It’s a fun thought experiment: Imagine you have a time machine set to the Pliocene Epoch. You can go back in time to experience life at the dawn of Mankind. But there’s a twist to this thought experiment: You get to bring one gun to hunt for food and defend yourself against predators. What would it be?
To answer that question, you have to ask yourself what you might be dealing with. Fossils can tell us a lot about the animals that roamed the earth prior to recorded history, and they would have been formidable. There was the giant camel, which stood over 7 feet tall at the shoulder and weighed upward of one ton, and the giant sloth, which was larger than a modern African elephant. Then there are the predators…the Titanis, an 8-foot-tall, 300-pound carnivorous flightless bird, not to mention saber-tooth cats that weighed up to 900 pounds and stood 4 feet tall at the shoulder.
So, what would the ideal gun/cartridge combo be for this era? It would need to have a very broad personality. It would need the ability to fire bullets from light and fast for smaller critters at longer distances, to slow, heavy, tough bullets that would penetrate the toughest hide and bone on the super-sized beasts. Range wouldn’t necessarily be a huge concern, as the animals wouldn’t have been exposed to any threats that could strike from more than a few feet away. That said, one would want to have enough range to safely take some of the most dangerous game the planet has ever seen—which also means a quick follow up shot would be a welcome feature.
Another potential concern in this scenario would be procuring ammunition. For the sake of this experiment, we’re going to assume there is access to a wide variety of ammunition to get started, as well as the most basic reloading tools and some components—primers, propellant, etc. Having the ability to cast bullets would be handy.
The rifle would need to be light, compact, quick handling and easy to maneuver in tight, dangerous quarters. Since we need quick follow up shots, single-shot guns are out. Bolt actions are quick and reliable, but we should also consider magazine capacity. Lever actions will gain some magazine capacity and check many of the other boxes, but to get a lever gun chambered in a heavy enough cartridge for this type of work—457 WWG or similar—would be a tall order. Plus, you’re limited to six rounds in the tubular magazine. While six might be plenty, wouldn’t 15 be better?
So what rifle/cartridge combination will do all this? Only one, in this author’s opinion: the .458 SOCOM. The .458 SOCOM has very possibly the widest range of bullet weights—and everybody knows that the bullet defines the cartridge. You have everything from the 200-gr. PolyCase ARX at 2,200 feet per second (fps) on the light end, all the way up to 500-gr. Hornady FMJ bullets at nearly 1,300 fps, which will literally plow through “feet” of hide, muscle and bone. The .458 SOCOM really hits the “sweet spot” with 250 - 300 gr. bullets of various manufacture. Most will reach 1,900 fps, which is plenty fast for longer shots, easily to 200 yards.
The .458 SOCOM AR-15s generally run a little heavier than the average AR-15, but it’s still light and very handy; a 16-inch barrel is more than enough length to maximize performance from the efficient, relatively low-pressure cartridge. The fact that it is designed to operate at lower pressures than many of today’s centerfire rifle cartridges means that recoil is manageable— more of a “push” than a “punch.” Lower pressure cartridges tend to do better in temperature extremes, which is why the British used low-pressure, moderate-volume cartridges when they started spending a lot of time in Africa in the late 1800s through the early 1900s.
Accuracy is better than one might expect from a big bore AR-15. Given the plethora of very high-quality .458 bullets, it is generally not too difficult to find a bullet that shoots very well. If one is more inclined to go the factory ammunition route, the original brand of .458 SOCOM ammo is still the best, and has the broadest selection. To get at why, we’ll need to get in the time machine again and go quite a bit forward, to very recent history.
The .458 SOCOM was born out of discussions that took place between Teppo Jetsu and a senior member of the Special Operations community who took part in Operation Gothic Serpent, which is better known from the book and movie Black Hawk Down. The Special Operations soldiers communicated a need for much greater stopping power from the standard M16, as there were numerous instances where stopping aggressors required numerous shots. After a great deal of planning, R&D and testing, the .458 SOCOM was born.
So back to our imaginary trip to prehistoric times: After considering the variety of sticky situations that one could encounter and the general “physique” of the critters of the era, a combination of accurate, heavy hitting, fast handling, high capacity performance is needed. This writer is taking a Southern Ballistics Research .458 SOCOM topped with a Vortex SPARC and as much “Blue Tip” (300-gr. Barnes TTSX) and High Velocity 500-gr. Hornady FMJ as will fit in the imaginary bag…a good knife, black pepper and plenty of Black Rifle coffee.
If you had to face off against dire wolves, saber-toothed cats and wooly mammoths, what would you bring in your time machine? Tell us in the comments!