“You begin carrying a pack, canteen, food, full-weight rifle and a handgun strapped to your waist. After 14 days you don’t even want to carry the handgun.” – Kerry O’Day
Knowing a bit about the esteem with which they and their products were held, and the number of writers who were at the time pestering them for access to their products, I was a bit surprised by their willingness to send out a rifle to yours truly. The decision was made to have me work with the model that established MG Arms as a major, custom-firearms manufacturer, the Ultra-Light rifle.
I can’t remember who suggested the next detail, but as we sat and chatted in their DSC booth, we also agreed that the rifle they built for my review would be in a dangerous-game caliber. Though we discussed the .425 Westley Richards, Kerry et al. instead chose the storied .416 Taylor.
You might be asking yourself the following reasonable question: “How can an Ultra-Light rifle, chambered to a caliber designed for the largest of game, be enjoyable to shoot?”
Bear with me, and I will address this 1000-pound gorilla as the review progresses. Suffice it to say that I thoroughly enjoyed shooting the .416 Taylor Ultra-Light. My enjoyment can be chalked up to the artisanship of the MG Arms designers, engineers and gunsmiths.
.416 Taylor – John Wootters’ Choice
Chapter 7 of Craig Boddington’s Safari Rifles II is titled, ‘The .416 Revolution’. Those who are a bit older than a millennial (OK, way-older than a millennial), and who have, since childhood, devoured articles about the development and use of dangerous-game cartridges, might recall that until the late 1980s there were no U.S. factory cartridges for rifles in the .40 or .41 class.
In fact, in a March-April 1975 Rifle Magazine article in which John Wootters detailed the loads, accuracy and utility of his .416 Taylor for dangerous game, the editors inserted a note to explain why they were “…devoting so much attention and space to a rare wildcat cartridge….”
“A powerful .40 caliber is the only gap in the line-up of U.S. factory cartridges…Something quite similar to the .416 Taylor seemed the best bet…” with “…factory-chambered .416 Taylors specially made by both Winchester and Ruger…” indicating interest in this cartridge.
Wootters’ proved the effectiveness of the .416 Taylor cartridge for taking tough and/or dangerous game on his Botswana Safari; his rifle accounted for six Cape Buffalo, a lion, two wildebeest and a zebra.
Though never adopted by one of the major rifle manufacturers, the .416 Taylor remains a wonderful cartridge for harvesting animals that tend to stomp into goo or slowly digest those with whom they become annoyed.
With that cheery thought, let’s move to the review of the MG Arms Ultra-Light rifle chambered in .416 Taylor.
The MG Arms Ultralight
The MG Arms Ultra-Light built for this review lives up to its moniker. The rifle weighs approximately six pounds before mounting a riflescope. With the scope, bases, rings and three cartridges, it tips the scale at just over eight pounds.
Of course, that light weight is no accident. Kerry, Carol and their staff used a skeletonized Remington Model 700 action, an Ultra-Light National Match barrel and a 13 oz. Kevlar stock to trim as much carry weight as possible.
These components go a long way in explaining why the MG Arms Ultra-Light is, well, very lightweight. However, the rifle built for my review had more to it than just trimmed ounces. It was also equipped with the following: an AR-style extractor and a an incredibly crisp Jewell trigger (factory-adjusted to 2½ lbs.).
The MG Ultralight also sports a burnt bronze Cerakote finish on its metal components with a Fall Camo textured stock finish.
Accuracy, Velocity and Power, Oh My!
In my interview with Kerry O’Day, I asked about the process they go through to check the accuracy of their firearms. He explained that the sighting-in phase for rifles starts with their loading 8 to 10 powder/bullet combinations. They then head to the range to fire approximately 30 cartridges.
In the case of the Ultra-Light they built for my review, this process involved three different powders matched with 400 grain Barnes Triple Shock or Swift A-Frame bullets. The most accurate and highest velocity combination was determined to be 71 grains of Reloder 15 and the Swift A-Frame.
The factory staff used this load to obtain a 100 yard grouping of three shots measuring 0.56 inches.
The MG Arms folks don’t lock the rifles into a support for sighting-in; the forend and butt of the stock are simply rested on sandbags. As Kerry and I discussed, this should give a much better baseline for those of us interested in the accuracy of rifles intended to be used for hunting.
Likewise, to better simulate rests used during dangerous-game hunts, I used shooting supports from Lilian Camalet of 4StableSticks. In this review, I used the ‘Ultimate Leather‘ model – a rest designed for shooting from a standing position.
I was sent 40 cartridges by MG for my review. Of those 40, I used my LabRadar unit to chronograph 12 rounds.
The factory estimate of muzzle velocity was 2309 fps. My data were very similar: MV = 2280 ± 32 fps. The muzzle energy calculated for the 12 rounds was 4616 ft-lbs. To put this energy estimate into perspective, the .458 Lott and 7mm Remington Magnum cartridges shown below result in approximately 5600 ft-lbs and 2600 ft-lbs, respectively. For further perspective on the meaning of these values, we can turn once again to Boddington’s Safari Rifles II.
Craig states that the .450/400 3″ is the absolute minimum he would recommend for hunting African elephant. In a recent review of a double-rifle in this chambering, I recorded muzzle energies of approximately 3900 ft-lbs. With that in mind, the .416 Taylor would be more ‘adequate’ than the .450/400 3″ for hunting any large, tough, dangerous game – all the way up to and including elephant.
Though I never achieved groups as small as 0.56 inches, I did consistently obtain ~MOA groups at 100 yards. The photo illustrates my first (1.4 inches) and last (1 inch) groups achieved during my initial range session.
Keeping in mind that 1) the .416 Taylor was designed as a cartridge for large, tough and dangerous game, 2) it would be unwise/unethical to shoot at such game from much beyond 100 yards, and 3) buffalo, elephant and lion would have a heart-lung area of many square inches, near-MOA groups reflect excellent accuracy. They’re also an indication of the excellent quality achieved by the MG Arms gunsmiths.
Is the MG Arms Ultra-Light in .416 Taylor Lethal at Both Ends?
It is perfectly understandable that shooters encountering an MG Arms Ultra-Light for the first time might be concerned about recoil. They may be even more reticent about pulling the trigger, so to speak, if the Ultra-Light happens to be chambered in a dangerous game caliber.
However, it’s also quite understandable that the MG Arms staff might occasionally become weary of having to address the issue of recoil. This is what occurred at one convention when a potential buyer stated flatly that such a light rifle must be horrible in the felt-recoil department. The harried staff member answered that the would-be expert was correct “Each time you pull the trigger, it will flatten you!” Hence the title of this section.
Why might the Ultra-Light in .416 Taylor be expected to kick the shooter into next Thursday? Physics, plain and simple.
The trigger is squeezed, an explosion occurs that sends the projectile down the barrel at a certain velocity, the rifle moves away from the rapidly-departing bullet and the shooter’s shoulder and/or face is in the way of the retreating stock.
All things being equal (they rarely are): large projectile + high velocity + light rifle = significant felt recoil. The recoil can be broken down into two components, the amount of energy (ft-lbs) and the speed (fps). Let’s go back again to our triumvirate of 7mm Magnum, .416 Taylor and .458 Lott.
The recoil energies for these are: 9.0 ft-lbs, 47.8 ft-lbs and 70.4 ft-lbs, respectively. The recoil speed for each is 12.5 f.p.s., 17.5 f.p.s. and 21.3 f.p.s., respectively. In other words, the .416 Taylor has recoil energy and speed that is bit closer to a .458 Lott than a 7mm Magnum.
You might be wondering why I’m belaboring this point. With relatively few exceptions, the number one concern of shooters is felt recoil, followed closely by gun weight. It’s no good arguing that the shooter won’t notice recoil when hunting because of excitement and their concentration being on the game.
Before they become ‘the hunter’, they have to spend significant time being ‘the target shooter’. If a rifle recoils beyond what a shooter can withstand they will 1) not go to the range enough to become proficient for hunting, and 2) flinch when they pull the trigger.
The rifles used for the estimates of the energy and speed of recoil weighed 10 lbs. As already mentioned, the MG Arms Ultra-Light built for this review weighed a mere 6 lbs 2 oz without a riflescope and just over 8 lbs with a scope and three rounds.
Two pounds may not sound significant, but in the world of heavy calibers, weight and proper stock fit can make a huge difference in dampening felt recoil. Or not!
In the case of the MG Arms Ultra-Light the stock fit me very well. Even so, I have a bad tendency of ‘crawling’ the stocks on rifles. I did this on the third set of .416 Taylor cartridges. I know this because the eye-relief on the Swarovski scope was more than adequate to keep the bridge of my nose out the line of fire, unless I crawled my way closer.
Though I didn’t shed blood, I had a beautiful bruise for several days.
I relate this anecdote to indicate that the .416 Taylor is a dangerous-game caliber and — yes — it produces significant recoil. All things being equal, launching this caliber from an 8 lb rifle should have resulted in me sprawled on the concrete pad of the rifle range.
This did not happen. In fact, even though I collected enough data from my first session, I took the rifle back to the range a second time. I actually liked working with this MG Arms model and caliber.
The 1-inch Pachmayr recoil pad and the patented MG Arms muzzle brake made shooting this rifle not only manageable, but enjoyable. Yes, any 8 pound rifle in a caliber that produces >4500 ft-lbs of muzzle energy will bump the shooter. But, the recoil pad and brake on the MG Arms Ultra-Light reduced the energy and speed of that bump as well as muzzle lift.
This rifle really was a pleasure to shoot at the range. I’m convinced it would be even more fun to shoot when hunting something large and potentially destructive to the hunter.
To answer the question posed in the heading: The MG Arms Ultra-Light in .416 Taylor is only lethal if you are standing in front of the muzzle.
Specifications: MG Arms Ultra-Light Rifle
Caliber: .416 Taylor
Action Type: Remington 700 – skeletonized, squared and lapped with AR-style extractor
Capacity: 3 (2 in magazine, 1 in chamber)
Overall Length: 45”
Barrel: SS National Match
Barrel Length: 23” + brake
Muzzle Brake: MGA Super Eliminator
Weight: 6 lbs 2 oz without riflescope
Stock: 13 oz Kevlar; Fall Camo Finish
Recoil Pad: 1” Pachmayr Decelerator
MSRP: $3,995 ($6,319.95 with 1-8X Swarovski Z8i riflescope and one box of custom ammunition)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style * * * * *
I love the look of wood stocks and traditional bluing. However, the rifle I have carried on hunts throughout North America and in Africa wears a dark gray synthetic-stock and rust-resistant finish. The MG Arms Ultra-Light is very stylish, its particular style reflecting its niche as a super-light, and yet incredibly durable, rifle. It will look very good in photos with game taken.
Fit and Finish: * * * * *
The stock fit was perfect for my build (5’11’’ with long arms). All metal and stock finishes — inside and out — were excellent and will be ideal for extreme conditions. The stock texture, in particular, will prevent slippage in hands sweaty from exertion (and fright). This is a beautifully make hunting rifle.
Accuracy * * * * *
Excellent. 100 yard MOA was accomplished during my first session. This is a rifle and caliber intended for dangerous game. No one should be sniping at such species. Distances will likely be within 100 yards and frequently much less. Even so, this rifle and caliber have the accuracy and power to handle 100 yard shots at dangerous game.
Ergonomics * * * * *
The rifle is named Ultra-Light. It’s easy on the muscles of the non-marathon runner. However, the balance of the rifle was also excellent. When aiming without a rest, I found it to balance well between my trigger- and support-hand.
Reliability * * * * *
Absolutely no feeding, or any other, issues with any of the cartridges. This is incredibly important given that lives could very well depend on swift, clean chambering given the game hunted with this gun.
Overall * * * * *
The look, feel and operation of the MG Arms Ultra-Light model reflect the highest-quality design, engineering and manufacturing. All moving parts were wonderfully smooth. The Jewell trigger – set light for range work – was incredibly crisp with the cleanest of breaks. This is a rifle I would happily carry on any African safari.
Mike Arnold writes about firearms and hunting at his blog Mike Arnold, Outdoor Writer.
The following people and businesses made this review possible: Kerry and Carol O’Day (MG Arms); Tom McElwayne (Shooters Den); Tracy Ledbetter (Gun Racks for Less); Lilian Camalet (4StableSticks); and Wolfe Publishing Co.