The ancestry of many of the Nitro Express cartridges was firmly rooted in the black powder era.Here, examples of the .577 NE (3″) and .500 NE (3¼”) cartridges are shown together with their black powder forebears.A disassembled British-made military .303 cartridge dating from 1940.In addition to the bullet and case, note the strands of cordite propellant as well as the over-powder wad which had to keep the propellant firmly in contact with the flash hole.As a group, the large bore British Nitro Express cartridges are in a class all by themselves.
This was hardly a concern during the early 1900s but it is definitely a factor to consider for today’s hunter on the lookout for a good used double rifle.
A spectacular double rifle by London maker James Woodward & Sons of circa 1889 vintage, chambered for the .450/400 (3¼”) BPE.
In contrast to rifles made in later years for Nitro cartridges, rifles like these were generally considerably lighter as they did not have to contend with the increased pressures and recoil generated by cordite propellant.
With both the 3- and 3¼-inch versions of the .450/400 Nitro Express, for example, the normal load was 60 grains of cordite behind a 400-grain bullet.
This worked just fine on the shooting ranges of England but often caused problems in Africa and India where the ambient temperature even during winter could be much higher.