The .600 is the largest and most powerful of the elephant cartridges developed around the turn of the century, a family that also includes the .505 Gibbs, .500 Jeffrey, and the lesser Nitro Express rounds in .400 and .500 calibers. It was introduced in 1903 by the rifle manufacturer Jeffery, and at least three other companies built rifles to accommodate it; I can find catalog references for the Holland & Holland, Heym and Searcy rifles in .600 N.E., and rumors but no solid evidence of any others. Originally only double rifles were chambered for the .600, but Searcy later released a bolt-action version under their Express line.

The .600 Nitro Express has been obsolete for decades, but between the Internet, cheap machining tools, and die-hard gun nuts, the cartridge is still available from hobbyists and small-batch reloading companies. Prices vary widely, and are difficult to find posted, but start at around US $200 per box, considerably more expensive than even other obscure big-game ammunition.

The term "Nitro Express" indicates cartridges developed for smokeless or "nitro" powder that uses nitroglycerine-soaked fiber (AKA nitrocellulose) to produce explosive energy. Compared with black powder cartridges, the improvement in performance is startling. A typical big-game rifle loaded with black powder produces muzzle velocity between 1,500 and 1,800 feet per second. The same cartridge using nitrocellulose delivers more than double the velocity and has muzzle energy measured, literally, in tons. Anecdotal evidence indicates that even professional hunters of the time considered the .600 to be almost unusable in the field, but they also spoke highly of its effects on big game. One hunter wrote that any head shot, even one which merely winged the skull without penetrating the brain, would put a bull elephant down for at least half an hour purely from shock.

Today, cartridges like the .300 Weatherby Magnum, .375 H&H Magnum, .338 Winchester Magnum, .416 Remington Magnum, and .458 Winchester Magnum are the acknowledged standards in big game hunting. All are relatively flat shooting (at least compared to the 900-grain round from a .600) and while felt recoil is significant, it’s not so disastrous that it spoils a follow-up shot. The .460 Weatherby Magnum (at 8,245 foot pounds of muzzle energy) holds the title of most-powerful production cartridge, but two micro-market rounds, the .577 Tyrannosaurus and .700 Nitro Express, exceed the Weatherby in velocity and muzzle energy.

Ballistic Table

Bullet Weight; 900 grains

Muzzle Velocity; 1950 fps, Energy; 7591 ft/lbs

@50 yards

Velocity; 1794 fps, Energy; 6427 ft/lbs, Time of Flt; .08 sec

@100 yards

Velocity; 1646 fps, Energy; 5413 ft/lbs, Time of Flt; .17 sec

Author’s Disclaimer: I am completely opposed to the hunting of elephants. This node is about a stupid, crazily overpowered hunting rifle, and is NOT intended to glorify the slaughter of wild animals.

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