M’Butha spread the sticks, cigarette in mouth to check the wind, and nodded toward the bull. Not twenty yards away stood twelve feet of elephant in musth, weeping gland clearly visible, and PH “Cowboy” Tim Schultz smiling slightly and nodding in affirmation. “In his heart” was all he had to whisper. My hands, gripping slightly more than normal around the gentle, sloping pistol grip and forend of the Heym .404, eased that delicate marriage of walnut and steel onto the length of rubber-coated bamboo. I could hear the song of the red-eyed dove in the still of the morning, knowing that stillness was about to be shattered. I saw the gold bead settle into the rear sight, just at the top of that little white line in the middle of the wide, shallow “V,” and it seemed to gravitate to the bull’s shoulder. I remember concentrating on the hold, while it seemed like some other force squeezed that sweet trigger, knowing that all I had to do was keep that bead where it belonged.
I don’t remember the recoil, or even cycling the action, but I do remember the effect of a 400-grain Woodleigh Hydrostatically Stabilized solid: the bull went backward five paces, nearly dropped onto his haunches, yet recovered. The second shot sealed the deal, and he piled up within 15 yards. By that time, the rifle and I had become one unit, an inseparable machine. The congratulatory slaps on the back and multiple handshakes made the moment all the more special.
My old friend Danie Wingard, a fine PH in his own right, was along on this safari in Zimbabwe with me and, as he threw his arm over my shoulder in celebration, told me, “That .404 is magic. Your first shot nearly put him off his feet, do yourself a favor: hang onto that rifle.” I couldn’t have agreed more.
As a gun writer, I have the opportunity to use many different rifles, and I own several (including by beloved Model 70 in .416 Remington) that might have fit the bill for this safari. I booked the multi-country hunt through deMoulpied & Son Outdoor Adventures, and Dave deMoulpied set me up with a short plains game hunt with Danie Wingard in South Africa, followed by a non-trophy elephant hunt in the Dete Valley of Zimbabwe. I wanted to keep things simple and bring one rifle suitable for both scenarios, so when Chris Sells of Double Gun Imports offered to lend me a Heym Express in the classic .404 Jeffery, I didn’t really hesitate long.
During the research for a book I’ve written on bullet selection, I had the opportunity to play with Woodleigh’s Hydro Solid, a radical looking bullet with a funky little cup on the front, designed to give all the penetrative qualities of a mono-metal solid, while the small cup creates a shockwave that does all sorts of tissue damage. Reports from the field indicate that the bullet gives fantastic performance on plains game of all sizes, as well as any of the dangerous species. The rifle/bullet combination seemed like a logical choice for this adventure.
When the rifle arrived, my eyes widened before I even touched it. A beautiful walnut stock, shaped in the fashion of the classic British bolt guns of the early 20th century, cradled an action that was both simple and elegant at the same time. Barrel-band sling swivel, express sights, classic NECG red recoil pad, and the delicate forend that fits oh-so-nicely in the left hand were all present. And the first time I shouldered it, the balance of the rifle demonstrated itself right away. The shadow line cheek piece brought the sight picture properly into focus without any fidgeting, and that combination of sweeping pistol grip and shorter fore-end makes the rifle come to shoulder like a fine shotgun. When I worked the action, my eyes opened even wider; there is virtually no play whatsoever, and the action feels smoother than puppy fur. In the case was a Swarovski 1-6x24mm scope with a lighted circle-dot reticle set in Talley detachable rings. I mean, seriously, what more could a guy ask for?
Sitting at the reloading bench, I gathered the 400-grain Woodleigh Hydros, some Federal GM215M primers, Norma cases (elegantly headstamped “.404 Rimless Nitro-Express”) and Alliant’s Reloder-15 powder. Looking at the Woodleigh Reloading Manual, I chose a ‘middle-of-the-road’ charge weight, and set the RCBS dies to seat the bullets just behind the first band. Sometimes in life you get lucky, and this was one of those times; the handload printed three-shot groups just under an inch, and cruised along at 2,280 fps. I also used the 325-grain Cutting Edge Bullets Safari Raptor as a bullet for bush pigs. These ran at 2,550 fps, and printed to the same point of impact as the Woodleigh Hydros, making for a very versatile combination. There were no high pressure-signs whatsoever, so the range work was done. It was now time to move on to practicing in field positions.
As this rifle was going to be asked to perform with both scope and iron sights for his safari, I was glad that the Talley rings worked as advertised, and I could confidently remove the scope for iron sight practice and reinstall it without losing zero. I zeroed this rig to be 1.5 inches high at 100 yards, giving me a dead hold out to 200, which I’ve found to be perfectly adequate for most shots in Africa. The express sights hit dead on the bullseye at 40 yards, and by practicing with the rifle, I could keep the bullets in a 2.5-inch circle off-hand, even tighter when using sticks. That well-designed Heym stock made the felt recoil more than manageable, and sending 15 rounds downrange per practice session was no problem at all. I loaded 40 rounds for the hunt, and was ready for Africa.
Reliability is a word that hunters like when it comes to gear that travels around the world; we are all familiar with the torturous techniques that the baggage handlers employ. I’m starting to believe they take a course to learn how to beat up rifle cases. The Swarovski glass in Talley rings is a combination that can withstand the airline’s punishment, and the rifle was still in zero after each leg of the journey. PH Cornus du Plooy and I took both a heavy horned blue wildebeest and a rather handsome impala ram in the Waterberg district of South Africa at distances of 150 to 175 yards. Both shots resulted in the same effect from the Woodleigh bullet: caliber-sized entrance and exit holes, and a wide tunnel of damaged tissue throughout the wound channel. Neither animal required a second shot, nor did they go far at all. So far, we had a winner of a bullet. Perhaps not the greatest choice for a meat hunter, but there was little or no damage to the hides, and the kill was quick and efficient. The 1-6x Swarovski made the shots seem easy, offering great clarity and enough magnification for the work at hand.
In Zimbabwe, I removed the scope from the rifle. There, the quality iron sights that Heym uses worked very well. When the entire safari crew is watching you sight the rifle on the first day, it can be rather nerve-racking, but I did my part and put the bullet at 9 o’clock, one inch out of the bull at 40 yards off sticks. Each and every PH that saw the Heym rifle cocked an eyebrow and asked if they could try it; to the man they were very impressed. They were even more pleased with the performance on elephant.
So, what makes a Heym Express better, or at least different, than other bolt guns? I mean, I’ve used my Winchester 70 on numerous safaris in the past, with more than satisfactory results. Why look at a high-end bolt gun? There are several reasons.
Heym was founded in Suhr, Germany, 150 years ago, and they know what makes a rifle. The attention to detail that Heym puts into the production model Express rivals that of custom rifle makers. The wood-to-metal fit is impeccable, and the appointments such as the bolt angle, iron sights, fantastic stock design and balance point just in front of the floorplate hinge are all very well thought out. With the scope attached, the rifle is heavy enough to quickly settle down for a longer shot, yet light enough to quickly point at an animal at close quarters with the scope turned down to 1x. Unscoped, it carries and points like an extension of your arm, with a dimension around the action that fits comfortably in my right hand, even though the magazine holds four rounds of .404 Jeff.
Oh, that magazine–that’s another feature that Heym designed properly. Each magazine well that Heym uses is caliber-specific, in that the length and width, as well as the magazine follower, is designed to function using the cartridge that the rifle is chambered for, and no other. The .404 Jeffery cartridges slide into the magazine as if they were greased, and are held there snugly with no rattles or other issues. Heym’s feed ramp is excellent as well. Many rifles show their flaws when it comes to feeding a flat-nosed solid; some just won’t do it well, and that is a serious issue when dangerous game is on the menu. The Woodleigh Hydro Solid is one of those bullets that brings out the worst in a feed ramp, but there was no issue with the Heym rifle. As a matter of interest, the Woodleigh Hydro usually comes with a hemispherical blue cap over the meplat to assist the feeding process, but the .423-inch diameter Jeffery bullets I received didn’t have them, making me even more nervous when I first saw them. The Heym Express fed them like a dream.
Heym’s proprietary action is probably the biggest key ingredient in the mix. It is a larger action than most others, yet that fact is very important. The size of the action (while it still feels good in the carrying hand) keeps the weight properly balanced in the grand scheme of things. The old British saying “keep the weight between the hands” totally applies here, and shows itself in the way the gun shoulders. The Heym action, like the magazine, is caliber specific, and the geometry of the action is designed to best handle the cartridge you may choose; no cookie-cutter actions here. This also allows for a slimmer barrel profile and sleek stock design, as the bulk of the weight is contained in the receiver.
The Express can be made with a custom length of pull, assuring that your Heym will fit you like a glove. The rifle that I obtained has a length of pull at an even 14.5 inches, which (miraculously) fits me like it was made for me. Good stock fit translates into less felt recoil, which is always a good thing. Even with the modern, high-velocity loads, the recoil of the .404 Jeffery in the Express was the classic “push,” rather than the violent slap associated with faster loadings in a rifle that fits less well. The Heym receiver can be made as a single square bridge, blank square bridge or, like my example, with machined 19mm Talley dovetail receiver blanks. Other options are on the menu as well, like traditional German claw mounts and more.
The Heym Express is one serious hunting rifle. This safari was my first experience hunting with the .404 Jeffery, and I’ve grown to be a fan of the cartridge, as well as the Express rifle. As a matter of fact, when it came time to return the rifle, I sent a check instead. Yup, this one’s mine, so you’ll have to get your own.–Philip P. Massaro