September 23, 2010
By Craig Boddington
Take Ruger's .416 cartridge, put it in the compact, all-weather Alaskan, and you're set for the biggest game on the planet.
By Craig Boddington
I can remember a time when we didn't have any factory .416s, and it wasn't all that long ago. Historically, the only .416 caliber cartridge was the .416 Rigby, introduced by John Rigby in about 1911. The cartridge was kept as a Rigby proprietary round, meaning Rigby was the sole source of both rifles and cartridges. So although the .416 Rigby was famous, it was actually uncommon. No matter. Its reputation far exceeded its actual availability, and during the 1970s and 1980s the .416 saw resurgence among American riflemen.
In addition to the large-cased .416 Rigby there were several wildcats, at least two of which achieved considerable popularity. John Wootters is one of many who uses and touts the .416 Taylor, a short (.30-06 length) cartridge based on the .458 Winchester Magnum necked down.
Left to right: .416 Ruger, .416 Remington Magnum, .416 Rigby. All three of these cartridges are essentially identical in performance, but the case-design differences are evident.
Professional hunter George Hoffman, an American, took the full-length .375 H&H case and necked it up to .416, creating the .416 Hoffman. I used both the .416 Hoffman and .416 Rigby in the mid-80s, finding the caliber a wonderful compromise between the .375 and the true big bores: It was almost as versatile as the former, yet on the largest game seemed to hit almost as hard as the latter.
The .416 Taylor almost made it into factory form at least twice, and it was no secret that Bill Ruger greatly admired the .416 Rigby and wanted to make a big bolt action so chambered. Sooner or later there would be an American .416. And then, suddenly, between 1988 and 1989, we had three.
Remington, working very quietly, actually came first with its excellent .416 Remington Magnum, which was almost identical to the .416 Hoffman except based on the on 8mm Remington Magnum case. Ruger, working with Federal, brought back the .416 Rigby. And Weatherby introduced its fast .416 Weatherby Magnum.
All three cartridges are excellent, and in the 20 years that have passed it has seemed to me that between them we had enough .416 cartridges. Nearly a decade ago, Remington considered necking the .375 Remington Ultra Mag up to .416. It chose not to, perhaps in part because of clearly limited demand for powerful, hard-kicking cartridges — and, perhaps reasonably, to avoid competing with its own .416 Remington.
In those 20 years there have been other .416 wildcats and proprietaries, but I am not aware of any .416 development, or even experimentation, by a major manufacturer. Until, that is, the recent introduction of the .416 Ruger.
A "mixed group" fired with three 400-grain DGX softpoints and two 400-grain DGS solids — perfect medicine for dangerous African game.
The parent case, the .375 Ruger, is such a great idea that it seemed obvious from the start that it would spawn a family of cartridges. Developed by Hornady in conjunction with Ruger, the case is nominally 2.5 inches long, designed to fit into standard bolt actions. That is hardly unusual. Nor is the fact that it's a rimless, unbelted case.
The clever part is the rim and base diameter, .532 inch, which is exactly the same as the belt diameter of a standard belted magnum (based on the .375 H&H case). This means it will fit the bolt face and, generally, feed rails, of standard-length bolt actions designed to handle standard belted magnums.
The case offers more powder capacity than our belted magnums, obviously, but it isn't as fat as the Remington and Winchester families of unbelted magnums, and the rim is not rebated.
Steve Hornady told me, quite simply, that one of the advantages of this case is that it's "manufacturer-friendly." In other words, in addition to easily fitting into existing actions, it is very easy to make this case feed smoothly and properly.
Steve Hornady used the Ruger Hawkeye Alaskan in .416 Ruger to take buffalo and other large game.
I have used the .375 Ruger quite a bit. It's a great cartridge and Ruger's redesigned "Hawkeye" version of the Model 77 is a real sweetheart. Together they were the most successful large caliber introduction in history. Of course, good old American wildcatters went to work immediately, and necking up to .416 was an obvious move.
Early speculation had it that a .416 would be the first offspring. Instead Hornady and Ruger went the other direction, shortening the case and necking it down to create the efficient, effective, "manufacturer-friendly" .300 and .338 Ruger Compact Magnums. And then, inevitably, Hornady and Ruger introduced the .416 Ruger.
At this writing the version of the M77 that's available in .416 Ruger is the Hawkeye Alaskan, featuring matte stainless metalwork, Hogue synthetic stock, upgraded Hawkeye iron sights (with Ruger rings supplied, of course), and a 20-inch barrel.
The .416 will soon be added to the longer-barreled, walnut-stocked African version, now available in .375 Ruger — but, at least according to what I'm hearing, Ruger's engineers are taking some extra time to make sure the wood will stand up under the recoil. Good idea because the .416 Ruger kicks, and the lighter the rifle, the more it kicks.
The express-style rear sight on the Hawkeye Alaskan is paired with a ramped, white-bead front.
The ballistics are extremely familiar: 400-grain bullet, 2,400 fps muzzle velocity, 5,115 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy (Hornady's published figures from a 24-inch barrel). This is pretty much what the .416 Rigby has given us for nearly a century and what the .416 Remington has given us for 20 years.
There are two differences. First, the .416 Ruger does this from a .30-06-length action. This is not earthshaking, but the .375 Ruger has taught me that the sh
orter action offers distinct handling advantages.Second, the wider case does yield an efficiency factor that allows the use of shorter barrels without a large loss in velocity. For instance, the 20-inch-barrel Alaskan I tested averaged 2,305. I was just in the Zambezi Valley with Steve Hornady, and the 20-inch barrel he was shooting, with a more recent lot of ammo, chronographed 2,330 fps. Now, I'm in the group that prefers longer barrels, but I'm aware that many of us like the handiness of short tubes. Whichever, no buffalo or bear is going to notice the difference.
The Ruger Hawkeye, in .416 or any other chambering, is nothing more (nor less) than a Ruger M77 Mark II. This means it has controlled-round feed, three-position safety on the cocking piece, and integral scope mount bases.
Since it's a Hawkeye it has the upgraded (and really excellent.) iron sights, and since it's the Alaskan version it features Hogue's black OverMolded "soft finish" stock. The stock helps soak up a bit of recoil, but be prepared. At 7.75 pounds without scope this rifle is on the ragged edge of "shootability" for a .416, and it bounces pretty good off the bench. I did the grouping my sadistic editor required, and then I shot it off sticks, thank you very much.
Accuracy is as good as you can hold, and certainly all that any rifle of this power level needs to deliver. Field performance is also superb, with Hornady's new DGX and DGS (Dangerous Game Expanding and Dangerous Game Solid, respectively) providing very good results on extra-large game, including lion, buffalo and elephant. Some of this work was done by Steve Hornady himself, who happens to like short barrels and isn't the least bit shy about trying new products.
Make no mistake, you house a powerful cartridge such as the .416 Ruger in a sub-eight-pound rifle, and it is going to kick.
The real question is: Did we actually need another .416-caliber cartridge? Well, if you want to get technical I suppose you could say that we haven't really needed any cartridge developed after about 1926 (that would give us the .270 Winchester and .300 H&H, along with the .30-06 and all the old big bores.). In that context, no, we didn't need it.
|Want More Big Bores?|
If you like big bores, and we mean really big bores, then don't miss Boddington's report on shooting .577, .600 and .700 Nitro Express cartridges. You can read all about it by picking up a copy of the Nov./Dec. 2009 issue of Rifleshooter available on newsstands now.
That said, I like it. The shorter action gives it a wonderful feel, and it feeds superbly. Just a few years ago, not knowing the Ruger cartridge family was en route, I had a Ruger M77 rebarreled to .416 Taylor. It worked wonderfully and handled like a dream (as John Wootters wrote 30 years ago).
The Taylor never made it into factory form and now is very, very unlikely to, but the .416 Ruger is here, and because it has greater case capacity, will absolutely outperform the old wildcat. It can be housed in actions that are not only shorter than actions that will fit the .416 Rigby and Remington, but also cheaper and more available. This is especially true if you're a lefty like me. So whether you need the .416 Ruger or not, I need it. And I'm glad it's here.