If price is no object, you can’t do much better than these large-caliber dream guns for dangerous game hunting.
I was raised in a household where money was tight; we never did without, nor were we unhappy, but there was little money for frivolity. My mother had, and still has, the ability to stroll into a nearly new shop and come out with head held high, looking like one of the classiest ladies I’ve ever seen. As it translated into the hunting facet of our lives, firearms were meat-getters; my father – Ol’ Grumpy Pants – had a meager assortment of guns, each with their designated purpose, and he views a gun in the same manner today. “They’re bullet launchers,” he quips, in that stern voice that commands attention in any room, “you take any one of those ‘fancy-wood’ rifles and I’ll put it up against my Mossberg 100A .308 Winchester. I’ll kill anything they will.” He’s not wrong, and I still wouldn’t want to be within 500 yards of the old man with that rifle in hand.
However, I’d secretly peruse whatever hunting magazines we had around, wide eyed and soaking it all in like a dry sponge. I remember the advertisement, where an investor would part with a sum of money and receive a Weatherby Mark V, all shiny with the white-line spacers, and I’d stare in wonder at the possibilities of holding such a firearm in my hands one day. I was a sucker for the Remington catalog, spending my time investigating the different model numbers and available calibers, slowly piecing the puzzle together regarding the various available calibers and their applications. That curiosity, coupled with a half-million questions hurled at GP, was the germination of a lifelong love of firearms and cartridges – and adulthood focused on hunting abroad.
As a younger man, I’d save for years sometimes to buy a rifle, and they became very dear to me, though GP insisted I was foolish for having “all those damned different calibers, when all you need is a good .308.” Sorry Pop, I’m hooked and no hay remedio.
I’m happy to report that my daydream fuel has become more refined since I was that young man staring at a Weatherby advert; and I’ll also confess having whetted my appetite for fine rifles. So, I thought it’d be fun to do a piece on those big-bore guns that fuel daydreams.
This is in no way disrespectful to the common firearms we all use, but as a fun piece – eye candy, if you will. I've had the privilege of shooting, and even hunting with some of these guns; others remain an enigma, and a personal goal for me. Let’s begin the tour of some dream guns.
While some insist that the magazine rifle lacks the pedigree and luster of the double rifle, there’s no denying that they are much more affordable and accessible than a double. Yes, it’s true that there’s no faster second shot than a double rifle, but there’s no faster third shot than a turnbolt. And while the modern trends of weatherproof coatings and synthetic stocks hold a firm grip in today’s market, holding a finely crafted bolt gun, stocked in fine walnut and blued to a warm hue is a lovely experience. Generally speaking, the bolt-action rifles are considerably cheaper in comparison to the doubles, but they can still command a high price and raise the eyebrows of any connoisseur of firearms.
I love bolt guns. Bolt guns of all shape and size, color and pedigree, caliber and configuration. Of all the big-bore bolt guns I’ve ever owned, shot or handled, this one is far and away my favorite. The Express uses a proprietary action and magazine individually designed for each particular cartridge, combined with a hammer-forged Krupp steel barrel for an utterly reliable package. The stock is another wonder by Ralf Martini – I’d say he truly knows his way around a piece of walnut – and has the styling of the classic British rifles; open pistol grip, slender, tapering forend, geometry perfect for keeping the rifle weight between the hands. A bold front bead nestles quickly and easily in the wide safari ‘V’ sight, which is regulated for 50 yards, with a complimentary flip-up 100-yard rear sight. My own Express is chambered in .404 Jeffery, and feeds and extracts like a dream. This rifle has taken elephant and buffalo, in addition to several plains game species at a variety of ranges. The Express bolt is one of the toughest available, being larger in diameter than the Mauser or even the Brevex, having a diameter of 0.780 inch. Like the Model 89B double gun, the German engineering and British styling are mated in such a manner as to make an instant classic. Appointments like a straight bolt handle; oversized trigger guard; and proper red recoil pad, combined with a three-position safety make this a high-end, very use-able rifle that will make the owner proud for a lifetime. If I had to choose one rifle from my collection, to spend the rest of my days with, it’d be the Express .404; it fits me like a damned glove. The Express starts at just under $10,000.00 and the price goes upward, depending on which level of color case hardening and engraving you choose.
If you enjoy big-bore rifles, I’m certain you’re familiar with the reputation of the .416 Rigby, made famous in what may be the best safari book ever written: Robert Ruark’s “Horn of the Hunter.” During the original run of Rigby’s .416 rifles – from 1912 to the Second World War – less than 200 were produced, but Ruark’s book and the writing of John “Pondoro” Taylor made the cartridge’s reputation. Upon Rigby’s recent return to London, they proudly announced the return of the Rigby .416 in its Rigby Big Game rifle. Returning to the classic configuration of a Mauser Magnum barreled action, finely stocked and available in either single square bridge or double square bridge configuration, the Rigby Big Game rifle is a throwback to the classic Rigby rifles of the early 20th century. Rather than the flag safety of the elder Mauser actions, the Rigby Big Game is fitted with a horizontal, three-position safety in the fashion of the Winchester 70. While even the base models are an attractive looking affair, the higher-end Rigby Big Game is available with appointments that will stun. Color-case hardening, gold inlay, pristine engraving and gorgeous furniture are all available, driving the base model price of around $14,000.00 up to a hefty sum of $36,000.00. I’ve had the pleasure of shooting the Rigby Big Game – you can check the John Rigby & Co. Facebook page for a video of Simon Barr and Yours Truly at the SHOT Show – and I can report that it’s both accurate and pleasant to shoot. Holding a rifle of this pedigree is an awesome opportunity, and I now understand why Harry Selby swore by his Rigby for so many decades.
Westley Richards offers a fully bespoke rifle experience, where you may choose your options in a fine British turnbolt. If you haven’t had the chance to take a look at the bolt guns that Westley is producing, you really need to hop on over to the website for some serious drool fuel. Of course, I’d want mine in a .318 Westley Richards takedown, which is only second to choosing the .425 Westley Richards – a big game gem in its own right – with the extended trigger tang and, of course, a gold oval with my initials in it. I’d need an island sight with one fixed, wide ‘V’, and a flip-up sight for further distances, and removable scope rings, and of course the WR patented flip-up, engraved, hooded front sight. All told, my theoretical bill totaled just under $45,000.00 – not bad for a daydream budget.
Here Rigby offers a similar bespoke experience, allowing the customer to pick and choose from a variety of options, including caliber, stock length and wood grade, gold inlays, scroll pattern, choice of engraved animal, custom oak/leather/canvas case, and even the possibility of a takedown configuration is possible. Since we’re playing daydream here – alright, perhaps I’m a wee bit serious about it – I put my own dream rifle together on the Rigby website. I chose a classic .416 Rigby for the caliber – it seemed sacrilegious not to – and a decent grade of wood, and a few of the gold inlays, some color case hardening on the rings, receiver and floor plate, and of course a classy case. I tossed in the peep sight on the cocking piece, and tallied up the total figure; it was just north of $55,000.00. Hey, if you’re going to dream, dream big, right?
Nothing screams “adventure” to me as much as a finely crafted double rifle. Images of early 20th century explorers and ivory-hunters, with big-bore double over their shoulders, were some of the most inspiring to me. They're not cheap, and they have little opportunity to be used to the fullest extent here in the States, but they sure are cool!
Perhaps the youngest of the classic gun makers, Heym – founded in 1865 – has made quite a splash among the Professional Hunters with its Model 88B. It’s a sound design, and as it was offered in a very plain configuration, it became very appealing to those on a budget. The 88B is a good rifle, though perhaps a bit blocky in the hand. Taking comments in stride from many users, Heym took a look at many of the classic double rifles of the early 20th century, and incorporated those details into the Model 89B. Using the talents of stockmaker Ralf Martini to redesign the 88B’s stock – opening the pistol grip and generally trimming down the overall shape – the 89B is a rounded action boxlock, with a solid crossbolt, and lighter barrel contour, for near perfect balance. This is one double rifle I can attest to having spent a good amount of time with; I was lucky enough to be the first hunter to take the gun to Africa. Chambered in the classic .450/400 3” NE, the 89B cleanly took an old Cape buffalo bull in Mozambique’s Coutada 11, on a classic hunt in the forest/savannah, and carried and shot like a dream. Heym is offering the 89B in three different grades of engraving, with the option of color case hardening. Though I have handled double rifles with much more expensive price tags, the Heym 89B gives the features and feel of the classic British guns of a century ago, with the benefit of modern steel and impeccable German engineering. Prices start at $23,000.00
The writings of Ernest Hemingway and Captain Jimmy Sutherland evoke images of wild Africa and a Westley Richards double. Both of these gentlemen carried .577 NE doubles, and while I’ve seen but not held Papa’s gun, I don’t know what became of Sutherland’s. Westley Richards is still going strong, and if you’re well heeled enough, you can order a brand new droplock, stocked to fit your frame. Mind you, Westley Richards is not just a name – though the pedigree is impeccable – the shop is a true, bespoke rifle factory. Over 600 hours of work is poured into each rifle, so I feel comfortable saying that they are a custom affair. With a hand detachable sidelock, spare front beads and strikers, a Westley Richards double should be at the top of anyone’s just-won-the-lottery list. It’s available with engraving that would make Michelangelo blush. Prices start at about $85,000.00.
The simple mention of the words Holland & Holland evokes images of the heyday of the British Empire, with Dukes and Princes visiting their colonies as sportsmen, with fine steel and walnut in hand. Though famous today for the development of such gems as the .375 Holland & Holland Belted Magnum – the very staple of African shooting – and the Super .30, or .300 H&H, the guns of Holland & Holland, dating back to 1835, were and are nothing shy of spectacular. The Holland & Holland Royal double rifle is the flagship of the fleet, giving a sportsman both rock solid reliability and a level of elegance that ranks among the finest ever produced. While many famous hunters have embraced the H&H Royal, among the most famous is the .500/450 3¼” presented to former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt for his 1909-1910 safari chronicled in African Game Trails. Chief among the presenters was a Mr. E.N. Buxton, and among those who were part of the gift were none other than elephant hunter F.C. Selous and Lt.-Col. John Henry Patterson, famous for killing the Man Eaters of Tsavo. The Royal is still in production today, and one can have a rifle made to order. I’ll quote Teddy: “I do not believe there is any better weapon for heavy game.” The price of an H&H Royal is into six-figures, with used models selling for as much as $90,000.00. Owning a Holland & Holland Royal is owning a piece of history, and hunting with one is a dream come true.
2. The Purdey Double
Among the fine British rifle makers, the name of Purdey ranks high, and with good reason: A Purdey double rifle is among the prettiest you’ll ever see. Founded in 1814, the Purdey name accompanied many of the British sportsmen into the wilds of Africa and India during the heyday of safari and shikar. Beside the fact that James Purdey the Younger coined the phrase “Express Rifle” – in deference to the power and speed of an express train – Purdey is still up and running, making excellent rifles. They come with all the proper appointments: choice of splinter or beaver-tail forend, pistol grip cap with trap-door compartment, fine rose and scroll engraving, extended bottom and top strap, et cetera. Available in .375, .470 NE, .500 NE and the behemoth .600 NE – each on an appropriate action size – the Purdey double is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime firearm. Equally famous for their high-end shotguns, if a Purdey double rifle doesn’t speak volumes to you, you may need to check your pulse.
John Rigby & Co. has a long and triumphant history, and though it’s gone through a number of recent ownership changes since opening in 1775 – including a trip to America and back across the pond – it’s back in London, where it belongs. With the return to London, came the return of some of the classic rifles, like the famous Rising Bite double. Technically speaking, a rising bite action is difficult and costly to produce, and Rigby ceased standard production in 1910, offering the rifle as a custom shop option until 1932. Upon Rigby’s return to London, a pristine 1902 model – previously presented to an Indian Maharana – was obtained and used as the model to develop the new version. Rigby’s re-release of the Rising Bite is a good thing, as it resurrects a piece of firearms history, and if you are looking for a truly collectable rifle, this may be your baby. The original was produced in .470 NE, but the Rising Bite is now also available in .416 Rigby, .450 NE, .500 NE, .577 NE and .600 NE. Engraving for the color-case hardened Rising Bite is masterfully done by Roland Baptiste of Belgium, giving the perfect amount of class to the already classic configuration. Prices begin at $118,000.00, according to the latest exchange rate.
Now, I realize that not everyone is rushing out to order a rifle that costs well into the five, or in the lower six figures, but it sure is fun to daydream about walking off into the African savannah with just such a finely crafted firearm over your shoulder, isn’t it? Perhaps I’ll see you in the line for the MegaMillions tickets…