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Stopping Power Revisited - Ganyana

What about fitting a muzzle brake? Great piece of kit for use on the range when zeroing the rifle, or practising snap-shooting, and in fact, every heavy rifle should be fitted with one: BUT a detachable one. If you have ever had the misfortune of firing a rifle fitted with any effective muzzle brake whilst not wearing earmuffs you will know what I mean when I say you cannot hear anything for at least a minute afterwards. This may not seem to be a big problem, but when hunting elephant or lion, sound plays an important part in keeping your hide intact. Over half the fatalities in elephant hunting in Zimbabwe are caused, not by the target elephant, but by another member of the herd that takes the hunter from the flank or rear. Your only defence is your hearing. If you are deaf from the muzzle blast you are at a very grave disadvantage. So, moral of the story, take the brake off before you go out after real game. This still leaves you, however, needing a rifle with manageable recoil.

Another option is to fit some other recoil reducing system to the rifle. Sorbathane recoil pads work better than the standard ones, and I have been favourably impressed with those nifty mercury filled recoil reducers that fit into the rifle butt. Bill McBride has a four bore fitted with these and it is definitely more manageable than my six bore. They do, however, affect the balance and this is something that shouldn’t be compromised, as balance and fit are vital considerations for a rifle, which, if one needs it, will be used for unaimed (but well pointed) snap-shooting. The addition of a little lead in front of the stock may return the balance, but this is something that has to be carefully worked out. If I thought that I really needed something bigger than a .404 I would be tempted to go for a custom stock, fitted with mercury recoil reducers, and a nice wide butt plate, complete with sorbathane pad, but retaining a comfortable sized forend and weighted to give a perfect balance. Of course if you're not Mr Average (which for British guns appears to be someone of about 5’9" tall and of lean build, since most British rifles or model ‘A’ Mausers fit me perfectly, but they don’t fit most of my larger friends) you may well have to go for a custom stock simply to get a rifle that fits well enough to allow snap-shooting. The Americans also seem fond of building heavy rifles with stocks suited for scopes. On a .375 maybe: on anything larger you must be mad! So again, a custom stock is the only solution.

Article continues below.

The last option is to move to a smaller calibre that produces less recoil. This though is a double edged sword. I suspect that the reason many new hunters buy cannons is that they fail to realise just how easy it is to kill even the toughest game with a well-placed bullet. This would imply that the ‘ideal’ dangerous game rifle for a citizen hunter is either a .375 H&H or a 9.3 x 62. My personal choice is the 9.3 x 62. The 286 grain Woodleigh solids will exit on a buffalo from any angle including a Free State (Texas) heart shot. They will comfortably break the shoulder of an elephant and still reach the vitals and will exit on all head shots. The premium soft points available, particularly some excellent flat-pointed ones produced by Ken Stewart, are more than adequate for lion or an initial shot on buffalo. In short, the 9.3 will cleanly kill any animal, and do so with surprisingly mild recoil in an 8lb rifle.

In comparing the 9.3 to a .375 H&H, I’ve personally never noticed any difference where good quality solids are used, since bullets from both whistle straight through an elephant or buffalo making approximately the same sized hole. The only difference I can think of is that the .375 exits 200fps faster than the 9.3 and so has more energy to expand on the environment (and do so whilst producing more recoil and considerably more muzzle blast). Both have enough horsepower to turn a charging elephant with a headshot, but both will fail miserably if the elephant is on top of you and you have to shoot upwards through the jaw or into the chest. Such an upward raking shot is surprisingly common in jesse especially when an elephant other than the one being hunted decides to join the fray. In all the sitreps I have been able to look up where a hunter has been surprised by an elephant in thick bush, the 11 cases where the hunter has been armed with a .375 he has been either injured or killed. As the rifles become more powerful, the odds improve remarkably. A .470 (or .465, 476 etc.) gives the hunter better than 50/50 odds of escaping unscathed (eight records: one killed, two injured). With buffalo it’s a similar story. A .375 solid on a frontal chest shot will seldom stop a charge dead. Both barrels from a .500 are virtually guaranteed to.

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African Hunter Vol.5 No.1 February 1999
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