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Hunting African Elephant
Part Three - Recovery Shots and Calibre Choice
~The need for ‘recovery shots’ is something that has to be seriously considered when hunting elephant. Nobody deliberately wounds an elephant (or any animal), but it does happen, particularly as the vital organs, although relatively large targets themselves, are concealed within an extremely large body/head.~
Three Elephants grazing by a tree.
A misjudged shot is easy enough to make and bullet failure is not unheard of. If you do wound an elephant, simply blazing away at the departing animal, hoping that one of your bullets will have an effect, is highly unlikely to succeed. An elephant is simply too large, and the vital organs too small in relation to the whole. No, the shots must be carefully placed if they are to have any effect other than to spur the elephant on.

If one is unfortunate enough to wound an elephant, and it begins to depart at speed, there are four possible shots, depending on one’s rifle. If one is using a small bore weapon (which is not legal in most of Africa) there is only the quartering away brain shot (see photo 1 ). This is probably the most difficult angle to hit the brain from, for although the brain is close to the surface, both ears are not visible to give one a reference point for where to aim. If the elephant has had a fright, it will normally keep its head up as it runs off, at least allowing you to see one ear, and so get an indication of the height of the brain. You can also see the dip behind the ear that marks where the spine joins the skull. One therefore shoots into this dip.‘Karamojo’ Bell perfected this shot with his 7mm, and for the modern hunter with a heavy rifle it is a more viable shot still, since a bullet that misses the brain may well stun the animal long enough for one to get in a proper finishing shot. This is particularly true on cows, and a shot into the ‘dip’ behind the ear with a rifle of the .470 class invariably brings the animal down. Bulls are considerably less susceptible to ‘shock’, but the shot remains a very viable one, if the country is open enough for the head to be clearly visible.

If the animal if facing directly away, a spine shot is a fair option, with anything in the 9,3/.375/.458 class of cartridge. The spine forms a clear ridge down the back and onto the tail (see photo 2), and one should aim two thirds of the way up from the base of the tail to the top of the spinal ridge. A shot here instantly brings an elephant to the ground. This is the ‘classic’ recovery shot, but unless the animal is facing directly away from you, the spine is actually quite a difficult target, and becomes more so as the angle becomes less acute. As the elephant runs, the spine moves up and down. When the animal is moving directly away, this is relatively easy to cope with. For an animal that is moving other than directly away, trying to get one’s swing and follow through right, as well as coping with a bobbing target smaller than a rugby ball, makes the theory of this shot easier than the practice.

Shot placement on an elephant quartering away.
Fig 1:- Shot placement on an elephant quartering away.
(From highest to lowest)
Aim point for a rear brain shot.
Aim point for a quartering away hip shot.
Aiming area for a raking heart shot.

A more logical choice for an animal moving either directly away or at a slight angle is the hip shot. As elephant pace rather than walk or run, a broken leg instantly incapacitates them. The leg is not a viable target, since a solid bullet will often simply punch a neat hole through the bone without breaking it, but the hip is an entirely different matter. The ball and socket joint of the back legs form a somewhat larger target than the spine base, and one that doesn’t bob up and down nearly as much when the animal runs. The hip is clearly visible on any elephant (see photo 2), and the fact that one doesn’t have to ‘look inside the animal’ and try to visualize the target is a boon, particularly when in a hurry (as one always is when trying to stop a wounded animal). As a quick reference, take the line between the root of the tail, and the outside edge of the animal. Bisect it, and put your shot there. For this shot, the bigger the bullet the better, since a shot with a large bore that hits the pelvic girdle or leg bone may well bring the animal to a halt, whereas a medium bore (such as a .375, .378 or 9,3) must actually hit the hip itself to be effective. A .470 or .458 Lott probably gives one at least a 50% margin of error increase over a .375. Note that solids must be used - softpoints simply flatten out against the bone.

Go to Page: 1 2 Related Articles: Hunting African Elephant Part 1
Hunting African Elephant Part 2
Fact File: African Elephant
Firearms: .375 on Elephant
African Hunter Vol.5 No.4 August 1999
  .Home .Hunter's Guide .Elephant Part Three
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