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On Safari: "minimum legal" alternatives.

If dangerous game is on the venue, some serious consideration must be given to the choice of rifle and caliber. Entire books have been written on this subject, so we will stick with the minimum legal caliber for the Big Boys.

Since now-a-days, all African premier animals are referred to as "big game hunting" what used to be considered as "big game" in the old days of African Hunting is now referred to as "dangerous game." This includes elephant, buffalo, lion and hippo. Leopard normally is added to this list, however in most countries, Leopard can legally be shot with smaller caliber rifles not allowed for the other animals on the list.


Most African game departments have a legal allowable minimum caliber for the above-mentioned game. Generally, the .375 H&H is considered thee large-medium bore for this purpose and will be recommended by most industry insiders, however please be certain to check with your booking agent and hosting Safari company to confirm this before flying across the pond with a rifle illegal for what you are hunting.

The First Choice

While the .375 H&H gets the nod 99.99 percent of the time, in some countries the law calls for the use of "power minimum" cartridges, generally expressed in the metric equivalent of "foot pounds" i.e. "kilo joules," rather than simply listing the .375 H&H as the "legal minimum cartridge." The reason this is important relative to this discussion is two excellent additional calibers just qualify as legal in these countries with the proper load with the heavy-for-caliber bullets. These are the 9.3x62mm and the .35 Whelan.

Why bring a rifle lighter than a .375 H&H, "thee" classic African caliber? There are a number of excellent reasons to pass up the .375 H&H and choose one of the harder hitting .416s, .458s, .460s or .500s for the main event and a lighter rifle for everything else.

There is also a downside to buying one of the big boys. The number of nice "heavy rifles" I have come across over the years offered for sale with one partially fired box of ammo are legion. With a 9.3x62mm or a .35 Whelan, (where legal, of course, based on energy) you can practice for the hunt with lighter loads and then work up to the heavy-for-caliber bullet weights you will use on the hunt. You can certainly do this with a .375 H&H as well, but the felt recoil of even the .375 is markedly higher than that of the 9.3x62mm or the .35 Whelan. In addition, both of the smaller calibers (.366" and .358" diameter) have a much broader range of lighter bullets available for use on lighter, thin-skinned game.

Shoot Well

Shot placement is everything providing the caliber is adequate in terms of penetration. The .375 H&H, 9.3x62mm and .35 Whelen all have excellent ballistic coefficients and sectional density. A severe case of flinching due to felt recoil will rarely result in proper shot placement. In addition, the 1st shot is critical with dangerous game since under most circumstances, the animal will not be "adrenal-ized" when the bullet hits if you've done it right and the animal is not aware of your presence.


Since we are talking about felt recoil, what about compensators or muzzlebrakes you ask? Hmmm? Please don't get me started! We'll leave those things for a future discussion. Just let me say those devices cause hearing loss much more rapidly and a PH can't afford to be deaf in the jungle.

And last, but not least, don't forget ... Your PH will be armed with a proper rifle of adequate stopping caliber to finish anything you start. He will be thoroughly familiar with whatever rifle he is carrying, regardless of caliber, and will handle it like a fine surgeon wields a scalpel when the chips are down. After all, that's his job and he's good at it or he wouldn't last very long in this business!


1. They work! The 9.3x62mm was a popular chambering as an inexpensive option to the heavy double during the heyday of the Safari industry both before and after WWI. It is still a frequently encountered caliber in the hands of many European clients to this day. The .35 Whelen is available in bullet weights up to 310 grains which slightly surpass the performance of the 9.3x62mm's standard 286-grain loading.

2. From a practical standpoint, both of these calibers are suitable for regular North American game with lighter-for-caliber bullets, but can make the stretch with heavier, properly constructed bullets for African dangerous game. Unless you have a follow-up trip planned for Kodiak Island, chances are, the .375 H&H you buy will collect dust in the safe until you either return to Africa, sell it or move on to the happy-hunting-ground beyond.

3. Recoil. Yes, recoil! The average American hunter rarely shoots anything much larger than a .30-06. For many Americans, even the venerable '06 is a punishing round to send downrange. While it is possible to gradually learn to shoot large-bores comfortably, the average hunter in the states these days has neither time nor patience to learn to handle recoil properly before heading off for a one-time adventure on the "Dark Continent."

4. Most important of all is the fact that to a man, every African PH I know, and have worked with over the years, would prefer to have a .358" or .366" diameter hole punched through the vitals of a buff or a lion than to have a .375" to .500" diameter hole "thumped" into the gut or muscle, leaving in its wake one very dangerous mess to clean up.
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Title Annotation:A GUNS MEDLEY
Author:Sheehan, John
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 2008
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