The .416 Caliber Cartridge Family
By Chuck Hawks
Most well read shooters and hunters know Jack O'Connor, the Dean of American Gun Writers, was a fan of the .270 Winchester cartridge, which he wrote about extensively. Fewer know that he was also largely responsible for the resurgence of the .416 Rigby and the resultant popularity of the .416 caliber that exists today.
Before O'Connor the .416 Rigby was almost dead, known only in parts of Africa and by a few British sportsmen as a very effective heavy game cartridge. .416 Rifles were a custom build situation, loaded ammunition was very hard to get and there was no reloading data.
Very briefly, around the height of his popularity as the gun editor of Outdoor Life magazine in the 1960s, O'Connor had a .416 Rigby rifle built on a Brevex Mauser magnum action. Wishing to reload .416 Rigby ammo (remember, there was no reloading data available for the .416 Rigby), he got some British ammo and pulled the bullets, finding a jute wad over Cordite stick powder inside the big case. This did him no good, so he started working up loads from scratch and was ultimately successful in essentially duplicating the ballistics of the British factory load.
He showed Roy Weatherby one of his .416 Rigby cartridges; Roy had never seen such a big cartridge for a bolt action rifle. Weatherby went to work and created his belted version of the Rigby case that he used for the .378 Weatherby Magnum, .460 Weatherby Magnum and (much later) the .416 Weatherby Magnum.
O'Connor wrote about his experiences with his .416 Rigby rifle, which he took on an African Safari, and about developing reloads for the cartridge in various articles and books. On earlier safaris he had shot heavy/dangerous game with the .375 H&H Magnum and .450 Watts Magnum (a wildcat nearly identical to the .458 Lott), so he had a reasonable standard of comparison. He found the .416 Rigby performed well and kicked less than the .450 Watts. (It actually kicks about like a .458 Win. Mag. with full power loads.)
People read O'Connor's articles and interest was generated in the .416 Rigby. Once gun and ammo manufacturers realized there was interest in the .416 Rigby, the cartridge began a modest comeback.
This spurred the development of .416 caliber cartridges that could achieve similar ballistics with modern powders and be used in actions designed for .375 H&H and .458 Winchester Magnum size cartridges. New .416 cartridges were subsequently developed and the present family of .416 cartridges is the result.
The .416 Rigby was introduced as a proprietary cartridge in 1911 by the John Rigby firm for use in the Company's bolt action safari rifles, which were built on Magnum Mauser actions. The .416 Rigby case is 2.90" long, only 0.05" longer than the .375 H&H Magnum case. However, the Rigby case is much fatter. It has a head diameter of .5949" (compared to .5121 for the .375 H&H) and a slightly rebated rim measuring .5902" in diameter. (The normal magnum rim diameter is .532".) The long cartridge body has moderate taper with a small, but abrupt, 45 degree shoulder. This small, very sharp shoulder eliminates the need for a belt, serving the same purpose of maintaining proper headspace. The maximum cartridge overall length (COL) is 3.750", only 0.15" longer than the .375 H&H, making full use of the long Mauser Magnum action for which the .416 was designed.
The modern SAAMI maximum average pressure (MAP) for the .416 Rigby is a reasonable 52,000 psi. This gives the big .416 Rigby its main advantage over smaller cartridges with similar ballistics, which are achieved at higher pressure.
Under the hot African sun, rifles and cartridges can become very hot, which can cause pressure spikes when they are fired. The .416 Rigby has adequate headroom to allow for this with no decrease in reliability, which cannot be said for many later and smaller .416 cartridges. However, the advent of modern powders that are insensitive to ambient temperature changes has largely ameliorated this problem.
As you might imagine, cranking out around 5,000 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy with a 400 grain bullet (SD .330), the .416 Rigby is an outstanding cartridge for thick-skinned dangerous game. It has been proven around the world and many consider it a premier dangerous game cartridge.
The original British factory load delivered a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2370 fps and muzzle energy (ME) of 5100 ft. lbs. with a 410 grain bullet from a 24" barrel. Today's British Kynoch brand ammo calls for 2300 fps and 4702 ft. lbs.
After the cartridge began to catch on in North America, Federal became the first major US ammunition company to offer .416 Rigby factory loads. These launch various 400 grain bullets at velocities between 2300 and 2400 fps from a 24" barrel. Hornady, Nosler, A-Square and Winchester offer factory loads with similar ballistics. New rifles are available from CZ, Rigby and A-Square, among others.
The only fly in the .416 Rigby ointment is the size of the cartridge. To accommodate it a special magnum action is required.
Wildcatters developed cartridges based on blown-out and necked-up .375 H&H cases that, operating at higher pressure, could essentially duplicate .416 Rigby ballistics. Among the best known of these were the .416 Hoffman and .416 Taylor, both based on belted magnum cases.
The .416 Taylor was developed by Robert Chatfield-Taylor in 1972. Taylor necked-down the .458 Winchester Magnum belted case to .416, using a 25 degree shoulder angle. This made a .416 caliber cartridge that could be used in standard (.30-06) length magnum actions. The maximum COL is 3.340", the same as the .458 and the other Winchester magnums.
The ballistics are very close to the .416 Rigby, although achieved at a significantly higher MAP of 63,800 psi. The .416 Taylor launches a 400 grain bullet at a MV of 2350 fps with 4905 ft. lbs. of ME from a 24" barrel.
Arthur Alphin at A-Square understood the logic of the .416 Taylor and adopted the cartridge. A-Square still offers both rifles and ammunition.
None of the big rifle or ammunition manufacturers have followed suit, which is a pity, as the .416 Taylor is one of the most sensible of the .416 cartridges. However, the recent .416 Ruger (see below) basically fills the same niche.
The .416 Hoffman is the wildcat creation of George Hoffman. It is based on a full length, blown out and necked-up .375 H&H Magnum case. Hoffman, a Texan, became an avid elephant hunter and an African PH. He found the .416 Rigby ideal for his purposes, but by the late 1970s Rigby rifles and ammunition had become extremely rare. Consequently, he developed a wildcat cartridge with identical ballistics that could be used in any .375 H&H rifle rebarreled for his .416 cartridge.
The .416 Hoffman retains the .375's .532" rim and belt diameter, .512" head diameter, 2.850" case length and 3.60 maximum COL. The shoulder angle is 24.1 degrees and the MAP is 64,000 psi. A-Square produced factory loads using 400 grain bullets at 2380 fps MV and 5031 ft. lbs. ME from a 24" barrel. However, since being acquired by the Broadsword Group, they have discontinued the .416 Hoffman.
Wildcats such as the .416 Hoffman and .416 Taylor eventually attracted the attention of the folks at Remington and led to the development of the .416 Remington Magnum, introduced in 1988. This is Remington's version of the .416 Hoffman with nearly identical ballistics, although the two cartridges are not interchangeable due to different parent cases.
The .416 Remington is based on the 8mm Remington Magnum case, itself based on a blown-out .375 H&H case, necked-up to accept .416" diameter bullets. This is a full length magnum cartridge with a maximum COL of 3.60" and it requires a .375 H&H size rifle action.
The .416 Remington case has the standard belted magnum rim and belt diameter of .532" with a .513" head diameter immediately in front of the belt. The case is 2.850" long and the MAP is 65,000 psi.
Remington factory loads use a 400 grain Swift A-Frame bullet at a MV of 2400 fps and ME of 5115 ft. lbs. from a 24" test barrel. Federal, Winchester, Hornady and Nosler also offer .416 Rem. Mag. factory loads. The cartridge has found favor with some hunters and outfitters in Alaska and the Yukon, as well as in Africa.
Winchester, Blaser, Mauser and possibly other manufacturers offer rifles in the caliber. Strangely, Remington offers a Model 700 .416 safari rifle only through their Custom Shop, not as a production item.
The King Kong of the standardized .416 cartridges is the .416 Weatherby Magnum, which was introduced in 1989. This is based on a necked-up .378 Weatherby case that, as we have seen, was inspired by the .416 Rigby case. Thus, in a sense, with the .416 Weatherby we have come full circle.
The .416 Weatherby Magnum belted case is 2.913" long with a .579" rim diameter, .603" belt diameter, .582" head diameter, very little body taper and the usual Weatherby double radius shoulder. It is loaded to a MAP of 63,861 psi.
Weatherby factory loads are offered with a 350 grain Barnes Tipped TSX bullet at a MV of 2880 fps and a 400 grain RN expanding bullet at a MV of 2700 fps with 6474 ft. lbs. ME from a 26" barrel. This should get the attention of a blue whale! Weatherby supplies rifle and ammunition for their big .416 and it is worth noting that reloaders can easily load the cartridge down to duplicate .416 Rigby ballistics.
The .416 Rimmed was developed by A-Square around 1991 at the request of European double rifle makers. They wanted .416 Rigby ballistics in a rimmed case at an operating pressure suitable for break-open actions, which are inherently weaker than bolt actions. The result of A-Square's efforts is the .416 Rimmed.
In order to achieve the desired ballistics of a 400 grain bullet at 2400 fps at moderate pressure from a 26" barrel, A-Square designed a very long 3.30" case with a .573" head diameter, shallow body taper and a 22 degree shoulder angle. The rim diameter is .665", rim thickness is .060" and the maximum COL is 4.10".
This cartridge is too long for any magazine rifle action, but fine for break-open actions and the MAP is only 40,900 psi. A-Square provided loaded ammunition, but since being acquired by the Broadsword Group they no longer do. Several Continental double rifle makers, including Francotte (Belgium) and Krieghoff (Germany), can chamber for the .416 Rimmed, but in a quick search online I was not able to find a commercial source for .416 Rimmed ammo or brass for reloading.
In 2009, the .416 Ruger became available in the Ruger Model 77 African rifle. Developed jointly by Ruger and Hornady, this cartridge is essentially the .375 Ruger necked-up to accept .416 bullets.
Like the other Ruger magnums, the .416 is based on a rimless bottleneck case with the standard .532" magnum rim diameter. The case has little body taper, a short neck and a 30 degree shoulder to maximize powder capacity. The maximum case length is 2.580" and the maximum COL is 3.340".
Lacking a belt, the case head diameter is also .532", which gives the standard length Ruger magnums a modest case capacity advantage over the .30-06 length belted magnums (.416 Taylor, .458 Win. Mag., etc.). Even better, an extra wide magazine is not required and magazine capacity is usually one more cartridge than with rifles chambered for cartridges based on oversize cases (the .416 Rigby and .416 Weatherby, for example). This is a very clever case design!
Hornady factory load ballistics call for 400 grain DGS and DGX bullets at 2400 fps from a 24" barrel, the same as the .416 Remington Magnum, .416 Rigby, etc. I believe Hornady is the only major US ammo manufacturer loading the .416 Ruger at this time.
Ruger offers their .416 in the Model 77 Hawkeye African with a 23" barrel and the Model 77 Hawkeye Guide Gun with a 20" barrel. The latter, intended primarily for the Alaskan market, must really lay the daises low when you touch it off!
Both Ruger rifles weigh about eight pounds, which is too light for such a powerful cartridge, and come with removable muzzle brakes. The latter help attenuate the recoil, at the cost of deafening everyone in the vicinity.
Ballistically, with the exception of the .416 Weatherby Magnum, all of the other .416 cartridges do pretty much the same thing. The 21st Century .416 Ruger kills no better and no worse than the original .416 Rigby.
These are all hard kicking cartridges, so beware of the lightweight rifles that seem to be a current fad. A .416 bolt action safari rifle should have a 24-26" barrel. It should weigh at least 9.5 pounds empty and without a scope, scope mount, or sling. A loaded field weight of around 11 pounds is probably about right.
Copyright 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.