Close-up of the Verney Carron .700 NE

By Karl Stumpfe

During the 2016 Dallas Safari Club convention, Jérôme Lanoue, Master Gunsmith of the prestigious French gun makers, Verney Carron, told me that he was nearing completion of a .700 Nitro Express double. Little did I know that a few months later, I would be part of a group testing this calibre and rifle on buffalo …

I hunt professionally in Namibia’s Caprivi almost exclusively, which led me to acquire a .577 NE, also made by Verney Carron. This rifle and calibre has done a lot to convince me of the virtues of a good big-bore double, especially when hunting elephants. So, when the invitation came to go and test an even bigger bore double, I jumped at it.
We were to hunt in Mozambique, with Nyati Safaris, owned and operated by Toni Wicker and his son, Sebastian. The Wickers were assisted by Kas van Vuuren, Alex Hope and Sakkie van Zyl as professional hunters. Hunting Mozambique would also be a first for me, as I have never hunted Mozambique’s Zambezi floodplain areas. I thought that the hunting might be similar to hunting the floodplains of the Zambezi and Chobe rivers in the extreme east of the Caprivi, but I was pleasantly surprised. The area was well looked after, with very little poaching pressure and no cattle and people inside the actual hunting area, with very good populations of buffalo, reedbuck, waterbuck, bushbuck and decent sable, Lichtenstein hartebeest and other plains game.
The hunting group consisted of Jérôme, Josephus Fourie, an American client, a French client and me. (A camera crew also joined us around halfway into the hunt.) Although Sebastian had enough PHs available for all of us to hunt one on one, Josephus and I decided to hunt together, as it would give us more opportunity to observe each other’s hunt, and thus double our experience at the same time. We were also the first to take out the mighty .700 for a hunt.
Day one saw us all test firing the .700 and I was again surprised by the mildness of the recoil of this behemoth of a gun. Granted, the rifle weighs around 20 pounds and the reloads we were shooting were loaded slightly below specs (1 000 gr Woodleigh Weldcore soft, out of turned cases at 1 850 ft/sec), but the felt recoil was much less than a standard .458 Win Mag. I was not the only one in the group to feel that way, so it was not because I may be more used to shooting real large bores than most hunters. The rifle turned out to be a sweet-shooting beauty and all our test shots were within ‘minute of buffalo’. So off we went to go and look for buffalo.

Comparison between an expanded 1 000 gr .700 NE bullet
and a 500 gr .458 bullet

At around midday we found a herd of approximately 100 buff lying up in some tall reeds. I was to shoot first, so I carried the rather heavy double on the first stalk. The reeds gave us enough cover to get within around 100 yards of the buffalo easily. However, as they were lying down we did not have a great view of them, so we crawled up to within about 50 yards. I was looking for a bull with pronounced drop but after scanning the herd for around 30 minutes and moving diagonally a few times to better look through them all, I decided there wasn’t a bull that I really wanted.

Josephus and Jérôme with the first buffalo hunted with the .700 NE

Josephus, on the other hand, was happy with a specific bull. We crawled another 10 yards or so closer and got him on the sticks. As he stood up, the targeted bull also obliged and stood up, giving Josephus a open target from around 40 yards. He made an excellent frontal shot on the bull. The animal went straight down and started to bellow immediately. Josephus’ shot took the bull about 18 inches below the chin, broke its neck and continued ploughing deep into the chest cavity. (We could not find this bullet – just the cavity it made into the thorax.) As it was a relatively dry year, we were able to get the Land Cruiser right up to the carcass, so the loading was easy.
On our way back to camp to drop off the buffalo, we spotted three bulls slinking away into some reeds. I had a good look at them from the Cruiser before they disappeared, and being all excited about Josephus’s bull, I decided that I wanted to try and shoot one of them. We jumped down, circled a bit to get the wind better and followed the bulls into the thick reeds. They laid up quickly enough and a short stalk put us within around 45 yards of them. The bull I wanted to shoot was facing us at a 45-degree angle. As there was a clearing between us and the reeds where the bulls were lying up, I decided to take the shot from there, as getting closer would be difficult on already spooked dagga boys.

When I stood up, the bull got up as well, giving me a clearer view of his vitals. My shot took him on the neck, angling into the chest cavity. Predictably, he also went straight down but as we got to him, he tried to get up, so I shot him on the facing shoulder at around 5 yards. We recovered both my bullets – the first one looking as if had entered at an angle with very little expansion, while the second one mushroomed perfectly. (More on bullet performance later.)

Kas and I with the second buffalo of the trip

Recovered bullets from my buffalo.

Jérôme, American hunter and Sebastian after crawling through some burnt grass to get closer to buffalo.

During the next few days the other hunters laid claim to the .700, so we concentrated on plains game with Jérôme’s exquisite personal little .375 – and I’m not referring to the calibre. This is a light, trim little gun that anyone who handles it will fall in love with. We fell for the temptation to shoot an extra buffalo each but as we hunted them with other rifles than the .700, I will leave that story for another day. I did stalk three other groups of buffalo with the .700 but did not get the bull I was looking for. In total though, our group hunted something like 12 buffalo with the .700, with excellent results.

Some plains game we also hunted on the trip

All the 100 gr Woodleigh softs that were recovered on this hunt

The rest of the bullets recovered during this hunt continued the trend of under expanding and flattening as if they had entered at an angle, which led me to the conclusion that the Woodleighs may have been too ‘hard’ for the specific velocity. I was also concerned that there may have been a big variance in velocity between different shots, most possibly due to the turned cases used and the very conservative load by Wolfgang Romey. All the cases showed gas blow-back in the form of black soot, possibly causing lower and inconsistent velocities, which may have caused the bullets not to stabilize properly and maybe tumbling when impacting. This could also play havoc with the regulation, explaining a few erratic shots. This is not the fault of the rifle, the ammo manufacturer or Woodleigh – it was just that the big hunting group and the lack of properly-made drawn .700 cases, necessitated that a plan had to be made to ensure enough ammo for all. Jérôme is currently sourcing properly drawn brass with Verney Carron’s head stamp, so that should not be a problem at all in future. I have seen some of the later drawn brass cases after firing, and there was no blow back, so I am sure the current ammo is much better. Also, Woodleigh is ‘softening up’ their .700 calibre Weldcore, which should make this calibre even more devastating on buffalo.

Group photo at end of the hunt – note that not all the buffalo have been cleaned yet.

As mentioned, I carried the rifle on a few other days, and although heavy, especially when we ran after some buffalo, it was manageable under these conditions. This, of course, helped in making the gun such a pleasure to shoot with. I would not like to carry it on a 30 km trek after elephant in the sandy regions of Namibia, though!
The rifle was one of their side-lock models, and more a work of art than a working firearm. Like all Verney Carron’s doubles, it was custom-made to fit someone – in this case Jérôme – but I still found it easy to shoot and handle. It is definitely not for everyone but for the gun nut that has everything, or if you simply must have the biggest gun, this may be for you.
Although it made me drool all over it, there is no way I will ever afford one, unless I win the Lotto! It was, however, an interesting hunt, for which I will be grateful I had the pleasure to do. I don’t think there was ever any doubt in anyone’s mind of the efficacy of this calibre on buffalo but I would love to see it on elephant and hippo … Now if I can just convince Jérôme to come and shoot an elephant with it in the Caprivi, maybe I might have the honour again to shoot with the Beast! ASM

Another close-up shot of the Verney Carron .700 NE