Updated: Jun 12, 2020
Reading through my missives in the menu series on cartridges I realise I review the different offerings from the viewpoint of the Africa PH, using - or seeing them being used - here in Africa under our conditions of climate, and vegetation, and of course the animals likely to be hunted with each.
Having hunted in Colorado and Wyoming for a number of years I have not experienced much that would make me generally express different opinions for the hunter in the USA, but the reader must accept that this website is about hunting in Africa. Of course the three cartridges under discussion here have no serious need in the northern hemisphere and particularly not in North America - they were all three conceived with Africa in mind and nowhere else.
Africa temperatures even during mid winter hunting around the Tropic of Capricorn can be an over-pressure hazard when using high pressure cartridges with little taper towards the neck. The real risk is a case that can be difficult to extract. While under easy circumstances the consequence may only be a temporary embarrassment - but when hunting Cape buffalo or lion or elephant a difficult extraction can be more than only embarrassment.
In the discussion to follow the reader will notice that the aforementioned hazards certainly exist with the modern American offerings by Remington and Ruger. That is neither here not there for the visiting hunter as he will have his PH with him to take care of a difficult situation.
That being said, the visitor will still be well advised to not try and squeeze the last possible 5 meter/second velocity out of his Remington or Ruger: staying slightly below the Rigby muzzle velocities he will be safe in the Africa heat.
The .416 Rigby came into being in 1911 and was the first cartridge with a .416" bullet optimised at 400 gr for a launch velocity of 2,400 ft/sec and with a chamber pressure well below 50,000 psi (3,250 bar / 47,137 psi). Africa's heat really favour low pressure dangerous game cartridges that have a distinct taper towards the neck for easy extraction and a smooth, immediate reload after the shot. Overpressure by hot propellant inside the case, difficult extraction and wasting critical moments are hazards that the regular DG hunter and PH does not want to create because these bring on the risks of not being immediately prepared when one of the Big 6 was not killed with the first shot.
In my experience with the .416 Rigby it has all the boxes ticked for the best overall, dedicated dangerous game cartridge. Its penetration with monolithic solid bullets is equally well on elephant frontal brain shots as well as side-on heart shots, Cape buffalo side-on heart shots, and frontal shots on a charging lion with expanding but still intact bullets. Its recoil impulse is slow due to the large amount of propellant being burnt at low rate and low pressure, and of course it will never, ever cause an over pressure and extraction issue.
Almost 100 years younger than the .416 Rigby, the .416 Ruger - like its mother case (the .375 Ruger) - was a well thought out combined effort by Ruger and Hornady, and it still is a well managed union. A 400 gr bullet makes efficient use of the limited case capacity (100 gr water as opposed to about 130 gr of the .416 Rigby) without too high chamber pressure. Despite being marketed as such it may not actually meet the performance of the big Rigby and larger Remington offerings, but with good design monolithic bullets it will be a 100% adequate performer - certainly good enough for elephant brain shots and side-on shots on Cape buffalo. I see it in the same relative category as the 9,3x62 in relation to the .375 H&H.
Bullets kill an animal and not the shape of the cartridge. In Southern Africa there is repeated criticism of both the Hornady DGX and DGS bullets on Cape buffalo and elephant - and the patriotic American self loader may wish to rather employ either the 400 gr Barnes TSX or the Barnes Banded Solids. GS Custom Bullets, with their excellent flat nose solids and hollow point expanding series, even though being a South African design also have a production facility in the USA. Peregrine bullets are also available via an agent in the USA. The reader may read more about the best bullets for dangerous game here. My personal choice out here in South Africa would be the 400 gr Peregrine VRG-2 monolithic solid - just because I have good experience with this load in the .416 Rigby and am impressed with its performance on everything.
The case walls of the Ruger cartridge have considerably less taper than the old Rigby which may cause extraction problems from overpressure on a hot day in Africa. The reloader should consider his own environmental temperature and that at his destination when preparing his ammunition for his Cape buffalo safari, and load below 60,000 psi. With 400 gr Barnes bullets it seems that 2,250 ft/sec should be the maximum from a 24" barrel, and maybe 2,300 ft/sec if the hunter does not mind a propellant leaving a high muzzle pressure and burn-out only outside the muzzle. For various reasons I do not do that.
Being lathe turned the GS Custom bullets and the Peregrines have measurable less bore friction than the Barnes and display higher muzzle velocities for the same maximum pressure. I have no personal experience with the .416 Ruger but the proved penetration impulse per sq. mm bullet frontal area in the table at the end shows that it will be adequate for the job. It is a clever design, and conservative loading will allow the user good reliability.
The rapidity of an attack combined with extraction difficulties in a tight situation is shown in the video compilation below. The actual scene of the stuck case of a .416 Ruger is at the end, but the three preceeding videos are shown to appreciate the speed at which things happen:
During the late 1980s when there was a surge of DG safaris to Africa, there was a sudden growing demand for the .416 Rigby by local PHs. Superficial research indicated that American hunters after Cape buffalo and elephant and lion, arriving with their .460 Wbys and .458 Lotts and .470s (remember Peter H. Capstick?) felt a little uncomfortable when the rifle his PH carried was a little .375 H&H. That emotion was not lost on PHs and so the demands for custom built .416 Rigbys grew locally.
In time BRNO and CZ saw this and the excellent CZ 550 in .416 Rigby is a really affordable rifle of high quality and 100% reliability. Remington saw this upsurge when USA hunters bound for Africa were ordering the CZs in .416 Rigby and they thought hard about designing a proprietary .416 and eventually came up with the 8mm Rem Mag case necked out to accept the .416" bullet.
Also, Remington being Remington decided to outshoot the .416 Rigby and by that planned to dominate the growing .416 market - so they lobbied SAAMI to advise that it is safe to employ 65,000 psi in the chamber, a figure they needed in order to advertise that the .416 Remington Magnum shot a 400 gr bullet at 2,500 ft/sec, a full 100 ft/sec faster than the .416 Rigby. The USA market has always indicated that even marginal increased velocity sells (in the USA).
Not so in Africa because velocity has never impressed local hunters - repeated reliability, and particularly ease of extraction sell dangerous game rifles here. The knowledge soon spread that the .4i6 Remington Magnum with its almost parallel case walls brought here by visiting hunters repeatedly caused extraction difficulties and this only increased the demand for the 100 year old .416 Rigby in a controlled feed and extraction action. Local gunsmiths and CZ concentrated on the Rigby chambering. Lapua offered cases and because of Remington's original over-pressured chambers and extraction issues in Africa the 100 years old Rigby offering dominated the market and still does.
Subsequently Remington downloaded their factory ammunition to below 62,000 psi and duplicated the 2,400 ft/sec of the Rigby with a 400gr bullet, but the damage was done and the American .416 Remington will stay the USA built Africa DG cartridge used by a few dedicated original buyers and will never equal the sales of the now 110 year old .416 Rigby. That was a pity, because - like the .416 Ruger it really is a nice chambering - but logical thinking that it was not possible to improve on the .416 Rigby's overall ability and reliability with a case that has 17% lower capacity should have guided Remington marketeers.
Clever owners of the .416 Rem Mag load their cartridges before a trip to South Africa to nothing more than the Rigby level of performance and never experience extraction problems. A good quality 400 gr .416 bullet at 2,400 ft/sec is an impressive penetrator on Cape buffalo and elephant, and in the Remington chambering of 107 gr of water capacity achieves that at 62,500 psi, which is safe and ensures easy extraction. Had Remington marketing done this from the very beginning the cartridge may have even in Africa gained a foothold. For the .416 Remington Magnum "the bullet is through the church" as we say locally when poor judgement causes any plan to fail.
Only one PH or wildlife ranger needs to experience a dangerous situation and the word will be around the country's hunting organisations within a few days. Having said all the above - because the .416 Remington is potentially an excellent alternative to the big Rigby, Somchem, the local propellant manufacturer has done and published extensive velocity and pressure testing on this cartridge. Their tables should be the guidelines for American hunters planning a Cape buffalo safari.
In all the aforegoing I have tried to indicate that all three the present .416 chamberings are of equal excellence on Cape buffalo and elephant if best quality bullets are used and conservative muzzle velocities aimed for. For bullet choice have a look here.
I have personal experience of the .416 Rigby in far northern Mozambique on everything except lion and elephant. It is a most impressive performer and very close to my heart. The new kids on the Africa DG block mentioned above are excellent choices for the visiting hunter.
With elephant, lion, hyena, leopard, hippo and Cape buffalo all around, and often in camp, the CZ 550 .416 Rigby is always close at hand, even when preparing the steaks of the kudu shot yesterday. It is a 100% reliable rifle-cartridge combination fully trusted for any emergency.
So which cartridge for Cape buffalo is my own preference advised to the first time visitor on a hunt for Cape buffalo?
In my own experience with the .416 Rigby and the facts mentioned above I should say that any of the three .416 chamberings will be good enough - but the question is which cartridge I would advise the first time hunter after Cape buffalo. Without a doubt the .375 Holland & Holland. Ammunition is plentiful in every small country town and its ability is simply 100% of that of the bigger bores. It kills a Cape buffalo as neatly as does a .458 Lott or the .416 offerings. Its ammunition or components are affordable and its recoil is virtually non-existent so that the hunter can practice a lot before his trip and be able to put his bullet exactly where his PH advises him to. It also has a wider application than the .416 chamberings.
Some comparative penetration impulse tables will shortly be added).