Given adequate funds, which would you prefer for all your general medium-game hunting, a single shot, or a good double rifle? This question has been around a good many years, particularly in Africa in the days before one could get good yet inexpensive bolt-action rifles. Today the question might be a bit different. Which one would make the better investment? Or, which would give greater shooter satisfaction? Given the great disparity in prices of good examples of single and double loaders, would there be any real benefit to owning one type of rifle more than another?
Sturm, Ruger & Co. chambers a most unusual (to American shooters) mid-power cartridge in the Ruger No. 1, the 9.3x74R. It’s a rimmed cartridge commonly loaded with bullets of 0.366-inch diameter in weights from 232 to 286 grains. This cartridge has power a shade under that of the .375 H&H Magnum. We procured a Ruger No.1 ($1030) in this caliber. Ammunition is not available everywhere, as we found to our chagrin.
We were fortunate to have the loan of a fine Manton double rifle (about $10,000) in this caliber, which not only used the same bullet size as the 9.3x74R, but put out its 320-grain bullets at essentially the same velocity as our handload for the Ruger—though at vastly reduced pressure. While a single shot like the Ruger has the immense advantage of being able to use a variety of bullet weights, the fine double is generally regulated for only one load, with either soft-nose or “solid” bullets. But one load per rifle is generally adequate, as many experienced hunters have found over the years.
Norma, RWS, Sellier & Bellot, and perhaps one or two others make ammo for the 9.3x74R. Hornady has promised to make some for several years, but none is yet forthcoming. We were unable to find ammo anywhere in time for this report, so we resorted to handloading. We used jacketed and cast bullets designed for the various .360-caliber British cartridges. Specifically, we loaded 320-grain bullets from Hawk, Inc., and from Woodleigh, and 275-grain cast gas-checked bullets from Mt. Baldy, into new RWS cases. Nosler also makes several bullets in this size for handloading. We don’t claim we got the maximum results out of the 9.3x74R. We stopped when everything was working well. The Manton was easier to feed. Its owner provided all the ammunition, featuring Woodleigh’s 320-grain bullets, same as we used in the Ruger, and both Bell and Bertram brass.
So how did these two compare? In several important ways there’s no comparison. The Ruger has a list price of $1030, and almost any dealer can order you one. The Manton, or anything like it, will set you back today right around $10,000. And you probably won’t find a decent one for sale, though you might find several clunkers. Let’s see what we found out about each of them.
Ruger No. 1 Medium Sporter, $1030
The Ruger No. 1 is no stranger to most of our readers. Ruger brought it out many years ago when there was no significant market for it, nor were there any other U.S.-made single-shot rifles with this degree of quality. Bill Ruger was a fan of Alexander Henry’s fine rifles, and the No. 1 was his favorite design. He didn’t give it that name by chance. The first No. 1 Rugers featured a forend design that mimics that of the Henry single shot, and that is what is on our test rifle. Though the price of the No. 1 has gone up over the years, the quality has stayed at least as good as that of the very first ones.
We could see no difference between the “Medium Sporter” and the “African” in Ruger’s specifications, but they each had this cartridge listed, at the same price. This Ruger was very well put together, we thought, and had features any rifleman would love. The butt stock wood had nice figure, though the forend didn’t exactly match it. The recoil pad looked thin, but it worked exceptionally well. The trigger pull was superb, and the workmanship everywhere was excellent. The balance also was fine, and the rifle had iron sights. These were a folding-leaf rear with white diamond below a U-notch, and a gold-bead front. As noted, we tried unsuccessfully to find ammunition for this rifle. Fortunately, a staff member had new brass and suitable bullets, so we made our own ammo for the Ruger. We first shot the Ruger using its iron sights, but found that with the sights all the way up our heavy-bullet loads struck 2 inches low at 25 yards. The lighter cast bullets were well with the range of the sights.
We were about to mount our new Leupold 16X Mark 4 test scope when we saw the little Leupold Scout scope, still in Ruger rings from a recent test of the Ruger Frontier, lying on our bench. We put it onto the Ruger No. 1, and found we could see nearly a full circle. We moved the Scout scope fully forward and then it worked perfectly. The tiny Scout scope looked so appropriate to the rifle that we decided to use it for our test shooting. We felt this low-power scope would be a better match-up with the Manton, which could not use a scope.
With the scope mounted, we quickly found we had an exceptionally accurate rifle on our hands. Our best group with our handloaded 320-grain Hawk swaged copper-tube bullets put three into half an inch at 100 yards. Other groups commonly had two shots touching and the third about an inch away. With the 320-grain soft-nose Woodleigh bullet, groups were about the same. Our first loads with the 275-grain Mt. Baldy gas-checked cast bullet were too hot. They kicked worse than the 320-grain loads and shot into 10 inches at 100 yards. A reduced load gave a velocity of about 1800 fps and got groups around 2 inches.
There were no problems with the rifle whatsoever, though we noted the ejected shells empty generally struck the front of the safety button and thus didn’t clear the rifle.
Manton 360 No. 2 Double Rifle, about $10,000
Specifically, this was a Manton boxlock double ejector with quarter rib, “caterpillar” front-sight rib, night sight on front, third-bite lockup, cast-off stock with cheekpiece, chopper-lump barrels, double triggers, top-tang non-auto safety, all in excellent condition throughout. It has had its checkering redone, a new “period” recoil pad installed, and a few other slight alterations. The wood was superb, the lines just right, the triggers both excellent, the ejectors perfectly timed, and the weight (8.9 pounds) and balance both were exemplary.
The caliber is one of the lowest-pressure rounds in existence, which makes it ideal for double-rifle use. The .360 No. 2 has power very similar to that of the .375 H&H Magnum (original loadings), though the .360 No. 2 was loaded with only one bullet weight in solid or soft nose. It will do anything the .375 will, with similar-weight bullets.
The Manton came to the eye naturally, and the classic sight picture was fast to get on target. The rear, a wide-angle V with central platinum line, was set well out on the quarter rib. There were folding leaves for 200 and 300 yards, both with platinum center lines. The front sight was a silver-faced bead, and there was also a folding “moon” or night sight that was three times the diameter of the normal bead.
The stock had modest castoff and a cheekpiece. The forend wood was matched to the butt wood, both of tiger-striped fine walnut. The forend was held on by a lever mated to a lug beneath the barrel. The firing pins went through fitted bushings, the right one having an “R” engraved on its face. The barrels had their lugs forged as one piece with each barrel. This is a costly method of joining the barrels to the breech, as the lumps must be mated carefully at their midpoints. The as-forged barrels with protruding lumps look vaguely like a woodsman’s axe, hence the term “chopper-lump” barrels. In all ways—save engraving—this was a first-class boxlock.
At the range, we shot the left barrel first. Recoil was like that of the Ruger, but with more muzzle flip. The right barrel gave us a surprise. The shot swung the rifle toward the left and gave us a good clout on the cheekbone. This is why Elmer Keith wrote so many times in his books that he always fired the left barrel first. The left one doesn’t hurt, because the rifle kicks away from the shooter’s face.
Our experiences with the Manton showed us some limitations and benefits of double rifles. All shots from both barrels landed in about a 4-inch group at 100 yards. Groups from each barrel were much smaller. The rifle’s owner told us he wasn’t quite happy with his load. He had a different rifle in a similar caliber that would put its shots inside 2 inches all day long, from both barrels. This one wasn’t that good yet, he said, but he believed it would get there with the ideal load. Still, it had all we wanted for a rifle of this power.
To lay one myth to rest, double rifles are not regulated for only one range. The shots from both barrels of a properly regulated db rifle never cross. The bullet from each barrel flies parallel to the bullet from the other barrel from here to eternity. With a perfect double rifle, all the shots from the left barrel will land in one hole. All the bullets from the right barrel will land in another hole about 0.5 inch to 1.5 inch to the right, at any range, depending on caliber and related swing of the muzzles during the bullet’s travel up the bore. That’s the ideal. Improper ammunition might expand the cluster from both barrels to 3 or 4 inches at 100 yards. But group size is not the whole story. The rest of the story is learned shooting offhand, and by carrying the double around a while.
The Manton carried beautifully and effortlessly. It was extremely fast to get on target, and easy to hold there. Its balance belied its weight. We could put two shots on target very quickly. By the way, one never fires both barrels of a double rifle at the same time intentionally, despite the drivel written by ignorant amateurs like that Chapstick fellow. The idea is to keep one barrel in reserve. You can shoot a double rifle repeatedly faster than a bolt action, as long as you have ammo in your ready reach. The bolt action will eventually empty its magazine and then becomes a clumsy single shot. We greatly enjoyed experiencing this fine, well balanced rifle. Now comes the tough part.
If you want a decent double rifle in practically any of the old medium-bore calibers, which also include the 400/350, 400/360, .350 Rigby Magnum, .375 H&H Mag, and even the 9.3x74R, we suggest you look long and hard, read everything you can find on double rifles, go to high-dollar gun shows, and compare as many examples as you can find of all sizes, weights, calibers, and degrees of quality so you can get an idea of what’s right and what’s not.
Unless money is of no concern to you, if you want a decent double rifle today you’ll have to go to the used market. English ones are generally considered best for investment or shooting qualities. Plugging “‘double rifle’ sale” into your favorite Internet search engine will get you started. At www.doublegun.com we found links to many potential sources for double rifles.