At the tender age of 12, having poured over the many hair-raising hunting stories of Africa found in the numerous magazines and books that adorned my grandfathers and father’s libraries, I had the opportunity to hold and shoulder an original Big Game at a sporting goods store in Colorado that catered to the global hunter. If memory serves me correct, the rifle was made in 1922 and had never been fitted for a scope. I clearly remember my dad saying that the rifle was offered at a price that equated to the average man’s annual salary. The very moment that I sighted down the barrel and held that well-worn pistol grip and forearm in my hands, I closed my eyes and could smell the heat of the day in sub-Saharan Africa that I had read so much about. I knew right then and there, that one day I’d be able to afford such a fine working piece of craftsmanship and follow my dream to Africa to hunt dangerous game, namely Cape buffalo.
After nearly putting his arm back in a cast while shaking his hand, I had the great pleasure of meeting and discussing the logistics of acquiring a second generation Rigby Big Game with Marc Newton at the 2016 Dallas Safari Club Convention. As soon as Marc returned to the UK following the US hunting show circuit, the funds were wired and the order was placed.
When the rifle consignment arrived in Texas, I made the two-hour trip from Houston to the consignee’s office and made my selection. I was the second person in the US to take possession of the legendary Rigby Big Game. I owned the famed .416 Rigby calibre rifle that had not been made on a true Mauser action since 1939. Having held an original, the second generation of the famed Rigby Big Game did not disappoint. The artisans in the factory lovingly followed the original blue prints to the smallest of details.
I couldn’t wait to get to the range and break-in the barrel with factory ammunition. I was not impressed with the accuracy of the factory ammunition offerings that the rifle was proofed with, as I knew this could be much improved. Therefore, using 400-grain Federal Triple Shock (TSX), I worked up a hand load that cuts the same bullet hole at 75 metres every time. The hockey puck hard recoil pad that is intended to spread the felt recoil makes this rifle not fun to shoot on the bench when working up hand loads or sighting in, but I never feel the 58lbs of felt recoil when I’m on the sticks. This skinny hunter is replacing the original recoil pad with a recoil absorbing model that is more bench friendly!
I first hunted Cape buffalo 15-years ago with my best friend Frank Fowler, in Coutada 10 of the Marromeau hunting district, located on the Zambezi River delta in east-central Mozambique. Frank and I contracted our now best friend, Gordon Stark, co-owner of Nhoro Safaris to guide our first Cape buffalo hunt. Gordon and his partner, Chris Gough, run a highly respected safari company hunting on the best managed concessions found in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Hopefully they’ll get back to Tanzania this coming year.
The John Roberts built Rigby in .416 Rem calibre that I owned was my firearm of choice for those first two hunts in Coutada 10, but I always wished I had the classic .416 Rigby in my hands. To say that the swamps of the Zambezi delta ‘ain’t for sissies’, is an understatement of profound proportions.
I’ll always cherish the experience of seeing the awe-inspiring herds of hundreds and hundreds of buffalo splashing through the reeds and the oppressive heat shimmering in the distance, as the cattle egrets danced in the wind.
Wading through chest deep papyrus reeds and pulling feet out of the black, fetid mud, knowing full well there were large crocs nearby is an experience I’ll never forget. Fifteen years is a long time to diminish the relentless torment of our arms and legs to the hordes of hungry tsetse flies and black clouds of mosquitos, or getting lost trying to cross one of the river channels in an overloaded Argo, with a buffalo carcass atop. Not forgetting one tracker telling us that the local tracker “does not know his way in the dark”, or the three days spent shivering under rain-saturated wet weather gear holding palm fronds over us, as the one storm in the entire delta dumped monsoonal rains upon us, before eventually drifting out over the Indian ocean for just long enough for us to hunt, before returning at the end of the day. But my most notable memory was when I nearly died from heat stroke hunting in 52°C/124°F temps with heat indexes in the deadly-to-humans range. I wasn’t about to let monsoon rains, back-jarring, blood vessel and artery choking Argos or late season delta temps and a little heat stroke sway me and Frank from our hunts.
I’m very proud of the dagga boys I took on those two hunts in the Zambezi swamps, but I wanted the heavy bossed, deep curled, well swept back dagga boys that existed further north in the delta. I wanted the classic buffalo that everyone sees in their minds eyes when they think of a dagga boy. The southern region of the Zambezi delta was very hard hit during the 17-year Mozambique civil war and those classic Cape buffalo genetics were largely missing as a result of the 300 to 500 buffalo that were shot from gunships to feed the troops. The concerted effort by the 14 concession owners for the recovery of the entire ecosystem in the Zambezi delta is something that every game management student should read and follow as the way it’s done. It’s a remarkable success story.
It took me nearly six years after acquiring my Big Game to take it to Africa and use it for the dangerous game that it was intended for. I arrived in camp at Nyati Safaris in Coutada 14, located on the banks of the Kunguma River, sans my best friend and hunting partner, Frank Fowler. Frank’s flight to Atlanta was cancelled and he didn’t arrive in camp until two days later. Not wanting to waste any time, Gordon and crew took the 50-year old Landy named Elvis – because it shakes, rattles and rolls – out two hours from camp into the start of the swamps. Being late in the dry season, we were able to drive around the waterlogged reeds and watch for the flocks of cattle egrets that followed the buffalo. Avoiding the big herds already cooling off in the water, the keen eyes of our trackers saw the cattle egrets feeding on the bugs kicked up by a herd of five dagga boys.
After stopping and taking a hard look through the binoculars, we decided to take a closer evaluation. Staying downwind, we made a two-mile, hour-long stalk to within 60 metres of the five bulls. They had no idea we were there and continued feeding toward us as they headed to the cool mud of the swamps to rest out the heat of the day. Comfortably resting on the sticks, I was able to evaluate all of the bulls, except the one bull that immediately caught my eye.
One of the dagga boy’s bosses were completely worn off and the other three were a lateral move to what I had harvested years ago. When the bull in question finally raised his head so I could see his right side, the trigger came off safe and as soon as he turned fully broadside, the Rigby barked in my hands as I chambered another round. He went down like a sack of bricks, yet managed to get back up and take another round before collapsing under a palm tree in an old wallow 25 yards from where he was first shot. Remembering the mantra that Gordon Stark coined years ago, ‘bullets are cheap, hospitals are expensive and funerals are sad’, two insurance rounds found their marks and my first bull of the hunt was headed to the salt. After 55 years, my Rigby had finally been properly initiated on the dangerous game and on the continent that the rifle was intended for.
Arriving in camp two days later, Frank collected a nice bull on his first day of his hunt with his .416. Taking turns on the sticks, Frank took a very nice bull on the last day of our hunt. To date, this was one of our best hunts ever; both of us using the venerable .416 Rigby cartridge.
The devastating power of the classic .416 Rigby is undeniable. Having a true Rigby in my hands and hunting buffalo in one of the last remaining truly wild places in Africa, is the thing that fills a young man’s dreams.