I think it’s safe to say that when it comes to ammunition companies, Federal and Hornady are the most dynamic. Seldom does a year go by that both companies don’t introduce innovative bullets, loads, or specialty calibers available nowhere else. This is especially true when it comes to big bore calibers and loads for dangerous game.
Take Federal’s Premium Safari line, for example. There are currently 43 loads ranging from 9.3×62 Mauser to .500 Nitro Express loaded with Trophy Bonded Bear Claws and Sledgehammer Solids; Swift A-Frames, and Barnes Triple-Shock X-Bullets. And joining the line this year is the innovative Woodleigh Hydro Solid, a non-expanding bullet that is said to deliver more hydrostatic shock than conventional solids. In other words, it is a non-expanding bullet, yet it delivers a larger diameter wound cavity and the same penetration than a conventional solid. How do dey do dat?
Well, for starters, it’s a monolithic copper-alloy bullet with multiple pressure relief bands along the bearing surface; as such it’s very similar to a Barnes X-Bullet. However, there is no hole down the middle of the nose to initiate expansion like on an X-Bullet. Instead, there is a black polycarbonate cap of round-nose configuration that is designed to disintegrate on impact, exposing the ugliest, most un-aerodynamic (if there is such a word), bullet I’ve ever seen! At this point I’ll save my limited descriptive powers and simply refer to the accompanying photo. Federal describes it as a “concave nose ahead of a flared pressure ring that stabilizes the bullet’s line of travel through tissue and bone.”
With the polycarbonate nose gone, the bullet itself reminds me of a wad cutter bullet designed to cut round holes in paper targets, which is counterintuitive to the idea of deep penetration. I mean, which would you think would penetrate deeper, the typical round-nose profile of a conventional solid, or a wadcutter? Beats me, but the Woodleigh people must know something we don’t. In either case, Federal Premium Safari is offering the Hydro Solid in 9.3×62 Mauser, 9.3x74R, .370 Sako Magnum, .375 H&HG, .416 Rigby and Rem. Magnum, .458 Lott and Win. Magnum, .470 and .500 Nitro Express.
Close behind Federal in dangerous game loadings is Hornady with 32, ranging from 9.3×62 to .500 Nitro Express. Among other offerings from Hornady not covered by Federal is the .376 Steyr, .375 Ruger, .404 Jeffery, .416 Ruger, .450 and .450-400 Nitro Express. If just 10 years ago you would have told me that calibers like those mentioned here would be available from major American ammo manufacturers, I would have thought you daft. Just goes to show how much interest in double rifles, African and metric calibers has grown in recent years.
In other Hornady offerings, their Superformance line continues to grow to where there are now 69 loadings ranging from the .223 Rem. to .444 Marlin. This is the line that produces velocities up to 200 fps faster than conventional loadings (even Hornady’s own), without extra chamber pressures, recoil, muzzle blast, temperature sensitivity, fouling, or loss of accuracy. Quite a claim, but through the use of progressive propellants and advanced loading techniques they seem to make good their claim, at least that’s been my experience over the three short years Superformance has been around.
▪ ▪ ▪
One of the beefs I used to have about rifles coming out of Europe — primarily Germany and Austria — was that they refused to make concessions to American taste by exporting the same models they sold there at home. I’m talking about stocks with drooping comb lines, angular cheek pieces, cuckoo clock carvings and sliver-like forends. I don’t know if it was the result of not selling enough guns here to justify the expense of producing a stock specifically for the American market, or that they simply felt their way was right and we’d eventually see the light. Either way, cracking the largest market in the world is tough enough without such a handicap going in.
I’m happy to say that that situation has changed and we’re now seeing guns coming out of middle Europe with stocks that look like pretty much like we expect them to look. Blaser is a good example of what I’m talking about. This year they’ve introduced a model they’re calling the Classic Sporter, which to my eyes is the best rendering of the Neo-classic stock I’ve yet seen coming out of Germany. Blaser, of course, is well known to SCI members, as they comprise the largest block of Blaser owners by far. The current R8’s revolutionary straight-pull action in conjunction with a unique radial locking lug is about as far removed from the `98 Mauser-type action we still cling to here, yet still qualify as a “bolt action” rifle.
Anyway, the Classic Sporter looks like it could come out of the finest London shop or from a top American custom gun builder. Blaser describes the stock as having a parallel comb, a Prince of Wales grip, and a Rigby-style cheek piece. Actually, the comb is not parallel to the bore; it drops ½” from the point of the comb to the heel of the butt, but that’s nit picking. As for having a Prince of Wales grip, that, too, is questionable. This grip has a shallower curve than normal and is finished in a cap, but most cognoscenti would argue that a POW grip is rounded off at the bottom with no edges and is more closely associated with shotguns. And the Rigby-style cheek piece? Yeah, I’ll go with that; it’s egg-shaped rather than its shadow line disappearing as it blends in with the comb flute, which is the style we’re accustomed to here.
Whatever you want to call these various styling features, this is one gorgeous stock of highly figured Turkish Walnut with classic point pattern checkering and a hand-filling flat oval forend. Completing the furniture are inlaid swivel studs, an ebony forend tip, and a rubber butt pad.
▪ ▪ ▪
For the first time in Dakota Arms’ 27-year history the company is now offering its flagship Model 76 bolt action rifle with something other than a Walnut stock. Yep, the new Professional Hunter as they’re calling it, is the first 76 to wear a composite fiberglass stock. If truth be told, this newest Dakota 76 is nothing more than the existing African model set into a synthetic stock. It had to happen, as there’s just too much to be said for the strength, durability and practicality of a laid-up fiberglass stock (as opposed to an injection-molded one). There are definitely people out there who appreciate and are willing to pay for the quality and features of the 76 — the Mauser-type controlled-round feed, extraction and ejection — but are more concerned with functionality than with cosmetics. African-bound rifles especially are subjected to rough handling as they’re passed around, racked and unracked, by trackers, skinners, and camp staff dozens of times each day. Those beautiful walnut stocks so synonymous with the 76 simply do not accept the dings and skuffs with the same grace as a synthetic.
As already stated, as a replica of the African model, the PH stock has the same silhouette and geometry, right down to the cheekpiece, the open grip curve that has always been a hallmark of Dakota stocks, and the dropped magazine box that enables the gun to store and extra back-up cartridge. The entire barreled action, including the bolt and extractor, are finished in Cerakote™, which looks very much like rust blue, but is far more corrosion resistant. Like any well designed dangerous game rifle, the PH is equipped with an excellent set of iron sights. The front consists of a barrel band affair with a fiber optic and a locking but removable hood that is ventilated at either side to further illuminate the sight. The standing rear sight, which is windage adjustable, is a machined chunk of solid steel and fully capable of withstanding the hard life of a safari rifle. The front swivel stud is of the barrel band type, which is proper for any heavy-recoiling rifle.
The example sent to us for T&E was chambered for the iconic .375 H&H, one of 7 chamberings offered; the others being .404 Jeffery, .416 Rem., .416 Rigby, .458 Lott, .450 Dakota and .450 Rigby. I believe the Professional Hunter will prove to be a welcomed addition to the Dakota 76 line. And those of you who already own an African, you can always send the barreled action back to Dakota and have it fitted with a PH stock. That way you’ll have one for show, and one for go.– Jon R. Sundra