I started hunting with my late father in those halcyon days in the early 1970’s, just before Kenya banned hunting in 1977
My father’s hunting career had started in the late 1930’s, his prime hunting area the South and South Eastern slopes of Mt Kenya and the trout abundant rivers and streams that flowed down the forested mountain to the plain. From his accounts, an area then abundant with vast herds of cape buffalo, big lion and numerous rhino. His preferred heavy calibre, a .404 Jeffery with a very heavy worn tapering barrel, and a thick solid stock of dark ochre red walnut.
Growing up in Nairobi in my formative years, I would haunt certain shops: Rhodes Books, Guns and Cameras, Nairobi Sports house, and, almost opposite the New Stanley on Kenyatta Avenue, the famous Kenya Bunduki.
I have vivid recollections of one particular visit to the armoury of Kenya Bunduki and browsing through the racks of heavy calibre magazine rifles, mainly the calibre of the age, the .458 Win Mag, interspersed with a few .404 Jeffery’s. One single rifle however, caught my attention. It stood out like a short –legged Borana Bull amongst a herd of Friesian cows; a monstrous .505 Gibbs. Its twenty-two inch heavy barrel blueing worn silver, dark walnut stock bruised and scratched from countless safaris. It spoke of adventure, elephant in the humid coastal forests, and the grey ghostly spider like Commiphora woodland of Tsavo and the Tarn Desert, stretching far beyond to the emerald green riverine forest tangle of the Tana River, and north, far north of south from nowhere else, to the isolated reed beds of the vast Lorian Swamp. Rhino in the coolness of the dark, damp cedar and giant Podo forests and glades, the Abedares and the snowy peaked Mt Kenya.
Lion on the red oat grass plains of Maasailand and Cape Buffalo in the scented Leleshwa, and yellow barked Aecacia choked lugas, and gullies of the Loita Hills.
The rifle symbolised a force of nature, in its short muscular dimensions, it gave you confidence to stop anything however large, however dangerous, and under whatever circumstances.
A friend of my father farmed the lower forested fringes of the Abedare range in the 1930’s, he used the Gibbs on control work, and I recall seeing old sepia images of rhino culled as vermin. I shake my head at the thought that rhino were once so common as to be vermin. Can you imagine how many rhino there must have been?
Later, in the 1970’s, when I apprenticed to the Seargent Major on his cattle ranch in northern Kenya, and while being Askari for the livestock at night, we would sit around a fire at night, chewing the cud so to speak, while countless shooting stars criss-crossed the endless void of the equatorial night skies.
He was a man who had been around the block a few times with regards to hunting, control work and as an Honorary Game Warden in colonial times. His battery consisted of a very well looked after but battered .318 Westley Richards and a Cogswell and Harrison .375 H and H Magnum. With these he took everything from impala to elephant, but he always stated that when things got “naughty”, (he was a master of the understatement), he loved the confidence and dependency the Gibbs gave him.
The Kenya Game Department at the time had a few Gibbs in service for control, and he had used one with great satisfaction when he needed that extra edge. He had used numerous calibres, but always quoted the Gibbs as having a distinct advantage in stopping power over the others. The talk would quite often enter the early hours, and around the fire at the break of dawn, “a lot of dead soldiers”, one of the Seargant Major’s long ago expressions from the Second War, meaning a lot of empty beer bottles in this case, “White Cap”, accompanied by a throbbing head.
It was a place with the most extraordinary light. I have never, to this day, seen a sky with such an intensity of blue and some days I would spend hours on Leopard Rock Kopje, with a pair of Zeiss, looking north into the eternal, far, far distance of Kenya’s Northern frontier District.
I will not go into the Gibbs’ history and ballistics; this has been done and anyway, you always have the internet for that.
Why buy a Gibbs? Firstly, the romance, for it is part of the Golden Age of big game hunting, mostly used by professionals and Game Control officers. Secondly, its large case capacity offers lower Chamber pressure, hence you won’t have any extraction problems when that Cape Buffalo that has designs on turning you into a doormat, heads your way. Its ballistics, although almost similar to the top new .450 calibre magazine rifles, has a considerably greater bore size, thus creating a larger wound channel.
Personally, I would want my Gibbs to have a short, heavy, twenty-two inch barrel and weigh around 11lbs, a single iron sight this is a stopping rifle, not for long range, although Leaf sights look great.
Its other great appeal is that it has always been rather elusive. You hear a lot about its wonderful reputation, but never actually see one: it’s like a ghost, talked about but never seen. When you have one built, the phantom becomes a reality.
On a final note, some of you may remember that old 1970’s Janis Joplin song: “Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz”. Change some of the lyrics round, maybe not as catchy… I guess you know where I am coming from.
Westley Richards .505 Gibbs rifle which left the factory last month.
Neil McVeigh on April 27, 2016 at 4:12 am
Well done a terrific post.You certainly had me carried back in time to a better world.
Now you have lit a fire in me,where might I get a 505?I really hate posts like this!
Alex Bayer on April 28, 2016 at 7:04 am
Neil, Many thanks, was blessed to have that upbringing.
All the best Alex.
Matthew Schmidt on April 27, 2016 at 7:02 am
Fantastic story and superb looking guns. That canvas and leather case just looks like it is made for adventure, as does the shirt. Really good.
Alex Bayer on April 28, 2016 at 7:36 am
Matthew,Many thanks, took me back to 1973 when writing it .
All the best Alex.
Vance Daigle on April 27, 2016 at 7:24 am
Good Day Mr. Bayer,
This is a story very near my heart, as I am a collector of vintage Bolt action guns. While owning nearly all of the great British makers in there proprietary cartridges this Gibbs in .505 continutes to elude me. So thank you for the photo and for resparking my quest and hope to have a Gibbs in this great .505 soon.
I feel somwhat like you do as to that these great beast of guns, they are much like ghosts. I sometimes get to the SCI show and listen to men speak about many of these great Cal, most of which have never had the pleasure of holding these great vintage guns, there were so few produced. Well Alex I am blessed to be oh so close to having that part of my colection complete, Thank you for the post and I hope one day to be able to write about these great guns on the Explora site.
Simon Clode on April 27, 2016 at 2:04 pm
The Photo is of a rifle in my vault Vance!! One of those old nails I have here!!
Alex Bayer on April 28, 2016 at 7:43 am
Vance, Nothing like a well made , Heavy calibre magazine rifle , many thanks for your reply, all the best Alex
Peter on April 27, 2016 at 10:01 am
Thank you for a great and very well written story.
Alex Bayer on April 28, 2016 at 7:10 am
Peter, many thanks,enjoyed writing it,
All the best Alex
Mims Reed on April 27, 2016 at 12:17 pm
I might be your new best friend as I am fortunate to own two 505 Gibbs. One has the Westley Richards name but also carries the name/address of Hartman and Weiss / Hamburg.
The other 505 Gibbs carries the Geo. Gibbs banner on the barrel and it is a 602 Brno action. I feel sure it was put together by John Roberts and Sons. Both are in excellent condition.
Simon Clode on April 27, 2016 at 2:08 pm
Mims, this sounds a little unclear as put. It was a H&W barrelled action someone had in .505 that we then stocked and finished. Hence the 2 names but I don't think it would have left here with 2 names!
Mims Reed on April 27, 2016 at 3:24 pm
Simon, You are correct. The H&W name is stamped under action and not on bbl.
Neill on April 27, 2016 at 1:34 pm
Wow, what a beauty. Thanks for the post Alex. Lovely looking rifle.
I know the Janis Joplin song, and yes, it would work replacing "Mercedes Benz" with "point five oh five Gibbs"!
Alex Bayer on April 28, 2016 at 7:47 am
Neil, good song, GREAT rifle, all the best, Alex.
Vance Daigle on April 28, 2016 at 9:03 am
Good day Simon,
This Gibbs might be my screen saver for a while. It is these rusty ole nails that appeal to me the most, this is an ole rusty for sure!!!! HAHA. Walking into your vault was the greatest candy store this Ole Asphalt Man has ever had the pleasure to visit, I plan on comming back again next year...a two fur bucket list item.
On a more serious note I have never seen noticed a proper sling on a vintage gun Simon, is the one on your Gibbs simular to most used in vintage times. I have always noticed that the eyelit on the vintage gun are larger than we have here in the US...Is there a reason Sir? These metal swivels clips on the above sling are unlike any I have ever seen. Perhaps one of your blogger will be able to do a story on this very simple item. Thank you sir for always stirring my thoughts of why, with these ole rusty nails. Pebbles in my pouch!!!!
Simon Clode on April 28, 2016 at 10:45 am
Yes this is an original sling with small swivel safety hooks, it is a nice item and impossible it seems to find an equivalent hook these days. Also I wonder if they would be safe as everything commercial is made so cheap now in that sort of area. I don't know if it warrants a small batch production.
Peter Crowley on April 28, 2016 at 6:43 pm
Bob De Vries at Kudu Services in Melbourne Australia makes these swivel clips. They are not overly expensive. I got a set for my 505 Gibbs.
Simon Clode on April 28, 2016 at 10:23 pm
Thank you Peter, does he have a contact number or email you can advise?
Clive Newman on April 29, 2016 at 5:04 am
Beautiful looking rifles and a fantastic article, sets your mind back to the romance of safaris past.
Glenn Drower on November 22, 2016 at 3:52 am
The picture at the start of this article says this Gibbs is a Pre War rifle. Is this pre WW2..? I am trying to find out if Gibbs actually produced any 505s pre WW1. Any body ever seen one..?
Simon Clode on November 22, 2016 at 4:07 am
This is between the wars rifle. You would need to contact Gibbs to know their first rifle production but I believe it is possible there was.
Glenn Drower on November 23, 2016 at 3:41 am
Thank you I will and I must say what a superb piece of the Masters craft this rifle is.
Glenn Drower on November 30, 2016 at 12:15 am
I talked with the owner of George Gibbs Ltd and they have records that show that after its development in 1913 at least 10 rifles were produced in 505 Magnum on Mauser actions in 1914. However the records are incomplete due to German bombing of the Bristol factory in 1942. Nice piece of history I thought. Cheers