This month we caught up with gunmaker and hunter Paul Roberts to delve into his hunting adventures and hear what he thinks makes Rigby such a unique company to be connected to.
When we last spoke you were preparing for a visit to Namibia with Marc Newton, Gary Duffey and Simon Barr. How did it go, you were interested to see what it looked like after a period of cooler, wetter weather?
Yes, the Namibia trip was a really great week, although getting there was a little traumatic with BA insisting that we could not put two rifles in one rifle case… Gamsberg really is a wildlife paradise; Robin and Pauline Hurt have turned an once game-scarce wilderness into an area where wildlife has returned to a level of what it must have been a thousand years ago. Simon Barr was amazing with all his equipment which just astonished me, pulling everything from drones to cameras the size of a toothbrush from his kit bag! As a result, he managed to get some wonderful films and photographs of the rhinos we were especially interested in.
Very sadly just six weeks after our return, Kirby, one of the rhinos in the herd we had photographed, was killed by poachers for his horn. This was just devastating for the team at Gamsberg who have poured so much time, energy and money into building the herd from four head to 12, and sadly now 11, rhinos. Keeping poachers at bay costs an enormous amount of money – Robin has six people to protect the herd – and I’m proud to see Rigby is donating 15% from every Rigby rhino series rifle. I’m also working to supply Robin with guns for his staff so that they are adequately protected when they are patrolling.
I believe you were also on the trail of something small and antelope-like; did you succeed?
My only hunting was for a better springbok than the two heads I had shot previously. Robin had seen an extremely fine old ram he thought would be the one. I was a bit worried that Marc might want to try for it and as he is a great long-range shot, I had to keep my plans from him! However, because of the long grass, which was different from what I had seen on previous trips, the springbok were extremely wary because the long grass gave the predators, i.e. leopards, the cover they needed to get close. I failed to find the old ram I was after, but that is the nature of hunting.
Do you have any hunting trips planned for the year ahead?
Because of a pending knee replacement this year all hunting is on hold except for roe stalking around West Sussex, where Marc and I have a couple of places to stalk. Marc will do the walking and I will be up in a high seat. I also hope to do my two weekends wild boar hunting on my concession in France but let’s see how the knee situation is.
Is there a hunt that’s been on your bucket list for years, but you’ve never managed to make a reality?
The only hunt that I would have liked to have done in the past was a tiger hunt from a machan, being a great Corbett fan. However, that was not to be. My adventures in India in the late 60s made it obvious tigers were coming under pressure from hunting, but even more so from poaching for the skins. In the 60s, any bazaar in India had tiger skins for sale so I felt I was too late – the tigers were already an endangered species.
What attributes has Marc brought to Rigby that are helping the brand thrive?
Marc and I, unlike many gunmakers, are passionate about hunting and conservation. Between us we have had over 30 years running Rigby and, in that time, we have had the chance to meet and build guns for many people in the hunting world. Marc also has superb technical knowledge of up-to-date manufacturing techniques, which I don’t have, and is thus able to make projects come through at sensible prices.
I must also mention that I never fail to be impressed by the affection and respect the team has for each other, and that culture starts at the top. It’s been three years since the pandemic spread around the globe, and I still smile thinking about the incredible family atmosphere Marc and his staff fostered as they locked down together in the factory and carried on making guns for the customers.
What are you working on with Marc as a Rigby consultant now?
My last input at Rigby was a minor involvement in the new boxlock Big Game Rifle that the team has in production. Marc intends to pitch this rifle at an affordable price, and I am sure there will be much interest. Many people these days want to hunt with functional and reliable yet classic rifles that echo the originals but at affordable prices, for example the Highland Stalker, the PH Big Game .416 etc. I know Marc has quite a few things in the pipeline but as yet, I am not involved so I can’t share them with you.
How do you see Rigby evolving over the next five years?
Whilst I don’t have the use of a crystal ball, over the last ten years Rigby has gone from strength to strength and they are in an excellent position. But where big game hunting and stalking will be in five to ten years’ time who knows? Of course, Ferrari sells a lot of 200 mph cars in the UK, where our speed limit is 70mph, so I think Rigby will still be making .500 calibre double rifles for many years to come, however the situation for elephant hunting develops.
What challenges do you see the gun trade facing in the near future?
The challenges to the gun trade are definitely there, banning of lead in shotguns and rifle ammo, limits to bird shooting, criminal use of firearms etc. We shall have to see how things play out. Most of the British gunmakers have not been able to make the huge investments in robotic machinery which enable good guns to be produced at a low cost. The Italian government gave a huge boost to their gun trade in the 60s and 70s. No such luck in the UK.
What has been your proudest achievement during your time involved with Rigby?
The proudest achievement in my 16-year tenure at Rigby was to produce 48 really good double rifles ranging from .577 calibre to .22 LR, mostly .470s, all of which are highly prized today. In the previous 16 years before my tenure Rigby had made just one. Marc has since made many more than I did, so between us we have revived the claim to being the best Big Game double rifle makers in the world.