Express rifle
The term express was first applied to hunting rifles and ammunition
Hunting weapon
Hunting weapons are weapons designed or used primarily for hunting game animals for food or sport, as distinct from defensive weapons or weapons used primarily in warfare.-Characteristics:...

 beginning in the middle 19th century, 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
Hollow point bullet
A hollow point is an expanding bullet that has a pit or hollowed out shape in its tip, generally intended to cause the bullet to thin upon entering a target in order to decrease penetration and disrupt more tissue as it travels through the target. It is also used for controlled penetration, where...

, at high velocities to maximize point blank range. Later the express cartridges were loaded with nitrocellulose
Nitrocellulose is a highly flammable compound formed by nitrating cellulose through exposure to nitric acid or another powerful nitrating agent. When used as a propellant or low-order explosive, it is also known as guncotton...

 based gunpowder
Gunpowder, also known since in the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid 1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate - with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuels, while the saltpeter works as an oxidizer...

, leading to the Nitro Express
Nitro Express
The Nitro Express series of cartridges are used in large-bore hunting rifles, also known as elephant guns or express rifles. They are named after the propellant they use, cordite, which is composed of nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine...

 cartridges, the first of which was the .450 Nitro Express
.450 Nitro Express
.450 Nitro Express designed for the purpose of hunting large game such as elephant. This cartridge is used almost exclusively in single shot and double express rifles for hunting at the Tropics or hot climates in general and is a cartridge associated with the Golden Age of African safaris and...


The term express is still in use today, and is applied to rifles, ammunition, and a type of iron sight
Iron sight
Iron sights are a system of shaped alignment markers used as a sighting device to assist in the aiming of a device such as a firearm, crossbow, or telescope, and exclude the use of optics as in telescopic sights or reflector sights...

. 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.


Traditional express cartridges
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...

 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
Belted magnum
The term belted magnum refers to any caliber cartridge, generally rifles, using a shell casing with a pronounced "belt" around its base that continues 2-4mm past the extractor groove. This design originated with the British gunmaker Holland & Holland for the purpose of headspacing certain of...

 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
Shotgun slug
A shotgun slug is a heavy lead projectile, that may have pre-cut rifling, intended for use in a shotgun and often used for hunting large game. The first effective shotgun slug was introduced by Wilhelm Brenneke in 1898, and his design remains in use today...

 ballistics, while modern big game cartridges, such as the .577 Tyrannosaur
.577 Tyrannosaur
The .577 Tyrannosaur or .577 T-rex is a type of cartridge developed by A-Square in 1993 for big game hunting in Africa. The .577 contains a diameter Monolithic Solid Projectile which when fired moves at producing of muzzle energy. The production model from A-square is based on their Hannibal...

 and the .587 Nyati, provide ballistics that push the physical limits of the hunter with their tremendous power and recoil.


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
    Winchester Repeating Arms Company
    The Winchester Repeating Arms Company was a prominent American maker of repeating firearms, located in New Haven, Connecticut. The Winchester brand is today used under license by two subsidiaries of the Herstal Group, Fabrique Nationale of Belgium and the Browning Arms Company of Morgan, Utah.-...

     magnum, a post WW2 modern round of similar performance to the .450 NE
  • .460 Weatherby magnum,
  • Nitro Express
    Nitro Express
    The Nitro Express series of cartridges are used in large-bore hunting rifles, also known as elephant guns or express rifles. They are named after the propellant they use, cordite, which is composed of nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine...

     series including the .577 and .600 NE.
  • .50 Action Express
    .50 Action Express
    The .50 Action Express is a large caliber handgun cartridge. It was developed in 1988 by Evan Whildin of Action Arms. The .50 AE is one of the most powerful pistol cartridges in production.-Overview:...

Rifle design

Express rifles historically came in two actions, singles (single shot) and doubles. The side by side double was among the earliest, but by the early 20th century the bolt action began to replace it. The side by side has two barrels and either single or double triggers. Most parts of the mechanism that fire the gun are duplicated. In the unlikely event that a mechanical failure such as a broken spring or firing pin should occur, the hunter can still fire the second barrel. This design allows the hunter to fire two shots rapidly—the second shot used 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 possibly affecting the aim. Bolt action rifles for hunting typically have a small magazine of about five rounds rather than the ten, thirty, or more found on more modern rifles firing smaller rounds.

Express rifles are generally either single shot or bolt action designs. Doubles are still made but are quite expensive; getting both barrels to shoot to the point of aim is a labor intensive process. Single shot rifles are not often used when hunting dangerous game because follow up shots are not made as quickly. Single shot express rifles, such as the Ruger No. 1 Tropical
Ruger No. 1
The Ruger No. 1 is a single shot rifle, with Farquharson-style internal hammer falling block action, manufactured by Sturm, Ruger. It was introduced in 1967. An underlever lowers the block allowing loading and cocks the rifle. A falling block action is an inherently strong design, and the Ruger...

, are more compact than bolt actions, but while they can weigh less, reduced weight tends to increase felt recoil. Lighter rifles are more likely to be in the hunter's hands, ready for a quick shot when game is found.


  • Sturm, Ruger
    Sturm, Ruger
    Sturm, Ruger & Company, Incorporated is a Southport, Connecticut-based firearm manufacturing company, better known by the shortened name Ruger. Sturm, Ruger produces bolt-action, semi-automatic, full-automatic, and single-shot rifles, shotguns, semi-automatic pistols, and single- and double-action...

     M77 MKII Magnum and #1 Tropical rifles, in calibers from .375 H&H to .458 Lott

See also

  • James Purdey and Sons
    James Purdey and Sons
    James Purdey & Sons - or simply "Purdey" - is a famous British gunmaker of London, and the name is synonymous with the very finest sporting shotguns and rifles. Purdeys hold or have held numerous warrants of appointment as gun and rifle makers to the British and other European royal...

  • John Rigby & Company
    John Rigby & Company
    John Rigby & Company, gun and rifle makers, is a firm specialising in the building of high-quality sporting rifles and shotguns.-History:The company was founded in Dublin, Ireland in 1775, and is known to have traded as W. & J. Rigby during the period 1820 - 1865 during the flintlock and percussion...

  • Eley Brothers
    Eley Brothers
    Eley Brothers were a manufacturer of firearms cartridges at the Eley's Cartridge Factory, located in Edmonton and bordered by the River Lee Navigation and the Great Eastern Railway at Angel Road.- History :...

  • Holland & Holland
    Holland & Holland
    Holland & Holland is a British gun-maker based in London, England. They offer hand-made sporting rifles and shotguns. H&H holds two Royal Warrants.-History:Holland & Holland was founded by Harris Holland in the year 1835....

  • Westley Richards
    Westley Richards
    Westley Richards is one of the oldest surviving traditional English gunmakers. It was founded in 1812 by William Westley Richards. Their inventions included the Anson & Deeley boxlock action and the Droplock, which equals in status James Purdey's self opening and Holland & Holland's removable...

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