I recently had a chance to examine and shoot the new Ruger Guide Gun. Based on that, I believe the Guide Gun to be one of the very best, yet most affordable, dangerous-game rifles available today. I realize that’s a pretty tall claim, but there’s not a thing on this gun I would change, and I honestly can’t say that about any other rifle I can think of.
First off, it has the most basic requirement for a DGR in that it is a pure Mauser controlled-round feed action. Not that that is a mandatory feature, but it is generally considered the most foolproof, and therefore the best choice when facing critters that can stomp, claw, gore or chew you. The entire barreled action is matte finished stainless steel, including the action screws and hinged floorplate. It is the most non-reflective
finish I’ve seen, yet it’s very attractive. Another highly desirable feature on a DGR is that it should have a sturdy set of open sights, and here, too, the Guide Gun shines. The windage-adjustable rear sight is a standing leaf of solid steel with a shallow “V” and a vertical white stripe below. The front sight is of the barrel band type — the strongest kind — that’s quick to acquire and match up with the rear’s white stripe. For sling attachment there are two options, one of which is barrel-band mounted, a desirable feature because it keeps your off-hand from being bruised by recoil. If one prefers a stock-mounted stud, the forend is set up with a threaded nut in the barrel channel. One need only remove the filler screw and replace it with a standard swivel stud.
The Guide Gun is offered in six chamberings: .300 RCM (Ruger Compact Magnum), .300 Win. Mag., .30-06, .338 RCM, .338 Win. Mag. and .375 Ruger. All models come with a radial muzzle brake that can be replaced with a non-rifled barrel extension of the same length and weight, so that if the brake isn’t desired, replacing it with the weight won’t change barrel harmonics, i. e., point of impact. If neither is desired, a thread-protecting muzzle cap can be used. Barrel length with the cap is 20 inches; with the brake or weight in place it’s 21.5 inches. The gun sent us for review was chambered in .375 Ruger. When bench testing I used the muzzle brake, which tamed recoil considerably. For hunting, however, when I’m not wearing hearing protection, I want nothing to do with muzzle brakes.
Obviously, the Ruger folks believe a guide gun should be no less than a .30 caliber. Were I guiding for (or hunting) the big bears, I’d want one of the .338s as a minimum, and for Africa, the .375. For those unfamiliar with the RCM-series of cartridges, they were developed for Ruger by Hornady to duplicate or surpass the performance of full-length magnum cartridges like the .375 H&H and .300 Weatherby, but do it in a standard-length (.30-06) action. They succeeded admirably. In fact, the .375 Ruger not only matches the ballistics of the H&H, it surpasses it by 140 fps with a 270-grain bullet, and by 130 fps with a 300-grain slug.
The stock is a tri-color black/brown/green wood laminate fitted with a reinforcing cross bolt just behind the recoil lug — another “extra measure” feature. To accommodate different climates (clothing thickness) and statures, the stock comes with three butt plate spacers that, when added or removed, allow pull lengths to be adjusted from 13-3/4 inches to 14-1/2 inches in ½-inch increments. Without question this is a highly desirable feature, but what I don’t like about it is the change in the butt section that must be made to achieve it. It’s strictly a cosmetic thing, though, and I guess I could live with it.
On the range the gun shot superbly. With one of the new Burris C4 scopes mounted, using the matching matte-finished Ruger stainless rings that come with the gun, I was getting 3-shot clover leafs ranging from .7-inch to 1.1 inches with the 270-grain Hornady loading, and almost as good with the 300-grain round nosed load.
When I said earlier that I’d change nothing on this gun, I take that back. The one change I’d make on this particular model would be to make the bolt handle ½-inch longer and bend it upward about the same amount. Right now I think it hugs the stock too closely, and in a crisis situation, you could miss it on the upstroke of the hand. A longer and less angled handle would make that less likely. Oh, and I would definitely offer it in .416 Ruger. The .375 version is a great choice for the hunter, but if I were the guy backing him up, I’d want the .416. The Ruger version matches the .416 Rigby and .416 Rem. Magnum, and it does it in a standard-length action. The Guide Gun carries an MSRP of $1,199, and what a bargain it is.– Jon R. Sundra
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?
Schumacher 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 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.
Just 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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
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