Why I No Longer Defend The .458 Winchester Magnum

Badboymelvin

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Hi guys.

Here is a short article I wrote a while ago and I thought I'd post it for you to have a look at.


Why I no longer defend the .458 Winchester Magnum.

For more years than I can remember I have been an staunch fan of the .458 Winchester Magnum. Always have been, always will be and it is my personal favourite amongst the current crops of big bores.
But I have to state right now that I hold no sort of caliber racism. I have owned a few big caliber rifles, a .375H&H, .375 Weatherby and two .458's and loved them all.
I like the .458 Lott and I love the .404. I also like the various .416's and would own and stake my life on any of the above. It's just that the poor old .458 still cops a bashing whenever it's mentioned and the old girl just doesn't deserve it. It's a throughly capable caliber and a hunter using one can comfortably stake his life on it hunting any animal that walks the earth.
Having owned 2 rifles chambered for the .458WM at least I can speak from experience (even of it is somewhat limited) about the round.
I have not been able to fault either rifle and I have never experienced any problems when reloading the .458.
Despite all the positive experiences I've had with the .458 Winchester Magnum I can now no longer defend it.

Why not?

Because there's no point. I'm sick of getting into arguments with people!
People either don't listen - or they've already made up their mind about the .458 Winchester. I end up just getting frustrated, so now I don't really bother.
Instead of arguing about the .458 Winchester magnum I'm going to go out with mine and shoot big animals with it!
"Its poorly designed"
"It was all there was at the time"
"Lacks penetration"
"Too slow"
"Not powerful enough"
"Not enough case capacity"
"Caked powder and poor bullets"
"At least in a magnum length action it can be converted to the Lott"

Heard 'em all and to be honest I'm just tired of it... and I don't agree with any of the above.
(Well, except the poor bullets. In the day some of the bullets were shockers. Blew apart and were undersized.. true sick leave material.)

I have no shares or stakes in Winchester. I had no part in the design of the .458. I didn't invent the round, so if people choose to use or not use it, it's of no consequence to me. My feelings aren't going to get hurt, BUT, what does get me upset is when someone, usually someone new to Big Bores, buys a perfectly good rifle in .458 and then converts to the Lott - usually without even firing the rifle first! They buy a perfectly capable round and then convert it and all because 'experts' tell them that it HAS to be converted to the Lott for it to be effective on DG. Or to make it reliable. Or because some of ammo that was manufactured 50+ ago was suspect!!
That'd be me like me saying "yeah, I drove a Chrysler 50 years and because of a bad experience I'll never drive one again!!"
I'll be honest and say that I just don't get that kind of reasoning.

To put it in perspective, how many people buy a .30-06 for deer/ elk and then without firing it, get it converted to .30-06 Ackley Improved? Or buy a .300 Win Mag and then instantly get it converted to .300 Weatherby? Not too many that I've met.

Now don't get me wrong, if someone wants a Ackley, or a Weatherby, or a Lott then that's great. Good luck with your rifle and I'm sure that it'll serve you well.
BUT, if someone buys one because they feel that the original cartridges aren't up to the task - because they were told (or read something online) by an 'expert' that says they're not, that's a real shame.

As far as the .458 stories go, the most prevalent one is in regards to the caked powder/ squib loads that the .458 is famous (or is that infamous) for.
Now, to say this didn't happen is a lie. It did and I have no doubt that it got many a person in serious trouble... or worse.
The most common cause I hear for this is because of 'compressed ball powder' that glues together under the African heat and doesn't ignite properly.
The funny thing is that according to Winchester the original rounds WERE NOT loaded with ball powder! Winchester only changed to ball powder in the .458 some time in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s and this FIXED the problem! Before then, the .458 was loaded with a cylindrical, short-grain double-base powder.

A gentleman by the name of Georg Grohmann also wrote about this in detail. He wrote a great article while working up loads for his .458 and quoting;
"But contrary to popular belief in certain quarters, old (1970s) Winchester ammo was not loaded with ball powder, but with a small-log, cylindrical, double base powder. None of the cartridges I had for testing contained compressed powder, neither was it caked. It was, however, cemented by chemical action. There were also undersize bullets. The end results were, in some cases, disastrous. Not only were velocities much reduced (as low as 1856 fps in my tests) but there were both hang fires and misfires! But it was NOT ball powder, neither was it compressed! There was about 1 mm of space between powder and bullet in the solid loads and about 2 mm in the softpoint loads. It was a short-grain, cylindrical, extruded double-base powder, resembling IMR 4320 in shape and size. (IMR powders are single-base, of course)."

Not good, not good at all, but also NOT due to caked ball powder. He goes on to further write;

"As for ball powder ‘caking’ in compressed loads, this is another very persistent story. All I can say here is that I have been loading Win/Olin 748 ball powder in my .458 since October 1974. In unfired cases, my standard load is slightly compressed, yet I have never had a problem. In 2002, in order to check up on this, I disassembled some .458/748 loads, which I had put together in 1982! There was a little clumping of the powder, but no more than in cartridges I checked six months after loading. These rounds were re-assembled and then chronographed together with some cartridges, which had not been disturbed. Average MV was 2060 fps, exactly the same as what I got in 1982, when I checked some of the same batch of reloads."

So why then the bad performance of the .458 years and years ago?
Well let's see, there's the stick powder having a chemical reaction and clumping together - even though it wasn't compressed, the original 'solids' blowing apart and being undersize. The production line spilling powder from the empty shells before the bullet was seated. (Yes this really happened and Winchester documented it!!)
The 'glue' that held the bullet in place (yes, some companies glued the bullets in place) leaked in the case and interfered with the proper combustion of the powder.
These problems have been fixed (decades ago!!) and it's a testament to the round's reliable performance on game that it's still so popular.

What about the stories I hear about the .458 being not powerful enough for the really big stuff, like elephant? Well, I've never shot an elephant and unless I win the lottery I probably never will. But I do own a chronograph. And I know that a 500gr bullet at between 2050 - 2200 fps will kill any elephant under any condition. I know this because even though I've never shot an elephant, Grobler, Harland, Aagaard, Duckworth and Thomson have. Around 20,000 actually and all with the 458wm.
And I also know that today, it's no problem to drive a 500gr bullet at these speeds, without super compressing (not that I think compressed loads are bad) or without sky high pressure.
In fact the ADI loading manual lists the following STARTING loads for the .458 (in a 24" barrel) with the 500gr bullet, 70grs of AR2208 (Varget) for 2050fps and 70grs of AR 2206H (H4895) for 2070fps.
These starting loads are as powerful as the factory ammo that culled 20,000 elephants, yet are not compressed and are very mild pressure wise. The .458 would probably be the most popular big bore here in Australia for hunting water buffalo and the such, and I'll tell you, in summertime up the Northern Territory, it gets as hot up there as anywhere in Africa. The loads that are listed in Australian manuals with Aussie ADI powders show that speeds up to 2205fps are possible (74grs AR2206H) without excess pressure and the N.T is where they are field tested.
I don't think that 2050 - 2200fps is to slow for anything that a .458 caliber rifle would be used on. It compares very favourably to the .470 Nitro and would probably surpasses it if the .470 was chronographed in the more realistic 24- 26" barrel instead of the usual 28+" the .470 is usually credited with. Even if the .470 was 50fps or so quicker than the .458 the .458 has a higher S.D when both are fired with 500gr bullets. So on game they would be pretty much identical... except that the .458 can do it in a standard action - not a magnum. This is why I think that the .458 Winchester Magnum ISN'T a poorly designed round. Nitro performance out of a .30-06 sized action. What's not to like?

But what if you do have a .458 in a Magnum sized action like I do with my CZ550 Safari Magnum?
Well according to the experts it simply makes sense to convert it to the Lott and it's a pretty cheap conversion. Well not getting it done is cheaper again!
One can load to an OAL of 3.8 in the CZ and all you need is a Lee Factory Crimp Die. They're about $15-20! At this OAL they are the same length as the Lott and have the same case capacity. That means in a CZ, they're pretty much the same thing.
The original load that was recommended to me for my CZ taking advantage of the longer action was the 550gr Woodleigh and 74grs of AR2206. This load gives 2100 fps and over 5300 ft/lbs of energy. There wouldn't be many situations where this would be lacking for dangerous game.
(Although I must admit now, I favour the lighter non-con bullets over the 500-550gr nowadays, CEB, Northforks and Woodleigh Hydro's)
So before converting it to the Lott, why not just seat the bullets out deeper in the .458 Winchester and see how you go? Brass and components are cheaper and factory ammo is a lot more common. I know that WM ammo can be used in the Lott but if you're going to use factory ammo, I'd just use the WM as is. And remember that factory ammo culled all those elephant years ago...

A lot of people buy a Lott and load it down to the the proven standard 480-500gr bullet at 2150fps. This is a sound idea as it is about ideal for DG and also lessens recoil quite a bit. Pressure would also be very low to boot. But one can also load the WM to this velocity and stay under pressure. And really, under pressure is under pressure. As long as it's under all will be fine. Personally I would not consider to re chamber my rifle to another caliber that essentially does the same thing but with 5000psi less pressure. Especially when both are under max anyway.
The .458 of today is a totally different kettle of fish to the one 50 odd years ago. All the horror stories that rightly or wrongly dogged the cartridge, such as squib loads, not enough velocity, to high pressure, not enough case capacity are just that. Ancient stories now.

Another thing that can't be underestimated is recoil. The .458 has plenty of it as it is!
A lot of people find the jump up from the WM to the Lott, Ackley, etc.. just to much. In fact a lot of people find the WM to much and are better off with a .375. Recoil is just one of those things.. it means different things to different people. But I think that we can all agree that for hunting, one MUST be able to shoot their rifle well and one MUST not be scared of it and flinch. Flinching causes wounded game, which in turn causes pain and suffering for the animal and potential danger for the hunter - especially when the big 5 are in question.

I will always stand by the statement that on game, the .458WM will do ANYTHING anyone could want in a .458 bore.
Modern powders and bullets have made it better than ever and if the .458WM of 2014 isn't a dangerous game caliber, then nothing else is either.
Having said that I totally understand why someone would want something different.
.416's, .470's, .404's.. I mean why not? They all work. They're all fun. Go for it!

So this is why I no longer defend about the .458 Winchester Magnum.

I don't need to.

It has probably killed more dangerous game than any other cartridge and is now beyond criticism.
People like Don Heath and Craig Boddington, who previously, were very outspoken about their dislike of the .458 have now called a truce with it. Why? Because there is nothing to criticise.. and there hasn't been for some time. Don Heath states that today there is nothing wrong with the .458 and Craig Boddington credits the .458 "as the gun that saved Africa".
But I think that Craig sums up the .458 nicely with the following post;
"Even though (years ago) Winchester boldly dropped the .458 Winchester Magnum, it needs to stay. It is still the least expensive option for a true big bore, and despite the current popularity of .458-bashing, it is absolutely adequate for the world’s largest game."

And I couldn't agree more.


Picture posted by @TMS...Here is a pic of 458, client used it on his buffalo, one shot on the shoulder..
IMAG0044.JPG
 
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BnC 04

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Enjoyed the article Melvin, well written and holds several truths. I love my 458 WM although I prefer my Lott. Like you stated, it all boils down to user preference. In the end, dead is dead and the "originals" will continue to achieve the end result as will the "newest" hybrids...
 

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Read this article before and I do believe it is dead on. Particularly with the high weight retaining bullets we have available to us.
 

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The truth, I have used my .458wm as a back up rifle for long, few times saved my skin. Never had it failed me. Only recently started using a .500 NE in its place, not that it was needed. The winnie is a wonderfull dangerous game rifle.
 

Badboymelvin

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The truth, I have used my .458wm as a back up rifle for long, few times saved my skin. Never had it failed me. Only recently started using a .500 NE in its place, not that it was needed. The winnie is a wonderfull dangerous game rifle.

Thanks for the reply. It's replies like this that I really value. From someone who's been there and done that.
I'm glad that your .458 served you well and it's great to hear that the old girl still has what it takes in regards to DG!
 

spike.t

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I tend to agree. Modern propellants and modern advancements in bullet construction tend to render any former short-comings moot.
 

tarbe

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I though you said you were going to quit defending the .458 WM? ;)

It is clear the cartridge works. It is also clear there were some issues in the early days that have been overcome, and the case capacity is marginal for the bore/heavier bullet weights (500gr & up).

I defend the 300 and 375 H&H Magnums against newer, more modern, larger capacity late-comers....so I get it! We don't always have to be perfectly rational when it comes to our cartridge selections/biases. :cool:

Long live the .458 Winchester Magnum (and the .375 H&H, and the 300 H&H, and the .358 Winchester, and the 450 NE.....).
 

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Melvin . . . an excellent article in support of a fine cartridge!
 

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I really enjoyed the article. Thanks for sharing!
 

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Well written/thought provoking article.

Thanks.
 

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Thank you Melvin. Based on your writings anyone should see its a great round and very capable of doing whatever job you ask of it. There will be a few who stick to what they think no matter what and say it's no good. Keep shooting what you like sir!
 

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Thank you Melvin. Based on your writings anyone should see its a great round and very capable of doing whatever job you ask of it. There will be a few who stick to what they think no matter what and say it's no good. Keep shooting what you like sir!

Thanks mate! (y)
 

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Fantastic read, if I am hunting elephant myself, I use my 375H&H , BUT when I back up with a client, I carry my 458wm. My 458 is a Styer, only weighs 7.5 pounds and great for those long walks, yes it sure kicks like a mule on steriods, but truthfully I only feel the kick when shooting paper, never felt a thing on the real deal. Not sure if I would agree with Craig, that the 458wm is the gun that saved Africa, that goes to the 375 H&H in my opinion. Thank for a great read.
 

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I have used the 458 win mag exclusively as my PH rifle for close to 18 years of big game hunting. It has never let me down. Only in the last number of years have I started using doubles. Its still one of my favorite rifles and it still sees action every now and again.
 

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