This is a calibre for the professional, and even then it will be overgunning 99 per cent of the time. That said, in the other 1 per cent it can be the difference between life and death.
Designed by Jeffery in 1903, the .600 Nitro Express was the largest and most powerful commercial hunting calibre in the world until 1988, when it was surpassed by the staggeringly powerful .700 NE. The .600 NE was designed solely for those ‘back against the wall’ situations, specifically with elephant in mind. When the trunk tucks and ears clamp back, the bravado of flared lugs, stomping dust and head-shaking trumpets will cease, leaving only cold steel and gunpowder for company. It is here, somewhere in limbo between the merciless African bush and five tonnes of hulking grey mass, that the .600 NE calls home.
Loaded normally in double rifles, it provided the maximum stopping power possible, inevitably flooring anything that stood within range. This was a close-quarters, explosively recoiling juggernaut killer, slamming even the most highly pumped, high-speed charging elephant to the ground.
It has been argued that this calibre is excessive. That was certainly the feeling among professional ivory hunters of that iconic era. As a working tool for day-to-day hunting, it is largely impractical, not only in recoil but in also in weight. Firing it on the range is an unpleasant affair, and there will be few people keen to shoot it more than twice. Of course, in a hunting situation with adrenalin pumping, this is far less noticeable.
I would have to say that even for elephant cropping, the .600 NE would not be high on my list of calibre choices. It really is a round for emergencies. As the ultimate back-up rifle, it is probably impossible to better. Clients on the quest for jumbo would certainly be comforted by the fact that their PH was wielding two tubes of .600 Nitro, especially if their ticket through the pearly gates comes under immediate threat of collection. If the .600 doesn’t stop it, nothing short of an anti-tank round will provide any improved odds.
It was made famous by the American PH Mark Sullivan, who released a number of DVDs focused on dropping charging dangerous game with his .600 NE double rifle. The ethics and circumstances of these films are highly questionable – indeed, his methods led to him being kicked out of the SCI in 2010. However, the footage does demonstrate the devastating effect of the cartridge.
By virtue of the calibre’s mammoth proportion, rifles were heavy. In the region of 16lb, it is not the kind of rifle one could wield all day, and instead must be carried by a gun bearer until the shooter follows up wounded game in the thick brush. According to John ‘Pondoro’ Taylor, who happened to be an avid supporter of the .600 NE, a “professional ivory hunter should either have a .577 or .600 in his battery, although he may only want it once or twice in a twelvemonth.” He did not, however, see it as necessary for the amateur sportsman.
With modern components, the .600 pushes out a 900-grain Woodleigh FMJ at 1,866fps and 6,959ft/lb ME. This equates to 106ft/lb of recoil – a full 10ft/lb less than the heavier load. By comparison, a 9lb .375 H&H shooting a 300-grain bullet has about 39ft/lb recoil. Interestingly, the load offered by Kynoch today mirrors the heavier load, with MV of 1,955fps and an extra 641ft/lb ME.
This is a calibre for the professional, and even then it will be overgunning 99 per cent of the time. That said, in the other 1 per cent it can be the difference between life and death. BP