Affordable Dangerous Game Rifles — Roundup

The active pursuit of dangerous game is far and away my favorite style of hunting. I don’t intend to demean any of the other game animals — I love it all, from rabbits to pheasants to deer — but when dangerous game is on the menu, you have my full and undivided attention. The gear required for hunting dangerous game — specifically the rifle — must be rock solid, as with failure comes the potential for loss of life.

The author hunted Cape buffalo bull in Mozambique. Buffalo is a popular and affordable dangerous game species.

With dangerous game, particularly African dangerous game, comes visions of ornately engraved double rifles and cigar-sized cartridges, of equatorial sun and thirst, and also the wallet, of a well-off gentleman. While those rifles are certainly still relevant (I absolutely love the modern-day Heym 89B double rifle) the price tag of the highest end rifles need not prevent the common hunter from enjoying a dangerous game hunt. There are options, affordable to the working man, which will totally suffice for any dangerous game situation without hesitation.

I was raised in a household where money was a scarcity, and while hunting was a central theme each autumn and winter, when it came to firearms, form followed function. Everything from the choice of cartridge — which was selected to offer the widest selection of hunting applications — to the need for simple things like checkering were considered; my Dad still retains the ability to find a rifle that is bare-bones and scoffs at my appreciation for fine walnut. That said, a rifle’s engraving never stopped a charge, and the finest color-case hardening doesn’t make a rifle any more accurate. Let’s look at some affordable, yet dependable options for a dangerous game rifle, and what features I consider a necessity.

Action types.

Undoubtedly, if you’re on a budget, the double rifles are pretty much off of the menu. Even the most affordable will start at right around $5,000. That will leave us with the bolt-action, the single shot and the lever gun. The lever guns, chambered to .45-70 Government using hopped up loads, .450 Marlin or perhaps .405 Winchester, have been used with varying degrees of success, but certainly lack the capability of those cartridges that work best in the bolt guns. Single shots are a viable option, but realize: that using a single shot rifle will more than likely result in your professional hunter (PH) joining the soirée, so if you’re comfortable with that so be it. For our discussion, we’ll narrow it to the bolt-action rifles.

The author took this  Zambian buffalo bull with a Winchester Model 70 Safari Express in .416 Remington.

Cartridge Choices.

Considering that the law prescribes a minimum bore diameter of .375 inches across almost all the African continent for dangerous game, our rifle choices will include those chambering for the .375 H&H and .375 Ruger as the smallest choices. Furthermore, for affordable rifles, our cartridge selection will more than likely top off at the .458 Winchester Magnum or .458 Lott. While both of these calibers will be at the ends of the spectrum, there are some good choices in the middle, like the .416 Rigby, Remington and Ruger.

Solid Options

The CZ550 American Safari Magnum. A rugged and dependable rifle, the CZ550 uses a Mauser-style claw extractor and a fixed, blade ejector. That combination has proven itself for over a century, and it is the nucleus of what I consider to be the best dangerous game bolt rifles. CZ stocks the American Safari Magnum for low-mounted optics yet includes a good set of iron sights in the express configuration. With a single standing rear sight and two folding leaves for greater distances, the CZ550 American Safari Magnum gives a bunch of value for the investment. The single-set trigger, which becomes significantly lighter when the shooter pushes forward on the rear of the trigger, makes distant shots on plains game much easier. Should you encounter the kudu of a lifetime while returning from a blown stalk on a buffalo, this rifle will have no issues making a distant shot. The MSRP on the CZ550 ASM, chambered in the universal .375 H&H Belted Magnum, is a mere $1,215, and the .416 Rigby is $1,318. Considering that amount of money puts a perfectly viable dangerous game rifle in your hands, this is a whole lot of rifle. I have found the stocks on CZ550s to feel a bit bulky, but they have a reputation for being strong, even with truly hard-kicking rifles. If you seek reliability on safari, the CZ550 is hard to beat.

The Winchester Model 70 Safari Express features Winchester’s field-proven pre ’64 full-length claw extractor, which makes it an attractive option for advocates of the controlled round feeding for dangerous-game rifles. Photo Courtesy: Winchester

The Winchester Model 70 Safari Express. The Rifleman’s Rifle is right at home on the dark continent, especially in this configuration. Using the classic pre-’64 controlled round feed action, the Safari Express has what it takes to get the job done. As a matter of fact, there have been a couple of safaris where the only rifle I brought along was a Winchester 70 Safari Express in .416 Remington, a very flexible cartridge that can handle anything on earth. A matte finish on both the metal and stock, dual crossbolts — important to prevent stock cracks — and all-steel hinged floorplate are all nice appointments.

The author has taken a Winchester Model 70 in .416 Rigby to hunt Africa.

A recessed crown, perfect for maintaining accuracy, and two recoil lugs (both bedded), classic Winchester three-position safety and a 1-inch Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad round out the list of very useful features. The Safari Express wears a good set of iron sights, with the single rear sight being fully adjustable for windage and elevation, yet is stocked for use with optics as well. A barrel-band sling swivel mount will prevent that front stud from slamming into your off hand under heavy recoil. My own rifle, one of the late New Haven models, uses a set of quick release mounts, so I can easily and quickly remove the scope, should I be forced a follow-up shot on a wounded dangerous animal into the thick bush. My rifle is still very accurate — printing just under 1-MOA with my hand loaded ammo. And I’d take that rifle for any hunt, including elephant. Weight, before optics, runs right around an even 9 pounds, and these rifles balance and carry very well. The Safari Express is available in .375 H&H Magnum, .416 Remington Magnum and .458 Winchester Magnum, all at an MSRP of $1,560.

The Ruger Hawkeye African features a Mauser-style claw extractor and fixed blade ejector for dependable cycling. Photo Courtesy: Ruger

The Ruger Hawkeye African. Ruger has always been synonymous with value because they’ve consistently provided features that a shooter needs at a price point that represents value. From the original tang-safety Ruger Model 77, to the Model 77 MKII, to today’s Hawkeye series, the Ruger bolt-action rifles have remained dependable. The Hawkeye African is built smart, especially for a hunter on a budget. For the dangerous game species, the Hawkeye African comes in a pair of chamberings, which Ruger developed in conjunction with Hornady ammunition: the .375 Ruger and .416 Ruger. Both of these cartridges have proven themselves on all species of dangerous game. The Hawkeye African uses a Mauser-style claw extractor and a fixed blade ejector for dependable cycling, and a wing-style three position safety. A removable muzzlebrake is a great feature for introducing a shooter to the big bore cartridges, though I’m pretty certain that all the PHs would appreciate it you removed the brake for hunting. Ruger uses the same integral scope recesses in the receiver as other Hawkeye models, but offers the wide-V safari style rear sight, and a bold white bead on the front sight for quick target acquisition with iron sights. The LC6 trigger is a decided improvement over the MKII-era triggers; not too light for work on dangerous game, and not so heavy (as with the MKII) that accuracy is affected. Ruger has built the Hawkeye African with a one-piece solid steel bolt, and include a barrel-band sling mount. I like that Ruger has shaped their stocks very close to the dimensions and feel of those rifles of lesser caliber, offering continuity. I’ve had the opportunity to spend a bit of time with the Hawkeye African in .375 Ruger, and found it to be a well-balanced, nice handling rifle. If you feel you’d like a bit more cartridge than one of the .375s, do not hesitate to look into the .416 Ruger; I’ve loaded a considerable amount of ammunition for it, and have found it to be just as capable as the .416 Rigby or Remington.

The Savage Model 116 Bear Hunter smartly features a hinged floorplate instead of a detachable magazine. Photo Courtesy: Savage

The Savage Model 116 Bear Hunter. This one’s a sleeper, in that the Savage line of rifles — while a popular choice for North American game, as well as African plains game — isn’t generally thought of as a dangerous game choice. However, the Bear Hunter configuration is available in .375 Ruger, a perfectly viable choice for all dangerous game up to and including the elephant. The Bear Hunter comes with some features that differ from the popular Savage Models, and I feel they apply perfectly to the pursuit of dangerous game. Firstly, the Bear Hunter comes with an adjustable muzzlebrake, which will allow a shooter to dial the rifle in off the bench without the recoil associated with the big bore cartridges. Secondly, the stock uses a hinged floorplate in lieu of a detachable magazine, and that is a really good idea with dangerous game. Even a poorly constructed floorplate, let alone a detachable magazine, can get you killed if it were to dump your cartridges in the heat of things. I’ve used the Savage Bear Hunter stock in a smaller caliber for years, and it is rock solid. The standard Savage features are included: the AccuTrigger, the button-rifled barrel, ambidextrous tang-safety and the floating bolt-head. My gripes? There are no iron sights, which I feel are important, but I see fewer and fewer hunters embracing iron sights anymore, so maybe it’s not as important as I think. With a camouflage synthetic stock, it lacks the look of a classic dangerous game rifle, but it will definitely get the job done. Carrying an MSRP of $1,135, this rifle, with its stainless steel finish, will serve a hunter who has visions of both Alaska and Africa.

The Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker black polymer and stainless finish make it ready to encounter all conditions afield. Photo Courtesy: Browning

The Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker, Open Sights. The X-Bolt is also available in a dangerous game configuration, in their Stainless Stalker. Black polymer stock, matte stainless finish, iron sights, and chambered in the classic .375 H&H Magnum, this gun will serve well. The 60-degree bolt throw makes for fast reloading, and the receiver is drilled and tapped for a scope. The Browning bolt guns use the push feed design, but they’ve been reliable in my experiences. If I had to find some gripes with this rifle, it’d probably be with the detachable magazine (they don’t make sense on a dangerous game gun), and with the weight of the rifle. It tips the scales at a mere 6 lbs., 13 oz., and that’s definitely light for a .375 H&H Magnum. But, with a suggested price of $1,180, you could add a mercury recoil reducer and still be well ahead of the game, when compared to some of the higher end bolt guns.

Takeaway Lessons

A dangerous game rifle is something that you will stake your life on, so make sure it has the features and fit that you need. I have a definite personal preference for the controlled round feed rifles, but have many friends who use — with great success — the push feed guns; in the end, it will boil down to your preference. On the grand scale, I’d rather see a hunter buy a reliable, yet affordable rifle and make the trip, than own a rifle with fancy engraving and high-grade wood, just to let it sit in the safe.

To learn more about the CZ 550 American Safari Magnum, click http://cz-usa.com/product/cz-550-american-safari-magnum-375-hh-5-rd-fixed-mag/.

To learn more about the WinchesterModel 70 Safari Express, click http://www.winchesterguns.com/products/rifles/model-70/model-70s-in-current-production/model-70-safari-express.html.

To learn more about the Ruger Hawkeye African, click http://www.ruger-firearms.com/products/HawkeyeAfrican/models.html.

To learn more about the Savage 116 Bear Hunter, click https://www.savagearms.com/firearms/model/16BH.

To learn more about the Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker open sights, click http://www.browning.com/products/firearms/rifles/x-bolt/current-production/x-bolt-stainless-stalker-open-sights.html.

To purchase a bolt-action rifle for dangerous game on GunsAmerica, click https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?Keyword=safari.

{ 23 comments… add one }
  • Charles R. Erps July 24, 2017, 3:18 pm

    Although you can buy a very nice used car for the price of a double square bridge Mauser action it has been the basis of some of the finest dangerous game rifles ever manufactured. When you consider the cost of a Holland and Holland double rifle the Mauser seems like a bargain in comparison. It’s disadvantage being the fact that follow-up shots require the hunter to cycle the bolt, but on the other hand, the hunter is afforded more than one follow-up shot.

  • bjg July 24, 2017, 1:31 pm

    Few years back I had a smokeless Action Winchester 1886 re-barreled to .50/110. Would get 350 gr. cast bullets to 2100 fps.
    and Hard Cast 510 gr to a round 1800fps. However recoil was terrible with the 510 bullets. Do believe it would have killed something large. Twenty years ago I owned an English double rifle in .500 3/14 . Would send a 450 gr bullet at about 1900fps. Killed a wild bore and hit a tree behind the bore and went clear though the tree about 18″ in Dia. Recoil was very mild compared to the 1886 Winchester

  • Hank July 24, 2017, 12:57 pm

    CZ is the Blue collar big bore of the shooting world, you left out the .505 Gibbs and the .500 Jeffery. With minor work they will feed and perform great for a fraction the cost of a custom rifle or double.The CZ platform is also a great place to start for wildcat cartridges, I had one made in 600 Overkill…alot of fun, 900 grains at 2400fps. I have never hunted big game, but I can tell you the CZ in .500 Jeffery is a hog stomper, and if you don’t hunt it kills water jugs dead. With any Big Bore reloading will make shooting it much more affordable.

    • Charles R. Erps July 24, 2017, 5:39 pm

      I would imagine 900 grains at 2400 fps must have produced brutal recoil. Did you have a muzzle brake installed? Any other recoil reducers? I’ve fired Weatherbys .460 Magnum and it was not that uncomfortable to shoot from a standing position, but I wouldn’t want to make a steady diet of it.

      • Hank July 24, 2017, 7:36 pm

        Charles, I have a very effective muzzle brake on the rifle it is a necessity at 2400fps. The rifle also weighs 13 pounds. The recoil at 2100-2200 fps is not as sharp as the 460 Roy, but is starts to get serious above that really quick. The other thing I never experienced with any other caliber is having the rifle trying to twist itself out of your hands while coming back at you. I have never fired it from a bench, only standing, like you said. I’m not that brave (crazy)

  • Godfrey Daniel July 24, 2017, 10:51 am

    Okay, here’s my stupid question: Why do many big game/dangerous game rifles have the front sling swivel mounted on the barrel and not the fore stock?

    • Campbell King July 24, 2017, 1:12 pm

      Two reasons on sling mount…If on stock it can hit your front hand from recoil and these rifles are heavy,meaning it can wear and pull loose over time

      • Godfrey Daniel July 24, 2017, 2:19 pm

        Thanks, C.K. Makes sense, I guess.

  • triggerpull July 24, 2017, 7:09 am

    I haven’t hunted dangerous game with it–but have you considered Mossberg’s new Patriot line of rifles? I bought one in 375 ruger marine coat with walnut laminate stock at an amazing low price point of $450. Worth twice that IMO.

  • BUURGA July 24, 2017, 3:17 am

    You know, looking at the face of that dead animal almost could get me to understand people who think people who kill things for fun may be worse than their targets.

    • Wayne R Cook July 24, 2017, 7:32 am

      Except for the fact that older animals must be culled for the health of the herd

      • Dewey July 24, 2017, 7:47 am

        Does that apply to all species? How did animals ever get along before we came along?

        • WVinMN July 24, 2017, 9:13 am

          Others predators performed the same role. And many of them usually did so in a far more cruel manner. As in, eating their prey prior to actually killing it. But that’s OK in Marxist fantasy land, ’cause they’re not evil human beings!

        • Charles R. Erps July 24, 2017, 4:55 pm

          We weren’t much more than animals ourselves when we “came along” and I’m sure we were pray quite often. The thing that set us apart was the fact that we had a large brain for our size and were able to come together to achieve a common goal, such as killing a Woolly Mastodon to feed the tribe.

      • larry July 24, 2017, 9:34 am

        Pretty sure there are plenty of predators to take care of that …

    • WVinMN July 24, 2017, 9:10 am

      So, I guess it’s ok to enjoy your death when someone else deals it? And, oh yeah, make sure it’s wrapped in plastic and placed on a meat diaper in order to wick up all that icky blood. And, as you walk away from the butcher counter at your local grocery store (in your $100 leather Birkenstocks, I’m sure) does your face just scream regret at the cardinal sin you just played a part in? Or, are you a self-righteous “vegan”, who never chisel plowed a field, mowed hay, or combined grain, literally turning anything into chum that unfortunately gets in the way? No worries. Just virtue signal a bit and that makes it A-OK. Right, Buurga?

    • Charles R. Erps July 24, 2017, 3:31 pm

      I’m quite sure that the meat from the kill will be consumed in due time. Either by the indigenous people or by other 4 legged predators. That being said, how do you like your steak? Medium, rare, or well done?

    • Roger S July 25, 2017, 11:24 am

      Just pretend he’s sleeping and go back an enjoy your hummus.

  • martianone July 19, 2017, 5:38 am

    Have hunted large dangerous game that can and will fight back, if given the chance. Firearms included a single shot Ruger (458 win), Marlin lever gun in 45-70 and. Rem 70 Safari model (375 H&H). All three have been highly effective. The Marlin was easy to carry and very fast in thick brush, broadside shots in a buffs boiler room with some stoked cast bullets was quite effective. The Ruger, I practiced reloading this gun – the single shot is not really that much of a draw back.
    So about a dozen years ago I started looking for a “real safari rifle”. Best advice I got from a PH about what gun to use, he asked “what firearm do you take woodchuck hunting?”. When I was a teenage, one day my father brought home a Rem 700 chambered in a just released wildcat cartridge, 22-250. Well, for years, I assassinated lots of woodchucks with that rifle- finally shot the bore pretty smooth. It would regularly shoot out the center of a clay bird at 200 yds. So, listening to PH’s advice, Got a Cape buffalo target, mounted it on a board in the bushes in my yard. Then went through my gun cabinet. Practiced pointing quickly with the Marlin lever and Ruger SS (these had already been field proven). I know the Marlin was sort of scoffed at, it really worked well. Then I tried a Ruger bolt, I think the fit was not right for me. Then on to a Win 70, stock was too much meant for a scope- wanted greater scope/Fe sight flexibility. I was able to try a Kreighof double rifle, wow that was nice- deeper $ than I wanted to invest. Don’t have a browning or weatherby. Tried the Rem 700, echoing PH’s advice- there was a certain feeling about this rifle that said use me. So I ordered from Rem’s custom shop a Safari model in 375 H&H, stocked to a specified length, really high front site and receiver sight, mounting for Leupold low power scope. The barrel is a 22 in long, shorter than some safari models. Worked up some 325 gr handloads to give 2300 fps, cuts a ragged hold at 100 yds, shoots game like it is radar guided. Has worked great on woodchucks, buffalo and game in between.

    • Michael E. Hensley July 24, 2017, 5:58 am

      🙂 I like that!!, Woodchucks with a .375

      • Beachhawk July 24, 2017, 4:42 pm

        I imagine that .375 H&H pretty much vaporizes a woodchuck! No follow-up shots required.

        • Frank July 25, 2017, 12:46 am

          I vaporized a Chipmunk with my S&W 500 revolver, once. I found the tail.

    • John Bibb July 24, 2017, 12:21 pm

      ***
      HI MN–like the U.S. Air Force likes to say, “OVERKILL!–isn’t always a bad thing!”
      ***
      The chucks probably end up on the Moon.
      ***
      John Bibb
      ***

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