Some of our readers might consider me a masochist for owning and shooting a Mosin-Nagant WWII-era Soviet infantry rifle, and for firing my buddy’s Barrett M82 all-American sniper rifle.
Yet even those two long guns, powerful and punishing to one’s shoulder as they are, are a mere 7.62x54mmR and .50 BMG in caliber.
This pales in comparison to the co-subjects of this article, the .600 and .700 Nitro Express.
Admittedly, I have yet to fire either of these guns. None of my shooting buddies owns one, and none of my local shooting ranges makes one available for rental. If ever the chance arose to fire one, I would want to make sure I bring a king-sized icepack — and maybe a chiropractor.
So, Why So Goshdarn Big Anyway?
What sort of targets are the crazy-big calibers meant for, one might ask? Simply put, they are for elephant hunting. For you animal lovers and conservationists out there, I myself am not a hunter, and I’m not here to advocate for or against the morality of killing such a magnificent creature as the African elephant (Loxodonta africana). In the immortal words of Sgt. Joe Friday in Dragnet, “Just the facts, ma’am.”
For what it’s worth, the notorious 20th century ivory poacher John “Pondoro” Taylor claimed in his book African Rifle and Cartridges that the impact shock of a head shot from a .600 Nitro Express bullet was sufficient to knock an elephant unconscious for up to 30 minutes (assuming said shot didn’t simply kill the elephant outright).
.600 Nitro Express History & Specifications
The .600 Nitro Express dates back to the year 1900, courtesy of a Mr. W.J. Jeffrey (1857-2909), a Londoner who started in the gun trade in 1885 and would go on to design some of the best cartridges in the trade, as well as the rifles that fired them. Other gunmakers that produced rifles in the caliber included Holland & Holland (H&H).
Four .600 Nitro Express rifles were even issued to the British Army during the First World War. They were used to defeat the steel plates that the Kaiser’s snipers had been using for protection against the British Tommies’ .303 rifle rounds. They apparently did the trick. Major H. Hesketh Prichard said in his autobiography, Sniping in France 1914-18: With Notes on the Scientific Training of Scouts, Observers, and Snipers, that the rounds “pierced [the plates] like butter.”
The typical weight of one of these guns was in the 20-pound range. When launched out of a 28-inch test barrel, the 900-grain (58 gram) bullet generated a muzzle velocity of 2,050 feet per second and a muzzle energy of 8,400 foot-pounds (11,400 Joules).
What’s it like to actually fire the thing? Here’s how John C. Branch, founder and senior editor of Revivaler, describes it:
“Firing it was everything I had expected, but it added a dimension that I had not expected also, the rifle had a straight stock and that initially sent the recoil straight back, but the rifle also determinedly wanted to rotate vertically from both the recoil itself and the rocket effect of the chronograph slaying muzzle blast. It was something the likes of which I had not experienced before, certainly not at that magnitude.”
.700 Nitro Express History & Specifications
Back when I was a teenager and relatively new to the shooting sports, I read a joke about a hunter in Africa who, in response to his guide asking him, “Sir, why do you hunt with a .600 Nitro Express,” replies, “Because. sonny, they don’t make a .700!” Well, sure enough, somebody eventually decided to make a .700. It came along in 1988, nearly nine decades after its less powerful predecessor. You can thank H&H for producing the gun and cartridge.
Ballistic specifications are, well, unique. A 1,000-grain (65-gram) bullet generates a 2,000 fps muzzle velocity and a muzzle energy of 9,000 ft-lbs.
What’s it like to actually fire the damn thing? “A picture is worth 1,000 words,” the saying goes, so I reckon video is worth a million words. Just watch these videos courtesy of Great American Outdoors.
Want Your Own?
So then, you’re telling me you want to break your bank account and your shoulder all at once? If so, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
For one thing, ammo for the .600 and .700 Nitro costs nearly $100 per round. As for the guns themselves, Joe Coogan of American Rifleman reports that “Today, expect to pay $400,000 and upwards for a basic .700 rifle, depending on order requirements. To date, Holland & Holland has built 17 double rifles in .700 NE, with No. 18 in current production.”
H&H has actually put the .600 back into production, but they don’t list prices on their website, so you’ll have to contact them directly for inquiries. But for point of reference, Rock Island Auction Company sold one in 2018 for $57,500, while StandardMfgCo sold one via the GunsAmerica.Com website for $200,000.
Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.
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