The Lure of the Double Rifle

by
posted on August 3, 2009
200983-dsc_0065_fs.jpg

"The double rifle is a weapon of romance...[it] connotes ivory hunting, long lines of safari porters, drinking sundowners beside a fire of nyombo wood while lions roar on the veldt, affairs of the heart with comely lady leopard hunters." –Jack O’Connor, 1961

So chalk up another disparity between my modest gunwriting career and the late, great Jack O'Connor's. No comely lady leopard hunters in my past. On my one and only leopard safari, the other hunter in camp was anything but. Rather, he was bald as a melon, hawk-eyed and remained red-faced as a lobster due to our daily exertions in the African sun. Appearances aside, he was in every way imaginable a prince of a fellow who generously offered to let me fire the double rifle he had brought to hunt buffalo.

It was my first go with a classic stopping rifle, and I steeled myself for punishment. With the professional hunters warily assessing our shooting acumen, I didn't want to screw up. My first impression was that the man's Rigby .470 Nitro was darned heavy, but not totally unfamiliar. Essentially it was like a side-by-side shotgun, though more compact and beefier. Often we hear how this or that firearm balances so nicely between the hands, but I had never felt balance as intuitive as this. It was as if my hands were made to grip that particular rifle, a sensation akin to the "just-right" handling of a favorite baseball bat or trusty axe.

At that point muscle memory kicked in, the butt rose and welded itself to my cheek and shoulder, the ivory front bead split the rear V, then settled on an X that had been spray-painted on a block of wood. I took a deep breath and ...

BOOM! Whoa, wasn't really ready for that! The woodblock splintered and skipped backward. "Good show!" said PH Nixon Dzingai. "Hit the bloody thing again."

Almost of its own accord the Rigby was already locked onto the target. BOOM! This time the block split. Yeoww! Yeah, I felt the recoil. Yeah, it rocked me. But it wasn't the whippin' I had expected. All things considered, my double-rifle intro was love at first bite.

Since then I have fired several more big-bore doubles, and the inherent grace so evident during my initial tango with the Rigby has impressed me as a common trait. The best of them make shouldering and sighting seem almost effortless. No doubt frequent shooting has helped to train me-perhaps ironically, shotgunning more so than rifle shooting-but there's something almost automatic about handling a double rifle. No gun I have known is more businesslike, providing we keep in mind what business the double rifle is in. Like any hunting arm, it's vital that a double can strike with precision for clean, ethical kills. But the real measure is how it performs on defense.

By nature, double rifles represent a series of contradictions. They must be sufficiently powerful to drop beasts equipped with the size, tools and attitude to rip a man apart or crush him in an eye blink, and yet these rifles must handle quickly and fluidly enough to strike like lightning during a sudden encounter. To make recoil bearable they typically weigh 20 to 25 percent more than a standard big-game rifle, but it is not unusual for the hunter to have to lug one many miles over rugged terrain in equatorial swelter. Although shots are taken at comparatively close range on animals possessing sizable vital areas, the hunter's ability to shoot his rifle accurately is too often compromised by lack of practice, recoil flinch and adrenaline overload. Foremost, the dangerous-game double must be utterly reliable no matter what!

Yet in the hands of a capable hunter, good double rifles resolve all the contradictions....

Latest

Field Judge Pronghorn Lead
Field Judge Pronghorn Lead

How to Field Judge a Pronghorn

Failure to consider all aspects of a pronghorn buck’s headgear could lead to ground shrinkage. Here’s how the “Rule of 6’s” and three important “X-Factors” play crucial roles when field judging hard-to-judge speed goats.

#SundayGunday: Henry Lever Action Brass Axe .410

Get a closer look at the Henry Lever Action Brass Axe .410, the latest addition to our #SundayGunday series.

Why Your State Fish and Game Agency Needs to Build More Public Shooting Ranges

The surge in gun sales and shooting sports participation in recent years has fueled the need for ever-more places to shoot. Here’s an in-depth look at how state fish-and-game agencies use funds collected from excise taxes paid by gun and ammo buyers to build public shooting ranges.

The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Debating Anti-Hunters Part II

The author had an exchange about the local coyote population in Northern Virginia with a woman on social media. Their discussion serves as a good follow-up to his last article on handling anti-hunters.

Mozambique Common Sense Hunting Tips

Hunters should always be on the lookout for know-how they can use. On a buffalo hunt in Mozambique, the author was all too happy to soak up some bushcraft that can be of use to us all in North America.

Choosing the Best Optics Setup for Western Big-Game Hunting

An ideal optics setup for Western big-game hunting includes a binocular, spotting scope, rangefinder and riflescope. Here’s how to choose the best of each for your needs.  

Interests



Get the best of American Hunter delivered to your inbox.