The .404 is as versatile as they come.
But is it the all around best?
The actual year that the .404 Jeffery was released is a source of debate and even argument among those who study cartridge history, and particularly African hunting cartridges. Most research will indicate that 1909 was the official release date, yet Phil Shoemaker — the famous brown bear guide from Alaska — has a rifle that dates back to 1907, clearly original and clearly chambered for the .404 Jeffery.
It doesn’t really matter; let’s agree that the latter portion of the first decade of the 20th century saw the .404 burst onto the scene. Its purpose was to replicate the ballistics of the steadfast .450/400 3-inch Nitro Express in a bolt-action rifle, and it worked. The bullet diameter was changed from .410” to .411” for the .450/400 to .423” for the .404 Jeffery — for reasons I can’t quite figure out — and the new case drove a 400-grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2,125 fps for 4,020 ft-lbs of energy, as well as a 300-grain copper pointed bullet at 2,625 fps, designed for long-range work. The .404 has an 8-degree shoulder; usually a cartridge that doesn’t feature a rim or a belt features a much more prominent shoulder in order to facilitate good headspacing. That said, I’ve never had a single problem with headspacing in the .404 Jeffery, and that slight shoulder allows the cartridge to feed like a dream — and that’s an important feature on any dangerous-game cartridge. While it became very popular among British rifle makers, it was also embraced by German rifle makers, designated as the 10.75x73mm.
That early muzzle velocity of 2,125 fps may seem sedate when compared to the .375 H&H Magnum or the .416 Rigby, which run at 2,550 fps with a 300-grain bullet and 2,410 fps with a 400-grain bullet, respectively. But it is enough to ensure reliable expansion and penetration with the standard cup-and-core softpoints and steel jacketed solids. All this in a cartridge that has, possibly, the mildest perceived recoil of any of the dangerous-game cartridges I’ve used. The combination of mild recoil and the ability to place those bullets where they need to be is tantamount to quickly dispatching game animals.
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