African Hunting Rifles

A first time hunter to Africa will have often have selected his rifle by walking into a gun shop in his hometown and told the man the shop he needs a rifle for African hunting. He’ll probably walk out with a rifle that may or may not be the ideal calibre and/or finish but it may well be the rifle that gives the shop owner (who could well have never been on an African hunting safari) the highest profit margin.

First, let’s look at the basics…

  • Africa is mostly bright sunny, dry and hot. This means that a gloss finished rifle is a step in the wrong direction. Any rifle that gleams is the wrong rifle for an African hunting safari. You need to try to buy something that has a matt or parkerised finish on the metalwork and telescopic sight and either a dullish, oiled finish wood stock or if you prefer a synthetic (but still non-reflective) stock.
  • Long barrels can also be a drawback in Africa. This is due to the fact that you will spend a fair amount of time carrying it on your shoulder, and a long barrel sticks up higher and reflects more than a short barrel. One way to get over this is to get into the habit of carrying a long barrelled rifle in the muzzle down position. It’s also a good idea to put a piece of insulating tape over the end of the barrel to keep the dust out. Shorter barrels also make for faster target acquisition and pointability.

Hunting rifles that are legal in Africa fall into 4 basic categories….

There’s the single shot actions such as the famous “falling block”. These can be discounted straight away as being far from ideal by dint of their being too slow to reload.

Then comes the underlever actions, the bolt actions (including the straight pull bolts such as Blaser make) and then the famous double rifles made by such distinguished companies as Holland & Holland and Westley Richards in the UK and Heym in Germany.

Any of these action types are ideal for Africa. Although most underlever rifles rarely come in suitable calibres for most dangerous game species and should therefore be discounted for dangerous game hunting with the exception perhaps of the big cats.

  • The bolt action rifles are by far the most popular choice of hunters worldwide. Probably one of the most popular and reliable types of bolt action rifles are the Mauser controlled feed variants. We use these actions in.404 Jeffery on our company loaner rifles. Don’t feel that push feed rifles should be ruled out though, my own Dangerous Game rifle is a push feed action made by Sabi Rifles in South Africa. It’s a bit battered nowadays, but it’s never let me down, shoots as straight as a die and I love it dearly. The straight pull bolt rifles are an excellent choice (especially) for left-handed shooters as left and right-handed bolts can often be used in the same rifle. Removable magazines are an arguable point. Personally I don’t like them much at all, as they can fall out if not correctly located and some hunters (especially in moments of excitement) drop them from time to time. This means that they end up covered in dust and then have to brushed off before they can be replaced in the rifle……Murphy’s law decrees that this will always happen at the worst possible moment!
  • Double rifles, although a little on the heavy side are a pleasure to own and use and more often than not, a great investment to boot!. Having said that they are considerably more expensive than a bolt action rifle and in my opinion somewhat restricting in their use due to their design. Doubles really only come into their own when hunting Dangerous Game at close range as they do, without a doubt, allow for a faster second shot than any other action type. The drawback of these rifles is that they need a lot of practice before you can shoot them really well. From my personal experience, at least 50% of hunting clients who use double rifles can’t shoot them as accurately as they should be able to or as accurately as they think they can. Some modern doubles now have a cocking lever instead of the more traditional safety catch. I personally don’t like these at all as in my opinion, the very point of having a double is speed of use. The cocking lever removes some of that speed. It’s fairly rare to see a double rifle fitted with a scope but personally, I think it’s a great idea to fit a low power scope with QD mounts. It makes the rifle a lot more versatile and often helps dramatically with the essential placement of that first shot.

When choosing any of the larger calibres one factor that needs special attention is recoil. You should never buy a rifle that you can’t learn to shoot confidently and competently. If you flinch at the shot then you need to either think about buying a smaller calibre or consider a muzzle brake or better still, a mercury tube or tungsten bead recoil arrester fitted into the stock. I personally shoot a short barrelled.500 Jeffrey with a mercury tube in the stock that tames the rifle down from a teeth-rattling demon to a pussycat……well, almost!

Most African countries have some kind of minimum requirement to hunt any dangerous game. Excepting leopard this commonly translates to around 4000 foot pounds and a bullet weight of 300 grains or so. That in turn translates to a minimum calibre of.375 H&H magnum. However, in my opinion, a.416 kills better than a.375 and a.458 better than a.416, and so on.

Telescopic sights are a very personal issue and most hunters will tell you to spend more money on this than on their rifles. I’m not completely sure that I agree with this. Technology has advanced so much nowadays that a reasonably priced good quality Tasco scope, for example, will perform pretty well on all but the heaviest recoiling rifles. When buying a scope for the long range hunting safaris such as in the Kalahari then something like a 6-10 power scope is a good choice and something like a 3-6 power for the closer bushveldt hunting. If you want a scope on your dangerous 17 wsm Ammo for sale game rifle then a 1.5-4 is about right. It seems to be very popular to buy scopes with straight tubes for Africa. I don’t agree with this. Sure they look ‘classic Africa’ but they don’t give you any light advantage in early or late light conditions. The scopes we fit on our own.404 Jeffery (company loaner) rifles are Swarovski 1.5 – 6 x 42. The unrelenting march of technology has seen recent introductions of many improvements to scopes such as illuminated reticules, if you’re going to go this route, you either need to learn how to get the scope set to the right setting in plenty of time before the shot, or you need to be able to set it quickly. If you take too long messing around with all those switches etc, you’ll miss your shooting opportunity. Personally, I prefer to keep it simple and use a traditional scope.

Good Quality QD scope mounts on the plains game rifles are a good idea and if you put a scope on your dangerous game rifle, and I recommend you do, they should be considered as absolutely mandatory. Your dangerous game rifle should also be fitted with your choice of open sights, but remember you need to see as much of what’s trying to stamp on you as possible. My own ‘charge stopper’ is fitted with a shallow vee rear sight and a big red fibre optic foresight. The sights are set to what I was taught to refer to as ‘six o clock hold, which means the shooter sees as much of what’s trying to nail him as possible. This set up works like a dream for me, especially in low light conditions such as are found in the real thick bush that wounded game like to hide in. Those silly little pop-off scope protectors should be avoided like the plague as they always make a noise when you open them thus alerting the game and if your scope can’t cope with the rigours of the African bush without these things then you have the wrong scope on your rifle.

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