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What goes into a six-figure custom rifle, besides ammunition?

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In the world of firearms sometimes we can experience sticker shock. There are shooters that balk at paying $2000 for a Glock race gun, $1200 for a custom folding knife or $4000 for a quality scope. What in the world goes through their heads when they see a custom safari rifle in the six-figure range?

At the 49th Annual Safari Club International (SCI) Hunter's Convention in Reno, Nevada, we had a chance to look at some of these fine firearms that can cost as much as a modestly priced home in some parts of the country and spoke with a few of the companies' representatives.

The two Rigby rifles, in this case, cost close to half a million dollars together.

The two Rigby rifles, in this case, cost close to half a million dollars together.

John Rigby & Co. is one of the world's oldest gunmakers and has been producing exquisite hunting rifles for 245 years.

These rifles are made by hand by master gun makers with meticulous inlaid designs. As much as 800 man-hours of work go into making one of their double rifles to ensure they are the finest guns that money can buy.

Rigby guns are extremely reliable, strong, accurate and tailor-made to fit the shooter. Most of the world's fine double rifles made by Rigby, Purdey, Holland & Holland and Westley Richards are difficult to produce since both barrels are designed to hit at the same point of impact at a given range. We looked at one behind glass that had a $250,000 price tag. This was a rifle made in the past 4 years, not some antique owned by a historical figure.

These rifles are inlaid with gold, stocked with Turkish walnut and have been owned by royalty from all corners of the world. A representative relayed an anecdote about a Purdey rifle that someone came upon and the gold stock inlay was “ER”. After checking the serial number and shipping paperwork it was built for and shipped to King Edward VII of England in the late 19th Century.

The current wait time for a custom Rigby is is 2 1/2 years.

Rigby rifles represent the higher-end of the firearms market.

Rigby rifles represent the higher-end of the firearms market.

These pieces represent the higher end of its catalog. Rigby does offer handmade rifles at a substantially lower price, such as a base-model Highland Stalker bolt-action which costs $8,600.

We ventured over to the Beretta booth where craftsmen were engraving side plates and hand checkering stocks on custom shotguns in full view.

Bulino engraving is the art of engraving high-resolution 3-D images into the metal.

Bulino engraving is the art of engraving high-resolution 3-D images into metal.

Two custom shotguns on the rack intrigued me, one was priced at $20,000 and the one next to it was priced at $124,500. We can appreciate a high-end over-and-under shotgun and can understand $20,000, but $125,000? The two looked mechanically the same. The engraving style was different and we asked the rep what makes this one cost 6-times more than the other one?

That's a lot of pop tarts for a scattergun!

That's a lot of pop tarts for a scattergun!

The difference was the less expensive shotgun was laser engraved while the more expensive one was an SO6 Sparviere model which was engraved by hand.

Side plate engraving on a Beretta SO6.

Side plate engraving on a Beretta SO6.

However, there was another difference. A button opened the side plates in a manner we had never seen before. It gives access to the inside firing mechanism and enables the owner to look at the artistry of the receiver’s interior workings, which is as much of a marvel as the exterior.

The Beretta SO6 is a true custom sidelock over and under.

The Beretta SO6 is a true custom sidelock over and under.

Every inch of this shotgun has been optimized for looks, performance and durability. These are intended as heirlooms that will last generations. They typically start at $89,500.

Real pretty, but can they shoot?

As fine as the craftsmanship is on these old-world guns, much of the value comes from the brand's name. Firearms bearing the mark of Rigby, Purdey, Westley-Richards, Beretta, Holland & Holland, and the like have been owned by kings and queens, presidents, generals, billionaires, and celebrities. Ownership of a six-figure custom rifle makes one a member of an elite club and one of these pieces is akin to owning an Aston-Martin or a Rolls Royce.

The big question is, will that $125,000 shotgun perform better than a $20,000 model, or even a $700 beater over/under?

That all depends on your skill as a shooter. Less skilled shotgunners will not notice much of a difference, besides maybe the comfort level provided by a gun that's custom fit to the shooter. Put a custom shotgun in the hands of an Olympian or other competitive shooter and they will most likely perform better.

When the difference between winning a competition comes down to an eigth of an inch or a tenth of a second and competitors are matched neck and neck, better gear may make the difference. Or in the case of a six-figure custom rifle on a safari, will that second round be accurate enough to stop a charging Cape Buffalo?

That's why some people pay for the name.

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