Well, it shouldn’t. The four-five-oh Rigby Magnum, as the English say, was introduced in 1995, the year Tom Hanks won an Oscar for Forrest Gump.
Oh, there was a .450 Rigby Nitro Express rimmed cartridge back around the turn of the last century (or would that be the century before last?). It was Rigby’s proprietary version of the ever-popular .450 Nitro Express cartridges, ever-popular until the British got themselves in hot water with a major revolt in India and the Sudan. It seems the rebels were arming themselves with single-shot military 577/450 Martini-Henry rifles they’d managed to steal, so the British launched into one of their early experiments in social engineering via gun control. They figured if they banned the use of all .458-caliber rifles there would be no .450 ammo around and the rebels would throw up their hands and surrender. Never mind the fact that even if it were possible to load any other .450 NE cartridge in the 577/450 chamber, which it wasn’t, the load would surely have blown any 577/450 Martini-Henry sky high, which would seem to have been a much better anti-rebel strategy. The whole thing made as much sense as the Brits today who figure if they take all the guns away from their legal owners all the armed criminals will catch on to the idea, throw down their weapons and become solid citizens. Too much time in the noonday sun.
The result of the British ban of the .450 was, of course, a proliferation of rifles in every caliber bigger than .450. The .470, .475, 476, 500 and, in bolt actions the .505 Gibbs and .500 Jeffery worked just as well. But nostalgia for the good old .450 would not die. Today, with the resurgence of African calibers both classic and modern, a good selection of rimless .458 cartridges for bolt-action rifles gives the shooter choices never seen before in history. From the little .458 Winchester Magnum up through the .458 Lott, 3-inch .458 Express, .460 Weatherby, .460 A-Square Short, .450 wildcats by Ackley, Watts and Howell, the .450 Dakota and, perhaps best balanced of all, the young .450 Rigby Magnum.
The .450 Rigby was created by Paul Stewart at Rigby of London by necking up the voluminous .416 Rigby case from .416” to .458”. The use of that illustrious piece of brass is surely one of the best things about the new cartridge. The .450 Dakota developed by Don Allen is also based on the Rigby case and is almost identical. The other .450s are based on smaller cases, primarily the .375 H&H, or otherwise reliant on a belt, an appendage proved unnecessary by more than 90 years of experience with the .416 Rigby.
Thus the .450 Rigby is a big, clean, versatile cartridge that easily delivers the magic formula for thick-skinned dangerous game: a bullet of about 500 grains and .458 caliber with a muzzle velocity of 2200 to 2400 feet per second. Bullets of less weight begin to lose momentum, less frontal area means less knockdown power, slower velocities soon become marginal like the .458 Win Mag, and higher velocities begin to retard all-important penetration like the .460 Weatherby.
W. K. Matera, a man heavily experienced in every African caliber known to man, has said, “It is one of my favorite rounds. It not only works, it’s awesome. A good hit with a .450 Rigby will knock a Cape buffalo absolutely down. Even if one struggles back to its feet, it’s dazed, wobbly, stunned by the impact of a 500-grain bullet going nearly 2300 fps, so followups are simple. This kind of power does have a price, however. Isaac Newton wasn’t kidding when he said, ‘For every action there is an equal, but opposite, reaction.’ To describe the recoil of the .450 Rigby as ‘brisk’ is an understatement. It is, conversely, manageable and not terribly difficult to get used to. Because these large bullets are driven at moderate (under 2500 fps) velocities, their recoil isn’t the vicious, joint-loosening snap that often accompanies faster rounds. If you work up to them, brace yourself and hold on tight you will find that there is great satisfaction in riding so deadly a dragon.”
According to renowned rifle builder and hunter Kenny Jarrett, “the .450 Rigby is the ultimate dangerous game stopper in a practical bolt rifle.” It is hard to argue with that. However, eternal politics being the beast it is, the current Rigby company located in California does not even list the .450 Rigby Magnum as a standard chambering and, when queried for information about the cartridge by this writer, did not even respond. But plenty of support for Paul Stewart’s cartridge is coming from elsewhere.
Custom riflemakers have been attracted to the .450 Rigby from the beginning, partially because of their long-standing affection for that big Rigby case. Some very fine custom guns have been turned out by these builders over the last ten years. Custom loaders, notably Larry Barnett of Superior Ammunition, have been quick to develop a variety of devastating loads for the big cartridge. Just beneath the surface of widespread shooter awareness, the .450 Rigby Magnum has been carrying on a very active life during its short decade of existence.
Česká Zbrojovka (CZ) is the first to chamber the .450 Rigby Magnum in a factory rifle. It’s a custom shop operation but a factory rifle nonetheless, and they’re offering factory-loaded ammunition right along with it. This development will undoubtedly continue to raise the profile of the cartridge among those shooters whose mixed feelings about .458 cartridges have been defined by the poorly designed old Winchester Magnum.
It was a fine day when I took the Granite Mountain Arms custom .450 Rigby into the forest, and it got finer as the day went on. Since W. K. Matera considers “brisk” an understatement in describing the rifle’s recoil, I’ll use the phrase “extremely exhilarating” instead, though I’m afraid this is also an understatement. Substantial recoil in a poorly designed rifle (often a big-bore designed by a smallbore gunsmith/stockmaker) is one thing, but the same amount of recoil in a rifle properly designed to handle it is quite another.
GMA’s commitment to good English stock design in its custom rifles, assisted by this rifle’s well balanced weight of 10 pounds, 12 ounces, made the instantaneous feedback that accompanied every trigger press a survivable pleasure to receive. On the other hand, the hot Superior Ammunition loading of 480-grain Woodleigh softnose bullets at 2425 fps out of the rifle’s 24-inch barrel is dedicated to making the reception at the muzzle end not survivable at all. Anything that gets hit with this hammer is not likely to ever know it.
While the .458 field seems to be crowded, it thins out rather easily. The wildcats and semi-wildcats are attractive to some shooters but not to others. Same with proprietary cartridges like the .450 Dakota. Every African hunter of my acquaintance who has used the .460 Weatherby considers its velocity in factory-loaded cartridges excessive for good penetration in thick-skinned game and loads it down a smidgen to more effective .450 Rigby levels. The .458 Winchester Magnum is a dying cartridge because even existing rifles in that caliber are easily rechambered for the more effective .458 Express, now popular only in South Africa, and the .458 Lott, current leader of the .458 pack by a mile even though it is hardly the perfect solution to anything.
The .458 Win Mag is basically a .375 H&H case substantially shortened and blown-out with its taper and shoulder eliminated (thus negating all of the features that make the .375 H&H such a great cartridge), and the Lott is simply a longer .458 Win Mag. Long, straight, belted cases are not the easiest rounds in the world to make feed reliably, they tend not to burn powder uniformly, their headspacing can be less than ideal, and high-pressure loads are sometimes difficult to extract from overheated chambers. While the .458 Lott achieves the ballistics once claimed for the .458 Win Mag, its numbers are not in the same class as those achievable with the larger, more versatile and better designed .450 Rigby.
Conclusion: the .450 Rigby Magnum wins hands down. Somebody should tell that to the company whose name is on the headstamp.