– A Visit to Rigby’s in London –
Guest Post: By Bill Tatham, UK – Rifle shooter and passionate rifle hunter
John Rigby & Co, better known as Rigby’s, conjures up the image to most hunters and shooters of style, Africa, and the tradition of making English hunting rifles.
Where it all started
I used to own a .375 H&H Sauer 202 ‘Takedown’ and a Krieghoff Big Game ,470 NE double rifle, both of which I used to take to Africa hunting a wide variety of plains game as well as buffalo.
I thought my African hunting days were over and I sold both of my rifles but I still feel, not only that I have a couple more hunts left in me but I miss owning a classic wooden stocked large caliber hunting rifle. I have owned and sold many different rifles and these days most of my rifles are for long-range target shooting with synthetic stocks but as anyone who has handled a rifle will know, nothing can replace the elegance and feel of a classic walnut stocked rifle.
Krieghoff 470NE double rifle – classic African rifleTouching is believing
There is a great deal of information on Rigby’s excellent website https://www.johnrigbyandco.com/ and having looked at the options I realised that buying a world-class English hunting rifle was affordable. One of my friends in Malta distributes Rigby from his gun shop and having handled several excellent examples there and been impressed, I decided that I would pay a visit to Rigby’s showroom in London.
I visited as planned one morning and Jamie Holland, the assistant production manager hosted me for a couple of hours in their showroom which is directly connected to their workshop.
Short intro to Rigby
The company was founded in Dublin, Ireland in 1735, and is known to have traded as W. & J. Rigby during the period 1820 – 1865 during the flintlock and percussion eras. In its early days, Rigby’s was particularly well known for producing high-grade dueling pistols!
Around 1880, John Rigby became superintendent of the government Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock, and oversaw development of the British service issue .303 British caliber rifle. He was a distinguished rifleman who had competed at international level with the Irish team and was mainly responsible for bringing Rigby’s name to the fore in rifle making.
Rigby landmarks include the 1897 introduction of the .450 calibre Nitro Express Double Rifle; the 1899 production of the Rigby .275 calibre (7×57 Mauser) built on the Mauser action and the Rigby .350 calibre Express Rifle; and the 1900 introduction of the .350 Mauser actioned rifles. In 1907 the Rigby .470 became Rigby’s main big game double rifle, and in 1912 the .416 Rigby calibre magazine rifle was introduced.
In 2010, a group of US businessmen purchased the Rigby assets, discontinuing the manufacture of Rigbys in California. Rigby returned manufacturing to London with J. Roberts & Son, and in 2013 Rigby was sold to Mauser/Blaser, which has historic ties to Rigby.
The first thing I wanted to do in the showroom was of course to handle as many rifles as I could! It is a typical gun room festooned in rifles, trophies, and deep leather seats, even a pair of man-eating tiger skins from India. Once you start handle the different calibres and examine the different levels of engraving and quality of wood used, you realise why the prices can vary considerably.
Rigby is a very transparent about pricing and you can glean everything you want from their website so I won’t spend a lot of time talking about prices but the mainstay of production is their Highland Stalker rifle which starts at £7695, the same price as the entry-level Big Game PH rifle although I was looking at the Big Game which starts at £8745.
Rigby’s have a good rifle configurator on their website and as the rifles began to pile up in front of me on the leather sofas, I realised that you quite quickly need to decide what your priorities are otherwise the price tag can rise fast. For instance, Jamie confirmed to me that if my budget didn’t allow for the beautiful engraving done by the gunmakers in the workshop next door, this could be done at a later date.
The walnut used these days comes from Turkey or Azerbaijan and I wanted to buy the best possible piece of wood that I could afford as this rifle will be with me for a long time. I handled several rifles all the way from grade 5 up to 9 and decided that grade 7 was a compromise between luxury and price. Stocks can be light or dark according to the piece of wood or the staining used. At the sort of entry-level rifle, I was looking at, you don’t get to select the raw blank being fashioned next door in the workshop for a customer’s Rising Bite double rifle but I can give some guidance to Jamie as to my preferences.
Rigby rifle stocks come over with the action and barrels from Germany, but the Rigby gun making team finish off the stocks including for instance fitting leather recoil pads and a London oil finish. Rifle stocks come from Germany finished extremely well, but a London oil finish involves the gunmaker stripping back the rifle to wood and then re-oiling it, layering it up to produce a deep patina and shine, although customers can also request a satin finish. The gloss finish wears over time to satin with handling.
Anyone who has owned big calibre hunting rifles will have heard of the classic Mauser action and I wanted to handle the ones that will be used and see how smooth they were. I have picked up many cheaper hunting rifles from well-known manufacturers in a variety of gun shops and have regularly been disappointed by the actions. The Rigby gunmakers work their magic on the actions, polishing and smoothing any edges out, so I was suitably impressed by how beautifully the bolt and action married up.
I will be wanting to mount a scope on the Rigby rifle and if I can provide the scope in advance then they will check that it fits correctly on the rifle and doesn’t interfere in any way with the action as well as providing the appropriate quick release mounts. Rigby offer their own quick release mounts which are fitted directly into the rifle action rather than engaging with a weaver mount screwed to the action and I liked this, having seen what the recoil of heavy hunting calibre bullets, do to even the best scope mounts.
I also like shooting rifles over open sites and Rigby’s can zero the rifle to the exact style or weight of ammunition that I plan to use. I almost always either load my own or get custom loaded ammunition manufactured which is surprisingly no more expensive than factory ammo and all I will need to do is provide a couple of boxes to Rigby’s and they will make adjustments to the foresight which can be done with an Allen key and some skill, to ensure my Barnes 300 grain TSX will be zeroed at for instance 100 yards.
Rigby’s also offer colour case hardening on a variety of different metal parts of the rifle including the scope mounts which is a very traditional process, and although is not something that I am looking to add to the rifle, it was nevertheless interesting to see all of the different options available which are all clearly shown on their website, as well as hear more about the process.
Color case hardening is a heat-treating process and one of the earliest ways of hardening steel. Originally, this process used bone charcoal heated to an exact temperature. Afterwards, the parts were removed from the furnace and quenched. The process leaves a hard surface finish and a layer of colored carbon with beautiful color variations. While the process is very controlled and the results are predictable, the exact color combination and pattern is unique to each firearm.
Having handled a range of rifles, cycled actions, discussed sites, compared half a dozen different stock grades, Jamie took me next door to the workshop where team of gunmakers were engraving and finishing a variety of rifles. The base rifles including stock action & barrel come over from Germany but in the London workshop there then needs to be a significant amount of finishing work done to every part of the rifle depending upon how much custom work such as engraving and colour case hardening each customer has requested. It was fascinating to see one of the gunmakers working away at a huge steel action, gradually carving out the shape of a 500 Gibbs double.
The business end of a Rigby rifle London Best rifle beautifully crowned
By this stage of course I wanted to re-mortgage my house and order one rifle in every calibre with every possible upgrade , However my plan is to purchase an all-round calibre that I could use with lighter ammunition on large red deer or boar, but also take to Africa for plains game and Buffalo, so the .375 H&H fits that requirement.
The highlight of my trip to London was the opportunity to shoot the rifle. Rigby’s test fire and zero all of their rifles at the West London shooting school and they very generously provided me with a free hour with Chris one of their top rifle instructors. Rigby’s offered to let me shoot whatever calibre I wanted at their expense, but I preferred to spend my hour shooting a .375 H&H Big Game rifle.
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The rifle I was shooting had a red dot sight which is not quite how I would ever setup this rifle as it spoils the classic lines but it is perfect for this type of test shooting. I was not disappointed, and with 300 grain soft point Hornaday I could hold a tight group free-standing out to 50 yards with a smooth easily absorbed recoil and a nice light crisp trigger which is important with a large calibre hunting rifle to avoid developing any sort of flinch.
If I hadn’t already been certain on my calibre it would be nice to have tried other larger calibre Rigby rifles but the decision over your calibre is much more complex than how much it recoil is or how accurate it might be on a range and must be combination of personal choice and for what objective you are purchasing the rifle.
Experience true traditional hunting with the Rigby rifle, Highland Stalker
I came away from an excellent day, comfortable with what I had seen, convinced that I need to purchase one of these excellent big-game rifles and with a better understanding of the options available. Jamie and the team were most welcoming, and I would recommend this type of trip to any hunter who has a few hours to spare in London and who wants to handle and even shoot a classic English hunting rifle which is affordable.
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