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Stopping Power Revisited - Ganyana

This then is the down side in the argument for smaller calibres; when things go wrong and you get charged, you always wish that you had a rifle at least twice as powerful as the one you are holding. The debate then for carrying a cannon is one of ethics and safety and so we come back to the argument for having a rifle that possesses some real stopping power. A client being guided by a PH certainly doesnít need one, but does a citizen hunter?

The first thing to remember is that big game hunting is a sport. Like mountaineering or Formula 1 racing you can get killed or injured if you make a mistake. If there is no danger, then the activity is not a true sport but simply a game. The statistics show that big game hunting is a sport, so you must accept the risks. These risks are minimal if a few basic procedures are followed. For any citizen hunter out after dangerous game, there are three basic requirements: 1) Never hunt without a partner (even if you have an awful lot of experience); 2) Donít put yourself into a position where you can be ambushed. Remember that on oneís own hunt, when you donít have some git with you who insists on putting you in an awkward spot, you donít have to venture into potentially dangerous thickets; and 3) Do not get charged.

This is all well and good, until you have a wounded animal on your hands, since they are the most likely to charge and frequently retire into very thick bush to wait for you. It is in this area of wounded animals that the question of stopping power comes to the fore, and a person's true character and moral standards are revealed. If you wound something you have a legal and moral responsibility to find it and finish it off, and no bush can be considered too thick for a follow up. Itís your mistake so you sort it out. A man who chickens out from following up a wounded animal should never be allowed to go hunting again. The more powerful the rifle, the greater the chance of stopping a charge at close range (as noted above even a 7 x 57 is adequate if there is enough space to give you time to aim).

Article continues below.

The obvious thing of course, is to ensure that you donít get charged. Even if you are armed with a .700 nitro, things can still go very wrong if your shot placement isnít at least reasonable. When facing oneís first charge, oneís shot placement is liable to be erratic, especially if it is from close range. Therefore only fire the first shot when you are absolutely sure of a (quickly) fatal hit. This means that first of all you have to know exactly where to aim, then you have to get close enough to be 100% sure of putting your bullet within 2" of where you were aiming and do so in the face of ďbuck feverĒ, nervousness, sweaty hands from the heat etc. If your rifle produces so much recoil that you havenít practised sufficiently with it to have supreme confidence in your shooting ability with that rifle, you have added another variable that is virtually impossible to overcome. I watched a fairly experienced (plains game) hunter miss a buffalo at 20m. It wasnít the buffalo that scared him, but sighting his .460 Weatherby had given him a flinch from hell:- well certainly one big enough to cause the bullet to be 50cm low at 20m. No, for a citizen hunter or a client who actually wishes to kill his own trophies on his own (ie he doesnít want to shoot at his trophies, but have them brought down by the PH), the only sensible option is to use a rifle that one can actually practice with, and consequently shoot well. Most PHís Iíve spoken to would rather see a client pulling an old .375 out of his gun bag than any new .450 magnum any day. In fact, most PHís would rather have the client use a rifle smaller than the legal minimum (9.3 x 62 in Zimbabwe) if that is all he can shoot straight with. A 220 grain solid from a 30-06 through an elephantís brain or a buffaloís shoulder is a thousand times more lethal than a 900 grain bullet from a .600 express that misses the brain or hits the buff in the guts. There is no substitute for shot placement!

In summary then: use a rifle that you can shoot well with and use premium bullets and you will very seldom get charged. If you are unlucky, and another elephant or lioness rushes to their mateís rescue, or you follow up your buff too soon and you do get charged, if you have not wandered into very thick bush, you will have sufficient time to shoot straight, and so end the attack before you are in any danger. If you insist on putting yourself in very thick bush or are an inexperienced hunter (or poor shot, not that anyone would admit to this) you would be well advised to beg, borrow or otherwise acquire a heavy rifle in the .450 Lott range as a spare back up rifle that your tracker can carry, and that you can take over if you have to enter thick bush. All things considered though, the risks are negligible if you shoot straight and think before you walk.

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African Hunter Vol.5 No.1 February 1999
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