Big Bore Compendium – .600 Nitro Express

14aThe .600 Nitro Express was designed by Jeffery in 1903. There was no black powder predecessor to it. It fires a 900 grain bullet at 1950 feet per second, although in Jeffery double rifles it was regulated for 1850 f.p.s. At these somewhat anemic velocities, the cartridge never developed a reputation for being a deep penetrator. Further, there were some reports of bullet failure with the old Kynoch bullets which had a thin copper jacket and were subject to riveting. Modern solid bullets from Woodleigh include a steel liner inside their jacket that enhances their durability, and Barnes offers a monolithic brass solid in this caliber. The Woodleigh solids have a very blunt shape intended to impart the greatest possible shock to an elephant’s head.

The idea behind the .600 Nitro Express was to provide a cartridge that will deliver a tremendous shock to a wounded elephant so that if the hunter missed the brain, the shock from the bullet would still knock the animal down. John Pondoro Taylor reported elephants head shot with the .600 Nitro Express when the bullet missed the brain remaining unconscious for up to 30 minutes. While I doubt the sanity of a man who would measure the time it takes an unconscious elephant to awaken and resume his charge, the recoil of the .600 Nitro Express is convincing enough to the shooter.

Rifles in .600 Nitro Express are typically doubles, making them rather expensive. Searcy Enterprises offers a .600 Nitro Express boxlock double for US$25,000 as of this writing, and Heym offers one for US$38,000. Other makers are in the game too, but from there the prices go up. Bolt-action 600 Nitro Express rifles are available from Heym Waffenfabrik in Gleichamberg, Germany for only US$13,000. Bolt action rifles in .600 Nitro Express are also available from Hambursch Hunting Guns in Ferlach, Austria.

The author owned a Heym Express Rifle in 600 Nitro Express and found it extremely well made and well balanced, and capable of putting 3 shots into 3 inches at 50 yards from an offhand position. However, the recoil was so great that the rifle was pointing upwards at a 70 degree angle after each shot, and the author needed to rest 10 minutes between shots to get over that ‘car accident feeling’. Other than that minor inconvenience and the great weight of the rifle, my 600 Nitro Express was a delight. I wish I had owned the same rifle in a .50 caliber cartridge. In the end, however, I had to decide whether to leave a large block of cash tied up in the Heym or go elephant hunting. Elephant hunting won, and the Heym found a new residence.

IM000069.JPGIn reality the .600 Nitro Express is not a practical choice due to its weight, cost, recoil, and somewhat shallow penetration. The reader would be better off to consider a .550 Magnum or 500 A-Square instead. In a double rifle, a 500 Nitro Express is more practical.

Example loads:

Cartridge Powder Primer Bullet Velocity Notes
600 nitro express 159.0 grains Reloader 22 F215 900 grain Woodleigh FMJ 1950 f.p.s. No filler. Fierce recoil.
145.0 IMR7828 1950 f.p.s.