There has been considerable debate in hunting magazines of late on “stopping power” for dangerous game, and “ideal” calibres for elephant and buff. Much of this debate though has centred purely around the professional hunter. No thought has been given to the client, or the “Citizen Hunter”, whose mission in life is something other than swatting large nasty beasties on a regular basis. Tony Sanchez-Arino (in African Sporting Gazette) gave an excellent run down on the most famous Professional Elephant Hunters’ rifles, and opined that nothing less than the .404 was actually really safe to carry, and that with factory ammunition the .458 was decidedly marginal. Brian Marsh in Magnum (Feb’98) noted that the .458 was decidedly lacking in steam, and that to guarantee satisfaction something in the order of the .458 Lott or Ackley is needed. For a professional guide, I would concur, but not otherwise.
I use the term ‘Guide’ loosely. By this I mean anyone who’s JOB it is to take people into dangerous game areas, whether hunting with a rifle or camera. Here you have fee-paying clients who expect to see or shoot the animals they are paying you to guide them to. The client cares nothing for the thickness of the bush, and if a little “discretion is the better part of valour” on the part of the PH costs the client his trophy, then the guide is labelled a fool, incompetent or worse. This invariably means that the guide is put in awkward situations where, when things go wrong, they go wrong in a big way and usually at unpleasantly close range. A buffalo charge in open country where you can see more than 30 metres is no problem to anyone who can shoot straight. The same charge at 10 metres in jesse is a very different story. In short, the guide is carrying a “charge stopping rifle”. Whether the animal is killed instantly or simply turned, is irrelevant: the name of a guide’s game is to stop something large from stepping/chewing on his clients or himself. For this specific job, horsepower is essential. The corollary though, is that the horsepower must be accurately placed. A charging lion, elephant or buffalo all give the hunter a 4 to 8 inch target for an instant kill, and an area of about 12 inches in diameter for a disabling hit that will turn the charge. I have seen men with .460 Weatherby’s that would be far more likely to turn a charge with a .303 than they are with their present cannons, simply because they cannot shoot them straight.
“As big as you can manage” is therefore probably a fair maxim for the professional ‘guide’. Hunting is his job, so the cost of a custom stock, the ammunition to practice and become proficient with, and tolerant to, a hard-kicking, heavy calibre rifle shouldn’t be a factor. As a professional he should also be fit enough to carry a 12lb rifle all day. Chances are though, that none of the above applies to the client or citizen hunter. Even if you are superbly fit, a heavy rifle quickly wears you down if you’re not used to carrying it. So the citizen hunter’s rifle must be reasonably light-weight and one that can be comfortably carried all day in a 40°C heat.
For a client or a citizen hunter, it is a must that the rifle’s recoil be easily controlled. There are four ways of achieving this: you can increase the rifle’s weight; improve the fit of the stock; fit recoil reducing devices, and most logically, go to a cartridge that produces less recoil. If you are a PH and your client gets tired, a tracker can always carry his rifle for him. If you are a citizen hunter you don’t have that luxury. If you give your rifle to the tracker you can just about guarantee that you will be charged by something and that your tracker will depart at speed with your rifle. You therefore have to carry your own rifle, so we are back to needing a light-weight one. There isn’t a lot to say about stock fitting: if a rifle doesn’t fit, even a relatively mild cartridge like a .308 will hurt and snap-shooting with such a rifle is almost impossible. The stock simply must fit.