Becoming an Expert on Hunting in Africa

Since we're beating Africa to death, we might as well get into this one. It is de rigeur (for those of you in the South, this means "absolutely necessary") for any gun writer worthy of the name to go on safari, slay beasts of all sorts, and develop firm opinions on same.

This produces some very odd results. One writer I know went to South Africa during their summer, was assaulted non-stop by bugs, serpents, and unbearable humid heat, and pronounced the safari a wretched experience that no sane person would willingly endure. He went during the summer because the rates are much cheaper then, and they are much cheaper because the conditions are so unpleasant. I’ve done three safaris in September and October, which is late spring below the equator, and they were trials indeed.

He managed to omit the fact that in the winter, the South African weather is lovely, there are no bugs, and scarcely a serpent can be seen. In fact, one of the coldest hunts I’ve ever been on was in South Africa’s Great Karoo in 2008, where all concerned froze their nasty bits and everything else.

Then you have Elmer Keith, who made a 40-day safari in, I believe, Tanganyika, and came home and did a book on it called Safari. This took, if nothing else, colossal balls. (Robert Ruark did the same with Horn of the Hunter, but he did not write it as an authority on the subject, or give advice.)

Safari was a so-called vanity book, bankrolled by an admirer of Keith’s. Elmer set out to prove that the only rifles worthy of taking to Africa were heavy rifles, and did this by taking only heavy rifles. I think the smallest gun he brought was a .333 OKH and the biggest a .500.

And so, having shot nothing with small rifles, and having seen nothing shot with small rifles, he pronounced them unsuitable. Warren Page, who seldom found anything amusing, thought Safari terrifically funny, and made mock of it in the public prints.

At the other end of the scale you have John Taylor, an American who hunted Africa in the ‘30s and ‘40s when it was still very wild and contained animals beyond counting. Taylor was an elephant poacher who shot astronomical numbers of game, and in his book, African Rifles and Cartridges (which is still eminently worth reading) made this statement.

Singing the praises of the .375 H&H, he wrote:

“Undoubtedly one of the deadliest weapons in existence. It heads the list from the point of view of its caliber, and in the opinion of many hunters it ought easily to head it from the point of view of its power also. I’ve had five of these rifles—two doubles and three magazines—and have fired more than 5,000 rounds of .375 Magnum ammunition at game. The animals include most species from elephant on down. One of them accounted for more than 100 elephant and some 411 buffalo, besides rhino, lions, and lesser game, so that both it and I knew each other’s little ways. The others had similar animals to their credit, if not so many.”

Any questions? Doubts? Lingering uncertainties?

It’s important to remember when reading anyone who hunted in Africa even as recently as the 1980s, that all their opinions are null and void. The reason is that bullets now are infinitely better than they were, and that the .270 that Jack O’Connor took to Africa in the 1960s is a far cry from the .270 that is available now. Bullets like the Swift A-Frame and the all-copper slugs have changed things entirely. Solids are now truly solid; the best of them can be dug out of whatever they killed and used again. Thirty years ago if you had pried them out of carcasses you would have found them mushroomed, bent, jackets busted loose, and so on.

If you’d like to get good advice on Africa, consult the PH with whom you book. He will have to live with what he tells you, so he can probably be trusted. Everyone else should be regarded with suspicion. Except, of course, for Happy Myles and myself.