.470 Nitro Express


There are a handful of calibres that everyone associates with Africa. The 7×57, made famous by WDM Bell, is probably the first to roll off anyone’s tongue. Although the .30-06 is widely used as well, Africa can hardly lay claim to a calibre used extensively the world over.

As we peer up the calibre scale and pass the benchmark .375 H&H, we get to the heart of African calibre territory. Some of these big dangerous game calibres have featured here before, but the .470 NE is probably where most hunters’ thoughts land when we talk about African doubles.

Introduced in 1900 by Grant and Lang, the .470 NE is possibly the most popular of all the Nitro Express calibres. Seen primarily in double rifles, it was adopted by most of the big British gunmakers of the day. It is probably fair to say that the Nitro Express calibres transformed big game hunting in Africa, but the .470 was not the first.

As far as I can tell, the Nitro Express era started in 1898 with introduction of the .450 NE from John Rigby. In 1907 designers’ hands were forced into producing something bigger when the British government banned the .450 in India and Sudan, where there was tribal unrest. With these restrictions, most settled on a halfway house between the .450 and .500.

Although Westley Richards and Holland & Holland came up with their own concoctions, only the respected gunmaker Joseph Lang released his calibre unrestricted to the trade, to be chambered by whoever wished. It is primarily for this reason that the .470 NE saw such an initial surge in uptake, and it quickly made it across the water to the land where it was intended to be used. Later, the calibre’s reputation was given a further boost as John Rigby decided to adopt it in their own rifles instead of re-designing their own.

There is no doubt that the .470 NE is a tremendous big game calibre, and given the large number of guns chambered in .470 NE, ammunition is never a problem to get hold of. In terms of performance, the only reservation I have come came from John Taylor in his book African Rifles and Cartridges. Here he expressed minor concerns over penetration on a small number of occasions, but this was put down to bullet design rather than an inherent issue with the cartridge – this was not a repeat of the .458 Win problems. Today .470 NE ammo is available with a variety of loaded bullets, including the exceptional Woodleigh Weld-Core, so bullet performance won’t be an issue.

Ballistically, most of the stats will mean little to most UK hunters. It is a colossal calibre, and true big game back-up. It may be surprising for some to find that despite being a massive 500-grain projectile, a zero at 50 yards will only drop the bullet half an inch at 100 yards, and this is probably further than you will ever need to use such a calibre. Just in case, though, at 150 yards it drops a very manageable 3.7in, which for a back-up body shot on big game makes for an aim-and-shoot affair.

In the words of the great John Taylor, the .470 NE is “splendidly balanced cartridge in every way.” It is one of the great African big game calibres.  BP

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