Roosevelt’s “Medicine Gun”

The .405 Winchester cartridge came about in 1904, chambered in the Winchester Model 1895 rifle. Ballistics are fairly impressive: a 300-grain bullet at 2,200 fps. Until the advent of the .444 Marlin it was the most powerful cartridge ever chambered in a lever-action rifle. President Theodore Roosevelt was a huge fan of the .405 Winchester and took a pair of them on his famous African safari, pronouncing the cartridge as his medicine gun for lion. The cartridge and the rifle enjoyed moderate success here in the States as a bear and elk rifle. It was dropped from the Winchester stable in 1936, and ammo companies sealed its doom in 1955, ceasing loading it.
One of the reasons the .405 Win. did not endure is that it used an almost one-of-a-kind bullet—a .4115-inch diameter, 300-grain soft point. Manufacturers usually despise a one-of-a-kind anything because it limits production. Better to have bullets of, say, .30 caliber—.308-inch diameter—that can be loaded in a variety of cartridge cases. Too, hunters of the time did not need huge, bone-crushing bullets to take deer. They really liked the speedy lightweight bullets offered in .25, .270, 7 mm and .30 calibers that smacked deer down at a quarter mile. Even today the modern hunter wants a bullet with better sectional density than .250. This means that the .405 Winchester is basically a 200-yard rifle. Another tick against the .405 was the Model 1895 rifle and its stock design that tended to accentuate the recoil unpleasantly.
In 2001 Browning/Winchester reintroduced the Model 1895 rifle in a limited run of the rifle with a takedown configuration chambered in .405 Winchester to commemorate Roosevelt’s safari. I simply had to have one, and I bought one as soon as it became available. Though made by Miroku in Japan, its quality and craftsmanship rivals anything to come from the United States in quite a while. Hornady has solved the ammo dilemma and loads the cartridge today.
Though predominantly associated with the 1895 lever-gun, the .405 Winchester has also been chambered in the Winchester Model 1885 single shot, the Remington-Lee bolt-action rifle (1904 to 1906) a few double rifles and another limited run by Ruger in its No.1H Tropical single-shot rifle in 2003. So while the cartridge never set the world afire, it has had its adherents, then and now.
The .405 case has been the basis for two not-so-successful wildcats, the .277 Elliot Express and the .357 Elliot Express.
I have taken it on a couple of hunts but never been able to close the deal on a critter with it yet—something I need to reconcile. Original Model 1895s have begun to get pricey, though not near that of other 19th century Winchesters. An original 1895 Model in .405 commands a premium, but you can still find a repo occasionally.

Dave Campbell
Dave Campbell began his hunting career with a spear off the southern California coast in the late 1960s. It did not take long for him to graduate to the gun on land. Campbell is the founding editor in chief of the NRA’s tremendously successful Shooting Illustrated magazine. In 2006 he also edited the iconic book of terminal ballistics, Rifle Bullets for the Hunter—A Definitive Study. He returned to his beloved Wyoming in 2007 as a freelance writer, though he usually refers to himself now as a “recovering editor.”

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