View Full Version : Kifaru Unofficial Bullet Test - .458 on Elk

11-05-2004, 05:00 PM
I gotta tell you that I view my annual elk hunt here in Colorado as my big chance to experiment with rifles, calibers and bullets. Elk are incredibly tough, and any elk is a good test of shooting gear. Some time ago, I'd decided that 2004 would be my “biggest” elk experiment ever.

About two years ago I bought a very handsome, used Winchester Model 70 African in .458 Winchester Magnum. The rifle was made in 1975 and it is the quid essential elephant rifle. In my own warped way I figured that lacking sufficient jumbo in Colorado, it ought to work just fine on elk.

I had the stock refinished and a new recoil pad installed to fit my length of pull. Using super-strong Conetrol bases and rings, I completed the classy rig with a Leupold 1.5-5 scope. Next, I tried a variety of factory ammo by Federal, Winchester and Remington, with and without premium bullets. After plenty of smoke and thunder, I finally settled on plain "ol vanilla 510 grain soft points from Winchester. From the bench, that ammo grouped into an inch and often less at 100 yards. My elephant (I mean elk) gun was proving amazingly accurate.

Ok, I know what you're thinking…no one can shoot a .458 Winchester Magnum with 510 grain bullets that well. The truth is I had help in the form of a Caldwell Lead Sled. If you've never tried a Lead Sled with big boomer rifles, you really ought to. The Lead Sled is a shooting rest to which you add one to four 25-pound bags of lead shot. I routinely added two 25# bags to my Lead Sled when shooting my .458, in effect adding 50 pounds to the weight of my rifle. With that setup, my elephant (elk!) rifle recoils about like a .338 Winchester Magnum. I can shoot it all day.

In any case, I had the big gun shooting very well and my confidence was high when Colorado's elk season opened. In my pocket was a cow tag. An elephant/elk test was in the making.

Two days into the hunt found me slowly still-hunting into the wind in the dark timber on a north side of a ridge at 10,500 feet. As I eased forward, three cow elk stood up from their beds about forty-five yards away. The biggest cow was facing me head on and I remember thinking that here was my test. I flipped the three-position safety off and centered the crosshair where her neck joined her chest.

Elk are astonishingly tough and seldom react to a rifle shot. Mostly they just run off. This cow was no different. At the shot, she simply whirled and headed down hill. After three steps, though, she stumbled. After ten steps, she wobbled. Within thirty yards, she was down. I covered her closely as I marched up on her, fully aware that I had the perfect stopping rifle should she charge.

I'd hit her right where I'd aimed. From there, the big 510 grain bullet had traveled the entire length of her and I found it, perfectly mushroomed, just under the hide on the back of her right hip. It had plowed through the chest cavity, the stomach cavity and the right hip before stopping up against the hide. When I skinned out that right hip, my knife clinked against it. All in all, that big bullet traveled through 56 inches of elk. I know because I measured it.

I also weighed the mushroomed bullet – 488 grains. Through an elk stem to stern, it retained 96% of its weight. Fascinating. I imagine a .458 solid would still be going.

So, a 510 grain bullet from a .458 elephant gun works just fine on elk. And no, I didn't feel the 50-plus foot pounds of recoil even a little bit when I shot her. Hunting adrenaline blocks out a lot.

So, that's my 2004 elk test. Did I also mention I'd earlier arrowed two record book caribou and a Muskox in the Northwest Territories and .270ed a fine antelope in Wyoming (had thought about using my .458, but couldn't come to grips with shooting it prone in the sagebrush).

It's been a wild year.

Yolla Bolly
11-06-2004, 08:17 PM
Thanks for the info---So should I get one for these 98 pound blacktails?

11-06-2004, 08:20 PM
Thanks for the report! I think I'll have to have a 458 Win someday just to have the 'father' to my .338 WIn.

11-06-2004, 08:30 PM
You should see what a .495 A-Square does to whitetail!

11-07-2004, 02:20 PM
Yolla - I'd definately say it's enough gun for those wiley blacktails.
Pointer - My .458 has proven be be loads of fun. I think that sometimes we get so caught up in selecting cartridges and rifles that will be "perfect" for a particular hunt or animal that we forget that sometimes just having fun with that selection is enough. Having fun and be adventurous is what using a .458 for elk is all about.
USMA84DAB - I'd love to see it it! Guess I'm not the only big bore fan out there that likes to use his big rifles on whatever is available.

I must admit that after using a .458 this year, I am at a bit of a loss as to what to use next year. I can't afford a .470 Nito Express double. Anybody have any suggestions for a fun, fascinating and effeective rig for elk in the timber (50 to 150 yard shots mostly)? I'm toying with the idea of a classic Remington 600 in .350 Remington Magnum (have to get one first) or a 35 Whelen or a Winchester 1886 in 45-70. Any other ideas?

11-07-2004, 03:01 PM
Timberline: How about a .454 Casull lever action carbine (20" barrel) by Legacy (Rossi)?

11-07-2004, 04:05 PM

.480 Ruger in a lever gun, 2 1/2 Leupold scope, Buffalo Bore ammo.

11-08-2004, 06:10 AM
I think you ought to build a 20ga rifle off a Ruger No. 1 action!!!! Forget the sabot loads and run nothing but full strength/full diameter loads similiar to the old paradox guns!!! /images/%%GRAEMLIN_URL%%/laugh.gif A hard cast .62 bullet of about 500+grs at 1500fps!!! /images/%%GRAEMLIN_URL%%/laugh.gif

That way I'll know how to do it. /images/%%GRAEMLIN_URL%%/wink.gif

11-08-2004, 11:20 AM
Good ideas all! The 20 gauge notion is offbeat, but fascinating. The common denominator in these suggestions seems to be a relatively large diameter bullet of considerable weight going fairly slow out of a light and handy gun.

That certainly jives with what I've experienced with elk and am thinking for a next
elk-killing rig.

It's genuinely hard to impress elk. When I was young and had but one rifle to my name, I killed several bulls deader than a rock with a .243 and 100-grain Winchester Power Points. Then I started reading the sporting journals, learned I was undergunned, developed the notion that Jack O'Conner walked on water and bought a .270. That was the beginning of a life-long quest for the perfect elk rifle. From a first .270, I graduated to a .30-06, then a 7mm Remington Magnum, then a .300 Winchester Magnum, then a .300 Weatherby Magnum, then a .338 Winchester Magnum, then a .340 Weatherby, then a .375 H&H and most recently my .458 dark continent/dark timber special. In between, I also shot elk with a .280 Remington, a .300 H&H and an 8mm Remington Magnum. What I think I've learned in nearly three decades of elk chasing and twenty-five or so elk taken with all of the above cartridges (and 19 more with a bow) is that it's rare to knock an elk down with any rifle cartridge. What does put them down quicker, though, is a proper hit with big diameter bullets (.338 and above) in heavy-for-caliber bullet weight. Punch one big hole in an elk in the right place and he or she generally won't go fifty yards, often falling within sight.

That isn't to say that cartridges less than .338 don't work well on elk. They do. They work extremely well. The elk just go a bit farther before falling. And I should add that if you hit an elk wrong, no cartridge will help you much. At least, no cartridge I've tried ever compensated much for poor hits.

The other thing I've learned is that most of the time I prefer a lighter mass weight rifle for elk (under eight pounds all up) because I personally tend to hunt at higher elevations and in steep country and relatively light gear is right for me in that venue. Even my current Remington custom shop KS Mountain Rifles in .338 WM and .375 H&H fit into that category.

Soooooooooo, that brings be back to what to shoot next for elk? A cartridge I've never tried before–such as a .350 Remington Magnum, a .35 Whelen, a 7x57 or one of the new short magnums–has merit. So does an interesting rifle like a lever gun or double rifle or a classic rifle such as almost any pre-64 Model 70, a Remington 600 in .350, a Winchester 88 in .358, etc. Then there's the idea of an ultralight elk rifle: my Rifles Inc. Lightweight Strata in .270, a Kimber Montana or 700 Ti or Kifaru Rambler in .308.

I guess I've got all winter to figure it out. Thanks to all for the suggestions to date. I'd welcome any other ideas.

Oh, and this year I used a twelve-man Kifaru tipi (seams sealed!) with large Kifaru wood stove as my mid-October Colorado elk hunting base camp, and it worked great. Water froze in the tipi at night (which is fine with me), but within five minutes of lighting the stove in the pre-dawn, it was T-shirt conditions inside that big, classy tent. The twelve-man goes up fast, packs down to a ridiculously small package and is just plain fun to hunt out of. I also made good use of my Kifaru Siwash pack with GunBearer (how else do you carry a 9 lbs 13 oz Winchester M70 African .458 up an 11,000 foot shale slide?). This is the second year I've used a Siwash pack for elk hunting and I love it. It rides like it's not there when hunting even the tightest timber, yet expands quickly to accommodate clothing and even a first-trip-out elk quarter. I like my LongHunter for full-blown backpacking and meat packing, and my smaller Spike Camp for bowhunting in warmer weather, but the Siwash seems perfect for later in the fall and serious rifle hunting. For a medium-sized pack, the Siwash can comfortably handle a surprising amount of gear, meat and antlers.

I had four relatives join me for elk hunting on public land this year and the five of us took four elk (two cows, a five point bull and a six point bull). It seemed like we spent an inordinate amount of time backpacking meat out of nasty canyons. The two Kifaru packs (LongHunter and Siwash) I'd brought along were much in demand. It's rather fun to switch packs full of elk meat with someone who purchased their pack at Wal-Mart and has never before tried a Kifaru pack. Within about 200 yards, those guys develop what I call the Kifaru smile. The only problem, then, is getting them to switch back for the remaining three miles to the truck.

11-09-2004, 05:50 AM
Yeah, I'm hoping the 20ga is facinating enough for you to try it! /images/%%GRAEMLIN_URL%%/laugh.gif I grew up using slug guns for deer and never thought of them as an 'elk-able' gun. However, reading some of Ross Seyfried's work on the old SXS and single shot bore rifle and paradox's has me wondering. I'm betting that a .62 cal hard cast of the LBT designs would make an impression on anything.

FYI, there's a gun on accuratereloading's board that is doing the 'economy' verson of this. He started with an H&R 20ga fully rifled single shot. He's using cast bullet with plastic and brass shot shells.