David Tong writes [via ammoland.com]:

In the annals of big-bore, repeating rifle cartridges, perhaps none have had such a lasting significance as the .416 Rigby Magnum. The advent of smokeless propellants in the late 1880s meant that rifles could now be made with smaller bore diameters to achieve the dual needs of expansion and penetration. In the past, a giant black-powder “Express” double-rifle would have been de rigueur for hunting Africa’s largest and most dangerous game.

The year was 1911 . . . enter the .416 Rigby Magnum

The .416 Rigby Magnum benefited from the advent of the new powders. It’s standard loading is telling – over 100gr of slow burning powder behind a 400gr steel jacketed solid, or soft-point bullet, at a nominal velocity of 2,350fps for over 5,000ft-lbs of muzzle energy. Today, those ballistics have only been slightly improved, with standard loads right at 2,400fps.

Due to the case length of 2.9”, as well as a base case diameter of 0.589”, the round was too long for a standard bolt-action rifle action. The German Mauser firm was the first to build an action to accept the new cartridge, and it too was outsized. These are mostly found in a so-called “double-square-bridge” design, whereby the receiver ring and rear bridge have a flat profile contour, leaving extra material in case a telescopic scope mount base needed to be machined into them.

Probably the most famous book written about the use of the .416 Rigby Magnum was written by a Brit, Commander David Blunt, whose book “Elephant” is a long out of print classic. That said, others including our own Jack O’Connor, the famous American author also used the caliber during his trips to the Dark Continent while after buffalo and the large pachyderm.

I had the opportunity to own and shoot one for about six years. There is nothing about it that is small. Its powder consumption per round has already been mentioned. Bullets are expensive, I always used Federal 215 large rifle magnum primers, and IMR-4350 Powder. Each reloaded round probably cost close to $2.50.

That may sound excessive. However, a box of Federal Premium ammunition at the time ran the princely sum of $135 for 20, and that was over fifteen years ago.

My rifle, a Ruger M77 Safari Magnum, with a Circassian walnut stock, heavy profile barrel, integrally machined recoil lug at six o’clock in the forearm, and express sight base above at twelve, weighed in at almost eleven pounds, empty, sans scope and sling. Oh, for a gunbearer.

Inexplicably, Ruger did not see fit to install any kind of recoil pad on this nearly $2,000 MSRP rifle, only using one of their rubber buttpads. Just a few initial shots to familiarize myself with it on my first range trip dissuaded me of that folly, and I soon fitted up a Limb Saver internally vented pad.

I used a Burris 1.5-5 X 24 Riflescope in the factory Ruger Scope Rings, and could easily manage 3 shot groups measuring a bit over an inch at 75 yards from the bench. No doubt it was capable of better than that.

The recoil level is not for the faint of heart. I am fairly recoil-proof, having cut my teeth on short-stocked, metal buttplate military surplus rifles as a teen, and shot both a .375  and a .458 Winchester Magnum as well. The .416 was a bit sharper than the .458 even though heavier in weight, while it has roughly 1/3 more recoil than the .375 Holland.

.416 Rigby Magnum Today

.416 Rigby Ammunition : The .416 Rigby Magnum cartridge case itself spun off two progeny.
.416 Rigby Ammunition : The .416 Rigby Magnum cartridge case itself spun off two progeny. IMG www.loaddata.com

Obviously, the .416 Rigby Magnum caliber is not for any North American game and is a specialty round for the dwindling hunting opportunities for which it was designed. It requires patience to master.

Yet, the .416 Rigby Magnum cartridge case itself spun off two progeny. Most of the Weatherby Magnum cartridges are based on the Rigby. Roy Weatherby added a less-than-useful case head belt, but otherwise copied the case diameter and length for his cartridge line, as well as its small case shoulder and long neck for heavy bullet seating. The sharp shoulder is a boon for precise headspacing and accuracy, but all of the .375” and above cartridges in my limited experience are good shooters.

The other round that has Rigby “parentage” is the current darling of the long-distance shooter or military sniper, namely the .338 Lapua Magnum. In its essentials, it is little more than the .416 case necked down to accept the .338” bullets, and is also known for gilt-edged accuracy at distances over a mile.

In the U.S., having one is an affectation unless you are a man or woman of some means, and can afford to take one over to Africa. Some of us though are incorrigible romantics, and enjoy our shooting implements as a historic notion (with all due consideration to the dwindling numbers of the animals for which it was designed to vanquish).

So, I say, if the .416 Rigby Magnum tickles your fancy, have at it. It is fun on a grand scale.

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21 Responses to A Brief History .416 Rigby Magnum Ammunition

  1. THIS IS MY GUN CRUSH.

    I am well aware that I have no need for a rifle that fires Expo-Marker sized rounds… But the want is strong.

    Side note – in addition to smashing through Hippopotomi (Hippopotomusses?) the .416 Rigby can be used in a pinch as a maraca. There is enough empty space in that cartridge for that powder to shake around and really make some noise!

    • This is a common malady among gun owners, finding yourself with a box (or several) of a caliber without a matching firearm.

      Some people give the ammunition to someone that does. My personal solution is to buy a matching firearm….

      • LOL! Someone gave me, like, 10 rounds of .30 Carbine ammo once. I remembered seeing a .30 Carbine Automag pistol at a gun shop and hauled ass over to buy it. Fortunately, it was NOT there when I arrived! I grokked a few M1 Carbines at gun shows until my gun show buddy finally made me give the rounds away.

  2. I think the cartridge is just the .416 Rigby, not the .416 Rigby “Magnum.” Some of the rifles housing it, though, are called magnum by their makers.

    • The 9.3×62 is a classic cartridge, which American hunters are only starting to appreciate over 100 years after it was introduced.

      A 9.3, loaded with modern powders and bullets, is suitable for literally anything, including dangerous game, in North America. It might be a bit light for Cape Buff in Africa, but it’s certainly taken enough of the Black Death down in the hands of skilled hunters.

      It fits perfectly into any full-length surplus K98 action, using the same bolt face in as-issued condition. It’s a wonderful cartridge. I’ve built one for myself. Haven’t taken anything with it yet, but it will get used one day.

  3. Cool article. I’ll probably never shoot a rifle chambered in 416, but now I know a lot more about this interesting cartridge?

  4. “… It’s standard loading is telling – over 100gr of slow burning powder behind a 400gr steel jacketed solid, or soft-point bullet,…”

    The round is steel-jacketed? Won’t that wreck the barrel?

    • Well, first, the steel used in the jackets is softer compared to the hardness of the barrel steel.

      Second, most steel jacketed bullets are “copper washed,” ie, they have a very thin plating of copper on the outside – maybe 0.005 to 0.008″. This is enough to prevent most barrel wear.

      Frankford Arsenal did tests years ago of steel/copper-washed jackets vs. copper jackets, and found in steel-only barrels, it increased wear only about 10 to 15% over copper jackets, and if the bore was chrome lined, there wasn’t any wear increase that could be measured easily in 10K+ of steel rounds over copper jackets.

      The reason for steel jackets is to give you a bullet that doesn’t deform as easily – since penetration is required on dangerous game bullets, you see steel jackets and bronze/copper solid bullets. Kynoch still loads solids for dangerous game to this day.

  5. I like my .416 necked down to .338!

    Otherwise, there’s an African cartridge .375 – .458 gap in my collection (other than my .45-70), that matches quite nicely with the gap in my African hunting trip budget.

    That should change once I pay off the wife’s jewelry purchase. African hunting is on my bucket list. Hopefully it still exists by the time I can afford it, and doesn’t get shut down by lefties.

  6. For those who are curious what a rifle like this might cost, I’ll just toss out some info for you:

    That double square bridge Mauser 98-like action up there?

    That action alone, complete with bolt and bottom metal (the trigger bow, magazine, floorplate, etc) probably runs about $3K (perhaps more if you’re looking for the action to be in stainless steel or titanium), in the white (ie, not blued) if you’re ordering it out of Germany. Then you have to pay a gunsmith to build a rifle from it. When it’s all said and done, I’d reckon with a nice stick of walnut, proper leaf sights and scope mounts, a proper scope, etc, that such a rifle will come in somewhere between $9K and $10K. Figure the cost of the action, $400 for the barrel blank, $1K for a nice piece of walnut, then add in the cost of the other parts that get mounted on this (sling swivels, sights on the barrel, more if you want a quarter-rib on the barrel, grip cap, buttpad/recoil pad, ebony or other accent woods) and the cost of parts alone might be $5K.

    Or, if you want a genuine Mauser 98, made by Mauser, in Germany, for the .416, just bring along $12,500 or thereabouts, and you can take one away:

    https://www.mauser.com/produkte/m98/m98magnum/

    You can have a gunmaker put square bridges on a K98 military action, but lengthening it for the really over-length cartridges like the .416 Rigby is the tough bit. Personally, I wouldn’t bother with a .416. I’d build a .404 Jeffery instead. The .404 Jeffery is delivering over 4,500 ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle – and that oughta be enough for most anything in the world. I’d probably build it up on a 1917 Enfield or Remington Model 30 action instead of a surplus Mauser 98. The .404 Jeffery brass is the basis for most every Dakota Arms wildcat cartridge they’ve made, and the brass is easily available.

    Once you get into cartridges over 3.6″ OAL (the .375 H&H is 3.6″ OAL, and the .416 is 3.75″ OAL), your action tends to become stupidly expensive – either due to gunsmith time to work an existing action into accepting it, or because you had to purchase a magnum-length action for the very longest of cartridges. If you stick with .375 H&H overall length cartridges or shorter, there’s lots more bottom metal and actions available.

  7. I always wanted a .416 Rigby, have no idea why other than just to have one, especially in the classic Mauser, ever since I first saw an article on big game hunter Harry Selby and his Mauser in .416 Rigby. What many don’t understand is that you can handload the .416 Rigby to not only be a great round in Africa, but also North America, with jacketed or cast lead bullets it would take big bears, moose and elk without a problem, and think of how much fun it would be in an older rifle like that!

  8. 416 Rem is just as good or better all around

    It is cheaper to shoot

    easier to reload, uses less powder, the brass is on 375 H&H style, not the high dollar Rigby bass

    Rifles cost a lot less

    It will kill just good the same as Rigby

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