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Dangerous game rifles.

* It was on my first trip to Africa that I heard the expression: "You can use my rifle on dangerous game but that doesn't make it a dangerous game rifle." If taken out of context one could question the prudence of the first half of that statement, but otherwise the right idea comes through loud and clear.

Until one has hunted beasties that bite back, claw, gore, stomp or produce various combinations thereof, it's natural to assume that caliber is the sole factor in determining a DGR (an acronym we'll use hereafter to designate Dangerous Game Rifle). I mean, you've got a .375 or a .458 and you've got a DGR, right? Not necessarily. Sure, caliber is important. We must have a cartridge potent enough to do the job under any likely circumstance. Not wanting to dwell too much on calibers, however, suffice it to say that the 8 mm Remington, the .338 Winchester, .340 Weatherby or .355 Norma magnums would be well-suited for the big bears or the northwest or Africa's soft-skinned meanies-lion and leopard. Me, I prefer the .358 Norma as the best of that bunch but, like I said, any of them would be worthy of building a DGR around. For Africa's big stuff surely no one would argue that the .375 H&H, as good as it is, represents the low end of the suitable (and legal for many countries) calibers, the others being the .378 Weatherby, the .458 Winchester and .460 Weatherby. There are of course a number of British and European metric cartridges for magazine and double rifles that are equally suitable, but let's not get into them here. Let's assume we're dealing with adequate cartridges, and limit this discussion to the bolt action, the rifle type chosen by probably 95 percent of all American sportsmen in search of dangerous game.

The DGR is characterized by a level of refinement that makes it stronger and, above all, more reliable than a typical big game rifle. It is a firearm . . . nay, a weapon in this case, which is designed to be as fool-proof as humanely possible; one that puts a few more chips in the hands of the man holding it.

Of paramount importance in a DGR is the cycling of the action i.e., extraction, ejection and feeding. In that department I'm afraid no one has yet improved upon the '98 Mauser. It's hrd to believe in this age when man's knowledge doubles every year or so and when most consumer products become obsolete before they're marketed, that something designed 86 years ago is still state-of-the-art. Hard to believe, yes, but true nonetheless.

There arE, of course, other excellent actions around which we can build a highly reliable gun, but the Mauser system is still considered the best one because for over a quarter century it was redesigned, refined, and redesigned some more to make it that way. The development of the '98 was literally a cost-be-damned, federaly-financed project to design the ultimate shoulder arm; a weapon for hunting what is truly the most dangerous game of all, man himself. The goal was to put in the hands of the German foot soldier a goof-proof mechanism; one which would not break, jam, fail to feed, extract or eject. Nothing can match the terror, th urgency, of battle but surely facing dangerous game is the closest thing to it.

All of us have heard the story of the buck-fevered hunter who gets so shook up at the sight of game that he cycles his entire magazine-full of cartridges through the action, never once pulling the trigger. Or the one who forgets to release the safety, then tugging at the trigger, never thinks as to why the gun won't fire. Or, he forgets the safety and cycles the action again as if something else were wrong, or shortstrokes the action on repeat shot, i.e., not pulling the bolt back far enough to pick up a fresh round from the magazine, only to get a "click" as the trophy of a lifetime goes bounding off. On two occasions I have personally seen excited hunters bind the bolt when trying to cycle their rifles from the shoulder. Not knowing why the bolt wouldn't go forward, they again withdrew the bolt as if trying again would relieve the problem and, in so doing, stripped another round from the magazine. With one already up the spout, well, can you think of a better way to jam a rifle?

If incidents like those just described happen frequently--and they do--to excited hunters seeing deer, elk and moose, imagine what can happen when there's a wounded baffalo, elephant or lion coming at you! True, the aforementioned examples are due to human error but the fact is that such miscues are less likely with a Mauser system than with others.

The '98 praised for its super-strong extractor and the fact it takes such a healthy bite on the case rim, but even more important is the wya the rim of the feeding round slips up behind the claw as the cartridge snaps free of the rails on its way to the chamber. With the plunger ejection system used on most turnbolts today, the bolt face simply pushes the feeding round ahead of it and only when the cartridge is fully chambered and the bolt partially rotated does the extractor engaged the case rim. That being the case, from the time the fresh cartridge snaps free of the feed rails--about mid-way in the bolt's forward travel--to the time it's pushed into the chamber, it's just lying there. If for some reason the bolt is withdrawn, it would not drag the round with it and eject it as would a Mauser; instead, it would strip another round from the magazine and there'd be two in the loading port. Jamsville.

Though it's hard to imagine why anyone would not follow through on cycling an action, all kinds of improbable things happen in crisis situations; situations when, in addition to being in a state of terror, you may be trying to side-step, outrun (hah!), duck under or climb above some ferocious, charging critter.

the Mauser's ejection is also considered to be more reliable than the plunger system. On the '98, ejection is accomplished only when the rim of the empty case makes contact with an arm housed in the left side of the receiver bridge. It is the inertia of the rearward-moving case suddenly hitting the ejector arm that kicks the brass out of the port. It is a system that is so strong and foolproof that virtually nothing can go wrong with it.

The plunger ejector, on the other hand, can be made inoperable by the intrusion of foreign matter between the plunger and the wall of its retaining hole.

If there is a shortcoming to the military '98 and the commercial versions thereof (the Spanish-made Santa Barbara, the Belgian-made FN, the Yugoslavian Mark X, the Swedish Husqvarna, etc.), it is that they are not suited to cartridges longer than 3-1/4 inches overall without modification. This means that anyone wanting the longer .375 H&H or any wildcat based on that same, full-length case has to have the magazine and the receiver cut-out lengthened. Though this process does materially weaken the '98, it's a procedure that's been done for decades by the British gun houses and custom gunsmisths wordlwide, so there is apparently enough of a safety margin.

Paul Mauser, of course, was well aware that his standard '98 wasn't suited to cartridges substantially shorter or longer than the 7.92 German service round and consequently Mauser Werke made commercial actions in four different lengths. Of the 125,000 or so sporting actions and complete rifles produced at Oberndorf between 1898 and 1945, the Magnum Mausers are the most eagerly sought. These big actions will not only accommodate the H&H rounds, but the .416 Rigby, the .505 Gibbs and the big Weatherby .378/.460 case.

Unfortunately, prior to 1956 we didn't have a domestically produced world-class commercial big bore cartridge that would fit through an unmodified '98. Then came the .458 Winchester Magnum, as fine a dangerous game cartridge as ever to come/along, and one which fits the standard Mauser quite nicely thanks, assuming bolt face and feed rail modifications of course.

Still, for those wishing their DGR to be built around something longer than the .458 and want a Mauser system, there aren't that many options. As long as cartridge choice is based on the Holland & Holland belted case, an opened-up '98 such as that supplied in the form of the Mark X by Interarms is about the only readily available commercial '98 still being made. Interarms offers completed rifles, too, in both .375 and .458 based on the Mark X; one is called the Alaskan series, the other the African Both are fashioned in the best tradition of the British express rifle. Considering all the extras, it's really, a helluva buy at $590.

There are many who would argue that if there ever was an improvement on the Mauser, or a more desirable action on which to base a "serious" rifle, it's the pre-'64 Model 70 Winchester. Not only did the old Model 70 use the Mauser system of controlled-round feeding with non-rotation extractor and mertia ejection, in factory-modified form it has the added advantage of being long enough to accommodate the 375 H&H.

Another superb Mauser-system action is the Brno ZKK 602 made in Czechoslovakia. Brno rifles (and shotguns) are not imported into the U.S. They are, however, imported into Canada by Pragotrade, 307 Humberline Drive, Rexdale, Ontario M9W 5V1. With an FFL and a special import form a gun can be purchased and shipped here. In my not-so-humble opinion the ZKK is the best choice of all for a DGR and the equal of a genuine Magnum Mauser. But more about it later.

Let me again emphasize here that a Mauser-type action is by no means mandatory for building a fine, reliable rifle. The Remington 700, the post-'64 Model 70 and the Sako actions are also very popular, as is the Ruger 77, but the latter won't digest full-length magnums. As out-of-the-box production big bores, Remington's Model 700 Safari Grade and Winchester's Model 70 African are offered in .375 H&H and .458; the Sako only in .375, and the Ruger 77 only in .458. All are priced higher than the smaller bore magnums in the same lines because they offer some of those extra features alluded to earlier that distinguish the DGR from an ordinary big game rifle.

Unfortumately, most of that extra cost for a production big bore is due to the fact that the barrel is of a different contour than the standardized one used for the smaller calibers. So the inletting in the fore-end, too, must be different. And anything that doesn't fit into standard production procedures costs extra, even if it really doesn't.

There are, however, other features that go with those higher prices. Because of the heavy recoil generated by the big bores, standard placement of the front swivel stud on the fore-end can raise welts and even breal flesh if the shooter's hand gets too close. Barrel band front swivels on some guns move the point of attachment off the fore-end, thus eliminating the problem. Or else the swivel is placed further forward, as on the Ruger.

Inside, and thus not readily seen, is an extra recoil lug fitted to the underside of the barrel which divides recoil forces to two different areas of the stock, greatly minimizing the prospect of splitting. Along that same line of thought, today's production big bores are either glass bedded at these recoil points and/or further reinforced with crossbolts.

These, however, are just minor features; the ones which are of more importance and/or desirability are usually found only on semi-production and custom rifles. Take sights, for example: the ones furnished on some production guns are poorly suited to a DGR. And those dinky fold-down ones aren't much better than no sights at all. One swipe against a tree trunk and it's gone, snapped off. They also fold down too easily and at the wrong time. Keep in mind here wehre talking about a rifle that may be called upon to save your life or that of your guide or professional; a rifle that's likely to be dropped, ricocheted off tree trunks and jostled about in the back of a safari car. The sights must be as rugged as the rifle itself. The graceful quarter-rib with a fixed leaf for 50 yards and fold-down for 100 and 200 is a nice custom touch. All that's really necessary, however, is a single, shallow "V", fashioned from solid steel, rigidly affixed either by dovetail, beefy screws, or both. It should be able to withstand a sudden encounter with a mopani trunk or a rock without damage or movement. And it need not be readily adjustable. Once the windage with the trajectory of the one bullet weight you'll be using for close encounters. And also encounters is all this gun is meant for. No professional I know or have hunted with will allow a typical client to shoot a buff or an elephant beyond 50 yards, and they prefer to get half that distance.

After what we've said about the rear sight, it follows that the front one must be equally rugged. A locked-on hood is a good idea as it affords protection, but it should be vented at the sides to put light on the bead. To better define the rear sight, a vertical line at the V is the norm.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of a DGR is whether or not it should wear a scope, any scope, regardless of how low a power it may be. The way I see it, any bore size above .375 for which all factory ammo and component bullets are the round-nosed variety, no scope at all. For the .375s (H&H and Weatherby), as well as the .358 Norma, .340 Weatherby, .338 Winchester and the 8 mm Rem. Mag, it's not so simple. In addition to being potent, close-range stoppers, these rounds can also throw highly efficient spitzer slugs over very flat trajectories, enabling them to easily take game out at 250 yards and beyond. Obviously, if one intends his DGR to do double duty, then a low-power variable scope is mandatory. But remember the urgency of one's need of a DGR is inversely proportional to distance. The closer an animal is--and keeps coming--the more a scope becomes a downright liability. Then too, the addition of a scope changes the whole nature of a rifle; it makes it clumsy, heavier, and far more delicate than one without glass.

There is an alternative, however, in the form of a quick detachable mount; a system whereby a scope can be removed from a rifle in just a few seconds and usually without tools. They're really quite practical since there is virtually no conceivable situation where you may have to go into the thick stuff after some wounded beast and not have time to remove the glass. But on the other hand, a wounded animal is just as likely to charge as he is to run off. When such is the case you're lucky if you have time to reload, let alone remove a scope. I don't know about you, but I don't want a scope if something's charging me!

The way I see it, I'd rather be perfectly equipped for the critical situation and improvise for the rest. Should the chance to drill an eland or kudu at 200 yards come up, I know I can usually get close enough to make the irons do. In a crisis, however, there's no time to improvise--you've got to go with what you've got in hand.

There are no easy answers but should the QD concept appeal to you there are some excellent systems offered by Ernst Apel of Wurtzburg (EAW, imported by Kahles of America), Griffin & Howe, Paul Jaeger and Kimber.

There are also pivot mounts, like the Packmayr Lo-Swing and the Weaver, which allow the scope to the swung aside, rather than removed for iron sight use. Then there are the various see-through types which ... well, there's no way I'd have 'em on my DGR. And I'm not crazy about the pivot types either. I want a scope on or off, no in-between. To each his own.

A good double lever or pivot mount will allow quick replacement of the scope with no appreciable loss of zero, at least not when we're talking large animals having vital areas up to 18 inches in diameter and are only rarely shot at distances beyond 200 yards.

Barrel length is another important aspect where a DGR should differ from a conventional magnum sporter. There is simply no justification for a barrel longer than 22 inches, and even 20 wouldn't be too short. What relatively slight loss in velocity accrues is utterly insignificant at point blank range. Far more important is the faster handling and pointability gained from the shorter barrel.

The most obvious advantage derived from using a turnbolt repeater over the classic double rifle is the number of backup shots available. Normally, a production rifle chambered for the .375 or .458 (or any belted magnum for that matter), has a three-round magazine. Custom guns specifically designed as DGRs however, will often have an extended box whereby four rounds can be tucked in to back up the one up the spout. I like the idea of having five rounds handy. Besides, I haven't yet mastered reloading on a dead run and hope I never have to.

Generally, the wood for cradling a DGR should be chosen for strength, i.e., have a dense, straight grain. It should be a little meatier through the grip section and forearm, as should the butt to distribute recoil over a larger area. Me, I'd forgo the onepiece stock in favor of an all-walnut laminated one as available through Reinhart Fajen. There's no gaudy, zebra look to an all-walnut laminate and its far stronger than a one-piece handle.

The stock configuration should have a rounded forearm to best fit the conformation of a cupped hand, and the comb should be as higha and as straight as possible while still allowing comfortable positioning of the head for iron sight use. Checkering does provide a better grip, hence control of the gun, but it should be of the coarse variety--20 LPI maximum 18 better still.

Aside from the purely physical and mechanical attributes of the ideal DGR, the action should be polished and honed to where it cocks, feeds, extracts and ejects with monotonous reliability (see G&A, May 1982, "Tune Your Turnbolt"). Whether you yourself do the fine tuning or it's doen by a gunsmith, it is imperative that the functioning be checked by cycling several hundred rounds through the action. You'd be surprised how many glitches show up when the magazine is fully charged and the action is operated from the shoulder with the kind of violent yank-and-shove motions used in a panic situation. In testing a newly acquired rifle and developing handloads there's a tendency to do all shooting from a bench and to load one round at a time either by thumbing it into the chamber or laying on the feed rails, then pushing it home with the bolt. All too often a gun is never cycled with a full magazine until it's out in the hunting field. I know. I once faced a lion at about 30 feet with a rifle I later learned would not feed cartridges from the left side of the magazine.

The only way to thorougly check feeding is to load up five dummy rounds, i.e., bullets seated in empty, unprimed cases. The dummy rounds should be cycled as fast and as violently as possible. If there are no flubs, you've succeeded in establishing the reliability of feeding only. There's a big difference in the shape, weight and balance of an empty case and one with a 300- or 500-grain bullet seated at one end. The only way ejection can be checked is to hand chamber an empty case on top of a magazine filled with dummy rounds. In so doing we simulate actual, repeat-shot conditions.

After checking ejection of an empty case over a full magazine, remove one of the dummy rounds so that the next one will be positioned on the other side of the base (assuming a staggered-column magazine). In so doing the upward tension against the extracting case is lightened (by a less compressed follower spring), and being applied by a cartridge in a different position from the one previous. It is not unusual for a given action to feed less reliably from one side of the magazine than the other. If this situation exists, it must be remedied. IT's the kind of custom work that's prohibitively expensive on a production gun.

Another feature found on well-thoughtout big bores is a straighter bolt handle. Depending on the radius of the grip curve, a rearward-sweeping handle often puts the knob too close to the knuckle of the forefinger where recoil can batter it until it's black and blue.

Though most of the characteristics and features which distinguish the dangerous game rifle are of a custom nature, there are some semi-production guns offering many of them as standard. The Whitworth African series mentioned earlier and imported by Interarms, is one of them. Another is the Sako Safari Grade, and elegant rifle in the best "express" tradition. It offers a classic-type stock; a custom, all-steel extended magazine with straddle floorplate that holds four belted magnums; a custom handle; a barrel band front swivel; an integral ramp/barrel band front sight and the express-style rear leaf with a fold-down auxiliary on a quarter rib.

Weatherby, too, now has a Safari Grade Mark V with many of the features already enumerated for the Sako.

But the one rifle offering the most features for the money and the one best suited for a DGR is that Brno ZKK I spoke of earlier, available in .375 or .458. PErsonally, I'd throw the stock away, cut about three inches from its 25-inch tube, then replace the front sight. Also, the safety works backwards, i.e., forward's on, back is off. But all the basics are there: it's a pure Mauser action; the magazine is 3.85 inches long and holds five belted magnums; it's got a pop-up aperture sight in the square rear bridge; a stout rear sight with two auxiliary fold downs ... all kinds of neat features. It's a pity it isn't readily available in this country but, like I said, it can be purchased and for well under 500 bucks. The folks at Pradotrade can tell you how to go about it if you write to 'em.

Just as dangerous animals are the ultimate quarry for the hunter, so too should be the rifle used to bring them down. A DGR is an intensely personal gun, one which you can really get wrapped up in, whether you're designing it as a mental exercise or for real. There's an aura of adventure and excitement exuded by a big bore, one which a real gun enthusiast will usually succumb to sooner or later, even though he may know his chances of ever facing a Brown bear or Cape buffalo are remote. Fortunately, the human spirit is not so easily stifled by the banal boundaries of realistic expectations. If possessing an "elepahant riflge" gets one a little closer to going elephant hunting ... why not?
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Author:Sundra, Jon
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Mar 1, 1984
Words:3960
Previous Article:Gun notes.
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