Best Rifles for African Safaris

african safaris best guns

There are times when enough caliber is mandatory. For most of us, this thought occurs when we consider being faced with a home intruder.

In these moments, we are hoping our 9mm, .357 Magnum or .45 ACP is enough to stop the thug prior to our family or ourselves being hurt.

That is a very valid thought process. However, there is a similar process that needs to take place before you attempt to hunt something bigger and tougher than a grizzly bear.

These animals may not even notice being hit by one of the above rounds.

This includes most of the African dangerous game, and that is before you think of herbivores like hippos, elephants and cape buffalo.

Did you know, hippos kill more people than any other big-game animal in Africa? 

Double Rifle

Calibers to Consider

When you are talking eland, lion or even warthog, the accepted calibers are not something you run off to the local Walmart and pick up.

You aren’t even finding a trusty Savage 110 chambered in these calibers.

Like most things in life, the further you pursue down a rabbit-hole of a hobby, the more specialized the equipment becomes. And hunting African safaris is pretty specific.

In my similar article aimed at North American game, I specified certain rifles and calibers that made sense.

The simple fact is, at least from a distance, most (heavy for caliber) 7mm or .30-caliber magnums are enough.

Up close, I want a little more insurance, both in a non-boattail bullet and a bit more mass.

In Africa, not only is your .300 Win Mag/PRC/SAUM not a smart idea, it isn’t a legal round to hunt most game.

Quite simply, it will lead to wounded animals and wounded/dead hunters much more often than it will lead to ethical kills. 

This means we need a dedicated platform that launches a serious round.

Conveniently, hunters have been tackling the problem of African safaris for quite some time and there are plenty of options.

Hornady 450 Ammo and Box

Best Single-Shot Rifle Options

The first (and no longer commonly used) option for African safaris, is a single- shot rifle. This might take the form of a rifle like the Ruger No. 1 Tropical.

Don’t get me wrong, tons of hunters have used this or similar rifles.

The problem is not the rifle’s ability to handle a big-game caliber, it is the fact that you have exactly ONE cartridge in the gun.

If you shoot poorly with your .900 Extinction round, it is 20-60 seconds before you complete a reload, while you have a gut-shot 1,800-pound beast trying its best to grind you into dust.

If you have a pro hunter backing you up, this might work, but you risk not having the satisfaction of making the kill shot.

This rifle is a limited production and Ruger only produces it in one caliber each year.

This likely means the secondary market will be the source of your Ruger No. 1 for big game.

It has been produced in .375 H&H, .405 Win, .416 Ruger, .416 Remington, .416 Rigby, .450/.400 NE, .458 Win Mag, .458 Lott and .404 Jeffrey.

This provides a suitable array of choices providing between 4,000 ft/lbs to just under 6,000 ft/lbs of energy.

big game cartridges for african safaris

Best Bolt-Action Rifle Options

The next, very common choice for African safaris is a bolt gun.

While you may only get one shot in a close or surprise encounter, at least you have a one to three-second reload available and two to five back-up rounds available to you.

A great example of this is the 602 Brno/CZ 550 Safari Magnum. This is a bolt-action rifle specifically designed for big-game rounds.

This is important because some brands take their standard magnum action and hog it out to allow use of the African game rounds.

This does two things, one it leads to a marginal strength action and second, it often limits capacity to 2+1 even with the smaller rounds like .375 H&H.

This is not an issue with the CZ, as it has 5+1 capacity in .375 H&H.

The rifle is just over 46 inches in length, with a heavy contour 25-inch barrel (for most calibers) and weights it at roughly nine pounds.

This helps (slightly) reduce muzzle climb with a front weight bias and insures full powder burn. The gun is a controlled-feed action.

The bolt has a mechanism for grasping the round from the magazine and controlling it all the way into the chamber.

This creates a minimal likelihood of feeding issues and is often a requirement among professional hunters.

Factory chamberings vary over the years and there are always custom options, but common choices in the gun are: .375 H&H, .416 Rigby, .458 Winchester, .458 Lott and .505 Gibbs.

These provide a range from a 300-grain A-Frame at 2,560 fps, 4,360 ft/lbs muzzle energy to a 600-grain FN at 2,100 fps, 5,850 ft/lbs muzzle energy.

Another very suitable bolt gun would be a Winchester Model 70 African Rifle. This rifle also provides a controlled-feed action for reliability.

The mechanism is different, but yields a similar result to the CZ and meets the pro hunter requirement.

The medium-heavy contour barrel is 24 inches for all big-game calibers and the rifle has a total length of just over 44 inches and just over nine pounds.

The slightly shorter and lighter barrel makes for a faster rifle to bring to bear, but will be slightly less help controlling recoil.

But with these calibers, technique and practice is the real method of controlling recoil.

The current caliber offerings are .375 H&H, .416 Remington and .458 Win Mag. Each of these calibers has a 3+1 capacity hinged floor plate magazine.

This provides a range of muzzle energy from 4,360 ft/lbs to 5,400 ft/lbs.

Double Rifle

Best Double-Rifle Options

The next choice in platform is a double rifle.

The simplest way to describe these is to think of a side-by-side shotgun, but chambered in a serious rifle caliber.

Most are double-trigger set-ups with the barrels regulated to converge at 70-100 yards.

These rifles only have two shots, but both are already loaded in their respective actions.

Essentially, you are carrying two complete rifles that have been bonded together.

This eliminates the possibility of a misfeed, thus all but guaranteeing two shots in very quick succession.

This is what many pro hunters/guides carry, in case your shot is not successful. 

Most of the above listed bolt-actions guns can be purchased in a no-frills variant for between $1,200 and $2,500 dollars.

The fancier versions may run a bit more. Double rifles are quite a bit more spendy.

Sabatti makes such a double in their Big Five EDL. 

This rifle starts with a two proprietary oversized steel actions to ensure the pressures of safari loads are handled.

The actions are mated to cold hammer forged 24-inch barrels that are regulated at 70 yards.

The rifles weigh in a bit heavier than their single-action/single-barrel compatriots. All of the Sabatti choices are 11 pounds or heavier.

This extra weight is not as much fun to carry, but certainly aids in recoil reduction.  

French Double Rifle with Scope for African Safaris

For the double-rifle market, this Italian brands offerings are considered quite economical. The street prices run from about $3,500 to $8,000.

The current caliber choices are .370 FL NE, .450/.400 NE, .450 NE, .470 NE, .500 NE and 9.3x74R.

Purdy would be at the other extreme of this curve. Their bespoke double-rifle packages sell for as much as $500,000.

If you have the time and money, they will build it with just about any exotic wood or any other way you want it.

It can be carved, precious-metal inlaid, jeweled and in any big-game or custom caliber you want.

They come matched with a carrying case, made of the same exotic wood, matching inlay or other items specified in the gun.

Typical wait time for such a rifle is two to four years. Quite often, they are built as a matching set. For some, this is a his-and-hers rifle set.

Conclusion: Best Rifles for African Safaris

For some, it may be to provide a choice in calibers, perhaps .375 H&H for smaller African game and .600 NE (900-grain at 2,150 fps – 8,400 ft/lbs muzzle energy) for the big guys.  

For those with money but not the time, there is also a strong (read as not much cheaper) secondary market where you can buy a slightly-used gun, without the wait.

There are at least a dozen other semi-custom and full-custom companies that will create your double safari game rifle.

Their prices range between those of Sabatti and Purdy, with a few being even more pricy than Purdy.

What is your go-to rifle for big-game hunting or African safaris? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author:

John Bibby

John Bibby is an American gun writer who had the misfortune of being born in the occupied territory of New Jersey. His parents moved to the much freer state of Florida when he was 3. This allowed his father start teaching him about shooting prior to age 6. By age 8, he was regularly shooting with his father and parents of his friends. At age 12, despite the strong suggestions that he shouldn’t, he shot a neighbor’s “elephant rifle."

The rifle was a .375 H&H Magnum and, as such, precautions were taken. He had to shoot from prone. The recoil-induced, grass-stained shirt was a badge of honor. Shooting has been a constant in his life, as has cooking.

He is an (early) retired Executive Chef. Food is his other great passion. Currently, he is a semi-frequent 3-Gun competitor, with a solid weak spot on shotgun stages. When his business and travel schedule allow, you will often find him, ringing steel out well past 600 yards. In order to be consistent while going long, reloading is fairly mandatory. The 3-Gun matches work his progressive presses with volume work. Precision loading for long-range shooting and whitetail hunting keeps the single-stage presses from getting dusty.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (3)

  1. I have a Winchester M70 safari express in 458 win mag, topped with a 1-4 Swarovski.

    I bought it several years ago for an African safari that fell through.

    I hope that I eventually get to use it.

  2. Let’s be practical and deal with rifles accessible by common hunters.

    My one rifle recommendation is the 416 Ruger in the various Ruger models. They can be found in 20″ Alaskan, Guide Gun, and 23″ African models. All are excellent. All reasonably priced as “entry-level” safari guns, medium weight (around 8 pounds), and functionally reliable including controlled-feeding.

    The 416 provides a little more punch for dangerous game than the commonly used 375s. With 330-350grain monolithic bullets the 2600fps muzzle velocity provides for easy hunting ranges out beyond the 300 yards that is the outside limit of 98% of African hunting. If you know your rifle and load, you can be confident even to 400 yards.

    Many bring a second rifle, which may be your favorite NA rifle from 270-338. The 308, 30-06, and 300 mags are all great antelope calibers, as well as the 270 and 7mms with newer monolithic bullets for guaranteed penetration. However, if possible something a little more robust could be suggested, like a 338WinMag. The 338 is a better “second” should it be in you hands when you run across a nice buffalo while trying to follow some eland or roan. All rifles on a hunt should have flat-nosed solids along, too. That makes them elephant and hippo worthy.

  3. J.Gefroh 8 gauge[.810″]flintlock muzzleloader[rifle] with adjustable sights.150-270g FFg powder with 2 oz round ball.It weighs 14 lbs.It’s pretty too.
    Alternatively October Country’s single and double barrel percussion muzzleloader rifles in 8 gauge,4 gauge,2 gauge.All use roundballs

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