.458 Lott vs. .416 Rigby

Caliber Battles
.458 Lott vs. .416 Rigby

If you were inspired to take an African safari after listening to last week’s episode of the MeatEater Podcast, join the club. Roger Hurt and Morgan Potter’s stories were enough to inspire anyone to burn two weeks of vacation time chasing Cape buffalo on the plains of Tanzania.

While this kind of adventure might be out of reach for most North American hunters, it’s never too early to start planning. Cartridge selection is one of the many decisions you’ll have to make before digging out your passport. Depending on your target species, you may already have a rifle capable of getting the job done, but why not use an African safari as an excuse to get a new safe queen?

The .458 Lott and the .416 Rigby are two of the most popular African game cartridges. They’re overpowered for most North American animals (not to mention prohibitively expensive), but they’ve both earned a reputation for taking down Africa’s largest, toughest critters.


Jack Lott developed his namesake .458 cartridge in 1971 after finding himself, much like Roger Hurt, on the losing end of a run-in with a Cape buffalo. His .458 Winchester failed to take down the buffalo after two shots, so he designed the .458 Lott with maximum stopping power in mind.

The Lott can fire a 500-grain bullet an astounding 2,330 feet-per-second, which produces a whopping 6,020 ft.-lbs. of energy. To put that in some context, a .300 Winchester Magnum, one of the most powerful common cartridges for North American game, only (“only!”) produces about 3,500 ft.-lbs. of energy at the muzzle.

The .416 Rigby has been around since 1911, and Frank C. Barnes notes in “Cartridges of the World” that it is “a great favorite of African game wardens and professional hunters alike.” Along with being smaller in diameter than the .458, the Rigby also produces less velocity and energy at the muzzle. It can push a 300-grain bullet 2,590 fps at the muzzle for 4,470 ft.-lbs. of energy or a 400-grain bullet 2,400 fps for a muzzle energy of 5,115 ft.-lbs.

While neither cartridge is ideal for long-range hunting (“long-range” as we might define it in North America), the Rigby’s smaller bullets drop a little less at extended ranges. Depending on bullet construction, the Rigby drops about six inches at 200 yards and 22 inches at 300 yards with a 100-yard zero. The Lott, on the other hand, drops about seven inches at 200 yards and 24 inches at 300 yards.

But you probably don’t tap either cartridge to blast away at an antelope from that distance. You go with the .458 or the .416 because you’ll be hunting extremely large and potentially aggressive animals at a distance from which you don’t want to give them any opportunities for payback. For that, given its significantly better velocity and energy at the muzzle, the Lott wins this round.

Winner: .458 Lott


I should note first that if recoil is going to be a concern, there are lighter-shooting options that can still take down most animals shy of an elephant. The .375 H&H and the .375 Ruger are two such options, and they offer the added benefit of a flatter trajectory for longer-range shots on smaller animals.

But if you’re looking for something that can drop a buffalo or an elephant in one shot, you’ll need to break out a few ice packs for your shoulder. Chuck Hawks reports that with a 10-pound rifle, the .416 produces a whopping 58 ft.-lbs. of recoil energy. That’s over twice as much recoil as a .300 Win. Mag., but it’s still not as much as the Lott. With a 10-pound rifle, the .458 will hammer your shoulder with 70 ft.-lbs. of recoil energy.

The Rigby produces 19% less recoil energy, but neither cartridge is great for new or inexperienced hunters. You might not feel as bad as the buffalo at the other end of the gun, but don’t expect your African safari rifle to be your new favorite range toy.

More important than recoil in this category is ammo and rifle cost and availability.

First, availability. Unlike some African big game cartridges, both the .458 Lott and the .416 Rigby can be found from a variety of American ammo makers. Federal, Hornady, and Barnes all offer options for both cartridges. That’s good news for those of us who don’t roll our own, and it’s usually possible to find in-stock options online.

Also good news? Both cartridges can be had for between $8 and $10 per round. While that’s significantly more than you’ll pay for most hunting rounds in North America, it’s not totally out of the ordinary for these super-powerful cartridges.

Finding ammo is as easy as placing an online order, but finding a rifle will be more challenging. Ruger (Model 77 MKII, No. 1), CZ (550 American Safari Magnum), Weatherby (Mark V Dangerous Game), and Kimber (Caprivi) have all chambered rifles in .458 Lott at one time or another. You might have to visit the used market to find one, but they can occasionally be purchased on online auction sites like GunBroker at prices most hunters can afford.

The .416 can be purchased from Rigby, of course, but you’ll drop $15,000+ on a new rifle from the cartridge’s parent company. CZ and Ruger have also chambered rifles in the Rigby, and they can also be found for reasonable prices in the used market with some sleuthing.

Given these cartridge’s relative parity in ammo and rifle cost and availability, the Rigby’s lesser recoil gives it the slight edge in this category.

Winner: .416 Rigby


Frank Barnes recommends the .416’s versatility when he writes that it is “an excellent choice for the hunter who wishes to take only one rifle to Africa.” It’s powerful enough to target large and dangerous game, but it’s not so powerful that it can’t also be used to target smaller animals.

However, of the .458 Lott he says that it is “a superb choice for virtually any dangerous game worldwide.” It has been field tested extensively in Africa and has “chalked up an impressive number of one-shot kills on elephants and buffalo.”

As with many cartridge comparisons, the .458 Lott might be said to have a higher ceiling, but the .416 Rigby has a lower floor. Both cartridges can cover the gamut of African game animals, but the Lott will be a little more effective on the large stuff (that’s the scientific term) and the Rigby will be a little less overkill on the smaller stuff.

The versatility winner, then, depends on what you’re looking for in a hunt. Are you planning to target buffalo or elephant exclusively? Or are you looking to go after a wider variety of species? Since I can’t answer that question for you, it’s tough to pick a clear winner in this category.

Winner: Tie

And the Winner Is…

I’m always partial to a moderately powered cartridge that’s a little easier to shoot and a little cheaper to run. The Rigby won’t necessarily save you money, but it will save you some shoulder pain, and it’s still powerful enough to take down most of what you’d hunt in Africa. The Lott is popular because it’s deadly effective, which is what you want on a once-in-a-lifetime hunt. But if African professional hunters like Hurt and Potter like the .416 Rigby, that’s good enough for me.

Overall Winner: .416 Rigby

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