There are a certain class of shooters for whom only the most powerful cartridges are of any use. Not content to rely on the lowly .30-30 Winchester to hunt deer, they have to use a .300 Winchester Magnum, or something even more powerful. One such powerful cartridge that quickly gained popularity after its introduction was the .458 Winchester Magnum.
The .458 Winchester Magnum was developed for the Winchester Model 70 bolt-action rifle, and offered newly affluent American hunters the ability to hunt dangerous game in Africa without having to resort either to purchasing expensive double rifles or older and hard to find Mauser big game rifles. The .458 Winchester Magnum was supposed to offer the performance of classic double rifle cartridges like the .450 Nitro Express or .470 Nitro Express, or of classic bolt-action cartridges such as the .404 Jefferey or 10.75x68mm Mauser, but with Winchester’s full factory support for ammunition.
The initial specs for the .458 Winchester Magnum specified a 500-grain bullet traveling at 2,150 feet per second from a 26-inch barrel. That would give just over 5,000 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. Initial factory loadings featured a ball powder that was often compressed. The clumps of powder thus burned erratically, giving inconsistent performance in the field, not something that you want to have happen when you’re faced with a charging Cape buffalo, elephant, or hippopotamus. Coupled with the fact that many shooters preferred shorter barrels, such as 20-22 inches, and actual velocity in many cases was often 1,900 feet per second or lower, offering about 20% less muzzle energy.
Despite those initial teething problems, the .458 Winchester Magnum quickly became one of the most popular dangerous game cartridges used in Africa. While it is considered overpowered for most North American game, it can serve a useful role as a stopping cartridge for large carnivores such as grizzly bear, brown bear, or polar bear.
Because of the fierce recoil of the .458 Winchester Magnum, it’s not a cartridge you’re going to fire a whole lot, so the fact that ammunition starts at about $3.50 a round isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker. While most Americans probably won’t have a need for a cartridge as powerful as the .458 Winchester Magnum during a survival situation, for those out in the Rocky Mountains or in Alaska, the .458 Winchester Magnum could play a very useful role in their survival preparations.
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