Rigby Does It Right

By Jimmy Ewing

When I was a child I dreamed of Africa. 

I am in my forties now, and I am proud to say I have seen it. I have sent empty cartridges spinning smokily into the long grass for some future explorer to find, and marvel, and I have departed with memories of adventure, blood and death and dust, family and friends like brothers. I have done the things I dreamt of. 

For that, I am glad. 

Many of you, though, have not yet made the defining pilgrimage that is certain to nurture in your soul that kernel of truth that marks a man, permanently, as a big game hunter. I encourage you, do not tarry. Africa is changing, rapidly, and she will not wait for you.

You can read all you like about population growth and encroachment into the “wild” areas and the need for aggressive conservation, and those reasons, alone, are enough to justify haste. Even the big game hunting community, historically ponderous in its response to changing conditions, has shaken its torpor and moved to action. Take, for instance, John Rigby & Co, storied London purveyor of bespoke big game rifles, and their “Rigby Dagga Boy Award.” For the first time, a London gunmaker is sponsoring an award that focuses on something other than pure “trophy size”—the historical measure of greatness for a big game trophy. Instead, the winner earns their achievement based on the condition and age of the animal. A trend I hope continues. 

The currents have been shifting in this direction for several years now. I have witnessed a distinct push, strongly encouraged by the likes of my stalwart friend and champion of conservation, Rob Lurie, Chairman of the Zimbabwe Professional Guides Association, to focus on taking old, past-prime males of every species which, the science seems to suggest, leads to healthier, sustainable, populations. Intuitively we know this, but when faced with the decision to turn down a 42” buffalo in his prime in favor of an old broken-horned dagga-boy, many hunters have shrugged and squeezed the trigger. Efforts like Rigby’s and dedicated people like Rob will help and I hope the competition is a great success. With any luck at all, I might get a chance to enter it.

For my hunting dollar, a well-worn buffalo skull with tips abraded to blunt bats and a ragged lion-scarred hide is ten times the trophy of a prime-of-his-life herd bull with sharp tips and hooks—I don’t care how wide he is. My 2021 bull from Zimbabwe has long, raking, lion claw marks down each hip. Spaced horrifyingly wide, the razor-sharp gashes bespeak terrifying size and power. From a quick glance at the hide, you get a sense, not just for the size of a buffalo, but also the power of a lion. The hide alone tells a story—and the story is the real trophy.

The Rigby Dagga Boy Award is a big step squarely in the right direction. I would love to see Rigby (and other makers) offer a similar prize to a youth hunter. My 10-year-old will get another 70 years of use out of a fine custom-made rifle—that’s 70 years of free advertising for Rigby—but 70 years from now I will have been compost for 25. By then I hope Tripp is beginning to consider finally handing down a silvered and worn Rigby rifle to his own children. A rifle like that could easily serve 3 generations or more, and I hope it does.

Africa is and has always been, terribly expensive, difficult to reach, and potentially dangerous when you arrive. The travel is hard, the terrain, weather, heat, dust, and sand can be taxing, the locals and primitive culture are inscrutable, the hangovers atrocious, and anything there that does not actively seek to kill you, will at least cut, stab, sting or poison you if given the opportunity. It’s risky. Maybe it is for those reasons that I so often see men traveling in very small groups or alone on safari—most never even considering bringing their family along.

But not me.

When the smoke cleared and the lion’s haunting last roar echoed across the Mozambican forest on my last safari, I found myself shakily reloading an empty .375 next to a grinning 10-year-old sweatily clutching the well-worn youth model .243 Winchester Model 70 that my dad gave me in 1987. He was ready to back me up.

We took the risk, and I strongly encourage you to do likewise. Even if all they do is “observe,” it is a gift that cannot be taken away. We told his mother about the lion hunt, after.

And when you go: shoot the old ones, the bullies, the broken old fighters destined for an ignominious end—driven from the herd in weakness towards starvation, awaiting death as the watering hole slowly dries and the hyenas laugh and circle. Take your place in the struggle for life and death, but don’t just come home with a trophy; come home with a story.

From the FE Films Archive

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