The big difference with African hunting from hunting in most places in the world is the tremendous variety. I'll be honest, a lot of people don’t like the term “plains game” because it implies that these animals all live in the plains, and nothing could be further from the truth. A lot of these animals live in real brushy country, some live in open plains and deserts, others live in mountains, others live in swamps—a lot different than any place else. No single area offers even a small fraction of all the wildlife that's available in Africa. Africa is a very big place, but unlike most of the rest of the world, most areas in Africa are going to have somewhere between 10 and, in some cases, even over 20 different varieties of game.
What Caliber Should I Bring?
One of the big problems you have with rifle selection for Africa is the size variance. African antelope alone range from the very, very small pygmy antelope, the duikers, and the dik-diks and so many more, all the way up to eland, which can weigh 2,000 pounds. They’re much bigger than a buffalo. So, when you talk about African rifles and cartridges, you’ve got to think versatility. Now in Africa we don’t do a lot of long shooting, but even so, you may be shooting from very close and thick cover to considerable range in open plains.
What Many Should I Bring?
So, the big question to answer is how many rifles should you bring. Well, generally speaking today, two’s company and three’s a crowd. In the old days, when safaris were longer and Africa was really an infinite wilderness and bag limits were almost unlimited, the standard was the three-rifle battery. A light rifle for the smaller antelope, some kind of a medium for perhaps lion and the larger antelope species, and then a heavy rifle for the thick-skinned dangerous game. Today, safaris are a lot shorter, the bags are a lot more specialized, and bag limits are much lower than they used to be. So again, two is really the most that you want to carry and look after at any given time. And of course, it’s very easy to put two rifles into a gun case. You really don’t want to bring two gun cases.
The Two-Rifle Battery
It’s probably good to have some redundancy between the two so that you’re covered for any situation. And especially in case you have some kind of a catastrophic mechanical breakdown or a stock breaks or something bad happens like that. So, you can actually consider a second rifle to be primarily a spare, and that’s not really a bad plan. But now keep in mind that some African countries, including South Africa, don't allow you to bring in two rifles of the same caliber.
The One-Rifle Battery
The one-rifle battery is also always an option, and it can be a good one, provided you choose it with extreme care. It has to be absolutely reliable. You can’t take any chances on that because now you have no backup whatsoever. The other thing about a one-rifle battery is that one rifle has to be adequate for all the game you intend to hunt, from smallest to largest. And the scope that you put on it has to also be adequate for any shot you might encounter.
Let’s spend just a minute on shotguns and handguns. If you’re a serious bird hunter, and you take just one rifle, then a shotgun may be a good option for you. There’s almost always some good bird shooting in most African areas. Now in most camps, they’re going to have a camp shotgun. Your biggest problem with shotguns is going to be enough ammunition for a really good bird shoot. In some African areas, it’s really hard to come by, and in others it’s readily available. But if that’s of interest, please talk to your outfitter about that, because he can probably lay in a supply of shells. And with your baggage allowance, you’re not going to be able to bring enough to have even one decent day of bird shooting.
Handguns are another subject. Regulations vary widely. Hey, there’s a lot of great handgun hunting available in Africa, and you know there are places where it might be handy to have a handgun with you. I generally don’t bring one, just because it’s one more thing to carry, and one more thing to worry about. But again, regulations vary widely from country to country. So if you plan on bringing a handgun, be sure and discuss that with your outfitter, your professional hunter, or your booking agent, and make sure that it’s absolutely legal, and you won’t have any problems with it.