The .416 Rigby

By Chuck Hawks

Until fairly recently .416 cartridges were basically confined to Africa, where they were used primarily on dangerous thick-skinned game and lion. The .416 Rigby was the most popular of the breed and it was slowly dying. However, North American shooters became interested in the .416 Rigby, inspired by the famous gun writer Jack O'Connor. A-Square, Ruger and Federal Cartridge stepped up to the plate to provide rifles and cartridges and the .416 Rigby was revived. Now the .416 Rigby is widely distributed in North America and other parts of the world where large, dangerous game is hunted.

The .416 Rigby is a British cartridge introduced in 1911 for custom bolt action rifles built by the John Rigby firm on the super-size Mauser magnum action. The British load gave a 400 grain bullet a MV of 2,350 fps and a ME of 5,010 ft. lbs. The cartridge became an orphan when the production of all British metallic centerfire ammunition was discontinued in the 1960's.

The .416 Rigby uses an oversized, rimless, bottleneck case 2.9" long. It has a rim diameter of .59" and a sharp 45 degree shoulder. The overall cartridge length is 3.75". This cartridge is too fat and too long to work through magnum actions designed around .375 H&H size cartridges. The bullet diameter is, in fact, .416". The maximum average pressure (MAP) for the .416 Rigby is 47,170 psi

The late Jack O'Connor, the Lewiston Idaho gun writer, did a lot to keep alive interest in the .416 Rigby. He had a custom bolt action rifle based on a magnum Mauser action in the caliber. He wrote about developing loads for it, shooting it, and taking it on an African safari. His standard load drove the 400 grain Barnes bullet at a MV of 2,450 fps. He called the recoil "tolerable." He used the rifle to shoot an elephant and a lion. He wrote that it killed well.

Enough demand eventually developed that Federal and A-Square brought out modern factory loads for the .416 Rigby and Ruger started building rifles for it. The .416 Rigby is now offered in the Ruger 77, Dakota 76 and CZ 550 bolt action rifles, among others. Like Frankenstein's monster, the .416 Rigby had been brought back from the dead.

Federal Cartridge Company loads 4 different 400 grain bullets in the .416 Rigby case. All of them have a MV of 2,370 fps and a ME of 5,115 ft. lbs. At 100 yards the solid bullet is traveling at 2,110 fps and has 4,050 ft. lbs. of energy. A-Square offers their Triad of bullets in factory loads for the .416 Rigby, with similar ballistics.

According to the A-Square Handloading Manual Any Shot You Want, loads similar in performance to those O'Connor developed can be achived by the modern reloader using H4831 powder and 400 grain A-Square bullets. 97.0 grains of H4831 gives a MV of 2328 fps and 101.0 grains of the same powder gives a MV of 2448 fps. The latter load had a maximum average pressure of 47,000 psi. These loads used A-Square brass and CCI-250 primers and were developed in a 26" test barrel.

Like all elephant rifle cartridges, the .416 Rigby produces heavy recoil. Its big case burns a lot of powder and throws a heavy bullet, a combination guaranteed to rattle the shooter's teeth. A 10 pound rifle shooting a factory load with a 400 grain bullet generates about 58 ft. lbs. of free recoil energy.

The .416 Rigby has a long and gaudy history of performance on thick-skinned dangerous game like elephant, rhino and Cape buffalo. It has also found favor with some professional hunters and guides in Northern Canada and Alaska, particularly to back-up clients with less powerful rifles. The .416 Rigby offers a viable alternative to the .458 calibers in Africa and elsewhere.

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Copyright 2001, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.