A New .416 Rigby

At last, there is a .416 Rigby cartridge especially for the double rifle.

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Gunsmithing & Technical|June 2017

Ask professional hunters what they have in their battery and most will tell you they either own, or have owned a Rigby .416. I have used one (a pre-war Rigby Mauser) to follow-up wounded roan in Tanzania and have seen them in the hands of young professional hunters in Botswana and South Africa, when backing up elephant hunters.

An original chambering, designed in 1911 from scratch, unlike many nitro express cartridges, which were created from the black powder express parent cases already available, the .416 Rigby is a square shouldered, modern looking big game stopper. What’s more, it was designed for use in Rigby’s robust Magnum Mauser bolt action rifle, rather than the expensive double rifles then predominant among big game hunters.

The .416 is a solid choice and has proven extremely successful in the hands of sportsmen and professionals alike for a hundred years and there are plenty of good quality loading components available for it. A 450 grain Woodleigh bullet pushed at 2,286 fps from the .416 Rigby will deliver 5,223 ft/lb of energy. Loaded with lighter, 350 grain Barnes bullets, the velocity rises to 2,612 fps and the energy increases to 5,304 ft/lb. 

In Africa it has long been considered sufficient for the ‘big five’ and provides a punchier alternative to the Holland & Holland .375 Magnum as a versatile choice for anyone hunting kudu sized antelope, through eland and right up to buffalo and elephant. Many of today’s mass-market rifle makers produce a version in .416 Rigby and it has been kept alive as a widely available calibre, while many others of its vintage have fallen into obsolescence. 

It has long been lamented that the .416 is only available as a bolt-rifle ‘rimless’ cartridge. Double rifles are occasionally made for it but, ideally, a double rifle should be chambered for a rimmed cartridge, as it makes for more efficient extraction or ejection. John ‘Pondoro’ Taylor, the renowned elephant hunter (and poacher), whose books on Africa and dangerous game cartridges are among the best in any sportsman’s library, pondered the issue way back in 1948. It has been a while but Rigby have finally got around to creating ‘Pondoro’s’ once mooted addition to the .416 range, in the rimmed, square-shouldered, shape of the .416 Rigby (No.2).

The London firm has been working with German cartridge developer Dr. Eckhard Steif and announced the new cartridge in September this year. It will, immediately, be available as an option in the Rigby ‘Rising Bite’ double rifles now being made. The pressures and velocities of the new round mirror the original .416. Dr Steif considered this important, not least for the practical reason that home-loaders of the standard .416 rimless can use their loading tools and data to create the same loads for the new .416 rimmed cartridge.

Rigby Managing Director, Marc Newton, said recently; “By adding a rim to the .416 Rigby it modernises the cartridge and brings it into the 21st century.” By doing so he has created a new round by reversing the process previous Rigby M.D. Paul Roberts once went through to make the .450 Rigby; a bolt-action compatible version of the old rimmed .450 nitro express.

Dr Stief commented “For me the modern shape of the case and the good shoulder are important, plus the neck is not long, as are many older calibres. Also, there are lots of bullets readily available.”

I have not used a .416 very often in anger, though I have a fair bit of range time with one. My introduction to the cartridge came in around 2004, when Mike Yardley and I went to The West London Shooting School to set-up his BRNO .416 in preparation for a buffalo hunt he had planned in South Africa. In basic form, the BRNO was an untamed beast. Mike glass bedded the barrel, put on a 2” soft rubber pad, inserted mercury recoil reducers in the butt and completely re-shaped the comb.

By contrast, Rigby’s current ‘Big Game’ model in .416 is supremely well set-up to handle the cartridge. Shooting free-hand at the WLSS new ‘Rigby Range’ last month, I saw several shooting journalists, who were inexperienced with heavy rifle calibres try the ‘Big Game’ on a standing buffalo target. While notable for its power, the .416 was not uncomfortable to shoot. This is a credit to the careful design of the Rigby, with comb profile, hand shape and size, weight distribution and overall weight appropriate to calibre.

In double rifle guise, the ‘No.2’ will be all that the current examples in the rimless cartridge are, but with the better extraction leverage a rimmed cartridge provides. Regulating a double rifle is an expert business and few have the expertise and experience necessary to be entrusted with a £100,000 double rifle that may have absorbed over 700 man hours in its production by the time the regulator gets his hands on it. 

A big, slow bullet is easier to regulate in a double rifle than a faster, smaller one. Getting the .416 to imprint to the satisfaction of an expert regulator, like Keith Denison Thomas is a dirty, painstaking process, involving hours at the range. No two rifles are the same and each one has to be regulated by hand. There are no satisfactory shortcuts, no precise mathematical or engineering equations that will replicate results mechanically. It is all down to trial and error and fine tuning. 

The .416 No.2 neatly provides a smooth set of options to the Rigby owner building or ordering a new rifle. He can have the same performance in bolt-action or double rifle guise and the selected cartridge will no longer be a compromise. It was a sensible idea that has finally come to fruition. I expect to see the .416 Rigby (No.2) become a mainstay of Rigby’s order books for years to come.

Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on (modified )

Gunsmithing & Technical|June 2017

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