Skip to comments.The .416 Rigby
Posted on 03/06/2003 1:16:34 PM PST by 45Auto
THIRTY YARDS AWAY, THE DARK SHAPE OF A BUFFALO rose up out of waist-high grass and plunged straight for us. Before hed moved more than a few yards, a 410-gr. solid bullet entered the tip of the outstretched bulls nose and passed through his brain. The effect was dramatic: As if hed hit an invisible brick wall, his head dropped, his legs buckled and his nose shoveled into the sand only a few yards from where he began his charge. It all happened in a flash of movement and reaction far quicker than the recounting of it.
I looked from the buffalo heaped in front of us to Harry Selby, the man responsible for stopping the brute. His quick aim and sure shot indicated complete confidence and familiarity with his riflea .416 Rigby. After finishing a nine-month safari season in Botswana, Harry, John Allott, the company pilot and I each took out a buffalo license and headed back to the bush. Buffalo herds concentrated along the northern edge of the Okavango Delta prior to the rains offered an excellent opportunity to find good heads and to provide some meat for the base staff back in Maun.
That happened back in 1974, and although it wasnt one of the first times Id seen Harry Selby snap his Rigby into action, it was certainly one of the most dramatic. By then hed been backing up hunting clients with the safari-proven Rigby rifle for more than 20 years, and he would enjoy nearly another 20 years of flawless performance with it before one day noticing a key-holed bullet entry on the thick skin of an elephants shoulder. Harry thought that it might signal a worn barrel, a reasonable assumption after 40 years of use, and he promptly returned the rifle to Rigbys in London for a new barrel.
John Rigby & Co. began making firearms in Dublin, Ireland, in 1735, and it was only in 1865 that the company first opened the London branch. After being appointed the Superintendent of the Royal Arms Factory at Enfield in 1880, John Rigby closed the Dublin workshops for good and concentrated all of his gunmaking efforts in London.
It was in the early days at St. James Street, London, that John Rigby & Co. pioneered the first Nitro Express rifles. From the outset of the smokeless-powder era around 1897, Rigby believed that the .450 caliber, considered a lightweight in blackpowder terms, was capable of stopping a charging elephant, rhino or buffalo. Using nitrocellulose-based cordite instead of blackpowder, Rigby succeeded in transforming a mediocre .450 blackpowder cartridge into a smokeless-powder powerhouse. It didnt take long to prove it could take down Africas largest game more efficiently than even the great 4-bore, 8-bore and other ponderous blackpowder smoke-belchers. The rifle called the .450 31Ú4 N.E., which Rigby introduced in 1898, was the predecessor of a succession of large-bore double-barrel rifles chambered for smokeless-powder cartridges.
That same year, Paul Mauser put the final improvements on the military turn-bolt rifle known in Germany simply as the Gewehr 98, or Rifle of 1898. To this day, no other action ever made has enjoyed more success, been more accepted, favored, respected or copied than the Mauser 98. The application of the Mauser 1898 rifle action to sporting arms came almost simultaneously with its military adoption. British gunsmiths were quick to recognize the advantages of the action and, whenever possible, the English gun companies made their repeating sporters on Mauser 98 actions.
The turn of the 20th century saw London gun companies racing to match or better the ballistics of the big-bore single- and double-barrel Nitro Express rifles with a magazine rifle cartridge capable of taking the worlds largest game while maintaining a measure of versatility. Three of those companies, Jeffery, Westley Richards and John Rigby & Co., introduced new magazine rifle cartridges within a few years of each other.
The first introduction came with Jefferys launch of the.404 Rimless N.E., better known as the .404 Jeffery, according to a 1905 Jeffery catalog. The .404s introduction is often mistakenly attributed to a later date, when the .404 was offered on Magnum Mauser actions, which took place only after Mausers exclusive arrangement with Rigby as its British agent had ended. In its initial development, Jeffery had merely opened-up the action and magazine box of standard Mauser 98 military actions to accommodate the large .404 cartridge. Duplicating the .450/.400 N.E. ballistics, the .404 (actually a 0.423"-diameter bullet) fires a 400-gr. bullet at 2125 f.p.s. to generate 4,020 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy.
The second British, big-bore, magazine rifle cartridge came in 1909, when Westley Richards introduced the .425 Westley Richards. The .425 WR (actually a 0.435"-diameter bullet), with its fat case and rebated rim certainly cut a nonstandard look. The case length is 2.64", head diameter is 0.543" and the rebated rim is turned down to just 0.467", to enable it to fit a standard Mauser bolt face. In spite of its peculiar dimensions, the .425 WR cartridge produces impressive ballistics by pushing a 410-gr. bullet at 2350 f.p.s. and generating 5,010 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energymore or less matching the same energy delivered by double-rifle cartridges in the .450- to .470 N.E.-class.
Rigbys efforts to offer a magazine rifle using a cartridge equivalent to the .450 31Ú4 N.E. round came to fruition in late 1911. John Rigby & Co. developed a cartridge designed around the Magnum Mauser Model 98 square-bridge action, and in 1912 unveiled the first .416 Rigby rifle, destined to become the most famous large, medium-bore of them all. According to Jon Speed in his book, Mauser Original Oberndorf Sporting Rifles, One of the first .416 rifles was sold in August, 1912. With the advent of the .416 Rigby Magnum Mauser, the large-bore magazine bolt rifle could be considered a viable option for those who could not afford or did not wish to use an expensive double rifle.
According to Frank Barnes Ninth Edition of Cartridges of the World, the .416 Rigby drives a 410-gr. bullet at 2370 f.p.s. to generate 5,100 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy, and a 400-gr. bullet at 2430 f.p.s., which generates 5,245 ft.-lbs. of energy. Barnes leaves no doubt about his respect for the cartridge, when he proclaims, the .416 Rigby is probably the best magazine cartridge for big game ever offered. For those who prefer the bolt-action rifle, it is a great favorite for use against dangerous game in almost any situation.
The Rigby case measures 2.90" long, has a 0.589" diameter base, 0.586" rim and holds approximately 130 grs. of water. A loaded .416 Rigby cartridge measures 3.72" in overall length, compared to the .375 H&H Magnums 3.60". The large cartridge requires a magnum-length action, and although Rigby built a few .416s on standard Mauser actions, including Harry Selbys rifle, this stretched the capabilities of an action designed around the 7.9x57 mm cartridge.
In comparison to double rifles in the .450- to .470 group, the .416 Rigby developed the same energy, but was felt to have much less pressure and recoil. Many experienced African hunters considered that Rigbys magazine rifle offered several advantages over double rifles, including better accuracy, flatter trajectory, superior penetration and four-shot capacity instead of twoall in a lighter gun.
Most of Rigbys .416s were built on Magnum Mauser Model 98 actions, while in later years, especially after World War II when the expensive Mauser actions became scarce, the custom gun trade often utilized the Model 1917 Enfield action. Even Rigby itself later employed Brnos strong magnum-size action introduced in the mid-1960s. According to its records, Rigby made exactly 169 .416 Rigby-cal. rifles between 1912 and World War II. Between 1939 and 1984, it made 180 more. From 1984, when Paul Roberts acquired Rigbys, 184 more were turned out. In 1997, an American investment group headed by Geoff Miller of Paso Robles, Calif. [(805) 227-4236] acquired John Rigby & Co. Under Millers watch, the company continues to produce dangerous game sporting rifles and shotguns from California.
Used and endorsed by many of Africas best known hunters, the .416 Rigbys history is a rich one. Among the notable big game hunters who swore by it was Commander David Enderly Blunt, who engaged in elephant control work for the Tanganyika government back in the 1920s and 30s. In his book, Elephant, considered a classic reference on hunting elephant, Blunt wrote, The .416 Rigby magazine I have always used has the same muzzle energy as a double-barrel .470, but the bullet has greater penetration and the weapon is, in my opinion, the most perfectly balanced rifle in every way for elephant .
Mozambique hunter John Taylor wrote in his book, Big Game and Big Game Rifles, For all-round work amongst dangerous game, both thick-skinned and thin-skinned, there is no better magazine rifle than Rigbys .416 the .404 will stop him [lion] all right, but will seldom crumple him quite so completely as will the .416.
As mentioned earlier, Harry Selby carried a .416 Rigby rifle for nearly 50 years during his safari career. He began with a double rifle that was damaged on safari when a hunting vehicle was accidentally driven over the barrels in 1949. Of necessity, he bought the only big-bore rifle available in Nairobi at the timehis now famous .416 Rigby rifle. Harry considered the .416 Rigby a stopgap until he could find another suitable double, but after using it on a couple of safaris he was so impressed with its handling and performance that he never returned to a double.
Harrys Rigby rifle was immortalized in Ruarks books, Horn of the Hunter and Something of Value, and even depicted in a Bob Kuhn illustration for a 1950s Field & Stream magazine article. This type of attention no doubt bolstered the .416 Rigbys popularity and contributed to its legend and lore.
Jack OConnor, who was also a fan of the .416 Rigby, wrote in a 1970 Shooting Column for Outdoor Life, The heavy (built on a Model 1917 Enfield action) I took to Mozambique in 1962 and to Zambia in 1969 was a .416 Rigby, a British cartridge which has long been a favorite in Africa. How long this fine cartridge will survive I cannot say, however, as it may not be factory loaded after present supplies are exhausted.
OConnors pessimism concerning the .416 Rigbys future was understandable at the time. The British gun trade was withering, and Kynoch was about to stop the manufacture of .416 Rigby ammunition. The last batch it made from on-hand components was released in 1968. OConnor had already taken to turning the belts off .378 or .460 Weatherby brass (both of Weatherbys belted cases are based on original .416 Rigby brass) and forming them to size. One of his favorite loads for the .416 Rigby launched a 400-gr. Barnes bullet at 2450 f.p.s. He mentioned another load that produced 2600 f.p.s., but said he felt recoil from it was too unpleasant.
Even Harry put his trusted .416 Rigby away for a short period during the mid-1970s due to the lack of ammo. Turning to handloading for his ammo supply, Harry, like OConnor, also remedied the lack of .416 brass by turning off the belts and re-sizing the cases of .460 Weatherby brass. Since B.E.L.L. began producing brass in the mid-1980s, and with current factory loadings available from Federal and Kynoch, turning belts off Weatherby brass is no longer necessary.
Its ironic that today, with fewer places left to hunt big game in Africa, the availability of big-bore rifles and ammo is greater than it ever wascertainly more than it was 30 or 40 years ago. An impressive selection of rifles is currently displayed on many gun store racks, including doubles made for traditional big-bore British cartridges and bolt guns chambered in many of the time-tested calibers. With rifle production re-tooled for big-bore guns and factory cartridges once again available, Rigbys classic .416 caliber has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity that has even spawned new belted .416 factory loadings from Remington and WeatherbyRemington necking up its 8 mm Rem. Mag. case to .416, and Weatherby necking down its own .460 Wby. Mag. case to .416.
Had ammo availability not been an issue back in 1968, I might today own a safari-worn .416, instead of one whose stock gleams with the luster of a new oil-finish. For years a rifle project lingered in my mind, which for the most part seemed more like a fantasy. It hailed back to those days some 30 years ago when, were it not for lack of ammo, I might have chosen a .416 for my dangerous game rifle.
During the years I worked for Harry Selby in Botswana, I must admit to open admiration for his .416 Rigby. Hearing him praise its performance and detail exciting hunts that he had with it tackling elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard only reinforced my desire to one day possess a rifle in .416 Rigby. But my quest for the holy grail of big-bore magazine cartridges hinged on the search for a suitable (read, economically priced) magnum action.
The project kicked into gear a couple of years ago when I was finally able to locate a 1970s vintage Brno ZKK 602 (the one with the desirable pop-up aperture sight) in .458the perfect foundation for a .416 Rigby conversionand handed it over to Lon Paul of Tanglewood Ranch, Calif., [(909) 659-2699]. Like cutting a diamond out of the rough, Lon transformed the solid, dependable Brno-actioned rifle into much more than just a thing of beauty. The action, which holds four .416 rounds in the magazine, was re-barreled with a 24" Douglas premium barrel. Re-stocked and fitted with a new Model 70-type safety, quarter-rib and express sight, the rifle now embodies all the best features required of a dangerous game gun, including my choice for the ideal chambering for such a gunthe .416 Rigby.
Indulging both of our tastes for English guns, Lon shaped a beautiful piece of straight-grained English walnut, selected for its strength and figure, to Rigby-style dimensions to achieve a classic look and feel. While the Brno actions double square bridge configuration with factory built-in dovetails will accept a scope, this rifle will be used almost exclusively with iron sights.
Modern, straighter stock designs do not possess the bird gun pointing qualities that one is immediately aware of when handling a vintage Rigby, Jeffery or London designed firearm, Lon pointed out.
Therefore, great attention was directed to the stock design and dimensions to achieve the handling and pointing qualities that the original Rigbys, like Harry Selbys rifle, exhibit. Lon explained that rifles set up primarily for quick-to-acquire iron sights demand stock combs with somewhat more drop at the heel than most modern rifles with high or sight-combed stocks, designed primarily for scope use.
The open sights consist of a quarter-rib, which accommodates three shallow V express-style leaves that all fold down and out of the way when the aperture sight is brought into play. A button on the right side of the rear square-bridge releases the spring-loaded peep sight, and a hinged steel grip cap allows access to an ivory night sight wrapped in oilcloth and stored in a small hollow in the bottom of the pistol grip. A barrel-band front ramp sight is positioned at the muzzle and a barrel-band sling-swivel is located 21Ú2" in front of the fore-end tip. To help tame recoil, the buttstock has been fitted with a Pachmayr Decelerator rubber recoil pad.
All metal work has been rust-blued, the action polished for flawless feeding, and the trigger crisped to break like glass at 31Ú2 lbs. As a suitable embellishment for its African baptism in Tanzania this year, Lon capped the stocks fore-end with a piece of Cape buffalo horn. In East Africa, where some of the largest buffalo roam, a rifle in .416 Rigby provides mighty reliable insurance. When called upon, I know its enough gun to stop Africas biggest and toughest game, as Harry Selby so ably demonstrated with his .416 Rigby back in 1974.
Has anyone made a pistol or revolver for it yet ?
Can it be that much worse that lighting off 454's at max pressure loads ? Nope. Would I fire more than 1 or 2 ? God I hope not.
I'm not a huge guy, but 338WM shooting full-power hand loads out of a 7- or 8-lb rifle does not bother me. I may just be unusually recoil insensitive, but the first time I shot a 338 I was expecting punishment and didn't get any. Hrrmm...
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