Building a Dangerous Game Rifle
Advice for the Aspirant Guide/PH
Which Rifle is best for me? This is a question that many of you either in the Hunting or Trails side of Guiding will be looking into at some point in your career. While in days gone by there were fewer choices and you could generalize that people built to a higher standard of excellence, today there are a multitude of choices in caliber, make, action, quality and a variety of other options that you could browse through.
While it is great to have unlimited choice, it can be very difficult for a newcomer to figure out what is best for the aspirant guide. To further compound this problem there are now a host of forums and chat rooms online where there is a lot of great advice, but where armchair hunters (people who spend more time debating which is perpetuate their theories based on what they own, as opposed to what would be best for anyone looking for information. At this point I think the best advice I can give you is to base any choices you do make on at least 4 different sources backing it up. Also keep your mind open, there is no better way to affirm your convictions than to approach them with your mind made up. Naturally YOU WILL ONLY SEE WHAT YOU WANT TO.
With this in mind I am going to try and give you a set of rules that may help you to figure out what is the best Dangerous Game (DG) Rifle for you. Read that again, THE BEST DANGEROUS GAME RIFLE…FOR YOU. That means that it must fit your parameters and capabilities, including one that is often overlooked, BUDGET.
To start with I would like to draw up the rules that I believe most of you could use to figure out which choice would work best for you. Applied in order they should help you get it right:
- Budget What can you afford? Luckily there are a wide variety of choices here and some are better than others. But I think the best way for you to get this one right is to build a figure in your mind, which you can comfortably afford. Then subtract from that figure the cost of a set of reloading dies, 100 cases, case preparation tools, a tumbler, primers, propellant, 1000 cast lead bullets, 100 solids, 100 premium soft’s, a reloading manual, a scale and money to get you back and forth to a range on which you can practice regularly. Further to that you should add the cost of applying for your license and the legwork that will be required to get it done.
- Needs – What do you need? Now this is a question of hot debate, and my advice here is to ignore the hunting columns as they are generally written by people with budgets far larger than yours, people who also generally have a competent PH with a “good rifle” backing them up. The long and short of it is that most people who have succumbed to buying the biggest caliber they can afford cannot shoot them well. There is just too much recoil and they don’t shoot often enough due to cost and fear of the recoil. Lets get something straight here – YOU NEED TO BE ABLE TO SHOOT YOUR RIFLE ACCURATELY, REPEATEDLY, QUICKLY, WITHOUT FEAR OF RECOIL AND WITHOUT COUNTING THE COST OF EACH SHOT.
- Caliber – Which caliber suits my needs? The simple answer is the one you can SHOOT ACCURATELY, REPEATEDLY, QUICKLY, WITHOUT FEAR OF RECOIL AND WITHOUT COUNTING THE COST OF EACH SHOT.
This however can be broken down into a few categories.
Minimum Requirement - 375 H&H; This is the starting point, so if you have never shot one before you need to go and find a way of shooting one. At least 20 rounds to get a feel for it. This should preferably be done under the supervision of an experienced trainer who can instruct you on technique, never in the presence of an idiot who is trying to get you hurt, as this could hurt your career or those you are guiding.
If you can comfortably shoot a .375 accurately then there is no reason for you to change rifles, to the contrary I would say that it would be of greater value for you to learn to shoot your .375 extremely well, rather than to carry a larger caliber that you may not shoot as well. One thing to keep in mind is that in a close quarters charge it is only a brain shot that will keep you safe, a .375 sized hole in the brain is just as effective as a .500 sized hole. The main thing is that it reaches the brain.
Other calibers out there are varied, and it seems like a day does not go by without some bored person reinventing the wheel with the latest wildcat. Not to say that this is bad, the 458 Lott was once a wildcat that today is seeing service all over the world as a production cartridge. Be careful though as your choice of caliber will not be one that is easily changed so choose wisely, some clever gimmick today may seem like the right thing, but you have to be able to justify the additional cost of reloading and not having freely available factory ammo and components. With this in mind, I believe there are two cartridges that will always stand out as being the top choices. The .375 H&H and the .458 WIN MAG. Availability of ammo and low cost of reloading components make these two the clear winners for the aspirant GUIDE/PH. For those wanting a bit more bite, the third alternative and also very cost effective to reload is the 458 Lott. The 458 Lott was originally designed to fix the problems that the .458 Win Mag experienced in its early days of production. These problems are widely spread across the Internet and have been embroidered upon by many of our Armchair Experts. They are however a thing of the past and should not be considered by the aspirant as modern powders have made them a thing of the past. The 458 Win Mag is a reliable stopper and should be seriously considered by anyone getting into the industry. They also have the advantage of being available as well priced new guns or really well priced used guns. So long as you use new ammo or load your own the 458 Win Mag is an extremely comfortable DG Caliber to shoot.
- Action – What are the options? The basic options are Controlled Round Feed (CRF) Mauser style actions or Push Feed (PF) Remington 700 style actions. Each type of action has its merits and in the hands of the right gun owner each has been as successful as the other. The CRF generally being a more ruggedly built action, which controls the entire cycle of the chambering and extraction. The PF being generally a smoother action but which faces two problems in the design, a weaker extractor and the possibility of rounds not chambering properly on the load due to not being 100% controlled. That said there are many PH’s and Guides using both types and there are happy people on both sides, it is however true that there are more instances of PF rifles failing under rapid reloading or extremely hot circumstances than there of CRF. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions from that. I would also at this point recommend that you read the articles written by Roy Vincent (AKA: Ganyana) as they are generally very informative and are built on yours of experience in the field.
Some of the more common brands to be seen today for the CRF are CZ, Winchester and Ruger, which I believe to be the best off the shelf rifles available. One thing to bear in mind at this point… No rifle is ready to hunt dangerous game “Out of the Box”. This has been proven over and over, rifles no matter how well put together, regardless of their stirling history and trouble free reputation should automatically be trusted based on their brand. A DG rifle will be used to defend your life, would you trust your life to something you have not tested? I don’t think so, which is why it is recommended by anyone who knows their stuff to get the rifle checked over by a competent gunsmith for feeding problems and any glitches that may present themselves. In the same vane you are responsible to your clients to have practiced with the rifle you will use, you must know the rifle inside and out and be 100% certain that you can trust it. Practice, practice, practice; 3 aimed shots in 6 seconds from walking, this was the standard set. It is the only way you will truly know that you are ready to defend yourself and your clients lives. I often hear the following excuses with regards to practicing. “Oh but I cant afford it”, “I don’t have any time to practice”. Saying that is like saying you are too busy driving to fill up your car. Sooner or later you are going to run out of gas… One last thing to keep in mind, regardless of how good the rifle is, it is only as good as the hands that hold it.
- Stock – The stock is surely the most often overlooked aspect of the young Guides rifle. But it is the stock that ultimately lines you up with the sites and allows you to make the shot when it counts, without even thinking about the sites. A properly measured stock will also help reduce felt recoil and improve your shooting through the confidence it will build. While most production rifles come with a standard Length of pull (LOP) of 13.5 inches people are all different in shape and size and shooting position. With this in mind it is well worth asking your gunsmith to adjust your LOP at the same time as you do your action smoothing. Another thing to consider at this stage while the stock is being lengthened or shortened is the addition of a good recoil pad or even mercury recoil reducers if you have gone in for one of the harder kicking calibers. A word of caution at this stage is to check out the gunsmith you choose before spending money on an incompetent person. Check with some of their past clients and see if they are happy with their purchases. You are well within your rights to request the contact information of some of their past clients as invariably with a gunsmith worth his salt there will be a line of people ready to sing his praises. You may also be considering a synthetic stock for your rifle. The advantages of a good synthetic stock are numerous; weatherproof, almost indestructible, scratch and damage proof, consistent rifle performance regardless of temperature or humidity. I often see recommendations from people on hunting forums to get factory wooden stocks triple bolted and bedded in a variety of ways that invariably cost a lot of money. These options all have their merits when building a prized hunting rifle that spends more time in the safe than in the field. The bottom line is that if you are reading this you are building a working rifle not a showpiece. Its first priority is to be reliable, and a well made synthetic is probably your best value for money option if you have any doubts about your factory stocks ability to hold up to the type of use that your profession requires. At just over R 3500 for a good synthetic in SA, you can save the money you would have spent on the gunsmith and buy more ammo to practice with. It will serve you better in the long run.
- Custom or Factory – Here is a question that just a few years ago many of you would not have even considered because of the assumed cost of building a custom rifle. Recently I am pleased to say many of the custom shops have started offering low cost custom rifles built on solid actions for about the same price as your entry level factory rifle. Built as working rifles they are no frills offerings that fit a modest budget and will serve you well. One major advantage of this is that in the process of custom building your rifle it will be fitted to you and the action should have seen some attention from a competent person. Dependant on who you choose you may or may not actually end up spending less on the custom rifle than you would have getting a basic factory rifle up to standard. It must however be stated at this point that there is a big difference between an “Armourer” and a “Gunsmith”. Any fool can screw a few components together and call it a rifle, but to make a DG Rifle you need to know what you are doing. Find a real “gunsmith” with a reputation. Investigate thoroughly before putting your money on the table. Anyone who has built DG rifles that are in active service and worth their salt will have plenty of references to refer you to. Most importantly don’t let your enthusiasm get the better of your judgment. The choice you make will be with you for a long time and is not something you can easily switch if you are unhappy. The new Firearms Control Act is very restrictive so make sure that the license you apply for is the right one and that your rifle is being built, by someone you trust
I hope this article will help you to make some informed choices about were you spend your hard earned money. As this barely scratches the surface of what you could potentially consider while making these choices I will not go into too much detail. I will also be adding articles on a regular basis to help you to make more informed choices as well as the follow up article to this one in which I outline the choices I ended up making when I built my own custom rifle. All this and more coming soon.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and I wish you all the best of luck in your career.