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Hunting Dangerous Game In AfricaFor hunters around the world Africa holds the greatest concentration and variation of dangerous game hunting. Unfortunately these days one can no longer do an "old fashioned" Big 5 safari as one of the Big 5 is Rhino which is an endangered species due to long term poaching for its horn. The remaining members of the Big 5 are Elephant, Buffalo, Lion and Leopard. One can hunt for these species in Africa and one of the best value-for-money destinations is undoubtably Zimbabwe in Southern Africa.
Elephant are arguably the most exciting and exhilarating of the Big Game species to hunt. Elephant hunting is very time consuming, and for this reason it is recommended that hunts are a minimum of 14 days in length, 18 to 21 day Safaris are better when combining elephant with other species. 10 day hunts can be arranged and several concessions are used depending on the time of the year your Safari is booked. The best times of the year are generally early March through May and at the peak of the dry season in October and November. A respectable bull can generally be taken without too much walking, For the classic Elephant safari, expect to walk at least several miles per day. Sizes in Zimbabwe range between 35lbs and 50lbs, with several trophies annually reaching the 70lb or even 80lb mark.
Rifles and ammo for Elephant - Any rifle from .375 upwards is both legal and acceptable for hunting an Elephant with. For Elephant and Buffalo, (any African game in fact), I always suggest that you bring the largest caliber rifle which you can shoot confidently and competently. This is exactly the crux of the matter. So many hunters carry a cannon of immense proportions (Professional hunters included) which they cannot handle well. There is a definite tendency, in my opinion, for hunters shooting a larger caliber to aim in the general area of the vitals and pull the trigger, relying on the size of the bullet to compensate for a possibly less than perfect bullet placement. This is a bad mistake and I have seen countless instances where a bunch of slightly bad shots (both body and head shots) fail to slow the animal down. This is bad enough if he is departing, but much more serious when he's heading in your direction at speed. I haven't counted, but I think I am correct in saying that a much higher proportion of elephant on my safaris have been shot perfectly with the first shot by .375 and .416 caliber's than .450 and bigger rifles. It is all about shot placement, and not the size of the cannon you are using.
Having said this, though, I'll contradict myself a little now, by saying that it feels good when you are up-close-and-personal with Elephants, especially in the thick stuff, to be holding some substantial hardware. The bigger the better! I do a lot of Elephant hunting very early and late in the season, when it is really thick and (I carry a .416 Rem. Mag made by Blaser) there are often times when I'd like to be holding something closer to an RPG7 rocket launcher! The .416, however, has not let me down yet and I'm now going into my 11th hunting season with it. There are such a vast array of suitably sized calibers out there today, most of which (Loaded with the correct bullets) can do the job well enough. There is certainly something fitting about hunting an elephant (arguably) the ultimate African big game animal) armed, in the age-old tradition, with a double rifle. Although I don't use a double rifle myself, I guide a lot of hunters who do. I am often tempted to get one.
Buffalo are more sought after than any of the other dangerous game species because they are very challenging animals to hunt and are extremely tough to kill. They are hunted throughout the year in most areas of Zimbabwe and a 10 to 14 day Safari is recommended although one can do 5 and 7 day Buffalo packages. Buffalo combines very well with other Big Four animals and Plains game. Also very popular are the safari options offering 2 Buffalo etc. Buffalo are tracked and hunted on foot, with the biggest concentrations found from March to early December.
Rifles and ammo for Buffalo - This is the one animal which you need to bring both softs and solid bullets for. If you're not after a bunch of Plains game, a box of each is more than enough, otherwise a box of solids and two of softs if you you're using one rifle for all. As for Elephant, .375 or bigger is needed. Most calibers in the correct range work fine, except for extremely fast bullets. I don't like bullets faster than 2600fps. With faster bullets you have more chance of bullet failure in the animal, and more chance of deviation when shooting through brush. Buffalo are renowned for soaking up punishment with little visible effect. If the first shot is perfect the animal will die in a very short space of time, probably after running less than 100 yards. If the first shot is less than perfect, I have often seen Buffalo take 8 or 10 heavy caliber bullets (or more) before they go down. Obviously a good soft bullet through the vitals will kill a Buffalo that little bit quicker than a solid, but I still like the hunter to load with solids at all times except when shooting at an animal in a herd. There is no substitute for a well placed shot with a deep, straight penetrating bullet. A solid will penetrate deeper and straighter than any soft. My preferred solids are Federal Premium loaded with Trophy bonded sledgehammer. A solid with a flat meplat will always penetrate deeper than a round nose bullet before beginning to deviate. For softs I recommend Swift A Frame (loaded by Remington and Norma), Barnes X triple shock (loaded by Barnes), Trophy Bonded Bear Claw (loaded by Federal). Hunting Buffalo with anything less than a bonded core bullet of heavy construction, you are asking for trouble. Advice I will give you when we're hunting Buff or Elephant is to be ready to empty your magazine into him after the first shot if he is clear of other animals.
There are few remaining countries in Africa that still offer good quality "fair-chase" Lion hunting. Zimbabwe is one of them, and it has some excellent Lions with the Government owned National Parks areas producing some of the finest Trophies. Since the Political problems of recent years, most privately owned areas are not a viable option. We hunt lions both on baits and by tracking, concentrating more on tracking in the dry season when conditions are favorable.
Leopard are the most widely distributed of the dangerous game animals. A 14 day Safari in a top area gives you your best chances at a good male. The hunt can be combined with Lion, Buffalo and plains game very effectively, but is never the less hard work and time consuming. Leopards are shot over bait in daylight in Zimbabwe National Parks areas. I have had 100% success since 2003 and one failure in 2009.
Rifles and ammo for Lion and Leopard - For Cats I like a fairly fast bullet i.e. 2500 fps or faster and this is the one instance (along with crocodile) where I'm even happy to use a really fast bullet travelling at around 3000 fps. I do believe that the hydrostatic shock affecting tissues (and thus spine) around the bullet path can be enough to put the cat down on the spot. This is always first prize when shooting a Leopard or Lion from a blind, as there are few situations I like less in my job than getting up to the bait tree after the shot only to find no sign of the cat.