Lusting after an African double of his own, Byron Pace looks at a rifle from Heym designed specifically for the professional hunter.
I distinctly remember the first double rifle I ever had the pleasure of handling. I had been in Africa for two months when I travelled north to the edgeof Kruger Park to catch up with a friend for a few days. Staying at a farm deep in the bush, the owner turned out to have been quite the hunter in his day, and one afternoon I had the privilege of looking around his trophy and gun rooms.
When I stepped into the lodge for the first time, my jaw nearly hit the floor. The room spanned a length and height that would swallow your average two-bed house, adorned from front to back with heads of every species you could think of. At the far end a shoulder mounted elephant looked down on us, with frozen scenes of fighting lions and leopard grappling game either side in glorious full mounts. I had never seen anything like it, and this was before I had even reached the gunroom. I had seen bedrooms smaller than this walk-in gunroom, with every space on the wall filled with rifles and pistols. I had rarely seen anything so beautiful; I was in heaven. As I was informed later, this was only half the collection. But it was not just fanciful hoarding – every one had a story. I must have stood in that room for more than an hour hearing the back-stories to just a handful.
It was here that my fingers first curled over the heavyset barrels of a double rifle. Chambered in .416 Rigby, this old girl was a stunning combination of elegant lines and strong, precision construction. Even with nothing in the chamber the rifle made me feel like I could tackle the world. Some years later, when carrying one in the veld for the first time, this feeling was compounded, with the robust twin barrels providing a calming and comforting effect.
Although having used double rifles before, I haven’t been around them enough to claim any great knowledge, so this review will be much more general than my usual bolt-action ponderings. The original double rifles were designed with a single ethos in mind. When a hunter’s life was on the line, a double would provide the greatest level of reliability for two single shots. That should be enough to, at the very least, bring any animal to the ground, which would allow a further two rounds to be loaded if necessary. Doubles, in essence, are very simple, and not dissimilar to a shotgun, with two firing pins, two tubes, a locking mechanism and a trigger. Assuming the ammunition is up to the task, there is very little to go wrong and prevent a shot from going off. This is of particular importance when a wounded buffalo is heading full steam in your direction. Modern moves have begun, in my opinion, to over-complicate double rifles, with magazines to reload another two rounds being the latest development.
One of the biggest barriers to double rifles has always been price. These are not mass produced items. They are hand crafted, hand fitted, tested and regulated. Of course demand is relatively small, and apart from the odd one seeing use for driven game in Europe, they are almost exclusively seen used in Africa.
Heym has a long tradition of building rifles, in particular drillings and double rifles. Established in Suhl, Germany, in 1865 by Friedrich Wilhelm Heym, the company remained under family management for many generations. It soon earned a solid reputation for producing excellent sporting rifles, with production only broken by the two World Wars. After 1945 the factory was re-established in Bavaria, producing the first post-war firearms around 1952. Relocation occurred once again in 1996, when the factory moved to a state-of-the-art facility in Gleichamberg.
The flagship 88B-Safari has seen use for many years. With rifle weight varying dependant on the chosen calibre, easy handling is maintained by ensuring the balance remains ‘between the hands’. This rifle sees 24in Krupp steel hammer-forged barrels as standard, with the precision fitting, beautifully engineered action boasting a triple lock up with double lugs and greener cross bolt. Cocking indicators on the tang at the rear of each barrel confirm the rifle is loaded and, in turn, once it has been fired. Double triggers operate in two stages, allowing the shooter to take up a firm pressure first before unleashing hell with a final squeeze. Ejectors are fitted as standard, quickly and energetically dispensing of spent cartridges ready for the next two should the need arise. There are a number of options available as well, including sights, grip caps, ejector/extractor switch and custom engraving to name just a few. In this way, you can take the standard rifle and truly make it yours, with a fitted stock boasting fine European walnut as standard, with an option to upgrade as well.
Enjoying the success of its Safari model, Heym realised there was a need for a working double rifle, omitting the more unnecessary aspects such as walnut and hand engraving. In response to a client request, Heym built the 88-B Professional Hunter, for those looking for a working tool over aesthetic embellishment. Sticking with a proven formula, it stripped down its Safari model to provide everything apart from the superfluous engraving. The end result is a very understated, well-made double that is offered to the market at a much more affordable level.
Many may disagree with me, but I would rather hunt with a bolt action Mauser 98 than a double in the big calibres. Having said that, I have always dreamed of adding a double to my collection – if only to use as a back-up rifle when I have the opportunity to join my PH friends on dangerous game hunts. The Heym PH is exactly the kind of rifle I was looking for.
The particular rifle I had on test was chambered in .470 NE, a true dangerous game calibre, and widely used across Africa. Coming in at 10.5lb, it is a solid weight in the hand that would take most UK stalkers by surprise. For such a calibre, however, it is just right, helping to absorb some of the recoil from the massive .470 NE case. It was not so heavy that you would be wishing you had left it at home after a long day, but I suspect it would still take a bit of training to get comfortable with lugging such a rifle around over an entire safari.
Although this rifle wasn’t fitted to me, it came up very nicely, and shooting it was fairly comfortable. For my frame, making use of the front trigger did cause my middle to press against the trigger guard, and this was a mistake made only once. A fitted rifle should resolve this issue.
Rather unusually for a double rifle, these have been regulated with Hornady ammo. For those who are unfamiliar with doubles, one of the biggest challenges is to get both the right and left barrel shooting at the same point of impact. This process is called regulation, and all double rifles should come with a note informing you of what make and weight of ammunition it has been regulated for. I was unable to source the Hornady ammo used for regulation, but fortunately Kynoch came to my rescue, and very generously gave me 10 rounds to test. At 50 yards, even with the unregulated ammo, I managed to put two shots together at the same point of impact twice in a row. You can’t ask for much more than that with a big bore double.
For a time, the double rifle seemed to be going the same way as the dinosaur. Much is owed to Heym for its resurgence, being one of the first to push the new doubles into markets in America and offering rifles at much more affordable prices due to modern machining techniques. The 88-B PH offers everything you could possibly need from a double. It is a functional, reliable, no-frills rifle and I hope to one day be able to carry one in pursuit of dangerous game.
Heym 88-B PH
Price: around £10,000
Available calibres: .300 Win Mag, .375 H&H Belted or Flanged, .416 Rigby, .416/500 NE, .450/400 3” NE*, .458 Win Mag, .450 NE*, .470 NE, .500 NE, 20 Gauge
With thanks to Garlands for the loan of the rifle and Kynoch for supplying the ammunition.