For -– a smallbore may be all that is required for hunting thin-skinned antelope; Against -– when hunting antelope, you may stumble onto an unsympathetic Cape buffalo.
The argument for the smallbore holds up if your Professional Hunter knows the area you’re hunting well enough to predict what you’re going to run into, and if he’s equipped with a suitable backup rifle in case his prediction is off by a few thousand pounds. The argument against the smallbore is the reason why the most widely used rifle in Africa is the .375 Holland & Holland Magnum, as it is versatile enough to cover all bases.
Mike Roden, owner of Granite Mountain Arms (GMAhunter@aol.com), which is best known for custom Mauser actions and big-bore rifles, recently took one of America’s favorite smallbores -– a .300 Winchester Magnum –- on a South African safari with renowned PH Harry Claassens (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The hunt was in the Kalahari, in the Northwest Province of South Africa bordering Botswana, a thornveld area noted for its plains game, including gemsbuck, kudu, hartebeest, wildebeest, springbuck, zebra, eland, waterbuck, impala, blesbuck, steenbuck and duiker. Not where the buffalo roam. Mike came back with a truckload of record-book trophies and an order from Claassens for a new GMA rifle of his own, in .416 Rigby.
“The .300 performed as well as one can expect from this caliber,” Claassens said. “The 180-grain bullets delivered accuracy and down-range performance. Mike killed two kudu on the same day and one was taken at a distance of around 250 yards. He was able to hold dead-on at that range, and he floored that big bull with a perfectly placed shot through the heart.”
Aside from the caliber, Claassens was quick to credit a major share of the success of the hunt to Roden’s shooting abilities. And neither man could quite contain his enthusiasm for the handling qualities of the rifle itself.
Claassens said, “The rifle Mike used is as beautiful as they come, a true work of art, built along the old, classic lines and extremely reliable and superbly accurate. I think Mike’s rifles are also the mildest recoiling rifles in their respective calibers and this is due to their well-designed stocks and weight-ratios. Couple this with great marksmanship from Mike and you have a devastating combination. He downed every animal with one shot and this is testimony to his ability as a rifle-shot.”
Roden built the .300 Win Mag on one of his own GMA actions, of course, with a 25-inch barrel by Dan Pederson and a stock by Joe Smithson. Weight of the rifle, all up with GMA’s machined-in push-button quick-release mounting system and a Leupold Vari X III 2.5-8x scope, is 9 lbs., 15 oz.
“The stock makes the gun handle like a shotgun,” Roden said. “It comes up quick and it’s right there. Smithson based the design on a 1937 Holland & Holland stock, modified slightly to accommodate the low-mounted scope. It makes you appreciate what the English learned a long time ago about building African rifles.”
I can attest to the fast-handling characteristics of the elegant little gun, and the almost total lack of felt recoil shooting factory .300 Winchester Magnums loaded with 180-grain bullets. I went through two boxes of ammo in a couple of hours and wished for more. The Remingtons loaded with 180-grain Swift Sciroccos, one of the loads Mike used in Africa, chronographed at an average 3270 feet per second. I also had on hand a box of Johnson Precision ammo (email@example.com) loaded with 180-grain Barnes Triple Shock bullets which chronographed out of the GMA rifle at 2890 feet per second. This is Danny Johnson’s bear load, and he sent me a photo of a monster black he dropped with one shot at 20 yards to prove it.
The .300 Win Mag was soon empty, but this range shooting day was not over. We moved on to bigger things.
While lightweight high-velocity bullets placed with absolute precision may have a certain place in African hunting, heavyweight moderate-velocity bullets cover a lot more territory. The big-bores can be used on smaller game and their ranging ability is sufficient for most African hunting conditions, but they really deliver the goods when you face off with one of the thick-skinned, evil-tempered, diehard adversaries of the Dark Continent. If you expect to drop an elephant with a heart-lung shot instead of finding that little switch in his brain, if you need to jerk the carpet out from beneath the pounding hooves of a charging buffalo, if you need to shut down and slam down anything in a hurry, you’ve got to have a big-bore cartridge in your chamber.
A widely used formula for a stopping cartridge (as in, Stop it right now!) is a bullet of about 500 grains and .458 caliber with a muzzle velocity of 2300 to 2400 feet per second. This is a notch up from roughly equivalent double rifles of old, a couple of notches up from what the .458 Winchester Magnum was cracked up to be but never was, and is a crucial slot that has more recently been filled more or less by the .458 Lott, the 3-inch .458 Express, downloaded .460 Weatherbys, wildcats and proprietaries such as the .450 Ackley, .450 Dakota, .460 A-Square Short, the imaginary .465 Holland & Holland Magnum and, perhaps most perfectly, the .450 Rigby.
This is the .450 Rigby introduced in 1995 and based on the voluminous .416 Rigby case. It is totally unrelated to the long-forgotten Rigby .450 Nitro Express rimmed cartridge of 1898. (Unfortunately, CZ’s advertising agency must have been asleep for the last hundred years, because the CZ brochure that introduced the new rifle/cartridge combination has this to say of the barely 10-year-old rimless cartridge: “The .450 Rigby was originally developed for double rifles and has been in use for over a century now.” Good help is awfully hard to find these days.)
Rigby of California is supposedly building some of these .450s, though they are loathe to admit the cartridge even exists since it was developed not by them but by Rigby’s previous British owner, Paul Stewart. To nobody’s surprise most of the support for the cartridge is coming from elsewhere. According to renowned rifle builder and hunter Kenny Jarrett, “the .450 Rigby is the ultimate dangerous game stopper in a practical bolt rifle.” CZ, in its relentless and highly successful march to totally dominate the market for dangerous-game factory rifles, has introduced the .450 Rigby (even if they don’t know what it is) along with the .404 Jeffery and .505 Gibbs in its Safari Classics series, which means factory ammo is available. Custom builders have welcomed the cartridge, partially because of their long-standing affection for that big Rigby case, and are turning out some very fine guns such as the GMA example covered here.
Loaded with Superior Ammunition 500-grain solids at 2300 fps out of the rifle’s 24” barrel (firstname.lastname@example.org), shooting the GMA .450 Rigby is an exhilarating experience. Recoil motion is natural, predictable and easily controllable, thanks to the rifle’s well-balanced unscoped weight of 10 lbs, 12 oz. and GMA’s commitment to good English stock design, and is the kind of recoil that completely disappears when the adrenaline tap is turned on in a hunting situation. There is no pain, even shooting multiple rounds cold, at least until the next day. If this is what it takes to stop a charging buffalo, I’d be happy to stop them all afternoon long.
There are some other rifles, however, that make you feel one buffalo a day is quite enough. Let’s take a look at a rather larger GMA custom. This is a .505 Gibbs case, with its vast powder capacity, necked up to accept the larger .510-inch bullet used in the .500 Jeffery (Isn’t British terminology quaint?), most other so-called .50s and .500s, and well known wildcat monster-stoppers like the .510 Wells developed by Fred Wells of Prescott. A 535-grain .510-inch bullet is only a tad bigger than a 525-grain .505-inch bullet, but there is a greater selection of the larger size bullets to choose from, whereas the longer Gibbs case is a lot more versatile for reloading purposes than the short Jeffery case. Ergo, the .510/.505. Not exactly a factory ammo proposition, but rich with the kinds of possibilities that put a sparkle in a handloader’s eye, or readily supplied by custom loaders like Superior Ammunition if you are not so inclined.
Russell Menard of CAM Enterprises (email@example.com), a member of the team that built this rifle, developed an ideal load in the simplest way possible: you just fill up the .505 Gibbs case with H4831 Long Cut (135 grains) and you can shoot 535-grain bullets at 2350 fps all day long. Though if you’re shooting anything alive with them, one of these loads should be quite enough.
The .510/.505 is a heavy hitter on both ends. The big gun is pleasant to shoot for those who find violent recoil reassuring, but the 10½-pound bare weight of the rifle is quickly appreciated. Accuracy, from the bench and offhand, was well up to the standards of GMA custom rifles and once again proves that you don’t have to have a bull-barrel micro-caliber target rifle to shoot ½ MOA groups.
All three of these rifles are really good at their respective small, large and larger-than-large jobs, with the .300 Winchester Magnum and Gibbs-based .510/.505 covering the extremes and the .450 Rigby showing multiple talents from the high end of the middle. The .300 and .510/.505 together are a sound choice for a two-gun safari, and the .450 makes sense for any one-gun safari that includes thick-skinned dangerous game.
Personally, I found the .450 Rigby to be one of those special charmers whose future you know is going to be bright. All indications are that it lives up to its responsibilities as Son of .416 Rigby quite well. Remember, this versatile buffalo stomper with impeccable bloodlines is only 10 years old, not a hundred as a couple of people out in Kansas City seem to think. The .450 Rigby, in CZ factory, GMA and other custom configurations, is just getting started.