Our latest campfire blog comes from John Sharp, a Zimbabwe-based Professional Hunter who, like many of his compatriots, has a goldmine of hunting stories to share. Let’s dive into his thoughts on Rigby and learn about the incident that persuaded him a double rifle was a necessity rather than a luxury.
After devouring Man-Eaters of Kumaon by Jim Corbett, the first African hunting book I read as a youngster was Hunter by J.A Hunter. Both these legendary characters had Rigby rifles in their arsenals. Harry Selby, immortalised by Robert Ruark was another of my favourite authors who used a .416 Rigby for over 40 years. There have been many more books and Rigby rifles since those early readings that have had a profound influence on my own life. Those amazing rifles and calibres are woven into my dreams.
During the early 80s I had a frighteningly close call with a wounded buffalo. There were three of them coming our way and no indication which was the wounded one. One of them suddenly homed in on me from close quarters. I fired a way too hasty shot and only then realised that I didn’t have time to chamber another round in my bolt action rifle. I stood my ground, my unarmed client behind me, as I desperately worked the bolt, hoping that I would be able to get it done by the time he ran into the end of my barrel. At the very last instant before hitting me, he turned 90 degrees, almost under the barrel, and I dropped it a few metres away with a shot behind the ear. Obviously, I was deeply shaken, and once I’d calmed down, I took one stride forwards directly into the churned earth from the bull’s spectacular turn. This was the precise moment I decided I had to have a double rifle – it was imperative.
Over 25 years ago, after convincing one of my wealthy German clients to replace his Ferlach double collection with old English doubles, I was given a working gun which just happened to be a top of the range Rigby sidelock in .470 calibre – a dream come true. It was built by John Rigby & Co. in 1927 for a Viscount Furness and was acquired by Holland & Holland in the 60s where, supposedly due to pitting, it was re-barrelled, thus becoming a ‘working gun’.
This stunning piece of British artistry has been an extension of my body ever since. It’s been well used, well loved, and well cared for over the years but it’s also had its share of battle damage which I’ll share with you now. I’m including these stories because, in my view, they are testament to the outstanding quality of these incredible weapons, and the talents of the early Rigby gunmakers who produced guns like mine that have stood the test of time and are still in use almost 100 years later.
My tracker dropped it. Once. As he lifted it out of the vehicle at the close of day it slipped out of the unzipped gun bag and hit the ground, butt first, cracking the stock on the pistol grip. There was no suitably qualified gunsmith available in my town at the time, but I managed to get it repaired in a hurry by a competent carpenter friend who fitted a wooden dowel. As is sometimes the case, a hurried repair can turn out perfectly and, remarkably, this quick fix served me well for many years.
Then, while I was away on the USA convention run, one of the electrical phases at my home tripped. Unfortunately, this phase controlled the fan that draws air through my strongroom, and when I arrived home the inside resembled a mushroom farm. The room was dank and musty. All the leather items were covered in green mould, and my trusty double was rusted closed – it was impossible for me to break the action. I always oil my rifles liberally before every long trip; this I had done, but for the first time ever I had unwittingly, witlessly, put the Rigby in the gun rack instead of in its case, and I paid the price. I knew of no gunsmiths in Zimbabwe at that time that I would have trusted with my dream rifle. The best I knew of was close to Cape Town in South Africa, so I jumped into my vehicle and drove the 2,300 kilometres to get help. Bennie Laubscher, forewarned, was wonderfully accommodating and made the Rigby serviceable for the fast-approaching season.
The following year, en route to the conventions, I delivered the rifle to my dear friend Otto Weiss of Hartmann and Weiss in Hamburg, Germany. During my early years as a PH, I would carry my rifle over a bare shoulder – I rarely wore a shirt in those days unless it was very cold. My perspiration had seeped into the fore piece over the years and Otto needed to replace this, so we mutually decided to restock the weapon. Otto worked on it personally over a two-year period. He broke it down completely, re-blued, re-stocked and re-regulated it, before getting it back to me for another round in Africa.
Maybe other rifles have suffered worse tribulations – in fact I’m sure there are countless stories like mine. I know of one gun, now an ex-gun, owned by a well-known PH that was used to deliver instant justice to the head of a troublemaker, breaking the fore piece and bending both barrels – but this old .470 has come back every time to deliver impeccable performance and complete reliability, year in, year out.
I haven’t had the privilege of visiting the John Rigby & Co. rooms in London yet, but it’s there on my bucket list and I’ll make it over to the UK one of these days. In the meantime, my booth at the Dallas Safari Club convention is right next to Rigby’s. It’s always busy; proof of Marc Newton’s success and the dedication of the great people working with him. I’m certain this passion pervades the London store. How can it not?