Passion: A return to Africa for the Rigby Rising Bite

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Passion: A return to Africa for the Rigby Rising Bite

This is now my main rifle. I’m going to use it for everything!” Not many statements could do as much to assure a rifle maker that they’ve succeeded in building a firearm that satisfies, but Adolfo Gutierrez’s words must surely have pleased Marc Newton Managing Director of John Rigby and Company. Adolfo was speaking in the Save Valley, in Zimbabwe, where he had just hunted and killed a mature Cape buffalo. And the rifle? The renowned Rising Bite, the first to be produced from the Rigby workshop in 83 years.

The Rigby Rising Bite double rifle is one of the most iconic of all rifles, and gets its name from the unique vertical-bolt locking system. It was originally designed in 1879, thanks to a collaboration between T. Bissel and John Rigby, with a patent taken out in the same year – the vertical-bolt locking system, one of the most sophisticated ever designed. Approximately 1,000 Rising Bites were built, with the final custom-ordered examples being produced in 1932 for the Maharaja of Karauli. The Maharaja ordered a pair, in .405 Winchester and .350 No. 2 Rigby Nitro Express. Marc decided, in 2014, that it was time for Rigby’s most famous rifle to be resurrected. This was done by reverse engineering an original example made for the Maharana of Udaipur, built in the early 20th century. Marc oversaw this project, with valuable input from historian Steve Helsley and collector David Peterson. The master craftsmen at Rigby have now built a London Best double rifle using the Rising Bite action, which, in late 2016, made its triumphant return to Africa.

Adolfo was the first person to take possession of the newly revived rifle, which was first displayed at the Safari Club International Convention in 2016. For Adolfo, it was a defining moment: “I own several double rifles, but I’d never taken one on safari with me before. I knew that’s what I wanted to do with the Rigby.” His aim, initially, was to hunt the dangerous-game species, with the exception of rhino, and to take all these animals with his newly acquired Rigby. For this purpose, Adolfo booked an 18-day safari on the Save River, where, on his first day, the mature buffalo was spotted, hunted, and despatched in quick succession.

The first shot at game from the rifle was taken at 30 yards, and while follow-up shots were required. The buffalo, a 40” bull, was, as Adolfo says, “dead on its feet. I took the final shot at 120 yards.” No small feat with open sights. However, Adolfo had been preparing for months: “I shot that rifle every single day, so I knew I was ready.” Adolfo, incidentally, prefers not to use sticks on large game: “They slow you down when you are hunting game that is constantly moving.” The fit of the rifle, for which Adolfo travelled from the US to London five times, is perfect, which makes taking these types of shots, “A dream. That rifle feels like the best fitting shotgun when I put it into my shoulder, it’s incredibly natural. The fit is just perfect.”

Along with excellent fit, the recoil is smooth and, according to Adolfo, “Very straight. It doesn’t throw you off, so your second shot can be dead on, too.” The second barrel is just ¼” out from the first, so 1¼” groups at 65 yards can be achieved, a remarkable grouping for a big-bore double-barrelled rifle. In practise, this meant that Adolfo was able to drop a very old kudu on the spot from 90 yards, as well as a mature eland that immediately fell to the Rising Bite’s report.

“Adolfo passed up the opportunity to shoot a few other animals,” explains Marc, “proving himself a truly selective hunter. He only wanted to shoot mature examples, which is admirable.”

Along for the trip, Adolfo had brought a London Best .416 with a scope, but it remained in its case after the success achieved with that first shot on the buffalo. “This is now my primary rifle, for all big game,” Adolfo said. He’s booked his next trip to Mozambique and Zimbabwe for later this year, “And I’m planning to take it with me on a hunting trip every single year from now on.”

Save Valley Conservancy

The Save Valley is one of the great success stories of a partnership between conservation and hunting. From the 1920s until the early 1990s, cattle ranching was the mainstay of the valley, pushing wildlife to the outskirts of the valley. The habitat, grazed by cattle, didn’t support game animals, while predators attacked the cattle, and farmers naturally wanted to protect their livestock. Over the decades, changing markets, foot-and-mouth, and civil war made farming unprofitable, with the final blow to farming delivered by a drought in 1991/1992. A change was needed, and this led to the formation of the Save Valley conservancy. The huge Devuli Ranch, which had been made up of 750,000 hectares was divided into 15 smaller areas, three of which were purchased by Willy Pabst and now form Sango, which is where Adolfo was hunting.

All livestock was removed, internal fences were taken down, and wildlife was reintroduced. Anti-poaching teams were brought in and lodges were built, opening their doors in 2003. An astonishing recovery has taken place, with vegetation increasing year-on-year, as well as indigenous wildlife, including predators such as lion and leopard, and also elephant and both black and white rhino. The combination of high quality but low density tourism helps to ensure Sango’s mission: “To maintain the natural biodiversity of the Save Valley Conservancy, on a sustainable basis for the socio-economic benefit of the region using accepted ecological management practices and ethical business principles. Sango is committed not to derive benefits at the expense of and to the detriment of its flora and fauna.” It’s telling that in 2006, Sango won the Edmond Blanc Prize for Sustainable Development, which is awarded by the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC). Sango was also ranked as the fifth-best safari in the world in 2009 by the Outdoor Channel. Hunting takes place over an enormous area, and the wildlife is free-ranging.

The Rising Bite

With a deluxe, hand-fitted walnut custom-fitted stock and Rigby pattern full-scroll engraving, and gold inlaid details, the new generation of Rigby Rising Bite double rifles are an example of the finest craftsmanship and artistry. The action is color-case hardened, as is the fore-end iron, while the barrels and furniture are blacked. The barrels are “London Best”, and the ejector regulating switch is inside the fore-end, which has a lever release catch. The rifles have sidelock ejectors, and a traditional full-length rib or a Rigby ¼ rib and front sight block. Rising Bites take up to three years to produce, and are available in .416 Rigby, .450/.400 Nitro Express, .470 Nitro Express, .500 Nitro Express, .577 Nitro Express and .600 Nitro Express. Scope mounts can be customised and fitted, and there is a variety of options for engraving and inlay.