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Taming a Dangerous Game Rifle
HOLLAND & HOLLAND’S EVERGREEN 375 BELTED RIMLESS MAGNUM EXPRESS (AND HOW TO MASTER IT).
By John Noak
The above (and original) moniker of the .375 H&H practically commands you to buy a Holland & Holland rifle in the quintessential British medium bore of the modern Nitro Express era. That era, by the way, is fast approaching 102 years. Before delving into the nuts and bolts of the .375, let us take a few moments to review the history of what has often been called “the world’s best all around rifle, ever made.” A review of the .375 Holland & Holland involves burying of some long perpetrated, but incorrect, beliefs that have been passed down from gun scribe to gun writer since 1912.
The .375 Holland & Holland was not the first cartridge to be adorned with a circumferential belt just forward of the extraction groove. That honor goes to the 400/.375 Belted Nitro Express. The 400/.375 is wimpy by today’s standards. It is very similar to the later 9.5 x 56 Mannlicher Schöenauer (often called the .375, 2 ¼” Nitro Express on the English side of the channel). The 400/.375 predates the Mannlicher Schöenauer round by five years. Both are close to the modern .358 Winchester. The Winchester .358 in turn, has modest power suitable for medium game. With judicious bullet placement it can take down an elk at close range.
The .375 H&H no longer uses Cordite as a propellant. Kynoch, the major British ammunition manufacturing concern (corporation), last used cordite in the early to mid-1960s. In its time, cordite (which resembled strings of spaghetti) was cut to length and inserted into the partly formed cartridge case. The case neck was then formed, and a bullet was seated. Prior to WWI, Cordite was somewhat unstable in conditions of high heat and humidity. Ammunition intended for use in Africa or India was loaded with 58-grains of propellant; that intended for use in more temperate climes was loaded with 60-grains. As a consequence of using Cordite as a propellant, the .375 H&H cartridge case had a very shallow neck angle (14.96º). Engineers of the time were not assured that reliable head spacing would be provided by the sloping cartridge shoulder. Since they are, “belt and suspenders” by natural outlook, the ammunition engineers involved in the project added a “belt” circumferentially around the cartridge head (terrible pun intended). That belt (“gurtle” for our Deutsch friends) did not look elegant, or even pretty, but it got the job done. Later, this belt became a marketing tool to sell medium length magnum rifles (many of which had generous shoulders, and did not need a belt) in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s. In the present day the belt is decried as an abomination before the Milan school of style. Come on everybody, lighten up; most cartridges work fine with or without belts.
There is even nonsense circulating about the word “Magnum” itself. It does not derive from the French word describing an extra- large bottle of wine, especially Champagne. The truth is much less romantic. “Magnum” is derived from the Latin word Magnus meaning large or great. Calling a 2x sized bottle of champagne a “Magnum” is a colloquial use of the word, not theword itself.
The .375 H&H was introduced 102 years ago (in 1912) and will likely continue to perform yeoman’s duty for another hundred years. At least we do not have to argue about the date on its birth certificate.As the POMMIES (Prisoners of Mother England) would say, the .375 H&H design is “absolutely brilliant”. They will get no argument from me. My mom taught me to not stand on the railroad tracks of history, design, or purpose.
The continuing success of the .375 H&H rests on three legs. One, with modern “super” bullets, it will kill any animal on earth with one well- placed shot. Two, it is the most powerful cartridge an average hunter can easily master. There is no need for a muzzle brake or an excessively heavy rifle. Third, anywhere there is hunting, .375 H&H ammunition can be purchased across the counter most any hardware store, shooting emporium, or even drugstore.
OK, enough of history – let us get into the fun stuff. Useful bullet weights vary from 235-grains on the light end, to 300-grains on the top end. 350-grain and 380-grain bullets in .375 diameter are for rather specialized applications. Super bullet technology has come to full bloom in the 300-grain weight projectiles. Bullet types run the gamut from simple cup and core, bonded core, mono-metal of copper, brass, or naval bronze, partitioned designs like the Nosler Partition, partition- plus bonding as exemplified by the Swift A-Frame bullet and the gone, but still lamented, Fail-Safe design that Nosler made for Winchester in the 1990s.
In addition to mono-metal designs, there are still many classic designs for solid bullets that are characterized by a lead core with a thick steel covering and finally a very thick copper covering that allows the rifle’s lands and grooves to do their magic without damage to the barrel.
So, the brats are out of college. You have a little extra money tucked under the mattress. Your knees are shot, so a sheep hunt will have to wait until your next life. You visit the Dallas Safari Club show in the dark months of winter and end up booking ten days of plains game hunting in Namibia, followed by another ten day x two Buffalo hunt in Zimbabwe. The hunt is eighteen months away; you are filled with 50% excitement and 50% trepidation. A .300 Win Mag feels rough in the recoil department to you. How can you handle a .375 H&H at all, let alone shoot it quickly and accurately? Relax! Bring your favorite .30-06 for plains game, and start working out and working up with the .375.
Buy a quality .375 H&H rifle that fits you well, or can be made to fit you. If you have a long neck, you will need a rifle with a decent sized Monte Carlo on the buttstock – style be damned. If you are built like a fireplug, or just have a short neck, you will be best served with a butt stock in the straight American Classic style. Make sure the stock is wood. Wood can be bent in place, rasped away; more wood can be splinted in where needed. Wood is the most flexible material to use to make a well fitted stock. Then, take it to a gunsmith who specializes in making shotguns and rifles fit their clients. You want your rifle to fit so well that it is an extension of your will. It can be done.
If you are built like me (17.5” neck size, 34.5” sleeves, but with a long neck), the stock fitter will bend the stock to give you 5/16” of cast off (away from right hander), ¼” of toe out at the butt, and carve out or add on a Monte Carlo. The dimensions are similar to the Sako Hunter style stock that McMillan makes for Ruger, Remington, Sako AV-style, Browning, and Winchester stocks. So, a long necked dude can save some money right there on the all-important topic of stock fit. The gunsmith will make your wooden stock fit you, no matter what your build. Fit it must; if you want to hit your targets, that is.
It does no good to be afraid of the recoil or muzzle blast of any rifle, but especially one that you will be carrying in the presence of dangerous game. Good fit is half the battle. The other half is following a logical and rigorous training and conditioning program. A good first step is to start practicing with lightweight bullets at mild velocities. A near perfect starting bullet is the Speer .375”, 235-grain, Semi-Spitzer Soft Point. Use a large rifle magnum primer and load the 235-grain Speer over 29.0-grains of IMR SR 4759. (This load has not been tested, nor is it endorsed by Western Powders. Please use caution if you elect to use this data.) Since this powder is composed of large and flaky individual particles, it is best to weigh each load. Your velocity will be ≈ 1650 fps. That is light and very controllable. It is also a reasonably accurate load. Zero it at 50-75 yards. As soon as you have a well regulated (well centered) group, get away from the bench in favor of field positions (in the future you will only visit the bench to obtain an initial zero or to evaluate the precision [smallness and roundness] of any given load).
Start practicing from the sitting position with legs not crossed, and then crossed with right ankle on top, then with left ankle on top. Shoot five shot groups. Those force you to concentrate on the fundamentals of marksmanship and follow through. Twenty to twenty-five rounds down range should be the maximum shooting for any range session. It is ok to warm up ahead of time with a .22 LR, using the same positions.
On your second visit to the range, shoot the same load. Start with one set of sitting position shooting, and then transit to shooting kneeling. Use a tree or a bench for extra support for your first kneeling group; then transition to shooting kneeling without extra support, just your bones (and knee and elbow pads). Finish up your second session with one group shot from the standing position. A coach to supervise your progress is indeed priceless. On your third session, start out with one group sitting, one group kneeling, and all remaining groups standing. For your last group of the session, have your shooting coach hold a set of three African shooting sticks, Adjust them until they feel just right, and send the last five bullets down range.
Your fourth range session will be a fun change of pace. The first feature will be Flat Nosed Gas-Checked lead bullets propelled by A5744 powder at a moderate velocity. The second feature will be, “ball and dummy” firing.
Try Beartooth bullets or any of the many companies that advertise in Handloader Magazine. Specify a 255-grain hard cast, heat treated, and gas checked bullet. You will want a Brinnell hardness level between 16 and 22 (the harder the better). Load those bullets over 37.0 to 45.0-grains of A5744 powder. A forty-grain load is a good place to start. That will give you a velocity of about 1,900 fps.
Zero this load at a full 100 yards. Shoot one group sitting, one kneeling, one standing unsupported, and at least two groups supported by shooting sticks. Then, have a friend load your rifle so that you cannot see it. He will either put a live round in the chamber – a ball, or he will put in an A-Zoom brand snap cap – a dummy. If you have a bit of a flinch, this exercise will distinctly show it as you jerk the barrel when there is only a, “click”. It is the perfect time to eliminate that flinch because the load is quite mild. If you do not have a flinch, well good on ya’.
Then, go through a manual and pick a starting load for the 235-grain Semi Spitzer. Zero from the bench at exactly 200 yards. The load velocity should be a bit over 2,700 fps. This is a nearly full-power deer and elk load (for moderate ranges). Do two more range sessions just like the last two, with one addition; shoot at an 8” paper plate set out at 200 yards for your last group which will be done standing while supported by the shooting sticks.
Next pick up some 250 grain bullets; the Sierra® ..375” Game King Spitzer Boat Tail bullets are perfect. Start shooting the starting load of A4350 (75.6-grains). At each session increase your load by 2-grains until you reach the maximum load of 84.0-grains, or notice any sign of increased pressure. On your drills, make sure at least two are supported with shooting sticks. A 260-grain bullet, such as the Nosler® Accubond™ will work just as well.
Ok, we are coming around the final bend. Try any one of the excellent 270-grain plains game bullets on the market. The Hornady 275-grain is a dandy, as is the Speer 270-grain Spitzer Boat Tail Soft Point. Use both starting, and full power loads with your choice of A4350, Reloder-15, H414, or Varget. Concentrate your drills on shooting at the 200 yard target from the sticks. Practice holding the sticks yourself as you shoot.
Wow, we are now up to the 300-grain level. Pick a (relatively) inexpensive 300-grain bullet such as the Sierra 300-grain Game King™ Spitzer Boat Tail. Practice shooting at 25 yards, 100 yards and 200 yards, with emphasis on shooting off the sticks.
Finally, spend some time obsessing over what will be the best 300-grain bullet for your hunt. I use North Fork softs and solids exclusively these days, but pick bullets that you have trust in. Talk to PHs, and people who have at least two full hunts under their belt. Whatever ammunition you take hunting, cycle each and every round through your rifle before you go. The middle of a charge is not the time to discover that your cartridges are hanging up!
This program takes a while, but it costs only a small fraction of the overall time and money involved in a full on ten day buffalo hunt. For a moderate expenditure of your time and energy, you will be able to confidently drill your shots at all ranges and from all field shooting positions. You will not need a muzzle brake as a crutch. Your Professional Hunter will love you for that alone.
Go out, practice sensibly (let your rifle’s bore cool between groups), and then enjoy a buffalo hunt with no excess drama, just the satisfaction of a job done better than well.
Once you are the master of your 375 H&H for African hunting you can simplify loading greatly. Weigh in 67.5-grains of fine grained and consistently performing Norma N203B powder behind any 300-grain bullet you fancy (Hornady FMJ, Hornady RN, Nosler Partition, Swift A-Frame, Barnes Banded Solid, Norma Oryx, etc). One well placed shot will send your bullet on its way at ≈ 2,550 fps; shortly your target animal will be reduced to possession. Good Hunting
John Charlie Noak has served our nation proudly as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division and 12th Special Forces (ABN) as a medic. He has twelve years experience flying F-4 and F16 fighters with the 170th Tactical Fighter Squadron, ANG and four years as a flight surgeon in the Alaska and Idaho Air National Guards. He holds a medical degree from Southern Illinois University.