August 2004

Big Busters: We Test Three .416 Rigbys from Dakota, CZ, Ruger

Dakota’s fine 76 African steals all the cake from CZ’s 550 American and Ruger’s No. 1 — but at a hefty price.

Ray Ordorica liked the 416 Dakota enough that he said he’d take it to Africa, if Dakota would let him. That’s his good-luck safari hat, and no, we never shoot without eye and ear protection. Except in Africa, that is.

Planning a trip to Africa, and want to take only one rifle? You won’t go wrong with a good .416 Rigby, but as it turns out, you don’t have a lot of choices in available rifles. We did a cursory web search for rifles chambered in the old (1912) and versatile round, and found darned little There were a few used rifles, and some costly customs. We went to the source, only to find that a brand-new John Rigby & Co. bolt-action in .416 Rigby will set you back a cool $23,500. CZ offers its 550 Safari Magnum in two versions, the American and the European. Ruger chambers its No. 1 in that caliber in a variety of finishes. Some time back we examined a bolt-action Ruger in that caliber, and we found it to be a pretty good rifle with some limitations. Dakota builds a gorgeous .416 Rigby bolt rifle, clearly a nod to tradition, because there is also a .416 Dakota caliber. In times long past, Kimber offered a fine .416 Rigby, and with luck, it may not be too many years until the new iteration of that company offers a .416 Rigby.

John Rigby’s original loading for this cartridge fired a 410-grain bullet at 2,350 fps. The bullets were round-nose, and either soft point or “solids.” The latter had steel jackets with a thick nose. The .416 Rigby was designed as a general-purpose rifle for use against heavy and dangerous game, clearly with Africa in mind. It has very low pressure for its power, which means those costly cases will stand many reloads. Serious hunters who have used John Rigby’s original English-made rifles have all raved about the rifle’s smooth feeding, great power, and utter reliability. When first introduced, Rigby’s new cartridge and his mighty rifles quickly made names for themselves on the Dark Continent. The main reason behind that success was that John Rigby’s rifles were serious rifles. Other makers had rifles of similar power, but they never got close to Rigby’s reputation because John Rigby, a rifleman himself, well knew how to build good rifles.

To make a really good rifle in a serious caliber like .416 Rigby is a serious undertaking. With a dangerous-game rifle, everything about it must be exactly right. The rifle must feed and eject with never the slightest hint of a problem. The balance must be just right for fast handling and to reduce felt recoil. The bolt has to be slick enough that it can be worked with ease, so you don’t have to fight for each round. Such a rifle must have good iron sights, because a serious rifle may have to be taken into thick stuff after some big and bad critter, and at close range you won’t want a scope. The rifle needs a decent recoil pad, because bruised shoulders can cause flinching and bad hits, which means a wounded dangerous animal, and a good chance that someone can get killed by it. In short, there’s no room for error in the construction of a dangerous-game rifle.

Any .416 Rigby rifle worthy of the name must pass muster, because it may some day have to do the most serious and deadly work. Hunters of dangerous game don’t need “kit” rifles, where you buy the thing, take it home, and then have to sort out its problems and make them right at extra expense, if it turns out to be possible to fix them. We wanted to know if it was possible to take the rifle out of the box, take it after dangerous game, and expect to come home alive. We know that on any modern safari the professional hunter is there to keep you from harm, but what satisfaction will you get if your rifle turns out to be useless?

We acquired a Dakota 76 African, a CZ 550 American Safari Magnum, and – having already tried Ruger’s bolt-action – a Ruger No. 1, all three in .416 Rigby. The Dakota came with a 1.5-5X Leupold scope mounted in Talley rings, and because the rifle was on loan from its owner, we tested it with its scope attached, shooting at 100 yards. The other two rifles had iron sights, and we tested them at 50 yards. All the serious shooting was done from a machine rest, and we took the recoil on our shoulders.

We tested with Federal’s Premium “Cape-Shok” ammunition with 400-grain Nosler Partition bullets, and with two handloads using both 400-grain Hornady round-nose, and 350-grain Speer Mag-Tip bullets. The 350-grain Speer load was somewhat reduced to cut recoil, but it didn’t cut recoil much. All test loads were ferocious. Here’s what we found.

Dakota 76 African Grade .416 Rigby, $5,795

Yep, that’s a lot of money for a rifle. In fact, with the $150 Talley rings and bases on this rifle, its total cost came to $5,945. But Dakota, we believe, has wisely chosen what we’ll call the middle ground. You can buy relatively inexpensive rifles (see below) in this caliber, or you can buy very expensive ones, like John Rigby’s, for well into five figures. But Dakota is the only company building rifles that cost less than a whole lot of money, but more than a little bit of money. We think Dakota seems to have the right idea. So what do you get for your six grand?

This Dakota 76 used an action, Dakota’s largest, that was designed specifically for the .416 Rigby. The wood of the rifle was the first thing that caught our eye. It was gorgeous XXX English walnut, Dakota’s standard grade. This particular sample had slightly different grain on each side of the stock. The right side was, to us, more attractive than the left, with lots of black streaks. The left side had muted streaks, but it still looked better than 95 percent of the wood on other rifles we’ve tested recently. The wood was perfectly checkered, with zero overruns. The forend checkering wrapped all the way around in an attractive borderless point pattern, and was large enough to be thoroughly usable. It gave good purchase on the wood, a serious consideration when the rifle will do all it can to leave your hand behind, in recoil. The pistol grip was likewise checkered perfectly, no overruns at all, though the pattern had a curve at the lower rear corner that some of us didn’t quite like. Our test shooters thought the size of the pistol grip was ideal. It felt just right, gave good control and comfort, and allowed the rifle to be pulled firmly into the shoulder. The stock was dead straight, no cast. The butt pad was a black Pachmayr Decelerator a full inch thick, plenty soft enough for the job.

The Dakota’s forend had a black ebony tip, and the pistol grip was capped with steel. There was a nicely shaped cheek piece with ghost line. The stock had two cross bolts to prevent splitting, and these were capped with inlaid ebony dots. The rear sling-swivel stud was recessed into the wood. The stud was unobtrusive and tasteful, a high-grade item that we thought was miles better looking than the common screw-in studs. The forend had no swivel stud. The front sling-mount point was on the barrel, where it belongs on hard-kicking rifles. It was machined integrally into a gracefully tapered barrel band.

The inletting of softly blued steel into gorgeous walnut was absolute perfection. We have seldom seen such precise and outstanding workmanship. The barrel was not free-floated. Instead, it was perfectly inletted into the wood for its full length. We almost forgot to mention the truly outstanding stock finish. All the pores were filled, all the wood grain was visible, and the finish was fairly hard and durable. All of these carefully attended details must surely add to the cost, but we felt all the detail work was necessary to complete this fine rifle. and well worth paying for.

The 24-inch barrel was fitted with a bead foresight on a ramp .The bead had a gold face. The rear iron sight was as yet unfiled, but will become a wide-angle vee regulated to the owner’s chosen load. The rear sight was driftable for windage, and also had a locking screw. Of course it would be filed to the correct elevation. We would have liked a platinum center line in the rear sight, and that could be added by an engraver, and for all we know, that is what will happen here.

All the steel parts (no aluminum on this rifle) except the bolt body and the magazine follower were matte blued. The effect was similar to cold-rust bluing, and was tasteful. The rifle had a drop-box magazine with a hinged, straddle-type floorplate. The floorplate release was low inside the guard, well out of the way of fingers flying forward on recoil. The magazine held four rounds, and it was not possible to close the bolt over the fourth. That meant you were supposed to feed them from the magazine, and — getting ahead of ourselves here — they all fed perfectly.

When we first opened the bolt we were pleased by its smooth feel. Score another for Dakota. The rifle had a three-position safety, like on Winchester Model 70s, and we found it a touch hard to put on. However, it went into the off position with the proper amount of force, and didn’t make a whole lot of noise in the process. The bolt could be removed by pulling a hidden stop out of the left-rear corner of the action. This was a good touch, we thought, because the bolt could not be removed accidentally. You had to deliberately want it out before it would come. The bolt head was very much like that of the pre-’64 Winchester Model 70, though the Dakota did not have a coned breech. A full-length controlled-feed extractor hauled cases out of the chamber, and ejection depended on how hard you worked the bolt, pulling the cases against a spring-loaded ejector that rose into a slot in the bolt head. All the parts and pieces inside the action were well polished and smooth. It would be possible to get a rifle slicker than this one, and we’ve seen a few, but it would hardly be necessary. The only slight “fly” we found on the Dakota was the front edge of the main action ring, which had a sharp edge we felt didn’t belong. All the rest of the action’s openings were smooth enough to be cut-free.

It was time to take the Dakota 76 African. We fired a few shots from standing, to get a feel for the rifle, and each shot gave us a big grin. This was fun! The rifle was extremely easy to hold steady from offhand, testament to good balance and a decent job of stocking. The clean, crisp trigger pull of 3.5 pounds made hits easy. But things quickly got a whole lot less fun when we had to hunker behind the 9.4-pound rifle in the machine rest.

This rifle never hurt us from the bench, except once when we got too close to the scope, but that could have been fixed by moving the scope forward. We found the rifle liked our handloads better than the factory Federal ammunition. Our best group was three shots into an inch at 100 yards, with our 350-grain handload that achieved 2,033 fps out of the Dakota. Yes, it still kicked, though much less than the full-house loads. Our 350-grain load averaged 1.2 inches, while the Federal averaged 2.4. Our full-house load with Hornady’s 400-grain round-nose went into 1.6 inches on average.


CZ 550 American Safari Magnum, .416 Rigby. $833

Our first impression was that this was a clumsy-feeling rifle. When we handled it, we all thought it had dimensions that were a touch too big. The overall look was not bad, we thought, but bulky. The stock of this American version was big everywhere. The wrist measured 5.3 inches at its smallest, compared to the Dakota’s 4.8 inches. The forend of our CZ tapered abruptly. In real numbers, the diameter of the forend and barrel just in front of the action ring, where the checkering began, was 7.4 inches. Just in front of the front sight, where the checkering ended, it measured 5.6 inches. The Dakota’s dimensions were 6.9 and 5.5 at those locations. Not a huge difference numerically, but easily felt in the hands. We thought we could live with the forend dimensions, but the pistol grip was not to our liking.

The stock finish of the CZ looked slightly purple in sunlight. The grain of the CZ’s black walnut was plainer than on many European-stocked CZs we’ve seen, which are stocked with Turkish walnut, some of the best stock wood in the world, with really tight grain. However, the grain on this rifle was straight and true, and looked like it would hold up well to the rigors of recoil.

The forend had a good checkering job in a wrap-around, pointed pattern. The pistol grip checkering was sparse, but well done and attractive. The recoil pad was outstanding. It was a Pachmayr Decelerator, an inch thick and well rounded on its edges. It was fully half an inch longer from top to bottom than the Ruger’s pad and a quarter-inch wider at its midpoint, meaning it spread recoil over a much larger area. This rifle did not hurt us at all, with one exception noted below.

The CZ had good sights, with the exception of the rear face of the front bead, which we had trouble seeing in some light. Close inspection showed it had a tiny white dot at its center. The front bead could have been larger, we thought, and should have been faced with gold or a bigger white dot. These rifles, after all, are not varmint rifles, unless you consider a Cape buffalo a varmint. There’s no need for fine sights. They need big, bold sights you can see in dim light against a black animal standing in the shade. This front sight needed work. It was hooded for protection, and was mounted in a sturdy barrel-band front base. The fixed rear was a wide vee with bold white centerline. It could be drifted for windage, and had a locking screw. We’d have liked a wider vee, but the existing sight was good. There were two folding leaves clearly marked for 200 and 300 yards. The rear sight base was integral with the barrel, formed out of the same piece of steel. (Note our comments on Ruger’s use of the word “integral” below.) And you could easily install a scope, because the action had integral bases.

The 25-inch barrel and action were carefully polished and well blued. The barrel was not free floated, but instead was fastened to the stock with a third bolt beneath the forend. This has proven to be a sound method on other CZ rifles we’ve tested. Inletting was very good to excellent. There was an abundance of wood extending lower than the front of the magazine box, and it looked like a clever woodworker would be able to reduce the size of the forend and make a better stock out of this one. The stock finish was durable (epoxy), and it let the grain show through. All the pores were filled, and the finish was smooth and even, a nice job, we thought.

The controlled-feed bolt within the big action was left in the white, but had a blued knob. Bolt operation was sticky, and we found we could jam the bolt easily with slight sideways pressure. This didn’t seem to get better with use. Feeding rounds was a fight. The bolt featured an easy take-apart mechanism. With the bolt cocked you press and hold the button in the side of the shroud, and then lift the bolt. Then you let go of the button and remove the bolt from the rifle, and unscrew the striker assembly. The striker is adjustable for impact force, rare among all rifles, and sometimes quite handy.

The safety locked the bolt if the safety were put on with the bolt closed. Unlike previously tested CZs, the safety went forward to the Off position, something U.S. shooters may like. But they won’t like the fact that the safety lever bumps the bolt shroud and badly scratches it, if you accidentally move the safety to the On position with the bolt open. This tended to jam the bolt, and it was worse than the normally sticky operation of the bolt. Even worse, the safety was extremely dangerous, we felt, because it was easy to hit the safety lever when operating the bolt, putting the safety on as a spent round was extracted and a new one chambered. This left you with a loaded rifle, but with the safety on. This would get you killed in a tight spot.

The trigger was creepy but predictable, breaking at about 4.2 pounds. To our joy, it was one of CZ’s remarkable single-set triggers. Pressing it forward set it, which gave a pull of 15 ounces. The pull was adjustable. This feature has been useful to some of us, when it was sometimes necessary to hold a rifle on a particular spot until the game appeared, and then touch off a shot without losing time pressing a normal trigger.

Contrary to what is stated on the company’s website, the magazine held four shots, not three. The magazine had a hinged floorplate. The release button was in front of the trigger guard, and worked well. The rifle had enough weight for the caliber, we thought. Unscoped, it weighed nearly as much (9.3 pounds) as the Dakota with scope (9.4).

It was time to take the CZ to the range. We found the iron sights to be well centered at 50 yards, and after a shot or two offhand, which we greatly enjoyed, we settled in to the accuracy testing. The CZ’s best efforts were with our 400-grain Hornady handload, which gave 1.9-inch groups at that range. The Federal fodder spread over 3.6 inches at 50 yards, and our “light” 350-grain load (which came out of this one much faster than out of the Dakota, 2168 fps vs. 2033) went into 3.3 inches on average. We thought the rifle had enough accuracy for its intended purpose. We felt that a more visible front sight, or especially a scope, would have improved our accuracy results.

There were three problems with this rifle, two of them huge. We already told you about the safety being in the way of fast reloading, and its secondary tendency to jam the bolt and scar the bluing. Next, the forend stud didn’t belong on the forend. It nearly broke our finger once when we let our guard down. The simple fix is to remove the stud, and don’t mount a sling. The third problem was also serious. The last round in the magazine could never be relied on to feed. Most of the time it didn’t. That, combined with the faulty safety, placed this rifle into the also-ran category, we figured. We’ve seen a similar feeding problem in another CZ in .375 H&H Mag caliber, and we suspect a good gunsmith will be needed to get this one to feed reliably. The problem in a nutshell is the magazine does not bring the bottom cartridge’s rim high enough, and the bolt jumps over it.

Ruger No. 1 Tropical Rifle, Model 1-H, .416 Rigby, $920

This company has built a fine single shot for many years now, and you would think they know how to do a good job of it. You would be wrong. We took delivery of two No. 1 rifles recently, one in .375 H&H Mag and one in .416 Rigby. Our initial inspection showed them to be well made, the .375 having an attractive laminated stock and stainless finish, and the .416 having blued steel and walnut. The wood of our .416 Rigby test rifle was very nice. The black walnut butt matched the forend acceptably, though the two pieces clearly came from different parts of the tree. The finish, while not perfect, was a good cut above many other makers’ stock finish. The checkering was clean, attractive, well done, and functional. The stock profile was attractive, with the “Henry” notch in the forend, and clean, simple lines to the rest of it. Bluing was also very good. The metal was flat and crisp on the action, and free of dips and gouges on the barrel and other parts.

The quarter rib had the unfortunate look of having been stuck on as an afterthought. It was bolted to the top of the barrel and provided the bases for Ruger’s outstanding scope rings. Inletting was acceptable, with the wood slightly proud of the steel in what has become Ruger’s standard practice. The pistol grip was capped with a steel plate, a nice touch for durability that also looked good, we thought. The butt had a sling swivel stud, and the barrel had a band that held the front swivel stud. Despite the rifle’s compact size it had a 24-inch barrel of good proportions that gave the No. 1 slightly muzzle-heavy balance that made the rifle easy to hold steady, offhand. So far, no problems. Then we looked at the butt pad. It was small, hard, black, about half an inch thick, and entirely worthless. We’ve complained about similar problems with other Rugers in the past, and so far, Ruger has not fixed the problem.

On the test range, the .416 Rigby Ruger No 1 hurt one of our shooters severely. He had a big bruise, and severe pain in his shoulder and arm for days following our test sessions. We cut short the testing of the rifle before we were done, because we had had enough of that foolishness. The pads on the Dakota and CZ were much larger in area than the Ruger’s, and far, far softer. Both rifles had Pachmayr Decelerator pads, and both of those rifles were entirely comfortable on our shoulders from any position, including bench testing. The Ruger hurt even from offhand.

Not only was recoil unmanageable, but during our test firing, the Ruger No. 1 also failed each and every time to eject the cartridge away from the gun. The empty case was thrown out of the chamber well enough, but it struck the top edge of the safety button and bounced back, to lie in the gutter behind the chamber. Yet another problem was the folding rear sight. It gave a vague sight picture that didn’t permit fast or easy centering of the front bead, despite the big white diamond in the center of the sight. Elevation was always a question. The tiny U-notch was all wrong, we thought. It was too hard to see, and offered no exact elevation reference. There were tiny screws to change elevation, if desired. But after shooting the CZ with its excellent express sights, the Ruger sight revealed itself to be nearly useless by comparison. Despite that, we found the accuracy, in our limited testing, to be acceptable, but we’re sure we didn’t get the full measure of the Ruger’s potential because of its poor rear sight.

Gun Tests Recommends

Dakota 76 African Grade .416 Rigby, $5,795. Best Buy. We could find absolutely nothing wrong with the Dakota. It would be, we thought, an excellent choice for a one-rifle African safari, or to take against the biggest game anywhere in the world. It will also work perfectly on moose, elk, and deer, with suitable loads.

CZ 550 American Safari Magnum, .416 Rigby, $833. Don’t Buy. This rifle had a lot of nice features, including sights, enough weight, great comfort from a really good, rounded, recoil pad, a workable trigger with outstanding set mechanism, good looks, and enough accuracy. It was for the most part a well-thought-out, well-made rifle with two significant problems.

The sticky bolt action might be resolved by anointing the bolt with a suitable fine abrasive in oil, working the dickens out of the bolt, and then cleaning it all thoroughly.

But the CZ’s safety situation is touchy. With the bolt closed, the safety was hard to put on. With the bolt open, there was almost no effort required to move the safety to the On position. This, combined with the failure to feed the fourth round, was why we rejected this safari rifle.

Ruger No. 1 Tropical Rifle, Model 1-H, .416 Rigby, $920. Don’t Buy. The No. 1 was Bill Ruger’s pride and joy, styled after his love of the classic Alexander Henry single shot.

The good things about the No. 1 .416 Rigby, other than those mentioned already, were a decent trigger pull and the compact size and good balance that come with single shots. The rifle had enough weight, but not enough to overcome the horrid and useless recoil pad. The Ruger’s firing, action, and ejector mechanisms all worked just fine, but the rifle lacked the attention to detail that such a rifle demands, in our view. We suspect Mr. Ruger would be embarrassed by this poor example. As we found it, this Ruger No. 1 did not come close to the qualifications a serious rifle must have. To become an outstanding rifle, the No. 1 would need at least a good recoil pad, and probably a stock redesign to get the pad area larger. The safety has to be redesigned, or ground out of the way to give proper ejection. Beyond these problems, it needs a good wide-angle vee express sight, and the rear does not need to fold, or to be adjustable.