Dan Donarski, Big Bore Practice
Practicing With The Big Bores (Now It’s Fun!) By Dan Donarski
For the sake of defining “Big Bores,” we’re speaking about those calibers from the .375 H811-1 up to the .458 Lott. And, by “Practicing” we are talking about shooting multiple rounds off the bench, and from the sticks, and off-hand. Oh, and more than once or twice before the hunt. Anyone who is honest with themselves will tell you that, except maybe for the .375, this practice is not all that much fun. These big bores can bite you.
Part of each year I find myself in Africa, from The Republic of South Africa to Botswana and on to Mozambique and Tanzania. Either I’m hunting or my clients are, by a wide margin mostly the clients. More than a couple of times a year we’ll have a hunter in camp who isn’t exactly proficient with his rifle. Almost 100 percent of the time it is with these big bores.
The first thing you do upon reaching the safari camp after getting settled into your quarters is sighting in your rifle or rifles as long as there is light left. Certainly you will before you actually go out hunting.
No one, or not many people, are comfortable having other people watch them shoot. It can be unnerving. Shooting well is a mix of the rifle itself, the bullet, the subtle mechanics of the hold and trigger squeeze, and the mind. If the mind goes off kilter the other two will as well.
The conversation goes something like this after the first couple of rounds land somewhere you don’t want them to. “Umm, pardon me Jasper, but I’m thinking all those baggage handlers really mucked up that rifle. Let’s try another two rounds. We’re not even punching paper.” This time we do not watch the target 50 or 100 yards downrange, we are watching Jasper. To be specific, we are watching Jasper flinch, lift his head, or even close his eyes.
“Say Jasper, tell me, this gun is in really good shape. Have you been shooting it much?”
“I shot a box or two of bullets with it a week before I left to break it in and get the sights right. The first few shots at the first session were really good, maybe a three-inch group at 50 yards with these open sites.”
“That’s certainly minute of buffalo. What about the later shots?”
“The barrel got hot I guess and the barrel was certainly a bit fouled. They were being thrown around more than I thought they would though.”
Then we start the process of getting rid of the flinch by downsizing calibers and working up. Hopefully this will not be a half-day affair but I’ve seen it go longer.
Enter Nyati, Incorporated, and its owner, Edward Hammond. Located in the small town of Pound, Wis, just about 45 minutes north of Green Bay, Nyati has produced big bore practice ammunition that is super sweet.
How sweet? My CZ .458 Lott loaded up with a 500 grain solid (85 gr. powder) gives me a recoil of around 70 pounds. With Nyati’s Big Bore Practice ammo the recoil is reduced to an amazing 11 pounds. With my Remington 700 in .375 H&H from their custom shop the recoil with a 300 grain solid (76 gr. powder) is right at 47 pounds. With Nyati’s rounds, it is reduced to just eight. Now, your loads may be different than mine, but the difference is undeniably significant.
I was introduced to Ed Hammond and Nyati this past November on a cloudy, damp day just before deer season. We had made phone contact about a month before and set up a time to get together so I could put the ammunition through its paces. He and his lovely wife Karen met me at the door. His enthusiasm for his product was evident from the start. And, he like me, are avowed gun nuts.
Hammond credits Terry Wieland, and Wieland’s book, Dangerous Game Rifles for the impetus to start Nyati. “Wieland mentions more than once the problem of practicing with the bigger bores due to the recoil. I saw that as an opportunity and here we are. Right now we’re manufacturing .375 H&H, the .378 Wby, .416 Rigby, .458 WinMag, and the .458 Lott. In the next few months the .470 Nitro Express should be ready.”
When Hammond mentions manufacturing don’t for a minute think of a big plant. Each and every load is done by hand on single-stage presses in a building the size of a good-sized garage. Before a round is placed in the box it is weighed digitally to ensure each round is a kissing cousin to the next. “The whole point is to produce practice ammunition that is absolutely accurate, each round behaving like the others. I’m an old bench-rest shooter, if it’s not accurate, what’s the point.
Hammond started using cast bullets in the Nyati ammunition but found they just wouldn’t produce the groups he desired. After a few tries with jacketed bullets he decided to ditch the lead all the way and moved to Barnes bullets. All of his ammunition is now made using these Barnes solids. The move to Barnes solved two problems: first, the accuracy issues- these Barnes bullets preformed as desires: and second, the potential issues with lead-based products that keeps rearing its ugly head.
Outside his home and shop Hammond has a nice 50-yard range set up. It was time to have some fun and check out the claims of accuracy. These claims turned out to be truths. And, please note, all shots were off the bench.
First shooting standard velocity ammunition out of my .375 we found that my gun shot as it was supposed to do, one inch high at 50. Putting three rounds of Nyati ammunition in the magazine and then shooting it, the rounds produced a one-inch group that was barely one inch high and one inch left.
With my open sighted .458 Lott with factory ammunition the gun was dead on at 50, three rounds surrounding the bull in a three-inch group. Using the Nyati ammunition we found that the group size was the same but the rounds landed 2.75 inches high, and a bit right. Using Ed’s scoped Ruger Tropical in .458 Lott the group size reduced to under 1.25 inches with same vertical and horizontal differences. As mentioned earlier, the .458 Lotts recoil with standard loads is 70 pounds, with Nyatai’s it drops to 11. In all practical terms I liken the reduced loads pushed me just a tad more than my .243. Shooting these reduced load practice rounds, is, in a word, sweet.
One thing to keep in mind. When someone mentions practice anything it is normal to assume a reduced cost. Not here. Remember we are talking about ammunition manufacturing done entirely by hand, and with only the finest of components. It’s a time intensive affair as well as costly to produce these accurate rounds. You should expect to pay for that. Retail for a box of 20 rounds in .375 H&H for $40 and a 50-round box of .458 Lott for $300. Hornady factory loads are a bit less, Federal factory loads are significantly higher,The rounds all come in black plastic boxes. The bullets themselves are ink-painted in black on their tops so you won’t confuse the practice rounds with your regular velocity loads.
Back to our friend Jasper. If he had found these rounds before his trip and used them, chances are he wouldn’t have developed that flinch. Here’s how I suggest practice sessions to be conducted on a 50-yard range.
Using the reduced recoil loads sight in your rifle so that the grouping centers itself the proper distance high of the bull in regards to the caliber you are shooting. In the .375 H&H it’s roughly an inch in my range time. In the .458 Lott its 2.75 high.
Once sighted in with the practice rounds have a buddy load your gun, randomly mixing high velocity and standard rounds. To keep things absolutely honest he or she should make sure you cannot see the next round in the pipe. If those subtle mechanics of hold and trigger squeeze are correct, and if your mind is set right, there should be no flinch.
As for the future, Hammond isn’t satisfied with what he’s done so far. Besides the soon to be debuted .470 Nitro Express, look for the rest of the Weatherby big bores to soon offered. He’s also starting to work up custom high velocity rounds. The first to be unveiled will most likely be a lion load, using a 400grain Swift at speeds of 2400 fps.
I don’t have the time nor the inclination to reload. I can’t wait.