Skip to comments.The .375 [H and H Magnum] on Elephant
Posted on 05/23/2003 5:53:05 PM PDT by 45Auto
Harry Manners and Wally Johnson began elephant hunting in partnership in Mozambique in 1937, and both used off-the-shelf Winchesters (Harry owned four during his lifetime, one of which having a bull-barrel, which he discarded on the grounds of it being too heavy), both used only Kynoch 300-grain solids, and both averred that this rifle/cartridge combination was all that any professional ivory hunter ever needed. They were both expert shots and could place their bullets accurately from any angle for brain-shots on elephant, but both used shoulder shots when these were convenient, alleging that this was the largest and safest target. Harry shot The Monarch of Murrapa (185 and 183 pounds a side and number four in Rowland Wards Records of Big Game) with a single 300-grain .375 solid in the shoulder (the full story of this hunt being told in Harrys autobiography, Kambaku, recently republished by Rowland Ward Publication, Johannesburg).
When ivory hunting was stopped in Mozambique in the early 1950s in favour of safari hunting, Harry and Wally entered the safari field, both still only using their .375s, and I first got to know them when visiting Moçambique Safarilandias Savé concessions at the owners invitation in 1965. Harry retired unscathed to Skuzuza in Kruger National Park after Mozambiques independence, where I often visited him, while Wally, who had earlier been gored by a buffalo his .375 failed to stop, joined Safari South in Botswana, for whom I also hunted and where we renewed our friendship. In spite of Wallys mishap with the buffalo, both he and Harry went to their graves asserting that a .375 H&H Magnum with 300-grain solid bullets was all a professional hunter needed for the hunting of elephant.
Two very experienced Zimbabwean game wardens who only ever used a .375 were John Osborne and Bruce Austen, and both agreed that it was completely adequate for elephant and both shot large numbers of elephant with their .375s, although Bruce told me he had once all-but-lost a bull wounded with his .375 that he was convinced did not have a brain.
His first shot to the brain was taken from close range with the bull standing squarely side-on, but on receiving Bruces 300-grain solid, the bull had merely spun around to stand again squarely side-on, whereupon Bruce gave him another similarly placed bullet on the other side of his head. Both these shots were in Bruces experienced opinion correctly placed for the brain, yet the bull took off and was stopped only by a raking shot to the body that Bruce was able to take before it disappeared.
I was very inexperienced when Bruce told me this story and I fervently hoped that I didnt run up against too many brainless elephant, but I had the odd few even with my .470. The best designed bullet will sometimes deflect on striking bone - particularly when fired from close range before it has had time to stabilize - and Kynochs round-nose 300-grain .375 solid bullet is very well designed. But the fact that both of Bruces bullets failed to find the brain from the same range and angle might indicate that they had both deflected for the same reason.
We are all influenced by the advice of our mentors and if what they advise works the first time we are prone to become persuaded. My mentor was John Pondoro Taylor whom I knew in the mid-1950s while commercial crocodile hunting on Lake Nyasa (now Lake Malawi), and I visited him whenever I was able and was always asking questions. Those who have read his Big Game and Big Game Rifles, or African Rifles & Cartridges, will know that Taylor was a disciple of the heavy, medium-velocity school, and I faithfully followed. Like Tayor, I became a doubles man and opted for a .470 double (a 500-grain bullet at 2150fps) when in the early 1960s I was granted the game management rights on the half-million acre Nuanetsi ranch in Rhodesias south-eastern lowveld, and had large quotas of elephant to cull.
John Osborne and Bruce Austen both left 'Parks to become safari professional hunters, Bruce running his own company and John hunting for Buffalo Range game ranch which is owned by the Style family, my wifes cousins. The fifth professional hunter whom I know who has exclusively used a .375 H&H Mag as his safari back-up rifle is Rob Style of Buffalo Range, who for many years has had big-game concessions in the Zambezi Valley and whose clients have taken a great many elephant. Robs mentor was John Osborne, and Rob received the best elephant hunting training that anyone could have had and was a highly experienced hunter when he became a licenced professional at the age of 19. Rob followed Johns example in opting for a .375 as I had followed Taylors in opting for a .470. Rob had a minor tussle with a wounded lion on one occasion which his .375 had failed to stop, but has never had a serious problem with an elephant, which begs the question: Is there any more that I need to say?
To my knowledge the .375 H&H Magnum has been proven by five experienced professionals to be a suitable calibre for the hunting of elephant, whether for the citizen sport hunter who may shoot only one elephant in his lifetime (provided he knows exactly where to place his bullet) and for the experienced professional, but I confess to a few doubts to its suitability when the newly licenced professional is not yet experienced. I was privileged to be given a preview of Lust for Life (shortly to be released by Safari Press, California), the adventures of professional hunter Sten Cedergren who hunted through the golden era of safari in East Africa and retired from professional hunting in 1997 at the age of 78. Sten commenced his African hunting as a problem animal control officer in Kenya in the 1950s, and had this to say about his elephant rifles:
Shooting elephant cows and young bulls with the .470 was fine, but I soon realized when going after the big bulls in very dense bush, or the close bamboo forests on Mount Kenya and the Aberdares, that I needed something bigger... On my next visit to Nairobi I went again to Shaw & Hunter and was shown a beautifully balanced Westley Richards .500 Nitro Express boxlock non-ejector with 24-inch barrels, and once I had that rifle in my hands I knew I had to have it.
The .500 NE fires a 570-grain bullet at 2150fps - the same velocity as the 500-grain .470 bullet - which Sten considered inadequate for big bulls in thick bush... Sten also raised a point about relative knock-down power which I think is worth recording. He tells of an elephant hunt where his Mexican client took a head-shot on his elephant:
Shoot, I hissed, and the clients .375 boomed, and at the bullets impact the bulls hindquarters sagged a bit, but he quickly recovered, turned around and in an instant the bushes were closing behind him... We found afterwards that my clients 300-grain solid .375 bullet had only just missed the brain and had he been using a larger calibre with a heavier bullet, the shot would probably have stunned the bull and he would have gone down, giving the client sufficient time to close in and finish him off.
Sten brought the bull down, but had his bullet not connected it is highly likely that they would never have seen it again. When an elephant escapes from a misplaced brain-shot it just goes and goes and goes, and the chances of the hunter ever catching up with it are about nil.
To my mind there is no hunting offence more immoral than to let an animal escape wounded due to the hunter being inadequately armed. To allow an elephant to escape wounded to die a lingering and painful death, or to recover with hate in its heart and become a man-killer, is nothing short of a crime if the hunter lost it in the first place because he was inadequately armed, and I believe that the inexperienced professional hunter who carries a .375 as his back-up weapon when hunting elephant, is inadequately armed.
No safari client of mine ever lost an elephant wounded. I lost a couple when cropping elephant in my tyro days which led me to embrace the infallible when I entered the safari field. As we all know, the brain-shot is considered to be the classical shot on elephant and I would tell my clients that they must go for this shot and explain how to do it. But then I would also explain that a brain-shot elephant collapses instantly, and if it was still on its feet the instant after he had fired, that he had missed the brain and it was wounded, then it became my duty to put in an immediate following shot to stop it from escaping. When the client came into the aim for the brain, I came into aim for the shoulder, and if the elephants shoulder was still in my sights immediately after the client fired, I would pull the trigger. I do not subscribe to the philosophy that its the clients animal, he has paid for it, and he has the right to demand that his PH does not shoot it. The prime hunting ethic is that a hunter makes a quick, clean kill and ensures that there is minimal suffering, and this ethic must supersede any demand that a client may make.
The inexperienced citizen sport hunter using a .375 on his elephant may do well to take heed of the fact that Harry Manners took The Monarch of Murapa, a truly massive elephant bull, with a single side-on shoulder shot with his .375. If properly placed, and we must suppose that every hunter knows exactly where to place his bullet, this shot will sever the main arteries coming out of the heart and will very quickly bring the elephant down. John Pondoro Taylor writes that he preferred the shoulder shot on an elephant if he was tackling a single bull, and the Rhodesian between-wars professional ivory hunter, Crawford Fletcher Jamieson, records the same in his diaries which I was privileged to read. Both asserted that the shoulder shot offered the largest and safest target, and if properly placed, and its a big enough target for there to be no excuse for it not to be properly placed, your bullet will always bring the elephant down, generally within 100 metres.
Always using my .470 for elephant during my cropping days on Nuanetsi with a Jeffery .404 as my reserve, I had no need to crop elephant with my peep-sighted Cogwell & Harrison .375 and only ever did this on one occasion. This rifle was fitted with a detachable night scope which had two broad elevation pointers and single pointed upright which made it effective for cropping in moonlight, and I had used it to crop hippo on moonlight nights by ambushing them on their exit paths on the banks of the Lundi river.
There was a succession of bad droughts in the south-eastern lowveld in the early 1960s with a consequence that elephant emigrated in numbers from the Gona-re-Zhou onto the European-owned cattle ranches in search of water, causing in some cases a loss of valuable water and damage to troughs. Bruce Austen (mentioned earlier) was then warden of the south-eastern lowveld and I received a phone call from him early one morning requesting I go to the cold-storage ranch at Twiza to chase off four elephant bulls that were nightly breaking the fence around a paddock and half-emptying a storage tank.
Shoot one of the bulls while they are at the tank, said Bruce, and the others will take the hint, and Ill issue you with a cropping permit for it so you can keep the carcass and the ivory.
It was just past the full moon, making it feasible for me to go that night, and I drove straight over to meet the manager and see the set-up - to find the pumphouse ideally situated for a night ambush on the tank. It was within easy shooting distance and there was an opening in the side wall through which I could shoot, and I returned that evening with my recovery team and vehicles and my night-scoped .375.
The ranch compound was adjacent to the paddock and I assumed the four bulls would not risk coming in till the inmates had settled down for the night, by which time the moon would have risen high enough to give sufficient light for me to shoot by, but in this I was wrong. I heard the fencing wire break shortly after the moon had risen and the four bulls came in, appearing in the gloom like four floating hulks being windblown slowly towards the tank.
I examined them through my binos when they stopped at the tank, which amplified what little light there was sufficiently to show me that one bull was clear of the others and standing directly side-on to me. I would have liked to have waited till the moon had risen higher but thought they might scent me and take off. I picked up my .375 and peered at the bull through the 2-1/2x scope. The sight picture in the reduced light of the scope made it appear that the bull had not moved, but in fact he had. He was now quartering towards me. I took aim at where I supposed the aiming mark on the shoulder would be and fired, and all four bulls stampeded through the fence opposite and into the mopane forest beyond.
I now strained my ears to hear the bull fall, as I was sure he would, but heard not a sound, and after waiting till the moon was well up I walked to the fence where the bulls had broken through, still convinced that the bull must be down. I then walked slowly into the moonlit forest, staring at every suspicious-looking shadow and stopping often to listen, then walked a little further and stopped again, and after a while I came to a clearing some 25 metres wide where I stopped yet again to listen, unaware that the wounded bull was standing in the shadows at one side of the clearing. I took another slow pace forwards into the clearing, whereupon the bull became aware of my presence and he turned around so that his head was towards me, the moonlight reflecting white upon his tusks.
I swung up the rifle up to my shoulder and fixed the two gleaming tusks in my scope, which now, due to the magnification, seemed to be suddenly at the end of my barrel and for an instant I thought he was charging.
I could not see the elephant clearly in the shadows, but I could clearly see his tusks, and taking an aim at where I supposed the centre of his chest would be, I kept on firing till the bull collapsed.
I was now able to see that my 300-grain Kynoch solid had not taken the bull in the shoulder, as I had supposed, but had squarely struck the bone of the upper foreleg, which had cracked, and by Gods good grace had broken while the bull was running and which had brought him to a halt. On butchering him I found my bullet had not penetrated the bone at all, completely disintegrated on impact instead, and had his leg bone not cracked and subsequently broken I would probably have never seen him again.
My advice to the tyro professional hunter is not to hunt elephant with a .375. And to the inexperienced citizen sport hunter using a .375 on elephant, to use only monolithic solids and to aim for the correct place on the shoulder to ensure he severs the main arteries above the heart.
The .375 H and H, left, and the .470 Nitro Express