Jack Lott was a friend of mine and perhaps the biggest “gun nut” I’ve ever known. I use that term in its complimentary form because Lott was also one of the most knowledgeable shooters and hunters I ever met. I believe that nothing would have pleased Jack Lott more than to know that finally, 31 years after its creation, his cartridge, the .458 Lott, has been legitimized by a major ammunition manufacturer.
Lott’s first love was the Mauser 98. His expertise in this area was truly nonpareil. His second love was Africa, and hunting dangerous game. It made perfect sense, then, that after a nasty run-in with a Cape buffalo in the late ’50s he searched high and low for the perfect big-bore stopping rifle. In time, this lead to the creation of a truly versatile cartridge, the .458 Lott. He developed it in 1971, and the Lott has gained a fine reputation during the ensuing years. It was adopted years ago as the issued cartridge for Kruger Park game rangers and has maintained a devoted following among knowledgeable professional and amateur dangerous-game hunters. Unfortunately, it was never picked up and loaded by a major ammunition-maker–until now.
For a short time, the .458 Lott was offered as a proprietary cartridge by A-Square, but for the most part the Lott remained fairly obscure. Fortunately, we now have Hornady to thank for taking a leap of faith and loading the Lott. Teamed with Ruger’s new M77RSM MK II, this is truly a dynamic duo for dangerous game.
The beauty of the .458 Lott lies in its simplicity and versatility. According to Frank Barnes in Cartridges of the World, the .458 Lott is based on a blown-out and shortened .375 H&H case. The Lott is not the only wildcat based on the .375 H&H. In fact, the Lott is predated by the full-length .450 Watts, .475 OKH and .475 Ackley and post-dated by the .470 Capstick, among others.
What Jack Lott did do to make the .458 Lott truly different was to shorten the parent case from an overall length of 2.85 inches to 2.80. This in turn makes the length of the Lott case only .3 inch longer than the .458 Winchester, which is just enough to accept the few additional grains of propellant needed to push a 500-grain bullet 300 fps faster than the Winchester cartridge. An added benefit is that Lott-chambered rifles will safely chamber and fire standard .458 Winchester ammo.
While the .458 Winchester remains a contender, it has always lacked true stopping power. Its stubby 2.50-inch case lacks the powder capacity to attain 2,150-fps-or-greater velocities, which are viewed as the minimum acceptable by most knowledgeable hunters. The Lott, on the other hand, delivers 2,300-fps velocities from 24-inch-barreled rifles, which in turn produces 6,020 ft-lbs of muzzle energy–1,400 ft-lbs more than the .458 Winchester.
Hornady offers a choice of Lott loads: a 500-grain softpoint InterLock bullet or a 500-grain copper-jacketed lead-core solid. Both are loaded to a velocity of 2,300 fps from a 24-inch barrel. In tests, conducted with the assistance of G&A Technical Editor Bob Forker, the Hornady ammo averages 2,274 fps from the 23-inch-barreled Ruger M77 Magnum.
In July, Ruger’s Bob Stutler, along with Greg Jones and Hermann Theisinger from Kahles Optik, joined me on safari. With the help of my longtime friend, outfitter and professional hunter Harry Claassens, we hooked up with the Meredith brothers, who run the Dande North safari concession in Zimbabwe. Daryl and “Squirrel” Meredith’s 383,000-acre wilderness area contains no fences and few roads. Bordering the Zambezi River and Mozambique, Dande North is a land of stunning vistas and large numbers of elephant, Cape buffalo, lion, leopard and hippo.
We flew into this hunter’s paradise aboard twin Cessna 180 bush planes, landing on a dirt strip at Pedza Pasi in late afternoon. For hundreds of years, Pedza Pasi had been a collection point for Arab and then Portuguese slave raiders, thus its Shona name translation, “The Place of Death.” Today it’s the location of Swainson Safaris’ base camp and the debarkation point for hunters looking to experience some of the most beautiful terrain and game-rich hunting ground I’ve ever seen.
Ruger’s M77 .458 Lott is an outstanding choice for dangerous game. Featuring a nicely figured Circassian walnut stock carved in traditional English express-rifle style, the Ruger sports an attractively tapered fore-end with an ebony tip a
nd a slim, graceful wrist. The rifle’s heavy, 23-inch barrel features integral scope-mount bases atop the receiver bridge and ring, along with front and rear express sight bases. The rear sight has a fixed V-notch leaf factory-zeroed for 50 yards and two additional hinged leaves set at 100 and 200 yards. Our sample rifles featured small, brass-bead front sights. Unfortunately, this choice proved too small for my aging eyes to acquire easily, so given the choice, I’d prefer a larger white plastic or orange fiber optic bead.
Purists will be pleased to note that the Ruger action features a dependable controlled-round feed mechanism designed around a large and powerful nonrotating claw extractor teamed to a fixed-blade ejector. The trigger is far better than most out-of-the-box factory Rugers, breaking cleanly at three pounds with just a hint of drag. The magazine holds three rounds of .458 Lott. I would like to see a drop-box magazine that held four or possibly five rounds, more as a concession to tradition than actual practicality. If four rounds of .458 Lott (three in the magazine plus one in the chamber, as it is currently designed) can’t sort out the trouble you’re in, one or two additional rounds won’t mean much to the buffalo or elephant as it makes you one with the African dust.
Weighing in at just less than 10 pounds, the new Ruger is both heavy enough to help dampen recoil yet light enough to be carried through thick jess and miombo. All in all, the Ruger rifle is both attractive and practical and–most important–utterly dependable.
Range tests showed that both Rugers were capable of shooting inch to 1 1/2-inch groups at 50 yards with iron sights. When topped with a Kahles 1.25-4X scope, one of the rifles consistently printed groups of the same size at 100 yards. This is exceptional accuracy for a rifle intended for the close-range shooting of dangerous animals.
In Dande North, Stutler and I tracked and stalked buffalo herds for three days without getting a chance to shoot one. We were in with the bovines every day; their manure smell permeated the air, and their grunts and bellows became commonplace. Once, a big dagga boy in a group of five turned to fight, and we slipped off our safeties. But at the last minute, he thought better of his bravado and turned to flee with the herd.
On day four our luck changed. Moving quickly along the track in the early-morning chill, we caught up with the beasts within an hour, alerted to their proximity by the incessant chirping of tickbirds. The herd consisted of about 20 animals. Two were of note: a big bull with a 40-inch-plus spread and an equally impressive dry cow with sweeping horns and a heavy body.
We followed and anxiously awaited an opportunity for a shot. Eventually, the group crossed a sandy donga and moved slowly up a mountainside. The animals grazed casually ever upward. We trailed them to leeward and paralleled their course, screened from their view by fairly open stands of young mopani trees and four-foot-tall elephant grass.
About two-thirds of the way up the slope, the herd paused to feed not 50 yards away amid a group of small trees and boulders. The bull kept well back in the herd, shielded by cows and calves. However, the big old matriarch we had spied earlier now worked her way slowly to the edge of the group. Seeing my opportunity, I scampered up a pile of lava rock. As sweat seeped down my face, and the sunblock with which it mixed stung my eyes, I was able to barely make out the buffalo, head down and feeding. I centered the coarse duplex crosshair of the Kahles scope into the hollow where shoulder joins neck. I squeezed the trigger and the rifle roared. As the 500-grain InterLock softpoint struck her, she staggered forward and she nosed down into the grass.
Practicing the first rule of dangerous-game hunting, I quickly threw the Ruger’s bolt and let a follow-up solid fly into her exposed shoulder, followed immediately with another.
This wasn’t the first buffalo I’ve killed or seen killed, but I have never witnessed the absolutely staggering effect that the .458 Lott’s 500-grain bullet produced upon initial impact. This buffalo was knocked senseless, incapable of standing. That’s what stopping power is all about.
Two days later Stutler killed a magnificent 44-inch bull in much the same manner. Hit under the chin, the bull dropped like a sack of potatoes. It simply could not rise after the first shot, and Stutler pummeled it again with a solid through the shoulder, finishing the job.
When you hunt dangerous game, you want that animal down with the first round and unable to launch a counterattack. That was Jack Lott’s intent when he designed the cartridge, and that’s the kind of result you can expect with the new ammo.
I left Africa more than impressed with the performance of this new ammo and rifle. More important, our PHs were impressed as well. That endorsement speaks for itself, and I now knew from personal experience what old Jack had known all along: The .458 Lott is one helluva stopping cartridge.