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Guns & Gear
By Craig Boddington
With equipment, pack light; with rifles, think “versatile.”

An African safari is a grand adventure. When most of us first journey to the Dark Continent it is the most exotic, most remote, most distant hunting locale in our experience. So of course we worry endlessly about making sure we have all the right gear and the perfect guns and loads. This is healthy. Laying out the gear and packing and repacking the gun case and duffel bags is an important part of any pre-hunt ritual, and adds to the anticipation. The paradox, however, is that properly packing for an African hunt is one of the easiest things you can do.

Volumes have been written about rifles and cartridges for African hunting, and. The sheer variety of African game is daunting, and choosing the exactly right rifles and cartridges is a fascinating study. Undoubtedly there is a “perfect” rifle and cartridge for every variety of game and every type of terrain. However, it is impossible to take to Africa the perfect combination for all of the game you are likely to encounter on a given safari. You must compromise, and this means versatility is extremely important.

For most modern safaris, three rifles are at least one too many. Today’s safaris are shorter, bag limits are far more restricted, and in some cases (Zambia being a good example) you may be legally restricted to just two rifles on a gun permit.

This means that versatility is even more important, but there’s not a lot of mystery involved. Think of a two-rifle battery in terms of “lighter and heavier.” The lighter of the two will probably see the most use. It will be used for camp meat, bait animals, and plains game trophies ranging from very small antelope on up to fairly stout beasts such as wildebeeste, zebra, perhaps sable and kudu. This means that your “lighter” rifle may take animals as small as a big jackrabbit . . . and as large and as tough as a bull elk. The “heavier” rifle will be used much less, but it’s very important because it will be used to hunt any thick-skinned dangerous game that is on the menu. It may also be used to hunt lion and the largest plains game, such as moose-sized eland.

Obviously the genuine need for a big-bore depends altogether on whether or not you will be hunting dangerous game. But let’s assume that your safari will include buffalo at a minimum. You need to make a fundamental choice between a true “big bore,” probably a bolt action .458 or a double rifle of .450 or larger; and a “large medium,” probably a .375 or a .416. For buffalo there are no wrong choices in this spectrum.

The .375 H&H should be considered the sensible minimum for buffalo, but it was adequate in 1912 and it remains adequate today. The .416’s will achieve quicker and more dramatic results with identical shot placement. The genuine big bores from .450 upwards are more impressive yet. If you have a big double or heavy bolt action—or have a burning desire to acquire one—there is no reason not to. You will be properly armed for buffalo, and indeed this is exactly what you should have if you will be hunting elephant. If your “heavier rifle” is a scoped .375 or .416, then you have a perfect rifle for lion and eland . . . and also a rifle that you can use for larger plains game such as zebra and kudu, and perhaps sable and roan. A true big bore, caliber .450 and upwards, is not versatile. Nothing is more effective on the largest of game, but that is what the big bores are for. Period. Even if the rifle is scoped, most of the large calibers are too slow and have too arcing a trajectory for sensible use on plains game.

So if you decide you want your heavier rifle to be a true big bore then your second rifle must be suitable for everything else you intend to hunt. This means that a magnum .30 is probably the minimum caliber to pair with a big bore. A .33 or .35 is probably better yet, and if lion and/or eland are on the menu, your second rifle may need to be a .375. If, on the other hand, you opt for a scoped .375 or .416 as your “heavier rifle,” then your second rifle can take the form of your favorite deer rifle, perhaps a .270, a 7mm, or any .30-caliber. The “heavier rifle” will be probably be used on a couple of the larger antelopes as well as the dangerous game. The “lighter rifle” will be used even more.

A one-rifle battery is an optionIn places such as Namibia and Ethiopia, where shots can be long and no dangerous game will be hunted, I’ve taken only a .340 Weatherby my petor 8mm Remington Magnum and been perfectly happy. Under most circumstances, however, a .375 is the only sensible choice for a one-rifle battery, especially if dangerous game is on the menu. This is not only because caliber .375 is the traditional minimum for the bad boys, but also because it is the legal minimum in numerous African countries.

Most African hunting areas offer bird shooting so If you’re a keen bird shooter, take your own shotgun. Shotshells do count against the five-kilogram (11 pounds) ammunition limit imposed by the airlines. You may have room to slip in a couple of boxes of high-base No. 6 shotshells, which will do for a couple of afternoons of guinea fowl and francolin shooting—but if you’re serious, make sure your outfitter lays in a supply of shotshells for you

The primary considerations are what kind and how much. Because of the great variety of African game, choice of bullet is important—and the bullet you choose must be tough enough for the largest animal you plan to hunt. It is better to select just one softpoint that is tough enough for anything you might run into.. Nosler Partitions are a good baseline and never a bad choice, but depending on what your rifle shoots the best, other good African bullets include Barnes X, Winchester Fail Safe, Trophy Bonded Bearclaw, and Swift A-Frame. The new “tipped and bonded” bullets—Hornady Interbond, Nosler AccuBond, Swift Scirocco—are excellent bullets for a wide range of plains game. Stick with bullets that are relatively heavy for caliber, and you can’t go too far wrong.

I believe in a good softpoint for the first shot on buffalo, but you will want a few solids for backup—and you will want solids only for elephant and hippoThe amount of ammunition you need is dictated by the amount of game you will hunt, but the overarching limit is the airlines’ five-kilogram rule. On a lengthy modern safari 60 rounds for the “lighter rifle” and 30 rounds for the “heavier rifle” should be plenty

You want the best optics you can afford . . . but that doesn’t mean the most powerful. Very little genuine long-range shooting is done in Africa. On a flat-shooting, versatile rifle to be used on a wide range of plains game there is no need for a scope of higher magnification than the popular 3-9X or 3.5-10X variables. On a more powerful rifle that might be used on dangerous game and probably will not be used much past 200 yards I like the low-range variables of 1 ¾-5X or 1 ½-6X. Actually, however, a simple fixed 4X will do just fine almost anywhere in Africa and on almost any African hunting rifle. One important consideration: Especially on powerful, hard-kicking rifles make absolutely certain your scope has enough eye relief. Many scopes that are optically wonderful, including some of the very best brands, simply do not have enough eye relief. Africa is not the place to get cut eyebrows and the resultant flinch.

With the possible exception of the forest you will use your binoculars a great deal in Africa, day in and day out. I recommend good quality full-size binoculars in the 7x42 to 10x40 range, the former in thornbush and the latter in plains, deserts, or mountains

Cameras are important to me, but this varies with the individual. Even if you don’t care a whit about getting nice wildlife and scenic photography, you should care about getting some good trophy shots. Whatever format you like to use, I recommend no less than two cameras

don’t forget extra batteries that fit any device you are carrying that requires batteries, from cameras to rangefinders to lighted scope reticles.

Here’s where packing for Africa starts to get simple. On most safaris two sets of hunting clothes are perfectly adequate. Traditional khaki is really too bright in most thornbush and all forest areas, but a nondescript olive green is good almost everywhere. I prefer to wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts most of the time, this because it’s not only cooler, but quieter. However, you will get cut more by thorns and you will need more sunscreen, so take your choice

you don’t need serious hiking boots in Africa, and in fact they’re a detriment because they’re too noisy. For the last several years I’ve worn Russell’s “Professional Hunter” boots, ankle-high with canvas panels. Oakley’s “tactical” boots are also very good, and many of my friends swear by Courteney boots, made in Zimbabwe. The important things in footwear are: Well broken-in and comfortable; able to dry quickly; and soles that are soft enough to be quiet.

I cannot stress enough how cold it can be in the mornings and sometimes the evenings, especially when traveling in the dark in an open vehicle I usually wear a wool sweater and a windbreaking parka—with a watch cap or hood and gloves. The days tend to warm up very quickly once the sun comes up, but early mornings can be especially brutal. Rain is unlikely during the dry season and almost a sure thing during the rainy season. Either way, I always carry a lightweight rainsuit just in case

For headgear I often wear a broad-brimmed hat, but that is primarily because I’m sun-sensitive. In truth, a broad-brimmed hat is a pain in thornbush and tends to blow off when traveling in an open vehicle. A baseball cap makes a lot more sense, and I usually trade off between the two.

Other Gear
There ain’t much! A minimal amount of gun cleaning gear—takedown rod, oil, some patching material—is a good idea. Daily gun care is essential during rainy season hunts, and dust and dirt will build up quickly in the dry. You should take good sunglasses and sunscreen, and some strong insect repellent. Anything with a lot of DEET works well on most African bugs . . . and nothing works particularly well on tse tse flies. Obviously you also want to pack any and all medications and toilet articles for the full duration of your safari, and “town clothes” for traveling and any sightseeing you intend to do before and after.

So take what you need, but pack as light as you can. You’ll be well taken care of on safari, and you really need a lot less gear than for most hunting trips worldwide.

Clothing & Equipment List 13KB

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