Back to the Future
Imagine yourself to be a generous father with a salary sufficient to buy your, shooting-mad, son a hefty twenty-first birthday present. You want him to have a London game gun of which he can be proud, one which will serve him well for the rest of his life; for the occasional foray up the old railway line on a drizzly afternoon with his spaniel, or the twice-yearly invitation to his old uni mate’s country pile to shoot 300 driven pheasants. What are your choices?
Well, whatever you thought they were, you now have another one with which to contend, and, if you have been paying attention these past five years, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the name on the lock plates is Rigby.
Rigby started its ‘re-boot’ six years ago, when it emerged from the wilderness years in America, with a purchase by L&O, who allowed the company autonomy and gave young M.D, Marc Newton, a London base and enough rope with which to hang himself. Instead, he has used it to fly the flag, by pushing some audacious projects; all of which have worked remarkably well and all of which have been true to Rigby’s history and character.
The latest Rigby model is what will give our imaginary father pause for thought. If he were looking at the classic choice between Purdey and Holland & Holland, he now has to recognise Rigby as a contender, for Rigby has released a new shotgun.
In a bold move, Rigby returned to the past to gather the inspiration for the shotgun project. The double rifle, released last year, was built on a patent that had been the firm’s calling card until the First World War. It was designed by Thomas Bissell, co-patented with John Rigby and is often known as the ‘Rising Bite’, though ‘Vertical Bolt’ is the correct term. One must observe that the ‘bite’ is the cut-out, which receives the bolt. The bolt rises from the action, while the bite, on the rib extension, awaits its arrival, as it is lowered into position.
The action (which dates from 1879) makes primary use of the Purdey double under-bolt, operated by a top-lever. The vertical bolt and rib extension act as a third grip, should the Purdey bolt fail for any reason, or wear. It is one of many such systems devised in the 19th century to ensure safe lock-up of breech-loaders.
Westley Richards have the doll’s-head and sliding top-lever bolt, Purdey sometimes apply their ‘concealed third bite’ and Holland & Holland have a version of a third grip, which also slots into the breech face. The latter two are mostly reserved for double rifles these days.
Rigby, essentially, reverse-engineered an old example, made one or two adjustments to ensure it was robust enough for modern nitro loads and then stuck to the original as closely as possible. They retained, for example, the ejector work employed on the original, rather than simplify it with a Southgate/Holland type. The reason; as Marc Newton explained, is that Rigby customers want their new Rigbys to be like the old Rigbys they love. Apart from that, the old models were successful in their day and, if used for the same purposes, should be successful now, if made well.
What customers also want is an English gun. Every single part of this gun is made in England, from English materials (with the exception of the walnut blanks used for stocking). Barrel tubes, steel, machining of parts and filing, finishing and regulating. It all happens here, from the smallest screw to the biggest forging.
I had the honour of joining Rigby at the West London Shooting School for the launch of the new shotgun, in February. Indeed, I was the first to fire a shot at a clay with it – naturally I missed! However, with a bit of mental adjustment (the stock was longer than I’m used to) and calming of the nerves, I went on to smash clay after clay on the high tower (with the help of excellent instruction from the WLSS instructor accompanying us). I also straighted the ‘Ripon Challenge’ stand of twenty-eight driven targets in sequence, though without the time pressure of the original competition to contend with.
Did the gun help? In short, yes it did. I’m no shooting instructor but I shoot a lot of guns. What I normally notice about a gun I’m trying for the first time is what I don’t like about it. Think about that for a moment. If the gun is acting in accordance with your needs, you don’t notice. Like a pair of hunting boots, you only think about them when they leak, slip, rub or squeak. If you put the gun up, swing it and break clays or kill game, you don’t notice any one thing. It just works.
I’ll often try a gun and think: ‘Trigger pull was too light or creepy, comb bashed me a bit on the overhead shot, felt recoil is a bit jumpy with these shells, barrels are heavy, action feels like it is flexing noticeably, weight distribution makes it hard to feel where the muzzle is on some targets, middle finger is bruising on the guard strap etc.’ All these observations are about negatives. With the new Rigby I struggled to notice anything.
It is light by modern standards. The gun I shot was built for a man a little taller than I am – it had a stock length of about 15 1/4”, barrels of 28” and weight of 6lbs 5oz. The barrels were lovely; made by Peter Higgins, they gave the gun life.
Traditionally balanced, the weight distribution allowed the gun to feel tight and secure and seamless , without being heavy. It is equipped with flush-fit multi chokes and proofed for standard cartridges. The concept is for a traditional game gun, not a sky-busting harvester of archangels. Leave that to the HPX brigade.
The action retains the dipped-edge lock-plates of the classic, pre-war Rigby and the fluted fences, scroll engraving (in this case with some game birds to complement it) and shouldered action give it a very distinctive profile. Stock wood has been chosen to complement the lines of the gun, rather than dominate it and the case colours are bright and deep. Finish overall was certainly of ‘London standard’.
These reviews always end up with the vulgar subject of price, shuffling awkwardly to the fore. Here, you have a best quality London gun, of distinctive style, its Rigby heritage oozing from every pore and delivering performance in-keeping with its looks and pedigree.
Like-for-like, it will cost you around forty thousand pounds less than a Holland & Holland ‘Royal’. If our fictional father were to opt for the Rigby with his H&H budget, he could give junior a gun to be proud of and put it in a Range Rover Evoque before handing it over! Now that is something to think about.