By Tim Herald
I am asked numerous times each year, “What kind of rifle should I take on my plainsgame hunt?” This answer can be simple and a bit complicated.
In short, generally you can take your favorite North American big game rifle as long as you use premium bullets that will not easily come apart. But, before I answer the question, I generally ask a series of questions to the hunter and make my recommendations accordingly.
- Where are you hunting and what type of terrain? This can vary a lot. In South Africa’s eastern cape, or in the open dunes or mountains of Namibia, shots may regularly be at 300 yards or more. In the thick Limpopo Region, the Kalahari of Botswana or much of the Selous of Tanzania, shots will rarely be much over 100 yards. So, one must consider range compared to rifle chosen.
- What type of game will you hunt? A 30-06 will cleanly kill any plainsgame animal with correct shot placement, but if you have eland (2000 pounds), or other big antelope like mountain nyala, roan, etc., I personally like a .300-.375. Again, a 30-06 will kill an eland, but you have to wait for a perfect shot angle. With a .338 or .375, I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot one on a straight-on or angling-to type shot.
- What are you comfortable with? If you are very recoil sensitive, you probably don’t need to be shooting a .375H&H. Personally, I think a .375 is very comfortable to shoot (I would rather shoot it than a .300), but some folks flinch with recoil, and that is disaster in the making. So, you are much better off shooting a smaller rifle that you shoot accurately and have confidence in than you would be shooting a bigger caliber that you are a bit shy of.
No matter how one answers the above, to me the most important factors are good optics and good premium bullets. I like magnification, so a scope like a 4x16x50 Trijicon Credo HX is perfect for me. If I am in tight cover, I can put the scope down on 4x, and I am fine, but if I am in the mountains and have to shoot across a canyon, I can crank up to 16x. The glass is super clear, target acquisition is very fast, and the scope is tough as nails.
On bullets, you want to find one that has good penetration and doesn’t just all break up on initial contact. That way you can shoot smaller antelope like duiker, bushbuck or impala, and the bullet will pass through without making a big mess, but if you shoot an eland or roan, the bullet will penetrate plenty far to kill the animal cleanly. Typical whitetail or pronghorn bullets are not ideally suited for a plainsgame hunt. My favorite bullet has become the Cutting Edge Bullets’ line in various calibers.
There is no perfect plainsgame rifle for everyone, but there is a perfect setup for you, or me depending on factors of the hunt. Ask yourself the questions above, top the rifle with a high quality Trijicon scope and shoot premium bullets, and you will be set for that plainsgame hunt of a lifetime.