Beauty is only half the allure of the Rigby Highland Stalker. Its accuracy and reliability are what cement the bolt-action as worth passing down generation to generation.
What Sets The Rigby Highland Stalker Apart From Other Hunting Rifles:
- Mauser M98 action with a three-position wing safety to facilitate the low mounting of a riflescope.
- Hooded front sight mated to a rear island sight with three leaves, regulated for 65, 150 and 250 yards.
- Vintage feeling straight bolt.
- Longer European style length-of-pull, measuring 14¼ inches.
- Minimum of Grade 5 wood stock with sweeping pistol grip with a rounded cap.
I was at the backyard range examining the groups from the rifle I was testing — which happened to be seriously small (the groups, not the gun) — when the phone rang. Actually, it buzzed, it and produced some sort of electronic tune simultaneously … but you get the point. On the other end of the magic box was my good buddy, Texas hunting guide and African Professional Hunter Jay Leyendecker.
“Que pasa, amigo?” I uttered, in my best Spanglish. Jay, you see, speaks fluent Spanish, but I do not, so I tease him as best I can.
“Not much, bro, what are you doing?” It’s usually at this point where the conversation turns to safari, rifles or some combination of the two. The tradition would continue for this conversation.
“Doing some accuracy testing on this sweet Rigby Highland Stalker,” I reported. “This little beast just printed a 0.34-inch group.”
“Good, you can bring it down to Texas with you for a deer hunt this December.” This was turning out to be a pretty good afternoon. Not often do you print a tiny little group and then immediately get an invite to one of the greatest whitetail areas, with a fantastic guide. Needless to say, I immediately accepted Jay’s offer and zeroed the rifle for the upcoming deer season.
The Highland Stalker
The rifle was one of the sweetest deer rifles to come along in quite some time: the Highland Stalker from John Rigby & Co. of London, England. Inspired by the vintage Rigby rifles produced at the turn of the 20th century, the Highland Stalker is made in much the same manner as they were in the Edwardian era.
The action is a Mauser M98 (as it was back then), but with a three-position wing safety instead of the traditional flag safety in order to facilitate the low mounting of a riflescope. A hooded front sight mates up to a rear island sight with three leaves, regulated for 65, 150 and 250 yards. The straight bolt gives an immediate vintage feel, and in spite of modern construction methods, just working that action evokes the feel of a vintage Mauser.
Saving the best for last, the Rigby stock is most definitely a winner. Using an open, sweeping pistol grip with a rounded cap, the Highland Stalker feels perfect from just about any field position. I most definitely prefer the feel of a vintage British stock over just about anything — there’s something special in their dimensions that seems to fit me much better than most of the American stock designs.
The Highland Stalker has a length-of-pull measuring 14¼ inches, which is significantly longer than the common American rifle, and that fits me like a glove, especially with lighter-weight clothing. Rigby puts a minimum of Grade 5 wood on their rifles, and the test model I received had a pleasant — if not over the top — figure to the walnut. The comb is probably more properly suited for use with the iron sights, but using a scope doesn’t feel the least bit unnatural. From the first time I shouldered this rifle at the Dallas Safari Club Show in 2017, it felt like an old friend.
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The rifle was chambered in .275 Rigby; it was the Hornady Custom 140-grain InterLock load that shot so well from this rifle. The Leupold VX-6 2-12x scope offers a great balance of up-close and distant shooting, as well as light weight and balance. Though I’d used this model of rifle before — on a celebratory hunt in the Scottish Highlands for red stag — it was chambered in .30-06 Springfield.
The .275 Rigby may be better known as the 7x57mm Mauser. It is, in the opinion of this author, one of the best choices for whitetail deer and more than suitable for many other animals around the globe. Driving a 140-grain bullet to 2,680 fps, it’s fast enough for a respectable trajectory yet mild enough to allow the use of cup-and-core bullets, even on close shots.
The entire rig — rifle, cartridge and scope — made a balanced choice for the brush country of South Texas, where in one day you might find yourself glassing the open senderos for cruising bucks where a longer shot would probably be the norm, to rattling bucks where you might end up shooting one off your shoes, to sitting in a blind with a more traditional 100-yard shot. The 30mm main tube of the Leupold VX-6 gives all sorts of light, and the magnification range — a true 2-12x — covers the spectrum as far as my hunting needs are concerned.
From Beauty To Utility
I met Jay and his pal Charlie Maynard — a young Texas guide who has a good head on his shoulders — at the gate of the Santa Rosa Ranch in Uvalde. It belongs to Mr. Freddy Longoria, and it’s 6,000 acres of heaven. The ranch is bisected by the Rio Frio river, and it’s literally crawling with whitetail deer, Rio Grande turkeys and feral hogs.
Senor Longoria — a gentleman in every sense of the word — assembles a group of his friends each year for what he calls the “Viejo” hunt; many of these gents were at least my father’s age, but you couldn’t assemble a nicer group of people if you tried. The accommodations were, well … I guess “stunning” would be fitting.
It was a 3-day hunt, with Jay and Charlie (and a couple of ranch hands) acting as guides for the group of hunters. I’d be tagging along with Jay and a fellow hunter named Rick, who wouldn’t arrive until the second day. As a deer hunter from New York, where the deer densities are nothing like what they have in Texas, I sat like a Drahthaar on point, quivering at the sight of each 10-point buck that wandered past the blind, with Jay shaking his head and giggling to himself. “We can do better.” This was going to be tough.
Day No. 2 greeted us with a downpour, with the forecast showing the potential for almost 3 inches of rain. The morning sit didn’t result in any shooting, but on the way back to the lodge we approached another blind and feeder, glassing from a distance.
“Pigs.” That one simple syllable put me into attack mode; I love to hunt hogs, on any continent, any time. I boiled out of the truck, loaded the Rigby and swung on the big black boar at the rear of the group, running at just over 100 yards out. The trigger broke, and I heard the bullet strike, though the boar never broke stride and continued into the famous thick Texas brush. Jay and I followed his tracks as the rain began to intensify.
If you’ve never hunted South Texas, allow me to inform you that everything has thorns on it. So, through the thorns we tracked, for about 75 yards, when Jay lost the tracks in the pouring rain. It was then I heard the slightest grunt — what turned out to be the death rattle of the boar. He was just under 200 pounds with good cutters; the Highland Stalker did its job, though I hit him just a bit back of where I intended.
Just after lunch, Jay, Charlie and I headed out to check a blind in preparation for the evening hunt. Deer activity at 1 pm is usually not the strongest, especially in midst of a deluge, but any good deer hunter will attest to the magnetism of a hot doe. And hot she was; when she crossed the road, he followed like a heat-seeking missile, all nine beautiful points of him pausing just long enough to let us glass him. “Get out. Follow me, and stay low.” Aye, sir.
We hugged the edge of the ranch road, hunched as low as possible, until we reached the apex of the curve, giving us a view down the straight section of the road. Like a pair of fighter pilots, the doe tried to evade and the buck pursued. She paused, he paused, and the crosshairs settled just behind the big buck’s shoulder. No sooner had the trigger broke and he was down for good: tall-racked, with split tines, a kicker off the back of the right base, and enough character for a lifetime. It was then that I got the shakes. The rain even lightened up long enough for us to get some good photos.
Hunting With An Heirloom
There are many excellent rifles on the market, and they come with a wide variety of price tags. If a hunter wanted a rifle that he or she could very easily hand down for generations to use, the Rigby Highland Stalker could possibly be one of the best choices. With a street price of just under $10,000, this rifle is not exactly a kick-around model — I felt more than a bit of remorse taking it out in a Texas rainstorm — but it’s definitely made to be used. The Highland Stalker, like the Rigby rifles of a century ago, will mellow with age and become better with every scratch and ding earned in the field.
This particular rifle I brought with me to Texas proved to be one of the most accurate factory rifles I’ve ever shot. The .275 Rigby/7x57mm Mauser isn’t known for hair-splitting accuracy, especially with factory ammunition, but this one is a shooter, with three different loads printing sub-MOA groups. Could you imagine inheriting a rifle as special as this, with the added bonus of having a family member’s hunting memories ingrained within? To me, that would be one of the greatest honors in the hunting world.
Of course, the price tag of a rifle is rather insignificant in comparison to the memories that a loved one makes. But, if you’ve ever had the pleasure of handling a vintage Rigby — and there was that 1917 .350 Rigby Magnum takedown I got to shoot in Scotland that made a lasting impression — you can immediately sense how special their design is. Unfortunately, this Rigby has to go back, but the experience of hunting with such a fantastic rifle will never be forgotten.