20 Years With .416s
February 14, 2011
I can easily recall a time when the two most popular .416-caliber cartridges among American hunters were wildcats.
Left to Right: .416 Ruger, .416 Remington Magnum, .416 Rigby, and the .416
I can easily recall a time when the two most popular .416-caliber cartridges among American hunters were wildcats. One called the .416 Taylor was designed by writer Robert Chatfield-Taylor and is the .458 Winchester Magnum case necked down. Another called the .416 Hoffman was formed by its creator, professional hunter George Hoffman, by necking up the .375 H&H Magnum case and blowing it out to less body taper and a sharper shoulder angle. During the 1970s there were rumors of Winchester loading the .416 Taylor, and that prompted Ruger to build a couple of rifles on the Model 77 action chambered for it. The factory ammo never came, so the rifle never went into production. Like the .416 Taylor, the .416 Hoffman remains a wildcat today, although the .416 Remington Magnum is quite similar to it.
The .416 factory cartridges we have today got spooked from the bushes when Kimber of Oregon introduced its Model 88 African in .416 Rigby in 1987. During the very next year the .416 Remington Magnum appeared in the Model 700 Safari Classic, and it was followed closely by the introduction of the .416 Weatherby Magnum. Other .416s, such as those from Dakota and Lazzeroni, eventually came along, with the latest being the .416 Ruger from Hornady.
The .416 Rigby and I first got to know each other on a safari in Zambia in 1988. My hunting partner was Greg Warne, who in addition to being a close friend had founded Kimber of Oregon with his father (Jack) during the 1970s. The Kimber rifles we took along were in .270 Winchester, .416 Rigby, and .505 Gibbs. I shot most of my game with the .270, but did manage to give the .416 a good workout on Cape buffalo. That hunt was literally packed with excitement. I never knew exactly why, but elephants seemed to be on the rampage in that particular area and prior to our arrival, one of the professional hunter's skinners had been plucked from the back of a Land Rover and killed by a cow with a calf by her side. We spent about as much time dodging elephants we could not shoot as we did looking for something we could shoot.
Buffalo also seemed to be mad at the world. One morning we were startled by the loud scream from a tracker who had wandered off into the tall grass. On his way back he bumped into a buffalo bull that decided it might be fun to toss him around a bit. The poor fellow was lucky to escape with nothing more than severe bruises where the buff's boss had smashed into his back and ribs. Speaking in his Tonga dialect, he pleaded with my professional hunter, Johan Potgieter, to restore his dignity by allowing him to track down the great beast and have me shoot it with "the big rifle." And of course, I was most happy to oblige him.
In the .416 I used handloads with two 400-grain bullets, the Swift A-Frame and the monolithic solid from A-Square, both at 2,375 fps. Before those wonderful days in Africa were over, I had literally fallen in love with the .416 Rigby, and when it became available in the Ruger Model 77 Magnum in 1990, I immediately added one to my battery. Rifles chambered for the big cartridge are also available in the CZ 550 Safari Magnum as well as rifles made by various English makers, and I have a rifle barrel made by SSK Industries for the T/C Encore. Federal has five great .416 Rigby loads with various 400-grain bullets at velocities of 2,350 to 2,400 fps.
The author took this Cape buffalo with a Kimber Model 88 in .416 Rigby during a safari in Zambia in 1988.
.416 Remington Magnum
In 1987 Kenny Jarrett built the very first rifle in 7mm STW, the case of which I formed by necking down the 8mm Remington Magnum case. At that time I had also necked the same case both up and down to various other calibers, including .25, 6.5mm, .416, and .458. Since I have long had a soft spot for switch-barrel rifles, we decided to add a second barrel chambered for the .416-caliber cartridge to that rifle. I still have the barrel, and it is marked ".416 Experimental." We must have been on the right track because preproduction .416 Magnum ammunition sent to me by Remington in June 1988 worked perfectly in that barrel.
I hunted Alaska with the .416 Remington Magnum for the first time a few months before it was officially introduced in November 1988. The Remington ammo I hunted with was loaded with Swift 400-grain A-Frame bullets at 2,400 fps. Since I had no bear permit, I settled for a moose.
The Alaska moose can weigh upward of a ton on the hoof, so the hunt turned out to be a great field test for a new cartridge. Regardless of what cartridge you use or how precisely you place a good bullet, it always takes a moose awhile to discover he is dead. After taking my bullet through the lungs, the huge bull stumbled forward for a couple of steps and then paused for what seemed like a very long time before toppling over like a giant, four-legged bowling pin.
I still have the Model 700 Safari Classic I used on that hunt, and it has since been to Africa on a couple of occasions. It has also spent some time in Australia where it did a great job of reducing the Asiatic buffalo population. I have also found it to be deadly on nilgai, a Texas import that might just be the most bulletproof animal in North America.
As might be expected, I am as fond of that rifle as I am of the cartridge for which it is chambered. Oddly enough, Remington no longer offers a standard-production rifle in .416 Magnum, although the company still offers its excellent factory load with the Swift 400-grain A-Frame bullet. In addition, five loadings with various 400-grain bullets are available from Federal, and Blaser, Jarrett, and Sako chamber rifles for it.
This Model 700 in .416 Remington Magnum has served well, from a 1988 moose hunt in Alaska to a recent Asiatic buffalo hunt in Australia.
.416 Weatherby Magnum
In the past, Shooting Times would occasionally run sweepstakes that awarded some really nice goodies to readers whose names got drawn from the pot. Most coveted of all the prizes were hunts in various parts of the world with the winner accompanied by a staff writer of the magazine. I was fortunate to host a half-dozen or so of those hunts, and one that
will always stand out in my mind was a 14-day safari in Zambia in 1990. The reader who accompanied me on the hunt was William McQueen from La Mirada, California, and a nicer person you will never meet. As I recall, he used a rifle in .375 H&H Magnum. Since Weatherby was a cosponsor of that particular adventure, and since the company had only recently introduced its .416 Magnum, I decided to try the caliber out in a Mark V rifle. Prior to heading to the Dark Continent I replaced its wooden stock with a Griffin & Howe-style fiberglass stock made by McMillan. I also took a rifle in .577 Nitro Express, but it was always in the wrong place at the wrong time, so I ended up shooting everything with the Weatherby.
I took three different handloads on that wonderful adventure, and the one I used most consisted of the Federal 215 primer and 117.0 grains of Reloder 22 behind the Swift 400-grain A-Frame for a muzzle velocity of 2,675 fps. It hammered everything I shot so hard I ended up using only nine cartridges to bag nine animals, which included lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, zebra, and various antelope. The .416 Weatherby Magnum is far more cartridge than actually needed for leopard, but it proved to be ideal for what turned out to be a one-rifle safari with buffalo at the top of the menu. I have since used that rifle on other hunts, and its performance on game has yet to fall below excellent.
The Weatherby Mark V is still available in .416 Weatherby Magnum, and the company continues to offer ammo with various 400-grain bullets loaded to a velocity of 2,700 fps. That's a good 300 fps faster than is needed for maximum penetration with solids, even on game as large as elephant, but when using softnose bullets capable of holding together and penetrating, the effect of extra speed on game up to the size of buffalo is easy to see.
Bill Ruger was an admirer of many things classic, and among them was the grand old .416 Rigby. Introduced around 1911 as a proprietary cartridge by English rifle builder John Rigby, it eventually became a favorite of Harry Selby and other African professional hunters who used big-bore rifles to prevent their clientele from being eaten or gored by dangerous game. Aware of Ruger's fondness for the caliber, James Bell--who owned a custom cartridge case manufacturing company called Bell Brass--made a limited run of cases with the .416 Ruger headstamp. The headstamping also included "16" to indicate Ruger's birth year of 1916 and "97" to indicate the year the cases were made. Employees who worked for Ruger secretly built a custom rifle on the No. 1 single-shot action chambered for the cartridge and presented it to him on his 75th birthday.
On its first safari, this Weatherby Mark V in .416 Weatherby Magnum bagged nine animals with nine cartridges, including lion, leopard, and Cape buffalo.
Fast-forward to the present, and we have a second .416 cartridge to wear the Ruger name. Whereas the first .416 Ruger was quite similar to the .416 Rigby, the one we have today was codeveloped from scratch by Hornady and Ruger. It and the .375 Ruger case on which the .416 is based had long been needed by Ruger due to the fact that with the exception of the limited-production Magnum version of the Model 77, which is considerably more expensive than the standard version, the company has never had an action long enough to handle cartridges such as the .375 H&H Magnum and the .416 Remington Magnum. Hornady solved the problem by eliminating the belt of the H&H case and increasing body diameter to the same as that of the belt. The increase in capacity allowed the case to be about 0.28 inch shorter than the .416 Remington case, yet powder capacity of the two is close to the same. Loaded by Hornady with 400-grain DGX softnose and DGS solid bullets, the .416 Ruger is rated at 2,400 fps in a 24-inch barrel, which is standard for the .416 Remington Magnum and the .416 Rigby. According to Ruger, velocity is reduced to 2,200 fps in the 20-inch barrel of the Model 77 Hawkeye, and while there are times and places when and where a short barrel is nice to have, I'd like to see an optional 24-inch barrel offered for that rifle.
I have not yet tried the relatively new .416 Ruger in the field, but since it duplicates the performance of the time-proven Rigby cartridge, I don't have to try it on game to know how good it is.
The .416s are popular today because they are more effective on game than smaller calibers and more comfortable to shoot than those of larger calibers. They can also be incredibly accurate. Years ago I shot a couple of Jarrett rifles in .416 Remington Magnum and both consistently squeezed three bullets into half an inch for five shots at 100 yards. That's darn good for a cartridge powerful enough to handle any big-game animal on the planet.