Despite its bone-crushing power, the .375 Holland & Holland is more pleasant to shoot than most people think.
By Greg Rodriguez
I’d been skirting the field for more than an hour, working the wind and the few bits of South African thornbrush that served as cover to get as close as possible to the ancient ram that lorded over the resident blesbok herd. I was still 305 yards away when I ran out of cover. With the herd growing more nervous by the second, it was then or never. I settled into a sitting position, allowed for the howling crosswind, held a hair over the ram’s back and squeezed the trigger. I heard the bullet strike, and then saw the ram literally flip over onto its back.
Five days later, in northern Tanzania, I watched a herd of Cape buffalo emerge from the safety of a korongo — a brush-choked dry riverbed — to feed at last light. From the back of the herd, a particularly good bull with a massive boss and wide spread worked its way through the crowd. “Take him if you get a clear shot,” Francois, my professional hunter, said.
While I waited for an opening, my mind wandered back to an earlier conversation with the PH, in which he admonished me to be sure of my shot placement. He emphasized his point by reminding me that almost every one of the korongos in the 20-by-80-mile area is named for the professional hunter who was gored or stomped by a wounded buffalo in it. I did not want to add either of our names to that list.
I tracked the bull in my scope while Francois described its movements to make sure I was on the right one. When it stopped, I plastered the crosshairs on its massive shoulder and touched the trigger. The shot felt good, but the buffalo wheeled and ran. I worked the bolt and took off in pursuit, determined not to let the bull make it to the korongo.
We had covered less than 50 yards when the bull turned to stare me down. When I raised my rifle, I saw blood pouring from its nose and mouth. It was having trouble keeping its feet, but I didn’t take any chances. I sent another slug through the bull’s chest, dropping it in its tracks.
Although the size of the quarry and distances involved in the above passages varied greatly, I used the same rifle and cartridge combination on both animals: a well-worn custom Model 70 chambered for the most versatile cartridge on the planet: Holland & Holland’s .375 Magnum. Although the first magnum cartridge was intended for use on African game, its versatility has helped it earn a place in the gun safes of hunters who will never set foot on the Dark Continent. And the cartridge is at the top of my “favorites” list.
The .375 H&H was introduced by Holland & Holland in 1912 as the .375 Belted Rimless Nitro Express, but it didn’t take long for the .375 H&H Magnum name to take hold. The .375 H&H was the second belted cartridge, and the first cartridge to wear the “magnum” moniker. Original loadings included a 235-grain bullet at 2,800-2,900 fps, a 270-grain pill at 2,650-2,700, and a 300-grain offering at 2,500-2,530 fps.
The new cartridge, especially the 300-grain version, was popular with African hunters almost from the start, but it didn’t find favor among American shooters until Winchester added the .375 H&H to its Model 70 line in 1937. Since then, American shooters have enthusiastically embraced it.
Versatility is the .375 H&H’s claim to fame. With a quality 300-grain bullet, it can cleanly take any animal on the planet. With 260- or 270-grain bullets, the .375 will reach out as far as anyone should shoot. Although it may not be the ideal tool for long-range mountain hunting, the .375 H&H will get the job done out to 350 yards. In fact, I took a fine bull moose in Canada at 368 yards with mine. That’s a fair poke with any gun, but one I was willing to take. I knew the 300-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw would do the job when it got there.
The .375 doesn’t give up near as much to the fast .30s at long range as you might think. With a 200-yard zero, Federal’s 300-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw load drops only 10.8 inches at 300 yards — less than 2 inches more than a 200-grain Bear Claw from a .300 Winchester Magnum. And when it gets there, the .375 H&H’s bigger, heavier bullet delivers 340 foot-pounds more energy than the .300.
Its flat trajectory and bone-crushing power make the .375 H&H a great choice for mixed-bag northern hunts, where moose and grizzly may be on the menu along with sheep or goats. The .375 is also a great choice for those who hunt in grizzly country without a guide. It may not shoot quite as flat as a typical sheep rifle, but it shoots flat enough, and its power advantage is cheap insurance against a run in with Ursus Horribilis.
Despite its fairly flat trajectory, the .375 H&H, especially with a 300-grain bullet, has enough punch to do the job on Cape buffalo and elephants, too. In fact, I have shot several buffalo with my .375 H&H, none of which ran any farther than the one in the beginning of this story. While I have not had occasion to stop a charging Cape buffalo with it, I have used mine to drop several charging feral hogs, a wounded nilgai at seven paces, and a charging African bush pig I walked up on during its afternoon siesta.
By far the most impressive example of .375 stopping power I’ve ever seen took place on a bison hunt a few years ago. My client was dead set on shooting a wooly bovid with a handgun. I wasn’t too thrilled about the idea, but it was his hunt, so I did my best to put him on a shooter bull. We worked the wind all day to get within range of the herd, but they were standing too close to a deep canyon for my taste.
“I’m not carrying that thing out of that canyon in pieces,” I told the client.
“No problem,” he said. “If the shot doesn’t look good, smoke him.”
As I expected, the bison barely flinched when that little pistol bullet took it in the hips. “Wrong end,” I said as I raised my rifle and tracked the broad-shouldered bull as it headed straight for the nastiest canyon on the ranch. When the big front sight found the sweet spot, I sent a single 300-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw toward the off shoulder by way of its rib cage. The bison’s head dropped hard, but its rear end kept going. At its peak, the buffalo appeared to be standing on its head. It came down in a cloud of dust, which prompted a rousing round of cheers and high-fives from the camera crew behind us. It was the single most impressive stop I have ever seen on a big animal.
While few people will have occasion to shoot backup on wounded bovids, the stopping power of a big gun does have a place in North American hunting. Four years ago, I hunted bears with a friend on the San Carlos Apache reservation in Arizona. The San Carlos is known for big, aggressive bruins. Because of their size, surly nature and the fact that we planned to use predator calls to lure them in, I opted to take my .375 H&H, despite all the ribbing about my “elephant gun.”
On the fourth morning, a barrel-chested bear responded to the call. The boar came hard to the call, never slowing a bit until the wind swirled. At 40 yards, it stopped, stood on its back feet and sniffed the air. It stared right at us and popped its teeth, sending foam flying from its mouth. The rifle was already at my shoulder, so I found the boar in my scope and sent a 300-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw through its chest. The animal rolled backward and roared, then regained its feet and took off running. I stood up and drove another bullet into its backside, dropping it in its tracks. Around the fire that night, my .375 H&H seemed like a pretty wise choice to everyone in camp.
Charging or not, the .375 H&H is a great choice for bears. Their thick hides and long coats soak up blood, making them hard to trail. Plus, bears are also just plain tough. According to Dennis Smith of Bear Paw Guide & Outfitters, who has guided bear hunters in British Columbia for more than 25 years, these factors combine to make it very difficult to find a bruin that has traveled more than 100 yards, even when hit hard. Its ability to drive through bears and put them down fast makes the .375 H&H my first pick for big black bears, and it’s the only cartridge I would even consider for hunting the great bears of the North Country.
Despite all its power, the .375 H&H does not have near as much recoil as one might expect from an “elephant gun.” In fact, it generates only 39 foot-pounds of recoil with a 300-grain bullet in an 8-pound gun. There is no doubt that 39 foot-pounds of recoil is a heck of a wake-up call, but that’s 13 foot-pounds less recoil than a 15/8-ounce waterfowl load from a 3-inch 12 gauge. And compared to the recoil generated by a 3 1/2-inch turkey load or one of the magnum .416s, the .375 H&H is downright mild.
The .375 H&H can be a bit much for especially recoil-sensitive shooters, but it is manageable for most with a little practice, as long as the firing sessions are short. If it does seem like too much to handle, recoil-reducing devices like muzzle brakes and mercury recoil reducers can help muzzle the .375’s bite.
You can get by just fine without a .375 H&H if Africa is not in your plans, but it is a necessary evil if a Cape buffalo, hippo or elephant is on your wish list, because the .375 H&H is the minimum legal caliber for such game in most African countries. Given the quantum leap in felt recoil from the .375 H&H to any of the bigger alternatives, the .375 H&H is the only viable choice for recoil-sensitive shooters, and the best choice for those who don’t plan on hunting more than one or two specimens of the Big Five.
The .375 H&H Magnum’s unique blend of relatively flat trajectory, bone-crushing power and manageable recoil make it, in this writer’s humble opinion, the most versatile cartridge in existence. Although its centennial is right around the corner, I do not believe a cartridge has been invented that can rival the versatility and efficiency of Holland & Holland’s finest. Several cartridges offer increased performance, but their minuscule gains are largely theoretical and mostly nullified by their increased recoil and muzzle blast, the impact of which has more effect on the shooter than the quarry.
From moose and big bears north of the border to Africa’s giant pachyderms, the .375 H&H would be my choice if forced to settle on one cartridge to do it all. And why not? It shoots flat, hits hard and won’t knock me any more senseless than I already am. With all that going for it, how could the .375 H&H not make my list of favorite cartridges?
Reprinted from the October 2008 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.