This article was originally published in the November 2003 issue of American Rifleman.
"All we have available right now is a No. 1. Tropical," Ruger's Director of Press Relations Margaret Sheldon told me when I asked for a rifle in .458 Lott. Last year Hornady and Ruger teamed up to legitimize Jacque P. Lott's wildcat cartridge—one that delivers more velocity, energy (and recoil) than the .458 Winchester Magnum. I was heading to the Alaska Range for grizzly in a few months, and I didn't want to take any chances with a big bear that can make one re-evaluate one's position on the food chain. Besides, the .458 Lott as a from-the-factory proposition was big news, and this was the perfect opportunity to cover it for the magazine with some practical field experience.
There was silence from my end of the phone as I recalled a conversation with my friend and American Rifleman Contributing Editor Jon Sundra—a gunwriter with more than 40 year's experience who has, literally, "been there and done that" all over the world. I've shot and hunted a lot with No. 1s and consider myself pretty fast with a reload. But Jon's words, spoken around the fire at a hunting camp a few years ago, played back in mind: "When I was young, I took the 'Big Five' with a No. 1. There were some pretty tense moments, especially on [Cape] buffalo and elephant. I'm glad I did it, but I'm older now, and I won't do that again." He added, "No matter how good you are, there are just times your fingers turn into fat sausages and you can't do things as quickly as you usually do."
It seems to me more folks would get into less trouble if they listened to guys like Jon. While many enjoy the challenge—and thrill—of hunting dangerous game with a single-shot, I'll admit up front that I am not one of them. I admire those who do, but I prefer another two ready rounds in case something goes wrong.
"Any chance of getting the Model 77-based Magnum?" I asked.
"Let me see. They haven't started them yet, but let me know when you are leaving," replied Margaret.
Two weeks before I was to leave, a bolt-action Ruger Magnum with ".458 Lott" stamped on the barrel arrived in my office.
Looking At The Man & The Numbers
That discrepancy played a role in the creation of the .458 Lott. Reaction today from those who knew him paints a disparate picture of the colorful, contrary character who was Jacque P. Lott. A gunsmith, big-game hunter and one-time technical editor of Guns & Ammo, some called Lott a "wonderful guy," a "renaissance man" and a "great friend," while others didn't hold such a high opinion. One of the latter quipped of the cartridge: "It's unpleasant, just like the man who made it."
Regardless of positive or negative comments concerning his character or virtues, Lott has left his legacy when it comes to the cartridge that bears his name. Lott hunted Africa often, in particular dangerous game. A 1959 potential life-ending (his life, that is) safari gone wrong with a wounded Cape buffalo and a .458 Win. Mag., which didn't penetrate the shoulder as deeply as he believed it should, eventually set Lott in search of .458-cal. cartridge with more power and penetration than was offered in the factory .458 Win. Mag. with 500-gr. bullets. He wrote on big magnums quite a bit, and in a 1971 article on the .458-cal. ".460 G&A" wildcat introduced before his own, he wrote "[It] is designed to produce all the qualities needed by an optimum .458-caliber elephant rifle, falling as it does about midway between the .458 Winchester and the heavy recoiling .460 Weatherby." At the time, the .458 Win. Mag. was listed 2130 f.p.s. at the muzzle and the .460 Wby. Mag. at 2700 f.p.s. with 500-gr. bullets, both from 25" barrels.
What Lott was looking for was a .500-gr., .458" bullet moving out in the 2200-2300 f.p.s. range from a 22" barrel. By the early to mid 1970s (most sources state 1971), he had created it himself. The Lott's case is based on the .375 H&H magnum case, just like the .458 Win. Mag., but the Lott's case length is 2.800" as opposed to the 2.500" of the Win. Mag. Except for the 0.3" extra length it's the same case—with the attendant increase in powder capacity that provides—and all the other dimensions are the same. While there are other magnums firing .458" projectiles, such as the .450 Ackley, .460 G&A and .450 Watts, to name but a few, the Lott caught on with handloaders and wildcatters as it was simple matter to have the chamber of a .458 Win. Mag. rifle reamed deeper to accept the Lott.
As a matter of fact, one of the virtues of the Lott is—if the maker says it's okay, and they usually do—you can fire .458 Win. Mag. out of a .458 Lott rifle safely. As .458 Win. Mag. is much easier to find than .458 Lott in remote parts of the world, that's a significant advantage. Think of the .458 Lott and .458 Win. Mag. as the .357 Mag. and .38 Spl., respectively, of massive dangerous game cartridges.
The performance difference between .458 Lott and .458 Win. Mag is summed up in Frank C. Barnes's Cartridges of the World, Sixth Edition as such: "The .458 Winchester is advertised as developing 2040 fps with the 500-grain bullet, fired from a 24-inch barrel. In practice it doesn't actually do much better than 1900 fps. The .458 Lott will do an honest 2300 fps+ from a 22-inch barrel."
Factory Loading The .458 Lott
The current Hornady .458 Lott factory loadings both include 500-gr. bullets, but one is a round- nose Interlock with a soft-lead tip and a copper jacket and the other is a full-metal-jacket round- nose with a brass jacket and a lead core. According to factory data, they both leave the muzzle at 2300 f.p.s. with 5,872 ft.-lbs. of energy, and at 100 yds. the Interlock is moving at 2022 with 4,537 ft.-lbs. of energy while the FMJ is at 2028 f.p.s. with 4,567 ft.-lbs. of energy. At 200 yds., the round-nose is moving at 1776 f.p.s. with 3,502 ft.-lbs. of energy, and the FMJ is at 1777 f.p.s. with 3,506 ft.-lbs. of energy. For comparison's sake, a soft-point 180-gr. .300 Win. Mag. leaving the muzzle at 2967 f.p.s. generates a "mere" 3,510 ft.-lbs. of energy at the muzzle.
Shooting factory loads through the Ruger Magnum over our Oehler Model 43 chronograph, the Hornady 500-gr. FMJ load had a muzzle velocity of 2151 f.p.s. and a muzzle energy of 5,138 ft.- lbs. The 500-gr. Interlock moved out at 2290 f.p.s. at the muzzle with 5,826 ft.-lbs. of energy. In comparison, I fired Federal's Premium Safari load with a 500-gr. solid as well, and it delivered a muzzle velocity of 2078 f.p.s. and 4,797 ft.-lbs. of energy at the muzzle. To put things in perspective, the difference in energy between the .458 Lott Hornady Interlock loading and the .458 Win. Mag. Federal load at 100 yds. was 798 ft.-lbs., or roughly the disparity in energy between a .308 Win. and a .300 Win. Mag. when both are loaded with the same 150-gr. bullet.
For handloaders, Hornady's embracing of the Lott ensures a steady supply of cases of known quality and consistency (a problem in the past), factory-tested loading data in its Hornady Handbook of Cartridge reloading, Sixth Edition, and the continued availability of the firm's Series II rifle dies in .458 Lott.