March 31, 2023
First, if you'd like to read the prior segments of this three-part series, visit Choosing the Right Cartridge for Hunting Dangerous Game and 10 Steps to Rifle Prep for Hunting Dangerous Game. When handloading ammunition, use only virgin cases or cases fired once in that rifle. Regardless of which is used, all should be full-length resized. Carefully examine each case for defects and then inside-deburr flash holes. Trimming all cases to the exact same length ensures uniform roll crimping. Primers are seated flush or slightly below flush and then checked to make sure they are. Prior to seating bullets, use a small flashlight to make certain each case has a full charge of powder. Regardless of whether handloads or factory ammo is to be used, all rounds are given a close inspection prior to being taken to a safe place and cycled from the magazine through the action. If resistance is felt during bolt closure, that round goes into the practice box.
Use Temp-Stable Powder
Most powder companies now offer temperature-insensitive propellants, and I am a strong believer in using them. Choosing a powder with a burn rate that allows its charge to become slightly compressed during bulletseating ensures uniform ignition. Doing so also discourages bullets in cartridges in the magazine from being seated more deeply into the case during recoil. In addition to possibly causing feeding issues, chamber pressure can increase, and neither can be tolerated when hunting dangerous game. When loading both expanding and non-expanding (solid) bullets, make sure they shoot quite close to the same point of impact at 100 yards. Most initial shots at dangerous game are inside that distance.
The colder it gets, the more difficult some powders become to ignite, and ammo subjected to the extremely frigid temperatures of Alaska should have magnum primers. This especially holds true for big cartridges with their large powder charges.
Moving to the opposite extreme, while air is a good insulator, brass and steel are good conductors of heat. When a thermometer reads 100 degrees during a hunt in Africa, the temperature of ammo in the magazine of a rifle can be as high as 150 degrees. The winters in some parts of Africa can be quite chilly, but not as cold as it can get in Alaska.
Early 20th century cartridges designed by the British, with the .416 Rigby an example, were loaded with temperature-sensitive cordite, and because pressure increased dramatically when the ammo was subjected to tropical climates, chamber pressure was kept low by using cases with plenty of capacity. Gross capacity of the .416 Rigby case is about 33 percent greater than for the .416 Remington Magnum case. When both are loaded with a 400-grain bullet at 2,300 to 2,400 fps, pressure generated by the Rigby is about 15 percent lower than for the Remington. Loading the .416 Remington Magnum 100 fps or so below maximum reduces pressure and doing so won’t matter at the distances dangerous game is usually taken. It is good insurance against sticky case extraction—or even worse: a frozen bolt after the first shot with the animal still very much alive.
Determine how heat-sensitive a load is long before you depart for Africa. Head to the shooting range on a really hot day in July or August and park your car in the sun. With all windows closed, place a box of ammo on the dashboard and leave it there for an hour or so. Then without allowing it to cool down, shoot it in your rifle. If sticky case extraction is experienced with a single round, the entire batch has failed the test, and that load is scratched. Prepare another batch with the powder charge reduced by a grain or two and repeat the test. If bolt lift is easy and case extraction is smooth, your ammo is ready to go.
Practice, Practice, Practice
After your rifle is zeroed dead-on point of aim at 100 yards, stay away from the benchrest and practice shooting from various field positions. Paper plates make good targets. Shooting offhand at distances ranging from 25 yards out to 50 yards is not as much fun as punching small groups from a benchrest, but if you hunt dangerous game long enough, it is something you will find yourself having to do. Learn to get off that first shot as well as follow-up shots quickly and accurately. Place a paper plate at 50 yards and rapid-fire the rifle until it is empty. Keep practicing until you can consistently keep all bullets on the plate. To simulate a moving animal, place plates at 25, 35, and 50 yards and beginning with the closer plate and working out, fire one round into each plate as quickly as possible. Then load your rifle and shoot the targets in the reverse order.
Don’t forget to practice from the sitting and kneeling positions, as well as prone over a daypack or with your coat padding a natural rest, such as a boulder, log, or termite mound. Include shooting with the rifle cushioned by a hand against the side of a sapling or tree. In Africa, you may take quite a few shots while standing with the rifle resting on shooting sticks furnished by your PH and usually carried by one of the trackers. Practice that at home by using a section of bicycle inner tube to tie the ends of three small saplings about 6.5 feet long together. The larger plastic or fiberglass stakes from a garden supply store also work. As illustrated in the photo, I prefer to position one stick forward and two back. That way rifle height is quickly adjusted by lifting the front stick off the ground and moving it forward or back.
End each practice session before recoil becomes uncomfortable. Reduce the pain by shooting reduced-velocity loads but finish each practice session with full-power loads. Shooting cast bullets saves money, and they are plenty accurate for this. Using a rifle in .223 Remington or .22 LR to practice quick and accurate shooting from various positions also helps.
Know Your Game
Carefully study and memorize the anatomy of the animal or animals you will be hunting. If you are after buffalo, the book Africa’s Most Dangerous by Professional Hunter and veterinarian Kevin Robertson has numerous “x-ray” color photos clearly revealing internal anatomy. Other photos of game are marked to show proper bullet placement from various angles. Even if you have no plans to hunt buffalo, the book is a great read. Another book by Robertson called The Perfect Shot includes all African big game. Discussing bullet placement from various angles with your guide or PH prior to heading out is equally important.
Being in reasonably good physical condition and able to walk long distances is important for a successful hunt. This especially holds true when spending days tracking buffalo, elephant, and lion. Ten miles per day is probably a good average, but treks can be much longer. Comfortable clothing and boots or high-top shoes that are well broken-in back home before the hunt are absolute musts. The same goes for a good binocular.
While sitting by an African campfire one night, a professional hunter turned to the subject of mistakes his clients had made. One happened while hunting buffalo. The hunter who obviously was a handloader, shot a very nice bull at about 30 yards, and rather than quickly following with a second shot, he lowered his rifle, ejected the fired case into his hand, placed the case into his pocket, and then chambered a round. In the meantime, the buffalo was still very much alive, and the PH had no choice but to finish it with a couple of quick shots from his .470 double. Just remember to continue shooting as long as the animal is in sight, and once it is down, take another shot or two if it is still moving. With the animal lying on its side, approach it from behind and place a shot through its spine.
There were actually two mistakes, and the second is more commonly seen. Many hunters lower their rifle and, while admiring the first shot, slowly cycle its bolt. That is not the way it should be done when shooting any game, and it is especially foolish when shooting a potentially dangerous animal. Keep your eyes on the target and the butt of the rifle pressed firmly against your shoulder, cycle the bolt as you bring it down from recoil, and if necessary, get off one or more follow-up shots as quickly and as accurately as possible. In other words, as long as the animal is still moving and in view, keep on shooting. Your PH will thank you for it.