In early April of 2014, I had the pleasure of visiting the grand opening of the Steyr Arms facility in Bessemer, Alabama. This impressive new facility will change a lot of things, including availability of some of their guns here in the US. Steyr sister companies are Mannlicher and Merkel, so there are guns to keep anybody smiling.
The showroom has an impressive display of firearms, illustrating the huge and diverse range of guns this company offers. The tactical side has handguns, the AUG semi-auto rifle, long range precision rifles up to .50 BMG and a lot more.
But the hunting side is even more impressive. There are a staggering number of hunting rifles and shotguns that they offer to the hunting public.
My heavy rifle, the Model 14-2 double rifle in .500 Nitro Express, was a perfect choice for hunting buffalo. Particularly considering that the property we were hunting was infested with nasty elephants. They all seemed to have a bad attitude and the PH remarked the first day that they were having a lot of problems. He added that we would be lucky to finish the safari without the need to shoot one in self-defense.
We had a few close calls, but finished without shooting any aggressive elephants, although one had to be put down because it was in a poacher’s snare. We had to retreat from a few more and there were some tense moments when I had the rifle up, the safety off and the sights tracking the elephant’s brain. There were some other tense moments while tracking a gut shot buffalo through the thick forest. In both cases I was extremely confident that I had the best possible rifle in my hands.
Any dangerous game African safari is a serious undertaking and is no place to scrimp with your equipment. A lot of time, effort, emotion, money and possibly even your life is on the line, so you should bring only the best gear.
The Merkel Safari Grade 140-2 double rifle has 24-inch barrels. It features Anson & Deeley locks and a Greener style cross bolt and double bottom bite. The rifle has a double trigger with an articulated front trigger so it doesn’t bang up your finger when you use the rear trigger. The rifle features selective ejectors (ejecting only the fired case) which I think are critical to a DG double rifle.
Originally the double gun was conceived as an insurance policy. It was in essence two guns mated together. That is, two complete systems. The idea was that if one failed the other would not.
This Merkel Double Rifle in .500 Nitro Express is perhaps the epitome of the concept of a “classic” African stopping rifle. The .500 Express traces its roots back to the 1860’s. It was originally a black powder cartridge firing a 390-grain bullet at something less than 1,900 FPS and was used for deer and similar sized game. With the development of cordite in the late eighteen hundreds, the cartridge changed. The 570 grain, half-inch bullet exits the muzzle at 2,150 fps carrying almost three tons of muzzle energy and it’s become a bludgeon, a true “stopping cartridge.”
I had mine stoked with Federal Premium Cape-Shok ammo using Barnes TSX for a “soft” or expanding bullet and the new Woodleigh Hydro Solids. This ammo shot very well in this rifle and regulated to the same point of impact. It also did a great job of solving the buffalo problem.
I have always thought it was a sin to put a scope on a double gun, until I started using one. Now, I must confess, I am a sinner. I shoot nearly exclusively with scopes for hunting and competition, so I know them well. I find that there is nothing faster in a tough situation than a low power scope, so I added a Zeiss Victory HC 1.1-4X30 scope on the rifle.
The stock is designed for use with iron sights, so I ordered a Beartooth Comb Raising Kit from Brownells. This neoprene tube slides on the stock with no modifications and with the supplied inserts I was able raise the comb up to the proper height for my eye to align with the scope. After the hunt, I just removed it to restore the rifle’s beauty.
The primary goal of this hunt was leopard. Leopard hunting requires that you take a lot of zebra and impala to use for baits. I had also planned to shoot a sable and a few other plains game. For all of that I brought a Merkel RX.Helix rifle in .300 Winchester. This switch-barrel, straight-pull bolt action rifle is extremely fast for follow up shots and extremely accurate to help ensure you don’t need them.
I mounted a Zeiss Victory HT 2.5-10X50 scope, an optic that is sharp and clear and precise, which is important for leopard hunting as precision shot placement is a must. The scope has a power range that works for a long range shot or something close in the thick stuff and is a perfect choice for a light rifle on safari.
I was shooting Federal Premium ammo with the 180 grain Trophy Tipped bullet. This is a load that I have used since it came out, shooting a wide range of game from mountain goats to whitetails and I trusted it completely. While I never got an opportunity at leopard on this hunt, I did shoot several zebras and impalas for bait and the bullet worked extremely well even though they are on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of size and toughness.
The Helix is a great rifle for somebody wanting to step up from the “7” rifles that they been using for so many years. Nothing wrong with the 700, 77, 70, 7, 783, 710 or any other “7” rifle, but there is nothing wrong with a basic Ford either. They get the job done, but sometimes you just want a Jaguar. That’s where the Helix satisfies. It is the sports car of hunting rifles at about half the price of a custom rifle.
We all yearn for an outstanding rifle at least once in our lives. Now, with this new commitment to the U.S. market it will be easier for gun guys to scratch that itch.