While we spend most of our time looking at rifles made for our grandfathers, occasionally it is appropriate to examine something hot off the bench. This is because some of our rifle makers are still producing models that started life in the Victorian era and have changed little since, in appearance, function or method of production.

So we are going to do just that and examine the birth of a new rifle with its feet firmly in a bygone era. It is a double rifle chambered for .600 Nitro Express and made in London by John Rigby & Co.

rifleWhen hunting big, dangerous animals, there is a convincing argument to be made that bigger is better and very few rifles come bigger than the .600 Nitro Express. The cartridge itself is a thing to behold: a three-inch case, originally packed with one hundred grains of Cordite and topped with a bullet weighing 900gr. It leaves the muzzle at 2,050 feet per second and delivers on impact a massive 7,600ft-lb of energy. Clearly RIBGY .600 ELEPHANT Diggory Hadoke looks at a modern remake of a classic double that takes the art of engraving to the extreme these proportions are positively elephantine.

It is therefore no surprise that the intended quarry for this doublebarrelled monster is the pachyderm itself. The first .600 was launched onto the market around the time of World War I, by Jeffery. It was always a specialist’s tool and relatively few have been made to date.

However, collectors and elephant hunting obsessives have always harboured a deep passion for the .600 – the largest, commercially produced, hunting cartridge in the world until quite recently. Vintage examples, when they appear, command strong prices.

rifleJohn Rigby & Co. is fortunate in that it regularly attracts orders from loyal customers who fall into the category of ‘interesting’, and the company considers every non-standard commission a welcome challenge. If the customer has a vision and Mark Newton and his team of dedicated gunmakers can bring it to life in walnut and steel, they will do everything in their power to make it happen.

To Mark, the more extreme the request, the more boundaries it pushes and the more challenging the tasks involved, the better. To him it is the gunmaker’s equivalent of haute couture in the fashion industry. It is also a long way from the traditional – dare we say – conservative tastes of the British gun making establishment.

The rifle you see in these photographs is a spectacular example of this type of headline-grabbing project. Six years in the making, it has now emerged to excite Rigby collectors and rifle-making enthusiasts the world over.

This is not the first rifle Rigby has made with elephant hide as an engraving theme. A .450 magazine rifle was commissioned a decade ago when the idea was raised by the customer. Rigby engravers tested it on a grip cap, then a trigger guard, and eventually extended the theme around the rifle to create something unique.

However, that customer put a condition on the commission. He stipulated than this would be the only rifle of its kind to emerge from Pensbury Place.

Another good Rigby customer saw the .450 at a gun show and was immediately interested. He asked Mark for another but, due to the original agreement, he had to politely decline. The only option available that would honour the terms imposed by the first customer but acquiesce to the wishes of the second was what Mark considered “a bit of a stretch”.

If he recalls his words at the time correctly, he said, “You’d have to be a psycho to do it, but if someone ordered a Rising Bite Double Rifle engraved with an elephant skin theme, we could make that.” Without missing a beat, the customer replied, “I’m your psycho.”

A contract was agreed, though a budget could not be set due to the unknowable cost of the engraving. A hefty deposit was paid and work commenced in 2016.

The .600 is built on the largest frame Rigby employs for the newly re-engineered nitro version of the 1878 Rigby & Bissel patent action, which is so iconic to aficionados of the double rifle.

Building the rifle was not a problem – it’s what the London company is famed for. The engraving was another matter. While the rifle builders got to work, the engravers began to explore their approach.

Rather than just do an impression of elephant hide, Mark provided some samples of the real thing. The three engravers, who are from the same family, actually cut the steel to copy the genuine article. Just as on a real animal, every inch of every surface is unique and not a repeated pattern from a template.

rifleRigby has worked hard to cultivate a small but dedicated number of customers who support these cuttingedge commissions. Just as Formula One technology and practices feed into the wider world of motor vehicle manufacturing, gradually improving and refining everyday models, so these Products of Excellence (to borrow a term coined by the late Malcolm Lyle of Holland & Holland) help to ensure that the Rigby team innovates and improves by accepting VINTAGE GUNS challenges that go some distance beyond the skills employed in the making of well-known models with universally applied finishes.

These unique concept builds have to be pitched to the top-tier of customers and they are, by definition, expensive. Each concept can only be applied once, or perhaps in a limited edition of five or 10 iterations at most.

Rigby has, once again, demonstrated to the world that today’s best London gunmaker can meet demand in the sector from exhibition pieces costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, to the sub £10,000 price point available to any working man with a love of the brand and a desire to invest in something special with which to hunt deer.

Returning to the ‘exhibition piece’ of this article, the elephant hide .600 will actually be going to Africa to engage with the animals that inspired its build.

It looks very likely that it will do so in the company of the original elephantstyled .450 magazine rifle, as the two customers have now made oneanother’s acquaintance and are planning a safari together.

The team at Rigby eagerly await the post-hunt photographs. CONTACT For more info on Rigby & Co contact Sales on: Tel: +44 (0) 207 720 0757 

John Rigby & Co