Best Caliber for Cape Buffalo Hunting

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There isn’t much agreement regarding the best caliber for Cape buffalo hunting. They don’t call these Kings of African Dangerous Game Hunts “Black Death” for no reason. We’ve all heard stories about the ferocity of a wounded Cape Buffalo, and anyone who’s been to Africa agrees that they are one of the toughest animals in the world to kill.

One of our hunters shot one SEVEN TIMES with 500 grain solid bullets from a .458 rifle. They tracked it in the thick bush for over 45 minutes for more than a mile, and it took an additional shot by the PH before expiring. Another buff took eleven shots from a .375 and two more from a .470 N.E. We even heard a recent story from one of our hunters about a big Dugga Boy that took nine shots from a .470 and a 500 before hitting the dirt. Are you ready to discuss the best caliber for cape buffalo hunting?

Ernest Hemingway poses with a cape buffalo he shot in 1953.
Ernest Hemingway poses with a cape buffalo he shot in 1953

Cape Buffalo Calibers Used by the Famous “White Hunters”.

In the quest for the best caliber for Cape Buffalo hunting, let’s look at what these guys used on their dangerous game hunts.

It took some big guns to bring the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway and Peter Hathaway Capstick in the mouth of the fatal five and back out again safely (not to mention “the poor man’s buffalo” AKA the Blue wildebeest).

  • Theodore Roosevelt was a fan of an H&H 500/.450 double rifle given to him by a group of admiring Britons and a Winchester .405 1895 rifle.
  • CapstickWestley Richards .470 Double Rifle Best Caliber for Cape Buffalo Hunting was known to use a .470 rifle. The .470 Capstick rifle cartridge was developed by Colonel Arthur B. Alphin in 1990 named after Peter Capstick.
  • Some of the earlier rifles used included the .416 Rigby, 404 Jeffery and the .505 Gibbs.
  • The .505 was a scary rifle with a four inch long cartridge that would fire a 525 grain bullet that is still classified today as a “ destructive device.”
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A classic Westley Richards .470 Double Rifle

Modern Dangerous Game Rifles

When you ask the question: “What is the best caliber for Cape Buffalo hunting”, odds are one of these heavy hitters will be mentioned.

  • Ruger Tropical .375 H&H
  • Browning Bar Safari rifle
  • .500 nitro
  • .460 Weatherby Magnum
  • The .700 nitro and the .950 JOJ are meant for elephants, not cape buffalo hunting.

Best Caliber for Cape Buffalo Hunting

  • Smallest legal rifle for a Cape buffalo is a .375 H&H.
  • .416 either in Rigby or Remington Magnum is the most popular caliber used.
  • Any .400 bore or larger will be more than adequate for dangerous game hunting; .404 Jeffery, .470 Nitro, .458 WM or Lott and .416 Remington.
  • You could justify using a double barrel rifle. Most people prefer a rifle that holds 4-5 rounds.
  • The rifle should be mounted by either open sights or a low powered scope.

Best Bullets for Dangerous Game

  • Soft point Barnes X or TSX are great options for buffalo in a soft.
  • Trophy bonded Bear Claw, Swift A Frame, Woodleigh Weldcore are all good choices
  • Solids Trophy Bonded Sledgehammer is one of the most reliable options for any dangerous game.
  • Woodleigh Solids, Barnes Banded solid are a couple options.
  • You need both solid and soft point bullets. Check out this giraffe hunting video where they started with soft points and had to go to solids….cape buffalo are tougher than a giraffe.
  • Carry no fewer than 15 rounds on your person, in a place where you can get to them quickly.
  • Most if not all airlines have a 5 kilogram rule for ammo. Be sure to take what you need. For a longer safari, like our one in Mozambique.Take 60-80 rounds for the lighter rifle and 30-40 for the heavier rifle.
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If you’re a bowhunter, be sure to check out our article on the best archery setup for Cape Buffalo.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>