4. Africa guns


Oct 20, 2004
copyright Jim Dodd 2002


BRNO M602 .375 H&H with Brockman GenIII iron sights on 24" Lothar-Walther barrel

Today the voices told me to clean all the guns

In the first articles in this series I told you how to figure what your hunt will cost, and described what traveling will be like. In this article I want to get into one of the really fun parts of hunt planning -- choosing your safari rifle and learning to use it.

I say rifle because that is the weapon that most hunters will use. It is possible to use archery tackle or even a handgun in some countries, but I just plain like rifles and I chose to use them and write about them.

John ("Pondoro") Taylor in his classic work African Rifles and Cartridges made the following recommendations. Although the book was published in 1948, it still is good advice because Taylor spent over 30 years hunting in the bush, sometimes for 11 months of the year. He killed thousands of head of game during his time, and used many different rifles to do so. For example he says that he killed 5,000 head with the .375 H&H alone. He distilled his experiences to make the following recommendations.

Doubles Magazines
a. Small bores and light bullets for plains game at 150 to 250 yards .275 No. 2 .300 Magnum
b. Medium bores and medium weight bullets for heavier plains game 100 to 200 yards .375 Magnum .375 Magnum
c. Large bores throwing heavy bullets for heavy and dangerous animals at close quarters in thick cover .400 and .465 .416 and .500

Taylor provided some details that are also useful in selecting alternatives to the rifles that were available to him in those days.

Caliber in inches Bullet weight in grains Muzzle Velocity in ft per sec
a. Small bores .240 - .318 100 - 180 2,650 - 3,000
b. Medium bores .318 - .375 220 - 320 2,150 - 2,650
c. Large bores .400 - .600 400 - 900 1,850 - 2,400

While double rifles are enjoying somewhat of a rebirth in popularity, most hunters going to Africa today will be carrying magazine rifles -- and usually bolt-action, magazine rifles at that. Most hunters will also be after game covered in category a or b in the tables. So Pondoro says that you and these hunters will be happy with either a .300 Magnum or the .375 Magnum. Works for me.

Taylor's .300 Magnum was Holland's Super 30 (180 grain bullet at 2,700 fps), and his .375 Magnum was the .375 Holland & Holland Magnum (300 grain bullet at 2,500 fps). The .300 Winchester Magnum and the .300 Weatherby Magnum have largely replaced the .300 H&H Magnum in factory-chambered rifles, but many custom .300 H&H rifles are still being built and many older rifles are still in use.

The major difference between Taylor's guns in the first half of the last century, and our guns in the first half of this century is we have super premium hunting bullets, both solids and soft points. We also have better rifle powders that give excellent exterior ballistics with much smaller cartridge cases. That means that as well as the .300 H&H Magnum and the other .300s developed since then, we can also shoot the .308 Winchester or the .30-'06. Of course there are a new flock of .300 magnums out in the last year or two, namely the .300 Winchester Short Magnum, and the .300 Remington Short Auction Ultra Magnum.

We also have some really powerful .300 magnums that have come into the market place in the last few years, those that can propel a 180 grain bullet at velocities up to 3,500 fps. While you can use one of these rifles if that is what you shoot, I am going to suggest that most shots in Africa are at relatively close ranges, say 75 to 175 yards, and you risk blowing up bullets from these rifles if the impact velocity is too high. You would be better served by using this capacity, if you must, to shoot very heavy bullets at lower velocities.

I am concentrating with the .30 caliber rifles not only because Pondoro said so, but also because Mike LaGrange also noted in his work Ballistics in Perspective that rifles in the .300 bore class were better killers of game than the smaller diameter cartridges. I have been using a .308 Winchester myself with 180 grain factory premium and super premium bullets, and they work just fine. My wife chose and uses a Winchester M70 .30-'06.

The .375 H&H is a classic among cartridges, and it is used the world around. You will find ammunition for it literally everywhere you go to hunt. The reason that this is so is the cartridge has been a successful killer as soon as it came on the scene, and it has continued to do so for each succeeding generation of hunters. I have a pair of .375 H&Hs, and usually one of them goes along on my Africa hunts. There are various improved .375s out there and they work too. The .378 Weatherby is at the top of this particular heap, and I am going to suggest that it is too much of a good thing. If you shoot one, again go ahead, but I don't suggest anyone buy one for an upcoming hunt. Recently I have been using the .376 Steyr, which fits most of the power of the .375 H&H into a 60 mm/2.362" case, and those cartridges into a rifle 1 meter/40" long.

Most of these rifles are going hunting with rifle telescope mounted as the primary means of sighting. Some will also have iron sights fitted, but because iron sights sit about an inch lower and closer to the line of the bore than a rifle scope does, the stock will have to be made to suit either the iron sights or the scope; it cannot do both. The typical American stock fits the user for a telescopic sight. If the stock is made to fit iron sights, the shooter's head must be raised to the line of the scope, and the stock weld of head to stock is lost.

I have been using both iron sights on rifles and telescopes. The scope's biggest benefit is it puts the target and the aiming point at the same focal length from the eye. Its major failing is ruggedness. Iron sights are more rugged, but are really suited for the youngest shooters with the most accommodation in their eye muscles. As the shooter's eye ages, the ability to focus moves right down the barrel. Eventually, the scope is a must. In the meantime, I recommend a ghost ring rear sight because you look through it and the eye does not focus on it. It grays out or "ghosts out" in use.

In my opinion the scope makers are spending their research and development money on their variable scopes, and the benefits are obvious. The variable scopes are now more rugged, and most scopes sold are variables. I have come to the opinion that the low-power variable rifle scopes in about the 1.5X to 6X magnification range are the best general-purpose hunting scope. Yes, you can invent a scenario where they are not, but they provide a tremendous flexibility in the field. The Leupold rifle scopes have a great reputation for reliability, performance, eye relief and moderate cost, and I usually recommend them.

I usually buy 1" body telescopes, but I recently acquired a rifle that had a 30mm tube scope mounted; this is my .376 Steyr. This particular scope is a Kahles 1.5-6X42, and it is a terrific telescope as the cost of larger size.

What if you currently shoot a .338 Win Mag, a .30-'06, an 8X68S or 7mm RM, 9.3X62 or other rifle with a fixed 4X scope or a 3-9X scope, should you buy a new rifle and scope to hunt Africa? I definitely don't think so; you are better off to hunt with the rifle that you are familiar with. You should use the best ammunition you can get for your rifle, but only buy a new one if your current rifles are unsuitable or if you just have to have one! (Been there, done that, and I got the t-shirt.) If the ballistics of your rifle fits into John Taylor's tables above, then by all means it is suitable for African hunting.

Now that you have chosen the rifle or rifles that you will take to Africa, it is time to get you and the rifle to the stage where you can deliver a shot to the right place in timely fashion. Every PH I have hunted with has complimented me on my shooting: I am not bragging here, as I can deliver this capability on demand. I got to this state by virtue of formal training under some really good teachers. They have also complained about poor shooting in general, and the inability of some hunters to deliver the shot with any sort of speed.

Getting Good

Once you have decided on your rifle choice, it is up to you to develop the capability to deliver a shot on command -- without taking so much time the animal bolts and the opportunity is lost. Your professional hunter’s job is to find a suitable animal and to get you in position to shoot. Your half of the task is to be able to shoot quickly and accurately. Remember too, you are probably not going to be shown one animal standing quietly in the open waiting for you to shoot, but rather animals and parts of animals in their natural cover. You have to do this when stressed by the excitement of the hunt, and further by any performance anxiety you might feel. I remember well the first shot I had to make in Africa on a first hunt in Namibia at a huge kudu under the eyes of the PH, the tracker and my wife (who hunts too)! Don’t discount this if you have not experienced it.

"You won't rise to the situation; you will default to your level of training" Barrett Tillman

I am convinced based on my own experience and that of many others that the optimum way to learn to shoot accurately and quickly is to attend a formal course of instruction at a shooting school. I used to think that because I had competed for years in a variety of rifle sports, that I knew all there was to know about rifles and riflery, and that I was a good shot. After all, if I was good enough to captain a military rifle team at the National Matches at Camp Perry, that should be good enough, right? Wrong answer, moose-breath! Some of the skills transfer of course, such as the "three secrets" sight alignment, sight picture and trigger control; however, what leads up to the breaking of the shot is totally different. I like to say as a hunter that I am good at one-shot groups, while the target shooter must be good at delivering shot after shot in the same way.

As it turned out the stars and moon came into proper alignment in 1990, and I made the pilgrimage to Jeff Cooper’s American Pistol Institute at Gunsite, Arizona to take a course in defensive use of the handgun and modern technique of the pistol; the course then named API 250. That course was a defining moment for me in my life and in my path to becoming a shootist. I also saw some of the facilities there for rifle shooting, and I returned to Gunsite Ranch in 1991 to take the basic rifle course, or API 270, again under Jeff Cooper. 270 taught me how much about use of the rifle in the field I did not know, and by the end of the course I had progressed to the point of being able to hit whatever I could see.

In 1993 I returned to Gunsite -- with the school under a new owner -- to take an advanced rifle course with John Gannaway, a shooting master. That course was numbered 570, and was given only when enough 270 graduates had signed up to take it.

Gunsite has passed through an interim owner without Jeff Cooper, but is once again teaching firearm use to students to Jeff Cooper’s standards of instruction, with Jeff Cooper again doing some of the instruction. (A "C" appended to a course number in the schedule indicates a Cooper course.)

Most recently my wife Renae and I attended a Hunter’s Rifle course at Front Sight, Nevada. This course was their initial course for hunters, and was held in conjunction with the Safari Club International Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, March 2002. There were nine students in the class, and three were women. All were hunters or people wanting to be hunters. All came away shooting at a new level of competence.

There are other schools in the United States that teach shooting, but I have not had a chance to sample their wares. Some are at fixed locations such as Clint Smith's Thunder Ranch in Texas; however, there are traveling courses taught by other great instructors such as Jim Crews and Randy Cain that can come to a range facility near you.

It just makes sense to invest what amounts to a day or two of safari hunting cost in the schooling that will take you from where you are now to the level of shooting that will keep a smile on your, the PH’s and the staff’s faces.


What many hunters don't know is you can hone your skill with your big rifle, by shooting a .22LR or even an air rifle. You don't have to travel to a rifle range and bang-off many rounds of expensive hunting ammunition.

Once you have determined the load you are going to hunt with, your practice with your hunting rifle (and the surrogates) should be from field positions at low-contrast targets. By low-contrast I mean the targets don't have sharply defined aiming points, but are rather metal gongs or cutouts or cardboard silhouettes. The idea is to include hunting conditions in your practice as much as practical.

I have found that when I work up to go on a hunt, I can do my practice and only shoot about 12 rounds or so from field positions from my heavy rifle. Supplementing this with air rifle or .22LR practice is enough. I do, however, conduct dry practice at home with my heavy rifle. Jeff Cooper likes to sit in front of his television, and engage in dry practice by snapping off a shot at any letter "O" or numeral "0" that appears. This helps to get the feel of handling that rifle into your muscles.

It can assist in other ways as well. Once I even sold a .450 Ackley that proved not to be handy when doing the TV practice.

When you do go to the range for practice with a rifle of substantial recoil, there is another trick to keep the possibility of a flinch at bay. Simply do about 10 dry practice snap shots at a convenient target at about 100 yards. This John Gannaway tip seems to return the mind and body to a condition of "no recoil".

Where to Shoot an Animal

Your aim is to disable the animal's brain or central nervous system. You can do that by a head or spine shot, but these are small and uncertain targets. Mostly hunters are taught to shoot for the chest and take out the heart or the lungs. The animal then bleeds out, and the brain is disabled by loss of oxygen.

Targets usually show the animal in broadside position, but real animals in the field are not usually so generous.

Jeff Cooper teaches his students to use your rifle scope cross wires as an easy aid in visualizing where to place the shot on plains game. If you use the African Hunter Field Guide or the drawings in Lou Hallamore's book as an aid you can see why it is effective.

You are trying to put your bullet through a soccer ball sized volume between the animal's shoulders. To aim, divide the animal's front legs with the vertical cross wire, and place the horizontal cross wire one third of the way up the body. As the target angle to the animal changes, dividing the forelegs compensates for the angle. If the animal looks far away, put the horizontal wire half way up the chest.

African Hunter Pocket Guide
John Barsness, Optics for the Hunter
Craig Boddington, Safari Rifles
Jeff Cooper, The Art of the Rifle
Lou Hallamore, In the Salt
Mike LaGrange, Ballistics in Perspective

Web Resources
Front Sight
Jim Crews
Randy Cain
Thunder Ranch
Tuffpak Gun Case
Good stuff Jim, thanks!

I think if I had the cash for an African hunt, I'd grab my .30-06 and my .375 & be happy with my choices.

Thanks for all these great articles! Guy
I think a LOT of us like playing with these big "African" cartridges, like my .375, even without much realistic hope of ever hunting there...

I'm having a blast, pun intended, loading and shooting my .375, but a trip to Africa falls well down on the priority list at this point...

Regards, Guy
Yea, I like the .375s too.


I would like to try the .375 UM one of these days as well. Just now I recycled my .376 Steyr and .375 H&Hs for a .375 Ruger.

I've been putting those .375 RUM vibes out into the universe, it is only a matter of time before one shows up. ;)

If anyone is interested in shot placement on African game animals I Highly Recommend This Book:

The Perfect Shot by Kevin "Doctari" Robertson. It is THE best book on this subject, his wife did all the detailed drawings. He also touches on rifle battery with each animal, great reading!
Very nicely done Jim. I have also read the other posts that you have posted in the past and they are all very well written.

If any one was to go back, as I did , and read Jim s prior posts about hunting Africa, I just want you to look at the date they were written and posted. Countries, governments and laws change in Africa like some of use change clothes. So you should research the current laws and political climate in the country you choose to hunt, before booking a hunt.

On a personal note. Was I the only one who noticed the mention of the 300 H & H and the 375 H & H. I was relieved to see that someone besides me, have seen the merit of these two calibers.

Jim, all you articles are very well written.
Jim, I also went back and read your prior posts in regards to hunting Africa. Thank you, good information