August 27, 2019
Photos by Michael Anschuetz
Behind the blue door of an unassuming shop on 13-19 Pensbury Place in London’s Vauxhall district, just a few miles south of downtown, a small number of gunsmiths work steadily on Rigby rifles and shotguns. Certain models and custom treatments require years to create.
Inside, Rigby’s showroom is overwhelming. Below the game trophies are elegant racks positioned against walls presenting the brand’s legendary long arms: Rising Bite double rifles and shotguns, Mauser-based Big Game rifles and the latest Highland Stalker. Many shelves are ornamented with relics of an era where monarchs, the upper class and legendary hunters such as W.D.M “Karamojo” Bell, John “Harry” Henry Selby, Frederick C. Selous, John “Pondoro” Taylor and Col. Edward “Jim” James Corbett carried such fine guns in pursuit of adventure and exploration.
A glass display guards Corbett’s storied rifle, one that he used to defend against man-eating tigers that terrorized India by killing hundreds during the 1920s. Notably, the new Rigby Highland Stalker was inspired by the design of Corbett’s rifle. Next to the original sits a rare copy of Corbett’s book, “Jungle Stories.” Only 100 copies were privately published in 1935.
Below the rifle racks is the library of Rigby’s ledgers, the oldest dates back to 1784. These ledgers document firearms purchased and repaired, organized by both serial number and listing the original owner’s name. They reflect English history that includes the scripted entries of Queen Elizabeth II, several kings, members of gentry and that of the late-President George H. W. Bush. If you were to purchase a Rigby, your name, too, would continue the tradition.
My arrival at Rigby was welcomed by Marc Newton, the company’s managing director. Starting at the bottom after graduating college, Newton demonstrated a hard work ethic and an early passion for both guns and hunting. He successfully proposed a business plan and was selected to steward the brand following Rigby’s 2013 London homecoming by the L&O Group, the parent company of Blaser, J.P. Sauer & Sohn, Mauser and SIG Sauer. During the history lesson, Newton proudly opened a few ledgers to point out entries for former U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the reigning Queen, among others. His passion is undeniable.
Through a door at the back, I was led to a working shop and introduced to Ed Workman, head of production. His standards are high as he oversees a team of gunsmiths and engravers with diverse backgrounds. Moments later, I was handed a blue apron and tried my hand at filing and blending smooth the slot on the head of a hand-made screw, to be used to secure a scope base, and done so that the customer doesn’t see graceful lines interrupted on a double.
Gunsmiths proudly wear the same blue apron, even the specialists. Most of Rigby’s ’smiths come from Europe’s last remaining schools in Liege, Belgium, and St. Etienne, France, so there exists a slight language barrier among a few, new employees. Their resumes are impressive with many having studied under artisan gunmakers. One apprentice possesses a mechanical engineering degree, while Rigby’s head of sales, Andrew Ambrose, brought 19 years of experience working for the well-respected gunmaker, Holland & Holland. Stocker Vladimir Tomascik, a gunsmith, carpenter and cabinetmaker from Slovakia, came to Rigby in 2013. While I was learning how to checker a grip, he described the process of oiling a wood stock, which can require six to eight weeks.
Upstairs, I met Saija Koskialho, a new Rigby team member from Finland with a degree in Fine Arts. As an engraver, she brought along her experience studying goldsmithing in Italy and engraving in Finland before attending the Liege School of Gunmaking in Belgium. Later, Newton insightfully opined, “Engraving has never been better than it is now. Yes, there were more standard engravers 100 years ago, but game scenes were based on drawings in a book. Today, our artists refer to detailed pictures.”
Introduced in 2017, the Highland Stalker was developed as a traditional deerstalking rifle. (In the United Kingdom, “deerstalking” refers to red deer or stag, the European equivalent to American elk.) Rigby produced such a rifle at the turn of the 20th century when it partnered with Paul Mauser. With these rifles, hunters like Bell and Corbett made a name for themselves. Given that Rigby regards the Scottish Highlands as the birthplace of stalking, the title befits the new rifle.
Like the original, the Highland Stalker is built on a made-in-Germany Mauser M98 action to original specifications. The fact that the L&O Group owns Mauser makes this relationship convenient. With the Mauser action, we get a controlled-round-feed (CRF) bolt, meaning that the bolt face picks up a cartridge from the magazine and holds it by means of a large claw extractor while the cartridge is guided to the chamber. There are two large locking lugs at the front of the bolt, 180 degrees apart, and a third lug is at the rear for added strength. The bolt throw is almost 90 degrees, meaning the handle is easy to lift. Though the bolt lift is taller than a three-lug bolt, the Mauser design combined with the contour of the handle makes the Highland Stalker fast to cycle.
A groove for the blade ejector is cut through the right side of the bolt as you look at the bolt face. As a result, the Highland Stalker can eject cases with authority if the bolt is pulled with speed, or they can be gently captured if drawn slowly. Regardless, this bolt design is well proven and has been often borrowed by many rifle designs. An extractor breaking on Mauser’s CRF bolt is almost unheard of. It can be argued, but I feel the action maintains its reputation as the strongest bolt-action design extant.
The bottom metal includes a pivoting floorplate to unload cartridges held by the magazine. The serrated magazine release button is at the front inside of the triggerguard. This is a great feature in the field for not having to cycle the bolt to unload. That said, the middle position of the three-position wing safety allows the shooter to work the action with the trigger locked while unloading the chamber.
The trigger measured 2 ounces shy of 3 pounds, which is light when compared to other popular hunting rifles. The trigger enables the user to extract this rifle’s maximum accuracy potential, but in the field, if you carry a round in the chamber, I recommend that the safety be engaged until you’re ready to fire.
The Highland Stalker is available in .275 Rigby, .308 Winchester, .30-’06 Springfield, 8x57mm and 9.3x62mm. Americans may not be familiar with the “.275 Rigby” designation, but it’s the same cartridge as the 7x57mm Mauser developed in 1892. In keeping with the legacy of Bell and Corbett, I chose to evaluate the Highland Stalker in .275 Rigby and ordered Hornady’s Custom 140-grain load, which advertises a muzzle velocity of 2,680 feet per second (fps). Using a LabRadar chronograph, I recorded a faster average of 2,743 fps. This produces a relatively flat trajectory with the soft-point bullet only dropping 9 inches at 300 yards and 26½-inch at 400 yards when zeroed at 200. The .275 Rigby produces moderate recoil, which is effectively managed by the rifle’s 1-inch rubber recoil pad and overall weight of 9 pounds, 9 ounces with a Leica Visus scope attached.
A European Feel
The Highland Stalker features a 14¾-inch length of pull, which is noticeably long to American riflemen. With a scope mounted rearward, an average-build shooter has to stretch and crawl up on the stock to establish proper eye relief. It’s easiest to shoot this rifle from a prone position. In fairness, Rigby offers the option to specify the stock length in inches for no additional charge.
The selection of wood is simply incredible. Grade 5 Turkish walnut is standard for the Highland Stalker’s Mauser 98 Standard action. Should you want a higher grade of wood, Rigby also offers Grades 6 through 9 at a premium.
The barreled action is bedded into the stock, and the barrel on Guns & Ammo’s sample didn’t come in contact with the wood despite the thinnest of gaps. At the range, I observed that the barrel heats up quickly after three shots and could possibly come into contact with swollen wood and degrade accuracy potential. It is obvious to me that the Highland Stalker was intended for field use with a minimum number of shots required to harvest a game animal.
The Highland Stalker features a traditional front bead sight with a removable hood paired with flip-up express leaf sights at the rear. The sights are accurately regulated for 65, 150 and 250 yards.
The action is drilled and tapped for scope mounts. I ordered a set of Talley steel bases and rings to mount a Leica Visus 2.5-10x42mm optic. During mounting, I observed that the rear base had to be modified by careful filing to avoid interrupting the bolt lift, and I then reblued it. Medium-size rings are as low as you can set the scope in. With the long length of pull, I maxed out the scope’s eye relief, but was still able to shoot effectively.
The Echo of Bagpipes
Following the tour of Rigby, I flew to Edinburgh, Scotland, and stayed at Gleneagles (gleneagles.com), a magnificent golf and spa resort where I brought my wife to celebrate our 10th anniversary. While I stalked the Highlands each day, she enjoyed various activities and relaxation. I highly recommend it.
The stag hunting was equally impressive. I carried the Rigby in .275 across many of the 78,000 acres on the Drummond Estate near Stirling. The land has been in the Drummond family since 1653.
The terrain was tough as we attempted to close in on herds while climbing 3,000 feet in a day. Mountains between 2,000 and 3,000 feet are referred to as “Corbetts” and those taller than 3,000 are classified as “Monroes.” Guides wore traditional tweed patterned clothes in colors of the local heather and clan history. Also interesting was that we were always trailed by a horse and its handler whose use was to recover a stag, never to carry a hunter.
My guide, Paul Raffertey, affectionately referred to good stags as “beasts.” Though we were pursuing a herd of nearly 150 deer, it was an all-day effort to stalk within 300 yards of them. On my last day, I managed to take a proper stag in velvet with a single downhill shot from my .275 Rigby. The trek out of the mountains and valleys was just as difficult as going in as I walked beside the horse to clear its path in the same Scottish hunting tradition. The Highland Stalker is now as much a part of that tradition.
Rigby Highland Stalker Specifications Type
: Bolt actionCaliber
: .275 Rigby (tested)Capacity
: 5 rds.Barrel
: 22 in., 1:8.66-in. twistOverall Length
: 44 in.Weight
: 7 lbs., 8 oz.Stock
: Turkish walnut, Grade 5Grips
: Round, checkeredLength of Pull
: 14.75 in.Finish
: Blued (steel); oiled (walnut)Trigger
: 2 lbs., 14.2 oz. (tested)Sights
: Bead, ramped (front); Express, regulated for 65, 150 and 250 yards (rear)Safety
: John Rigby & Co., johnrigbyandco.com
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