Express rifle

Express rifle

The term Express was first applied to hunting rifles and ammunition beginning in the middle 1800s, to indicate a rifle or ammunition capable of higher than typical velocities. The early Express cartridges used a heavy charge of black powder to propel a lightweight, often hollow point bullet, at high velocities to maximize point blank range. Later the Express cartridges were loaded with nitrocellulose based gunpowder, leading to the Nitro Express cartridges, of which the most successful was the .450 Nitro Express.cite book |title=The Gun and Its Development |author=William Wellington Greener |year=1907]

The term "Express" is still in use today, and is applied to rifles, ammunition, and a type of iron sight. With the widespread adoption of small bore, high velocity rifle cartridges, the meaning of "Express" has shifted in modern usage, and refers to high velocity, large bore rifles and ammunition, typically used for hunting large or dangerous game at close range. [cite web |url= |title=Definition of express rifle |]


The name originates with a rifle built by James Purdey in 1856 (based on a pattern established a year earlier by William Greener) and named the "Express Train", a marketing phrase intended to denote the considerable velocity of the bullet it fired. It was not the first rifle or cartridge of this type--the ancestor to the Express rifle is often listed as the Kentucky rifle--but it was Purdy's name "Express" that stuck.

To understand the context of the Express cartridge, it is necessary to go back to the weapons that preceded them. Early hunting firearms were typically smoothbore, which required them to fire a spherical projectile. This meant that a given bore size must fire a given weight of projectile, which put significant limits on the external and terminal ballistics of the gun. The significant arc of the slow round ball limited the maximum point blank range to very short distances, and the spherical nature of the ball required a large bore diameter to carry a ball large and heavy enough to provide a quick kill on large game. These early smoothbore guns were typically measured by gauge, as most modern shotguns still are, rather than by caliber. Typical gauges used ranged from 12 to 4; the 4 gauge, used for large game, fired a massive ball of 1500 grains weight (97 g).

By moving to a rifled bore, the bullet was no longer constrained to a spherical shape. This allowed a wide range of bullet weights to be used with a single bore size; the .450 Nitro Express, for example, was loaded with bullets ranging from a 270 grain hollow point bullet for small game such as deer, to a 360 grain solid bullet for use on dangerous game, to even heavier jacketed bullets for use on elephant. The early black powder Express cartridges used paper patched lead bullets, to prevent lead buildup in the bore at the high velocities. These bullets were made of soft lead, and even in solid form they expanded readily and provided great killing power.cite book |title=The Book of the Rifle |author=Thomas Francis Fremantle, Thomas Francis Fremantle Cottesloe |year=1901] cite book |title=Cartridges of the World, 10th Ed. |publisher=Krause Publications |author=Frank C. Barnes, ed. Stan Skinner |isbn=0-87349-605-1]

Typically the trajectory height would not be greater than 4.5 inches at convert|150|yd|m|-1 and the rifle would have a muzzle velocity of at least convert|1750|ft/s|m/s|0. While convert|1750|ft/s|m/s|0|abbr=on is not fast by modern standards, it was in the era of black powder and spherical balls. As nitro powders were introduced and became the standard, bores grew smaller, and velocities grew ever larger, until the term "Express" grew to mean something different than just high velocity. William Greener, for example, splits British sporting rifles at the turn of the 20th century into four classes:
*Large bore smoothbores, or "Elephant guns"
*Medium bore high velocity rifles, the "Express rifle"
*Small bore, higher velocity rifles, the "long range Express rifle"
*Miniature, short range rifles, or "Rook rifles"

Since then, "express" has gradually changed to denote a large bore diameter combined with high velocity. The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica, for example, lists Express cartridges ranging from .360 to .577 caliber. The traditional Express rifles were break action designs, either single or double barrel designs, and Express rifles are still made in this form today. With the advent of repeating actions, many bolt action rifles were chambered in Express cartridges, and often the same cartridge will be found in "flanged" and "rimless" form, the flanged for break-open actions, and the rimless for easier feed from a bolt action rifle's magazine.

Many modern rifle cartridges fire large caliber, heavy bullets at velocities of well over convert|2000|ft/s|m/s|-2, and the designation "Express" has largely been replaced by "Magnum" in most cartridge names, though the Nitro Express does live on, with the 1988 introduction of the .700 Nitro Express. With a few exceptions, such the .242 Rimless Nitro Express from the 1920s, and a brief period around 1980 when Remington renamed their .280 Remington cartridge the "7 mm Express Remington", the label "Express" is today used for short range, big game rifles pushing large, fast bullets.cite book |title=Cartridges of the World, 10th Ed. |publisher=Krause Publications |author=Frank C. Barnes, ed. Stan Skinner |isbn=0-87349-605-1]

Another item to bear the name "Express" is the iron sight combination, used by William Greener and still found on Express rifles today, consisting of a bead front sight and shallow "V" rear sight. The large, usually white bead is easily seen in low light and the shallow "V" notch provides an unobstructed view of the surrounding area. [cite web |url= |title=Definition for "express sights"]


Traditional Express cartridges tend to be long cases, working at low pressures. This is partially due to their black powder roots, but the low pressure cases are also more reliable under extreme conditions, such as found in African hunting. Modern designs may use the belted magnum design; older ones may be rimmed for break actions or rimless for bolt action rifles. The bullets were typically short, light, hollow point designs intended for maximum velocity and ranges out to the maximum point blank range with fixed sights. Early cartridges were loaded with black powder, and many later converted to cordite or other smokeless powders, often yielding two similar cartridges with different loadings, such as the .450 Black Powder Express and the .450 Nitro Express. Older Express cartridge ballistics are fairly similar to modern shotgun slug ballistics, while modern big game cartridges, such as the .577 Tyrannasaur and the .587 Nyati, provide ballistics that push the physical limits of the hunter with their tremendous power and recoil. [cite web |url= |title=Slug Guns - The More I Use Them, the More I Like Them |author=Randy D. Smith]


There are many different express rounds, especially around the .450 size. The proliferation stemmed from a blanket restriction on the importation of .450 ammunition into India intended to prevent arms reaching rebellious natives.
*.375 H&H (Holland and Holland),
*.458 Winchester magnum, a post WW2 modern round of similar performance to the .450 NE
*.460 Weatherby magnum,
*Nitro Express series including the .577 and .600 NE.

Rifle design

Express rifles historically came in two actions. The side by side was the earliest, and by the early 1900s the bolt action began to gain prominence. The side by side has two barrels mounted beside one another and may have a single or double triggers. As such, it resembles a double-barrelled shotgun in appearance. This design allows the hunter to fire two shots in rapid succession - the second shot intended for when the animal is missed or not stopped with the first. If the hunter were using a bolt action rifle, he would have to work the bolt, taking additional time and probably affecting the aim. Most parts of the mechanism that fire the gun are duplicated. In the unlikely event that a mechanical failure like a broken firing pin or spring should occur, the hunter can still fire the second barrel. Bolt action rifles would have a small magazine of two or three rounds rather than 10 or more as might be found on a military rifle.

Modern express rifles are generally either single shot or bolt action designs, as double rifles are famously expensive -- getting both barrels to shoot to the same point of aim is an extremely lengthy and labor-intensive process. Single shot express rifles, such as the Sturm, Ruger No. 1 Tropical, have the advantage of being lighter and more compact than bolt actions, but at the expense of a truly brutal recoil. Bolt action rifles tend to be much heavier, which helps to tame the recoil of the fast, heavy bullets.

The weight of an express rifle is a significant concern to the shooter. Since express rifles are used for hunting dangerous game, the hunter's life can depend on being able to respond quickly to a threat from the game. A lightweight gun is easier to carry, and thus is more likely to be with the shooter when needed than a heavier gun that is often left behind. On the other hand, a light rifle will generate a higher recoil energy. Barrel length, barrel profile, action type, and stock style can all impact the weight of the gun and therefore the degree of recoil the shooter will experience with a given cartridge.


*Sturm, Ruger [ M77 MKII Magnum] and [ #1 Tropical] rifles, in calibers from .375 H&H to .458 Lott


*See "Rifle" in the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition
* [ Review] of the Ruger M77MKII Magnum in .458 Lott

ee also

*James Purdey
*John Rigby (company)
*Holland & Holland
*Westley Richards

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Express rifle — Ex*press ri fle A sporting rifle for use at short ranges, employing a large charge of powder and a light (short) bullet, giving a high initial velocity and consequently a flat trajectory. It is usually of moderately large caliber. [Webster 1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • express rifle — n. a hunting rifle using a large charge and a light bullet of large caliber, discharged with a high initial velocity; used to kill large game at short range …   English World dictionary

  • express rifle — noun Etymology: probably from express (IV) (train) : a sporting rifle for use at short ranges employing a large charge of powder and a light bullet …   Useful english dictionary

  • express rifle — a rifle designed for firing at game at short range. [1880 85] * * * …   Universalium

  • express rifle — noun a rifle that discharges a bullet at high speed, used in big game hunting …   English new terms dictionary

  • Express — may refer to: Media and communication * The term express may refer to express mail, or parcels carried by train, bus, airplane or by courier. * Express (satellite) is the name of a communication satellite. * The Daily Express is a British… …   Wikipedia

  • express — [ek spres′, ikspres′] vt. [ME expressen < ML expressare < L expressus, pp. of exprimere, to express, lit., force out < ex , out + premere: see PRESS1] 1. to press out or squeeze out (juice, etc.) 2. to get by pressure; elicit by force;… …   English World dictionary

  • express bullet — express bullet, an expanding bullet for use with an express rifle …   Useful english dictionary

  • express — 1. 1 represent or make known (thought, feelings, etc.) in words or by gestures, conduct, etc. 2 refl. say what one thinks or means. 3 esp. Math. represent by symbols. 4 squeeze out (liquid or air). Derivatives: expresser n. expressible adj …   Useful english dictionary

  • Double rifle — Holland and Holland double rifle in .375 H H Magnum. A double barreled rifle or double rifle is a type of sporting rifle with two barrels instead of one, available in either side by side or over and under barrel configurations. Double rifles are… …   Wikipedia

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