Bruce Potts reviews the Rigby Highland Stalker- a perfect marriage of old world English styling and German engineering
Classic Rigbys these days go for large sums of money, combining the charm of yesteryear and the very best in English quality styling, fit and finish with the precision-engineering metal components made by Mauser. This partnership was formed in the early 1900s and it works just as well today.
Three years ago, John Rigby’s managing director Marc Newton embarked on a mission to reinstate one of the company’s most iconic rifles — the Highland model. The styling is pure nostalgia and taken from the Rigby Highland stalking rifles of a previous era and smaller calibre rifles for which Rigby is famous. The rounded pistol grip, chequering and slim ambidextrous stock handles perfectly and keeps the Highland model true to its origin and suitable for all. To all this is added Rigby’s signature open sights and sling barrel fitment.
It is at the bench, sighting-in the Rigby that your first impressions are formed and you get a good indication of its performance and handling characteristics. Being a .275 Rigby this is just Rigby’s renaming of the famous 7x57mm Mauser round designed in 1892 and adopted for the 1893 Mauser-actioned military rifle. This Highland model is sensibly and traditionally set up for 140-gr bullets, which is engraved on the top of the barrel for reference.
At the bench, as I shot a couple of World War II K98 sniper rifles, I noticed how familiar the Rigby/Mauser 98 action is. The heart of the action that uses the traditional 36mm large ring receiver has no left-side wall cut, just like on military spec models. The bolt is large and has two large locking lugs up front that are guided in the action rails by a long bolt guide on top of the bolt. For safety, there is also a rear locking lug just in front of the bolt handle.
Rigby’s Mauser action also has a full-length extractor claw that acts as a second bolt guide. It has an enormous grip on the cartridge’s rim so that when a second shot is needed, you can rely on the Rigby extracting a spent case. This Rigby has had the claw fully blued, which is a nice touch. The bolt face has the excellent “controlled round feed” profile, where the lower half is machined away so cartridges from the magazine are fed directly up to the grip of the bolt face and extractor claw. This makes for a super-reliable bolt action that has been the lure of the Mauser action all these years, often copied but never equalled.
Equally good is the bolt shroud at the rear where instead of a lever-type safety, which was always problematic when a scope was fitted, there is now an enlarged shroud that uses the Winchester pre-1964 action’s wing safety.
Here, when stalking in any weather, you have at your fingertips a three-position safety that forwardmost is in the fire position and at midpoint the sear in the trigger is disengaged but the bolt can be operated to remove a loaded round — handy if you need to climb gates and fences. When fully back, the bolt and trigger are locked and so completely safe.
Being a new Mauser action, the Rigby’s trigger is a massive improvement and now you have a single stage, instead of the old two-stage military trigger, which breaks at a clean 2.5lb weight.
How does it shoot?
Prior to taking it out, I used varying bullet weights to ascertain the best grouping and then fine-tuned this with reloads. The Rigby’s barrel is particularly good; being Mauser it is made in Mauser’s own factory and not outsourced, so quality control is well maintained.
The Rigby has that reassuring heft that comes from the use of the correct materials (in others words, metal not plastic). The barrel is 22in long and has a traditional quick stepped-down profile from the action, then a slow taper that gives a medium-heavy profile. I really like this as it aids good accuracy due to less heat build-up than in a slim barrel. It also dampens barrel harmonics, again to ensure better accuracy. Rigby fits its signature open sights that not only finish off the original look but work really well. The foresight is a high ramp with height-adjustable gold bead complimented with a lovely raised rearsight with one fixed and two leaf sights set for 65, 150 and 250 yards.
I had three factory loads at hand, and started with the Federal 140-gr Nosler Partition Vital Shok from GMK Ltd. These are excellent for all-round use but deer are essentially their preferred game. From this Highland model’s 22in barrel they averaged 2,584fps for 2,076ft/lb energy.
Fitted by Rigby with the Swarovski Z3 scope, I could get a maximum spread of 1.5in at 100 yards. Switching to the heavier Norma 156-gr Oryx bullets, good for plains game, these achieved 2,675fps and 2,479ft/lb energy and 1.35in groups.
The best factory load, however, was the RWS 123-gr Cone point bullets from RUAG. These are ideal for roe as they are tough but shoot flat and fast. The Rigby shot these rounds at 2,991fps for 2,444ft/lb energy and 1.25in groups — more than good enough for factory ammunition.
For the reloads, to mimic the RWS 123-gr load, I then tested the rifle with a Hornady 120-gr HP with 46 grains of Alliant RL15 powder. It made 2,907fps and 2,252 ft/lb energy and three shots achieved 0.85in at 100 yards.
For more regular deer use, I settled on the 48.5 grains of IMR4350 powder and a Nosler Ballistic Tips bullet that achieved a healthy 2,765fps and 2,377ft/lb energy, and three shots all under the inch.
But of course, where it all comes together and the elements of the Rigby Highland become a cohesive unit, is in the field. And this is what I tested next.
(The field test for the Rigby Highland will be published in the next couple of days).
Need to know
Model Highland Stalker
Type Classic Bolt Action Sporter
Calibre .275 Rigby/ 7x57mm (.308, .30-06, 8x57mm and 9.3x62mm available)
Action Bolt action
Magazine 4-shot hinged floor plate
Finish Nitrided, non reflective
Barrel 22in, non screw cut
Overall Length 43.5in
Weight 7.8 lb
Sights Rigby Express sights with folding leaves
Stock Grade five Turkish walnut, classic design
Trigger Mauser single stage
Ladies version 13⅞in length of pull, std 14¼in
Maker Rigby and Co Gunmakers Ltd, tel: 020 7720 0757
No left-hand version