African big-game hunting rifles

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African rifles fall into two categories, those for plains game and those for big game. The two are inversely related between their lure and their utility. A big-game rifle, which will be used sparingly, is far more appealing and mystifying with its romance of big Nitro Express calibers and double-barreled Holland & Hollands stalking though the long grass after huge Cape buffalo. The plains-game rifle, on the other hand, is far less captivating, but you’ll shoot it 20 or 50 times more on kudu, impala, zebra and bushbuck than you ever will buffalo or elephant with your big-game rifle.

But what do we dream about? Big-bore doubles! Nitro Express calibers! Stopping rifles! That’s because Africa is alive in our imaginations thanks to the wonderful legacy of gifted writers like Ruark, Hemingway, Capstick, Hunter and dozens of others who have bequeathed the richest body of hunting literature in the world. I don’t get goosebumps thinking about a .30-‘06, but my eyes gloss over and I sink into blissful reverie as I imagine going after elephant with a Westley Richards drop-lock double rifle in .475 Nitro Express.

Traditionally, “big game” in Africa means three animals: elephant, rhino and buffalo. Personally, I would add hippo (on dry land) to that trio. Big game is, by definition, heavily boned, thick-skinned and dangerous. Novices might wonder why Africa’s most fearsome predator, the lion, is not included with “big game,” but the reason is that a lion is not all that hard to kill. He’s soft-skinned, thinly-boned and goes down easily when hit in the heart-lung area. The fact that an animal is dangerous does not necessarily make him big game, as we see in the case of leopard, hyena, bushbuck or roan (when wounded) and possibly the most vicious animal in Africa pound-for-pound, the honey badger.

Big game requires a big gun. The minimum legal caliber in almost all of Africa for elephant, buffalo, rhino (and lion) is .375 H&H Mag. Most professional hunters (PHs) and experienced clients prefer calibers that start with a “4” such as the .404 Jeffery, .416 Rigby, .416 Rem., .458 Win. Mag. or .470 Nitro Express.

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