There are times when enough caliber is mandatory. For most of us, this thought occurs when we consider being faced with a home intruder.
That is a very valid thought process. However, there is a similar process that needs to take place before you attempt to hunt something bigger and tougher than a grizzly bear.
These animals may not even notice being hit by one of the above rounds.
This includes most of the African dangerous game, and that is before you think of herbivores like hippos, elephants and cape buffalo.
Did you know, hippos kill more people than any other big-game animal in Africa?
Calibers to Consider
When you are talking eland, lion or even warthog, the accepted calibers are not something you run off to the local Walmart and pick up.
You aren’t even finding a trusty Savage 110 chambered in these calibers.
Like most things in life, the further you pursue down a rabbit-hole of a hobby, the more specialized the equipment becomes. And hunting African safaris is pretty specific.
In my similar article aimed at North American game, I specified certain rifles and calibers that made sense.
The simple fact is, at least from a distance, most (heavy for caliber) 7mm or .30-caliber magnums are enough.
Up close, I want a little more insurance, both in a non-boattail bullet and a bit more mass.
In Africa, not only is your .300 Win Mag/PRC/SAUM not a smart idea, it isn’t a legal round to hunt most game.
Quite simply, it will lead to wounded animals and wounded/dead hunters much more often than it will lead to ethical kills.
This means we need a dedicated platform that launches a serious round.
Conveniently, hunters have been tackling the problem of African safaris for quite some time and there are plenty of options.
Best Single-Shot Rifle Options
Don’t get me wrong, tons of hunters have used this or similar rifles.
The problem is not the rifle’s ability to handle a big-game caliber, it is the fact that you have exactly ONE cartridge in the gun.
If you shoot poorly with your .900 Extinction round, it is 20-60 seconds before you complete a reload, while you have a gut-shot 1,800-pound beast trying its best to grind you into dust.
If you have a pro hunter backing you up, this might work, but you risk not having the satisfaction of making the kill shot.
This rifle is a limited production and Ruger only produces it in one caliber each year.
This likely means the secondary market will be the source of your Ruger No. 1 for big game.
It has been produced in .375 H&H, .405 Win, .416 Ruger, .416 Remington, .416 Rigby, .450/.400 NE, .458 Win Mag, .458 Lott and .404 Jeffrey.
This provides a suitable array of choices providing between 4,000 ft/lbs to just under 6,000 ft/lbs of energy.
Best Bolt-Action Rifle Options
The next, very common choice for African safaris is a bolt gun.
While you may only get one shot in a close or surprise encounter, at least you have a one to three-second reload available and two to five back-up rounds available to you.
A great example of this is the 602 Brno/CZ 550 Safari Magnum. This is a bolt-action rifle specifically designed for big-game rounds.
This is important because some brands take their standard magnum action and hog it out to allow use of the African game rounds.
This does two things, one it leads to a marginal strength action and second, it often limits capacity to 2+1 even with the smaller rounds like .375 H&H.
This is not an issue with the CZ, as it has 5+1 capacity in .375 H&H.
The rifle is just over 46 inches in length, with a heavy contour 25-inch barrel (for most calibers) and weights it at roughly nine pounds.
This helps (slightly) reduce muzzle climb with a front weight bias and insures full powder burn. The gun is a controlled-feed action.
The bolt has a mechanism for grasping the round from the magazine and controlling it all the way into the chamber.
This creates a minimal likelihood of feeding issues and is often a requirement among professional hunters.
Factory chamberings vary over the years and there are always custom options, but common choices in the gun are: .375 H&H, .416 Rigby, .458 Winchester, .458 Lott and .505 Gibbs.
These provide a range from a 300-grain A-Frame at 2,560 fps, 4,360 ft/lbs muzzle energy to a 600-grain FN at 2,100 fps, 5,850 ft/lbs muzzle energy.
Another very suitable bolt gun would be a Winchester Model 70 African Rifle. This rifle also provides a controlled-feed action for reliability.
The mechanism is different, but yields a similar result to the CZ and meets the pro hunter requirement.
The medium-heavy contour barrel is 24 inches for all big-game calibers and the rifle has a total length of just over 44 inches and just over nine pounds.
The slightly shorter and lighter barrel makes for a faster rifle to bring to bear, but will be slightly less help controlling recoil.
But with these calibers, technique and practice is the real method of controlling recoil.
The current caliber offerings are .375 H&H, .416 Remington and .458 Win Mag. Each of these calibers has a 3+1 capacity hinged floor plate magazine.
This provides a range of muzzle energy from 4,360 ft/lbs to 5,400 ft/lbs.
Best Double-Rifle Options
The next choice in platform is a double rifle.
The simplest way to describe these is to think of a side-by-side shotgun, but chambered in a serious rifle caliber.
Most are double-trigger set-ups with the barrels regulated to converge at 70-100 yards.
These rifles only have two shots, but both are already loaded in their respective actions.
Essentially, you are carrying two complete rifles that have been bonded together.
This eliminates the possibility of a misfeed, thus all but guaranteeing two shots in very quick succession.
This is what many pro hunters/guides carry, in case your shot is not successful.
Most of the above listed bolt-actions guns can be purchased in a no-frills variant for between $1,200 and $2,500 dollars.
The fancier versions may run a bit more. Double rifles are quite a bit more spendy.
Sabatti makes such a double in their Big Five EDL.
This rifle starts with a two proprietary oversized steel actions to ensure the pressures of safari loads are handled.
The actions are mated to cold hammer forged 24-inch barrels that are regulated at 70 yards.
The rifles weigh in a bit heavier than their single-action/single-barrel compatriots. All of the Sabatti choices are 11 pounds or heavier.
This extra weight is not as much fun to carry, but certainly aids in recoil reduction.
For the double-rifle market, this Italian brands offerings are considered quite economical. The street prices run from about $3,500 to $8,000.
The current caliber choices are .370 FL NE, .450/.400 NE, .450 NE, .470 NE, .500 NE and 9.3x74R.
Purdy would be at the other extreme of this curve. Their bespoke double-rifle packages sell for as much as $500,000.
If you have the time and money, they will build it with just about any exotic wood or any other way you want it.
It can be carved, precious-metal inlaid, jeweled and in any big-game or custom caliber you want.
They come matched with a carrying case, made of the same exotic wood, matching inlay or other items specified in the gun.
Typical wait time for such a rifle is two to four years. Quite often, they are built as a matching set. For some, this is a his-and-hers rifle set.
Conclusion: Best Rifles for African Safaris
For some, it may be to provide a choice in calibers, perhaps .375 H&H for smaller African game and .600 NE (900-grain at 2,150 fps – 8,400 ft/lbs muzzle energy) for the big guys.
For those with money but not the time, there is also a strong (read as not much cheaper) secondary market where you can buy a slightly-used gun, without the wait.
There are at least a dozen other semi-custom and full-custom companies that will create your double safari game rifle.
Their prices range between those of Sabatti and Purdy, with a few being even more pricy than Purdy.
What is your go-to rifle for big-game hunting or African safaris? Let us know in the comments below!
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