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What Caliber Is an Elephant Gun?

The Elephant Gun is a massive rifle designed to take down large game, such as elephants, as its name suggests. These guns were typically used by big game hunters in Africa during the Victorian era.

While the Elephant Gun was designed to be a lethal weapon, it could also be used for other purposes, such as scaring away predators or providing entertainment through shooting competitions. In some cases, they were even used as ceremonial weapons.

Despite their size and power, Elephant Guns were not without their drawbacks. They were incredibly expensive to purchase and maintain, and they required a lot of skill and practice to use effectively. In addition, they were very heavy and difficult to transport, which made them impractical for many hunters.

Despite these drawbacks, the Elephant Gun remains an iconic symbol of the Victorian era, and it continues to be used by big game hunters today.

Elephant Gun Caliber

The term “elephant gun” is used to describe any large-caliber rifle that is designed for taking down big game. The most common caliber for an elephant gun is .577, although guns with calibers as large as .700 have been used.

The .577 caliber was first popularized by British big game hunter Sir Samuel Baker, who used it to great effect on his African safaris in the 1860s. Baker’s success with the .577 led to its widespread adoption by other hunters, and it remains a popular caliber for elephant guns today.

Sir Samuel Baker
Sir Samuel Baker

At minimum, the caliber of an elephant gun is at least .375. However, many elephant guns are much larger than that. The largest caliber ever used for an elephant gun was the .700 Nitro Express, which was used by hunter and explorer Percy Fawcett in the early 1900s.

Elephant Gun Specs

As discussed, the elephant gun was created to take down large game. It is a very large caliber rifle, typically between .577 and .700, although lower calibers exist. The purpose of this incredible piece of weaponry is to stop large animals and dangerous game in their tracks.

577 Nitro Express vs 22 CB Cartridges
.22 CB next to a .577 Nitro Express Cartridge
.577 Nitro Express.700 Nitro Express.577 Tyrannosaur
Bullet Diameter.585 in (14.9 mm).700 in (17.8 mm)0.585 in (14.9 mm)
Overall length3.70 in (94 mm)4.20 in (107 mm)3.710 in (94.2 mm)
Bullet mass750 gr (49 g)1,000 gr (65 g)750 gr (49 g)
Velocity1,800 ft/s (550 m/s)2,000 ft/s (610 m/s)2,480 ft/s (760 m/s)
Energy5,400 ft⋅lbf (7,300 J)9,000 ft⋅lbf (12,000 J)10,240 ft⋅lbf (13,880 J)

The bullets used in these guns are also very large and can weigh up to 700 grains. This kind of firepower is necessary to take down an animal as large as an elephant bull. The guns themselves are also very large and can weigh up to 30 pounds.

The recoil of an elephant gun can be tremendous, and even experienced shooters can find it difficult to handle. These guns are also very expensive, with some models costing upwards of $100,000.

Produced by Holland & Holland, Purdey, and a few other manufacturers, the elephant gun is truly a weapon of exceptional power and prestige.

Elephant Gun History

The first Elephant Guns were created in the early 1800s, although they did not gain widespread popularity until the Victorian era. The Victorian era was a time of great exploration and expansion, and many Europeans were fascinated by the exotic animals and cultures they encountered in Africa.

President Teddy Roosevelt with a Elephant Rifle and killed Elephant
President Teddy Roosevelt with a Elephant Rifle and killed Elephant

As a result, big game hunting became a popular pastime among the wealthy, and Elephant Guns were created to accommodate this new hobby. The guns were typically large caliber rifles that could kill the largest and most dangerous animals with one shot.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, many Elephant Guns were used in Africa to help European hunters bring back trophies of their big game hunts. In some cases, the guns were also used to kill elephants for their ivory tusks.

However, as the African game population of elephants began to decline, more people spoke out against this practice.

Pete Pearson with a downed elephant by his 577 Nitro Express double rifle
Pete Pearson with a downed elephant by his 577 Nitro Express double rifle

The British used elephant guns in the Boer War and World War I. In both cases, the guns were used to great effect against enemy soldiers. The large caliber bullets and black powder made for a devastating combination.

Today, Elephant Guns are still used for big game hunting, but they are also prized by collectors. Many of these guns are quite valuable, and some are even considered works of art.

Professional hunters and game collectors alike still use and admire Elephant Guns for their power and beauty. These guns represent a time when humans were fascinated by the natural world and the animals that inhabited it.

They also remind us of the importance of conservation, as the African game population has declined significantly since the heyday of big game hunting.

Types of Elephant Guns

There are two main types of elephant guns: muzzle-loading and breech-loading. Muzzle-loaders were the first type of elephant guns and were used in the early days of big game hunting.

Breech-loaders came about in the mid-19th century and were much more efficient, allowing hunters to fire multiple shots without having to reload each time.

Elephant guns typically have a large caliber bullet and are loaded with black powder. They were popular during the first world war and are still used today for big game hunting.

Muzzle-loaders are typically more accurate than breech-loaders, but they take longer to reload. Breech-loaders are easier and faster to reload, but they are not as accurate.

Herd of elephants walking with snow capped mountains in background

Nitro Express cartridges were developed in the late 19th century and are still used today. These cartridges are more powerful than black powder and allow for a higher velocity bullet.

The black powder era of elephant guns certainly had its place in history, but the introduction of Nitro Express cartridges has made elephant hunting much easier and more efficient.

Choosing the Best Elephant Gun

When it comes to choosing the best elephant gun, there are a few things you need to take into account. The most important factor is obviously the caliber of the gun. When you hunt elephants, you need a gun that can take down the biggest and most dangerous game out there. That’s why most hunters opt for a caliber between .458 and .577.

Another important factor to consider is the action of the gun. You want a gun that can chamber rounds quickly and efficiently. That way, if you miss your first shot, you can quickly chamber another round and take the elephant down before it has a chance to attack.

You also need to consider the weight of the gun. A heavier gun will be more difficult to carry around, but it will also have more stopping power. If you’re not sure which gun is right for you, it’s always a good idea to consult with a professional before making your final decision.

Elephant walking through the jungle

Here are a few of the best elephant guns on the market:

1. The .458 Winchester Magnum

This gun is one of the most popular choices for elephant hunting. It’s incredibly powerful and can take down even the largest elephants. The only downside is that it’s a bit on the heavy side, so you might need to take a break after carrying it around for a while.

2. The .460 Weatherby Magnum

Another great choice for elephant hunting, the .460 Weatherby Magnum is just as powerful as the .458 Winchester Magnum, but it’s a bit lighter, so it’s easier to carry. So if you prefer a gun that’s easy to carry but still packs a punch, this is the one for you.

3. The .470 Nitro Express

As one of the most powerful elephant guns on the market, the .470 Nitro Express is incredibly accurate and can take down even the biggest elephants. However, it’s also very heavy. You’ll want to make sure you’re prepared to carry it around before you purchase it.

4. The .500 Nitro Express

This is one of the most powerful elephant guns on the market. It’s incredibly accurate and can take down even the biggest elephants. But like other elephant guns, it’s very heavy and can be difficult to manage.

5. The .600 Nitro Express

This is the second-most powerful elephant gun on the market. It is also one of the largest cartridges in existence. It was designed by W.J. Jeffery & Co., and first introduced in 1900. It is a rimless, bottlenecked cartridge designed for use in a double rifle. It is capable of precise shooting and can take down the largest and most dangerous game animals on the planet.

6. The .700 Nitro Express

This is the most powerful elephant gun on the market. Developed by Holland & Holland in 1988, the .700 Nitro Express will stop any elephant in its tracks. It fires a .700 caliber bullet that weighs over 1,000 grains. The recoil from this gun is so great that it is often used on safari from the back of a Land Rover. The .700 Nitro Express is truly an animal in its own right.

.700 Nitro Express bullet


What caliber can kill an elephant?

While there are historical records of .223 caliber cartridges killing elephants, it is generally accepted that a minimum caliber of .375 is necessary to ensure a clean kill with a single shot.
Anything less than that, and you run the risk of wounding the animal, which can be extremely dangerous.

Is an elephant gun bigger than 50 cal?

No, an elephant gun is not bigger than 50 cal. By comparison, the largest caliber that has been used on elephants is the .700 Nitro Express. It produces 8,900 foot-pounds (12,100 J) of muzzle energy and has a muzzle velocity of 2,000 ft/s. The .50 BMG on the other hand, has a smaller diameter but tends to be a taller bullet. It also produces a much larger 13,350 foot-pounds (18,100 J) of muzzle energy and has a muzzle velocity of 4,000 ft/s. So as you can see, the .50 BMG is actually a much more powerful caliber than an elephant gun.

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