In our latest Campfire blog, Craig Boddington, the globally-respected outdoor journalist shares his impressions of the .275 Rigby cartridge and Highland Stalker. Craig has over 40 years’ experience exploring the world as a hunter, writing dozens of books, articles and essays. A decorated Marine and award-winning author, he’s seen as a leading voice for conservation and ethical hunting.
Like so many of us, I was introduced to the .275 Rigby (7×57 Mauser) in the school library, reading the well-written accounts of Walter Bell and Jim Corbett. Clearly, it was an interesting little cartridge with more than its share of famous fans, but I was not an early convert. Reaching my teen years in the 1960s, I was a child of the first magnum era, and I wanted it big, bad, and belted… never mind that it hurt.
Fast-forward to the late 70s, I was a magazine editor for the old Petersen Publishing in Los Angeles, escaping as often as I could. One of my favourite escapes was Dye Creek Ranch in northern California, which had great blacktail and fantastic hog hunting. Ranch manager Mike Ballew, an astute rifleman, became a friend and mentor. Like Bell and Jack O’Connor, Mike wasn’t ashamed to admit he didn’t like recoil.
For blacktail deer in his lava-strewn canyons he liked the .257 Roberts, but in those days he guided scores of hog hunters. He stood a number of charges and had plenty of respect for hogs, so for backup he always carried his idea of a “big gun.” Sometimes it was a .270, but most often a 7×57 (.275 Rigby).
One weekend I was trying to take a pig with an open-sighted handgun. The hunting was pure spot-and-stalk and the crumbling lava footing is noisy, so it was hard to get close. We were running out of time when we closed on a big boar. Just at the last second it spooked and ran across our front. Without a word Mike passed me his rifle and I rolled the hog. That was the first animal I took with a 7×57 (.275 Rigby). It 35 years ago, and I haven’t been without one since. Right now I have several. Some are marked 7×57; others are marked .275 Rigby. The names are different; the cartridges are the same.
The .275 Rigby (7×57) cannot compete with the several magnum 7mm cartridges but it doesn’t need to. As loaded or handloaded today it is fast enough and flat enough and powerful enough for a great deal of the world’s non-dangerous game. Its moderate velocity ensures excellent bullet performance, and it does its work with minimal fuss: Little recoil and muzzle blast, yet definitive results on game.
As Walter Bell proved, there isn’t much you can’t do with a .275 Rigby (7×57) and the proper bullet. The late Fred Duckworth, a veteran African PH, told me a story about, as a boy, accompanying his dad, a British colonial in India, on a hunt to the “northern hill country”—what we now call Pakistan. He recounted watching his dad take a markhor with his .275 Rigby. Okay, I’ve hunted markhor. That’s a tough one, and I didn’t take a .275 Rigby (or a 7×57). By either name I love the cartridge, but I don’t usually take it into the highest mountains or the most open plains, nor do I match it against the largest game.
This is where, because of the legend and legacy of greats such as Bell and Corbett, the .275 Rigby (7×57) is misunderstood. I am a reasonably well-read student of the greats, and there are certain myths that drive me insane. I lack Bell’s experience with elephants and have none at all with tigers, but it is impossible to write about cartridges for pachyderms or great cats without someone writing that “Bell took all of his 1011 elephants with his .275” and someone else writing “Corbett took all his tigers with his .275.”
No, and no! Bell bought six .275s from Rigby and shot many elephants with them – but nothing close to all. He also used early 6.5mms, and he shot a lot of elephants with the .303 British. By his own account his largest one-day bag was with a .318 and this was not the only day he used it. After WWI he had a .450/.400 and used at least one of the two .416s he purchased from Rigby. But he did love his .275s, at one point asserting that the barrel of his .275 had never been “polluted by the passage of a soft-nosed bullet.” I assume this was not the case during his final 30 years stalking red stags in Scotland but who knows?
Jim Corbett is easier to pin down. He did, in fact, take man-eating tigers with the .275 Rigby presented to him in 1907, after he accounted for the voracious Champawat Tigress. Some of Bell’s rifles survive, but since he owned several it’s hard to be certain which was used where. Corbett’s primarily rifles were a .450/.400 double and his .275. Both still exist, the latter in the Rigby collection. I have held them both, and I rate them, perhaps after Roosevelt’s .500/.465, as the world’s most famous sporting rifles. Corbett’s .275 had great influence on Rigby’s new Highland Stalker rifle, which I think Jim Corbett would have approved of (as would Walter Bell). Corbett was always clear in his writing: His preference for tiger was his .400 double but he used the .275 if that was what he had, and it worked. For leopards and meat for the pot Corbett preferred his .275, and used it from 1907 until his death in 1955.
I have also used the .275 Rigby (7×57) all over the world, and on all the continents. Over there (wherever “there” is) I’ve used it for red stag, Himalayan tahr, roebuck, hog deer, axis deer, and more; and for kudu, hartebeest, wildebeest – pretty much the full run of African plains game. Once with 175 grain solids, I used it to brain a huge water buffalo bull, and I suppose I’ve used it for wild swine on every continent. The .275 Rigby (7×57) is an exceptionally versatile cartridge that seems effective far beyond what its paper ballistics might suggest. This has been true since the days of Bell and Corbett, and remains true today.