Big Bore Compendium – .500 Nitro Express

The predecessor to the 500 Nitro Express was the 500 Black Powder Express, but the two cartridges have radical differences in power. While the 500 Black Powder Express fired a 440 grain lead bullet at 1500 feet per second, the 500 Nitro Express fires a 570 grain bullet at 2150 feet per second. Persons coming into possession of a 500 Black Powder Express should use care not to inadvertently shoot 500 Nitro Express ammunition in it or the rifle will be ruined. Further, the 500 Black Powder Express is a good rifle for pigs, black bear and plains game, but does not have a place hunting thick skinned dangerous game, although the 500 Nitro Express is a very potent dangerous game cartridge. To add further confusion to the mix, the 500 Nitro Express comes in 3 inch and 3 1/4 inch versions. The 3-inch version is more popular, and the ballistics of the two are identical.

At the present time, double rifles in 500 Nitro Express are currently made by Heym, Krieghoff, Merkel, Searcy, Westley Richards, Sig, Rigby, Holland & Holland and others. Bolt action rifles in 500 Nitro Express are made by Hambrusch Hunting Rifles. In years past, Heym also made bolt-action rifles in 500 Nitro Express.

In double rifles, the 500 Nitro Express offers the maximum power than can be found in a rifle of reasonable weight (10-11 pounds). The more powerful double rifle calibers require a significantly heavier rifle in order to keep recoil at a manageable level. The 500 Nitro Express is also known for being able to reach the lungs of a cape buffalo if he is shot up the tailpipe. The 577 and 600 Nitro Express cannot match this penetration. The reader should note that the 500 Nitro Express has the least impressive ballistics of any cartridge mentioned in this article, although the 500 Nitro Express is actually a larger and more powerful cartridge than most professional hunters use for backup when on safari. Hopefully that will help put the awesome power of some of these cartridges into perspective.

Example loads:

Cartridge Powder Primer Bullet Velocity Notes
500 Nitro Express 3″ 96.0 grains Reloader 15 F215 570 grain Barnes solid 2150 f.p.s. Filler may be desirable if Woodleigh bullets are used due to their shorter length.
110.0 grains IMR4831 No filler.
45.0 XMP5744 500 grain cast lead 1500 f.p.s. Low recoil practice load.