol grip, receiver, and trigger guard where the safety button lies.  I don’t like this and it irks me every time I subliminally do it, I will have to shop oversized aftermarket safeties. The bolt charging handle is on the right side, and can be removed by twisting and pulling it, as always with the M4 no tools required. Speaking of tools, this bolt handle is the tool you use to disassemble the gas system. You can load the M4, provided the chamber is loaded as well, and pull the charging handle off to use it “slick sided” so it will fit in a scabbard like a pump. Reloading is no problem indefinitely, as the action locks back and the first shell in an M4 on reload is dropped in the ejection port, at least that’s the easiest way to handle it. Then depress the extremely well placed and intuitive bolt release, and the bolt slams forward and chambers the shell, from any angle. The magazine is then loaded as normal for any tube fed shotgun. There is a shell release button on the right side as well, that also serves as a cocking indicator with a red flag, it takes some getting used to. The function of this button is to release a shell from the magazine onto the shell lifter, which the M4 does not do unless physically fired. This button allows you to unload the magazine by cycling the shells through the action, or to ready a first shell on the lifter for carry on an empty chamber.

The “ARGO” Gas System: The Bolt Handle is the Disassembly Tool
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The M4 is also easy to ghost load, boosting capacity one shell. This refers to keeping an extra shell on the shell lifter, in addition to a fully loaded magazine. In Canada, where we are limited to five rounds in a semi auto, the M4 can legally hold eight. This is possible with a magazine extension to hold five 3” shells, as the gun is chambered 3”, which allows six 2 ¾” shells in the magazine, one ghost loaded on the follower, and one in the chamber for a total of eight legal shells. I have my magazine extender on order, and presently have been shooting many seven shell strings from the M4 with flawless reliability. Sights on the M4 are superb, the best ghost rings I’ve used on a shotgun, excellent for placing 100 yard slugs or smoking close up targets with buckshot in a hurry interchangeably, and very solidly made. The sights have some glow compound distributed in two dots rear, one front, but this is not tritium, rather simple photo-luminescent paint/compound.  It won’t be much use for a shotgun kept in a safe, and if night sights are important to you, investigate some proper tritiums. Loading shells on the fly is as easy as any shotgun, and feels like a slick, well-worn Wingmaster. Unfortunately, as is required for the M4’s cycle, the shell lifter rests in the down position, like a Remington 870, and must be pushed up and out of the way by the shell being pushed into the tube.  Like with safeties, anyone well accustomed to the Mossberg 500/590/590A1 will reflect warmly on the Mossberg’s up and out of the way lifter. Minor detail, and not a detriment to the M4, more just general shotgun commentary.

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Now, some are concerned by aluminum receivers, which both the M4 and the 590A1 share in common. Might I remind them, they ride at 1,000kms/h at 37,000’ upon the substance anytime they travel, do 110kms/hr down the highway on wheels of it without a thought, and it is the M16 / AR15’s receiver material as well with half a century of proving. Now, say you’re still put off by aluminum after all the common sense tells you otherwise, well the good news is that in both the Mossberg 590 and the M4 the receiver is not a stressed component. Both guns feature direct bolt to barrel lockup, unlike the Remington 870, and in the M4’s case this is accomplished by a rotating bolt head with two massive lugs. These lugs rotate into engagement with corresponding slots machined precisely and directly into the steel barrel, not the receiver. The bolt also recoils inside an extended shroud of the steel barrel, that reaches back into the receiver. The recoil spring is located in the stock tube, the tube visible on the collapsible stock M4s when their stocks are extended, and its force is exerted upon the bolt via a hinged leg from the back of the bolt through the action over the firing mechanism into the tube. It is a straightforward, and elegantly simple setup, precisely machined. A significant benefit of the aluminum receivers is weight reduction, the M4 while no featherweight weighs in at a very comfortable 7.8lbs, akin to a standard hunting rifle. On top of the aluminum receiver is a Picatinny rail, for mounting any of the myriad of optics and accessories suitable. I will be trying the M4 with an Eotech soon, it’s waiting at home for me.

The Bolt Head, Barrel, and Bolt

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In shooting, the M4 recoils extremely softly, it almost doesn’t seem right or shotgun-like. This is a trait many semi-automatic shotguns share, but it is especially notable in the M4. Firing Federal “Maximum” buckshot loads and slugs without the stock extended, so gun held up and only supported by the hands, there isn’t even the slightest discomfort to your pistol grip hand. In fact, I can’t even place the recoil pulse for an apt description of it as I sit here writing, as it made no impression. You can feel the cyclic rate difference between magnum shells and ultra-light, which is interesting, the ultra-lights cycling slowly though assertively. The magnum’s recoil is over in a soft snap, and the ultra-light’s is represented as a ridiculously gentle and slow pulse. My M4 was sighted in perfectly right out of the box for buckshot at 30 yards, and slugs at 100, a nice mix. It groups slugs extremely well, and is very easy to balance off hand. It feels like rifle shooting with the excellent sights, and precision possible, so I would rate its slug performance as perfect. Reliability is flawless of course, with any ammunition it is designed to ingest, such at the nearly full can of military XM127 00 buckshot loads it has eaten, and a variety of slugs from Winchester Ultra-light to Federal Maximum, to 3” magnum loads. As I mentioned earlier, after break in it is even digesting ultra-light 1oz trap loads, tons of fun for practice. The muzzle is threaded for chokes, and the gun ships with one Modified tube installed, a nice choice for most uses.

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I believe the M4 is special, as it is available commercially in exactly the same form as the issued guns, minus the easily fixed commercial magazine limiter (in Canada, we add legal extensions to allow 5 shells of 3” in the magazine tube, which nets one extra 2 ¾” as a bonus, in the US you can open it up to full capacity). This is rare today, and aside from the 590A1, sidearms, and some pricey bolt action precision rifles represents one of the few “as issued” guns civilians can enjoy. They typically feature better engineering and excellent durability and testing, due to their military pedigree, and the M4 is no different. It is perhaps the most advanced long arm in service those of us in Canada can purchase in an unadulterated state. Military support for the firearm means a long and bright future of spare parts production for the type, as well. Speaking of military, when buying an M4, buy the collapsing stock! Those of you in the states would likely be mind boggled to learn both models are sold here, the collapsing as-issued stock with the guns direct from Benelli Italy, and the fixed pistol grip variant commonly encountered in the states. As our American friends also know, the collapsing stock assembly is extremely valuable, commanding about $400- you can buy a pistol grip fixed stock for $120. Many people, much to my surprise purchase the fixed stock, it is priced the same as the proper collapsing M4, and the collapsing stock is fantastic. Extremely quick to deploy, or stow, and two extended positions, it shrinks the shotgun by 8” for transport which is hugely helpful from those of us working out of vehicles, boats, and aircraft. It also sets the M4 apart from its competitors and is instantly recognizable from a hundred yards as an M4.

Now, to criticisms, and I have a few, as no gun is perfect. I’ll leave out the #1 criticism of the M4, cost, as to me it is priced very well. It is a much higher quality product than the guns competing at half or less the price, and this is readily apparent to the user. First real gripe, the factory magazine not holding five 3” shells from the get go is a slight frustration, and a bit of a silly neutering done by Benelli to all civilian M4s. It is easily and cheaply remedied, but it would be nice not to have to, as five shells of its chambering (3”) is legal everywhere I have learned about. Next, as touched on earlier, the safety is small, and a bit awkward. It is easy to flick to “FIRE” with a large pad on the right hand side, but less comfortable to switch back to safe. It is also not as apparent to the operator as the 590A1’s excellent tang safety, which even subliminally lets a shooter know the safety’s condition without even looking, I find my thumb instinctively brushing it all the time to double check the position. Third, and this relates to semi autos in general and is not the M4’s fault, but the charging handle snags on cases, seats, and gear when stowed. The M4 can be operated with the handle removed as an option, but this requires carry with a loaded chamber, or open bolt. Neither condition is ideal for wilderness defence use.

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Next, due to the slope of the stock / recoil spring tube, the height of the comb changes depending on what length the stock is deployed to. The very short length of pull middle position, which would be useful for tight quarters use, renders the ghost ring sights useless, though it can work with an Eotech or other higher sight. With the stock fully extended the length of pull for males who use traditional stance, rather the shoulders squared to the target and torso leaned in, is also a bit short. I presume this length was decided upon in order to fit as wide of span of servicemen and women as possible, you my find you want buttpad spacers and I’m going to make some for mine. The stock is also a bit tricky to get to the middle position, and requires some finagling as it doesn’t stop at the position on its own like it does for completely extended, and collapsed. If this position is desired in actual use, it would have to be set beforehand to be practical where as the stock can be deployed to full length in half a breath, the mid position can take a few seconds. Finally, the M4 like any aluminum receiver gun will eventually collect small dings around the edges of the ejection port. Does it matter? In my opinion absolutely not, to some, cosmetics are a serious consideration in their shotgun, for me they rate close to whether or not it has a lipstick compartment.

The Collapsing Stock Extended: Showing The Notches for Mid and Collapsed Positions

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Now, the question I always ask myself about a new gun; Would I recommend this to a friend? Absolutely, and enthusiastically. The Benelli M4 represents an exceptional package of engineering, and in my opinion, value. This is the single most mentioned criticism of the M4 as I alluded to above, its price, and frankly I don’t understand the fuss. Widely available in Canada for about $2,000 Canadian dollars or just over, it represents only 2/3rds of the Canadian cost of a good non-restricted black rifle, and yet it is a true milspec, as issued package with incredible utility in our Northern country. There is nothing to beat a 12 Gauge for versatility, and as an avid African and dangerous game hunter I can say from experience a 12 Guage would not be my first choice of a charge stopping firearm. Far from it actually, from my experience with it on problem bear, but it still works. This said, I’ve yet to launch a flare, bear banger, or less lethal round with my .375 Holland & Holland Magnum double rifle. Or for that matter collect grouse or rabbit with birdshot, source shells at any northern shop, bust a hundred clays for fun in the evenings, and so forth. Like they say, jack of all trades, master of none- this may not be true on the trap range of the 12 Gauge, but in the bush it certainly is. Would I go out with anything else though? No way, I am glued to my 12 Gauges versatility and will continue to view it as the Leatherman of firearms. The M4, among 12 Gauges, is currently the cream of my crop and my hands down favourite- and I’ve used a lot of them. Thanks for reading folks.

 

M4 Super 90 Key Dimensions:

Overall Length Collapsed: 34.75″

Length of Pull Collapsed: 9″

Length of Pull Mid Position: 12″

Length of Pull Fully Extended: 14″

Weight: 7.8lbs

Lion Rifles Part II: Why I Believe The Double Is The Perfect Tool

 

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Lion Rifles Part II: Why I Believe The Double Is The Perfect Tool

 Above all a rifle has to fit, and hit. Rifles to me are tools, and however elegant, they have to be functional. Don’t get me wrong, I love a gorgeous rifle, and own a scant few synthetic stocks. However each rifle I keep has been selected for how it fits, and how I shoot it instinctively. This is one reason I buy a lot of rifles to find Mrs. Right, I never could make the call at a gun counter if a rifle was going to work, at least so I tell my wife. I need to spend a week or three on the range with it, and out varminting getting a feel for it. It has cost me some money, buying fairly pricey guns I assumed would be magic, and were anything but. My much mentioned Ruger RSM .375 H&H, my most experienced rifle, is neither expensive nor magic, but it is pretty darn good. She’s a steady and sturdy gal that doesn’t fail, but with no real deep connection for me on an instinctive level. All the mechanics, the bolt throw, the safety, the feel of the action are second nature like a steady and boring relationship gone on too long. It works, but there’s no fluid synergy of rifle and man there. Maybe one rifle I’ve ever owned fit like a glove, truly in the highest sense, and I traded it in a moment of weakness. It was a customized Oberndorf Mauser that fit me like no other rifle has, it had a hideous big recoil pad on it, but the alteration of LOP caused a fit I can’t fairly put into words. It was a wand, of terrible precision and power. Now, my double hasn’t been customized at all to fit me, and perhaps one day with new stocks it will be elevated to this level, as on paper results, it is close. I hit with it quickly, and naturally, with little need for formal thought out aiming, akin to a good shotgun. It was a hands down choice for the biggest hunt I’d ever done to date; Lion.

Fast-forwarding regarding this double and considerations of rifles for Lion, having successfully hunted my Lion in February, I will share my thoughts and follow up on the experience by way of arms. Under few hunting scenarios is the choice of rifle, and one’s comfort with it more paramount than during a Dangerous Game hunt. Some would have you believe that hunting Dangerous Game is not nearly as dangerous as its reputation would have you expect, and frankly… I agree. This said, the risks while of a lower probability than many might expect, are nonetheless substantial and real. You are invading the personal space of undoubtedly some of the most dangerous animals to have existed in modern times, with intent they do not appreciate. That doesn’t always go smoothly, as several species in Africa in particular can take grave offence to your plan. When you are in scrub, chasing a creature with senses far better than yours and of many times your strength and speed, you feel very alive. Your rifle’s job is to keep you that way. Personally I see good rifle choice as no different than wearing a seatbelt when you drive, common sense precautions, even though you can go for years with no problem unbelted. Dangerous Game animals are indeed capable of sharing your personal space with startling expedience, albeit each species with its own particular characteristics. It is my belief these varied characteristics demand different rifles to have a hunter perfectly outfitted for his task. That is however another article, and when I complete the Big Five, I have no doubt I’ll muse on it. This article, will feature my experiences in the Kalahari with a Merkel 140AE .375 H&H double rifle, and budget priced Federal 300 Grain “Blue Box” ammunition. Yes, you read the ammunition right.

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A couple things should, and did occur to me before departure. One of course was my choice of ammunition, certainly not premium. Of the round’s capabilities, I had little personal doubt, I’ve used them with a great deal of success on wild Wood Bison of a muscular 1,000kgs in northern Canada at spitting range, on a tough old Blue Wildebeest bull in Zimbabwe, Moose, Bear, and on smaller predators. I have heard, and believe, some horror stories with this soft, almost frangible bullet and most of my previous hunting with them was simply the result of them being what was available at the time. They had performed admirably for me however, and were easily available to busy a father of two in a small northern town, horribly starved of time at the loading bench for a spell now. I haven’t even unpacked my handloading gear since the last move, I’m perturbed to admit. So, Federal Blue Box it was, I wasn’t hunting Cape Buffalo again yet, Lions were soft, right? Now, there is some good for sure to be reported of this ammunition- it is exceedingly accurate in my .375s, being so consistent I’ve punched pairs into the same hole from the Ruger RSM. Handloading won’t improve the accuracy in my rifles, and I’m also of the belief that it closely resembles the softs of the early to mid twentieth century used in some breadth. The old soft’s basic construction and the moderate velocities of the Holland & Holland married well, and from my growing experience with the bullets, I believe this still holds true. No argument you can do better, but they certainly work.

While I considered the possibilities of the bullets not acting as I wished, what I did not expect with this ammunition was factory defects.  A defect perhaps best described in the words of a friend and experienced Lion PH, those being, “THAT will get you killed.” Thankfully, discovery of the faulty round occurred during sight in and gear check in a comfortably late first morning on the impromptu range in the Kalahari. We had arrived a tired group of two young children, a patient but clearly tired wife, and an anxious father and husband attempting to keep it all together, in order for the hunt not to be remembered as a disaster. Jason immediately recognized and took pity on this situation and suggested a late first morning, much to my relief. While on the range that first morning, something became apparent. Not a huge surprise sadly, but many clients can’t shoot, as my iron sight shooting proved very pleasing to the PHs much to my surprise, as beyond a good group from the right barrel that would fall under a Loonie (Canadian $1 coin), it seemed to me sufficiently average and the group was achieved at only 50 yards. Their relief at this, and even a mention of it in camp by a distinguished third party and guest of the evening who had heard, allows me to reflect on the single most important aspect of any bullet’s performance; where it is placed. You can do an awful lot with a bad bullet in the right place, and terrible little with an excellent one in the wrong place. Apparently a god awful lot of terrible placement occurs, and is responsible for much of the drama amongst Lions.

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I reckoned, my mediocre bullets placed correctly would suffice, and indeed they did. I learned some things along the way. In the middle of musings on shooting, I asked if they did not mind if I took the opportunity to shoot more, as I had brought plenty of the cheap Blue Box and appreciate any opportunity for practice I get- especially immediately before something as important as Lion. Right at the end, I pulled another round to load, only to find the neck of the case folded back on itself, right out of the box. It would never have chambered, and if it was the reload I needed to count on, very well could have had a Southern ending. I have not contacted Federal yet, but likely should make mention of it to them, especially in a cartridge as likely to be used on dangerous game as the .375 H&H. Other than this one, relatively severe hiccup, despite highs of 40 degrees C or more the ammunition proved perfectly reliable and ejected cleanly in all but one case in which it still extracted, and this likely had to do with a sandy chamber- more on this shortly. I’ve shot and bought a great deal of this Blue Box and it is the first time I’ve encountered anything like it. I’m unsure whether I was incredibly unlucky, and incredibly lucky to have spotted it before it went into my cartridge carrier, or if this a somewhat known issue. Needless to say, I carefully checked every round going forward before it entered my cartridge carrier. This is a step that should always be undertaken, especially on Dangerous Game, however one that with the consistent quality of modern ammunition many of us can become complacent with and forget.

One change with my rifle and ammunition I found upon my arrival in Africa, very much to my surprise, was a drastic change in point of impact for one of my barrels. The right remained bang on, while the left actually shot to the right a bit- nothing that would matter, but both barrels grouped well, and distinct of each other. Back home in -25C practicing, with the same ammunition albeit different boxes, they piled right on top of each other at 50 yards. I am admittedly no expert on the regulation of doubles, but this change was quite a surprise to me. Everything was still hitting the target, and each barrel was grouping perhaps tighter than ever each on their own, but the change in regulation with what I presume had to be the temperature was quite the surprise. I can think of no other explanation beyond variations in lots of ammunition. Following discussions on the regulation and faulty round, carrying the rifle to the Land Cruiser to return to camp I was smitten with the ease of unloading and handling a double around a vehicle. The curt overall length, and completely smooth exterior make it feel like a beefy carbine, not a .375. One feature of the rimless chambering double rifle I unexpectedly fell in love with was how the extractor / ejectors retain loaded, unfired cartridges. You can leave two rounds in the disassembled barrels and they stay put forever until you pull them out, or fire and eject them. This is actually quite handy for having a disassembled rifle ready in a flash on unexpected small predators or the like, when travelling cross-country and not expressly hunting. For carriage on foot, I opted for no sling, a modification I’ve made to my gear since Cape Buffalo hunting in Zimbabwe, as a slung rifle will never be as fast as a bare one to bring into play. It also has far greater chances of hanging up on bush or the like when you need it free and lively. While I don’t take everything PHs do as gospel, I’ve yet to meet a PH who uses a slinged rifle as well, I’m sure they are out there, I just haven’t seen one.

Now, speaking of what PH’s do, my survey to date of four PHs over three trips who’ve hunted Lion brings a break down of arms consisting of:

-1 FN .458 Win Mauser

-1 Winchester Model 70 in either .458 Lott, or .375 H&H (the latter is stainless)

-1 Zastava .458 Win Mauser -

1 Custom South African Made .470 Nitro Double

Please note three highly experienced Lion PHs above have a different preference than I am about to express, so my opinions apply to me. Everyone will have to run drills and see what works for them. I love my Ruger RSM, but I don’t find it overly quick. Perhaps something lighter and livelier is called for in my bolt action selection, though I tried the 20” Sauer 202 Forest 9.3×62 mentioned in Lion Rifles Part I, and it still didn’t hit instinctively like a double for me. And while I can work the RSM’s action like lightning, that’s not the issue, it’s the pointing and bush carry. Now the RSM is still among my favourite guns to use of all time, and my most experienced. It will also almost certainly be used on my winter Rhinoceros hunt. This leads me to what I believe are sound reasons for selecting slightly different rifles for different dangerous game, even if the rifles are of the same chambering. My double, while it points like magic, carries effortlessly, and has a perfect safety for being called into play in a heartbeat suffers a major shortcoming. That being you are limited to one load, 300 grain at just over 2,500fps in my rifle’s case. Anything else will not be guaranteed to regulate, and likely won’t. From my experience even large temperature swings change things. 300 grain .375 will of course take down anything that walks, though I prefer a 350 grain load for chasing something with the mass and build of Rhinoceros. It is the second largest animal walking the planet, and likely ties for the toughest. If anyone doubts their tenacity and speed watch some video of a Rhinoceros fighting a Cape Buffalo; they make the Buffalo look like a punk teenager in a grown man’s fight, wading into the middle of a group of bulls to finish the bastard that pissed him off. I digress…. This article pertains to Lion however, and 300 grain is perfect for the task, and the speed of handling and the two rapid shots supersede any bullet weight versatility concerns.

This consideration, speed, is one to be held with high regard when discussing Lions. When things go south with Lion, it happens at a pace perhaps only a Leopard can match. I am of the opinion two shots, without any break of the rifle’s hold or changes whatsoever, is not only all you’re going to get, but the best solution currently available in a gun cabinet as it has been for more than a century. There are some misconceptions about doubles that go in their strike column unfairly, foremost being that while fast, accuracy is “emergency sufficient”. In my experience, sighting in and using your first barrel, typically the right for the front trigger, as a single shot allows shot placement as good as any standard bolt action especially if scoped. I never hunt with a scope, so in my case I find my double to act the same as my RSM over the irons, and hit more naturally offhand, such as my finishing shot on Lion to his neck as he watched us from behind a bush. Lions move with astonishing speed, capable of 80kms/h for burst such as on a charge, and accelerating to that velocity in a mere handful of paces from a standstill. Their acceleration makes sports cars look a lazy, and given you’re often forced into facing Lion at 50 yards or less in thick stuff, they can be on you before you exhale. This is why I favour a double. The two most experienced Lion PHs I’ve mentioned here and regard highly had different takes. One, that a double was too expensive and too limited for the other work he calls on his rifle for, culling, following up client wounded plains game, etc. The other felt his .470 Nitro double was the only tool he’d wield with complete confidence on Lions, sharing the justifications I subscribe to as well. Both have faced charges and know their business, and both are right. As a matter of fact the .470 fancier shot a Lioness off a fellow PH not that long before, with video to prove it.

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Now something else I found is double rifles are not immune to conditions, as often portrayed. The coarse, red Kalahari sand of the consistency of fine ground pepper was a different animal than the floury red dust I had encountered by the banks of the Limpopo on the Botswana border and which still line the hidden crevices of my Ruger RSM, and wholly different from the packed soil of Zimbabwe. While a double is certainly closed to all elements, nearly perfectly, it is every bit as susceptible to contamination of the barrels and open action as any good Mauser. I ended up with sand in my barrels, despite my efforts to avoid it, and I found it adhering naturally to any trace of oil. The rifle wasn’t called upon fortunately in this phase and I cleaned it thoroughly to remove it. I did experience one failure to eject I attribute to a sand contaminated cartridge, the slight oil from the leather of my cartridge case attracted the finer particles of sand to the then lightly oiled cartridges like a magnet. I didn’t even notice until I watched a video of it from a camera I was wearing on my chest with Jason the PH, but in the reloading sequence on my Gemsbok while I was running I had to manually pluck a spent case from the chamber, the ejector did not kick it clear. Traces of the sand were found later on the cartridges and in the chamber, and I’m convinced this was the culprit. To the Holland & Holland’s credit, its generous taper and brass spring back as a result allowed the brass to be plucked free by hand despite the extreme heat and the grit. So easily I should add, I hadn’t noticed I’d done it until I saw it on video.

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In closing, I feel that as a hunter, not a PH, the double is the perfect purpose built tool for fighting fast moving game like Lions. I mention the PH aside, as for many, their rifle is a work tool in which they cannot be overly invested, and the vast majority of time serves mundane culling and follow up tasks on non-dangerous game. Some PHs, like some craftsmen, select a niche and high quality tool suited for a particular task as well, such as the .470 operator I mention in this article. It is very much every man for himself, I myself prefer the double as it brings me to my shotgunning roots and the rapid, reflexive shooting that entails. This natural instinct to “level the deck” of a double’s barrels across your target and send it the Holland Bros.’ regards in a flash allows me to deliver lethality in a way I just cannot train into myself, yet, with my bolt actions.  From the moment I got to know a double, I went from skeptic who would rather spend his money on hunts, to distinct admirer of the blue collar German double and its strengths. There is something very sporting in a double in one’s hands, and it is not merely a man and a rifle’s odd romance. Backing up the double’s allure my speed shooting on the range with it embarrassed my much practiced with RSM’s times for two hits on a rushing target, using Northern Canada’s finest clothesline setup. It also wins for gun low, safety on, for one snap shot on close targets for both speed and placement, and the same for moving while shooting. The double is a tool, that for me, is very much worth its (substantial) pile of salt. This said, my first double I’ve come to know will be sacrificed to partially fund my Rhinoceros hunt- the experience always beats the tools. Hell, if I had no other choice, I’m sure I’d try it with a Remington 700. Always sweet to end on a joke, no? Cheers folks.