Two cartridges for Aussie big game
Some years ago, while preparing for a hunting trip to Canada, I began evaluating various calibres suitable to hunt North American game. To date I had been using a .270 Winchester to great effect but the barrel needed replacing or I required a new rifle. A visit to my local gunshop, Owen Guns, soon sorted my dilemma out.
They had traded an almost new left-hand Savage Weather Warrior in .338 Winchester Mag. At the range, my new acquisition was not fussy about what I fed it, shooting factory or handloads as well as each other. Once in Canada the .338 Win Mag proved to be a good choice, as I took a white-tailed deer, a mule deer, a cinnamon coloured black bear and a bison bull.
On my return to Australia the .338 Win Mag was used for everything, from pigs to buffalo. Until Remington announced the release of its .338 Reminton Ultra Magnum (RUM). There was something about this behemoth that had real appeal to me. With this in mind I attended the Brisbane SSAA SHOT Expo. Tony Argent, of Total Solutions Engineering, had a stand and to my delight, he also had a 26” 338 barrel on special.
Shortly after, I owned a .338 RUM. My Savage required little work to accommodate the long case of the .338 RUM, whose parent case is the 404 Jefferies. Within days my .338 RUM was spitting copper down the range and producing some impressive ballistics and groups.
Soon after acquiring my .338 RUM, I was preparing to go to Zimbabwe on a plains game hunt. Prior to my departure, I was asked by an acquaintance to guide for buffalo in the NT for six weeks. This enabled me to trial my new asset on some rather stout and heavily-boned animals, the Asiatic water buffaloes.
While the proprietor of the outfitting service travelled to Darwin to collect clients, I was left to my own devices at camp for two days. Early one morning, a good bull waltzed past. I grabbed the 338 RUM and crept to about 30m. Aiming directly at the shoulder I fired, buckling the bull instantly. A quick insurance shot was delivered as a precaution. Every opportunity over the next few weeks as the .338 RUM was put to use, my confidence in the calibre grew with each shot.
Once in Zimbabwe my faith in the .338 RUM mag was validated. It took a blue wildebeest at 300m with one shot. An eland, zebra and warthog all helped to prove this calibre’s worth to me. On my return from Zimbabwe I began using the .338 RUM for deer hunting. A number of kill shots on samba hinds and two stags and numerous red deer tells me that with correct shot placement, the .338 RUM is a great deer hunting calibre.
With unfinished business in Africa, I was soon planning a visit to Namibia. Once there, the .338 performed unequivocally, accounting for a huge Cape eland, over a ton of muscle and bone plus a number of other species from distances of 30m to 400m. The .338 RUM proved versatile, hit hard and penetrated deeply. With the right projectiles it is capable of smashing the heaviest of bone on its way to the vitals. As a long-range hunting rifle it has few peers. There is something special about a calibre that sends a 200-plus-grain projectile downrange at velocities over 3000fps.
On a recent sojourn to the Northern Territory, my hunting partner Tobias used his .338 RUM to great effect. A large trophy bull had been spotted on the periphery of a dry swamp about a kilometre away. After a long stalk, Tobias procured a rest on a tree but the wind changed, taking our scent only seconds to reach the bull. Immediately the bull began to rise, unfortunately at the exact instant Tobias fired.
Regrettably, the bullet hit horn delivering the bull a fright and maybe a headache. The bull ran 50m, then stopped and looked back towards the annoyance that had disturbed its slumber. That was a fatal mistake, as one well-placed shot dropped the bull like the hammer of Thor.
It was my intention to return to Africa to hunt the mighty Cape buffalo. This is one of the most cantankerous animals a hunter can pit themselves against. With the .338 RUM not legal for black death, the search for a suitable dangerous game rifle began. In 2008 Hornady and Ruger announced the release of their joint venture, the .416 Ruger. This cartridge was designed to duplicate the .416 Rigby in ballistics using a shorter, fatter cartridge fitting any 30/06 length action. This meant replicating Rigby ballistics in a 20” barrel with a specially blended powder not available to the public.
My 7mm Rem Mag Winchester Classic in left-handed required rebarrelling, so a 26” barrel in .416 Ruger was chosen. Around this time a friend had gifted me a Leupold VXIII in 1.5-4. Sadly, this scope had a couple of problems, as both the optical and objective lenses had chips in them. I packed the scope off to Leupold in the USA. Three weeks later I had the scope in my hand with a description of its refurbishment. The only original part left was the optical bell, all for the cost of postage.
After marrying scope and rifle and having both Cerakoted, load development began. According to my reloading data, my loads produced a maximum velocity with a 400-grain projectile of 2489fps with a five-shot average of 2479fps duplicating the Rigby, without the need for a specially blended powder. It has been my experience that this calibre is another not fussy about loads.
Her first victim was a scrub bull. We had set up camp then stole an afternoon hunt. It was mid-September, with conditions hot and dry. We walked by a few water-holes to be met by dried mud hollows. Moving further into the bush we found a large water-hole with abundant sign of activity.
With daylight quickly fading, a bull roared. Sitting tight at the water’s edge looking up at the bushy bank opposite, a bull meandered toward us browsing shrubs. As the bull broadsided me, with sights fixed on the point of his shoulder I fired. He hunched then staggered two or three steps and piled up dead.
While caping the bull I came across my bullet. It had travelled diagonally up from behind the point of the near shoulder, through to the far side breaking the scapular and coming to rest under the skin of the off shoulder. During its passage the projectile lost one petal, it weighed in at an impressive 389.3-grains of the original 400, expanding to .684”.
Since then the .416 Ruger had been used in a big game competition and travelled south with me, accounting for a samba hind. Our trip to the NT was about to end her limited use. Keen to shoot a true trophy bull saw me passing many opportunities on lesser animals. Late one afternoon the Ruger earned its chance. With a bull presenting a slight quartering to me, from 60m and with one well-placed shot, the bull left this world for eternity.
Aiming a fraction forward of my preferred shot, my bullet took out the heart and the rear of the far lung. It travelled approximately 3½ft through flesh and bone to be lodged just under the skin on the off side almost level with the diaphragm. On retrieval, the 400-grain Barnes had four neatly shaped petals forming an X. Of its original 400-grain, 399.7 had been retained, expanding to an imposing .696”.
The .416 Ruger when sighted spot-on at 90m has a -6.1” drop at 180m; -21.9” at 270m, so it could easily double as a plains game rifle. Velocity is 2400fps/5116ft-lb at the muzzle; 2143fps/4077 ft-lb at 100 yards. In the right hands I am confident it would end the charge of any dangerous game animal.
In conclusion the .338 RUM and .416 Ruger are two very different calibres, both extremely effective in their own right. Of all the calibres I have used over the years for buffaloes from .270 Win to .375 H&H none are better than the .338 RUM or the .416 Ruger. If you are needing a rifle for big game in Australia from short to extreme ranges, you could do a lot worse than the .338 RUM. If it is a dangerous game rifle for Africa you want, a .416 Ruger may be ideal and if your African trip is delayed, you won’t find better for Asiatic buffaloes or scrub bulls.
The topic of calibre and bullet selection is subjective, as most calibres are capable of killing any animal with good shot placement. That said, we all tend to favour one over another. These are only two of many of my favourite calibres for big game in Australia. I am a firm believer in what Robert Ruark penned many years ago when he hunted Africa. ‘Use Enough Gun’.