African Elephant Hunting

African Elephant Hunting

African Elephants are elephants of the genus Loxodonta, consisting of two extant species: the African bush elephant and the smaller African forest elephant.  The African bush elephant is the largest land mammal that can be hunted in both Africa and  the world.

Hunting elephants in Africa can be done in Eastern, Southern and West Africa in deserts, scrub brush, heavy forests, and woodlands.  The male of the species, the bull, stands ten to 13 feet tall on the average and weighs upwards of ten to thirteen thousand pounds.  His tusks, which are actually the second set of his incisors, curve forward and continue to grow his entire life.  African elephants have four molars that weigh a bit above eleven pounds each.  As he feeds, the front pair wear down and fall out of his mouth.  Then the back pair move forward, and two new molars emerge from the back of his jaw. 

African elephants replace their teeth four to six times during their lifetime.  Sometime between the ages of forty to sixty the last pair fall out and the elephant begins to starve.  The African elephant’s tusks can weigh anywhere from twenty pounds up to a record-setting pair in the British Museum of Natural History in London.  One tusk tilts the scales at a staggering 226 pounds and the other one is a bit lighter at 214 pounds.  They were obtained in Zanzibar in 1898.  Both of them are more than ten feet long and as thick as a girl’s waist. 

Bull African elephants use their tusks for stripping bark off of trees, digging for roots, fighting each other during mating season and for defending themselves from predators.  They also can and will use their tusks against human beings if threatened, surprised, or injured.  Angry African elephants have been known to impale a person on their tusk, then use their trunk to literally remove body parts like head, legs, arms, etc.  They sometimes follow this up with stomping what remains into a thick red smear.  They are called “dangerous game” for a reason.

Most people believe that hunting elephants in Africa is illegal.  This is not the case at all.  Hunting African elephants is allowed in South Africa, Zimbabwe,  Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, and other countries.  Different countries open and close African elephant hunting from time to time, so research is needed when hunting elephants in Africa to determine which countries are currently open for African elephant hunting.  For instance, in 2014  Botswana  closed the hunting of elephants and other game except on private farms.

Elephant populations are relatively stable in countries whose governments recognize their value to the general public and take steps to insure they are adequately protected and well-managed.  The money derived from hunting African elephants is used to improve villager’s health, build schools, and install medical clinics in remote areas.  Part of the income is set aside for elephant management, habitat, and control.  Ivory poachers are still indiscriminately killing elephants of both sexes and all ages.  Anti-poaching units receive some funding from hunting licenses and trophy fees which enables the game rangers to work much more efficiently.

One of the biggest problems facing the African elephant is loss of habitat brought on mostly by human encroachment.  When confined to an ever-decreasing area they can cause immense amounts of destruction.  They eat constantly and their destruction of trees, bushes and water holes cause other animals habitat problems in a trickle-down fashion.

Hunting African elephants is accomplished with your feet.  You’ll walk a lot of miles, and look over a lot of elephants while searching for a trophy..  Usually the hunter and guides roll out early in the morning in the safari truck to search for fresh tracks, or spoor, of elephants that crossed the road during the night.  If suitable tracks are located, the truck is parked, the rifles removed from their cases, water bottles packed, and the hunt on foot begins.  The spoor will determine the age and size of the elephant.  An older African elephant will have worn the pads on the bottom of his feet smooth.  However, many stalks end up in disappointment when the large-bodied African elephant turns out to have small, or broken, tusks.

If the elephant bull is old, there’s a good chance he will be accompanied by younger bulls who act as guards, or askaris, to the old bull.  They will raise an alarm or attack a hunter if they sense danger.  They have the annoying habit of getting between the old bull and whatever danger they perceive.  This can make getting a clear shot quite impossible, especially when hunting elephants in heavy cover.

There are two prefered shots when hunting an African elephant - the brain shot or the heart shot.  An African elephant’s brain weighs between 8 to 11 pounds.  It’s located towards the back of the African elephant’s skull.  From the side of an elephant’s head, the brain would lie just about halfway between the eye and ear hole.  An African elephant’s skull is all honeycombed bone.  A bullet has to drive through a couple of feet of this bone to reach the brain.  This requires a heavy bullet driven at sufficient speed to penetrate adequately.  An accurate shot will drop the African elephant instantly.  If shooting from the front of the elephant place the shot right between the third and fourth wrinkle below the center of the eyes.  This can get to be fairly interesting if the elephant’s head is getting larger due to the rapid rate at which he is approaching.

The heart shot is somewhat easier, but an elephant shot through the heart can cause a lot of havoc before running out of steam.  From a side view, the heart is low in the chest, right behind the shoulder. 

Most countries that allow hunting elephants in Africa have a minimum caliber requirement of .375 as in the 375 H&H, 375 Ruger, or any of the other similar rounds.  A lot of hunters prefer something larger - .40 caliber, or heavier.  The big boomers in the .500 and up caliber, like the .577 Nitro Express, .505 Gibbs, and similar, are hard-hitting, hard-recoiling cannons that will definitely stop a charging elephant in short order.  However, the biggest caliber won’t do much more that aggravate a wounded or angry African elephant if the shot isn’t placed in the right area.  Bullet placement is critical when African elephant hunting.