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The .450 Nitro Express - Charlie Haley

After World War II, all of the old British heavy rifles and calibres went into a significant decline. Britain's economy was in ruins, there was virtually no domestic sporting rifle market, gunmaking firms were folding one by one and ammunition for surviving rifles became harder and harder to find. The Americans cottoned onto the post-war safari and wanted suitable heavy rifles to take with to Africa. Doubles were hard to find, very expensive and un-American. What was needed was a bolt action that duplicated the performance of the great old British heavies. Winchester chose to duplicate the performance of the .450 Nitro-Express with a modern belted round in its magnificent Model 70 rifle, the result being the amazingly popular .458 Winchester Magnum. It looked like the end of the road for the old British calibres, including the .450, despite imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. However, recent years have seen a tremendous increase of popularity and interest in the old British heavies. Brass and bullets of superlative quality are available, and the proud owner of a .450 is now able to shoot his treasure again. Even factory ammo is available again from the likes of Kynamco and others. A couple of very important caveats here:- original .450 Nitro-Expresses are getting very old, so have them checked out first and keep pressures low. The case capacity considerably exceeds that of even the .450 Ackley, but do not take that as licence to try and duplicate Ackley ballistics!

A double rifle with an old box of Kynoch ammo and an even older box of Kynoch ammo!
A double rifle with an old box of Kynoch ammo and an even older box of Kynoch ammo!

Also, make very sure that your rifle is not a .450 Black Powder Express. The case dimensions are identical to the Nitro version, and Nitro ammunition will generally fit well in black powder chambers. To fire such a combination will almost certainly destroy a fine old firearm (not to mention a fine old shooter, too), so donít!

Article continues below.

The .450 Nitro-Express is my favourite old double rifle cartridge. Were anyone to present me with the double of my choice, the .450 would be it. (Anyone out there listening?) Big enough without being too big, its slim dimensions allow the building of a rifle noticeably trimmer and lighter than similar calibres would allow. The case is big enough to allow full velocities at very moderate pressures with modern powders, yet is not so huge that case fillers have to be used to avoid erratic ignition. Alas, of all the old Nitro-Expresses it would seem that the one currently riding the crest of popularity is the .470. This is not to decry or malign the fine old .470, for of all the post-.450 developments it was the .470 which became the new standard and was the most popular after the .450 ban. However, it does nothing which the .450 cannot do. As stated earlier, ballistics are virtually identical - the .470 has 20 grains more bullet weight and 25 fps less velocity - and their terminal effect is the same. It does deny the original .450 its true recognition and place in the sun, however, and I find myself wishing that more shooters would pay the .450 more attention. Nonetheless, the .450 Nitro-Express will continue to be appreciated by that circle of cognoscenti who recognise that it was the first, the best in its class and all anyone would ever need when facing the most dangerous game on Earth.

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