Written by Neil Harmse
Chapter 23. The Ultimate Big Bore
For those big-bore shooters who always claim they are addicted to back pull, I have come across the ultimate rifle which should satisfy their every craving for brain rattling, shoulder-thumping RECOIL!
The rifle I have found is in a private collection, carefully and jealously guarded by the owner, so it is unlikely anyone will actually get the chance to experience a shot with this behemoth.
The gun referred to is a double rifle in four-bore calibre made by Rodda & Co almost 150 years ago. Rodda breech-loading double rifles in the monstrous four-bore calibre are extremely rare. It is rumoured that Rodda only made five of these four-bores and that these were made for an Indian maharajah’s private collection. Only four of these can be traced today, giving one an idea of how rare these guns are. Truly a collector’s dream.
The Rodda rifle in this chapter was manufactured circa the 1870s, having Birmingham
Proof House marks for view and proof dating to about 1868. Given the vintage, it is in very good condition, but then, because of the calibre and massive weight, these guns saw very limited use, especially in Africa. At a weight of about 25lb (approximately 11,4kg), these guns were not really meant to be carried by the hunter, but lugged along by a team of gun bearers until needed in an extreme case of last-hope survival. Any bearer on a safari used to carrying a 70-80lb (32-36kg) tusk or similar load would not have a problem carrying a 25lb rifle, but handing this heavy, unwieldy gun over to a hunter in an emergency would be awkward, as it would not be easy bringing these two weighty barrels to bear onto a fast approaching target. This could well compromise the hunter’s safety. Most ivory-hunters during this period preferred either a single-barrel four-bore or a lighter double rifle in eight-bore calibre.
The Rodda four-bore double rifle.
The majority of these four-bore doubles saw use in India for hunting tigers and elephant from a howdah mounted on the back of a trained elephant, but even this use was rather limited. This is also the reason that any of these guns found today are in remarkably good condition.
The gun in this collection is a back-action hammer gun with a Jones large grip underlever and the trigger guard extending along the pistol grip to the ebony grip-cap. Between the hammers along the top of the action, the long tang extends to the top of the pistol grip. The action still retains about 80-85% of original case-hardened finish. The browned Damascus barrels are attractive and show very little sign of wear and use. Having an extended doll’s head lock-up, the action is still as tight as the day it left the factory. The action detail has fine English scroll engraving, with gold inlay reading “RB Rodda & Co” in English script on the side plates. Along the barrels, also in gold inlaid English script, are the words: “RB Rodda & Co. Makers by appointment to HE the Viceroy & HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. London & Calcutta”. In front of each hammer is a safety lock which engages when the hammer is brought to the half-cock position. The broad rib is finely filed and has a standing express sight for 50 yards (46m), with two fold-down leaves marked ‘100’ and ‘150’ (yards?), while the front sight has a fine bead dovetailed into the rib.
The fore-end is a typical ‘splinter’ type and is fixed onto the barrels with a wedge key or locking pin and lug. The four-bore was the ultimate ‘stopping rifle’ which fired a ¼lb (1,750 grain) lead bullet in front of a 14- to 16-dram load of black powder. A conical moulded bullet of about 1 880-2 000 grain was normally loaded with 380-430 grains of black powder to give about 1 500fps and a muzzle energy approaching 6,000 foot-pounds!
Later, Kynoch four-bore loads for Nitro-proofed rifles were loaded with 70 grain cordite, but these should not be fired in Damascus barrelled guns made for black powder. Holland & Holland’s last four-bore was made for the Maharajah of Rewa in 1922. This was a Nitrofor-black load of 70 grain cordite firing a conical 2 000 grain bullet generating in excess of 8,000 foot-pounds of energy!
The Rodda double rifle, showing a four-bore cartridge compared witha .458 Lott.