26 September 2023
The .700 Nitro Express
Charlie Young discovers the surprising origin story of this leviathan of a calibre, which remains an enigma for many.
There are few guns that leave me speechless, and this is certainly one of them. A Royal Double Rifle not only engraved by Philippe Grifnee but in the legendary ‘.700 Nitro Express’.
The origins of the .700 NE are almost as crazy as the calibre itself. In 1985 an avid hunter named William ‘Bill’ Feldstein approached Holland & Holland to commission a battery of big bore Double Rifles. These included what was then the largest modern hunting round ever built, the .600 NE. The issue was that Holland & Holland had already built what was officially the ‘last .600’ and was bound to not build another. Not to be deterred Mr Feldstein responded “Well, if you won’t build another .600, then make me a .700.” After some debate Holland & Holland agreed to build the rifle, with Mr Feldstein funding the development of the round. As well as taking a role in developing the round, Mr Feldstein also took part in the regulating process of the first rifles, keen to be as involved as possible.
I was lucky enough to have met Bill Feldstein, when he visited Holland & Holland. He is a fascinating character full of stories and ever keen to see Holland & Holland continue to flourish.
There were serious concerns that a conventional rifle weighing what an average man could carry would be up to the enormous recoil, let alone the effect on the man pulling the trigger. A number of medical professionals were consulted before the rifle was first shot to ensure the safety of the would-be shooter.
Putting the romance aside for a second, please allow me to be a little nerdy: the .700 NE bullet’s ballistics are simply awesome! It fires a 1000gr bullet at 2,000 fps and produces 8,900 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. The recoil force is 160 foot-pounds, with the average human heart skipping a beat when fired. For perspective, the recoil would feel 10 times the kick of a .308. It is reported that Mr Feldstein fired over 50 rounds during the testing - no mean feat for any sportsman.
As agreed with Mr Feldstein, Holland & Holland would build an exhibition grade .700NE to be added to the company’s Brevis collection. Such an awe-inspiring rifle was in need of some truly stunning engraving. Holland & Holland looked to the ‘Godfather’ of deeply carved engraving, Philippe Grifnee and he did not disappoint. The rifle's engraving shows a series of mythical beasts battling across the rifle’s excessive canvas. Gold inlay adds a level of drama to the engraving; a perfect comparison to the power of the rifle it adorns. With Grifnee’s sad passing away in May 2012 at the age of 59, the rifle stands as a testament to his incredible skill.
Although part of our historic collection, this rifle is far from left to gather dust, regularly travelling to shows and marketing events around the world. Most recently it took a trip to Zambia with our sales and marketing team. As of today, I am yet to be allowed to shoot this formidable rifle, though I’m sure my incessant pestering will one day win out.