The Legendary .416 Rigby: A Cartridge for African Big Game Hunting

The Legendary .416 Rigby

The .416 Rigby is a rifle cartridge that holds an important place in the history of big game hunting in Africa. Developed in 1911, this cartridge became known for its effectiveness on dangerous game like Cape buffalo, elephant, and lion. Over a century after its introduction, the .416 Rigby remains a popular choice among professional hunters and enthusiasts pursuing large animals across the continent.

In this definitive guide, we will explore the history, design, ballistics, and real-world performance of the .416 Rigby. Whether you are new to African hunting or a seasoned veteran, read on to learn what makes this cartridge so legendary.

A Brief History of the .416 Rigby

The .416 Rigby was born out of necessity. By the early 20th century, big game hunters were clamoring for a cartridge that could handle Africa’s largest and most dangerous animals. The favored rifles at the time were large-bore black powder doubles. But these were slow to reload and produced heavy smoke that could alarm game.

When smokeless powders arrived on the scene in the late 1800s, they allowed for smaller, higher velocity cartridges. The new Mauser 98 bolt action also provided fast follow-up shots. This set the stage for the development of the .416 Rigby by London gunmaker John Rigby & Co.

The .416 Rigby launched a 410-grain bullet at the blistering speed of 2,300 feet per second, nearly double the velocity of traditional black powder cartridges. Even today, it remains one of the most powerful rimless cartridges ever created.

Famed hunter and author Robert Ruark further popularized the round through his classic 1953 book Horn of the Hunter. The .416 Rigby soon became the dangerous game cartridge, eclipsing older black powder numbers. Its reputation for stopping power on thick-skinned beasts was unmatched.

Although later eclipsed in popularity by the .375 Holland & Holland, the .416 Rigby remained a staple of African professional hunters. Even when Kynoch factory ammunition ceased production, loyal enthusiasts kept the round alive through handloading. Today, it enjoys a renaissance thanks to new factory loads meeting its full potential.

Overview of the .416 Rigby

The .416 Rigby is a rimless, bottleneck cartridge designed to handle firing moderate to heavy bullets at high velocities. Here are its basic specifications:

  • Bullet Diameter: 0.416 inches
  • Neck Diameter: 0.448 inches
  • Base Diameter: 0.468 inches
  • Rim Diameter: 0.543 inches
  • Case Length: 2.850 inches
  • Overall Length: 3.600 inches

The cartridge operates at a maximum pressure of 47,000 PSI as set by CIP standards. It typically drives a 400-grain bullet around 2,400 feet per second, which generates over 5,000 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. This combination of a heavy projectile and speed produces a hard-hitting, flat-shooting cartridge ideal for open country hunting.

While Cordite was used as the original propellant, today’s .416 Rigby loads use modern smokeless powders like H110 and H4198 to reach velocities of 2,400 to 2,500 FPS. Top ammunition brands like Federal, Hornady, Nosler, and Kynoch offer factory loads.

The .416 Rigby case has enough capacity to push bullets up to 500 grains at reduced velocities. Handloaders seeking maximum performance will often neck down the case to .408” and load 400-grain bullets. Cases are most often formed from .375 H&H Magnum brass.

Overall, the efficient bottleneck case paired with today’s powders make the .416 Rigby one of the most versatile big game cartridges available. It’s suitable for all African plains game up to the “Big Five.”

Ballistics of the .416 Rigby

The .416 Rigby earns its place among Africa’s most esteemed cartridges thanks to an impressive balance of velocity, energy, and penetration. Here are ballistic figures for a typical 400-grain factory load:

  • Muzzle Velocity: 2,400 fps
  • Muzzle Energy: 5,115 ft-lbs
  • 500-yard Velocity: 1,923 fps
  • 500-yard Energy: 3,068 ft-lbs
  • Maximum Point Blank Range: 219 yards

With a heavy projectile blazing along at over half a mile per second, the .416 Rigby delivers authority on contact. It has over twice the energy of a 3-inch magnum 12-gauge slug. This combination of mass and speed allows proper bullet expansion on large game.

The .416 maintains supersonic velocity and over 1,500 ft-lbs of power past 500 yards. It shoots flat enough to make 200-yard shots on eland or greater kudu feasible in the hands of an experienced hunter. While not considered a long range cartridge by today’s standards, it certainly has reach on open plains.

Bullets up to 500 grains can be loaded to subsonic velocities for low noise and deep penetration at closer distances—an advantage when hunting near other game. For stopping power, the .416 Rigby has few equals. Only the .458 Lott and .470 Nitro Express significantly exceed it.

Modern Ammunition for the .416 Rigby

While performance was impressive for its time, the .416 Rigby cartridge has benefitted from major advances in bullet technology over the past century. Today’s top ammunition brands offer a variety of loads catered towards big game hunting:

Barnes VOR-TX and TSX Bullets – These all-copper projectiles penetrate deeply on heavy bone and exit for efficient kills. The Triple Shock X-bullet features controlled expansion at close ranges.

Hornady DGX and DGS Bullets – The DGX uses an InterLock ring and bonded lead core to retain mass, while the DGS is an all-brass option for maximum penetration. Both expand reliably at all practical hunting distances.

Woodleigh Weldcore Bullets – Featuring a steel jacket bonded to the rear core, these bullets drive deep and punch through bone. They expand slowly and consistently for excellent weight retention.

Federal Premium Trophy Bonded Sledgehammer – This revolutionary bullet uses a solid copper shank mated to a bonded lead core. It penetrates phenomenally deep even at high velocities.

Swift A-Frame – The original A-Frame drove African hunters to the brand. It mushrooms aggressively at close ranges yet holds together when hitting heavy bone on angled shots.

Thanks to these premium bullet choices, today’s .416 Rigby loads are markedly more versatile and effective than the original military-style jacketed ammunition. Hunters now have specialized options tailored specifically to game weight and shot angles.

Weapon Platforms for the .416 Rigby

The introduction of the .416 Rigby inevitably led to the development of dangerous game rifles designed around it. While classics like the Rigby Mauser remain popular, several high-quality bolt actions today serve the cartridge well:

Rigby – As the original designer, Rigby still produces rifles chambered in .416 on Mauser actions with its signature iron sights. These classic, elegant rifles are incredibly accurate in capable hands.

CZ – The CZ 550 American Safari Magnum utilizes a controlled round feed Mauser action. It’s known for silk-smooth operation, good trigger, and sub-MOA accuracy.

Ruger – Ruger’s Hawkeye African offers a controlled round feed and sturdy mahogany stock. It’s built like a tank but lively and quick handling in typical Ruger fashion.

Winchester – The classic Model 70 Safari Express features a controlled round feed and fixed sights. Its inline stock provides fast lock time and smooth cycling.

Kimber – Kimber’s Model 8400 Africa rifle combines a Mauser-type extractor with controlled round feed. The Kevlar-reinforced stock aids accuracy.

Dakota – For the ultimate custom dangerous game rifle, Dakota builds on Winchester Model 70 actions for tack-driving accuracy and reliability.

These bolt-actions offer fast follow-up shots thanks to smooth cycling. Their strong, modern actions are designed to handle the .416 Rigby’s power. While double rifles still have appeal for purists, a quality bolt gun provides better versatility and value.

Best Uses for the .416 Rigby

The .416 Rigby earned its reputation on Africa’s big five dangerous game—elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, and Cape buffalo. It has more than enough power to humanely take these largest species under all conditions.

  • Elephant – The ultimate test, the African elephant can reach over 13 feet tall and 14,000 pounds. The .416 Rigby drives bullets through thick hide and bone into vital organs. It’s considered marginal for use on huge bulls, but adequate on younger elephants.
  • Rhinoceros – Black and white rhino can both top over a ton. The .416 penetrates their skeletal plates, horns, and hump. It’s a sensible minimum for facing angry rhino at close distances.
  • Cape Buffalo – Considered by many to be Africa’s most dangerous game, Cape buffalo weigh over a ton. The .416 delivers deadly penetration on Cape buff from all angles and shots.
  • Lion – Large male lions can top 500 pounds. The .416 smashes through their leg bones and shoulders to reach vitals for quick kills.
  • Leopard – More dangerous than their size suggests, leopards are hunted at night over bait. The .416 stops these predators before they can charge from the shadows.

Beyond the big five, the .416 excels on plains game like eland, giraffe, hippo, zebra and more. Its versatility makes it a sensible choice for hunters pursuing a variety of species. The .416 Rigby has built a reputation as one of Africa’s most trusted cartridges.

Common Bullets and Loads

From solids to soft points to bonded options, here are some great .416 Rigby loads for pursuing Africa’s biggest game:

Barnes 400gr TSX – This all-copper hollowpoint penetrates deep, expands reliably, and retains almost 100% of its weight. With a BC of .310, it bucks wind well.

Hornady 400gr DGX – The DGX bullet has a bonded lead core secured by a tapered jacket. It drives through heavy bone while expanding to 1.5x its diameter.

Federal 400gr Trophy Bonded Sledgehammer – This revolutionary bonded-core bullet achieves extreme penetration at close ranges. It’s a top choice for following up on dangerous game.

Woodleigh 400gr Weldcore – Featuring a bonded rear core, this bullet has steel-beating strength at all practical ranges. It’s a premium option for tough shots on heavy game.

Swift 400gr A-Frame – The A-Frame has a shoulder-mounted lead tip for controlled expansion and deep penetration. It opens up to double diameter in tissue.

Barnes 500gr Solid – Boasting a superb BC of .328, this all-copper solid is great for punching through brush or heavy bone at moderate ranges.

Handloading the .416 Rigby

Handloaders can tune their .416 Rigby ammunition for specific needs by tailoring bullet weights and types along with powders and primers. Here are some tips:

Brass – High quality .416 Rigby brass can be formed from .375 H&H Magnum or .458 Lott cases. Annealing and careful sizing helps stretch brass for many reloads.

Bullets – Weights range from 250 to 500 grains, with 400 grains being most common. Heavier bullets require fast powders while lighter ones use slower propellants.

Powders – H4831, Ramshot Magnum, and Hodgdon powders in the H110/H4198 class work well. Magnum primers are recommended to ensure reliable ignition.

Loading Data – Work up carefully, starting 10% under max and testing for pressure signs. Loads can be tuned for game from springbok to elephant.

Handloaders should be cautious to avoid excess pressure. However, judicious loading can wring out extra velocity or tailor loads not available commercially. Overall, the .416 Rigby responds well to careful handloading.

Recoil Characteristics

The .416 Rigby does not earn a reputation as a hard-kicking cartridge, but rather as a smooth-shooting, big bore round. Here are typical recoil specs:

  • Recoil Energy: Approximately 77 ft-lbs (104 J)
  • Recoil Velocity: Around 14 fps

For comparison, this is only around 20% more free recoil energy than a .30-06 Springfield. The .416 Rigby has a broad butt pad area to mitigate felt recoil off the shoulder. Its efficient propellant burn also contributes to smooth impulse.

In a 9-10 pound rifle, most hunters find the .416 Rigby pleasant to shoot. The gun pushes back into the shoulder firmly rather than with a sharp jab. Recoil is more of a steady push than a violent smash.

With proper shooting technique and a well-designed stock, even smaller-framed hunters can learn to shoot this cartridge accurately. The .416 Rigby is docile enough to make an excellent all-round rifle for dangerous game.

Care must be taken by handloaders, however, as some bullet and powder combinations in lighter rifles can sharply spike pressures and felt recoil. But in factory-loaded ammunition, the .416 Rigby is surprisingly controllable.

Hunting Performance and Terminal Ballistics

The .416 Rigby’s lethality on game begins with deep penetration. Heavy bullets sustain their momentum to drive through muscle and bone to reach vital organs.

With a wide selection of bullets available, hunters can pick options that expand rapidly on lighter game or hold together on heavy, dangerous animals. Premium bullets in 400-grain weights average .330 sectional density for excellent penetration.

The .416 Rigby kills efficiently with a combination of deep driving power and large diameter wound channels. Well-constructed bullets will expand to .70 inches or more, causing considerable tissue damage.

On impact, hydrostatic shock transfer also helps quickly incapacitate animals. The combination of penetration, expansion, and shock effect creates quick, ethical kills on even Africa’s largest game.

Hunters report excellent terminal performance on game up to 2,000 pounds and beyond. While some argue bigger is better, the versatile .416 Rigby has more than enough power for any sensible hunting scenario. Few hunters require anything larger.

Trajectories and Practical Accuracy

The .416 Rigby maintains a relatively flat trajectory due to the high velocities it reaches with 400+ grain bullets. For example, here is a typical trajectory table:

Range (yards)Bullet Drop (inches)
100-1.5
1500
200-7.0
250-18.5
300-38

This allows precise shot placement out to 200 yards and beyond in the hands of an experienced rifleman. The .416 Rigby has enough reach to confidently take game across open country.

In terms of accuracy, 1-2 MOA groups are common from quality bolt-actions with factory ammunition. This level of precision is ample for hitting vital zones on dangerous game in the field.

With handloads or custom rifles, .416 Rigby accuracy can improve to sub-MOA levels. While not considered a tackdriver, it has enough precision for most hunting scenarios at reasonable ranges.

Hunting Considerations and Limitations

While tremendously versatile, the .416 Rigby does have some limitations hunters should consider:

  • Heavy recoil may intimidate smaller or recoil-shy shooters. A muzzle brake can help reduce felt recoil.
  • Ammunition is more expensive than smaller calibers, so optimal shot placement becomes more critical.
  • Bullets under 400 grains may not penetrate as reliably on larger game like eland or moose. Stick to mid-weight bullets.
  • Very large bears and mature bull elephants may require a harder-hitting stopper. Use expanding bullets for maximum shock and tissue damage.
  • Long shots past 250 yards require precise range estimation and a correctly dialed scope.
  • Heavy recoiling rifles are best for strong shooters who practice regularly. Develop shooting skills before hunting dangerous game.

While not right for everyone, the moderaterecoil, flat trajectory, and excellent terminal performance make the .416 Rigby a versatile African hunting cartridge given proper shot placement and a shooter’s practice.

History and Usage of the .416 Rigby in Africa

As the .416 Rigby approaches its 100th birthday, it’s worth recounting the history of this esteemed cartridge on the Dark Continent. Since its introduction in 1911, some of Africa’s most iconic hunters have relied on the Rigby for dangerous game.

Professional ivory hunter John “Pondoro” Taylor took a pair of .416 Rigby rifles along for his extensive hunts in equatorial Africa during the 1950s. The double rifle combination of stopping power and rapid follow up shots worked to his advantage.

Famed rifle builder Walter Bell experimented extensively with the .416 cartridge in the 1940s and ‘50s. Bell crafted accurate rifles for his .416 loads that expanded bullet technology of the day.

Writer Robert Ruark brought the .416 Rigby to international fame during his safaris documented in his bestseller Horn of the Hunter. Ruark marveled at the .416’s power on beast like Cape buffalo and rhino.

As African hunting transitioned towards tourists rather than market hunting, the .416 Rigby remained a staple. Professional hunters including Buzz Charlton relied on the Rigby to protect clients in tight situations with dangerous game.

Later on, the .458 Winchester Magnum would claim popularity thanks to ammunition availability. But the Big Five cartridge was born from the .416 Rigby, and many professional Nduna still consider the Rigby superior.

Classic cartridges like the Rigby remain in vogue among Africa’s experienced professional hunters. While newer magnum cartridges have eclipsed it in extremes of velocity.

Captain Hunter is a seasoned hunting mentor with over 20 years of experience in the field. His passion began as a young man on trips with his father and grandfather in the Colorado mountains. Today, he shares his unmatched skills in survival, tracking, and marksmanship through his website CaptainHunter.com. When he's not volunteering with youth hunting programs, you can find Captain Hunter providing expert hunting tips, gear reviews, and answers to your most pressing questions. His decades of experience make him the trusted guide to help any outdoorsman master the sport.

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