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As rare as the sighting of a decent Bongo in the Central African Republic, so goes finding a truly affordable side-by-side or double rifle. And when I talk about a double rifle, I’m not referring to the ones imported through Baikal in ’06 or .45/70. I’m referring to the classic cartridges. Whether it’s a European metric starting in 9.3 mm, or a classic big bore like .500NE. I know where my preferences lie . . .

In the last installment, during the Safari Club International convention, we checked out the Blaser S2 Luxus, priced about like a used Lexus. In this installment, we’ll look at a Merkel in .470NE. Ahh, a classic. I just love big bore rifles. And if they have scroll work or engraving? Ohhhhh…


The fit between wood and metal is perfect. The hand cut checkering? Beautiful.


Note the cross bolt sticking out to the left. As soon as the action closes, that moves right. It was so flush, it was difficult to tell it was there.

Wow. OK, so this is a higher grade Merkel. It retails for a bit over $14,000. Used, I have seen them on Gun Broker for around $8,000. But if you want pristine beauty, you will want to pay the price.

The nice thing about engraved screws is that you know exactly where they turn to if one comes loose…


The Trijicon on this beauty was a really nice touch. Getting on target fast in an “uh oh” moment can mean the difference between a harvested trophy or a really bad day. This model also has selective ejectors. I liked that.

Still a little too much money? I guess it comes down to wants versus needs. Do I need a dangerous game rifle like this? Not really. Do I want a rifle like this? Oh, heck yeah!

I’ve got a great opportunity for Cape Buffalo this year, and this would be just the ticket. But, I’ll check out an even more affordable double rifle next.

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  1. That’s the sort of situation that you need to ditch the middle man and just got with .50 BMG rifle. Even the biggest of big bore carrridges has a hard time delivering anywhere neat that level of stopping power.

    • Double rifles are (reasonably) light and fast, I’d hate to try and muscle a Barrett or McMillon around on Safari or try to centerpunch something big and charging with one… unless it was far, far away.

    • You risk blowing out your shoulder, your ears, both by shooting a .50 BMG from a 9-12 pound gun. A .458 Win Mag has considerably lower recoil. Pretty much everything has less recoil than .50 BMG. My buddy had a 45 pound plus bolt action .50 BMG he wound up selling back to Cabelas because it was so cumbersome, and virtually impossible to fire from the shoulder.

      • I do not believe that the 50BMG was meant to be shoulder fired ever. It is typically fired from a rest or a bi-pod

        • Browning Machine Gun.

          The firearm it was originally designed for is an 84lb, tripod or pintle mounted, belt-fed monster… with spade grips. So you are essentially correct. It was designed shortly after WWI as an antitank round.

    • Ever run the numbers on what the recoil energy is for shooting M33 ball out of a 23 pound rifle? I have.

      It’s over 120 ft-lbs of energy. For comparison, a .30-06 shooting ball ammo out of a 1903 Springfield is about 17 ft-lbs. Oh, and don’t bother telling me about muzzle brakes. No PH is going to allow you on his hunts with a muzzle brake on a .50 BMG. Not one. They already hate Americans with stupid muzzle brakes on “normal” hunting rounds.

      Most of the “holy crap!” African rifles will be in the 60 to 75 ft-lbs range of recoil, with rifles weighing between 14 and 23 lbs.

      Here’s some of the side effects that happen at 50+ ft-lbs of recoil: Shoulder separations and detached retinas.

      Still want to shoulder a .50 BMG in a hunting rifle?

  2. Having worked for one of the primary English gun makers, I’ll let you in on a bit of info. The first is that, generally speaking, only English guns are an investment because, quite honestly, there’s nothing like them. The woodwork is the best, the finish is the best, their finesse can’t be touched, and there is always a demand. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a second-hand Merkel or the like on consignment for 60-80% of what the seller paid for the rifle a year prior.

    If I were you, I’d look for a second hand English double; perhaps something in a 450/400, etc. A classic caliber that is still loaded – in case you need to buy it off the shelf.

  3. The best value in doubles that I can find is Chapuis (French). You can get them in 9.3x74R and I frequently see them for around $5,000. They have a very good reputation and it is hard to beat the price.

    • And so it has been for a long time. There is a lot of work that goes into a double rifle. As I’ve explained about double barrel shotguns previously, here’s all the additional stuff that goes into a double gun:

      – two barrels, not one.
      – two sets of lockwork. There are two hammers, two sears, two mainsprings, etc, etc inside the action of a double rifle
      – And if your rifle has an ejector setup, then there are two more sets of lockwork in the forearm, which are tripped by the main hammers such that when you break open the rifle, the spent brass for that barrel ejects.
      – then you have to join the barrels top and bottom with ribs
      – and get the barrels “on face”
      – and make the barrels both regulate to the same point of aim
      – on some rifles, there’s a fair bit of engraving, checkering and high-end wood

      Long story short, just the cost of the parts that go into a double rifle will push the cost up to near $2500+. Each barrel will be $300+, the ribs will be $50 on up (you need a top and bottom), a good set of express sights will run you a couple hundred more, the action will cost you close to $1K, a stock blank with some nice wood will cost you at least $250 to $300. That’s all before your gunsmith lays a finger on the project.

      People need to simply understand that double-barrel guns (be they shotguns or rifles) cost more because there is so much more in the way of costs.

      The whole reason why the 9.3×62 round was developed by Otto Bock in 1905 was to provide the settlers of Namibia with a more affordable rifle in a major caliber for African game. Even back then, double rifles were very expensive for the common man. The new bolt action rifles were not yet chambered in the high-powered rounds available today. Bock took the 8mm Mauser round and blew it out to about the largest bullet/capacity he could obtain without having to modify the magazine, the action or bolt. The result is the 9.3×62, a round that when stoked with modern powders to modern pressures, takes on the .338 WinMag quite well. You can think of the 9.3×62 as the forerunner of the .35 Whelen, which did the same thing with our .30-06 cartridge.

  4. Why not use something like .50 Beowulf in a semi-auto rifle? It seems like a .50 caliber hardcast lead bullet that weighs 400 grains and leaves the barrel at 1,800+ feet per second would have some serious stopping power. And if the first shot didn’t succeed, you have an entire magazine for “rapid” follow-up shots. Plus, there has to be some value in being able to say you dropped dangerous game with an AR platform! (Although that would lend credence to the gun-grabbers who claim you can shoot down airplanes with AR rifles.)

    And how about .500 S&W Magnum? That has the same muzzle velocity fired out of an 8 3/8 inch barrel as the .50 Beowulf fired out of a 16 inch barrel. If a rifle in .500 S&W was available, that longer barrel should boost muzzle velocity well over 2,000 feet per second.

    Of course if all else fails you can just use .45 ACP which even kills the soul of the target.

    Personally, I cannot imagine it is a wise idea to lug a $10,000 rifle around in Africa. There are plenty of desperate people who would have no qualms killing you to walk away with something that valuable.

    • As I have a 460 S&W, I’d love to see a nice trail-style lever gun chambered in that cartridge. I’m thinking that as long as your loading is a hard cast round making that “magic” 4,000 ft/lb African number, the delivery method doesn’t matter that much.

      That being said, I’ll own a nice double gun someday, although in a far more “reasonable” caliber like .416 Rigby haha

        • TTAG reviewed the Model 39 already. I sent them a request like 2 weeks ago to see if they would review the model 30. As cool as the 500 S&W is I think the 460 will be better at range.

        • I’m anxiously awaiting Bud’s to ship my new S&W 460V (danged snowstorm) and have been looking into matching lever guns.

          As pointed out … they exist for this cartridge but boy they ain’t cheap. Actually their prices are closer to (or well over, depending on options) $3k. On the other hand, it should be able to handle a .454 Casull, too. BrasTech / Rossi has lever guns for 454 Casull for $650 – $750 MSRP but those won’t let you go to 11.

    • If I was after a wounded lion (or maybe a wounded Hyundai) in tall grass, I can’t think of anything shoulder – fired that I’d rather have than a .50 Beowulf.

        • No semi-auto?!?!?!? Yuck! How about a revolver or lever-action rifle. Does South Africa allow those?

          • Good question. I’ll be asking the PH I’ll be hunting with that question in a couple of weeks.

        • Not sure how reliable Wikipedia is … they claim that .500 S&W Magnum (from a revolver with an 8 3/8 inch barrel apparently?) is quite capable of taking down all game on planet Earth — including elephants.

          I have to imagine that two or three .50 caliber, 440 grain hardcast lead bullets with an impact velocity of 1600+ fps will stop anything moving toward you on four legs. Wouldn’t that be something to take a large, dangerous game critter with a revolver?

        • No Semi-autos in South Africa. And I believe that if you bring more than one rifle, they all have to be in different calibers. I have no idea why.


      • So… I was skeptical. I actually had to look up the ballistics. At the kind of ranges you’d be hunting big cats at, it really does seem to be a good choice. Not sure an autoloader is the best for dangerous game, but the round seems up to the job.

    • Although I despise Weatherby like no other for political reasons, if I was going to Africa I would go with the biggest of boys. .460 Weatherby will down a panzer tank. I wouldn’t be a maverick and “try” some handgun or some startup AR. It doesn’t get much better.

  5. How about an old double barrel scattergun with slugs…….cheap……….I will shut up now and mind my own business…. Carry on….

    • I agree with Greg in Allston, if you are so faint of heart, just stay out of dangerous game territory!

      • Thanks Rick. Does anyone on this forum think that if Teddy Roosevelt were alive today and after dangerous game anywhere on the planet that he’s tart up his Winchester 1895 or any of his other big bore rifles with something so gauche (in context) as a reflex sight? Maybe a fiber optic front sight but even that would be a stretch. Tradition, purity and simplicity can’t be eclipsed by modern techno-do-dads.

        • Teddy used state of the art stuff when he hunted. The Model 95 was a state of the art hunting rifle for its time.

          He would have loved reflex sights or modern scopes. He had bad eyes, very near-sighted.

        • Dean W., I’ve seen a lot of pictures of TR’s hardware over the years and I can’t recall seeing a single one with any kind of optic. I’m not saying that he never used them or that such things weren’t a part of his considerable collection. Yes, he had pretty bad eyesight but TR strikes me as a “close in” kind of guy where a likely optic of the day would probably be more of a hindrance than a help. He also strikes me as more of an M14/AR10/FAL/SCAR kind of guy rather than a AR15/AK47/AUG/whathaveyou type. Pure speculation on my part.

        • Yes, TR did use “state of the art” hardware and even had a 1894 in .30-30 with a Maxim can screwed on the end. Still, I’m not sure he’d be rockin’ a reflex sight but who knows?

  6. My sensible brain tells me that the Trijicon makes sense, but my artistic brain hasn’t stopped shrieking in agony since it saw that black tacticalness on top of such a beautiful rifle. It’s like a Model T with HID headlights. It makes sense, but I hate it.

  7. ….. I have never heard of the batteries of a big, white ivory bead front / deep v-notch rear sight setup to fail.

    • This one was tritium. Also fiber optic. So no batteries.
      I kind of liked the triangle “dot”. I was told it was 12″ at 100 yards. Pretty neat for very large game.

  8. Call me old fashioned and a Luddite but putting a Trijicon on a rifle like that is a lot like slapping tasteless, rude and offensive bumper stickers on the back of your Bentley or Rolls. It’s simply just not done by respectable people.

    • I was going to suggest the Verney Carron line. I’ve seen their work in person. Nice stuff. Reasonable prices if one keeps the embellishments under control.

      • Thanks DG. Your views and opinions are always valued.
        I’ve checked their line of double rifles.
        Personally, I’ve got a wish list going. It’s going to be a .470NE.
        To step up in the Verney Carron line, or the Chapuis, we are back up over the 10K mark. Well over. Under that money/caliber mark and we are into, the 3/8’s bore. I am planning a lion hunt, and I want at least .470. Maybe a .500 or better.
        I was trying to find something under that for folks that are like minded. Under 10K, and maybe, just maybe, under 5K dollars.

        • If the quality of the gun is valued over cosmetics, a good used one a bit dinged up would be an option.

          And in your line of work, you have access to tools, material, and more important, the skills you can draw on with the folks at your job.

          A used solid one you can restore after your safari…

          Just sayin’…

  9. The crossbolt sticking out of the left side of the receiver shows that this action is of the “Greener Crossbolt” design, from W.W. Greener.

    There’s still a W.W. Greener in London, but they (to my knowledge) no longer make a cross-bolt shotgun.

    The other attribute that set a Greener gun apart was the safety on the left side of the stock in a wee little window:

    Merkel seems to like Greener-style actions. I don’t know why, but there it is. Greener shotguns are nice stuff. One day, I’d like to own a Greener 20 ga with damascus barrels.

    If people would like to learn more about W.W. Greener and his guns, I’d suggest reading his book on the topic, “The Gun and Its Development,” by W. W. Greener. It is available online now, as it has been out of print for about 100 years.

    In there, you can learn quite a bit about double guns. Greener is something of a blowhard, but the man knew his craft. He spends quite a bit of effort rubbishing claims of his competitors before he presents his own ideas, and that’s an idiom in the book you’ll find annoying. Tolerate it and I promise there’s some pearls of wisdom in there.

  10. “But if you want pristine beauty, you will want to pay the price.”

    Methinks thou presumes too much.

    Actually, I’d like to be hanging around at a “gun buyback” and catch one o’ these numbers being turned in for $50 gift certificates by some idiot, and pick it up for about $150.

    • I saw a nice WWII war trophy Lugar with holtser and magazines get turned in at a gun ‘buy-back’ in Phoenix, for $100. I also saw a decent Marlin model 39 lever action .22. I have always wanted one of those…

  11. I took my Winchester 1895 in .405 WCF, mfd 1907, last time I went to South Africa, just for “old time sake”. Had a good time. Don’t hunt dangerous game, only the antelopes. Got a trophy waterbuck with it. Now I’ve got the “hots” for a double rifle, maybe 9.3 Mauser. I see the Sabatti doubles are the lowest price but can’t seem to find one in my area to look at.

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