A Soft-shooting Plains Game Rifle
My brother will be accompanying me and my Dad on our trip to Zimbabwe to hunt dangerous game. He will only be hunting plains game while he was there. He currently has a Ruger 77 in .270. He is in great physical shape but early in his life suffered from a brain tumor, seizures, and car wreck. I wanted to get him a rifle with a little more horsepower but I do not want him to develop a flinch or mess up his shooting confidence. Any suggestions on caliber?
I think you are on the right track because the .270 is, in my opinion, not the ideal cartridge for plains game in what will be relatively short distance, bushveld conditions.
For smaller and medium-sized antelope like springbok, blesbok, and black wildebeest in open country where the shots tend to be longer, the .270 is a good choice, but not for the tougher, larger African antelope species at shorter shooting distances. This is where you need heavier bullets in the 170- to 180-grain range and the .270 cannot deliver this.
Keeping in mind what you have said about recoil and your brother’s physical condition, the 7x57mm is for me, the logical choice. This is a mild-mannered cartridge, and one ideally suited to handle 175-grainers. In the past all the tougher and larger antelope species right up to eland have been taken with this ballistic combination.
This cartridge and 175s was for almost 2 decades my Zambezi Valley plains game choice and I have never thought twice about switching to something else. Since relocating south after the wheels in Zimbabwe fell off, I have used it for many, many springbok, blesbok, and kudu, all still with 175s, and I would not dream of using anything else.
“Mild mannered and more effective than its paper ballistics suggests it should be” best describes the 7x57 mm. Out here in Africa we talk about well-balanced cartridges and the 7 x 57mm sure is one of them. So is the 9.3 x 62 mm. Both just seem to work better than they should and that is why they are so popular out here.
The 7mm-08 is almost identical, ballistics-wise, to the 7x57 mm and more popular on your side of the puddle, but the tendency there is for it to be loaded with 140-grainers which are not as effective as 170s or 175s on the heavier and tougher African antelope species.
The 7x57mm has an almost fanatical following out here in South Africa. The cartridge dates back to the Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902) where the Boers used it with good effect on the Brits. Since that time it has remained very dear to the hearts of South Africans and with good reason: it is a surprisingly effective ballistic combination for all the larger antelope at shooting distances inside 200 paces.
If this suggestion does not excite you, then the .308 Winchester and 180-grainers is the next option. It too has a really wonderful Southern African reputation thanks to it having been for many years in 7.62x51mm NATO disguise, the South African and Rhodesian military cartridge. With quality 180-grainers like North Forks, A-Frames, or TSX’s it too will handle all the larger and tougher antelope species well.
My third suggestion is the good old .30-06. For bushveld condition where the shooting distances are often within 100 paces, I prefer 220-grainers in this fine old cartridge. 200s are also fine. If your brother likes and is comfortable with a Ruger M 77 then this is the logical rifle to stick with. Just make sure that it is not too light. Such a rifle needs to weigh about 8 pounds for it to be a really nice shooter. A good 3 to 9 scope will be fine as well.