For serious hunters of African big game, the choice of cartridge is usually one of compromise. Many of our old favourites (like the .450) were consigned to the scrap heap through legislative change. These changes usually gave birth to new cartridges, designed to work around the new law. They, in turn often became firm favourites in their own right.
So it was with the .470 NE, which was introduced to circumvent the British Empire restrictions that banned the then very popular .450 NE as a sporting cartridge, in 1907. The .470 NE is now one of the best loved cartridges for dangerous game available. However, for some, the extra punch of the .577 NE still holds a certain allure, despite its robust recoil and the heavy weight of the rifles made to carry it.
Some way between the two, sits the .500 Nitro Express; a bit lighter than the .577, a degree heavier than the .470; out powering the latter, while being more agile than the former. In many people's estimation, the .500 NE is the perfect compromise.
Conceived when Cordite replaced black powder at the end of the 19th century, the .500 NE is a straight-walled brass case topped with a 570 grain bullet, which it pushes at 2,150 fps. That is a good deal lighter than the .577 NE, with its 750 grain bullet at not much less speed but it is a bit punchier than the .470 NE with its 500 grain bullet travelling at the same exact speed.
Whatever the ballistic tables suggest, the .500 NE is a proven big game stopper and tests indicate it penetrates better than the .577 NE, which can be critical when dealing with big animals.
To tame the significant recoil, the rifle pictured here, No.20500, weighs a solid 11lbs 8oz. The rest of the rifle is designed to handle the cartridge comfortably and that design includes a properly robust action, as well as a Purdey-patent double under-bolt, teamed with a third-grip in the shape of the Westley Richards-patent bolted rib-extension and top-lever.
As most rifles of this size are used at close quarters, there is no provision for a 'scope. Rather, it has express and leaf sights, regulated for 50, 100 and 200 yards, mounted on a quarter-rib on the 25" chopper-lump barrels.
Although it is often, correctly, stated that a close-range double rifle is made to handle very much like a shotgun, in that it has to be fast and instinctive to shoulder, swing and fire, there are subtle differences in the build that are there to help deal with the power of the big rifle cartridges. These include a 'strap over comb', or elongated top-strap, teamed with a guard-strap which extends to the steel grip-cap. These steel protectors encapsulate the hand of the stock, making it less liable to recoil-induced stresses and subsequent cracks.
Westley Richards perfected this type of rifle a century ago but the modern iterations we now build exceed the build quality of the vintage rifles by some way. The Taylor-patent, hand-detachable locks are the same type we fitted to our 1897 model but the level of engraving and quality of walnut takes this 'Modele de Grand Luxe' to heights few of the earlier rifles scaled.
The incredibly neat, foliate and floral scrolls cut into the fences, action and furniture by Sam Faraway are world class. It is doubtful that anybody working today does it better.
Mid-way along the action bar, game scenes are encapsulated by scrolled borders. These feature rhino on the left and elephant on the right, each in fine detail. On the underside; gold-inlay depictions of buffalo, leopard and lion, by Vince Crowley, contrast with the generally silver and black aesthetic. Further, fine inlay to the maker's name, the express-sight triangle and yardage, and the serial number on the guard-strap, complete the decorative effect.
Other than the exquisite quality of the engraving, this rifle is pure business. It has an extra set of pierced locks, ready to slip into place if a malfunction should occur. With its 25" barrels, two triggers, manual safety and Silver's recoil pad, it is all about action and the delivery of power down-range at short notice with the minimum of fuss.
It will arrive with its owner fitted in best oak and leather buffalo-hide case with horn-handled tools.
In all, a beautifully proportioned, exquisitely presented example of the best rifle a dangerous game hunter could wish for.