Although I have no earthly business buying guns anymore, I still surf the Internet looking for interesting stuff, and a little while ago I came across a very fine dangerous-game rifle chambered for the nightmarish .458 Lott. The gun was built by a maker for whose work I have the utmost respect, but what interested me most was the owner’s notation that the rifle had been fired only five times to sight it in.

There is something desperately wrong with that. Oxen and wain ropes would not hale me on a safari with a dangerous-game rifle I had fired only five times. If you are going to mix it up with an animal whose idea of a good time is ramming a horn up your fundament, it’s highly recommended that you be sure your rifle functions, and you can’t make sure of this in five shots. Fifty is a good start.

The gun’s owner may have had sublime faith in the work of the man who built it, and felt no need to make sure the rifle functioned. I can’t say I disagree with him here.

As to the shooting end of it, handling a big gun such as the .458 Lott requires considerable practice. It may be that our friend is a highly experienced shooter of big rifles, already owning a .460 Weatherby, .500 NE, and .478 Thunderf***er, and handling a big gun is nothing new to him.

However, most PHs, I think, assume that their clients have little experience with their heavy rifles, and are pleasantly surprised if they turn out to be wrong.

The rifle in question here is a semi-custom gun whose new price is around $4,500. You’d think that paying this kind of money would guarantee complete reliability, but such is not the case. I’ve had plenty of custom rifles that failed, one way or another. Factory rifles are even more prone to failure. They are not painstaking assembled by skilled craftsmen nor, from what I’ve seen, are they checked for function. Just this year I’ve had four rifles in my hands that had something major wrong with them. There is one expensive line of European rifles that has a 50 percent reliability record with me. I’ve shot, I believe, a dozen of them over the years and six have had problems. If you get one that works, it’s terrific, but that is by no means guaranteed.

The typical rifle carried by a PH is not a thing of beauty. Most professional hunters settle on one or two rifles early on in their careers and stay with them, and the guns get used very hard. Typical of the breed is Harry Selby’s .416 Rigby, which he used for 50 years.

All these guns have two things in common:

First, they work.

Second, their owners are as familiar with them as they are with their own body parts. A PH handles his rifle as if it were an extension of himself, because it is. The alternative is getting stomped or et or clawed. Better to know your rifle and die at a ripe old age of abulia or paresis.