Having now made some 15 safaris to five different African countries, I feel confident in defining the essential safari gear a hunter really needs for a plains game safari. Rifles, optics, cartridges, bullets, packs, slings, boots, clothes, shooting sticks. It’s less than you might think.
Essential Safari Gear Is Really Quite Basic
Rifles: You do not need a battery of rifles for today’s typical safari. One will suffice. Make it a dependable bolt-action. Lever-actions and single-shots work just as well if you’re deadly with them. Just don’t make the mistake of getting a new, hard-kicking, unfamiliar magnum unless you have the time, money, and dedication to really learn to shoot it well. The rifle doesn’t have to be fancy. Just accurate and dependable, something you handle smoothy and are confident shooting. Synthetic/stainless is just as viable as AAA walnut and blued.
Cartridges: Forget the big bores and super magnums. Typical deer and elk cartridges easily handle all African plains game. And I don’t care who you are, you’ll shoot more precisely with less recoil, so why put up with it? Friends and I just finished a Namibia hunt with Immenhof Safaris using a Savage Lightweight Storm in 223 Rem., a Ruger American in 243 Win., a Savage Storm with AccuFit stock in 30-06 Springfield, a Remington M700 BDL in 30-06 Springfield, a Montana M99 in 7mm Rem. Mag., and a Winchester M70 in 375 H&H Mag. We took game from 11-pound dik dik to 1,800-pound eland, most with one-shot kills, none farther than 300 yards. Surprisingly, more animals hit with the 375 H&H went farther and had to be tracked farther than those taken with the lighter cartridges. This was probably due to poor bullet placement rather than bullet size or impact energy. The point is, bigger bullets and more energy do not make up for poor placement. Chase Soliday punched a huge old red hartebeest bull on the shoulder with his little 243 Win. It expired within eight seconds. A single Federal 180-grain AccuBond 30-06 load put down a massive bull eland in just 75 yards. With a similar chest hit a kudu bull was still on its feet more than 80 seconds after being hit with a 375 H&H. Horespower and bullet diameter matter less than shot placement. Your favorite deer/elk rifle can be essential safari gear.
Bullets: Controlled expansion bullets are generally your best bet, but if you have a cup-and-core bullet that has worked well for you and shoots well in your rifle, take it. The reason I prefer controlled expansion types is for enhanced blood trailing. By punching through, these slugs leave two holes and usually an adequate blood trail. If your African trackers can’t follow this, the terriers most outfitters employ can. I’ve had great success with various Barnes X bullets, Swift A-Frames and Sciroccos, Nosler Oryx and Kalaharis, and now Nosler AccuBond. But I’ve also gotten good results from Hornady SSTs and Winchester Ballistic SilverTips. It’s mostly about where you park them. On our recent hunt I used Federal’s 62-grain Fusion in a 223 Rem. to take game from scrub hares up to 130-pound impala. All were one-shot kills and all were pass throughs except the impala due to a bone crushing hit square on the shoulder. Game struck with the 62-grain Fusion 223 acted no differently than those similarly hit with larger bullets over the years. Jerry Schnable racked up a series of one-shot kills with 180-grain Barnes TTSX loads in his 30-06. John Koons did much the same with 160-grain AccuBond loads in his 7mm Rem. Mag., taking an old oryx bull, warthog, impala, blue wildebeest and zebra, expending just one shot for each.
No Need to Overly Complicate Optical Safari Gear
Optics: You do not, repeat, do not need a massive scope to hunt plains game. Much plains game habitat is brushy or wooded with most shots coming inside of 200 yards. Some farms and conservancies, especially in South Africa, have more open grasslands where longer shots might call for scope power above 10X, but don’t think you need a 6-24X56mm monster tube. Use what balances with your rifle, is quick to align and get on target. I generally run with 2.5-10, sometimes 3.5-18 with objective lenses topping out at 50mm, most often closer to 42mm. On this last hunt I used a Bushnell Nitro 2.5-10×44 with a First Focal Plane Deploy reticle on the Savage 223 Rem. That worked okay, but was not ideal due to the shrinking size of the elaborate tactical reticle. At low powers the lines and numbers were difficult to see. I’d have been better off with a Multi-X Second Focal Plane reticle. The Bushnell Forge 4.5-27x50mm was overkill on the Savage 30-06, too. Again, it did it’s job (the EXO Barrier Protection lens coating in particular did an impressive job of keeping dust off the surfaces) but I never cranked it beyond 10X, never fired it beyond 300 yards, and didn’t need it’s turret dialing features, so why was I packing them? Before choosing any long range scope, discuss terrain, habitat, and typical shooting ranges with your outfitter. In general, keep it simple.
You shouldn’t need a spotting scope at all. Most African PHs and especially trackers can spot more game with one eye tied behind their backs than I can with the best spotting scope — and a lot faster. You’re usually moving too fast to set up and use spotters anyway. But do take a binocular. An 8X should suffice with 10X the better option in open country. I tried the new Bushnell Forge 10×42 on this trip and found it matching up impressively against other hunters’ Zeiss and Leica optics. It’s about as large a binocular as I want to pack to Africa. I usually go with 8x32s.
Take a laser rangefinder. These days I assume PHs will have range finders, but often they don’t because they expect game inside of 300 yards. Sometimes you spot a good one at 400 yards or farther. It’s nice to know the range.
Odds and Ends Can Be Important Safari Gear
Rifle Sling: African hunters used to be instructed to forget their rifle slings. They get in the way, snag on brush and tangle you up while a lion has you for lunch. Sorry, but I haven’t been charged by a lion or hung my sling/rifle on brush in Africa, ever. But I’ve sure been more comfortable during long hikes and still-hunts with a slung rifle on my shoulder. Take a simple sling. I used Butler Creek Quick Carry slings on my recent hunt. Simple, quickly adjustable, inexpensive and perfect for a hasty sling wrap.
Packs: Most Plains Game hunting is done from vehicles with spot and stalk or relatively short still-hunting jaunts. But you’ll still need a pack for carrying jacket, wind breaker, cameras, spare ammo, etc. Eberlestock X2 works for me.
Shooting Sticks: I’ve yet to find a PH who didn’t have a tripod of some kind. Werner at Immenhof was using a Primos Trigger Stick which adjusted quickly for everything from standing to sitting shots. To be on the safe side, however, I take a simple Steady Stix as backup.
Pants, Shirts, and Boots Are Essential Safari Gear, Too
Clothes: If your PH assures you his camp has daily laundry service, take two sets of long sleeved, button down cotton shirts and a cotton pant you find comfortable. Add three pairs of underwear and your favorite hiking socks, an insulated jacket for early morning drives, gloves, balaclava, wind breaker pants and jacket, and a hat to keep the sun off your eyes and ears.
Boots: You’ll need protection from thorns (lots of thorns!) sharp rocks, and ankle twisting loose rocks. There are steep mountains in some districts, but hard-core mountain boots usually aren’t necessary. Nevertheless, I wear and recommend a good like the Kenetrek Safari. But combine any low-top boot with a gaiter to keep sand, rocks and thorns from falling inside.
Those are the basics for a successful safari, and there’s not much else you can add that does much but add unnecessary weight to your kit. It is wise to include a backup scope in case yours gets damaged.
Ron Spomer invites a few friends to join him on hunts each year. His next trip has room for four. It’s a free-range red stag, tahr, and chamois hunt in New Zealand. Write for details.