By Michael Arnold
“I’ve done a lot of shooting with the .400 … I killed practically all species of African game, and my experience was such that I would not hesitate to follow any dangerous animal into any sort of cover if armed with a double [.450/.400].” (African Rifles and Cartridges)
John Taylor’s extolling of the .450/.400 calibre included this declaration: “It has ever been one of my favorites.” Craig Boddington has championed this calibre as well, suggesting it was reliable for even elephant, where it yielded “… superb penetration and very mild recoil” (Safari Rifles II).
That Taylor would laud such a calibre might seem a bit surprising, coming as it did from the man reputed to favour only the largest of calibres for use in his chosen profession as an ivory hunter. Yet his vast experience in the hunting field provided the data to conclude: “Just because a [.450/.400 or .404 Jeffery] looks small when compared with an 8-bore, or even a .577, is no argument … practical experience has shown that it’s a simply splendid weapon for all heavy and dangerous game anywhere …” (Taylor’s emphasis).
I will conclude here that the Verney-Carron Azur side-by-side double rifle – chambered in .450/400 3” Nitro Express – is a powerful, accurate, beautiful and unique creation. However, before I present the observations and data supporting my conclusion, let’s take a stroll back in time.
The Verney-Carron Azur was chambered to John Taylor’s favourite calibre.
The Verney-Carron came with light, but beautiful hand engraving and double triggers.
A very brief history of
The origin of the firm’s name, Verney-Carron, dates from 1830, following the marriage of Claude Verney and Antoinette Carron. The firm was actually founded a decade earlier following Claude’s earning a first prize in the prestigious ‘Concours d’Armurerie’ gunsmith competition. However, 1820 does not mark the genesis of the Verney or Carron families’ work as gunsmiths. Indeed, both Claude and Antoinette were recipients of a rich heritage in this craft, with Claude being able to trace his gunsmithing ancestry to Guy Verney, who was producing shotguns by the year 1650. Fast-forwarding through centuries of history that includes untimely deaths, financial crashes, assimilation of other firms, World Wars, technical advances, and the necessity to diversify, reveals a firm that has had an consistent reputation for producing high-quality firearms. The contemporary ‘link’ of this chain of excellence became very evident as I carried out my review of the Verney-Carron .450/.400 rifle.
Materials and methods
Ken Buch, the US representative for Verney-Carron, spent countless hours organising the choice and shipment of the firearm sent for my review, and then tutoring a double-rifle neophyte in the use of the chosen rifle. Likewise, Ken organized the Hornady ammunition (400 gr DGS bullets; https://www.hornady.com/ammunition/rifle/450-400-nitro-express-3-400-gr-dgs#!/) used in my analyses. As always, the FFL transfer was provided by my local gunshop, Shooters Den of Watkinsville, GA (https://www.facebook.com/ShootersDenUS). Velocity measurements were collected using the doppler radar-based technology of LabRadar (https://mylabradar.com). The fieldrest used in my analysis was the Ultimate Carbon (standing rest) model by 4 Stable Sticks® (https://4stablestick.com/?lang=en).
The photography of the Verney-Carron rifle would not have been possible without the Cherry Wood Presentation Stand provided by Ledbetter’s Gun Racks For Less (https://gunracksforless.com/). Seriously, this beautiful stand saved the day time and time again while photographing different aspects of the double rifle. The photographs were taken by Mike and Frances Arnold (with the really attractive ones taken by Frances).
The Verney-Carron Azur rifle sent for this review was equipped with ejectors, double triggers, pistol grip with extended trigger-guard tang, steel pistol grip cap, recoil pad, a lovely Turkish walnut stock, light English-style hand engraving, 24 lines to the inch hand checkering, a fixed single leaf rear sight, a pivot scope mount, sling swivels and a night/day front sight. The rifle weighed 11 pounds unloaded. The Azur side-by-side has a uniquely-designed receiver that includes a front closure, an interior cross brace and a double interior longitudinal brace. All these features yield added strength to areas affected by the pressures of the Nitro Express cartridges. What is not reflected in these accurate, but one-dimensional, facts is the superb craftsmanship evident in the details of this double rifle. Hopefully, the accompanying photographs illustrate this craftsmanship well.
The action of heavy-calibre Verney Carron double rifles has this unique triple-locking mechanism for added strength.
Results and discussion
A bar set low
I have written elsewhere about my ability to be the ‘lowest common denominator’ for firearm reviews. I am not a marksman (even if we apply that term in its loosest possible sense). Instead, I am a person who – though passionate about the shooting sports – is mainly a hunter. The firearm reviews I have produced have thus been accomplished by a journeyman shooter.
For the present review, I once again found myself assuming the role of a skill- and experience-challenged tester. Allow me to elaborate. Prior to this analysis I had never fired a double rifle in anger or otherwise, although I had held double rifles. Second, only once before had I reviewed (and fired) such a powerful cartridge – that instance involving a rifle chambered in .458 Lott. Third, as I have written before, I have not routinely used iron sights for many decades. Oh, and unlike what occurs with those individuals ordering a custom-built firearm like a Verney-Carron Azur, this rifle was not fitted to my personal dimensions. Simply put, the rifle and ammunition would either make up for my intrinsic deficiencies, or this was going to be a painful and embarrassing experience. The nagging question at the beginning of my review was whether or not the rifle and ammunition were up to the challenge.
Is the Verney-Carron .450/.400 3” Nitro Express powerful?
One cannot review the quotes from John Taylor or Craig Boddington without concluding that the .450/.400 3” N.E. cartridge is powerful enough to safely hunt any land animal. The results of my analyses corroborated this conclusion. I chronographed 16 of the 20 cartridges fired during my two range sessions. The velocity and energy values recorded by the LabRadar chronograph were impressive: Muzzle velocity of 2 084 ± 13 fps and muzzle energy of 3 881 ft-lbs. These values do not add up to a baby’s sweet caress, nor do they reflect the bludgeoning a target would receive from a Terminator (that would be a .458 Lott), but they do reflect a projectile energy level capable of killing the largest and toughest game. However, as reflected in Craig Boddington’s quote, the muzzle velocity and muzzle energy do not result in a concomitant punishment of the shooter. Using me as an example, during the first and second sessions, I fired the Verney-Carron twelve and eight times, respectively. I would have fired more cartridges but Ken Buch assumed that 20 rounds would give me plenty of data for my analyses and thus sent a single box of ammunition. Fortunately, he didn’t send more cartridges or I would still be ‘analysing’ this rifle!
The double triggers allow the instantaneous left-and-right that could prevent injury or even death!
The rifle and ammunition ready for range work
The author firing the Verney-Carron in the manner “for which it was intended”.
The ejectors are driven by the weight of the rifle …
… and the springs are perfectly timed, as shown by the brass simultaneously ejecting from the two barrels.
Quit using a rest!
The heading of this section reflects a number of admonitions – always given in a good-natured manner – from Ken Buch about the means by which I was testing the Verney-Carron rifle. In particular, Ken wanted me to test the rifle’s capability to accomplish the purpose for which it was designed – as a means to stop an unhappy animal from digesting or making an oily spot out of the person holding the .450/.400. Specifically, Ken encouraged me to stand 20 – 25 paces from the target, bring the rifle to my shoulder and fire off a quick right and left. With the last four rounds of my analysis I did just that. The final photograph is a tribute to the ease-of-handling and accuracy of the Verney-Carron .450/.400 when used ‘for its intended purpose’.
All of the data gathered and observations made in this review lead me to state unequivocally that the Verney-Carron Azur, chambered to .450/.400 3” Nitro Express, is an excellent firearm. The calibre possesses formidable power, yet the design of the Azur model results in relatively mild recoil. The rifle demonstrates amazing accuracy, whether from a fieldrest or offhand. Finally, the rifle is physically lovely.
In summary, vive la Verney-Carron! ASM
The results from the combination of the Verney-Carron Azur rifle, the Hornady DGS ammunition and the Ultimate Carbon rest by 4 Stable Sticks; both groups obtained at a distance of 50 yards.
The final four shots taken offhand at 25 paces – the rifle is definitely capable of accomplishing
“… the purpose for which it was designed”.