One popular subject of debate among hunters is which cartridge is best for a specific game species. Usually a hunter’s choice is dependent upon personal preference and whether or not a round can humanely kill an animal. However, there are some cartridges so intimidatingly large that the guns they are used in are simply referred to as “stopping rifles.” These firearms shoot projectiles designed to stop a wild animal in its charge with a single bullet. If there were such a thing as huge game calibers, the seven cartridges listed below would qualify.

1. .577 Snider

This British black powder cartridge was first produced in 1867. In its earliest incarnation, the .577 Snider was wrapped in paper with a metallic base and primer, but manufacturers have since moved onto to brass like most modern ammunition. Production stopped in the 1930s, but if you look hard enough you can still find a rifle chambered in .577. At an average bullet weight of 450 grains, the .557 Snider is by far the lightest of the cartridges on this list, yet it does have the notable distinction of being the only one to see military service in the British Army.

You can see it being fired below.

2. .577 Tyrannosaur

The T-Rex round is most definitely not for plinking. Image from Thetophe on the Wikimedia Commons.
The T-Rex round is most definitely not for plinking. Image from Thetophe on the Wikimedia Commons.

Sometimes, a good name will go a long way, and a big round aptly named the Tyrannosaur will definitely boost your confidence in the field. This cartridge was developed in 1993 by A-Square specifically for use by professional guides, and is derived from the popular .577 Nitro Express. On average, the cartridge sports a 750-grain Monolithic Solid Projectile that can produce as much as 10,000 foot-pounds of muzzle energy when fired. It may knock down that brown bear charging you, but you might not be on your feet either.

See an experienced shooter shoot the “T-Rex” gun below:

3. .585 Nyati

Nyati means “cape buffalo” in Swahili, and that is exactly what this round is designed to take down. Cape buffalo have a notorious reputation as one of Africa’s Big Five game animals (which also includes the elephant, lion, leopard, and rhino). Out of the five, cape buffalo have injured the most hunters, and are widely considered the most dangerous. The .585 Nyati was designed as an alternative to the more poweful—and more expensive—Nitro Express rounds that are covered later in this list. That does not mean it doesn’t pack a punch, however. The .585 Nyati comes with a 750-grain bullet and has inspired other rounds such as the .585 Gehringer.

You can see it in action below:

4. .600 Nitro Express

The .600 Nitro Express is a classic cartridge introduced by W.J. Jeffery & Co. in 1903. Carrying a 900-grain bullet, the .600 is considered the second largest caliber in the Nitro Express line. Rifles chambered for this cartridge were generally expensive side-by-side double rifles that were used as defensive weapons when deep in the brush.

You can see it being shot at a range out of a Heym bolt-action rifle below.

5. .600 Overkill

Derived from the .600 Nitro Express to fit the CZ-550 action, this cartridge is capable of living up to its name. It was designed by Robert Garnick of Las Vegas for hunting purposes, and is the largest round that a CZ-550 can chamber and fire. The idea behind the .600 Overkill is that even if the bullet misses an animal’s vitals, the resulting shock will knock the animal down and put it out of commission.

It is often compared to the .600 and .500 Nitro Express, although shooters have different opinions on which cartridge is better. You can see one such comparison below.

6. .700 Nitro Express

The .700 Nitro Express was invented when a hunter tried unsuccessfully to get his hands on .600 Nitro Express rounds after it ceased production. Image from Thetophe on the Wikimedia Commons.
The .700 Nitro Express was invented when a hunter tried unsuccessfully to get his hands on .600 Nitro Express rounds after it ceased production. Image from Thetophe on the Wikimedia Commons.

The .700 Nitro Express, for all intents and purposes, is the largest big game cartridge sold commercially—even if it can only be purchased by special order. These rounds are made by Holland & Holland in London and can be quite expensive. What you are paying for is a cartridge with a 1,000-grain bullet delivering up to 15,000 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. That may sound impressive (and it is), but in order to fire this artillery shell of a round, you will need a behemoth of a rifle.

Reportedly, the .700 Nitro Express creates 10 times the recoil of a normal .308 Winchester and four times the recoil of a .45-70 Government round.

See it in action below:

7. .950 JDJ

Firing custom 2,400- to 3,600-grain bullets and reportedly matching the power of a World War I tank round, the SSK .950 JDJ is considered by many to be the world’s largest (movable) rifle cartridge. Although ostensibly designed as a hunting cartridge, anything that is capable of firing the .950 JDJ will probably be too heavy to throw over your shoulder, relegating it to range-use only. A base model .950 JDJ rifle weighs roughly 85 pounds and virtually requires being fired from a benchrest or similar support piece. Only three were ever made. A previous call to SSK Industries revealed that the firearm’s action is no longer in production and that a custom-built .950 JDJ today would be in the realm of $17,000. Because of its power the firearm would normally be classified as a Destructive Device, but SSK was able to obtain a “Sporting Use Exception” that would allow them to be purchased much like any other rifle.

If the Tyrannosaurus rex ever came back though some botched theme park experiment, this would be the gun to use.

Unfortunately, the recoil from the rifle is rather “significant.” If that’s not enough to keep you a spectator, each custom-made cartridge for the gun is worth about half a day’s pay on minimum wage, if not more. In the below video several guys from Knights Rifles try out the first .950 JDJ ever made, a lightweight prototype that set the mold for the rest. While it may be a good 30 pounds lighter than its bigger cousins, the gun can “kick like a mule.”

An optional muzzle break for the rifle weighs 13 pounds.

You can see it being fired below.

Image screenshot of video by 1tufgun on YouTube

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5 thoughts on “The 7 Largest Big Game Rifle Cartridges

  1. #1, the .950 JDJ was built as a novelty one-off. The only place the (IIRC) two copies yet to be built ever have been fired was off a shooting bench, so calling it a “big game cartridge” is more than a bit of a stretch.

    #2, you’ve left out a number of notable big game cartridges, including the 4-bore. Memphis gun builder Ken Owen still builds 4-bore dangerous game double rifles, which, with Mr Owen’s selected density of lead, come to about 1.05 caliber. So not only are they “bigger” than anything on this list (in diameter anyways), they also genuinely are used for hunting dangerous game. Whereas some of the cartridges on this list are only used as props in YouTube videos.

  2. … “Holy Crap” I once watched my friends son snap shoot a deer with a Ruger # 1 single shot .416 Rigby which blew it’s spine out so I can’t imagine what would be left of a deer if you used one of these elephant rounds…???

  3. I’ve never shot one of these. Most I’ve ever fired was my Granddads 10 gauge shotgun, that had a hell of a kick. He used it with 00 buck to shoot high flying Canadas. Brought down a good number of them too. I’d love to have a chance to shoot a .50 cal Barrett sometime.

  4. I have only fired a .577 Nitro. The kick though heavy was manageable. I found the .458 Winchester in a Ruger No1 to be far worse. I see no need for any of these when a .416 Rigby or a .470 Nitro has all the power needed. If I were to go on an African safari, I would take a .416 Rigby for dangerous game and a .300 Winchester magnum or even 7mm magnum for non-dangerous game. I have heard that the .375 H&H Magum is inadequate against dangerous game in a tight corner. In any event why mess with it when .416 Rigby is available with American loadings of 300 and 350 grain bullets.

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