African Safari Cartridges: Class 3 Game

By Chuck Hawks

.30-06 Springfield. Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

Africa is the home of some of the world's most desirable Class 3 game trophies. Representative animals in the Class 3 classification include eland, kudu, zebra, wildebeest, waterbuck, gemsbok/oryx and sable. Basically, we are talking about non-dangerous game that averages anywhere from 400 to over 1,000 pounds on the hoof. North American animals of equivalent size are elk and moose.

Animals this big require good bullet placement, deep penetration and cartridges of sufficient power to ensure quick kills. The cartridges that are recommended for hunting North American elk and moose will also be appropriate for African Class 3 game. It is not possible to name every suitable rifle cartridge in an article of this type, so if your favorite is not mentioned below but a similar cartridge is, it is probably safe to assume that your cartridge will also suffice.

To complicate matters, many African hunts will be for a combination of Class 2 and Class 3 animals. In these situations the one rifle hunter will be best served by one of the "all-around" calibers. (See All-Around Rifle Cartridges for more on this subject.) The best known of these in Africa are probably the .270 Winchester, 7x64 Brenneke, 7mm Rem. Mag., .308 Winchester, .30-06, .303 British and 8x57JS.

A step above these cartridges are the .300 and 8mm Magnums. Included in this group are such cartridges as the .300 WSM, .300 H&H, .300 Win. Mag., .300 Wby. Mag., 8x68S and 8mm Rem. Mag. Any of these are satisfactory (if a bit much) for Class 2 game and will provide all the killing power necessary for even the largest Class 3 game, at the price of considerably more recoil than the cartridges named in the paragraph above.

The hunter who can bring a rifle specifically for shooting Class 3 game on his or her African safari might consider one of the medium bore cartridges. Examples include the .338 Federal, .338-06, .338 Win. Mag., .340 Wby. Mag., .358 Winchester, .35 Whelen, .350 Rem. Mag., 9.3x62, 9.3x64, 9.3x74R and .375 H&H Magnum. These are cartridges designed for killing Class 3 game. Most are medium range cartridges, but the .338 Magnums combine plenty of power with the flat trajectory required for hits at long range.

The .300, 8mm and medium bore magnums define the upper limit of power and recoil reasonable for hunting non-dangerous game. Heavy recoil impedes accurate bullet placement, so be sure that you can handle the power before choosing a magnum cartridge.

Class 3 game are large animals, so the heavier bullet weights in each caliber are generally preferred. Look for a sectional density of .270 or better. This generally means 150 grain bullets in .270, 154-175 grain bullets in 7mm, 180-220 grain bullets in .30-.32 caliber, 225-250 grain bullets in .338, 250 grain bullets in .35 caliber, 270-286 grain bullets in 9.3mm and 270-300 grain bullets in .375.

Controlled expansion bullets that provide deep penetration are usually recommended, but they must expand adequately to achieve quick kills. A bullet can be too tough as well as too fragile. For example, the Nosler Partition, Swift A-Frame, A-Square Dead Tough and Barnes TSX have proven to combine adequate expansion with good penetration.

Good advice for traveling hunters is to choose a cartridge for which ammunition is available in the area you intend to hunt. That way, if the airline loses the bag containing your ammo, you can buy factory loads where you land.

Remember, raw power is no substitute for accurate bullet placement. Class 3 game is tough, but not indestructible. Any of the animals mentioned in the first paragraph can and have (many times) been dropped by one well placed bullet from a 7x57 rifle. They have also run off after being hit by a magazine load of improperly placed .300 Magnum bullets.

Note: Full length articles about all of the cartridges mentioned above can be found on the Rifle Cartridges page.

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Copyright 2006, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.