Buzz Charlton is the first PH I’ve hunted with who uses a double rifle. It’s a Heym Model 88B PH, which is an undecorated firearm designed for people who use a heavy rifle professionally. Buzz’ Heym is chambered for the .500 Nitro Express, which was designed in the 1890s and fires a 570-grain .51-caliber bullet at 2,150 fps. In the process, it generates 85 foot-pounds of recoil, but Buzz says it’s worth it because the .500 hurts the animals a lot worse than anything smaller, including all of the .41-and- above cartridges.
For most of his 20-year career, Buzz carried a .416 bolt-action but went to a double because he came to realize that whatever he was going to do with a rifle would take place at 20 yards or less (sometimes a lot less) and there would never be time for more than two shots, so the faster you could get off those two rounds, the better.
Buzz’ partner, Myles “Death March” McCallum, uses a Ruger Model 77 Mark II RSM bolt-action chambered for the .458 Lott. Made some time between 1990 and 2010, it was stocked in Circassian walnut and hand checkered. Myles got his rifle used. The trigger breaks at about 15 pounds, and has a pull that can be described as ranging between nasty and horrid. Myles says he doesn’t mind because he yanks the trigger anyway.
The double rifle is enjoying something of a renaissance for those exact reasons, and some of Buzz’ clients show up with very expensive showpieces, many of which tend to double, if you pardon this expression. The Heym does not. It weighs about 11 pounds, has two triggers with an articulated front trigger (hinged so it won’t crack your index finger), ejectors, 24-inch barrels, a bead front sight and an open V rear sight with a gold-colored triangle to help you get things aligned. Buzz ordered it six years ago. It took three years to build, and perhaps because of the obscene delay, Heym gave him a very pretty piece of wood. The bluing wore off after the first safari.
It handles very well. It does not handle like a shotgun, because shotguns don’t weigh 11 pounds, but it comes up and gets on target fast. You do need good eyes to use the iron sights, which lets me out, but Buzz has good eyes.
Like myself, Buzz is not a fan of the .375 H&H as a dangerous-game rifle. He puts it this way:
“You can use a .375 H&H and as long as everything goes perfectly you’ll think you have enough gun, but when things go wrong you’ll find you don’t. If your PH uses a .375 as a backup rifle, you’re looking at a man who hasn’t thought things through properly.”
There are perils to using a double. A really good used one is $15,000 or so. The new ones start there and go up, and up. One of Buzz’ clients brought a lovely Austrian over/under on safari and had it vanish in the airlines, never to be seen again. Another fellow stowed his extremely expensive double in the cargo box underneath a single-engine plane and watched the box detach and sail 5,000 feet down into the red dirt of Zimbabwe.
But the real problem is mechanical unreliability. Buzz says that if your double doubles, the first shot may hit, but because the barrels rise so fast, the second shot is a guaranteed miss, thereby giving you a single-shot rifle. And then of course there’s the recoil. Craig Boddington once had a .600 Nitro Express double on him when he shot at an elephant. He didn’t go down, but he said there were about five minutes when he didn’t know exactly who he was, or what language he spoke, or what he was supposed to be doing. Luckily, the elephant died. I once had a .577 double on me, and it was like playing opposite J.J. Watt in the line of scrimmage. I went backward, and kept going backward.
The best doubling story is Robert Ruark’s. Ruark shot a buffalo with a .470, and the rifle loosed both rounds at once. The buffalo went flat, as did Ruark. Ruark’s PH, Harry Selby, took all this in and said, “Really, one of you ought to get up.”