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Big Game Rifles

.416 Rigby for Brown Bear

by Mike Lunenschloss   |  August 4th, 2011 18

As hunters, we are all familiar with the black bear species, which is clearly nothing to be trifled with. Yet, to compare a black bear to a grizzly is to contrast a bike to a tank.

Everything seems to be excessively overbuilt–muscle, bone, teeth, claws and a white-hot temper that could curdle 100-proof whiskey.

All bears are built stout, but coastal grizzlies--or brown bears, as they are commonly called--are more than stout, they are built like tanks.

Even more awe-inspiring, an Alaskan coastal brown bear can weigh twice what an interior grizzly would. The brownie is truly a beast of mythological proportions, with a temper to match. Without question, it is one of the most formidable and ferocious animals to ever draw breath on this planet.

When I first started hunting brown bears more than 25 years ago, the .338 was very popular with Alaskan hunters. Gradually, I saw more and more rifles come north chambered in the .375 H&H. However, even this, the world’s most versatile big-game cartridge, fell to the .416 with brown bear guides.

In Alaska, when you talk .416 it is going to be the Remington. If you were to land a bush plane at any lodge on the Alaska Peninsula, a spare box of .375 H&H or .416 Remington could be easily obtained, but not the Rigby. Yet in this state, more than thrice the size of California and with the fortunate deficiency of all but a handful of roads, the .416 Rigby is my favorite.

The superb English gun-making firm John Rigby & Co. was the sole agent for Mauser in England before WWI. In the summer of 1912 the .416 Rigby rifles, with Mauser actions, became available as a less expensive alternative to a double rifle. Although Rigby built less than 200 such rifles at this time, their extraordinary reputation swept through the sporting world. Today, just shy of 100 years later, those original magnum Mausers are the most coveted actions in the world. As logic would dictate, Rigby’s .416, with modern
bullets, powders and primers, enjoys even more swagger than it did in the glory days of safari hunting.

With the brown bear having paws the size of a human head and claws to match, hunters don't want marginal calibers that are "just enough" medicine.

Frank C. Barnes confided in his book Cartridges of the World: “The .416 Rigby is probably the best magazine big-game cartridge ever offered.”

With a more voluminous case than necessary, the Rigby is a handloader’s dream. However tempting, there really is no need for hunters to push the 400-grain bullet downrange any faster than the standard 2,400 feet per second. You may be agreeably surprised to find that the Swift Bullet Company reloading manual reveals that at that velocity, its 400-grain A-frame is just less than three inches high at 100 yards and 4.7 inches low at 250 when zeroed at 200 yards.

Now, a cultured eye of ballistics, such as yours, will immediately reference the .30 calibers with 200-grain bullets. At 2,900 fps, the magnum .30s are 1.7 inches high at 100 yards and three inches low at 250 yards when zeroed at the same 200 yards. However, the boasting of these sheep rifles must end there; the flatbased, roundnose .416 weighs in at twice the credence of the heaviest .30. As Anthony Hober, Swift’s manager of company operations, puts it: “That makes the .416 an honest 250-yard rifle.” No small praise for a caliber with such bone-crushing, shocking power.

Do you really need, or desire, such power in the new world? After all, such a stout rifle and accompanying ammunition are going to be heavy. Well, consider this: With the price of today’s big-game hunts, and careers being nearly all-consuming, it just is not possible to spend anywhere near the days in the bush that old trappers and prospectors did. On the last day of a bear hunt that cost you five figures, you spot your brownie quartering away from you. Would you even consider a shot knowing that your .30-caliber deer and elk rifle was going to have to drive through the bear’s hair, hide, ribs and muscle to reach the opposite shoulder? It’s doubtful whether you, or your guide, would entertain such silliness. Without a question, there is no substitute for a well-placed shot, but regardless of your skill, you may never get that perfect angle on a trip of a lifetime.

For game of this magnitude, the .416 Rigby may be just the right choice.

If you have ever taken a brown, you know they don’t go easy and they can come at you, hard. It is a dreadful undertaking to be contemplating the lack of your rifle’s consequence when a half-ton brown bear is popping his teeth only 40 yards distant with all the unmanageable personality of a stepped-on mamba. It will be a not-to-be-forgotten time in which no contented thoughts will come to you.

Sure, you can add more powder in that old Dark Continent standby, but it will mean additional punishment on your end of the rifle, too. Personally, I could never understand handloading “light” loads. Candidly, I was always trying to push the performance in every big-game load I threw. The .416 Rigby cured me of this folly. A .416 will not smash your shoulder to atoms, but when going to the range and shooting .40s, it is a good idea to put your wristwatch in your pocket, should you be desirous of keeping it in good working order. If you start sending 400-grain bullets downrange at a scorching velocity, your enjoyment of shooting this superb caliber will disappear faster than a Thermos full of hot coffee in a duck blind.

All of the .416s have cases of far nobler proportions than the cartridges we are accustomed to in North America, and they are a family not renowned for beauty. Unlike the other two .416 cartridges, the Rigby case is not belted. In theory, this should make it more advantageous when expeditiously feeding the round for something I guarantee you will need with a brownie–a second shot.

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