African Safari Cartridges: Class 2 Game

By Chuck Hawks

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

Sub-Saharan Africa is teeming with Class 2 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 Class 2 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 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 deer, caribou and black bear will probably suffice for African game of the same approximate size.

For hunting such game, various 6.5mm, .270, 7mm, .30 and 8mm calibers are appropriate. Most African hunters prefer cartridges and loads with at least a 250 yard maximum point blank range (+/- 3 inches). Bullets with a sectional density (SD) of at least .270 are preferred, as you never know what you may encounter in the African bush.

There are many suitable 6.5mm (.264") cartridges. Included are the 6.5x55, .260 Remington, 6.5x57, 6.5x68 Schuler, 6.5mm Remington Magnum and .264 Winchester Magnum. 140 grain bullets (SD .287) seem to be the standard for most 6.5mm cartridges today, but some African hunters still prefer heavy 156-160 grain bullets.

In .270 caliber, the .270 Winchester, .270 WSM and .270 Weatherby Magnum are the obvious choices. If your choice is the .270 WSM, makes absolutely sure your chosen rifle feeds with 100% reliability. 150 grain bullets (SD .279) provide plenty of penetration.

The classic 7mm caliber is the 7x57 Mauser (sometimes called the .275 Rigby in Britain). This cartridge has been used on everything in Africa and remains one of the classic calibers for Class 2 game. It is, for example, a favorite of South African outfitter Leon Viljoen, who has contributed African hunting stories to Guns and Shooting Online. Other suitable 7mm calibers include the 7mm-08, 7x61, 7x64 Brenneke, 7x65R, .280 Remington, .284 Winchester, 7mm Remington Magnum and 7mm Weatherby Magnum. Bullets weighing 154 grains (SD .273) to 162 grains (SD .287) are probably the most popular choices in 7mm.

Favored .30-.303 calibers include the .308 Winchester, .30-06 and .303 British. 180 grain bullets (SD .271) are popular for the various .30's, although some experts prefer 200 grain bullets (SD .301).

Moving up from the .30-.303 cartridges, the next step is 8mm (.32 caliber). There are a number of suitable cartridges in this range, most of which are European. The best known 8mm cartridges in North America are the 8x57 Mauser and .325 WSM, but practically all of the European 8mm's have given good accounts of themselves on African game. Bullets weighing 200 grains (SD .274) or heavier are appropriate for the 8mm calibers.

The .300 and 8mm Magnums are typically considered most appropriate for Class 3 game. They are effective, but hardly necessary, for Class 2 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. Because of this, many African professional hunters question the marksmanship of clients who show up with .300 Magnum rifles.

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/150 grain and work your way up to the .300 Magnums in power and you will have a list of suitable calibers. One of the 7mm Magnums with 160-175 grain bullets, .308 Winchester with 180 grain bullets and .30-06 or .300 Magnum with 180-200 grain bullets are classic calibers chosen by North American hunters for combination safaris.

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.

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!

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.