Rifle for your first safari- My personal experience

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Philip Glass

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I just returned from Botswana, where I hunted with two friends. One had lived and hunted in Africa for 9 years, but two of us had never hunted there before and we had a long discussion about rifles.

As a person who has to work for a living, I had to make a decision on whether to get a rifle for my first trip, or use my 30-06. I was told by several people that it would be fine, and I could borrow a heavier gun for eland. It was not the best time to buy a rifle given the trip costs, but I got some very specific advice from my experienced friend. He told me:

"Thousand of hunters have carried light rifles to Africa and have harvested thousands of animals successfully. They work. But, look at the context. Much of the writing about success with lighter calibers occurred during the 1950's and 1960's. Those guys were often on 30 day safaris, and could afford to wait for the right shot. We are going for 7 days, and we do not have that luxury. Your only chance at your animal may come under difficult conditions. And, if you do not put the animal down, you may lose a day or even two days tracking. And you rarely read about the ones that got away and were never found, or were found as a carcass that had been wrecked as a trophy by predators. If you are on the last day of your hunt and an eland is quartering away from you at 100 yards you will wish you had something more substantial."

We innocents thought this was good advice, and both of us picked up Mauser M12 extremes, and we both chose 9.3 x 62's and 286 grain bullets. We discovered that having identical rifles gave us the advantage of using the same ammunition, so if there were loss or theft issues we could back each other up. This was almost needed because one bag was looted in transit but they were not looking for something other than ammunition.

Go figure, out of the six animals I harvested, three of them were difficult technical shots. Afterward, my PH told me that he only allowed me to shoot because I was shooting a heavier caliber (impala and eland in heavy brush, a cull wildebeest at long range). A nice wildebeest and Gemsbok in the open went down quickly, and I attribute that to the heavier bullet. But the real advantage came when we were hunting kudu. We had one quick chance at a beautiful kudu bull of the configuration we were looking for, but at 90 yards I pulled the trigger instead of squeezing and sent the bullet into the neck base rather than the quartering chest shot I was trying for. He was down for good in 30 yards, but I think that a lighter caliber would have resulted in a flesh wound and a long day of tracking.

The real advantage of a heavier caliber for the first timer is something that you may not want to admit, and that is that when you get on the sticks your hands will be so sweaty that you can't hold the rifle, your mouth will feel like it is filled with cotton, you will be breathing hard, and shaking with adrenaline. You will be fighting the instinct to aim as if that animal is a whitetail deer. I am sure this does not apply to you, but all of it applied to me. There, if you are a bit off the heavier bullet can buy you a bit of forgiveness. I went above the midline twice ( OK not THAT far, but above it) and came out alright. Again, likely because I had a heavier caliber.

Having sung the praises of the 9.3, I did shoot it a lot before the trip, practiced on sticks, and had a factory recoil pad installed before I picked up the rifle. I was surprised at how comfortable it was to shoot but that only came with practice. The 8 consecutive Saturdays at the range prior to the trip may have had something to do with it, and likely had a lot to do with it. But, I was able to take advantage of three difficult shots when they came, and I tagged out early enough in the week to hunt small game. Just some observations from my first trip and limited experience, but I thought it was a discussion worth sharing.

And if you think I have hunting prowess, I went 0 for 3 on jackals.
Jeff your friend is exactly right and this is the point I’ve always tried to make. Yes we can all, under ideal conditions, take PG with very small calibers. But when you’ve hunted for a week and times up and you have your one chance and it’s a tough shot then what?
Thanks for this excellent post!
Philip
 
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cls

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Very much liked your candid post and insights.
 

meigsbucks

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Congrats on a great hunt. You did the right things: practiced and used an adequate cartridge.
Now you have to to start planning for safari number two!
My first safari was mainly for buffalo and my rifles were a .416 Ruger and a .375 H&H. I ended up using the .416 on the buff and seven head of plains game. The .375 was used on three head of plains game. They did a great job. All were one shot kills but I think the bullets were a little tough. On my second safari, which was for plains game, I took a .338 RUM and a .30/06. I used the .338 on eland and six other animals and the '06 on five. You could tell the difference in performance. If I go on another PG only hunt, a .338 or .375 will be my cartridge of choice. I like the performance of the medium bores.
You made a good cartridge choice.
 

leslie hetrick

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.375 H&H for me, a little heavy but gets the job done.

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