The Dangerous Five (there are 6, really
Why are they called "The Big 5 "?
Certainly the leopard is not big but it has a big heart. A fully grown male lion certainly is big, and its head is almost unbelievably large - as is its mouth when opened in a yawn. The rhino is more of an enigma than to look dangerous, and few hunters out here shoot them - only the Chinese sponsored horn poachers - which is a big problem in South Africa because we have so many white rhino. A sudden close encounter with a sleeping rhino when on a hike quickly dispenses one's false sense of it not being dangerous. I know that from personal experience.
A hippo is large and fat with an impressive head but looks too bulky to possess any agility - until you have seen it swing around and charge. Together with crocodile it still is the biggest killer of inhabitants of rural areas. The mass of a Cape buffalo is immediately evident but that is not intimidating in itself; what is intimidating is its aggressive disposition and facial expression - at best the disinterested way it looks at you, and at worst the unmistakable expression of utter revile which emanates from him - it is an aura of total contempt for your arrogance to be within its personal space. Robert Ruark said it first and I cannot express it neater: "He looks at you as if you owe him money".
Then there is the elephant. Those (at first sight by the visitor) apparently gentle giants who are so sure of themselves that they will walk a few yards past you where you are enjoying your sundowner, or reading a book in camp without even acknowledging your presence. One has to only once witness the immense strength of these animals to be really afraid of them. I firmly believe that no elephant has ever tested the ultimate ability of its power, considering the effortless ease with which even a young bull will flip a car onto its back. To see in a video the instantaneous anger of a cow that nonchalantly tosses a fully grown 1,800 lb. buffalo feet into the air because it had not moved out of the way of her and her calf. Or the effortless ease with which they can push over a huge marula tree to get to a few shoots of fresh leaves at the top and then casually walk on as if nothing more than simple foraging has happened.
It seems the hunters of old expressed their respect for these five animals by calling them "big" for the display of big character they possess to attack the hunter who did not display sufficient strength of character himself to kill it outright with a close-in brain shot. It seems they detest the cowardly 50 yard shot which is flinched into the lungs by a nervous hunter who should not have been there in the first place - because he relied on a heavy kicking magnum rifle and not on having the guts to come up close enough and kill it outright with a brain shot, and used a lesser cartridge that allows for perfect placement. It seems they detest the weakness of "buck fever" (which is the symptom of the lack of an instinct for resolute killing) and which causes flinching, and decide that after that insult to them you need to be tested and punished - and may the best man win.
The best rifle for the visiting hunter for elephant and Cape buffalo? Without a doubt a .375 H&H with 300 gr best quality premium bullets like Barnes TSX or any of the South African designed monolithic expanding or, as is my own choice: solids.
Assassinating leopard over bait is the way it has been done for at least 100 years and there is nothing to it except for the not insignificant subsequent problem of the odd visiting hunter, under the pressure of the moment of truth, due to ingrained indoctrination who instinctively shoots for "centre mass" (common practice in Colorado on deer and the biggest travesty of shot placement dogma in the US - both on animals and felon man) and not into the heart. Please, be kind to your PH and his future life and put the bullet exactly where he had coached you beforehand to break the leopard's heart and not that of his wife and kids. The soft recoiling .308W / 30-06 / 7x57 with heavy soft points are ample.
Leopard are prolific in all hunting areas but are rarely seen. At the new hunting camp I built in Niassa, Mozambique I identified the tracks of four within half a mile either side of camp, heard them "roar" an hour after sunset, heard it nightly catching a baboon but never saw one in my daily - and for reason quite observant - walks when out hunting. Without any doubt my tracker and I have passed within spitting distance as we could smell it on a few occasions.
The photo almost, but not quite, epitomises my biggest concern when hunting along the river banks and scaling them in Mozambique. In early autumn it is particularly risky due to the very dense vegetation. The only negotiable access and exits to and from the river are via tunnels made by hippo in the impenetrable elephant grass from where the bank starts and for about 50 yrds onto the flood plain. These tunnels are 5 ft. high and 5 ft wide, with no direct sunlight.
Meeting a hippo outside the water is no idle encounter as they feel terribly insecure anytime a human being is within 40 yards or so. Negotiating these tunnels I have often observed that the average encounter would be at about ten yards. That would mean an instant charge. As a rule my tracker normally walks in front and I follow about five yards behind him. Along these tunnels I walk in front with the .416 Rigby carried ready, with Ricardo close behind and to my right. Shot placement in the photo needs to be 2.5-3 inches north-east of the right eye.
Due to cry baby snowflake liberals seen on TV and their emotional outbursts the in the media, and based on untruths, lion hunting has become an embarrassment for Americans. It needs not be.
We can go lion hunting in the unfenced wilderness of Northern Mozambique or Zimbabwe where we will hunt for tracks of a big male, shoot one or two waterbuck, hartebeest or whatever as bait, leave these in strategic positions and check on them three times a day and go and assassinate your lion as has been done for visiting hunters the past 100 years in Africa.
Or like the photos show we can go to a 100,000 acre property with 12' high fences (required by law to protect neighbouring communities) , drop trackers at various places, walk ourselves around until we find the fresh tracks of a free ranging pride and start following them. The lion will know that somewhere there is a boundary which blocks their retreat from the pesky following humans. Once we get within 200 yards of them, despite us being down wind they will know they are being pushed and that somewhere ahead they will not be able to retreat any further.
The hunter who gets taken to private land WILL shoot his lion head-on. Face to face, because lion can be pushed for only so long and then they turn on the pusher. Your shot will have to be from the one knee kneeling position to have the rifle down at his heart level if he is approaching. He may not charge before about 20 yards but he WILL display a keen interest in one of us. (You will not stand for my bull terrier to approach you in this fashion - take it from me, so do not take hunting lion where a property is fenced as anything else but the real thing). That rifle with which you kill your lion at 20-15 yards you will never sell.
This is about the only job for a .458 Win Mag in Africa but a .375 H&H or 9.3x62 with 270gr Peregrine VRG-3 Bushmaster or GS Custom copper bullets is advised. Hornady Interlocks too.
Hunter guts and adrenaline when lion hunting? When your PH whispers: "Sshhucks.. Watch that fool female closely but don't shoot!".
Ever since I attended an elephant cull in Rhodesia many years ago (22 elephant dead in 90 seconds by two shooters with 7.62 x 51) I do not want to end this huge animal's life with a puny little bullet anymore. But here's the deal on elephant hunting:
The photos are very typical: Say we have tracked and found and stalked this bull against the shifting wind drifts and now we want to get in close (20 yards max) for the kill. Slowly we move out from behind the dense brush that we used as cover. You want a brain shot but he keeps walking into the midday breeze and the young tree stump keeps on shielding his brain and we step back behind the bush as the opportunity for changing to heart shot through the shoulders was too short.
Then he is behind the thorn brush to the left and we stealthily move to where he was in the photo, your guide shaking the ash bag to test the wind all the time.
We go around the thorn bush and there he is - ten yards away - rear end on and standing quite still, meaning he has sensed something. Then the ash drifts back towards him and your PH whispers: "Shit... be ready!" and lifts his rifle. He might as well have shouted it out aloud as in a flash the ten yards away, big, round behind of an elephant turns into the ten yards away enquiring face of an elephant, ears lifted and whipping forward, trunk down - and finding three hated humans already 30 yards into his comfort zone. Then he comes with no display of dust kicking or ear flapping.
Today, here, you can be sure that your shot will be echoed by another one. And do not blame the guy - it is called risk management. Just in case.
"He looks at you as if you owe him money". This one nearly gave me a hard time. It would have been the dream Cape buffalo hunt for a visitor as this dude new all the tricks. He was aggressive, resolute to get me, and kept on advancing - keeping brush between us which would have made any shot risky. Hunting pressure is high in this area and the fact that I was shooting with my Nikon 5100 still cheesed him off.
An ex Air Force colleague was after nyala here with his .303 Brit. Leon likes the light, fast Impala 130gr machined bullets. On entering the dense brush the guide gave him his own .375 H&H, saying that the 300 gr. Peregrines would be better. They had not gone 200 yards when they were charged by a buffalo cow from behind a dense bush and Leon brained her at 7 yards, even remembering to aim 1.5 inches high for the scope above the bore line. She was stil charging with the nose high (a sign of aggression and focus) just before the last moment lowering the head to scoop you up with one horn.
One often reads debates in US gun forums by inexperienced buffalo-hunters-to-be analysing the merits of soft points and solids - which to shoot first and why. A soft nose bullet will only be an asset if a slight rear angled shot can be put into the heart. The hunter must always be prepared to put the bullet through the shoulder bone or the brain, so do not even carry soft points. The flat mephlat Peregrine VRG-2 from .37" calibre and higher creates a large enough wound channel and no further expansion is needed on any animal. You do not plan to let the animal die from blood being pumped out by the heart - you want to stop the brain from functioning within seconds after the shot by stopping the heart - if it had not been a brain shot in the first instance.