.458 Winchester Magnum
The .458 Winchester Magnum is a belted, straight-taper cased, dangerous game rifle
A rifle is a firearm designed to be fired from the shoulder, with a barrel that has a helical groove or pattern of grooves cut into the barrel walls. The raised areas of the rifling are called "lands," which make contact with the projectile , imparting spin around an axis corresponding to the...

Cartridge (firearms)
A cartridge, also called a round, packages the bullet, gunpowder and primer into a single metallic case precisely made to fit the firing chamber of a firearm. The primer is a small charge of impact-sensitive chemical that may be located at the center of the case head or at its rim . Electrically...

. It was introduced commercially in 1956 by Winchester and first chambered in the Winchester Model 70 African rifle. It was designed to compete against the .450 Nitro Express and the .470 Nitro Express cartridges found in big bore British double rifles. The .458 Winchester Magnum remains to this day one of the most popular dangerous game cartridges. Most major ammunition manufacturers offer a selection of .458 ammunition for rifles chambered in the cartridge.

History & Origins

The .458 Winchester Magnum was designed for hunting dangerous game animals by emulating the performance of powerful English double rifle cartidges in a bolt action rifle. the use of a bolt action rifle offered hunters a cheaper alternative to the big bore double rifle and ammunition could be manufactured using available tooling. The .458 Winchester Magnum soon became a success as dangerous game hunters adopted the cartridge. Soon game wardens, wildlife managers, and professional hunters switched to the .458 Winchester Magnum as their duty rifle. The cartridge would become the standard African dangerous game cartridge in short order.

By 1970 issues with the cartridge began to surface. Winchester had been using compressed loads of ball powder as a propellant for .458 Winchester Magnum. Due to clumping of the powder charge and the erratic burn characteristics associated with such loads, performance of the cartridge came into question. While Winchester addressed this issue, the stigma remained and the cartridge’s performance on dangerous game was suspect. However, the .458 Winchester Magnum remained the standard of measure for dangerous game cartridges.

Recently there has been a slow ebbing of popularity away from the .458 Winchester Magnum as the .458 Lott
.458 Lott
The .458 Lott is a .458 caliber belted hunting cartridge designed as a replacement for the less powerful .458 Winchester Magnum. It is based on the full length .375 H&H Magnum blown out and shortened to...

 and the various .416 cartridges have been gaining in popularity as ammunition and rifles have become more available to the public.

Design & Specifications

The .458 Winchester Magnum was designed from the outset to duplicate the performance level of the .450 Nitro Express and the .470 Nitro Express, which had become the mainstay of African dangerous game hunters. The .450 Nitro Express had been rated to launch a 480 gr bullet at 2150 ft/s (655.3 m/s) out of a 28 in (711.2 mm) barrel while the .470 Nitro Express would launch a 500 gr bullet at 2125 ft/s (647.7 m/s) out of a 31 in (787.4 mm) barrel. The design criteria for the .458 Winchester Magnum called for it to launch a 510 gr bullet at 2150 ft/s (655.3 m/s) out of a 26 in (660.4 mm) barrel.
SAAMI compliant .458 Winchester Magnum cartridge schematic: All dimensions in inches [millimeters].

The .458 Winchester Magnum's case was based on a .375 H&H case shortened to 2.5 in (63.5 mm) and renecked (to reduce taper) to accept a .458 caliber (11.43 mm) bullet. The cartridge remains the largest of the standard length magnum cartridge family released by Winchester, which includes the .264 Winchester Magnum and the .338 Winchester Magnum.

SAAMI recommends a 6 groove with a twist ratio of 1:14 with a bore Ø of 0.45 in (11.4 mm) and a groove Ø of 0.458 in (11.6 mm) with each groove having an arc length of 0.15 in (3.8 mm). While case volume varies between manufacturers, the typical Winchester case capacity is 95 grain of H2O (6.17 cm3). Maximum recommended pressure given by SAAMI is 53,000 c.u.p. while the CIP mandates a maximum pressure of 4300 bar (62,366.2 psi).


The original specifications for the cartridge called for a 510 gr to be fired at a velocity of 2150 ft/s (655.3 m/s) through a 26 in (660.4 mm) barrel. Winchester achieved and surpassed this performance with their .458 Magnum cartridge.

Current performance standards for the cartridge allow it to launch a 500 gr bullet at a velocity of about 2150 ft/s (655.3 m/s) through a 24 in (609.6 mm). The 500 gr bullet is seen as the standard weight for a 45 caliber (11.43 mm) rifle bullet. This bullet has a sectional density of .341, which provides the bullet a high penetrative value at a given velocity. Among standard sporting cartridge bullets, the 45 caliber (11.43 mm) 500 gr bullet has the highest sectional density. While bullets such as the 250 gr 30 caliber (7.62 mm) bullet with a sectional density of .374 and even a 600 gr 45 caliber (11.43 mm) with a sectional density of .409 exist these weights are not seen as a standard for those calibers. The .458 Winchester Magnum loaded with the 500 gr solid bullet provides adequate penetration for a frontal brain shot on an elephant under most conditions.

Due to the cartridge's relatively short case and powder column, longer bullets and those with a lower weight to length ratio—such as mono-metal bullets like the A-Square Monolithic Solid and the Barnes Banded Solids—may take up valuable powder space and lead to lower velocities and reduced performance. Hence, the reason for companies such as A-Square loading the .458 Winchester Magnum and even the .458 Lott with the 465 gr Monolithic Solid instead of the 500 gr, which is reserved for cartridges with large powder capacities such as the .450 Assegai and the .460 Weatherby Magnum. Bullets that tend to have a high weight to length ratios such as now discontinued 500 gr Speer African Grand Slam solid tend to work better in the .458 Winchester Magnum.

With modern powders the .458 Winchester Magnum is capable of launching a 300 gr bullet at 2600 ft/s (792.5 m/s), a 350 gr bullet at 2500 ft/s (762 m/s), the400 gr bullet at 2400 ft/s (731.5 m/s), and the 450 gr bullet at 2300 ft/s (701 m/s). However, as no mainline ammunition manufacturer provides sub-500 gr .458 Winchester ammunition this is a choice for those who load their own ammunition or access to custom loaded ammunition.

Sporting Usage

The .458 Winchester Magnum was designed for use against heavy thick skinned African game species such as elephant, rhinoceros and African Cape buffalo. The exceptional sectional density of the 500 gr bullet combined with a muzzle velocity of between 1950–2250 ft/s (594.4–685.8 m/s) provides the cartridge adequate penetration on these dangerous game species. Rifles produced for this cartridge usually weighed under 11 lb (5 kg). The combination of these factors helped the .458 Winchester Magnum become the most popular dangerous game cartridge on the African continent.

Unlike the more powerful .460 Weatherby Magnum
.460 Weatherby Magnum
The .460 Weatherby Magnum is a belted, bottlenecked rifle cartridge, developed by Roy Weatherby in 1957. The cartridge is based on the .378 Weatherby Magnum necked up to accept the bullet. The original .378 Weatherby Magnum parent case was inspired by the .416 Rigby...

 the .458 Winchester Magnum is not considered overly powerful for the larger felids such as lion or leopard in Africa. However, bullet selection is important for these felids as they are not considered thick skinned species with the largest of the lions weighing under 500 lb (226.8 kg). These species require bullets that open quickly upon impact, such as A-Square’s Lion load.

While the .458 Winchester Magnum is considered over powered for North American game species, the cartridge has found use for the hunting of large bears such as the polar and Alaskan brown bear and American bison. Many guides in Alaska and Canada carry rifles chambered in this cartridge to provide a defense against these largest bear species for themselves and their clients.

As almost all dangerous game hunting is conducted at short ranges with most shootings occurring well within a distance of 60 yd (54.9 m), the .458 was not designed as a long range hunting cartridge. Its effective hunting range against large dangerous game is considered less than 110 yd (100.6 m).


Since the .458 Winchester Magnum was intended as a dangerous game hunting cartridge, almost all ammunition manufactured for the cartridge is manufactured for these game species. Bullets used to load the .458 Winchester Magnum by ammunition manufacturers generally range between 450 gr.

Winchester currently offers ammunition in the traditional 510 gr Soft Point and the new 500 gr Nosler Partition and Nosler Solid. The Winchester 500 gr loading has a muzzle velocity of 2240 ft/s (682.8 m/s) and muzzle energy of 5570 foot-pounds (7,551.9 J). Interestingly, Winchester's 510 gr X4581 ammunition, which has a muzzle velocity of 2040 ft/s (621.8 m/s), is rated for CXP3 (large, non-dangerous) game species.

Hornady Manufacturing Company is an American manufacturer of ammunition and handloading components, based in Grand Island, Nebraska.The company was founded by Joyce Hornady in 1949 and is currently run by his son Steve Hornady who took over after his father's death in a plane crash in 1981.Hornady...

 offers what they call a "heavy magnum" loading that features a 500 gr bullet with a velocity of approx 2260 ft/s (688.8 m/s). They use a special double-based cooler burning propellant ("powder") not available to the public for handloading
Handloading or reloading is the process of loading firearm cartridges or shotgun shells by assembling the individual components , rather than purchasing completely assembled, factory-loaded cartridges...

. This innovative loading allows the .458 Winchester Magnum to attain 5670 foot-pounds (7,687.5 J) of muzzle energy. Federal Cartridge
Federal Cartridge
Federal Cartridge is a wholly owned subsidiary of Alliant Techsystems, located in Edina, Minnesota. With a work force of nearly 1,000 in Anoka, Minnesota, Federal manufactures a complete line of shotshell, centerfire, and rimfire ammunition and components....

 is now loading a 500 gr Barnes X bullet with a sectional density and ballistic coefficient that allows it to maintain approximately 2000 foot-pounds (2,711.6 J) of energy at 500 yards (457.2 m) and a flatter trajectory that has never been attained with this cartridge and bullet weight. Numerous companies offer rifles in this caliber, including the Winchester Model 70
Winchester Model 70
The Winchester Model 70 is a bolt action sporting rifle. It has an iconic place in American sporting culture and has been held in high regard by shooters since it was introduced in 1936, earning the moniker "The Rifleman's Rifle". The action has some design similarities to Mauser designs and it is...

, which was used by Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood
Clinton "Clint" Eastwood, Jr. is an American film actor, director, producer, composer and politician. Eastwood first came to prominence as a supporting cast member in the TV series Rawhide...

 in Dirty Harry
Dirty Harry
Dirty Harry is a 1971 American crime thriller produced and directed by Don Siegel, the first in the Dirty Harry series. Clint Eastwood plays the title role, in his first outing as San Francisco Police Department Inspector "Dirty" Harry Callahan....


The rounds for the .458 Win mag are more expensive than cartridges like the popular .30-06, making handloading a worthwhile effort. Though more expensive than deer hunting ammunition, the .458 Winchester Magnum is significantly less expensive than its competitors. For many decades the .458 has been the most popular rifle cartridge of professional hunters who pursue heavy dangerous game in Africa because of its performance, price, and availability. When British ammunition companies, including Kynoch
Kynoch was a manufacturer of ammunition, later incorporated into ICI but remaining as a brand name for sporting cartridges.-History:Kynoch was established in Witton in Birmingham in 1862 by Scottish entrepreneur George Kynoch when he opened a percussion cap factory in Witton. In 1895 he built an...

, began closing in the 1960s, Winchester and the .458 Winchester Magnum filled the gap left behind.

The recoil
Recoil is the backward momentum of a gun when it is discharged. In technical terms, the recoil caused by the gun exactly balances the forward momentum of the projectile and exhaust gasses, according to Newton's third law...

 of the factory loads is about 70 foot pounds. Handloads can make this cartridge more comfortable to shoot, for example using a 300 gr cast lead bullet at 1282 ft/s (390.8 m/s). This load mimics the .45/70 in both power and recoil.
.458 Winchester Magnum Ammunition
Ammunition Bullet Muzzle Velocity Muzzle Energy MPBR/Zero Notes
Winchester X4581 Winchester 510 gr SP 2040 ft/s (621.8 m/s) 4712 ft·lbf (6,388.6 J) 195 yd (178.3 m)/167 yd (152.7 m) Currently in production
Winchester S458WSLSP Nosler 500 gr Partition 2240 ft/s (682.8 m/s) 5570 ft·lbf (7,551.9 J) 218 yd (199.3 m)/185 yd (169.2 m) Currently in production
Winchester S458WSLS Nosler 500 gr Solid 2240 ft/s (682.8 m/s) 5570 ft·lbf (7,551.9 J) 213 yd (194.8 m)/181 yd (165.5 m) Currently in production
Federal P458T1 TBBC 400 gr SP 2250 ft/s (685.8 m/s) 4496 ft·lbf (6,095.8 J) 212 yd (193.9 m)/180 yd (164.6 m) Currently in production
Federal P458T2 TBBC 500 gr SP 2090 ft/s (637 m/s) 4849 ft·lbf (6,574.4 J) 206 yd (188.4 m)/175 yd (160 m) Currently in production
Federal P458T3 TBSS 500 gr Solid 1950 ft/s (594.4 m/s) 4221 ft·lbf (5,722.9 J) 194 yd (177.4 m)/165 yd (150.9 m) Currently in production
Federal P458D Barnes 500 gr TSX 2050 ft/s (624.8 m/s) 4665 ft·lbf (6,324.9 J) 206 yd (188.4 m)/175 yd (160 m) Currently in production
Federal P458E Barnes 500 gr BS 2050 ft/s (624.8 m/s) 4665 ft·lbf (6,324.9 J) 205 yd (187.5 m)/174 yd (159.1 m) Currently in production
Federal P458SA Swift 500 gr A Frame 2090 ft/s (637 m/s) 4849 ft·lbf (6,574.4 J) 207 yd (189.3 m)/176 yd (160.9 m) Currently in production
Norma 20111102 Barnes 500 gr BS 2067 ft/s (630 m/s) 4745 ft·lbf (6,433.4 J) 207 yd (189.3 m)/176 yd (160.9 m) Currently in production
Norma 20111202 Swift 500 gr A Frame 2116 ft/s (645 m/s) 4972 ft·lbf (6,741.1 J) 209 yd (191.1 m)/178 yd (162.8 m) Currently in production
Values courtesy of the respective manufacturer. MPBR/Zero values courtesy of Big Game Info. Temperature: 59 °F (15 °C) Altitude: 1000 ft (304.8 m)


The .458 Winchester Magnum has had critics in its over 50 years of existence. By the late 1960s, professional hunters such as Jack Lott and others, suspected performance issues with .458 Winchester Magnum ammunition, particularly as produced by Winchester.

Winchester loaded the cartridges with a ball powder that required compression to fit enough in the .458 short case to provide required performance. In time, however, the compressed power charge “caked,” causing erratic burn and poor performance levels. By the 1970s, Winchester rectified this issue by manufacturing the cartridge with non-clumping propellant.

While the design specifications had called for a 510 gr bullet at 2150 ft/s (655.3 m/s) through a 26 in (660.4 mm) barrel, hunters wanting a lighter, handier faster swinging rifle were gravitating towards rifles sporting shorter barrels. Barrel lengths 18–24 in (457.2–609.6 mm) became the norm with hardly any rifle manufacturer producing .458 rifles with barrels greater than 24 in (609.6 mm). Shorter barrels, as expected, produced reduced performance levels due to lower attainable velocities. When fired from these shorter barrels, chronograph velocities fell to 2050–1850 ft/s (624.8–563.9 m/s), in line with expectations. However, the .458 Winchester Magnum cartridge was blamed for the loss of performance, and Winchester was accused of over-stating the cartridge’s performance.

Due to the negative publicity, Winchester increased the performance of the .458 Winchester Magnum, which allowed the 500 gr bullet to achieve 2240 ft/s (682.8 m/s). While Winchester, like most .458 Winchester Magnum ammunition manufacturers (except Norma), continues to state velocities achieved from the 26 in (660.4 mm) test barrel, the velocity from a 24 in (609.6 mm) barrel is in keeping with the original expectations of the cartridge.
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