Traditions Fausti-made .50-caliber Rex muzzleloading double rifle disassembled for transport.
After upgrading my home system I had sufficient speed to upload some of my older hunting CDs to YouTube and revisited my use of Traditions’s Double Express .50-caliber rifle and PowerBelt bullets on my 2009 hunt in South Africa for Cape buffalo, ostrich and an incidental piece of plains game.
This double rifle was designed by Fausti in Italy, and in 2008-9 it was imported by Traditions. The more expensive version of the gun, the Rex model, had superior grade wood, bead blasted black-finished barrels and adjustable iron sights. It featured removable breech plugs and allowed the barrels to be regulated for the shooter’s loads with set screws placed in a collar around the front of the barrels.
The gun had 1:24 twist heavy tapered profile barrels which brought the gun’s weight up to about 12 pounds. The gun’s decorative elements include engraved panels on the receiver featuring a whitetail deer and sheep. As I had a muzzleloading book in progress at the time which was ultimately published as X-Treme Muzzleloading, I arranged to purchase the gun. My immediate idea was to use this as my African rifle, should I ever have the opportunity.
My first opportunity to hunt with the gun was in Texas, where I took an old doe at about 100 yards with a load of 150 grains of Hodgdon’s White Hot pellets (three 50 grainers) and a then new 338-grain PowerBelt bullet. This load dropped the deer in its tracks. At about this time my friend and editor “Butch” Winter of Dixie Gun Works made his African Safari after being diagnosed with what was to be a fatal battle with cancer. He got this off his “bucket list,” but he never had a chance to do a planned hunt in Alaska. A year before my wife Thresa had also died of cancer, and these two hits brought into focus the concept, “If there are things that you want do do in this life, you had best be about doing them.”
These events impelled me, then in my late 60s, to do my African hunts and give Rex a chance to demonstrate its capabilities. I had done a hunt in 2005 with Earnst Dyason of Spear Safari, and now that I had a buffalo-capable gun, I wanted to give it a try on dangerous game. Earnst said that he had an opportunity for a reduced price hunt in a new area that had not been hunted for decades, but the bad aspects was that it was very thick and the hunt needed to be in April, just after the wet season. I had just concluded a successful contract, had some extra money, and booked the hunt.
Now, at 74 in a few days, I find that I have developed circulation problems in my legs which seriously threaten my ability to walk any great distance. As a geologist in my 30s I traversed some 13 miles a day over game trails and muskeg, and at its worse it was now painful for me to walk 100 yards. I am very glad that I did these hunts before my body started failing on me.
Fausti and Traditions had apparently envisioned that this gun would be used on whitetail deer with loads of 150 grains of powder and 300-grain bullets. This heavy gun shoots these loads with absolutely no problem. I found that when the bullet weight was increased to the 400-500 grain level it would double. The convention with double-triggered guns is to always shoot the rear trigger first and then move the finger to the front one. If done the other way around the recoil from the first charge will often cause the hand to strike the rear trigger and fire the second barrel, possibly throwing the first shot completely off target.
Although made by PowerBelt and having been proven effective on Cape buffalo and elephant by Michael McMichael, the company’s founder, by the time of my hunt; this bullet had been discontinued for two years and none remained in the supply chain. I manage to secure two packets of 15 bullets from Dudley McGarity, the owner of BPI who now owns PowerBelt, and wanted to preserve these irreplaceable bullets as much as possible. Consequently, most of my testing with Rex was with the 444-grain copper plated flat pointed projectiles. The cards with these 444s have a buffalo printed on them, but McMichael told me that they did not work well on buffalo and to stick with the heavier steel-pointed bullets.
My solution to the doubling problem was to only cap one barrel at the time. I then had, in effect, a more rapid second shot as the other barrel was loaded, but lost the possibility of a rapid “bang-bang” sequence that has always been the hallmark of an African double rifle.
From the gun’s 24-inch barrels and the batch of White Hot pellets that I had, this load generated 2,030 ft./lbs. of muzzle energy, about half of that produced by .458 Winchester; but on a par with some of the common black powder African double rifle loads. For close range use, I would rate this load alongside the 375 H&H Magnum in that it can easily take all plains game and with careful shooting can be effective on Cape Buffalo at close range. No, the velocity and energy figures do not compare, but in demonstrated killing effectiveness this is how I would rate the load. After all, the .45-70 with its 500 grain bullet killed millions of American bison, and this load has double the powder charge and a more effective projectile. It is no slouch, but it is not a ray-gun either.
Rex had some apparent difficulties with this load. Two thin cracks appeared on the fore-end, and the breech plug was very difficult to remove after shooting even when lubricated with high-temperature grease. The 209 primers looked fine and extracted without any problems, so I continued with the testing and shooting at 50 yards. Considering the gun’s most probable use and knowing Earnst would want to put me close to the game, I dialed the scope down to the 4 power setting and used this relatively close-in zero. As it turned out, I am glad I had to scope as it enabled me to do better shot placement through very thick brush.
Old-time African hunters used gun barers, to carry their 12-15 pound guns, and always having relatively weak arms, I tried that out as well. Ultimately I mostly carried my own gun slung over a shoulder. What you do not want to happen is to have your arms so fatigued after carrying the unaccustomed weight of a heavy gun all day that you lose the lightning-fast response time that you might need to stop a charging animal, as Earnst had to do.
One thing that I did, that I do not now recommend was to fire a shot to confirm the gun’s zero and then wipe the barrel with a damp and then a dry patch. This can push wet debris back into the firing passages and retard or prevent ignition of the main charge. Even though I took the precaution of shooting only one barrel, I should have pulled the breech plug and cleaned it before reloading the gun. This could have been done with rubbing alcohol and grease carried to the sighting-in spot, and this is what I should have done.
After chasing buffalo for days, when I had my chance I did the correct thing of locating the shoulder and aiming as far down on it as I could see. In retrospect, the shot should have been six-inches lower. The bullet’s impact point was too low for the spine and a little too high for the lungs. The result was a long scary follow-up and Earnst stopping a charge at 5-yards. Better bullet placement would have prevented this.
The shot disabled the buffalo to the extent that it bedded down four time during a two-mile follow up stalk, but not sufficiently to prevent it from making a last ditch charge at Earnst. Nonetheless, the bullet did what one needs an African bullet to do – penetrate the shoulder, go through the chest cavity and damage the off-side leg. To that degree the load was effective.
My conclusion is that the Traditions Rex can be used as a medium-power level Safari rifle on plains game and can, with proper shot placement and at close range, be reasonably used on Cape buffalo.
This gun has been carefully stored since the hunt, and I am now ready to sell it, as I do not expect to return to Africa. The gun is priced at $1,200 U.S. with iron sights and includes a 15 pack of the PowerBelt steel-pointed bullets, its case and breech-plug removal tool. The original retail price of the gun was $1,700, and I have priced it at my cost. Outside of the small cracks in the fore-end and some dings in the stock it is in excellent condition.
The strength of the pelletized black-powder substitute powders can change over time and conditions of storage. Start working with your powder at the 100 grain level and work yourself up to a three-pellet load if desired. These are heavy loads that are to be used with caution and at your own risk.
If you wish to view the video and hear my commentary about the hunt, you can do so at: https://youtu.be/GdK8WNtTs5A.