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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.

  • Ron

    Ten years ago I had some money burning a hole in my pocket. I have always wanted to kill a coastal bear, with a stick and string that is. But if I was going to spend a wad on the trip I also wanted to have a backup plan. If I could not get within bow I would swallow my pride and take one with a rifle. So back to the money burning a hole in my pocket, I set out to buy a gun to get the job done. I am a Ruger fan so I opted for the #1 416. I was happy as hell I can kill anything with this thing. Then a good friend of mine who hunts way to much, that's because he hunts more than me, says that's a hell of a gun, what are you going to hunt with it, I said dangerous game of course. He then said if were me and hunting game that need a gun of this size, I would want at least another round to let fly. That is when I said I never thought of that, I just wanted a big gun. He did say that this is a great round it's just that he would want to be able to have a backup round if things go from bad to worse. So back to the drawing board any suggestions?. Great article.

    • Blake Hawkes

      Yes – see my comment just below. Being a Ruger fan you will love the Ruger M77 MKII in .416 Rigby. Controlled round feeding for dangerous game situations, 1 in the chamber and at least a couple in the magazine – you're set for anything on the planet.

  • Jesse

    The Ruger Alaskan model in 416 Ruger would be a great gun for what you want to do it compact and all weather.

  • Blake Hawkes

    I own a .416 Rigby in a Ruger M77 MKII Magnum rifle. I own many other rifles as well and love them all for the purposes for which they were acquired and are used. That being said, even with its long range limitations (beyond 300 yards,) the .416 Rigby is arguably my favorite. The Ruger rifle in which it is chambered is a fine rifle to be sure. It's of quality and stout build, and shoots with ridiculous accuracy for the power it wields (3/8" groups at 100 yards all day long – no kidding.) But I believe the chief reason I love the gun so much lies in the power, efficiency, and nostalgia of the .416 Rigby cartridge itself. Few cartridges can claim they have stood the test of time and truly improved with age as well as has the .416 Rigby. I have used it to take American Bison and have carried it on other North American big game hunts with confidence and pride. Despite its not-insignificant mass, carrying it on a hunt instills confidence and a connection to the great hunters of the past that can't be manufactured with more modern arms and cartridges. I submit it's entirely appropriate as your cartridge of choice on a moose hunt, a bull elk hunt, or even a black bear hunt. The low velocity round will do less meat damage than many alternatives and will never under-penetrate. Do yourself a favor and pick up the original .416 – the .416 Rigby. Often imitated, never duplicated!

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  • Andreas

    Funny, how we need bigger and bigger calibers for the critters.

    Most Elephants in Africa where taken with a .303British and a 7x57Mauser. Nothing can compensate shot placement.

    I have taken Kudu and Oryx in Africa and Moose in Sweden with a 9.3×62 Mauser and wouldn't hesitate to use it for Brownie, even so I simply can not afford the hunt as I can not even afford the .416 gun and ammo for training.

    The discussion about high priced rifles, ammo and hunts goes far by the average hunter who has to provide for a family in first.

    Please come back to earth.

    • Doramin

      Using light calibers on dangerous game was a fad started by W.D "Karamojo" Bell who made his ivory hunting career using a .275 rifle. He ended up starting a light-caliber fad that put a great many hunters in the ground. English Colonial game departments ended up adopting rules banning the practice.

      Yeah, I know more of the big stuff has been taken with the .303 and 7×57 Mauser because the great number of British and Euro hunters were military types doing their colonial service who could not afford the Magnums and Nitros of the professionals and Maharajahs. That does not mean that many of them did not pay a price.

      There's no substitute for shot placement but unless you could drive nails and write your name with your rifle like ol' "Karamojo" Bell one finds that using a large-caliber is more forgiving of less-than-perfect accuracy, most especially if you flub that all-important first shot and the big beast charges you.

  • Peter

    This was by far my favourite article of the issue. The wordsmithing is quite excellent and made for a great read!

  • sixtus

    andreas, originally elephants were taken with the largest calibres of all, blackpowder 8 and 4 bores firing bullets weighed in numbers of ounces, and guns weighing up tp 20lbs. For a short period when jacketed bullets came out in small calibres, its true guns like the 303 were preferred since they outpenetrated anything using slow lead and blackpowder. However within 10 years BIG smokeless calibres came out like the 500 nitro, 450 nitro and all the other big stuff and people mostly switched to these for the next 100 years. to say big game was mostly taken by small calibres back then is not really acccurate then. True the small calibres do work if you are a perfect shot, but its when things do not go perfectly you want a bigger hammer.

  • george

    Planning a brown Bear hunt in the next couple years and have been watching some videos of a couple hunts where the hunters were using the smaller caliber rifles. My question to all would be why use the smaller caliber at all if you can afford and shoot the 375 or 416? After seeing some of the beautiful animals being shot 4-5 times before they were stopped convinced me that I was going to find the quickest- most effected way to humanly kill this wonderful creature. I love hunting but hate suffering of my prey, which should be every hunters motto. Thank you for convincing me on the 416. I hope to shoot well and straight.

  • Mike

    Thank you for your comment.
    Can't dissuade you on the 375; have taken Griz and Brown Bear with both. Since you have neither i'd lean to the 375, it is more versatile.

    Mike Lunenschloss

    • Doramin

      Hee! Hee! Now I know an old hand like yourself no doubt was careful to get in your practice at the range before taking that Rigby on your dream hunt.

      I still recollect getting a few belly laughs out of an article in G&A back in the eighties that tossed in a paragraph about how one of the biggest complaints many guides had about their clients was that they would get off the plane carrying a shiny new rifle in a bigger caliber than they had ever used AND wearing a shiny new pair of boots that they had not broken in….leading to imaginable consequences.

  • Joe Agnese

    I lived in Alaska for seven years and hunted once each year for a brown bear that would square ten feet and had a decent un-rubbed coat. I hunted both with guides and alone, mostly on the Alaska Peninsul and looked at at least 100 bear during these hunts without ever firing a shot. I started using a Ruger 77 in .338 Mag and after a while felt a little under-gunned. Those bear look much bigger when you see them at 25 yards or less! I then graduated to a Remington 700 Alaskan in .375 H&H which was lighter and easier to keep close by at all times. One of my guides used a Marlin lever 45-70 as a stopper gun and recommended a bigger bore caliber. I was contemplating building a custom a 416 Rigby on a magnum mauser action when I moved to the lower 48 but never got around to having it built. Thanks for a great read.

    • Doramin

      I've been doing some YouTube trolling and find that the hunting clips can be quite educational if you see enough of them.

      Some of the ickiest are the ones where the big bear doesn't go down with the first shot and then bullet after bullet has to be pumped into to it. It's a good thing that the vast majority of the bruins seem unable to tell where the shot has come from and never see and charge their assailant.

      • Joe

        Things can get tricky. If the Bears are approach correctly on a stalk from downwind they generally are at a disadvantage because their eyesight is so poor they really do have any idea where you are. But if in the course of hunting them and come upon an opportunity to take a shot at one that can see, hear or know exactly where you are they can and often will charge. If they are trying to chase you away they will often come up short in a bluff charge and just pop their teeth at you… but if they are wounded they can and will generally press home if they can. I found that hunting bears keeps you very alert and the adrenaline flowing most of the time. Carrying an effective big-bore rifle can be very comforting sometimes. I felt adequate using a .338 caliber, better when using my .375 and if I ever go back again I will be carrying a 416.

  • Jsc

    I have a lovely .375 H&H Rigby built in London by Jefferey, and a .416 Rigby buit on a CZ action by Roberts. As beautiful and versatile as the .375 H&H is, there is a huge comfort in the additional punch that the .416 provides at the receiving end without too much additional kick at the firing end. At present the .416 Rigby is definitely my favourite rifle for anything dangerous and works very well for other stuff too. That not to say that the .375H&H,9.3mm, and .338 aren't all great and versatile calibres just that.416 Rigby is a great in terms of effectiveness, accuracy, and tradition all rolled into one.

    • Pagel

      I think you have hit it on the spot, the recoil is more like a push and not a punch (get your self a 450 rigby ) its even better and very nice to shoot

  • sac

    tame that 416 so you can shoot it when the time comes
    i have a 416 and its like being kicked by a mule, i talked to a gun smith about taming it and he suggested the following
    get yourself a tube filled with mercury and place it inside the stock it acts like a huge rubber pad, still kicks but sure does make a difference, the 416 is the only rifle i use in alaska, but if i could get my hands on a bolt action 45/70 with a 26 inch barrel i would use that because you can build your own ammo using barnes or make your own using a hardened lead, i use hardened cast bullets in my musket and the bullet shoots through any black bear and breats any bone it hist

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