Special Guns Episode 4 ChapuisQ&AVirginia

Special Guns with Roger Rule

Episode 4 – Chapuis Express Rifle — Double Rifle, .470 Nitro Express


PART 1{Virginia and Roger sitting at table}***********************************

VIRGINIA: My name is Virginia Hall and I’m here today to introduce you to Roger Rule, author of The Rifleman’s Rifle, and host of this series of episodes, Special Guns with Roger Rule.

ROGER: Thank you, Virginia, welcome  and welcome viewers to my 4th Episode of Special Guns with Roger Rule.

VIRGINIA: Roger, let me ask you first, what is your definition for Special Guns?

ROGER: For this series, special guns are simply guns that a gun enthusiast may have heard of, but never encountered. I narrow my focus to those arms that hold an evolutionary or revolutionary place in the world of modern sporting arms over the last two centuries and have since become classic guns in some way because of it.

VIRGINIA: What do you have for us today?

ROGER: The gun I want to cover today logically follows from the last episode.  That rifle was a magnum Mauser bolt action rifle in .416 Rigby caliber, specifically designed for big and dangerous game.  This rifle today takes it one step further; it’s a big bore double rifle and according to many, it is the crème de la crème for African hunting or even big Brown, Grizzly or Kodiac bears in this hemisphere.

In the book, The Great Guns by Harold L. Peterson and Robert Elman, the authors reserve a chapter for these rifles, their Chapter 18 entitled “The Most Dangerous Game.”  I want to read you a couple of excerpts from the opening page of that chapter:

Quote“The large, dangerous game animals of Africa and India have tantalized sportsmen – as well as countless professional hide and ivory hunters – for centuries. Hunting can be extremely hazardous in the forests, thick brush, and jungles where certain beasts are found, yet the pursuit of such game was relentless for years, until shooting pressure was finally subdued as a result of governmental regulations, safari costs, and the decline in game populations caused by poachers. Unlike these factors, danger was not a deterrent.  To a hunter, the greatest prize was worth the greatest peril.”  {close quote}

Before our modern ammunition, early big bore rifles were undependable.  They were not accurate or powerful enough to guarantee kills at what might be called a safe range. According to the authors just cited, and I quote again:

“The solution was to shoot at an unsafe range, stopping an animal in time to avoid being gored, flung, or trampled. By the early 1800’s definite theories had evolved, especially among the English, about firearms for this work.” (close quote)

This gets back to the British controlling India and most of Africa in the heyday of safari hunting. The double rifle emerged for that purpose so that the shooter could have the gun ready to fire both barrels; follow the first shot with a quick second shot, or even fire both barrels at once if need be.  The early rifles had two separate locks with exposed hammers.  Later, when hammerless shotguns were invented, the hammers were removed from the double rifles as well, but two locks were still popular because if a hunter were out in the bush or jungle, and one lock broke, the gun was still a serviceable weapon with the other lock still working. We will cover sidelocks and boxlocks in very much detail in later episodes. Those concepts are beyond the scope of this episode today.

Back to the classical hunter of the day, since they had gun bearers, another popular form of insurance for gun failure, was to have two rifles of this type. With all four barrels available and a fast hand-off from a gun bearer, the experienced hunter could dispatch four of the big thunderous rounds quickly to avoid getting trampled by a charging elephant.

For the rifle with sidelocks, often the maker would make a second set of locks for the hunter to take into the wild country where no gunsmith was available. A second set of locks was cheap insurance for a problem that might spoil an entire safari with a phenomenal wasted expense.

One other point, the change from rifles with hammers to rifles without hammers, was slow to catch on for some hunters of dangerous game as there were books and articles written by professional hunters that claimed they wanted to see those hammers cocked, when the rifle was ready for action, rather than rely on their memory or rely on the cocking indicators that may or may not be functioning properly.  Even well into the 20th Century, some gunmakers were still making the big dangerous double rifles with actions with exposed hammers.

VIRGINIA:  So, these were basically elephant guns?  Is that why we have this elephant figurine here today?

ROGER: The elephant figurine was a complementary gift from a U.S. service man stationed in Djibouti.  He sent me his copy of The Rifleman’s Rifle to sign, and with it, he sent the elephant as a complimentary gift.  It is a wood hand carving from Djibouti, and fits in with our theme here today; because, to answer your first question, rifles like this are usually called “elephant guns.”  However, they are popular for any large, especially dangerous animal that might charge the hunter rather than turn tail and run.

The refinements of these big doubles came quickly during the second half of the 19th Century.  Outstanding big-game doubles for mammoth-sized cartridges were made by English makers such as Evans, Gibbs, Grant, Greener, Holland and Holland, Purdey, Rigby and others.

The actions of those early guns unlocked and opened with a Jones underlever, which pivoted under the trigger guard, and then broke down like a conventional double barreled shotgun of today.  Later ones used the top-tang lever (a development of W&C Scott & Son) which is common to most double guns today, both side-by-sides and over-and-unders.

VIRGINIA: Is the maker a French maker?

ROGER: Yes, the maker’s name is Chapuis. As a history of the gunmaker, we don’t have much on Chapuis.  We are told the company started in 1935, but they didn’t export into the US markets until the tailend of the 20th century.  If you wish to check them out, they do have a website;


PART 2 {Audio only}*****************************************************

However, the website is in French and although I cannot translate, just looking it over, I don’t believe a history is included. One of their US distributors, William Larkin Moore,  writes that they are a well-known French firm and they are located on the hills overlooking Saint Etienne (San-ta-TEE-in) France.  We know that Saint Etienne is the pantheon of the best French gunmakers like London is to Great Britain.  The distributor goes on to say that the company makes no compromises in their manufacturing process where every detail is painstakingly taken into account — from the selection and quality of wood, the magnificent detailing and engraving of the actions, to the labor intensive regulation of the barrels, nothing is left to chance.

They add, and I quote: “Their guns are entirely manufactured in their own facility and are fitted and finished by hand in the old world methods passed down from generation to generation.” (close quote)  That was from William Larkin Moore.

The wood for their stocks comes from centuries old walnut trees that are from the Caucasus mountains area.  I had to look up Caucasus area and found it to be the post-Soviet states of Georgia and Armenia.  The manufacturer’s own description goes on to state and I quote: “these stocks are then hand carved and fitted to each gun by their stockmakers who finish the stocks by hand rubbing many coats of oil to produce virtually a waterproof  finish that reveals the extraordinary contrast and textures of the unique wood selected.” (Close quote)

I have one Texas friend who owns and uses a gun identical to this.  I think his has a Leupold 1.5-5×20 scope on it instead of the scope like this one here today, but he has made several trips to Africa and shot two big Cape buffalo with his .470 and loves the rifle.  He has sent me photos of his kills with his rifle leaning against them.

But, it is my friend in Oklahoma, George Caswell, who owns Champlin Firearms, who convinced me about these Chapuis doubles. George told me the following and later wrote a version of it in one of his ads. This was specifically about a Chapuis double rifle in .470 Nitro Express.  George’s words are and I quote:

“The Best Tough Current Double is this great 470 Nitro Express. Champlin Firearms has handled more Double Rifles than any Dealer in the World and we feel this is the best buy in any current-made serious Dangerous Game double. We have had every current-made boxlock double rifle in our shop, have shot them all, worked on all, had all of them apart and we know for fact that you can’t buy a better one for the money than a Chapuis(we) hunt with and shoot a lot of double rifles. We flat know this is one tough, attractive, high precision, go to Africa and have money left for a second Buffalo type of gun. I challenge you to show me a better current double rifle for the money. ” (close quote)

And that is no boast, George does outfit more double rifles than any other dealer for African safaris.

PART 3 {Video, Virginia and Roger sitting at table}***************************

VIRGINIA:  What is the caliber of this rifle?

ROGER:  It is chambered in .470 Nitro Express, a round designed in 1900 by Joseph Lang, a London gunmaker.  More about the cartridge in a minute.  Since I have been watching the Chapuis models over the years, they have changed the model titles of their double rifles several times.  This particular model was marketed as the Chapuis Safari Express and the model name is inscribed on the rib. ***

VIRGINIA: The first thing I’m thinking is how bad does it kick?

ROGER: Actually, I have shot this rifle and it surprised me that it did not kick that bad. We have a video of me shooting it one shot.  And for one shot, it wasn’t bad at all, probably because of the weight of the rifle.

The reason it surprised me is because, prior to shooting this .470, I had two bad experiences with big bores at the range.  A few years ago, having never shot anything larger than a .338 Win. Mag. bolt action rifle, which to me is punishing after shooting a few rounds to sight it in, I shot my first .416 Rigby at a bench trying to sight it in.  Again, that was a bolt action rifle, a custom gun by Reimer Johannsen.  I shot four rounds through it and every round seemed punishing.  Then, about a year later, I shot my Heym .505 Gibbs, another bolt action rifle, and although a big gun, it was not that heavy.

I had taken it out to the only range in our club where you could shoot 50 caliber.  It was a busy morning and there were several of us shooting rifles, everyone wearing eye and ear protection.  When I fired off the first round, sitting at a bench, there was one loud CABOOM, just like a cannon going off, and echoing even louder being under the metal roof of the range. It caught everyone’s attention even with their ear protection on.  I looked around, rubbing my shoulder, which still hurts when I think about it, and everyone’s eyes were on me – like what in the world was that! And my shoulder felt like I had taken a blow from Mohammed Ali.

I have been kicked by a horse twice in my life, and I can tell you that the experience of firing a 505 Gibbs, for me, is very similar.  And for those who don’t know me, I think nothing of shooting 100 rounds of 12 gauge ammo in two or three hours at the range shooting trap or sporting clays.

Sometime later, I was advised to put a sandbag between my shoulder and the butt to absorb the blow while bench shooting, but I can’t imagine exactly how that would play into your length of pull. I guess I need to try it someday to find out.

And everyone always says, well it’s different in the field when shooting game, especially dangerous game when your adrenaline is up.  I would guess that’s probably correct, because I have found the same even with my 338 Win. Mag.  On the range at a bench, it kicks after a few rounds, but I never notice it when I shoot during a hunt.

Anyway, that’s enough about that Mother kicker— compared to it, this heavy Chapuis, in .470 Nitro Express, was actually milder than my .338, but then again, I was second-guessing it to be severe and my reaction may have over-compensated for that.

VIRGINIA: Well, if it comes to me shooting it, I believe I’ll pass.


PART 4 {Virginia and Roger sitting at table, turn gun around, add field scope case}  {Roger sitting, then stands, points out features on gun still on holders}

ROGER:  Let’s look at the metalwork first. As you can see the action components are polished with what they call a coin finish.  This is the finish of the receiver, the top tang and top lever, the trigger guard, the lower tang, the pistol grip cap, and the forearm escutcheon and release.  I have been told that a true coin finish is case-hardening with the colors polished off (we covered case-hardening in our last episode).  The result often resembles stainless steel.

This rifle has nearly full-coverage hand engraving in the arabesque style by the master engraver, Ivan Thierry.

The back of the action where it meets the wood is often a straight vertical line of wood to metal. When is it not a straight line at that connection, it is called a fancy back, and there are different names for them. This one is referred to as a scalloped back (found only on best guns as a perfect wood to metal fit is hard to achieve).

Another important metal feature that I should point out is that this big double has what we call a “bolstered frame” having additional metal reinforcement which widens the receiver and extends up to join into the fences.  This additional reinforcement is needed on big bore double rifles, rarely found on shotguns. But I once owned a Greener Royal shotgun with a bolstered frame.

{Pick up the rifle}

Covering more of the outward metal features:

The Anson and Deeley forearm release and escutcheon are engraved and coin finished.

The trigger guard has a subtle rolled edge for the right hand shooter.

The lower tang is extended to the pistol grip cap and fastened down with three screws, a stronger arrangement than most guns have.

The pistol grip cap has a trap door, presumably for an alternate front sight but this one is empty.

On the toe line of the stock, there is a silver metal oval that is vacant on this gun, intended for the owner’s initials or monogram.

Two other metal parts are the sling swivel eyes made to fit the popular standard sling swivels today like Uncle Mike’s or several other brands. The front one is mounted on the underside of the rib between the barrels and the rear one is mounted on the toeline, nicely centered between the inlaid oval and the butt.

This rifle has 23 5/8” rifled barrels with an engraved quarter rib for the rear sights.  The multiple-leaf express rear sight has a fixed leaf for a close point of aim, then there are three folding leaves sighted in for 100, 150 and 200 yards and each one is so inscribed. The front sight is a small silver bead, locked in with a set screw, on a base dovetailed into the raised front ramp, which is matted on the top surface.

Interesting enough, and unusual for most guns, there is small protrusion of metal at the muzzle between the barrels to protect the crowns of the bores should the muzzles come in contact with concrete sidewalk or some other such harmful surface.

Mechanically, this has two triggers and the barrels are automatic ejector barrels which mean the shells once fired, are ejected or kicked out of the gun when opened.  When they are not fired, the cartridges are simply set up to be plucked out by hand.

{demonstrate, shoot one barrel, open action –catch ejected round, do not mention safety}

{Continue holding rifle}

The safety, located on the top tang behind the top opening lever, is manual, not automatic, which is the preferred type of safety on a dangerous game rifle.  If you have fired both shots and a wounded animal turns to charge you, you need to eject the empty cartridges (which will fly out of the way when the gun is opened) and then you need to reload two cartridges quickly, close the action, and you want to be ready to fire.  Under pressure, you don’t want to have to think about taking the safety off which would also require an additional step.

Another important mechanical feature is bushed strikers.  These allow easy access for firing pin repair or replacement. Bushed strikers indicate a very high quality gun. We’ll show a close-up of those in a moment.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the wood.

VIRGINIA: I like the wood on this one.

ROGER: And so do I, because the first thing I notice is the overall impression of the wood — that this is truly a beautiful gun!  It has fancy grain, dense dark walnut with strong figure reminiscent to me of what I’ve seen on Holland & Holland rifles. The shape of the stock feels perfect as the gun comes to the shoulder with sights on target.

Looking at the design, the comb is a classic comb without Monte Carlo, yet it is high enough to align the eye with the scope or with the iron sights with the scope removed.  The comb is unusual in that it has a shallow flute on the right side but not on the left where there is a small cheekpiece surrounded by an artistically contoured bead or shadowline.

The right side of the pistol grip had an enlarged area called a palm swell. So there are three things that define this rifle for the right-handed shooter: the left side cheekpiece,  the right grip palm swell, and the rolled trigger guard for the right hand.

The forearm is wide and wraps around the barrels, which is called a beavertail forearm.

The checkering is hand checkering and is executed flawlessly. The points of the diamonds are crisp and still sharp to the touch with no diamonds missing. On the pistol grip there are two panels each ending with a 3-point pattern. There are no teardrops (something I will cover in a later episode). The forearm checkering is generous, a 4-point pattern and meets at two intersections on the underside, leaving a nice island of uncheckered wood showing its fancy figure surrounding the escutcheon of the forearm release.

The tip or nose of the forearm is aesthetically rounded.

The wood-to-metal fit is nicely done but we would describe it as “the wood is proud” by a very minute fraction of an inch yet maintained evenly at every location, indicating it was designed this way.

The butt of the stock has a leather covered recoil pad.

The final finish of the wood is a hand-rubbed French polish oil finish.

Finally, there’s one last significant feature on this rifle to cover: the type of scope and even more importantly the type of scope mount, both of which separate this rifle significantly in value from those without these features.

The scope is a very high end Austrian-made Kahles Model Helia C 1.1-4×24 with 30mm diameter tube (not 1”) and the mounts are the renowned German claw mounts that are quick-detachable (and I like to say VERY QUICK detachable) which are costly, and even more costly to have installed properly by the few individuals that know what they are doing. When installed correctly, after dismounting and remounting, this system is one of the best for enabling the scope to return to zero.

{demonstrate the removal of the scope and the replacement of it – show the field case}

                        Depress the two spring-loaded buttons on each side of the rear scope base and lift the scope up from the rear and the front is released as well. To re-attach, just reverse the process, set the front claws into the front base, then press down on the rear ring until you hear or feel the spring-loaded lock accept the scope in place.

VIRGINIA: That looks easy enough.

ROGER: Yes, it is easy which translates into being quick to remove and re-install and yet it maintains its accuracy after removal.

The rifle’s length of pull is 14 ½” and it’s a heavy gun, the weight without scope is 11 lb. 8 oz., with scope 12 lb. 12 oz. – a weight the shooter will appreciate when subjected to its recoil.

{Disassemble gun}

                        To disassemble the gun, first, we remove the scope, then pull down the Anson & Deeley lever to release the forearm release and remove it.  Pressing the top lever to the right, the barrel assembly is freed and separates from the action.

Now let’s turn to our sideboard and examine the disassembled parts.

PART5 {Old Part 6}{Roger off camera, rifle components in case, scope case, target}*

This rifle comes with the maker’s leather case that includes a leather sling and the actual maker’s target showing the barrels regulated at 50 meters by serial number. The case has a compartment for the scope.

{Pick up stock and receiver}

Looking at the receiver first, there’s a little button on the breech face that when pushed, allows the top lever to unlock and return to center.

The bushed strikers are clearly visible now.

When we move the top lever to the right, you can see the locking bolt move.  This locks into lugs on the barrel flats and locks up the action. Inside, on the bottom of the receiver, we see the serial number 40571.

{Put down the stock and pick up the barrels}

Looking at the barrels, we see the automatic ejectors, and under those, the big locking lug for the locking bolt on the receiver. This protrusion on the bottom of the barrels is called the barrel locking block.  At the front end, you can see two lugs with semi-circle cut outs which match up with the hinge pin in the receiver.  Further down the barrel assembly about 6 inches and mounted on the underside of the rib, there is a locking lug for the forearm release. Forward of that is an inscription for the distributor, “Champlin Firearms, Enid OK”

For other markings, the serial number appears again on the right side of the barrel flat.  The right hinge lug is inscribed “470 N E” the caliber designation for 470 Nitro Express.  The left hinge lug is stamped with a French proof mark.

Turning the barrels over now for a top view, the maker’s inscription shows where the scope was covering.  It reads, “Express Chapuis Arms France” surrounded by a nicely matted quarter rib.

{Put down the barrels, pick up the forearm}

Now looking at the forearm, notice the knife-edge sides in the wood allowing it to wrap around the barrels in this beavertail forearm.  This workmanship is impressive.  The metal at the back end of the forearm that fits into the action is called the forearm iron.  The two little parts that stick out in the center of this are the forearm iron levers, that insert into the action.  There are some markings inside on the forearm iron: the serial number again, and the caliber again, “470 NE”.

PART 6 {Video, Virginia sitting, Roger stands to assemble rifle}

{Components on table, Roger picks up stock and barrels}

To re-assemble this rifle, first hold the barrel assembly at 45 degrees to the action, and hold the top lever to the right to line up everything.  It then locks together.  Then hold the forearm also at 45 degrees and insert it until the Anson & Deeley latch locks.

Attach the scope and insert the snap caps.  When not using the gun, the action should not be cocked, either snap the snap caps or open the gun, take it off safe, and while holding both triggers back, close the action.

{Place rifle back on holders facing right, Roger sits down, on camera}

Now that we have covered all of its features, I would like to point out where this rifle fits in with all the different terminology used for Chapuis rifles over the last few years. This model of Express Rifle is one step above the Brousse and the older PH1. It is in between those and the Safari Express EL and the old Jungle models.  The features that separate this one from the Brousse model are: leather-covered recoil pad, stock with significant more figure, inlaid oval for owner’s initials, and last, the pistol grip cap with its compartment and hinged trapdoor.

One comment about the cartridge this rifle is chambered for. In Cartridges of the World by Frank C. Barnes, the author addresses the .470 Nitro Express and I quote:

“It is another extremely popular cartridge… which was adopted by most rifle makers. It is certainly the most enduring.  It has plenty of killing power for any of the heavy or dangerous varieties of game…It is one of the best choices in any new double-barrel rifle because of ammunition and component availability.” (close quote)

So with this great rifle, in this great caliber, and with the addition of this low magnification but variable Austrian scope and the world-class German claw mounts, this is one complete package, totally African-ready.  It is a rifle that anyone with any size pocketbook could be proud of.

And I would add that this is a beast of a combination which has been built with the single purpose to take down the greatest of any beast on earth.

That’s it for today, thank you Virginia, and thank you the viewers for watching, and if you enjoyed this video, I invite you to subscribe to my YouTube channel and share with others.  And, I hope you join us next week for another episode of Special Guns with Roger Rule.  We’ll be looking at a double barrel shotgun instead of a rifle.