For many hunters, a Hemingway-style African hunt is the stuff of daydreams and social media envy. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start planning.
The .375 H&H Magnum and the .416 Rigby have been taking down large and dangerous game since their introductions in the early 20th century. Either would be an excellent choice for your first or next African safari.
English inventors and gunsmiths are responsible for both cartridges. The .416 Rigby was introduced in 1911 by John Rigby of London, and the .375 was developed by the British firm Holland & Holland (H&H) one year later. They’re lauded as two of the best, most reliable cartridges for game like cape buffalo, blue wildebeest, rhino, large predators, and other African critters. Alaskan hunters and guides are also partial to the large cartridges for moose and grizzly.
African hunts ain’t cheap, so you don’t want to spend money on two rifles. If you have to choose, which should you pick?
Ballistics The .375 H&H and the .416 Rigby are both designed for maximum short-range power. Even though they’ve been around for over 100 years, they’re still among the hardest hitting cartridges on the shelves.
At the top end of factory .375 cartridges, a 250-grain bullet travels 3,000 feet per second (fps) at the muzzle, resulting in nearly 4,700 foot-pounds (ft.-lbs.) of energy. Most cartridges, however, use a 250- or 300-grain bullet loaded to travel between 2,400 and 2,600 fps, topping out somewhere north of 4,200 ft.-lbs. of energy.
The .416 is even more powerful. Most Rigby cartridges are loaded with a 400-grain bullet travelling about 2,400 fps at the muzzle, resulting in over 5,100 ft.-lbs. of energy.
For context, a .30-06 Springfield, one of the most powerful common deer cartridges, is typically loaded with a 165-grain bullet and travels only slightly faster than either the H&H or the Rigby. This results in about half the power at the muzzle, or 2,800 ft.-lbs.
You can load .416 and the .375 with old-school flat-nosed pills or sleeker, more modern projectiles. Neither cartridge is designed for long-range work, but higher BC bullets can extend ranges beyond the cartridges’ original designs.
Federal, for example, offers both the .416 and .375 in their Trophy Bonded Bear Claw line. Where the flat-nosed .375 Sledgehammer drops 23 inches and has lost 40% of its speed at 300 yards, the .375 Bear Claw only drops 16 inches and has lost 30% of its speed at the same distance.
When comparing the two cartridges loaded with the same bullet, hunters must decide whether they want more power or less drop. At 300 yards, the 250-grain Bear Claw bullet in .375 is still travelling at 1,940 fps, carries 2088 ft.-lbs. of energy, and has only dropped 16 inches. The .416 carries more energy at the same distance (2,539 ft.-lbs.) but has dropped nearly 2 feet.
While a 300-yard shot isn’t out of the question with either cartridge, greater power at closer range is likely to be more helpful for this type of firearm, which is why I’m giving the nod to the .416 Rigby.
Winner: .416 Rigby
Shootability All that power comes at a cost. Namely, the cost of a sore shoulder.
Most folks report discomfort shooting a gun that produces greater than 20 ft.-lbs. of recoil. Some even say 15 ft.-lbs. is the cutoff. The .308 Win. and the .30-06 Springfield hover just under 20 ft.-lbs., and anyone coming home from a long practice session with either cartridge has felt the effects.
The .375 H&H Magnum produces more than 35 ft.-lbs. of felt recoil with a nine-pound rifle. The .416 Rigby wallops shooters with 58 ft-lbs. of recoil with a 10-pound rifle, according to Chuck Hawks’ recoil table. If you’ve shot a full-bore .45-70, you know about what the .375 feels like. No other common cartridges break 50 ft.-lbs. of recoil energy.
Along with being easier to shoot, the .375 is also cheaper and more readily available. While it’s not uncommon to pay more than $200 for a box of 20 .416 Rigby shells, .375 H&H can be found for less than $100 a box. At $5 per trigger pull, you’ll want to make sure you don’t waste too many shots getting your .375 H&H rifle sighted in. But that’s a lot better than the $10 you’ll pay per shot for the .416.
Lighter recoil and less money give the .375 H&H the edge for shootability.
Winner: .375 H&H
Versatility The .375 and the .416 aren’t the most flexible cartridges, but that doesn’t mean they completely lack versatility. In his excellent reference book, “Cartridges of the World,” Frank C. Barnes notes that both cartridges are a kind of one-stop-shop for African hunting.
The .375 H&H has been “long considered the best all-around African cartridge,” and the .416 Rigby is “an excellent choice for the hunter who wishes to take only one rifle to Africa,” Barnes said.
While both cartridges can take virtually any type of large and dangerous game animal on the African continent, as well as grizzly and moose here in the U.S., the .375 H&H boasts a greater range of factory-loaded bullet weights. The .416 Rigby is almost exclusively loaded with 400-grain bullets. Some manufacturers offer 450-grain loads, but those are few and far between.
The .375, on the other hand, can be commonly found with 250- and 300-grain bullets, and some manufacturers also produce 260- and 270-grain loads.
Neither cartridge is versatile relative to more popular North American game cartridges, but the .375 H&H allows hunters a little more flexibility to tailor their load to the target animal. If you think the 300-grain load is too powerful or distance-limiting for moose, for example, you can jump down to the 250-grain bullet.
Winner: .375 H&H
And the Winner Is… Versatility gives the .375 H&H the edge. The .416 Rigby has more short-range power, but if I’m recommending a cartridge to a would-be African hunter, I’m going with the .375. It’s powerful enough to take large and dangerous game, ammo is cheaper and easier to find, and it has a wider range of bullet weights.
Overall Winner: .375 H&H