Rifles and Calibers for a Hunting Safari in South Africa

When deciding on a hunt in South Africa, one of the most critical decisions a hunter must make is selecting the right rifle and caliber to take with you. This choice is not to be taken lightly, as it can significantly impact the outcome of the trip. In this short guide, we will delve into the significance of choosing the ideal firearm for your rifle safari. We will explore how this choice influences your success, enjoyment, and overall satisfaction in a safari rifle. 

Understanding South African Game 

Africa boasts a remarkable diversity of wildlife, making it a dream destination for sportsmen from around the world. To make an informed decision about your rifle hunting equipment, it’s crucial to have a good grasp of the different game species you might encounter during your safari. Each species has its own unique characteristics, and understanding these nuances is vital to successful hunting. The rifle you would choose for game like Eland in the bushveld would not be the perfect choice hunting Mountain Reedbuck in the Eastern Cape. 

Overview of the diverse wildlife found in South Africa 

South Africa’s rich biodiversity is a testament to its unique geographical features. From the majestic Big 5 and dangerous game to a myriad of game species, the country offers a wide range of hunting opportunities. The dense bush in the Limpopo province is quite different when compared to the Free States vast open plains and the rifle you choose to take with you should also be. 

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Rifle 

Selecting the perfect rifle for your hunting adventure is a decision that should be guided by several critical factors. Each aspect plays a crucial role in determining the success of your hunt. In this section, we will explore these essential considerations. 

Understanding the purpose of the rifle 

One of the first and most vital aspects to consider when choosing a rifle is its intended use. Are you planning to hunt dangerous game, pursue medium or large plains game, or target small game? Each category demands a different approach in terms of rifle selection. Dangerous game requires the powerful stopping caliber, while hunting small game such as Klipspringer or Steenbuck may favor lighter, more maneuverable rifles. 

Considerations for rifle weight, action type, and caliber versatility 

The weight of your rifle can significantly impact your hunting enjoyment. Heavier rifles may provide more stability and reduce recoil, but they can be cumbersome to carry over long distances. On the other hand, lighter rifles are more mobile but may generate more recoil and be harder to hold on target. We take a look at the pros and cons of the different rifle options, action types (e.g., bolt-action, single shot, and double rifles), and the versatility of calibers that can be adapted for multiple hunting scenarios. 

Importance of choosing a rifle suitable for South African hunting conditions 

Southern Africa’s diverse landscapes, from dense bushveld to open grasslands, require careful consideration of environmental conditions. Factors like bullet trajectory and velocity can differ based on the terrain you’ll be hunting in. One thing to note though is that there is no substitute for shot placement on African game, placing your bullet where it needs to be is the primary consideration, so choose a rifle that you shoot well. 

Recommended Caliber Options for an African Safari

Rifles and Calibers for a Safari in South Africa

Selecting the best caliber for your rifle is a critical aspect of preparing for a successful trip. In this section, we will provide an overview of popular rifle cartridges commonly used in Africa, categorizing them for plains game and dangerous game. We’ll also discuss how to match the right one to your intended game species and hunting style. 

Overview of popular rifle calibers for Hunting plains game 

.260 Remington

The .260 Remington is renowned for its versatility and mild recoil, making it a superb pick for hunting medium-sized game, including Impala, Nyala, and Springbok. This cartridge has gained popularity among hunters for several reasons. 

First and foremost, the .260 Remington is known for its excellent accuracy. It’s a necked-down version of the .308 Winchester, which means it retains many of the .308’s positive traits, such as inherent accuracy and consistent performance. This is crucial when hunting medium-sized game, as precise shooting is essential to ensure a clean and humane kill. 

The mild recoil of the .260 Remington is another notable advantage. When hunting medium-sized game, a moderate recoil allows for quicker follow-up shots, which can be crucial if the first shot doesn’t result in an immediate kill. It also makes the rifle more comfortable to shoot, reducing flinching and promoting better accuracy. 

In terms of ballistics, the .260 Remington typically shoots flatter than some other popular cartridges. This flat trajectory is beneficial when taking shots at medium-sized game animals that may be moving or at varying distances. It provides a higher probability of hitting the target precisely where you aim. 

The .260 Remington also offers a good selection of bullets suitable for hunting. Choose a controlled expansion or premium bullet of 140 grains for maximum terminal performance, there are options available to suit your specific needs and preferences. 

When hunting game animals like Impala, Nyala, and Springbok, accuracy is paramount. The .260 Remington’s versatility, accuracy, and mild recoil make it an excellent choice for these species. 

270 Winchester

The .270 Winchester, often simply referred to as the .270, has earned its place as a favorite among shooters for several compelling reasons. This cartridge strikes a remarkable balance between power and manageable recoil, making it an ideal choice for pursuing various plains game species, such as Blesbuck and Hartebeest. Here’s why the .270 Winchester is highly regarded for trophy hunting

First and foremost, the .270 Winchester delivers a notable amount of energy downrange. It’s known for its flat trajectory and long-range accuracy, which makes it particularly well-suited for hunting in more open areas or at slightly longer distances. This long-range capability can be a significant advantage when stalking or ambushing game in these environments. 

The cartridge’s ballistics, with the right bullet selection, allow for excellent downrange performance. The .270 offers a combination of speed and energy that provides reliable and ethical kills on plains game. The projectiles typically have a high ballistic coefficient, meaning they retain their velocity and energy well, even at extended ranges. 

Another key advantage of the .270 is its manageable recoil. The recoil of the .270 is often described as comfortable, allowing hunters to maintain accuracy and confidence in their shots. This is crucial when taking those longer shots at game like Blesbuck, Black Wildebeest and Red Hartebeest, where precision is essential. 

When selecting a suitable bullet for hunting with the .270, you have a wide array of options, choose a bullet weight of 150 grains delivering effective terminal performance. The choice of bullet can be tailored to the specific game and hunting conditions, ensuring ethical and humane kills. 

.308 Winchester

The .308 Winchester, often simply referred to as the .308, has earned a well-deserved reputation for its accuracy, and it is a popular choice among shooters for general plains game animals. This versatile cartridge is effective for pursuing a wide range of game, including species like Bushbuck, Kudu and Warthog.

Accuracy is a hallmark of the .308 Winchester, and it’s a characteristic that draws sportsmen to this cartridge. The inherently accurate nature of the .308, coupled with the wide availability of precision-made rifles chambered in it, makes it a go-to choice for hunters who prioritize ethical hunting.

The .308’s versatility extends beyond its accuracy. It’s known for its ability to deliver a balance between power and recoil, which is ideal for hunting Africa. The recoil is manageable, allowing for follow-up shots if needed.

The wide selection of ammunition available for the .308 Winchester is another significant advantage. Choose a bullet of around 165 grains in a controlled expansion bonded type.

The .308 Winchester also enjoys widespread availability and is one of the most popular cartridges in the world. This means that hunters can easily find rifles, ammo, and accessories chambered in .308, making it a practical choice for those who want a reliable and versatile hunting setup. 

.30-06 Springfield

The classic cartridge we’re referring to here is the .30-06 Springfield, a time-tested and well-respected choice among shooters. It has garnered appreciation for its versatility, offering a range of bullet weights and energy levels that make it a highly suitable option for pursuing a diverse array of plains game, such as Gemsbok and Zebra. Let’s take a look at what makes the .30-06 Springfield such a reliable and favored cartridge and one of the best rifles Kudu in Africa. 

One of the key strengths of the .30-06 Springfield lies in its versatility when it comes to bullet selection. This cartridge can accommodate a wide range of bullet weights, from lighter varmint projectiles to heavier, controlled-expansion bullets. This adaptability allows one to choose the ideal ammunition for their specific target, whether it’s the tough hide and bone structure of Gemsbok or the larger body of a Zebra. The .30-06’s ability to handle different bullet types makes it a well-rounded choice for a variety of game. 

The .30-06 Springfield also offers a substantial amount of energy, which is essential for taking down larger or more resilient animals like Gemsbok, Kudu and Zebra. With the right bullet selection, the .30-06 can reliably deliver the energy required to penetrate and incapacitate game animals efficiently. Choose premium bullets in the 180 grain weight range. 

The .30-06 Springfield is a widely available cartridge with a rich history and an extensive selection of rifles chambered in it. This accessibility means that hunters can easily find rifles, ammo for their .30-06 rifle, making it a practical and convenient choice for those who wish to embark on hunting adventures. 

300 Winchester/Weatherby/Holland & Holland Magnum

The .300 Magnum, a family of powerful cartridges that includes the .300 Winchester Magnum and the .300 Weatherby Magnum, is celebrated for its substantial energy and versatility. It’s a go-to choice for those targeting larger plains game species like Eland and Roan, and there are several compelling reasons why this cartridge is well-suited. 

The primary advantage of the 300 Win Mag type cartridges is their impressive energy levels. These cartridges are known for packing a significant punch, delivering substantial kinetic energy downrange. This characteristic is crucial when hunting larger African plains game, as it ensures the cartridge has the necessary power to penetrate the tough hide, bone structure, and muscle mass of animals like Eland and Roan. The high energy levels translate into reliable stopping power, resulting in ethical kills. 

Versatility is another hallmark of the .300 Magnum cartridges. These cartridges can handle a wide range of bullet weights and types, allowing shooters to customize their load for specific hunting scenarios. Choose bullets with a weight of around  180 grains in premium bonded types for deep penetration and controlled expansion. 

The flat trajectory and long-range accuracy of the .300 Magnum cartridges are also notable advantages. When hunting larger game in Africa, shots may need to be taken at extended distances. The .300 Magnum’s ballistic characteristics ensure that bullets maintain their trajectory and accuracy over distance, providing hunters with the confidence to make precision shots when necessary. 

In summary, the .300 Magnum cartridges’ high energy, versatility, long-range accuracy, and penetration capabilities make them a versatile and effective choice for hunting larger game, including Eland, Kudu, Blue Wildebeest and Roan

Popular rifle calibers for hunting dangerous game 

Rifles and Calibers for Hunting Dangerous Game

.375 H & H Magnum

A staple for hunting in Africa, the 375 caliber is the minimum caliber for dangerous game hunting in a few African countries. The 375 H&H is known for its reasonable stopping power. It is effective for species like Lion and Cape Buffalo with good shot placement. 

.416 Remington/Rigby Magnum

The .416 caliber cartridges, such as the .416 Rigby and the .416 Remington Magnum, have earned a well-deserved reputation for their remarkable ability to take down large, thick-skinned game, making them trusted choices for hunting big game in Africa and some of the most formidable animals on the planet, including the Cape buffalo and the Elephant hunting. 

One of the key strengths of the .416 cartridges is the immense stopping power of this large bore caliber. These cartridges are known for delivering an exceptional amount of energy to the target, which is crucial when hunting large and heavily built animals like the Cape buffalo and Elephant. The combination of a heavy bullet and high velocity ensures that the bullet can penetrate deep into the animal’s body, effectively incapacitating it. 

The .416 shoots cartridges well whether loaded with heavy, solid bullets that are designed to penetrate through thick hide, muscle, and bone or premium soft points. The construction of these bullets ensures that they hold together and maintain their trajectory even when encountering tough resistance. This is particularly important when facing the robust and resilient animals that are known to charge when wounded, such as the Cape buffalo. 

When hunting Elephant, the .416 cartridges are prized for their ability to reliably deliver deep, vital organ penetration, which is necessary for an ethical and humane kill. These animals have impressive physical toughness, and the .416’s stopping power is up to the task of quickly bringing them down. 

The .416 cartridges are often used with bolt-action rifles that are known for their reliability and precision. This combination of a powerful cartridge and a reliable rifle ensures that shooters are well-equipped to handle the demanding conditions of hunting Cape buffalo and Elephant. The 416 is an excellent choice and one of the best rifles for hunting Cape Buffalo.

460 Nitro

Designed for maximum stopping power, the .460 is reserved for the largest and most dangerous game, including Hippopotamus and African Elephant and is ideal for big game hunting. 

.500 Nitro:

The .500 Nitro is among the most powerful cartridges, making it suitable for the most formidable of African game, such as the African buffalo. This cartridge can do it all when it comes to the biggest game available on the African continent. 

Best Hunting Rifles for a South African Hunting Safari 

Choosing the perfect rifle for Africa’s hunting conditions is a critical decision that can significantly impact your hunting experience. Here, we’ll explore some of the best rifles that are well-suited for the diverse game species and hunting conditions found in Southern Africa. 

Bolt-Action Rifles 

Blaser R8

Known for its accuracy and versatility, the Blaser R8 is a popular choice among shooters. Its interchangeable barrels make it suitable for a wide range of calibers, adapting to different game species. 

Sako 85

The Sako 85 is favored for its smooth bolt action and superb craftsmanship. It’s available in various calibers, making it adaptable for all types of Big game. 

Double Rifles 


Double rifles, with side-by-side barrels, offer quick follow-up shots. These manufacturers produce high-quality double rifles, a preferred option to hunt African dangerous game. 

Selecting the right rifle scope

Once you’ve chosen your rifle, the next crucial step is selecting an appropriate scope to optimize your accuracy. Rifle scopes come in various magnifications, reticle designs, and quality levels. Here are some considerations for choosing the right scope: 


Depending on the type of game you’ll be hunting and the typical shooting distances in the area, you’ll need to determine the appropriate magnification range. Variable magnification scopes can provide excellent versatility. For Bushveld hunting choose a scope with a magnification of 3 – 9 X 40, for more open areas 4 – 12 X 50 will be a good choice. 

Objective Lens Size

 A larger objective lens allows more light to enter the scope, improving visibility in low-light conditions. Consider a scope with an objective lens suitable for dawn and dusk hunting. 

Scope Quality

Invest in a high-quality scope to ensure durability, clarity, and consistent performance. Well-known brands like Leupold, Swarovski, and Zeiss offer scopes renowned for their quality. 

Rifle Accessories and Essentials

 In addition to choosing the appropriate caliber, equipping your rifle with essential accessories can enhance your hunting experience. Here, we’ll explore the accessories that can improve your accuracy, comfort, and overall success. 


The selection of ammunition is as important as the rifle itself. Always choose heavy for caliber bullets for the best performance, Africa’s animals are a bit tougher than game found elsewhere in the world.

Hunting Regulations

South Africa has a comprehensive set of regulations governing hunting. These regulations are in place to conserve the country’s rich wildlife and ensure the safety of sportsmen and the general public. It’s essential to familiarize yourself with these rules, as they can vary by province and even within specific game reserves. Regulations cover aspects such as hunting seasons, bag limits, and permitted hunting methods. 

Firearm Laws

 South Africa has strict firearm laws, and you are required to follow them rigorously. This includes adhering to storage, transportation, and use of firearms. Non-residents should familiarize themselves with the importation and temporary possession of firearms in the country. 

Safety Guidelines and Responsible Hunting Practices

Safety and ethics are fundamental aspects of hunting in Africa. Adhering to responsible hunting practices not only ensures the well-being of sportsmen but also contributes to the conservation of wildlife and the reputation of the hunting community. 

Firearm Safety

You should always treat firearms as if they are loaded. Follow proper firearm safety protocols, such as keeping the firearm pointed in a safe direction, keeping it unloaded until ready to use, and keeping the safety engaged until you’re prepared to shoot. 


On an African hunting safari, the choice of the right caliber is an aspect that cannot be overstated. This decision carries profound significance, influencing the outcome of your hunting trip, the welfare of the game you pursue, and the overall experience you seek in the wild.

Selecting the perfect rifle and cartridge is a complex process that involves numerous factors, such as the type of game, hunting conditions, and your personal preferences. It’s a decision that hinges on understanding the unique demands of Africa’s hunting, where diverse landscapes and an array of game species coexist.

Adrian Anderson has been a Licensed Professional Hunter and Hunting Outfitter for 32 years

Adrian Anderson first obtained his Professional Hunters license in 1991. He is a Big Five and Dangerous Game licensed Professional Hunter and Hunting Outfitter. He has a tremendous love for wildlife and the African bush and enjoys sharing his knowledge with the hunting clients that he guides. Guiding hunters in Africa’s wild places is a passion and seeing them succeed with their goals brings satisfaction. With knowledge of the Safari industry built up over 32 years he is well qualified to give guidance to his hunting clients.