African Safari Cartridges: CXP2 Game

By Chuck Hawks

7x57 Mauser. Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

Sub-Saharan Africa is teeming with CXP2 game. What we in North America would call "deer size" game is the most prevalent type in the Dark Continent, although no actual deer species are native to sub-Saharan Africa. Fallow deer were imported into South Africa by the British, however, and reside there in huntable numbers.

Most African CXP2 game are species of antelope. A bewildering number of antelope dwell in Africa, ranging in size from tiny dik-dik the size of a lap dog to giant Eland as big as North American moose. However, it is the great middle range of these diverse animals, those scaling on average from, say, 50 to 300 pounds that interests us here. Game in that range includes wart hog (pound for pound probably the toughest animal you will find in the bush), impala, reedbuck, bushbuck, springbuck, nyala, hartebeest and fallow deer, among others. For the North American hunter, the rifle that he uses for hunting pronghorn, deer, caribou and black bear will suffice nicely for African game of the same approximate size.

For hunting such game, the various .270, 7mm and .30 calibers can be taken as ideal. The classic 7mm caliber is the 7x57 Mauser (sometimes called the .275 Rigby in Britain). This cartridge has been used on everything in Africa, even elephant, and remains one of the classic calibers for CXP2 game. It is, for example, a favorite of South African outfitter Leon Viljoen, who has contributed African hunting stories to Guns and Shooting Online. If I were leaving on a "Little 5" (CXP2 game) hunt with Leon tomorrow, I'd pack a 7x57 rifle.

Other suitable .270/7mm calibers include the .270 Winchester, .270 Weatherby Magnum, 7mm-08, 7x61, 7x64 Brenneke, 7x65R, .280 Remington, 7mm Remington Magnum and 7mm Weatherby Magnum. Favored .30-.303 calibers include the .308 Winchester, .30-06 and .303 British. 130-150 grain bullets are suitable for the .270 Winchester and 140-150 grain bullets are generally favored for the .270 Magnums. Most standard Sevens are at their best with bullets in the 139-150 grain weight range, while the magnums seem made for 150-175 grain bullets. 150-180 grain bullets are most commonly chosen for the various .30's.

Moving down a caliber in size to 6.5mm (.264") reveals many suitable cartridges. Included are the 6.5x54, 6.5x55, .260 Remington, 6.5x57, 6.5x68 Schuler and .264 Winchester Magnum. 140 grain bullets seem to be the standard for most 6.5mm cartridges today, but some hunters still prefer heavy 156-160 grain bullets.

Jumping up from the .30-.303 cartridges, the next step is .32 caliber (8mm). There are a number of suitable cartridges in this range, most of which are European. The best known of these in North America is the 8x57JS Mauser, but practically all of the European 8mm's have given good accounts of themselves on African game over the years. Bullets in the 170-200 grain range are appropriate for the .32/8mm calibers.

The .300 and 8mm Magnums, cartridges on the order of the .300 WSM, .300 Win. Mag., .300 Weatherby Mag., .325 WSM, 8x68S and 8mm Rem. Mag., are getting into the over-kill area. These cartridges are typically recommended for CXP3 game, usually with 180-200 grain bullets. They are effective, but hardly necessary for CXP2 game. Unfortunately, their recoil is more than many shooters can handle. Remember that precise bullet placement is the most important factor in killing power and increasing recoil decreases shooter accuracy. Most shooters simply shoot better with standard calibers than they do with magnums.

Many African "plains game" hunts will be combination hunts in which both CXP2 and CXP3 game is sought. In those cases, the same calibers that would be appropriate for a combination deer and elk hunt in Western North America will be appropriate. Start with the .270 Winchester and work your way up to the .300 Magnums in power and you will have a list of suitable calibers. The .270 Winchester with 150 grain bullets, 7mm Magnum with 160 grain bullets, .308 Winchester with 165-180 grain bullets and .30-06 or .300 Magnum with 180 grain bullets are the classic calibers chosen by North American hunters for combination safaris.

As always, if your favorite cartridge is not mentioned above but is similar to one of the calibers that is mentioned, it will probably do fine. Remember that the key to quick kills is not the caliber, but precise bullet placement!

Back to the Rifle Information Page

Copyright 2006, 2010 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.