By Philip Massaro
To me, dangerous game represents some of the most exciting hunting on the planet. It requires long travels, usually to a very remote part of our world, where the faces, customs and languages are all foreign to me. And, most of the time, it requires a firearm that is different than your typical deer rifle. When you measure the weight of your quarry in tons, when it possesses the ability to bite you in half, fatally gore you with its horns or tusks, or simply squash you into the red African dust like a withered grape, I feel comfortable knowing I have the best tool available to get the job done.
Hailing back to the era of black powder cartridges and surviving the transition to smokeless powder, the .500 caliber rifles have been relied upon for well over 125 years. Though traditionally more popular in India than it was in Africa, the .500 3” Nitro Express certainly proved its value in the hands of hunters – both Professionals and visiting – across the Dark Continent. Driving a 570-grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2,150 fps, the .500 NE represents the next level of performance over those cartridges in the .450 NE - .500/465 - .470 NE class.
It was the preferred cartridge of famous Kenyan Professional Hunter John A. Hunter – a man who killed more rhinos than anyone ever will again – in the golden age of safaris, and is still in use by PHs today; my buddy Tanzanian PH Peter Dafner relies on his Heym .500 NE to keep his anatomy on its current configuration.
The .500 NE 3” cartridge in use today was preceded by a couple of black powder cartridges with the same diameter bullets – 0.510”. At 570-grains, the .500s bullet has a Sectional Density value of 0.313, making for excellent penetration, even at the close ranges at which this cartridge is predominately used. Undoubtedly, the .500 NE is a stopping rifle, and will shine when the shots are close; 50 to 75 yards is a pretty good maximum range for this cartridge. Inside that distance however, the .500 NE represents a great blend of stopping power – it generates 5,850 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy – and a rifle that is easy to carry, especially when compared to the double rifles chambered for .577 NE, .600 NE and the behemoth .700 NE. Rifle weight usually runs around 12 pounds for a well made .500 Nitro, while the larger calibers can be as much as five pounds heavier.
The .500 Nitro Express was designed for the largest game – elephant, hippo, rhino and Cape buffalo and water buffalo – and it fills that role perfectly. It will generate some impressive recoil, perhaps more than the average hunter can handle, but if a shooter can learn to handle the big three-inch cartridge, he or she has one helluva insurance policy in their hands. In comparison to the cartridges in the .450 to .470 class, the larger frontal diameter and increased bullet weight will make an appreciable and visible difference upon impact, especially where elephant are concerned.
As a buffalo cartridge, the .500 hits like a sledgehammer, but with one caveat: even well-constructed softpoints may exit on a buffalo bull, so take care to make sure your bull has a clear path behind him before tickling the trigger.
Historically, the .500 Nitro Express suffered from the forgotten-middle-child syndrome; it wasn’t nearly as popular as the lesser-recoiling .450 and .470, and was overshadowed among the huge bores like the .577 and .600. However, while many of the .450-class cartridges, like the .475NE, the .500/465, the .476 NE and others, have faded into obscurity, the .500 NE is hanging on, and actually seeing a resurgence in popularity.
Norma loads a great pair of bullets for the .500 Nitro Express 3”: the Woodleigh Weldcore softpoint and the Woodleigh Full Metal Jacket, both at 570 grains. While our rhino hunting has all but come to an end, the Full Metal Jacket load is absolutely perfect for elephant hunting, and that excellent Weldcore softpoint will handle all other game on earth. Loaded in nickel-plated cases to resist tarnishing in the tropical heat – I know my sweaty hands will tarnish brass cases in a hurry in Africa –
Norma’s African PH line of ammunition will regulate perfectly in a double rifle of any era, and that duo of Woodleigh bullets will only serve to make a great cartridge even better.