There just seems to be something special about the little .366-caliber 9.3mm. Call it killer instinct. It might be the rimmed 9.3x74R made since the early 1900s for double rifles like the Krieghoff that appears in this story. It might be its rimless ballistic twin, the magazine-fed 9.3x62mm Mauser which no knowledgeable hunter’s armory should ever be without because it is probably the best all-around bolt-action rifle cartridge ever invented. It might be the 9.3x64mm Brenneke which is the full ballistic equivalent of the illustrious .375 Holland & Holland Magnum. It might be the new 9.3x66 Sako which is almost the equal of the Brenneke. Or it might even be the modest 9.3x57, virtually obsolete and always underrated in favor of the perennially popular 7mm and 8mm cartridges of the same length.
One of the all-time favorite guns of John “Pondoro” Taylor was a slim double rifle chambered in .375 H&H Flanged Magnum, the somewhat lower pressure/velocity rimmed version of its better known rimless sibling which we simply call the .375 H&H. The performance of the .375 double-rifle loading was, and is, very little different from the 9.3x74R. Pondoro preferred double rifles over magazine-fed, and was not alone in observing that super-big-bores were not always required to get the job done.
The 9.3 in all of its variations, today primarily the 9.3x62mm and 9.3x74Rmm, remains a staple cartridge in Africa and the most widely used cartridge in Europe for their biggest game. America has no equivalent, seeing as how we are still in the stage where we think teensy-weensy bullets moving at hyper velocities are good enough for everything.
The definitive load for the 9.3x74R is a 286-grain bullet, though it can handle both heavier and lighter ones, with a muzzle velocity of about 2360 fps, sedate by American standards but proven over time to be about optimum for penetrating and killing tough aggressive game. A properly constructed 286-grain 9.3 bullet driven at that velocity will not expand prematurely or blow up on you, and will very rarely fail to reach its vital objective inside any animal on earth when the shooter does his part. Barnes lists its 286-grain .366” X-bullet as having a sectional density of .305, exactly what experienced hunters require for reliable penetration on thick-skinned game.
Among the most charming things about the 9.3s, besides the brilliant performance of the cartridges themselves, are the guns they are chambered in. The 9.3x62 fits nicely in a standard size Mauser action which, properly bedded, easily slips into a walnut stock as svelte and graceful as a ballet dancer, and the 9.3x74R fits on a fast handling 20-gauge shotgun size frame. In a slender and elegant rifle of about nine pounds, recoil of both cartridges is quite pleasant, about a half-step down from the bigger and necessarily heavier built .375 H&H. One has to be careful not to overdo a good thing. The obsession a lot of today’s shooters seem to have with the concept of a seven-pound big-game rifle can lead to severe discomfort. Such was the only problem with the little double in whose company I recently spent an afternoon.
Krieghoff has been building double guns for a long time, since 1886 in fact. Founded in Germany, the latest generation of Krieghoffs also operates here in the U.S. under the personal direction of Dieter Krieghoff. The company manufactures classic double rifles up to .470 and .500 Nitro Express, shotguns, and smaller double rifles, drillings and combination guns. The big doubles are also available in a proprietary Krieghoff chambering, the 500/416 Nitro Express, which is a 3¼” .500 caliber case necked down to accept a .416 bullet, duplicating the ballistics of the .416 Rigby in a flanged cartridge.
Krieghoff guns are distinguished by several innovative patented features, most notably the combination safety/cocking device and, in calibers of .375 and smaller, an adjustable muzzle wedge for fine-tuning the regulation of the barrels. The cocking device is located on the tang and looks and operates like a normal safety. However, the forward and back motion of the device does not simply operate a safety, but rather cocks and uncocks the gun. Thumb pressure required is more than with a simple safety, but this relieves the initial cocking effort normally associated with opening the action. All of the benefits of a self-cocking rifle are maintained. It’s a very safe system, entirely intuitive and easy to get used to. The adjustable, removable muzzle wedge is integrated in the front sight ramp and allows you to regulate, to a certain degree, the point-of-impact of right and left barrels for different conditions, ranges and ammunition.
This afternoon’s playmate came in a luxurious case with its frame and attached butt stock accompanied by two sets of interchangeable fitted barrels, 23.5-inch 9.3x74R rifle barrels and 28-inch 20-gauge shotgun barrels, along with their respective foreends. The gun was quite light, little more than seven pounds in either configuration, with the common butt stock sporting a rather short length-of-pull and a very thin comb. The smell of compromise was in the air. I would soon find out whether this was a double rifle with an extra set of shotgun barrels, a potentially quite useful package, or a double shotgun with an extra set of rifle barrels, a decidedly less useful package. I would rather be carrying a dangerous-game-capable rifle with the added benefit of reasonably fast preparation to go after a few birds for dinner than be carrying a bird gun with the added benefit of reasonably fast preparation to deal with some unhappy buffalo I just might stumble over. If compromises are to be made, let them be made in the shotgun not the rifle.
While a bird gun and a double rifle intended for use with open sights share quite a few characteristics, they do not share them all. Spending most of my time shooting the gun in the rifle configuration, I found the drop at heel sufficient to direct some of the recoil away from my shoulder into lifting the muzzles, which would have worked a lot better if the muzzles had been a little heavier, the comb a little less sharp, and the length-of-pull a little longer. But such was not the case. The gun handled the light recoil of the 20-gauge quite handily, but the substantially greater recoil of the 9.3x74R chopped at my cheek with that sharp comb pretty good, so much so that it became quite painful after a while. Everyone else who fired the rifle had the same complaint. This Krieghoff would definitely benefit from a little more width in the comb or a more substantial cheekpiece, a little more weight in its rifle foreend and the installation of a recoil reducer in the butt stock which is an option offered by Krieghoff.
Interchangeable barrels make sense in theory, less sense in actual practice where the extra set of barrels is rarely carried around in your pocket where the instant-change capability might be of actual use in real time. If such versatility is really of value, as in certain European hunting conditions where big-game and birds might be hunted in the same fields on the same day, I would think a drilling would be a better solution. Krieghoff, of course, is a leading maker of these double-barrel rifle/shotgun combination guns, and fine guns they are. It’s just that one needs to start with a sound rifle design, even though the shotgun barrel might be fired 20 times to the rifle’s one. The greater demands placed on the shooter by that relatively small rifled bore will never hesitate to use physical force in insisting on its position of priority.
A .470 or .500 NE double may be just what the doctor ordered for dangerous game. But a 9.3mm double is nothing for a buffalo or an elephant to sneeze at.