Big Game Hunting Calibers
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Top 5 Calibers for Hunting Big Game in Africa

Africa has long held the imaginations of hunters from around the world. It is an extremely large continent with some of the greatest diversity of plants and animals seen anywhere on the planet. Many of the animals are among the most dangerous ones for human hunters to pursue, requiring great skills and discipline on the trigger. You want your first shot to count because follow-ups on something like the Cape Buffalo can be harrowing. Fortunately, there are many great big game calibers to choose from that will serve you well on an African hunting safari.

Maybe you are looking for a versatile cartridge that's effective on a wide variety of game ranging from the tiny Damara Dik-Dik to the mighty eland. Or maybe you're looking for a more specialized big game cartridge designed for more specific situations, like stopping a buffalo charge at close range, there is something on this list of the best big game cartridges for hunting Africa that will fit the bill. Though these are far from the only acceptable choices for hunting in Africa, the following rounds have really stood the test of time among hunters in the Dark Continent. These are our top picks for anyone who planning a hunting trip to one of the wildest locations on Earth.

7mm Remington Magnum

The 7mm Magnum brings a very flat trajectory and the ability to consistently make longer range shots to the party. Most 7mm Magnum loads typically feature high velocities, excellent ballistic coefficients, and moderate bullet weights. All these factors combine to make the cartridge an excellent big game caliber for hunting some of the most hunted game in Africa. It's a great option for anyone planning on taking shots on medium sized game animals at ranges past 200 yards. Places that feature open terrain with little cover, such the Karoo region of South Africa or the Kalahari Desert of Namibia, allow the 7mm Magnum to shine in comparison to other big game cartridges.

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Barnes, Nosler, and Swift produce 160gr and 175gr 7mm TSX, Partition, and A-Frame loads. All are excellent choices for hunting antelope on the plains of Africa. When using premium quality ammunition, the 7mm Magnum is suitable for hunting a wide range of game including springbok, impala, hartebeest, gemsbok, wildebeest, nyala, and kudu, among many others. The 7mm Magnum is also a great choice for hunting leopard (where legal), as they are vulnerable to properly placed high velocity bullets. Though it's possible to cleanly take very large species of plains game with the 7mm Magnum (and similar cartridges like the 280 Ackley Improved, many professional hunters consider it to be on the light side for hunting those critters. For hunters planning to down some larger, more dangerous critters, this may not be your best option.

Regardless of what you plan on hunting, make sure you use high quality bullets capable of controlled expansion. My advice is to avoid the rapidly expanding bullets designed for deer hunting. They may work great for whitetails or mule deer, but I've known several cases where hunters have shot tough animals like gemsbok and wildebeest in the shoulder with rapidly fragmenting 7mm bullets. In every case, the high velocity bullet broke the shoulder but came apart. Penetration into the body cavity was poor. These shots crippled the animal but necessitated follow up shots that would have been unnecessary if the proper bullets had been used in the first place.

.30-06 Springfield

The venerable .30-06 Springfield is probably the most commonly used cartridge for plains game hunting in all of Africa. The cartridge is available in a wide range of bullet weights (110-220gr), and types suitable for big game hunting. A number of ammunition companies, such as Federal, Nosler, and Swift, make excellent quality controlled expansion bullets for the .30-06, most commonly in 180gr and 200gr weights.

Not only are controlled expansion bullets great for larger game, but they are a good choice for hunting small game like klipspringer and duiker because they minimize damage to their hide to a certain degree. Though the .30-06 is not as good for long distance shooting a the 7mm Rem Mag or 300 Win Mag, it is still a quite capable cartridge and does very well out to 300 yards or so (or even further in the right hands).

At closer ranges, the .30-06 will get the job done quite well without the additional recoil, muzzle blast, and larger amounts of blood-shot meat that its higher velocity cousins produce. For the vast majority of situations that a hunter will encounter while hunting plains game in Africa, the .30-06 is an almost perfect choice.

The .30-06 is also the smallest cartridge that I would recommend for hunting eland and using the right bullets, the .30-06 can cleanly take every species of plains game on the continent.

It's also a wonderful choice for hunting thin skinned dangerous game like leopard. Indeed, the higher velocity .30-06 loads are surprisingly effective on those thin-skinned cats when hunting over bait from a blind.

If you go that route, I do recommend using a Thermacell to keep the bugs away during those long nights in the leopard blind. You don't have a lot of room for error when using the .30-06 on leopard, so you really need to make a good shot!

.375 Holland & Holland Magnum

If the .30-06 is the king of plains game hunting, then the .375 H&H is the king of dangerous game hunting in Africa. Since the cartridge was first introduced to the hunting world back in 1912, thousands of hunters have used the .375 H&H in dozens of different types of rifles and successfully hunted virtually every species of big game on the continent.

The cartridge is powerful enough to ethically hunt even the biggest elephants, yet can also be surprisingly effective for hunting the smallest species of antelope and causes relatively little damage to the hide (when using a non-expanding solid bullet). Additionally, the .375 H&H does all this with a manageable level of recoil, thus making it arguably the best big game caliber for hunting in Africa.

There are a wide range of bullets weights and types available from the major manufacturers, though 235gr, 250gr, 270gr, and 300gr are the most commonly used. Since the cartridge is so popular among hunters from all over the world, there have probably been more cape buffalo killed by the legendary .375 H&H than by any other single cartridge.

Depending on the exact country, the .375 H&H (or sometimes the 9.3x62mm Mauser) is typically considered the minimum acceptable cartridge for hunting dangerous game. Though it will certainly do the job if placed correctly, the .375 H&H is on the light side for stopping dangerous game in a charge situation.

For this reason, most professional hunters usually carry something more powerful for backup in an emergency (more on this in a minute).

That said, if you had to choose one big game cartridge to hunt everything in Africa with, you could do a whole lot worse than the .375 H&H. By merely changing the bullet: rapidly expanding soft points for lion and leopard, controlled expansion soft points for most plains game and buffalo, and solids for elephant, small antelope, and follow up shots on buffalo, the .375 H&H can be used to hunt virtually any animal on the continent. It is tough to find a better all-around big game cartridge for hunting Africa than the .375 Holland & Holland Magnum.

.416 Rigby

Though the .375 H&H Magnum is a wonderful all-around cartridge for hunting Africa, the .416 Rigby is a better choice for those who need a bit more power for hunting big and dangerous animals like buffalo. Pushing a 400gr bullet at a solid 2,300-2,400fps, the .416 Rigby hits hard and penetrates well. It's a fantastic big game hunting cartridge for Africa, but what really helped cement the reputation of the .416 Rigby was the fact that the famous author Robert Ruark made it (along with his PH Harry Selby) incredibly famous in his book Horn of the Hunter.

Make no mistake though: the .416 Rigby has a well earned reputation and it won't let you down as long as you place your shots properly. The cartridge is quite a bit more powerful and has more recoil than the .375 H&H. On the other hand, the cartridge has quite a bit less recoil than the .458 Lott and more hunters can handle the Rigby.

All that being said, the .416 Rigby is an outstanding choice for hunting cape buffalo. In addition to hunting thick-skinned dangerous game, the .416 Rigby is also a great cartridge for hunting big species of plains game and will also work on the smaller stuff, though it wouldn't be my first choice for them.

.458 Lott

Big Game Calibers

375 H&H (L), .416 Rigby (C) & .458 Lott (R); Credit: Big Game Hunting Adventures

As stated above, possibly the biggest disadvantage to using the .375 H&H is how the cartridge is not well suited to following up wounded dangerous game or stopping a charge. Well, that's where the .458 Lott comes in. Though many foreign hunters use the cartridge, the .458 Lott is extremely popular among professional hunters in Africa as a dangerous game cartridge to back-up clients when things go wrong.

Now the .458 Lott is not a great long range cartridge, but that's not what it's designed for. The cartridge is intended for use on thick-skinned dangerous game at close range and it does very well indeed in that role.

Hornady's Dangerous Game Solid (DGS) load for the .458 Lott propels a 500gr bullet at 2,300fps for a bone crushing 5,800 foot pounds of energy. That compares very favorably to the 4,200 foot pounds of energy produced by Hornady's 300gr DGS load at 2,530fps in the .375 H&H. Especially when the primary use of the rifle is for emergencies, this is a significant difference in power and performance.

All of this power comes with at a price. The .458 Lott has nearly twice the amount of recoil of the .375 H&H. For this reason, the cartridge may be more than many hunters can handle and still consistently shoot accurately.

At the same time, while the .458 Lott can be used for hunting plains game, it is not ideal for it due to the aforementioned difficulties with recoil and the lack of bullets designed for hunting thin-skinned game. Of course, a hunter could use bullets designed for dangerous game on plains game and it will work, but it's just not ideal. Still, all things considered, the .458 Lott is a great big game caliber for hunting Africa, especially for thick-skinned dangerous game.

What do you think of our choices for the best calibers for hunting Africa? Did we miss any?

Like what you see? You can read more great articles by John McAdams on the Big Game Hunting Blog. Subscribe to his show: the Big Game Hunting Podcast or learn more about an African hunting safari.