Craig Boddington Goes on Safari with the .300 PRC, 6.8 Western and 7mm Long Range Magnum
By Craig Boddington
All practice is good. Formal training with a skilled instructor is better. However, no range situation or inanimate target can replicate the pressure, adrenaline rush, myriad angles, shooting positions and ever-changing shot presentations of the real thing. The only way to become consistently cool, competent and effective in shooting at game is to do a lot of it.
Problem is, field experience is hard-won and comes slowly. To my thinking, an inexpensive African plains game safari offers the most intensive training possible. In just a week, the bag will include at least a half-dozen animals, often more, with shots at different ranges, from different positions, at animals of varying sizes.
If you’ve practiced and trained well, some shots will be validation, sort of a final exam. But you’ll still learn a lot.
I was very young when I went on my first safari. Like most youngsters, I thought I knew more than I did. It was a time when safaris were longer, bag limits more generous and costs lower. Good thing, because my learning curve was steep. I started with embarrassing misses. Like most hunters on first safaris, I figured it out, finishing the safari with a spectacular string of one-shot kills.
Part of the learning curve is gaining confidence in rifles, cartridges and bullets that work. There are many great choices and confidence is critical. You must know in your gut that your choice will drop the animal quickly as long as you do your part.
TRADITIONAL VERSUS LONG RANGE
In the quarter-century I’ve led the SCI Convention panel discussion, “Your First African Safari,” I’ve consistently stated that it’s not rocket science. For most plains game, your favorite deer rifle is probably just fine. If you are after bigger, tougher animals, such as eland and zebra, maybe a well-loved elk rifle.
On that first safari, I used a .30-06 for plains game, and I still recommend it. Since then, I’ve used a lot of rifles and cartridges in Africa. Some new, some old. Traditional favorites like .270, 7×57, .30-06 and a long list of fast magnums, including .270, .300, and .340 Weatherby, 7mm and 8mm Rem Mag, .264, and .300 Win Mag, and all the Remington Ultra Mags, have all worked fine.
In America, long-range shooting is more popular than ever. This has spawned a whole new class of cartridges designed around extra-heavy, super-aerodynamic bullets in rifles with faster rifling twists to stabilize them. I’ve been suspicious about how this applies to African hunting. African PHs and their trackers work extra-hard to get us close to game. This is because they’ve all seen terrible shooting by the likes of you and me. Over there, 200 yards is considered a fair poke, 300 yards is far. Also, the African rule: One drop of blood equals an animal taken, fees payable. I support this as sound ethics, and it makes us more careful. Get close enough to be certain.
Today’s more accurate rifles, better optics and improved bullets enable hunters to take longer shots as compared to when I was young. Provided one has the equipment and knows how to use it, even in Africa hunters are shooting somewhat farther, although extreme range remains uncommon.
LONG-RANGE RIFLES ON SAFARI
On back-to-back East Cape plains game safaris in June, I joined two groups of hunters. First, at Carl van Zyl’s John X Safaris, then with the Burchell family at Frontier Safaris. At heart, I am a traditional guy,, but I’m also interested in new stuff. I took two new cartridges: 6.8 Western in the Ed Brown M704 action, built by Trop Gun Shop in Pennsylvania, and .300 PRC in Gunwerks’ new Nexus. The PRC was topped with a big Leupold MK V 5-25x56mm scope and the 6.8 Western had a Swarovski Z8i 1-8x24mm.
Introduced just before the pandemic, both cartridges have seen little use in Africa, so just those two would be interesting. It got better, because hunters in both camps brought (or borrowed) an assortment of ultra-modern rifles. At Frontier Safaris, I joined SCI auction hunt winners Hamid Saadatmanesh and John Macones and his son, John Jr. Both Hamid and Macones brought well-scoped Gunwerks in .300 Win Mag and 7mm Rem Mag, respectively. They had done extensive range work, were well-dialed in and prepared for any shots that came along.
My buddy John Stucker brought his Christensen Ridgeline 6.5 PRC. At John X Safaris, he and I joined a group of his friends who were in Africa for the first time. Most elected to borrow camp rifles, and that gave me an unexpected bonus. Unknown to me, the Gunwerks folks hunt with John X. Several of their rifles were in camp, all in the 7mm Long Range Magnum (LRM), a proprietary cartridge, sort of between the 28 Nosler and just-released 7mm PRC. These were fast-twist rifles, dialed in with heavy bullets. Altogether, I had a chance to see today’s accurate, well-scoped, semi-tactical long-range rifles with several recent cartridges at work in Africa.
ACTUAL VERSUS POTENTIAL
Capability for long-range shooting is one thing, implementing another. I can’t imagine anyone backing off to take a shot! I prefer close, or at least close enough to be certain, but that means different things depending on conditions, position and equipment.
In our camps, some of us were prepared to reach way out there and were hoping for the chance. Unlike many African areas, the topography of South Africa’s Eastern Cape often supports long-range shooting: Ridge to ridge or across big valleys. Obviously, with a dozen hunters and several dozen animals taken, I wasn’t with everyone for every shot, but despite potential, I never heard about a genuine extreme-range shot.
Part of this was conditions. We caught several days of blustering wind, unusual for June. Various times we had animals way out there, but with unpredictable winds, we had to get closer. Another part was position. A shot prone from a bipod is one thing. A shot off shooting sticks is something else. Regardless of ability, range is always limited to absolute steadiness. In Africa, vegetation often precludes a rock-steady low position. Again, we had to get closer.
I saw, and participated in, a lot of shooting at ranges greater than I usually see in Africa. Many shots were 300 to 500 yards. When conditions, position and skill allow, these ranges are within reach, especially with the equipment used on these safaris. Among us, we were shooting cartridges with bullet diameters 6.5mm, 6.8 mm, 7mm, and .30-caliber. Here’s how I felt they stacked up.
Right now, the 6.5mm, .264-inch, is red-hot in the United States. This is mostly because of the popularity of the 6.5 Creedmoor. I haven’t used it in Africa, but I’ve seen it used, and I’ve also used the old 6.5×55 and .260 Remington. All are ballistically identical, with a 140-grain bullet at about 2,700 fps. There are faster 6.5mms, including 6.5-.284 Norma, .264 Win Mag, and 6.5 PRC, all with 140-grain bullet at about 3,000 fps, shooting flatter and delivering more energy. There are still-faster 6.5mms, primarily 26 Nosler and 6.5-.300 Weatherby, shooting even flatter with more energy.
John Stucker decided to take his Christensen 6.5 PRC on this safari. At the outset, his focus was small antelopes: Vaal rhebok, klipspringer and steenbok. He has an identical Christensen in .300 Win Mag, but we agreed his 6.5 PRC would be perfect for smaller antelopes, potentially taken at distance.
In the first few days of the safari, Stucker was off in the Karoo, while the rest of us were at the top end of the Eastern Cape hunting kudu. He had a marvelous run of luck, everything he wanted, plus grysbok and more. His 6.5 PRC performed perfectly. Good choice! He joined us at John X’s main camp near Craddock.
Main goals fulfilled, his game changed…as often happens in Africa. One morning, I saw him drop a weird-horned “cull” kudu with a brilliant 350-yard shot. Then he decided to add a zebra. It was a calm morning. On his Spartan bipod, at 500 yards, it was a long poke. His first shot maybe could have been a couple inches farther right, but it was well-executed. More shots were required, and then the zebra went down. It stood up when we approached and needed a finisher.
My impression of the 6.5s as loaded today has been consistent, and bolstered by John’s use of the 6.5 PRC. In Africa, it’s great for smaller plains game, but its 140-grain bullet just isn’t heavy enough for consistent performance on larger, tougher game. Anomalies can be good or bad, and a few animals prove nothing. However, I’ve seen exactly the same with the Creedmoor class, and with my old .264. Often, they work like lightning striking, but are questionable on animals that are big and tough, like wildebeest, zebra and larger.
The old 6.5s made their bones with 156- and 160-grain bullets. Slow and heavy, they were used at short range but with legendary for penetration. Today we load lighter bullets (129-143 grains) for faster speeds and increased range with better aerodynamics. In my experience, they are not as effective on larger animals, simply for lack of bullet weight.
Until recently, .270 cartridges using .277-inch bullets have been held to 1:10 rifling twist, which limits them to 150-grain bullets. I’ve used the .270 Winchester a lot in Africa, also the faster .270 Weatherby Mag. I’ve gotten great results, including knockdown impact on zebras. However, flukes can be good as well as bad. For larger plains game, I’ve always worried about .270’s light bullets.
With faster twist barrels, the new .27 Nosler and Winchester’s 6.8 (.277) Western fixes this problem. Both cartridges were designed for bullets up to 175 grains, weights that have never existed in .277-inch diameter. The 6.8 Western is based on the .270 WSM shortened slightly, enabling the longer, heavier bullets to be used in a short action. With longer case, the 27 Nosler is faster. I haven’t had a chance to use it, but 6.8 Western is speedy enough. Because of its short, fat case, it is almost as fast as the 7mm Rem Mag with similar bullet weight.
In South Africa, I was using Winchester’s 162-grain Copper Impact bullet at about 2,900 fps. A homogenous-alloy bullet, the Copper Impact has a large nose cavity to promote expansion. It accounted nicely for a good selection of plains game, from impala-sized antelopes up through nyala and waterbuck, on up to wildebeest.
All results were impressive, but this is too small a selection to be definitive. I can’t say it was “better” than a .270 Win, but I believe the heavier bullets make a difference. In effect on game, I felt it was essentially the same as a 7mm Rem Mag or similar. This makes sense because bullet weight and velocity are the same, and there’s only .007-inch difference between the 6.8’s .277-inch bullet and the 7mm’s .284-inch bullet. Some people like .270s, others like 7mms. For the first time, new cartridges with heavy bullets put a .270-caliber cartridge in exactly the same class as a fast 7mm with similar bullets.
Still others step on up to a .30-caliber. For the general run of African game, I am mostly a .30-caliber guy. The old .30-06 is still a fine safari cartridge, but the magnum .30s offer flatter trajectories with heavier bullets. I’ve used a bunch of them: .300 H&H, .300 Win Mag, .300 Wby Mag and others. The only drawback is the increased recoil that many shooters are not comfortable with.
The .300 PRC was not designed for maximum velocity, but rather maximum efficiency with heavier bullets. It is based on the full-length 2 1/2-inch .375 Ruger case, so unbelted, with straight taper, and a longer case than the shortened 6.5 PRC. As is the current trend, it calls for a faster rifling twist intended to stabilize long, aerodynamic bullets, with .30-caliber match bullets now available from 225 to 250 grains.
In Africa, I was shooting Hornady’s new all-copper 190-grain CX at 3,000 fps. There are faster magnum .30s, but accuracy was excellent and on non-dangerous African game, there isn’t much you can’t do with a heavy .30-caliber bullet at that speed. Darn it, I really wanted to take an eland with that bullet and load, primarily to see how it performed. At Frontier Safaris, hunting with Fred Burchell, I got a chance on my first afternoon, and I missed. Somehow or other, the scope must have taken a bad bump and the rifle was shooting a foot high. We went to the range and quickly sorted it out. I was just happy it was a clean miss. How in the heck could I miss an eland as big as a barn door?
The Gunwerks .300 PRC accounted for a nice assortment of game, but not an eland; despite hard hunting, I didn’t have another chance. On the first day at John X, I used it for a fine kudu past 500 yards, easily my longest shot in Africa. Later in the hunt, I took a cull kudu at something over 300 yards, flattened in its tracks. The .300 PRC also stoned a big-bodied wildebeest, one of the tough ones, spinning it over backwards and down with an uphill frontal shot.
There were no revelations. I know what a fast .30 will do, and few choices are more versatile or effective on the full run of African plains game. With switch-barrel capability and a wonderful new stock with leather inserts, the Gunwerks Nexus was a most impressive rifle, and I’m equally impressed by the .300 PRC. Fortunately for my wallet, this Nexus was a right-hand test gun, so I had minimal regrets in returning it. I don’t own a .300 PRC and may not; I have good left-hand rifles in .300 Win and Wby Mag that I’m fond of. However, if I was in the market for a fast .30, this is the cartridge I would look at first.
Since 1892’s 7×57 and continuing with 1962’s 7mm Rem Mag, 7mm cartridges have maxed out with 175-grain bullets. That’s a lot of bullet weight in a .284-inch case, but traditional heavy 7mm bullets have had poor aerodynamics, due to both rifling twist and action-length limitations. The 28 Nosler was the first production cartridge calling for a faster twist and designed for long, aerodynamic, heavier 7mm bullets. Long whispered about, but only released in late October 2022, Hornady’s 7mm PRC is the second.
The 7mm LRM, a Gunwerks proprietary cartridge, used by most of my campmates at John X, is similar. It uses the full-length PRC case, while Hornady’s production version uses the same case shortened slightly to 2.280 inches. As intended for all their PRC cases, Hornady designed it for maximum efficiency with heavy bullets, calling for a 1:8-inch rifling twist. It is thus not quite as fast as the 28 Nosler, 7mm LRM, or longer-cased 7mms. Good engineering move because, by sacrificing a few dozen fps, it avoids being over bore capacity, extending barrel life and expanding the variety of suitable propellants. It also fits nicely into a standard (.30-06-length) action. Although the case has less powder capacity than the Nosler and LRM, the 7 PRC is not slow: Hornady’s initial loads propel a 180-grain bullet at 2,975 fps. The 180-grain Match bullet carries an off-the-chart G1 Ballistic Coefficient of 0.796, for awesome downrange performance. My week at John X Safaris, with several of my camp-mates using the 7 LRM, was my first chance to see 180-grain 7mm bullets in use on a wide variety of game. Theory is good, but there’s nothing like seeing performance first-hand.
Oh, my! Again, situations were never quite right for extreme-range shooting, but I saw wonderful performance on game up to kudu, gemsbok, wildebeest and zebra, mostly beyond 300 yards. One afternoon, I was out with Michael Sydnes, trying desperately to get him a shot at a big wildebeest bull before we ran out of light. We finally got the drop on the herd about 350 yards, moving and stopping. The bull stopped and was clear for just an instant and Michael was ready. One shoulder shot, down in its tracks with no movement. If you know wildebeest, you’ll appreciate how unusual this is.
I’ve usually used lighter bullets — 160 to 165 grains — in my fast 7mms because existing 175-grain bullets either weren’t very aerodynamic or couldn’t be pushed fast enough. With faster twist, heavier bullets, and maximum aerodynamics, the new 7mms offer the best of all worlds: Less recoil than a .30, plenty of bullet weight, and downrange performance. With Hornady’s marketing team behind it, I think the 7mm PRC will be a success. Mossberg’s Patriot is the first production rifle chambered to 7mm PRC. I have one, and I’m looking forward to hunting with it.
Col. Craig Boddington is an author, hunter and longtime SCI member. He is Past President of the Los Angeles Chapter, a decorated Marine and C.J. McElroy Award winner.