There are entire books, forums and websites dedicated to the choice of a proper projectile for African dangerous game, and rightfully so—those animals are, after all, dangerous. But there are many more species of what are collectively referred to as plains game—those antelope, swine and other smaller species of game animals—which offer great sport, even in the dangerous game blocks of Africa. A plains game safari is affordable compared to a brown bear, moose, Cape buffalo or one of the cats, and you probably already own a rifle suitable for most species of plains game, if the proper projectile is employed.
I’ve used quite a few different bullets across 10 safaris, and have loaded even more for various hunters headed on safari. The tougher species—namely eland, wildebeest and zebra—will require a different level of performance than the lighter and softer animals like impala, springbok, kudu and duiker. Plan for the largest species you intend to hunt, and be overgunned for the lesser species. Let’s take a look at some good choices for your plains game safari, in no particular order.
1. Swift A-Frame While heralded by the big-bore shooters, the Swift A-Frame makes an excellent choice for a medium-caliber plains game rifle, especially if eland are on the menu. On my first safari, I loaded my .300 Winchester Magnum with 200-grain Swift A-Frames, and they served me very well. The A-Frame is like a Nosler Partition on steroids in that it has the copper partition between the two cores, but the front core is bonded to the jacket. It might not have the best ballistic coefficient (BC) out there, but at normal safari distances, it poses no handicap. I’ve taken it to 350 yards—and even a bit further—with excellent results. If you feel your cartridge is on the light side, load a heavy-for-caliber A-Frame and sally forth.
2. Nosler Partition The original premium bullet still makes a good choice for an all-around plains game bullet, as the design allows for good expansion, yet will give the penetration needed for tough shoulder bones and thick hides. A .30-06 Springfield with a good 180-grain Partition will handle almost all the plains game species, including zebra, wildebeest and eland. The front half of the bullet is soft enough to open reliably on smaller species, and the Partition and rear core drives deep into the bigger species.
3. Federal Trophy Bonded Tip This little gem is an update of the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, but with a polymer tip and better ogive, available in common calibers. Federal has long loaded this bullet in their factory ammunition, but it is now available in component form for the handloaders. I just took this bullet—handloaded in the .300 H&H and .280 Ackley Improved—to Namibia in the midst of a terrible drought. This equated to longer shots, out to 300 and 350 yards, and I couldn’t keep these bullets inside an animal, including gemsbok, mountain zebra and eland. They’re accurate, hit hard and leave wonderful wound channels that result in a quick kill. The Trophy Bonded Tip has a sleek ogive and a boattail, perfect for longer shots, and the forward-positioned lead core is bonded to the jacket. They expand reliably, even at lower velocities. And everything I’ve said about the Trophy Bonded Tip can be said about its cousin, the Federal Edge TLR. Both are excellent choices.
4. Sierra GameKing and ProHunter The traditional cup-and-core bullets, if they are of proper sectional density, can work very well on African plains game. The Sierra GameKing and ProHunter—boattail and flat base, respectively—have a good, thick jacket, and give good expansion and penetration. If impact velocities are radically high, the possibility of jacket/core separation exists with boattail bullets, but I've seen the Sierra perform very well in Africa. I certainly prefer heavy-for-caliber choices like the 150-grain .270s, 160- and 175-grain 7mms, and 180-grain .30s. If your rifle shoots them well, there’s no good reason to leave the Sierras at home.
5. Barnes TSX/TTSX If you like the monometal bullet designs, it’s hard to beat a Barnes. The hollowpoint TSX and the polymer-tipped TTSX certainly hit hard and penetrate deep, often giving complete pass-throughs. If your hunting list includes a wide variety of species—you could very easily see kudu, impala, duiker and zebra in the same day—opt for the bullet which will handle the toughest out there, and the Barnes duo will fit the bill. They make a good choice whether the shooting is close-in, as many of the bushveld areas offer, or on the longer side, as you may find in the Karoo or Kalahari. They’re available in both loaded ammunition as well as component form.
6. Cutting Edge Raptor Pennsylvania’s Cutting Edge Bullets have been excellent performers on safari, in ‘standard’ calibers like .30-06, .300 Win. Mag. and 7mm Rem. Mag., or when using lighter bullet weights in the .375 H&H. The bullet’s ogive is designed to break into small blades upon impact, with the blades creating their own wound channel, and the base remaining at caliber dimension for deep penetration. I like the performance of the 235-grain Raptor in the .375 H&H for plains game; it mates well with the heavier dangerous game bullets. My .300 Winchester likes the 150-grain Raptor, giving a very flat trajectory, yet giving enough penetration for a quick kill. The bullets are cut on a lathe, so they are highly uniform. Available in component form, you should give them a try in your rifle.
7. Norma Oryx Vastly overlooked, the Norma Oryx is a great bullet, giving a blend of expansion and penetration via chemically bonding the rear of the jacket to the lead core. This idea allows the front of the bullet to expand like a standard cup-and-core bullet, yet prevents jacket/core separation, so retained weight stays high and the bullet can penetrate deeply. They are very accurate, and while they don’t possess the highest BC values, they’re sleek enough for general hunting work. I’ve had excellent results with the Oryx in the 6.5-284 Norma, as well as the .308 Win. and .300 Win. Mag.; I wouldn’t hesitate to make this my full-time plains game bullet.
8. Woodleigh Weldcore Australia’s Woodleigh Bullets have embraced the traditional bullet profile used in the Kynoch ammunition of yesteryear. However, they have bonded the jacket and core, so in addition to being accurate, they are tough as well. I have spent a bunch of time with them in my .318 Westley Richards, taking deer here in the U.S., as well as taking the classic cartridge to Zimbabwe, where the Weldcores handled a big Burchell’s zebra stallion as well as a handsome old kudu bull, with one shot each. The recovered bullet was a textbook mushroom, performing just as any hunter of the last century would want. The Weldcore is a round nose design, but inside 200 yards that poses no issue.
This list includes good designs, but there are more, too many to list. When you plan your safari, picking out the cartridge/bullet combination is a big part of the fun, and I hope this list will get you thinking about some different possibilities. I enjoy trying new bullets, and finding new combinations that work well; I’ve had some PHs start out as doubters, and by the time I left, I’d changed their minds. Use a cartridge worthy of the spectrum of African plains game, top it with a good bullet, and you’ll have a fantastic safari.