From the first, the .416 Rigby was loaded properly. The soft-nose bullet would mushroom heavily; the solid’s lead-antimony core was in a steel jacket that thickened at the nose for maximum penetration with minimal deformation. The case had neither rim nor belt and was generously roomy, with one moderate but distinct shoulder, well below the long neck. This virtually guaranteed accurate headspacing, smooth feeding and extraction, a secure grip on the bullet and, finally, relatively modest chamber pressures and tolerable recoil. Now a century old, the .416 Rigby remains the most successful heavy bolt-action round ever made. Steve Helsley photo.

The Ageless .416 Rigby


On August 29, 1912, Colonels A. Wools-Sampson and R.W. Schumacher paid a visit to John Rigby & Co. (Gunmakers) Ltd., then at 43 Sackville Street in London. When they left, they were the no-doubt proud owners of Rigby “Big Game” bolt-action rifles Nos. 3917 and 3918. Had they ordered their guns, or did they just get lucky and happen to find them there?

One of the first two new bolt-action Rigby rifles, which debuted at SCI 2012 is a .416 on a Prechtl Mauser barreled action. It was stocked and finished by Paul Roberts in London and bear London proof marks. Engraving is by Ken Hunt, as part of Rigby’s new deluxe St. James Series. Jonathan Green photos.
One of the first two new bolt-action Rigby rifles, which debuted at SCI 2012 is a .416 on a Prechtl Mauser barreled action. It was stocked and finished by Paul Roberts in London and bear London proof marks. Engraving is by Ken Hunt, as part of Rigby’s new deluxe St. James Series. Jonathan Green photos.

SCI2_-helselySchumacher was chairman of South Africa’s Central Mining & Investment Corporation (later Rand Mines, Ltd.) and an honorary colonel in the Witwatersrand Rifles. Wools-Sampson had been a gold miner before serving with distinction in the Boer War, and was described by Arthur Conan Doyle as a “cool headed soldier.” Both gentlemen paid £26/5s for their rifles–slightly more than one-third the price of a sidelock ejector double–and bought identical accessories and ammunition. Whether they knew it or not, they walked away with the first two Rigby .416s, a then-new caliber that would have a powerful impact, so to speak, on big-game hunting.

Both the cartridge and its rifles were the result of several converging streams of development in firearms technology. Twenty-five years earlier, European powers had been locked in an arms race. Poudre B, the smokeless gunpowder developed by Paul Vieille in France during the mid-1880s, could drive the then-new jacketed, spire-point bullets at higher velocities and with more energy to longer effective ranges than anything previous. To use those advances, Continental infantries rapidly adopted bolt-action repeating rifles by Lebel, Mannlicher, Mauser and Mosin. British troops had breech-loaders too, but only single-shots firing blackpowder and plain lead bullets. To rectify that deplorable situation, in 1887 Queen Victoria’s government appointed John Rigby Superintendent of the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock, in North London, and charged him with overseeing Britain’s transition to a modern military arm. And that he did. When Rigby returned to the family firm in 1894 at the age of 65, the .303 Enfield was the Empire’s new battle rifle and round. It stayed in official service until 1957.

This third John Rigby, born in Dublin in 1829, was not only the grandson of the founder of the gunmaking company, he was also an international champion match shooter as well as a successful sporting gun maker and cartridge designer. His experience at Enfield put him on the leading edge of military firearms development with state-of-the-art knowledge of cases, powders, primers, bullets, sights, barrel making and rifling, as well as every aspect of magazine-rifle design and production. By the late 1890s, British hunters and target shooters had developed a fancy for civilian versions of their own Lee-Enfield and Austrian Mannlicher bolt-action rifles, but John Rigby had his eye on the Mauser, which was constantly being redesigned and improved in Germany.

The scoped .275 was built on an original Oberndorf Mauser action.
The scoped .275 was built on an original Oberndorf Mauser action.

The Rigby company sold its first Mauser sporters in 1897. Those were transitional models that quickly evolved into the Gewehr 1898, the now-legendary G98. And in 1898, Rigby became the exclusive importer and distributor of Mauser rifles, actions, barreled actions and components in the British Empire.

The G98 was designed for high-performance rimless military rounds such as the 7x57mm. Rigby adopted both rifle and cartridge almost intact, substituting only stocks, slings, sights, and bullets suitable for hunting, and Anglicizing the cartridge designation to .275. It became the company’s bestseller for decades.

SCI4(416)_-helselyJust a year later in 1899, Rigby introduced a new rimmed round, the .400/.350, for single-shot and double rifles. At 3.6 inches overall, the cartridge was too long for bolt-actions, but Rigby saw an opportunity and asked Mauser to modify the G98 to suit. The factory obligingly lengthened the magazine well and stretched the bolt from 6.165 inches to 6.77 inches to cover it. Rigby dubbed it the Magnum Mauser, and created a slightly hotrodded magazine-rifle version of the .400/.350 for it.

Rigby lightened the bullet to 225 grains and put it in a new rimless case grooved for the claw extractor of a bolt-action, and called the result the .350 Magnum. With a muzzle velocity of 2,580 feet per second, it generated some 3,400 foot-pounds of energy. John Taylor, the ivory hunter who for 30 years field-tested nearly every rifle/cartridge combination that ever went on safari, called the .350 Rigby Magnum “easily the most widely used British medium bore throughout Africa.”

Rigby, however, was hardly the only gunmaker in Britain to adopt Mauser actions, and Europe’s sporting-gun makers were engaged in their own arms race, outdoing each other with ever more powerful and flatter-shooting cartridges for the then-new repeating rifles. Another London rifle specialist named William J. Jeffery had introduced the flanged .400 Nitro Express in 1902, and followed it up in 1909 with a rimless equivalent for the Mauser called the .404 Jeffery. Two years later, drawing upon what it had learned in designing the .350 Magnum (as well as its ground-breaking .450NE of 1898), Rigby one-upped Jeffery, and everyone else, with the first bolt-action that could perform on par with break-action big-game rifles: the .416.

With a hefty 410-grain round-nose bullet leaving the barrel at 2,370 feet per second and packing 5,100 foot-pounds of energy, it was a truly formidable cartridge. (The current standard is a 400-grain bullet at 2,400 fps and 5,115 ft.-lbs.) Rigby eventually labeled the gun the Model No. 5 .416 Bore “Big Game” Rifle. Holland & Holland eclipsed Rigby’s .350 with its .375 Magnum, also Mauser-based, the following year, but Rigby already owned the high ground.

SCI5_-helsely
The Model No. 5 .416 Bore Big Game rifle as it appeared in Rigby’s 1924 catalog. It cost only about one-third as much as a sidelock ejector Nitro Express double rifle, but offered as much or more firepower. Photo courtesy of Cornell Publications.

The .416 Rigby’s fame and great success stemmed from much more than mere numbers. From the first it was loaded with proper bullets: The soft-nose would mushroom heavily in a large beast and was more apt to stay in the body. That meant it had dumped all its energy and couldn’t wound another animal standing behind. The solid bullet was exactly that, its lead-antimony core securely clad in a steel jacket that thickened at the nose for maximum penetration through heavy bone with minimal, if any, deformation. The bullet also has an excellent sectional density of .338, which is a key performance factor.

According to Art Alphin’s Penetration Index, the .416 will get deeper into a critter than the .470 or the .500 Nitro Express. You may think your Professional Hunter shoots a .416 Rigby because he can’t afford a big double, but in fact it’s probably because experience has taught him that it’s a stone-dead killer.

In 1948, John Taylor wondered in print if Rigby had designed the full-metal-jacket bullet for the .416. The answer is yes, and the documentation is in a letter of October 3, 1911 from John Rigby to ammunition-maker Kynoch, which reads in part “. . . we require the [.416] solids to be covered as you know with a strong steel Envelope, thick at point, and we presume you are at work on these.”

SCI6_-helsely
A small part of the Mauser factory in Oberndorf before the First World War. An early Rigby barreled action with a slant-box magazine (for rimmed cartridges) can be seen in the rack. Photo courtesy of Jon Speed.

Rigby’s new .416 case was practically perfect too. It had neither rim nor belt and was generously roomy, with one moderate but distinct shoulder formed into it, well below the long neck. All that virtually guaranteed accurate headspacing, smooth feeding, and extraction, a secure grip on the bullet and, finally, relatively modest chamber pressure and tolerable recoil.

Now a century old, the .416 Rigby remains the most successful heavy bolt-action round ever made. It became a benchmark–one of those serendipitous combinations of interior and exterior ballistics, physical properties and downrange performance that inspired much imitation.

Gottfried Prechtl, left, and Marc Newton, assistant manager of J. Roberts & Son (Gunmaker) Ltd., examining Mauser extractors, which are machined from the round billet of steel on the table. Steve Helsley photo.
Gottfried Prechtl, left, and Marc Newton, assistant manager of J. Roberts & Son (Gunmaker) Ltd., examining Mauser extractors, which are machined from the round billet of steel on the table. Steve Helsley photo.

The .416 magazine rifle was such an appealing package that we assume Rigby built a lot of them. Not so. According to the ledgers, just 189 were made between 1911 and 1940.

In 1912, Rigby lost the British Mauser distributorship to a relative of the Mauser family, but continued to buy Mauser barreled actions for its own use. Two years later, an apocalyptic war began that tore Europe apart and killed many of Britain’s skilled gunmakers (and their clients). John Rigby himself died in 1916. As the war ended in 1918, the Spanish Flu pandemic killed millions more people and then, just as the sporting-gun trade had more or less recovered, came the Great Depression of 1929, which segued into the next global war in 1939. Rigby resumed making .416s two years after the Second World War ended, and then the supply of Magnum Mauser actions from Oberndorf began to dry up. Between 1947 and 1987, Rigby produced about 200 more .416s, not all on Mauser or even Mauser-style actions.

One of Gottfried Prechtl’s gunsmiths at the bench. After 89 hours of machining time, each Prechtl Mauser action receives several hours of hand finishing and polishing. Steve Helsley photo.
One of Gottfried Prechtl’s gunsmiths at the bench. After 89 hours of machining time, each Prechtl Mauser action receives several hours of hand finishing and polishing. Steve Helsley photo.

Meanwhile, beginning in 1936, John Rigby & Company changed hands a number of times. Still, it hung on through the difficult 1960s and ‘70s and ‘80s, landing finally in Paso Robles, CA, in 1997. In 2010, new owners moved the name to Dallas, TX.

As indications of their commitment, the present owners have taken several important steps. They were able to secure the extensive Rigby ledgers, which hold sales and gunmaking records dating back to the 1700s. They began to buy select vintage Rigby guns for a museum collection. And they hired a team of writer/researchers to build on the company history that had been started by Maj. David Back (with the late W. Keith Neal) in Great Irish Gunmakers Messrs Rigby 1760 – 1869. The first of the new books, Rigby: A Grand Tradition, appeared in January 2012.

One small detail remained: to resume building guns worthy of the Rigby name.

Over the centuries, Rigby has been variously famous for dueling pistols, muzzleloading match rifles, rising-bite-action double rifles and bolt-action hunting rifles. Demand for dueling pistols having subsided, the logical starting point for modern Rigby was with the last. A vintage Rigby, “the aristocrat of big-game bolt-action rifles,” commands a premium price today. And today, Mauser-style actions are available from a number of sources–but only Gottfried Prechtl, in Birkenau, Germany, fabricates them from the original blueprints. Those were supplied by Jon Speed, co-author of Original Oberndorf Sporting Rifles and the owner of virtually all original Mauser documents.

In 1996, Prechtl won a contract from the Mauser company in Oberndorf to build 200 Model 98 commemorative barreled actions. With that, he became the pre-eminent source for actions for custom-built Mauser-style rifles. In 2011, Prechtl began supplying barreled Mauser 98 actions to Rigby, too.

Paul Roberts, left, and one of his craftsmen inspect a Rigby barreled action at the shop in London. In 1984 Rigby merged with J. Roberts & Son, which had set up in 1950 to sell guns from British India and then became a gunmaker. Paul, the son, joined the firm in 1959 and became an authority on big-game rifles and hunting. He created the .450 Rigby Magnum Rimless, based on the famous .416 cartridge. Steve Helsley photo.
Paul Roberts, left, and one of his craftsmen inspect a Rigby barreled action at the shop in London. In 1984 Rigby merged with J. Roberts & Son, which had set up in 1950 to sell guns from British India and then became a gunmaker. Paul, the son, joined the firm in 1959 and became an authority on big-game rifles and hunting. He created the .450 Rigby Magnum Rimless, based on the famous .416 cartridge. Steve Helsley photo.

John Rigby & Company was established in Dublin in 1735 and opened a shop in London in 1866. The present owners understand that their clients want a “British” Rigby. Thus Paul Roberts, who owned Rigby for most of the 1980s and ‘90s and who has more than 50 years of experience in the gun trade, is once again stocking and finishing Rigby Mausers at his workshop in London. Naturally, they will bear London proof marks, just as the original rifles did. Everything old is new again.

The first two new Prechtl Mauser/Roberts Rigby rifles—a .416 with open sights and a scoped .275–debuted in Rigby’s new stand at the SCI Show in Las Vegas in 2012, where they were immediately snapped up. Aside from options such as engraving and scope mounts, the main difference between new and vintage Rigbys is the wood. John Rigby saw his magazine rifles as working tools for those who didn’t want or couldn’t afford double rifles, and stocked them with wood that was robust but hardly “aspirational.” Rigby clients today generally want high-grade wood to suit their rifles’ peerless pedigrees and hell-for-stout actions.

From the first, the .416 Rigby was loaded properly. The soft-nose bullet would mushroom heavily; the solid’s lead-antimony core was in a steel jacket that thickened at the nose for maximum penetration with minimal deformation. The case had neither rim nor belt and was generously roomy, with one moderate but distinct shoulder, well below the long neck. This virtually guaranteed accurate headspacing, smooth feeding and extraction, a secure grip on the bullet and, finally, relatively modest chamber pressures and tolerable recoil. Now a century old, the .416 Rigby remains the most successful heavy bolt-action round ever made. Steve Helsley photo.
From the first, the .416 Rigby was loaded properly. The soft-nose bullet would mushroom heavily; the solid’s lead-antimony core was in a steel jacket that thickened at the nose for maximum penetration with minimal deformation. The case had neither rim nor belt and was generously roomy, with one moderate but distinct shoulder, well below the long neck. This virtually guaranteed accurate headspacing, smooth feeding and extraction, a secure grip on the bullet and, finally, relatively modest chamber pressures and tolerable recoil. Now a century old, the .416 Rigby remains the most successful heavy bolt-action round ever made. Steve Helsley photo.

It’s been more than a hundred years since Schumacher and Wools-Sampson bought the first two Rigby .416s. In the interim, no better repeating-rifle/cartridge combination has been developed for big game, and today, new rifles, identical right down to the optional German military-style wing safety of those original .416s, are again available. There is just one traditional element that Rigby can’t provide: the unique aroma of Rangoon oil mixed with a touch of tropical mold from a well-traveled leather gun case. That’s an olfactory patina that only time can produce.

Portions of this article were reprinted, with permission of the publisher, from Rigby: A Grand Tradition, also by Calabi, Helsley & Sanger, available at johnrigbyandcompany.com and from Amazon.–Silvio Calabi, Steve Helsley, Roger Sanger

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IMG_4342_-Kinsey

Lion Time


Fifteen hundred vertical feet separated me from the faint sound of distant hounds. Below, the slope dipped into a rocky abyss. Every second that slipped by could cost the hounds their lives. Intent on filming my friend’s mountain lion hunt, I lifted the tripod/camera combo over my shoulder and dropped off into the unknown.

Motivated by tracks as big as a saucer, I began to follow the sound all lion hunters dream of… baying hounds! I knew I couldn’t traverse the ridge fast enough. My quads screamed for relief, but received none. The fight was heating up, as bays grew louder and louder. I was navigating the steep slope like a surgeon when suddenly I slipped. I hit the ground with a force seldom felt. I slid another 30 yards before coming to rest against an old bull pine. My camera’s viewfinder and microphone holder snapped off from the impact. My primary television camera now lay in pieces around me and I hadn’t even made it to treed lion yet.

IMG_4297_-KinseyMontana is known for its “Big Sky” and vast landscapes, but it’s also known for the mountain lion. Lion tags can be purchased over the counter; however, some units require a special license that’s drawn through a lottery-style system.

I decided to apply for a special unit lion tag instead of putting in for the general license. I knew that the unit I put in for harbored some huge lions.  Several months passed by, then a small white envelope showed up in my mailbox from Montana’s Fish Wildlife and Parks. I lit up while opening the letter. Excited, and still in disbelief, I called up my close friend Ben Wohlers who runs Painted Rock Outfitters.  Ben is an outstanding guide, incredible taxidermist. He eats, sleeps and breathes lion hunting. After two rings, his familiar voice answered the phone. “ Hey Ben I’ve got some great news!” “Really? That’s funny. I was just about to call you. I drew a special mountain lion tag for 261.” Ben replied. “No way,” I said, “I drew a 270 tag.” Both of us just erupted like two teenage boys. “It’s lion time!” Ben said. I agreed and dates were set for a December showdown.

My girlfriend Jana Waller and I headed 40 minutes south to meet Ben to begin our hunt. The object is to travel as many logging roads as possible under the cover of darkness and search for fresh tracks from your vehicle. Once a track is found, you “sit” on the track until legal shooting light.

IMG_4306_-KinseyA male mountain lion’s home range can vary from 25 to 500 square miles, while females usually occupy smaller areas from eight to more than 400 square miles. They inhabit every corner of the West, and are actually growing in population.

California has an estimated 5,000 mountain lions, which consume eight to 10 pounds of fresh meat a day. Predators hunt 365 days a year and. In California’s case, their lions consume 50,000 pounds of meat annually. Unfortunately, California outlawed mountain lion hunts on June 5, 1990. No one better understands a mountain lion’s relationship among ungulates than my good friend Craig Jourdannis. Craig is the lead biologist in a three-year elk study being conducted in my home state of Montana. What they are beginning to learn during this cutting edge study is that mountain lions are the number-one killer of newborn elk calves, followed by black bears and finally wolves. Knowing Ben and I were helping do our part to manage this predator, I couldn’t wait to find a fresh track.

After driving logging roads in deep snow, we found a track late in the day nearly a half a mile outside of my hunting area. Luckily, our two areas abutted each other and Ben was the first man up. With only a few hours before dark, Ben turned loose his “go-to” hound, Annie. Within seconds, the chase was on. Jana and I listened intently as the other two hounds made tracks towards Ben’s lead hound.

IMG_4451_-Kinsey“Sure enough they’ve treed that lion,” Ben said as proud as a prizefighter holding the title belt. “Let’s go have a look.”

A short hike uphill ended at the base of a massive bull pine. Peering into the twisted limbs, I made out a fawn-colored male stretched out nearly 20 feet off the deck. This was Jana’s first lion hunt, and a far cry from her stomping grounds in Southern Wisconsin. I could tell by the look on her face this wouldn’t be her last lion hunt.

With my video camera in tow, I began to record the big cat high in the tree. Ben turned to Jana and asked, “What is today’s date?” “December 20. Why?” she answered back. “Well, I bought my tag four days ago,” Ben said, “…and there is a five-day waiting period. I have to wait until tomorrow to shoot this lion.”  Jana and I were speechless.

“What?” I said back. “What do you mean you have to wait to shoot this lion?” With so many irons in the fire, Ben showed he was human after all. “There’s nothing against running a lion to train your hounds,” Ben said with his fingers pressed to the side of his face. We both agreed and packed up our gear as night was fast approaching. In the distance, the moon silhouetted the big male’s outline, creating an angelic yet devilish look. Tomorrow we’d revisit the area to see if the old male was still in the neighborhood.

Not having your tag punched with an opportunity like that was hard on Ben, or so we thought!

“He won’t go far,” Ben said, and he was right. The next morning we found his tracks and let loose at daylight. The dogs didn’t waste any time and soon had the same lion treed. Ben became concerned with the distance they had covered and their proximity to a known wolf pack that lived in the area. A terrible combination.

“Jim, I need you to drop off here and go straight for the dogs. Jana and I will drive the ten miles around this canyon and hike up from the bottom. I need you to get to the tree before the wolves do,” Ben’s voice cracked with a hint of urgency. I grabbed my video camera and shouldered my tripod/camera combo and began a descent into one of the deepest canyons I’ve ever seen.

IMG_5031_-KinseyHalf way down, all hell broke loose when I lost my footing, destroying my main video camera. I collected my thoughts and camera parts and continued on course to the baying hounds several hundred feet below. Soon, the tree was in sight and the dogs were intact.  I breathed a sigh of relief at the absence of wolf sign. Annie, Ben’s lead hound, was hard at work pacing back and forth with the other two dogs. Above, the same male lion we’d treed yesterday sat on a limb horizontally overlooking the steep canyon’s slope. Ben and Jana where still an hour from reaching my location. Time was now on my side. With the barrage of hound yelps and chaos, I reached into my bag of tricks and pulled out my trusty still camera that luckily shot incredible HD video. I snapped a hundred pictures of the big cat when I heard two faint voices coming up the steep canyon.

Jana emerged first, followed by Ben. As they approached the tree, the old male began to get uncomfortable. Ben quietly reached into his pack and grabbed his trusty .22 Hornet. I began to record the hunt. The big male was fixated on the hounds below when Ben fired a single shot. The lion slumped in the tree and never came out. Ben never had a lion die in the tree. After some clever poking and prodding, Ben freed the cat from the obstruction. “You don’t see that everyday,” Ben said as the cat fell from tree and slid 100 feet downhill.

One cat down, one to go. Ben’s lion was a mature male and tipped the scale in the mid-140s. Jana was on Cloud Nine.

IMG_5046_-KinseyWe didn’t have to wait long, as another fresh snow hit the surrounding Bitterroot Mountains. Ben was ready to hit the hills again. We wanted to go 2 for 2.  The first road inside my unit yielded a massive set of tracks. Winter was tightening its grip on Montana and with it elk were on the move. A cagy five-point bull dashed across a small opening, followed by several cows as we watched from the comfort of Ben’s Jeep.

“Not the numbers we are used to seeing up here,” Ben announced, still frustrated by the effects from the introduction of the grey wolf into the Greater Yellowstone. The effects of that first wolf release have spanned several states and continue to grow with every year that passes. Although all three of us held wolf tags in our pockets, they are a happen chance species.

Ben decided to give this lion a run and soon released all three hounds. The hounds traveled several miles before stopping in a steep canyon. All that lay between the treed cat and us was 1,200 vertical feet of snow-covered terrain.  The sun was nonexistent during the first 20 minutes of the climb. Soon that changed, and the mountainside lit up with the warmth we craved. Every so often, the hound’s faint cries made it to my inner ear. The air was thin, due to the elevation gain. Every step was one closer to the trophy I’ve dreamed of. Jana, Ben and I trudged on — motivated by a fight that was now taking place outside our presence.

IMG_5104_-KinseyAn hour later, we were fifty yards from the base of a huge fir tree. Blood-soaked snow littered with dog tracks painted the area beneath our feet. A massive fight had taken place here, and from the looks of things Annie had taken the brunt of it. Seems the big male latched onto her while cornered on a cliff face, biting completely through her lower jaw. Annie, unfazed by the attack, continued to bay at the base of the tree.  Without saying a thing, Ben motioned with his left hand and pointed to the large shape in the tree above my head. The first thing I remember thinking was the shear size of that cat. A massive head with black markings around its eyes peered back with malicious intent. Paws as big as a catcher’s mitt clung to the old fir tree as I moved my camera into position. I knew right then this was an exceptional male, and one I had dreamed of for 17 years.

Jana looked up into the shadows of the old fir as I drew my Glock 10mm. I held 6 o’clock on the large tom’s body and fired. The shot rang out and the old male leapt from his perch, disappearing behind a curtain of snow. In the same motion, Ben released the Calvary. The excited hounds’ symphony signaled success as they tore down the hill to claim their prize. I looked upon the giant lion with envious eyes. He hunted with only claws, teeth and determination. The hair on my arms stood up as I thanked him for his life. In the words of Dr. Lester McCann, Ph.D., “There have been no significant increases in wildlife populations without some kind of predator control.” So true, yet so misunderstood by the general public. During the general lion season, Ben was able to go 9 for 9 lions, a feat that very few outfitters can claim. Ben, Jana and I were happy to do our part in managing this beautiful yet highly deadly predator among the high mountain peaks of Montana’s backcountry.—Jim Kinsey

schwarzkopf-head-shot

General H. Norman Schwarzkopf Dies


schwarzkopf-deathSCI Life Member General H. Norman Schwarzkopf died at his home in Tampa, FL, on Thursday, December 27, 2012. He was 78.  In addition to his military achievements, SCI members will remember Schwarzkopf as a regular at SCI Conventions where he was a featured speaker at every Convention from 1995 to 2004. Shown here, Schwarzkopf admires a Trijicon ACOG sight presented to him by Trijicon’s Stephen Bindon at the SCI Convention. Trijicon is an SCI Corporate Sponsor. neSimilar ACOG sights are widely used by U.S. military forces engaged in combat operations.

The century-old .505 Gibbs is one of the largest sporting cartridges ever designed for a magazine rifle.

MRC’s New Professional Hunter


Except for the double square bridge and dropped magazine, you’d swear the new MRC Professional Hunter was a Model 70 on steroids.
Except for the double square bridge and dropped magazine, you’d swear the new MRC Professional Hunter was a Model 70 on steroids.

The long-awaited Montana Rifle Company’s Model 1999 Professional Hunter is finally here, and it was definitely worth the wait. This is a rifle that’s based on what you’d swear was a Winchester Model 70 on steroids, but with a flat top receiver ring and bridge, just like the old #20 Magnum Mauser action. And you wouldn’t be far off in that assessment.

For those unfamiliar with MRC, the company was founded by Keith Sipe back in 1999, just after he

As reviewed, the MRC Professional Hunter in .505 Gibbs with a Leupold VX-7 1.5-6x24 scope in Talley rings weighed 11-1/2 lbs.
As reviewed, the MRC Professional Hunter in .505 Gibbs with a Leupold VX-7 1.5-6×24 scope in Talley rings weighed 11-1/2 lbs.

completed designing his own actions, both of which were put into production shortly thereafter.  Prior to that, Keith’s company was known as the Montana Rifleman, and had established a reputation for producing excellent button-rifled

Shown here for comparison sake is the original Model 1999 action next to its new big brother.
Shown here for comparison sake is the original Model 1999 action next to its new big brother.

barrels, and for general gunsmithing expertise.

Keith’s original Model 1999s are virtually clones of the Winchester Model 70 Classic short and long actions in that they have the same external receiver dimensions and geometry, the same magazine lengths, the identical trigger and 3-position safety, and almost identical bolts.  That said, there are several minor yet important differences that in my opinion make the Model 1999 an improvement

The PH bolt compared to that of the standard Model 1999.
The PH bolt compared to that of the standard Model 1999.

over the Model 70.

For one, the MRC actions feature the Mauser-type inner collar within the receiver ring against which a flat breech face abuts. This collar, which is slotted for the nose of the extractor, adds to the strength of the receiver ring, and eliminates the coned breech and extractor cut found on the breech face of Model 70 barrels. And while the Model 70 employs a groove at the lower edge of the right locking lug riding a rail in the lug raceway to provide added bolt support, the ‘99’s left locking lug is dovetailed in cross section. In other words, the base of the lug is narrower than at the outer edge. This dovetail arrangement provides enough bolt stability so that even when it’s fully withdrawn, there’s almost no lateral play in the bolt.

Other departures from the Model 70 are found in the bolt stop/release and in the bolt shroud. The ‘99 has an integral boss in the left wall of the receiver bridge in which a beefy chunk of steel acts as the bolt stop. When its serrated rear half is depressed, it pivots out of the raceway, allowing bolt removal. As for the bolt shroud, there’s a flange on its left side that extends far enough to completely cover the left lug raceway to deflect any particle-bearing gases flowing rearward in the event of a blown primer or case head separation.

Mauser-type controlled-round feed is considered by many to be mandatory on a DGR.
Mauser-type controlled-round feed is considered by many to be mandatory on a DGR.

Further addressing gas containment, the receiver ring on the MRC action is vented with holes on both sides, and the bolt body is vented with two huge 1” x 1/8” holes. In contrast, the Model 70’s bolt is vented by just two 1/8” holes, and the receiver ring by but one hole on the right side.

Now that we’ve dispensed with the differences that distinguish

Everything on the PH action is exactly like the standard Model 1999…except size!
Everything on the PH action is exactly like the standard Model 1999…except size!

the Model 1999 from the Model 70, let’s check out this newest member of the MRC family. The example sent us for T&E was chambered in .505 Gibbs, a humongous cartridge originally introduced a mere 101 years ago in 1911! It was for this cartridge and the .416 Rigby, which was also introduced that same year, that Waffenfabrik Mauser designed its #20 commercial action, primarily at the behest of British gun makers.

Like the original #20 Magnum Mauser, MRC’s PH action has the double square bridge, but it has an integral dovetail for direct Talley scope ring attachment.
Like the original #20 Magnum Mauser, MRC’s PH action has the double square bridge, but it has an integral dovetail for direct Talley scope ring attachment.

The two characteristics that immediately set this PH version visually apart from the short and long Model 1999s other than its sheer size is that it has a modified double square bridge similar to that of the original Magnum Mauser, and an extended or “dropped box” magazine. When I say “modified” in reference to the double square bridge, Mauser actions were not dovetailed or tapped for any type of scope ring bases; the ring and bridge were

The 3-position wing safety and trigger are virtually identical to the Model 70.
The 3-position wing safety and trigger are virtually identical to the Model 70.

simply flat on top. With this action, however, the flats are dovetailed to accept dedicated Talley scope rings. These dovetails are not tapered like the Sako’s, nor are they grooved in any way for engagement by recoil studs on the scope rings like the Ruger system, both of which are designed to preclude slippage of the rings from recoil forces. Rather, the dovetails on this action end about ¼” short of their respective front surfaces so that the ring clamps butt up against the end of the dovetail and cannot slide forward. Because of the recoil forces involved with the kind of cartridges this action was designed for, these dovetails are considerably deeper than those of the Sako or Ruger.

Without a dropped box, rifles chambered for corpulent cartridges like the .416 Rigby, .450 Dakota, .505 Gibbs and the big, belted Weatherbys would hold only two backup rounds in the magazine. That’s only a one-round advantage over a double rifle. This rifle stores 3, so with one up the spout you’ve got 4 rounds at your disposal.

All other aspects and design features describing the short and long Model 1999 actions apply to the PH; it’s just that everything’s bigger! Consider: with a head diameter of .640” and an overall length of 3.850”, you can imagine how much larger everything’s got to be — the receiver, bolt, bottom metal unit, magazine and barrel — to digest a cartridge like the .505 Gibbs. Just a side-by-side comparison of the PH bolt next to the standard 1999’s is sufficient to illustrate the difference. In addition to the PH action being offered with a .648” bolt face for the .505, it can also be had with .534 and .604” bolt faces to accommodate the H&H and the big Weatherby belted cases, respectively.

The bolt stop/release is one of the ways the Model 1999 differs from the Model 70.
The bolt stop/release is one of the ways the Model 1999 differs from the Model 70.

As it came from the box, the test gun weighed just over 10 pounds with a 22” barrel that measured .825” at the muzzle. As far as I’m concerned, 22” is as long as I want a barrel on a DGR. A good set of sturdy iron sights is standard, as it should be on a gun of this type. The front consists of a brass bead that’s dovetailed to the ramp; the rear, which is fully adjustable, looks like a copy of the Remington 700’s.

The stock on the PH is very well designed and executed.
The stock on the PH is very well designed and executed.

The test gun, however, came with a Leupold VX-7 30mm 1.5-6×24 scope in Talley QD lever rings. Ready for business the gun weighed just over 11-1/2 lbs.

The walnut stock is of a rather plain grain, nicely machine-checkered, and comes with a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad. The receiver and the first 1” or so of the barrel shoulder are glass bedded, and there are two reinforcing cross bolts, one behind the recoil lug area, the other through the web between the magazine and trigger mortises. Overall, the quality of the stock — the shape, the inletting and finishing — were first class, as was the machining and finish of all metal work.

I wasn’t really anxious to do a lot of shooting with the .505, but I of course had to do some, so I contacted Ron Petty at Norma-USA. This prestigious ammo manufacturer based in Amatfors, Sweden, is one of the few sources of .505 ammo (others being Kynoch and Corbon). Anyway, Ron was kind enough to send us one box each of the two loads offered in their African PH line: a 600-grain Protected Point, and a 600-grain FMJ. Packed 10 rounds to a box and priced at $237 per box, I considered myself lucky to get 20 rounds. Besides, that was about as many rounds as I wanted to shoot! Though I found the recoil to be not as severe or as sharp as, say, the .460 Weatherby, any load that generates 5,877 ft. lbs. of energy and 82.5 ft. lbs. of recoil as these Norma loads do, is not my idea of recreational shooting! That’s roughly four times the recoil of an 8-1/2-pound .30-06.

The century-old .505 Gibbs is one of the largest sporting cartridges ever designed for a magazine rifle.
The century-old .505 Gibbs is one of the largest sporting cartridges ever designed for a magazine rifle.

With a gun like this, talking about accuracy off the bench is a little silly, so suffice to say this gun will punch 1” groups at 50 yards all day if you can hold it that well. Though running 20 rounds through a gun is hardly sufficient to establish reliability, the test gun handled those 20 rounds with aplomb.

I have been a fan of the Montana Model 1999 action ever since I

The .505 Gibbs dwarfs the .30-06 next to it.
The .505 Gibbs dwarfs the .30-06 next to it.

first saw it over a decade ago, and this newest addition is simply a larger version. About the only thing I’d change on this gun would be to replace the stock-mounted front swivel stud with a barrel-mounted one. As far as I’m concerned, that’s quite a testimonial.

What makes this rifle even more appealing is its extremely reasonable MSRP of $2,299. Moreover, you can purchase the action only for $1,100 in blue chrome-moly, $1,200 for stainless, and complete barreled actions for $1,570. As a complete rifle or as barreled actions, the Professional Hunter is also available in .338 Lapua, .378 or .460 Weatherby, or .416 Rigby.  Also, left-hand models will soon be available. To check out MRC’s extensive line of production rifles of all types, visit their website at www.montanarifleco.com.– Jon R. Sundra