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The .450 Nitro Express
Charlie Haley
~This round, one of the greatest and best dangerous game cartridges ever devised, was also the first. Not the first dangerous game calibre, but the first to use the then new smokeless powder and jacketed bullets. It was a revelation, and took the hunting world by storm.~

(L-R) .450 N.E., .500/.450, .450 no.2, .465 and .470.
The .450 N.E. with some of its contemporaries. Left to right - .450 N.E., .500/.450, .450 no.2, .465 and .470. All have virtually the same performance.

Introduced by the famous British gunmaking firm of Rigby’s in 1898, it is astounding to think that it is now over 100 years old. Smokeless powder had come crashing into the shooting scene in 1886 with the French military 8 x 50R Lebel, which drove a jacketed bullet at previously unheard of velocities.

There was a general scramble among the major nations to adopt some equivalent smokeless powder jacketed smallbore round to replace the .45 calibre black powder lead bulleted cartridges then in vogue. Not too many years before these same .45 rounds were considered smallbores, and pretty advanced too. It is hard for us now to appreciate the startling new developments taking place at that time in history, when new developments would render all that had gone before obsolete virtually overnight.

By 1895 the British military had the .303 round, propelled by the new smokeless Cordite nitro powder, and the Lee-Enfield rifle. Hunters immediately took to these new smallbore wonders with their amazing velocity and penetration, and found that on general game they were the best thing since cheese biscuits. However, when dealing with heavy dangerous game, hunters were suddenly finding themselves killed, or at least finding that their general physiques had been re-arranged in a most distressing fashion by large animals which remained less than impressed with these new marvels, and could not be persuaded otherwise. The penetration was generally there, but something more was needed.

Article continues below.

Enter the .450 Nitro Express. Rigby’s utilised the already existing (and highly popular) .450 Black Powder Express case, loaded it with 70 grains of Cordite and topped it off with a 480 grain jacketed bullet. This happy combination launched said bullet at 2150 fps, and was found to be absolutely ideal. Now one had the velocity and penetration of smokeless powder and jacketed bullets combined with adequate bullet weight and calibre, which made it a reliable and dependable performer on the largest game animals on the planet. One could now duplicate and even exceed the performance of the old 4-bore and 8-bore black powder cannons in a slim, trim and light recoiling rifle. Anyone who has carried an MAG around (or an M-60 or whatever) will know what it must have been like lugging one of these black powder behemoths. The recoil from these monsters was also quite capable of knocking the firer over if due attention was not given to stance and hold. The .450 Nitro-Express must have seemed like the answer to a great many fervent prayers.

Go to Page: 1 2 3 Related Articles: 450/400 Nitro Express
African Hunter Vol.5 No.2 April 1999
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