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Rigby’s .350 Magnum – A Nostalgic Trip Down Memory Lane

I was brought up on my parents’ ranch at Naivasha in Kenya. Located in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, the ranch was situated on the lake shore and extended several thousand acres into the nearby “Leleshwa” hills. (Leleshwa is an aromatic bush that forms dense cover, which buffalo like to lie-up in. The Maasai people use its leaves as a deodorant). 

The ranch was aptly named “Kibokoni,” being the Swahili for “ The Place Of The Hippo.” But, “Kibokoni” was not only the place of the hippo. It teemed with other wildlife, including buffalo, East African eland, Cokes hartebeest, Burchells zebra, impala, Maasai bushbuck and mountain reedbuck amongst other game. It was also home to a large number of very big leopard, the occasional vagrant lion and black rhino, and even infrequent visits from elephant migrating out of the not-too-distant Mau Forest. 

It was at Kibokoni that I learned to hunt from a very young age, having been given a .22 Krico rifle by my game warden father, Roger, at the age of 9 years. That was soon upgraded to a .303 P 14 Rifle and then later to a .404 Jeffery, which Father loaned to me to hunt buffalo, so long as I was accompanied by one of his experienced game scouts . 

For a boy whose passion was the bush and hunting, I had a unique boyhood, free to roam the hills of Kibokoni, rifle in hand, with my Maasai friend Tinea, who was of the same age as myself. We were accompanied by our family Labrador dogs Ben, Bollinger and Sherry. 

One of our neighbors at Naivasha was Jack Block, owner of the famous Norfolk and New Stanley hotels in Nairobi. Jack was also chairman of the prestigious safari company, Ker and Downey, a company I was shortly to be working for.

His ranch, Longonot, based at the foothills of the extinct volcano of the same name, was a large tract of African bush country extending to over 20,000 acres. It was full of wildlife, to the extent that large numbers of big game were in direct competition for grazing with his pedigree Boran cattle.

Knowing I was a very keen hunter, even though very young, Jack asked my mother Daphne if I would like to help with reducing some of this overpopulation. I didn’t need to be asked twice! I had just turned 18 years old had just finished my last year at Kenya’s Duke of York School in Nairobi.

I had time on my hands and set aside two months of help with this game control. I was shortly to take up a position as an apprentice hunter with Ker and Downey Safaris and at the end of that year, I was granted my first restricted Professional Hunters Licence. 

The Kenya Game Department had sanctioned a careful reduction of wildlife numbers at Longonot. I was told to go and see John Nazer, who was the general manager of Longonot Ranch. John was to furnish me with an estate rifle and ammunition. A temporary permit for me to possess the rifle had been issued by the Kenya Police. 

Imagine my surprise when John opened the gun safe and handed me a .350 Rigby magnum square bridge Mauser-action rifle, two boxes of five 225-grain solid round nose bullets – and a dozen boxes of 225-grain soft nose bullets made by Kynoch and loaded with cordite powder. I was in heaven.

The Rigby had a shallow “V” fixed rear sight for shots of up to 100 yards and flip-up leaves calibrated for 200 and 300 yards . The front sight was a small bead that nestled perfectly in the bottom of the “V” when I picked up and pointed the rifle.

It also had a flip-up moon sight for dusk or night use. Additionally, it was a take-down version, which allowed the removal of the barrel for traveling purposes. I was soon to find out how effective this rifle and the .350 Rigby Magnum cartridge was. I was an avid reader of John “Pondoro”  Taylor’s book “African Rifles and Cartridges.” Taylor had this to say about the .350 Rigby magnum: “It is a splendidly effective shell and at ranges of up to at least 150 yards, kills as instantaneously as the .375 magnum. In addition, it has an appreciably lighter recoil.” 

John Nazer, knowing how eager I was, cautioned me not to shoot any buffalo with this rifle, but that the solid bullets were just in case I needed them . 

“Just in case!” What he meant by that I will never know, though at the time it seemed tongue-in-cheek and accompanied by a big smile! I took it to be careful, as there were old cantankerous bulls hiding in the ravines and Leleshwa bush on the edge of Longonot mountain.

My main efforts were to be directed at the huge zebra population and to a lesser extent eland and Cokes hartebeest and to take on a calf-killing leopard if the opportunity presented itself. 

The .350 was a lovely rifle, easy to use, with a perfectly crisp trigger. It was deadly accurate with both soft and solid bullets shooting precisely at the same point of aim. It had a turn over safety that locked both the action and trigger, but easy to use. I fell in love with it.

Whenever we passed through thick cover where buffalo lurked, I would chamber a solid bullet “just in case.” That habit was soon to get me out of a possible tough spot.

My friend Tinea and I would hunt opportunistically and on foot and soon had a reasonable tally of zebra (zebra eat more than twice the daily amount of grass consumed by a domestic cow and as a result are not popular with cattle ranchers).

We also hunted some hartebeest and eland – though to be fair we didn’t make much of a dent in the overall numbers. This was the first time I became fully aware of human/wildlife conflict, which made a lasting impression on me. (So much so, that on our ranch in Namibia we have no domestic livestock other than a handful of horses). 

The .350 was lethal and as Taylor said was “splendidly effective.” We had no wounded and lost animals. Most only required one well-placed shot and only occasionally was a second follow-up shot required. Having only open sights, I would only shoot at ranges I was comfortable with, mostly under 100 yards. Tinea and I became proficient stalkers out of necessity. 

The fresh meat was used on the ranch and the excess dried out as “biltong” (Jerky). The zebra skins were sold under a Game Department permit to City Furriers in Nairobi.

With our hunting being on foot, we were limited to the number of animals we could hunt and process daily. One of the farm workers would meet with us with a tractor and trailer to transport carcasses to the main farm buildings where skinning and meat processing took place. 

Yes, we did get the calf-killer leopard . He made the mistake of returning to one of his kills. And, yes, I did shoot an old buffalo bull with the .350. He stood glaring at us from twenty yards in a most threatening stance. I wasn’t about to find out his intentions!

Just one shot with a solid bullet placed one-third up in the middle of his massive chest is all it took. He ran fifty yards into thick Leleshwa and collapsed with a death rattle bellow: Much to the relief of Tinea and myself as neither of us relished having to make a follow-up, armed only with a .350, and not having a heavier calibre rifle with us!

My younger brother Mike, age 16 at that time, came with my mother Daphne in her Borgword car to see the buff and to take some of the meat back to our farm. The rest of the meat was collected by the Longonot Farm tractor and trailer. Nothing we shot was ever wasted. 

That was the only buffalo I shot with the .350. Would I do that again? Now, in hind sight, with 58 years of a fulltime professional hunting career behind me, the answer is unhesitatingly yes; providing I could make a careful shot and have the right bullets loaded to do the job. And providing it would be legal. Some countries have a minimum calibre size for use on buffalo, which is .375. This was the case in Kenya but was not enforced on private land. 

The .350 Rigby loaded with good quality soft nose bullets is a most suitable calibre for large African plains game such as eland, greater kudu and roan antelope. It is also a perfect calibre, again loaded with quality soft nose bullets, to hunt lion and leopard. 

Undoubtedly the .350 Rigby has accounted for numerous dangerous game animals over the years, including rhino. Additionally, there are those who hunted innumerable elephant with the .350 loaded with solids, used for both brain and heart shots. They included the famous ivory hunters “Karamoja” Bell, Denys Finch- Hatton of Karen Blixen fame and Pete Pearson, the most successful of the intrepid Lado (Congo) elephant hunters.

Would I recommend such a huge animal for this calibre? No! Though, without doubt in the right hands, it’s more than possible. Just consider what Bell managed just using a .275 Rigby!

For an elephant, preferably use a .416 Rigby or a .425 Westley Richards or a similar .400 calibre; or even larger calibre rifles such as the .458 Lott or in double rifles, the .470 or .500 Nitro Express. Always loaded with solid bullets! 

The only other large dangerous animal I shot with the .350 Rigby was a marauding bull hippo. This was on my mother’s farm “Kibokoni.” This hippo was frequently foraging in our Lucerne fields and trampling the aluminum irrigation pipes. Something my mother couldn’t afford, trying to make a difficult living on a Kenyan farm.

I used to take the Rigby home with me each evening for safe keeping and placed it in the corner of my bedroom where it wouldn’t fall over.

One night I heard some loud munching outside my bedroom window. In the moonlight I could see the bull hippo thirty yards away, chomping my mother’s lawn!

I loaded the .350 with a solid, raised the front moon sight, and peered out of my bedroom window. There he was ……still there! I raised the rifle, took deliberate aim for his heart/lung area just behind the shoulder and fired.

At the shot he went crashing off and shortly after I heard him splashing about in the lake. In the morning we found him dead in the shallows on the edge of the lake.

This was a huge feast for our farm workers and us (hippo meat, though tough, is delicious) and in some ways compensated for all the loss and aggravation caused to my mother. The hippo was the second animal that I shot out of my bedroom window. The first was a killer leopard in 1957.

I emailed my friend Jonathan Block, the son of the late Jack Block, as to whether he knew what happened to the Block Estates .350 Rigby rifle. Jonathan replied that he had no idea but guessed it must have been sold at the time of Kenya’s hunting ban in 1977.

I then asked my son Roger who lives in Kenya to contact that country’s best known firearms dealer and storage facility, Kenya Bunduki, to see if they had any .350 Rigbys in storage or for sale. The answer, sadly, was a no. 

So , presumably the rifle was sold to someone overseas . A missing piece of Kenyan and Rigby hunting history! 

Out of interest — .350 Rigby Ballistics: 

With 225-grain bullets the muzzle velocity is 2,625 feet per second and energy at 

3,440 foot/pounds. This makes for a perfect large antelope and big cats cartridge, and for buffalo, with care, but only with well-constructed bullets, either solids or bonded soft nose. Both solid and bonded soft bullets for reloading are available from Woodleigh Bullets in Australia. Rigby’s also have ammunition available. –Robin Hurt

EDITORS NOTE: Robin Hurt, having hunted in most of Africa’s game fields over 58 consecutive seasons, now lives with his wife Pauline on their beautiful ranch, Gamsberg, in Namibia. Gamsberg is a magnet for wildlife that is free-ranging and includes plentiful numbers of kudu, gemsbok, red Hartebeest, blue and black wildebeest, mountain and plains zebra, sable antelope, waterbuck, warthog, klipspringer, steenbok, grey duiker and springbok. Gamsberg is ideal leopard habitat with its mountainous and sand river terrain; the home to an impressive population of these big cats. 

Pauline Hurt started “Habitat for Rhino” in 2015 and Gamsberg now has an increasing rhino population. However, rhino conservation comes with responsibilities, such as having fulltime antipoaching patrols and feeding in times of drought. The stewardship of rhino is an expensive undertaking and relies heavily on income from the safari hunting of Gamsberg’s plentiful plains game. (The Hurts have determined that the Gamsberg rhinos will not be hunted). 

During the Covid epidemic when safari business came to a standstill, donations enabled the continued conservation of these splendid beasts. Robin and Pauline are more than grateful for this huge support from personal friends and clients and SCI.

Robin is still actively enjoying hunting at Gamsberg with his old friends and new clientele. His professional hunter sons Derek and Roger operate the Tanzania company and have three superb concessions containing a wide selection of wildlife species. Derek and Roger highly appreciate the support that SCI, friends and clients have given them in maintaining an antipoaching presence in all three concessions. 

Robin’s stepson Daniel Mousley works with Robin at Gamsberg and is a licensed big game professional hunter. During the Covid pandemic, Dan has been busy opening up 4×4 roads and tracks to access a remote area of their property on the Gaub River — a two-hour drive through the mountains from Gamsberg lodge.

Dan has also been building a fabulous permanent stone-built leaguer in this pristine area; perched on top of a cliff, looking down on wonderful vistas of the Gaub sand river. 

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