Most UK riflemen would never get the chance or have the need to use a double rifle. More intriguing is that the intended quarry for this calibre would be more than capable of dispatching the person behind the butt if things did not go to plan. So why is the double rifle format so popular in Europe and abroad?
Around the 1900s, the double-barrelled rifle was apparently much cheaper than its early bolt-action equivalents. More importantly, there was less to go wrong in extreme conditions such as in Africa and India, where it was essential when dealing with dangerous game. They lost their appeal – no thanks to the two world wars, which accelerated the development of the multi-shot bolt action – but there has been a renewed interest in this classic design over the past 30 years.
They are safe, the action is easy to open but, most importantly, they are quick and uncomplicated to reload, not forgetting the simplicity of cleaning and ability to be taken apart for easy transportation. In the field, they are generally shorter than a normal bolt-action rifle, as the bolt action is not required, making them more pointable, but it is the ability to fire the second shot quickly that really drives the popularity of this design.
Enough of the history – I welcome you to the Krieghoff Big Five rifle in the uncompromising .470 Nitro Express calibre. The Classic Big Five is available in many larger calibres from the .375 H&H to the .500NE but, interestingly, a pair of 20-gauge barrels can be fitted if you want to test your skills with flying game.
As it’s a .470NE, you would have imagined this would be a large and heavy monster, but as I lifted it out of its case, I realised it wasn’t. While it has the feel of a solid but beautiful piece of German engineering, the boxlock design gives the impression of a slender shotgun, and when raised to the shoulder, it feels compact for a 10lb rifle.
The stock, made from the finest European walnut wood, oozes undeniable quality thanks to its deep and beautifully coloured grain, with delightful chequering on the wide pistol grip and forend. The design of this stock is critical for these heavy calibres, as it has a low-straight comb with a curved cheekpiece, all of which is designed to help with the greater recoil from standing.
Moving forward, the ‘combi-cocking’ lever dominates the top tang. This cocking lever allows the rifle to be carried when fully loaded, without the fear of an accidental discharge. As the ‘Big Five’ is raised to the shoulder, the thumb pushes this lever forward ready for firing, but does not automatically decock the firing mechanism when the action is broken for reloading. Some may say this is unsafe, but this is designed for dangerous game where reloading and subsequent shots must be executed in the fastest possible time. So you break the barrel, reload, raise it the shoulder and fire without the need to cock the action again. Simple and effective.
The action itself has reinforced walls for extra strength with high-quality ‘small Arabesque’ engraving to the sides. On to the two triggers: the front activates the right barrel and the rear the left, both set at 3½ to 4lb, aided by virtually horizontal firing pin placement for fast lock time. Most doubles have much heavier trigger pulls, but the patented Krieghoff Universal Trigger System prevents both barrels from being fired at the same time owing to heavy recoil – always a worry when lighter triggers are used. Interestingly, the front trigger is hinged to protect the trigger finger when shooting the rear trigger, as the recoil will push the rifle backwards, driving the front blade into the back of that finger.
As with any double-barrelled rifle, the ‘regulation’ – making sure that both barrels shoot the same point of impact – can be tricky to set up. On the .375 H&H or smaller calibre rifles, this is adjustable at the muzzle, but fixed at the factory for the larger calibres. Most doubles are set to a 50-yard zero and guarantee an accuracy of 2in at this distance using their factory-recommended ammunition. The 23.5in barrels on this model come with fixed front moon sights and an open ‘V’ to the rear on the raised central rib. As an extra option, I would recommend the folding express rear sights to help shooting at a variety of distances.
When breaking the action by using the top lever, the opening is very short, designed for very quick extraction – but this model does not come with extractors as standard. I spoke to Alan Rhone, who informed me that this is not always essential, as all one does is roll the rifle over to allow both spent cases to fall out, and then reload. Also, many hunters feel ejectors are another thing to go wrong – in other words, keep it simple.
Out came the huge Kynoch .470 Nitro Express rounds in solid and soft point, kindly supplied by Kynamco. My immediate thought was for my poor old shoulder, as these rounds have a 500-grain bullet, being pushed out at 2,150fps, not forgetting the 5,000ft/lb of energy. I put on an extra layer to give my lean frame a chance of being able to shoot more rifles in the future for this magazine.
With the use of sticks, the time of reckoning could not be put off any longer. I must admit I snatched the trigger on my first shot, but one can describe the recoil as a large but firm push, as opposed to an almighty kick as experienced with shooting, for instance, a .338 Lap Mag. Well, maybe it was a bit of both.
At 70 yards, I achieved a 3in group and with practice, I am sure I could improve, but eight shots was all that I could put up with without the need to rest my aching shoulder, let alone my starting to flinch in anticipation of the recoil. Krieghoff takes pride in the design of the stock, combined with the larger pistol grip, and folding front trigger blade, as all these features allow the rifle to handle the immense recoil very effectively. It seemed a little strange that the rifle had no ejectors, but as soon as it was tilted over, out slid the spent cases. I can understand why they are so popular in the close bush thanks to the short barrels, making it very pointable and easy to shoulder very quickly.
This is the first time I have tested a double rifle in .470 NE and I was pleased to have the opportunity, but I learned one important fact. You cannot expect to pick one up quickly and wander off into the bushveld thinking you will easily kill your quarry. Despite the immense power and simplicity of these rifles, lots of practice is essential. It does not matter if you have open or closed optical sights – to make an accurate shot, you need a technique that is somewhat different to the normal bolt-action rifle. It does not stop there – reloading under pressure, understanding the bullet drop over very short and longer distances, are important factors if you have a large angry beast running towards you.
These are specialised rifles that appeal to a small portion of hunters, but if you find the opportunity to pick one up, study the engineering and embellishments, and you will see why they have that special attraction. A sincere thanks to Kynamco for supplying the rather expensive ammunition for calibres such as this. TP
Model tested: Classic Big Five Double .470 NE
Price range: From £6,000
Contact: Alan Rhone 01978 660001 www.alanrhone.com