Looking for a stylish and classic, yet dependable big bore rifle cartridge that will deliver hard hitting performance on thick skinned dangerous game without tooth rattling recoil? Here’s what you need to know about the legendary 404 Jeffery.
Though it is well over a century old, does not possess eye popping ballistics, and is something of a “one trick pony” in terms of ideal uses, the 404 Jeffery was massively popular among the most serious African big game hunters for much of the 20th Century and still maintains an almost cult-like following among a certain segments of the hunting community to this day.
Plus, the cartridge has served as the parent case to a literal pile of other highly successful rifle cartridges.
How is it possible that such an unassuming round has that sort of reputation and legacy as a quintessential dangerous game cartridge?
I’ll tell you exactly why that’s the case in this article where I discuss the history as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the 404 Jeffery in detail. I also provide some information on how the 404 Jeffery compares to two other popular and capable dangerous game rifle cartridges in the 375 H&H Magnum and the 416 Rigby to give you an idea of what sort of performance you can expect from the cartridge and so you can decide if it best fits your needs as a hunter.
Before we get started, I have an administrative note:
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History Of The .404 Jeffery
Certain time periods see rapid advances in firearm and cartridge development in a comparatively short period of time.
For instance, things changed quite a bit in the American sporting firearms market during 1950s and 1960s as companies like Winchester and Remington introduced the 264 Winchester Magnum, 7mm Remington Magnum, 300 Winchester Magnum, 338 Winchester Magnum, and 458 Winchester Magnum cartridges.
The same was also true with the tidal wave of other staples of the shooting world today that also hit the market during that same timeframe like the 223 Remington, 243 Winchester, and 308 Winchester.
Well, the British firearms community experienced a similar flood of advancements during the early 20th Century.
In this particular case, those advances came as a result of two revolutionary developments.
First, the major firearms and ammunition manufacturers switched from black powder over to the newer and much more powerful smokeless propellants (cordite specifically for the British).
Since black powder firearms have a relatively low velocity limit (by modern standards anyway), hunters pursuing dangerous game back then tended to use large bore rifles firing very heavy bullets.
These rifles had ferocious recoil and were also extremely heavy.
Well, the advent of smokeless propellants changed the game quite a bit.
First, cartridges using smokeless powder could fire projectiles at a much higher velocity than was the case with black powder. This in turn enabled the use of smaller diameter jacketed bullets that had much higher sectional densities and correspondingly penetrated much more reliably than the old big bore rifles.
For example, W.J. Jeffery released the 400 Jeffery Nitro Express (better known as the .450/.400 3″) in 1902. This new rimmed cartridge used cordite to propel a .411″ 400 gr bullet at about 2,100 feet per second for just over 3,900 ft-lbs of energy.
That bullet has an amazing sectional density of .338 and the 450/400 cartridge quickly earned a well-deserved reputation in Africa for being incredibly effective on thick-skinned dangerous game. At the same time, it also recoiled much less than the bigger bore black powder cartridges.
In fact, hunters loved the 450/.400 so much that Jeffery decided to build a rimless cartridge to deliver similar performance out of a bolt-action rifle.
This brings us to the next revolutionary advance in firearms technology that I referenced earlier: the Mauser 98 rifle.
Prior to the development of the Mauser 98, hunters in the British Empire and Europe primarily used single shot or double barreled rifles. While those rifles certainly have their advantages at times, they were also pretty expensive and limited the hunter to just one or two shots before reloading.
On the other hand, hunters equipped with Mauser bolt action rifles could fire as many as 5 shots before emptying the magazine.
With this in mind, Jeffery released the .404 Rimless Nitro Express, better known today as the 404 Jeffery, a few years later.
As a quick aside, there’s some disagreement on the exact year Jeffery released the cartridge. The 17th Edition of Cartridges of the World says W.J. Jeffery released the cartridge in 1909 (p562). However, Phil Massaro says they released the cartridge during 1905 in his article The 404 Jeffery-An Unsung Hero on page 18 of the same book. I’ve seen other sources give 1906, 1907, or even 1910 as an official release date.
I’m inclined to go with Phil and give the nod to the fact that at least some 404 Jeffery rifles and ammo started trickling out into the market as early as 1905. Regardless of the exact date Jeffery officially “released” the cartridge, it’s pretty clear they did so in the early 20th Century within a few years of their 450/400 cartridge.
Moving on, designers at Jeffery built the new cartridge to fire a 400gr bullet at 2,150fps for just over 4,100ft-lbs of muzzle energy. This more or less duplicated the performance of the old 450/400, but the new 404 Jeffery used a slightly larger diameter .422″ or .423″ bullet (modern ammunition uses .423″ bullets).
The designers at Jeffery built this cartridge for use by those whose lives would depend on it. After all, a spent case that stuck in the chamber or a new cartridge that refused to feed could easily mean the difference between life and death for a man hunting tiger in India or buffalo in Africa.
With this in mind, the 404 Jeffery incorporates a couple of design features that enhanced the reliability of the cartridge.
Loaded to a relatively sedate pressure (the CIP standard for modern ammo is just 52,939psi) and featuring a gently sloping 8-degree shoulder, the 404 Jeffery is known for exceptionally smooth feeding in most rifles, even under the most demanding conditions.
Combining the solid performance of the venerable 450/400 cartridge in a package that worked in Mauser-actioned rifles, it should be no surprise the new 404 Jeffery rapidly caught on with hunters in Africa and India as hunters who could not afford or did not want a double rifle purchased bolt-action rifles chambered in 404 Jeffery.
Though Jeffery of course made rifles chambered for the new cartridge, they did not retain it as a proprietary cartridge (like Westley Richards did with their 425 Westley Richards round). As a result, almost every rifle manufacturer of note at the time, to include noted firms like Cogswell & Harrison, Westley Richards, and Vickers picked up the 404 Jeffery as well. The same was true with German firms (where the cartridge was known as the 10.75x73mm) like Mauser.
Aside from the less powerful, but still surprisingly effective 9.3x62mm Mauser, hunters desiring a bolt-action rifle suitable for use on thick-skinned dangerous game had few alternatives to the 404 Jeffery until the 416 Rigby and 375 H&H Magnum came on the scene a few years later in 1911 and 1912 respectively.
Even so, the 404 Jeffery managed to fit almost perfectly in that “enough, but not too much” niche where it was more than powerful enough to cleanly kill even the biggest and toughest species of dangerous game on the planet, but also didn’t have terrible recoil either.
The fact that it was also available in reasonably priced, easy to operate and maintain, and relatively lightweight and easy to carry rifles were also important characteristics in the 404 Jeffery’s favor.
For instance, John Taylor relayed this anecdote about the 404 Jeffery on p108 of African Rifles and Cartridges:
The Game Warden of Tanganyika, who started his hunting career shooting buffalo for their hides in Portuguese East with a rifle of this caliber, found it so entirely satisfactory that he armed all his native game scouts in the Elephant Control Department with Vickers 404 magazine rifles. His answer when asked why he didn’t choose a more powerful cartridge is, that the 404 has all the power necessary to render it a perfectly safe weapon and at the same time it is light and handy and his men can use their weapons with ease and certainty. The weight of these rifles runs around 8 1/2 pounds.
Like I said, the 404 Jeffery is “enough” in the right areas without being “too much” in the wrong areas.
Indeed, not only did the Tanganyikan (modern day Tanzania) game department adopt the 404 Jeffery, but the game departments in Kenya, Uganda, Nyasaland (modern day Malawi), Northern Rhodesia (modern day Zambia), and Southern Rhodesia (modern day Zimbabwe) all eventually armed their game scouts with magazine rifles in the cartridge as well!
The aforementioned John Taylor, who hunted dangerous game in Africa for decades using virtually every rifle cartridge available at the time that you could think of, also had this to say about the 404:
I can say at once that is one of the most popular and most widely-used calibers thruout [sic] the big game hunting world…I must admit that I never had any trouble when using a 404…
While Taylor does say he used the 404 Jeffery much less than other cartridges due to his affinity for double rifles, his statements on the 404 shouldn’t be too surprising either though because Taylor was a noted fan of the 450/400, which basically gave the exact performance of the 404 in his preferred rifle action type.
Thousands of other hunters undoubtedly felt the same way and the 404 Jeffery and Africa went together like peas and carrots for many years.
Sometimes weird and unexpected things happen that bring certain cartridges into the spotlight at the expense of others though.
For instance, the .416 Rigby is today both more well known and much more popular than the .404 Jeffery. That might not make much sense at first glance because, though the 416 Rigby is also a solid performer afield, it does not offer a night and day improvement in performance over the 404. The 416 has more recoil to boot.
No, the 416 Rigby owes much of its fame to Robert Ruark, whose 1953 book Horn of the Hunter immortalized a young professional hunter in Kenya named Harry Selby.
In a weird twist of fate, a truck accidentally ran over Selby’s Rigby double rifle chambered in 470 Nitro Express before Ruark’s safari. Selby ended up replacing that rifle with a Mauser chambered in .416 Rigby for Ruark’s now famous hunt after sending the double in for repairs.
Horn of the Hunter was a massive hit and Ruark’s stories about his hunt contributed to both an explosion of interest in the 416 Rigby and of safari hunting in general, especially among his primarily American audience.
This is one of the reasons why people like Kevin Robertson say the 404 Jeffery did all the work in Africa, but the 416 Rigby gathered all the glamor.
Don’t think I’m throwing unwarranted shade on the Rigby cartridge here: it’s a wonderful cartridge and there’s a lot to love about it. However, I have no doubt the 404 Jeffery would have received that attention and fame the 416 did if Selby would have replaced his double with a Mauser in 404 Jeffery instead.
The cartridge went into a slow and steady decline over the course of the 20th Century due in part to Ruark’s boosting of the 416 Rigby, but that was not the only (or even the primary) factor contributing to the decline in popularity of the cartridge. For instance, Kynoch nearly killed the 404 Jeffery as well as a number of similar cartridges when the company discontinued production of sporting ammunition in the 1960s.
The 1950s and 1960s also saw something of a changing of the guard as more and more Americans flocked to Africa. Those American shooters and hunters began clamoring for firms based in the United States to produce firearms suitable for hunting Africa, which they were happy to oblige.
Winchester released the 458 Winchester Magnum in 1956. Like the 404 Jeffery, it was initially available in a reliable, highly regarded, and reasonably priced Mauser style bolt action rifle (the Winchester Model 70 in this case).
After working through some teething problems, the 458 Win Mag cartridge also became extremely popular in Africa and eventually largely supplanted the 404 Jeffery in the hands of game scouts and professional hunters in Africa.
The 404 Jeffery cartridge never really died though.
Though the cartridge is still nowhere near as popular as it was during its heyday, the 404 actually has seen something of a resurgence in popularity in more recent decades and remains a popular cartridge among hunters who place a high value on using a more esoteric cartridge with such a rich history
.404 Jeffery Ballistics
The original 404 Jeffery loads fired a 400gr bullet at 2,150fps (4,104ft-lbs).
Jeffery also produced a lighter 404 Jeffery loading pushing a 300gr bullet at 2,600fps (4,502 ft-lbs) they advertised for use on thin skinned game.
Modern 404 Jeffery ammo typically pushes a 400gr bullet at around 2,300fps (4,697 ft-lbs).
There are only a handful of companies that produce 404 Jeffery ammunition today, but Hornady, Norma, and Swift all do. The same is also true with smaller boutique manufacturers like Hendershot’s.
The situation is a little better for handloaders though.
Barnes produces .423″ 400gr TSX and Banded Solids for the cartridge. Nosler also produces a 400gr Safari Solid for the 404.
Woodleigh currently lists 350gr, 400gr, and 450gr softs and full metal jackets in .422″ on their web site along with a 400gr Hydrostatically Stabilized Solid for the cartridge.
Going back to factory ammo, Hornady offers the 404 Jeffery in their Dangerous Game series of ammunition with their 400gr DGS/DGX Bonded bullets fired at an advertised velocity of 2,300fps.
The same goes for Swift with their High Grade ammunition loaded with 400gr A-Frame and Breakaway Solid bullets (~2,350fps).
All four of these loads produce between 4,500 and 5,000 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle, which is more than adequate for hunting even the largest and toughest species of dangerous game like elephant.
This places the cartridge squarely in between the 375 H&H Magnum and 416 Rigby in terms of power and recoil.
For instance, Hornady also produces 375 H&H and 416 Rigby ammunition in their Dangerous Game lineup firing 300gr bullets at 2,530fps (4,263 ft-lbs) and 400gr bullets at 2,415fps (5,180 ft-lbs) respectively.
Hornady’s 404 Jeffery load (400gr bullet at 2,300fps for 4,697 ft-lbs of muzzle energy) has about 10% more muzzle energy than the 375 H&H and about 10% less muzzle energy than the 416 Rigby.
When fired from a 10 pound rifle, those loads from the 375, 404, and 416 deliver about 39, 56, & 64 ft-lbs of free recoil energy respectively.
Once again, the 404 Jeffery falls in the middle here with about 43% more recoil than the 375 H&H and about 12% less recoil than the 416 Rigby.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say the 404 Jeffery is a light recoiling cartridge (over 50 ft-pounds of free recoil energy is certainly stout), but most hunters agree the cartridge is a lot easier on the shoulder than many other cartridges popular for dangerous game hunting in its class.
And even though it has quite a bit more recoil than the 375 H&H, it’s also a more powerful cartridge firing larger diameter bullets.
Specifically, the .423″ bullets used by the 404 Jeffery have about 27% more frontal surface area than those used by the 375 H&H and about 3% more frontal surface area than those used by the .416.
This larger bullet diameter is something of a double edged sword.
On one hand, those larger diameter bullets will make a bigger hole, cause more tissue damage, and result in more blood loss.
Though the 375 H&H is certainly a proven cartridge for use on cape buffalo, the 404 Jeffery (and the various .416 cartridges) hit with noticeably more “authority” (as my friend Joseph Von Benedikt would say) because they use a larger diameter bullet and have more kinetic energy.
On the other hand, when bullets of the same weight are compared (and 400gr bullets are most common with both the .416″ and .423″ bore diameters) the slightly larger diameter .423″ bullets the 404 Jeffery uses have a lower sectional density than .416″ bullets used by the .416 Rigby (and all the other .416 caliber cartridges like the .416 Remington, Ruger, Taylor, and Weatherby).
That’s not to say the 404 Jeffery is lacking in the sectional density department.
Indeed, a .423″400-grain bullet has a sectional density of .319, which is well in excess of the generally recommended minimum of .300 for hunting thick-skinned dangerous game. This handily outclasses the .305 sectional density of a 300gr .375 bullet, but falls a little short of the .330 sectional density of a 400gr .416″ bullet.
For reference, the .411″ 400gr bullets used by the old 450/400 have an even more impressive sectional density of .338!
This leads us to the one complaint that has dogged the 404 Jeffery since its inception: a perplexing and occasional lack of penetration when used for a frontal brain shot on an elephant.
This is not to say the 404 Jeffery penetrates poorly or that it’s ill suited for elephant hunting. This is also something that doesn’t happen all the time either, though complaints have cropped up about the cartridge under those conditions often enough that there’s likely something to it.
Unlike a shot on a buffalo or even a side brain shot on an elephant, a frontal brain shot on an elephant requires a bullet to penetrate in a straight line thought several feet of thick hide, heavy muscle, and an elephant’s thick, honeycombed skull.
This is one of the most challenging Africa hunting scenarios for a bullet in terms of penetration and few bullets, even those that will easily exit a broadside buffalo, have what it takes to reliably accomplish this feat.
Kynoch was notorious for publishing wildly optimistic muzzle velocity values for its ammunition in the early 20th Century. With this in mind, the original 404 Jeffery Kynoch loadings likely failed to actually reach their published velocity of 2,150fps (2,000-2,050fps is probably a realistic estimate for actual performance back then).
Additionally, older solid bullets manufactured in the first half of the 20th Century were more likely to deform or otherwise “fail” during a frontal brain shot on an elephant.
These reasons, combined with the lower sectional density of a 400gr .423″ bullet, likely explains the origin of those complaints as well as why they have basically disappeared in more recent years with the use of modern 404 Jeffery ammunition with better quality bullets.
Hunting With The .404 Jeffery
The .404 Jeffery truly excels when hunting thick-skinned game.
With factory loads that produce nearly 5,000 foot pounds of energy, the cartridge meets the legal requirements to hunt every species in the African Big 5 along with just about every other species of dangerous game in the world.
Especially with modern ammunition, the cartridge is positively deadly on elephant, cape buffalo, hippo, and lion. This cartridge is best suited for use on thick-skinned dangerous game, but there’s no reason why a hunter couldn’t use it on plains game like kudu, wildebeest, impala, or zebra.
400gr soft nosed bullet through the vitals will quickly spell the end of even the biggest kudu, impala, eland, sable, or roan.
Likewise, the cartridge will also work just fine on all manner of game elsewhere in the world at shorter range. It’s not often used for hunting game like moose or the big bears, but it will darn sure get the job done on either species and a 404 Jeffery will stop a charging brown bear as surely as it will stop a raging bull if things go south on a cape buffalo hunt.
Heck, a friend of mine even had a conversation with a man who uses the 404 Jeffery to guide water buffalo hunts in Australia. He said he chose the 404 because it penetrates well enough to be effective for raking shots on buffalo running away, but hits plenty hard enough to work as a “stopper” on buffalo coming towards him.
All in all, that’s a pretty good description of the capabilities of the cartridge!
It is far from a flat shooting cartridge, but the 404 Jeffery is perfectly suitable for use on game out to about as far as you’d reasonably be shooting on most species you’d reasonably hunting with the cartridge anyway (especially in Africa).
For instance, Hornady’s Dangerous Game 404 Jeffery factory loadings hit 2.25″ low at 150 yards and 6.8″ low at 200 yards with a 100 yard zero.
A sheep cartridge the 404 Jeffery is not, but in fairness, that’s not what the cartridge was designed for.
That said, no discussion of the 404 Jeffery is complete without mentioning the famous Chadwick Ram.
A hunter named Lee Chadwick took this massive Stone Sheep on a hunt in British Columbia in 1936. Not only does that sheep hold the top spot in the Boone & Crockett record book (a record that may never be broken), but it’s also only Stone Sheep in the record books with both horns measuring over 50″!
And Mr. Chadwick killed that sheep with a rifle chambered in 404 Jeffery.
Truth be told, I think the 404 Jeffery is one of the worst possible rifle cartridge choices a guy could take on a sheep hunt where at shot at comparatively long range (say, 200 yards and longer) might be required. Unfortunately, Mr. Chadwick hit the sheep low in the body with his first shot and then had to “pour lead into him” with several follow up shots as the ram took off running.
It wasn’t a clean and tidy hunt, but it worked nonetheless.
I can’t help but wonder if Chadwick forgot to hold a little high to compensate for bullet drop on his initial shot. It would have been easy to do in the excitement of the moment.
As a point of comparison, a fairly pedestrian 150gr 30-06 load would only have had around 4″ of bullet drop at 200 yards with a 100 yard zero (compared to nearly 7″ for the 404 Jeffery). That could very well have been the difference between a shot through the brisket on the sheep vs one that hit the heart and lungs on that sheep.
Who knows what possessed Mr Chadwick to use the 404 Jeffery on that hunt. Maybe he was afraid of bears?
The .404 Jeffery As Parent Cartridge
As impressive as the 404 Jeffery’s resume is when used by hunters, the cartridge’s legacy as a parent cartridge may be even more remarkable.
The fact that the 404 Jeffery uses a large diameter, beltless, and rimless case makes it a popular choice to use as a parent case for new cartridges. Once again, it sits right in that “big enough, but not too big” category where it provides a larger diameter case with more case capacity than the 375 H&H Magnum, but the case is small enough to use in most rifles without requiring a larger “ultra magnum” sized bolt face (unlike the 416 Rigby).
Designers at Jeffery first used the 404 Jeffery as a parent case when they designed the 333 Jeffery a few years after rolling out the 404.
Other companies have repeated this process numerous times since then.
For instance, the Remington built their Remington Ultra Magnum family consisting of the 7mm RUM, 300 RUM, 338 RUM, and 375 RUM using a modified 404 Jeffery case.
The same is also true with Remington’s Short Action Ultra Magnum cartridges in the 7 SAUM and 300 SAUM.
Winchester did the same with their Winchester Short Magnum (270 WSM, 7mm WSM, 300 WSM, and 325 WSM) and Winchester Super Short Magnum cartridges (223 WSSM, 243 WSSM, and 25 WSSM) a few years later.
Ditto for the Dakota family of cartridges.
The same is true for all the Nosler proprietary cartridges except for the 22 Nosler (26 Nosler, 27 Nosler, 28 Nosler, 30 Nosler, and 33 Nosler).
More recently, designers at Winchester and Browning also used the 404 Jeffery as a parent for their brand new 6.8 Western round.
Each cartridge has its own specific flavor, but all used the 404 Jeffery case as a parent with a unique twist combining some specific combination of a rebated rim (or not), a steeper shoulder, varying case lengths, different shoulder locations, and various bullet diameters to deliver different performance characteristics.
Though it nearly died during the mid-20th Century, the old 404 Jeffery is still hanging around and still retains a special place in the hearts of many hunters who appreciate the reliable and capable, yet often understated performance of the cartridge in a dangerous game rifle.
Heck, many of those hunters likely love the 404 Jeffery at least in part because it’s unique and underrated.
It’s not perfect, but it has a proven track record of over 100 years of excellent performance in the field on the largest and toughest species of dangerous game in the world and is an especially wonderful choice for a hunter to take on an African hunting safari pursuing all manner of game.
In many ways, the 404 Jeffery is one of the “classic” Africa hunting cartridges. To that end, I recorded an entire podcast episode on classic Africa hunting cartridges with renowned Professional Hunter and author Kevin Robertson. In this episode, we talk about the pros, cons, and recommended uses for almost everything from the 243 Winchester all the way up to the 600 and 700 Nitro Express on small and large game animals (to include the 404 Jeffery).
This is a fantastic episode, so just click the appropriate link below to listen to our discussion on your preferred podcast app. Be sure to hit that “Subscribe” or “Follow” button in your podcast app to receive future episodes automatically (for free)!
Classic Africa Hunting Cartridges Podcast
The Hornady 10th Edition (p738-739) reloading manual, the 17th Edition of Cartridges of the World (p17-24 and p562-563), African Rifles and Cartridges by John Taylor (p107-111), and Africa’s Most Dangerous by Kevin Robertson (2nd Edition, p 108-109) were used as references for this article.
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John McAdams is a proficient blogger, experienced shooter, and long time hunter who has pursued big game in 8 different countries on 3 separate continents. John graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and is a veteran of combat tours with the US Army in Iraq & Afghanistan. In addition to founding and writing for The Big Game Hunting Blog, John has written for outdoor publications like Bear Hunting Magazine, The Texas State Rifle Association newsletter, Texas Wildlife Magazine, & Wide Open Spaces. Learn more about John here, read some of John’s most popular articles, and be sure to subscribe to his show: the Big Game Hunting Podcast.