Safari Rifles for Africa

Posted On : Jan 15, 2016

Posted By : Tom Murphy

Safari Rifles for Africa

A lot has been written about just what type/caliber/construction of firearm a client should take on an African Safari.  A Professional Hunter’s requirements aren’t necessarily similar to a client’s.  When hunting game that can bite, scratch, or stomp, the PH needs a rifle that will stop an animal in a hurry.  For plains game, the PH sometimes doesn’t need to carry a rifle at all.  A client needs to make his or her firearms decisions based on the type of safari, and the number of firearms to be employed.

Clients in the past would take up to three rifles on safari for use on different animals, but with today’s 7 to 14 day safaris, hauling three different firearms around from commercial aircraft to small planes to hunting truck involves a great deal of work.  So we’ll take a look at the single gun battery, (if you can call it that) and the two gun battery.  Either setup can be fit into one case.  Also, the type of game hunted will determine what caliber, and rifle to bring on safari, so we’ll look at plains game and dangerous game rifles.  Because there are some of us that like to hunt with tools other than rifles, we’ll also take a short look at them.

Single Gun Safari Battery

Plains Game Single Rifle Safari

Plains game, or animals similar in size to plains game, as in duiker to black wildebeest can be taken with an average American deer rifle.  Anything in the .257 to .300 range will get the job done.  For the smallest, or “Tiny Ten” African animals, a solid bullet will work best and keep hide damage to a minimum.  For larger animals such as the above-mentioned black wildebeest, waterbuck, sable, or zebra-sized game, you need to use a quality bullet like the Hornady Superformance, Nosler Accubond, or Berger VLD.  Bullets should be heavy for caliber, 180 grain for .30 caliber loads; 175 grain for 7mm Magnum, and 115 grain for .25 caliber bullets.  For heavier plains game like kudu or Hartmann’s Zebra, you would be best served by fielding one of the .30 caliber magnums with a bullet weight of 180 grains to 200 grains.  As always, proper bullet placement counts for a lot more than velocity or bullet weight.

Dangerous Game Single Safari Rifle

Most African countries specify the .375 as minimum caliber for dangerous game.  The .375 H&H Magnum has taken every game animal in Africa many, many times.  This doesn’t mean that it’s the best choice for all dangerous game, but on a one gun safari, it will work on all game, large and small.  The larger, over .40 caliber rifles are a better choice for heavy dangerous game like Cape buffalo, or hippo.  Any of the .416s, Remington, Ruger, Rigby, or others will push a 400-grain bullet over 2300 feet per second, and deliver over 4,000 lb of muzzle energy. 

Next up the scale are the 450 caliber firearms – .458 Winchester Magnum, .458 Lott, 450 Nitro Express, and the “Man, that hurt” .460 Weatherby Magnum.  All throw a 500-grain bullet with a minimum of 5,000 ft/lb of muzzle energy.  All will stop and drop an angry animal should something go awry.  Be advised, though, recoil is pretty stout with all these, especially the Weatherby.  You are much better off with a caliber that you can shoot, than with a caliber that you fear.

The large, economy-sized cartridges in the .500 and up class are specific problem-solvers.  The chances of a hunter having to stop a charging rogue bull elephant at fifteen yards with a .577 Nitro Express in one hand and a healthy glass of adult liquid refreshment in the other whilst protecting a sweet young thing from ravishment are relatively small to non-existent on a 15 to 21 day safari.  This is not to say that the large boomers aren’t fun, they truly are.  But, for a one-rifle safari, they are a tad big if game other than elephant is considered. 

Although, I do remember tapping off a 750-grain bullet from one of the above-mentioned .577 Nitro Express double rifles on my elephant hunt.  Terribly satisfying, and like the Professional hunters are wont to say, I didn’t even feel the recoil – even when I had to take a step forward back to where I had been when I took the shot.

Two Gun Safari Battery

Plains Game Safari Rifle

Here you have a bit of latitude on caliber choice as you will have another, larger rifle for the stuff that can bite, stomp, or claw.  If you happen to have a favorite deer gun that you’ve been knocking over whitetails for many a year, then bring it to Africa.  There’s an awful lot of .270s, .30-06s, and .30 magnums in hunter’s arsenals.  Any one of these with a decent bullet will take impala, roan, waterbuck, sable, warthog, or any similar animal.  For the small ones, a solid bullet through the shoulders works wonders. 

Dangerous Game Safari Rifle

With two rifles, the larger caliber can be whatever you can comfortably and accurately shoot.  For instance, my two-gun battery when plains game and Cape buffalo were on the menu consisted of a Winchester Model 70 in .300 Winchester Magnum, and a Remington 700 in .416 Remington Magnum.  I shot sitatunga tsessebe, and lechwe with the .300.  Then I used the .416 on a gnarly old Cape buffalo – four times!  He just didn’t want to give up.  Then I went warthog hunting with solids in the same rifle – I have the tusks above my desk. 

Here’s where the usefulness of the large boomers becomes evident.  My second Cape buffalo safari I swapped the .416 for a .458 Lott in a Ruger M77.  On the last day of the hunt, I drove a 500-grain solid from posterity to brisket on a fleeing Texas brain shot.  The buf went another 100 yards with two .45 caliber holes through its heart, in and out.  But, that’s as far as it went.  A lighter caliber might have done the same, but I had exactly one chance for one shot. 

Specialty Safari Firearms

For those of you who like a little adventure in their life, some African countries allow handguns for hunting purposes.  There is some extra red tape, but nothing too difficult.  I’ve done it a few times and the entire experience was greatly rewarding. 

Smith & Wesson brought out two large X-frame revolvers a few years ago.  The “small” one is chambered in .460; the larger is a .500.  Many different bullet manufacturers produce hard cast hunting bullets, and these have been used to take every African animal up to, and including elephant.  Ranges are shorter than with a rife, and some sort of optic is almost a necessity.  Red dot sights are quick to acquire a target, and work quite well in the African bush.  It takes a lot of continual practice to become good with either revolver, but holding a 3-inch pattern at 50 yards is doable.  A shooting glove tames recoil.

Single-shot rifles are not very common in Africa, but a few Ruger #1s have made the trip.  A hunter will spend more time guaranteeing the shot when he knows that there is only one round in the rifle.  Like the revolver, a single-shot rifle requires a lot of practice at shooting and reloading under pressure.

Bows and arrows in Africa?  Sure, it’s been done, but in my opinion, and only my opinion, sticking sharp pieces of wood in an animal that you have paid a great deal of money to shoot, is a game for hunters that are very, very good with a bow.  Be sure to discuss with your PH what to do if your shot isn’t perfect.  Remember, you wound it, you bought it.