Man, how do you possibly rank the top ten African game animals? I mean, the continent has such a diversity of animals that there is great hunting no matter what you’re hunting. From the Big Five to the Tiny Ten, the Spiral Nine to the Dangerous Seven, Africa is an amazing place. Now, I can’t proclaim to have seen even a small amount of the hunting that Africa has to offer, especially north of the equator, but after five safaris in four different countries I’ve done my best to see as much of its diversity as I could afford to. Africa is the best place on earth! Here’s my top ten, even though I haven’t been successful in hunting all of them.
To me, an impala ram is quintessential African plains game. Dainty, athletic, regal; the impala are great sport to hunt. They work together with the vervet monkeys in a symbiotic relationship, each watching guard over the other. Outsmarting all those eyes can be quite the challenge, and a shoulder mount on your wall is a well earned reward.
The smallest of the spiral horns, the bushbuck is one of my favorite antelope to hunt. They like to live in the thick bush on the edge of rivers, which makes the hunting that much more challenging. The multi-colored coat blends perfectly in the dapped light of the riverine thickets. And, they’re one of the few antelope who won’t hesitate to charge when wounded; there have been several people sent to the happy hunting grounds as a result of a wounded bushbuck.
I have a special place for these little warriors. They are quick as lightning, and present a tiny target. Stalking steenbok makes for quite the challenge, as they have great vision and great hearing to boot. My very first shot at African game was finishing off a steenbok ram that a buddy had wounded; it was a 225-yard shot with a .375 H&H. I rested the fore end of the Model 70 into the sticks, and sent that bullet where it needed to be to dispatch the little guy. My own came after a stalk of three hundred yards, and the charisma of these little guys, which had never appealed to me in photos, was forever a part of my African experiences. Don’t overlook the great hunting that the Tiny Ten can offer.
There is no denying the allure of the Wartie. Grunting, looking left-right-left, tails erect; they are much cooler in real life than Pumbaa was in the Lion King. For many hunters, the teeth of a ‘Moustache Pete” are the only ivory in the collection (as it was for me for many years), and warthog pork is absolutely delicious. My wife, who is not a big eater by any means, has been known to consume an entire warthog loin at a sitting. They don’t require a huge rifle, but they can take quite a pounding. I am a sucker for warthog, and I’ve taken two, but there will be many more.
The largest of the antelope, these giants can weigh over a ton, yet are agile enough to jump a ten-foot tall fence from a stand still. If you blow the stalk, the eland will head off at a slow trot that can continue indefinitely, or at least until they are well over the horizon. While the .270s, 7mms and .30s have and will take an eland with a well place shot, using a buffalo gun on an eland certainly isn’t over gunned. The eland is also a herd animal, making the stalk very difficult, let alone the shot. I have taken the Cape eland, but my dream is to one day hunt a Lord Derby.
The gray ghost, the king of the spiral horns. Kudu have been high on everyone’s safari list for over a century, and are the central figure of Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa. Their huge, corkscrew horns can measure over 60” along the curl, and their famous ‘drink-milk’ moustache and delicate white side stripes make them a very striking trophy. Those colors can also make a kudu virtually disappear in the thick brush they inhabit, making them such a valued prize. Although I’ve seen dozens, I don’t have one yet. I shall remedy that very soon.
I haven’t hunted lion—although I’ve been hunted by lion, yet that’s another story—but I’ve seen and heard plenty, and while this is a very specialized safari, I’m happiest when hunting in those blocks where I hear lions roaring at night. Financially, I probably won’t be able to hunt a lion in my lifetime, but the lion deserves this place on the list.
If you’re into the waiting game, and you’re the patient type, leopard is for you. Mr. Spots is a highly intelligent adversary, and requires a hunter who is able to stay focused. He is usually taken over bait, and that requires a good PH and a well-placed shot from you. I have not hunted leopard, well, I have indirectly. Here’s the short version: I was baiting for hyena in Zambia, and happened to draw in a huge, I mean huge, tom leopard. For the want of the trophy fee and the upgraded daily rates I had to pass on a 30 yard, slam-dunk shot. I know my luck: that will never happen again. When that leopard looked up at me in the predawn half-light, my stomach started growling and my eyes were the size of saucers. Leopards are that cool.
Hunting the largest land mammal is among my greatest experiences in my hunting career. Here’s the why: you track them, so it is a suspenseful hunt, and it allows you to bond with the trackers and watch them work their magic. When you do get the shot, it’s up close and personal. My own bull was taken at 16 yards, so close I could see the dust blow off the shoulder from the bullet impact. You’ll need the biggest stick you can shoot well, and a good pair of boots underneath conditioned legs. Elephant hunts are measured in miles. Not to mention in tons. Holding my own ivory is an experience I am glad to have had.
1. Cape Buffalo
If I were forced to hunt only one game species for the rest of my life, it would be the Cape buffalo. They are mean, aggressive when wounded, can take a pounding, and require a hunter to have stamina, nerves of steel and good shooting skills. It is most often a tracking hunt, looking for spoor and dung along the roads, and pursuing the herds on foot. The first shot on buffalo is paramount; screw that up and the buff can really soak up the lead. Place it correctly and you’ll more than likely have your trophy rather quickly. It’s one hunt that will test the mettle of your rifle/scope combination, as well as the ammunition you’ve chosen. Like the elephant, you’ll need good shoes and a good constitution. But, once you’re among the herds, you are alive. And I wouldn’t trade that feeling for the world.
Want to read more from Philip Massaro? Check out the stories below:
• 5 Rifle Cartridges That Need to Make a Comeback
• Top 5 Safari Calibers
• 5 New Year's Resolutions for Hunters
• What Your Favorite Rifle Cartridge Says About You
• America's Most Wanted Cartridges
• America's Strangest Game Laws
• What Your Favorite Rifle Cartridge Says About You, Part II
• Top 5 Overrated Rifle Cartridges
• Top 5 Underrated Rifle Cartridges
• 5 Cartridges You Might Not Know About
• Top 5 Wildcat Cartridges
• An Ode to the Ruger Mini-14
• Top 5 Hog Loads
• Top 5 Deer Bullets
• Why .30-30 Winchester Will Never Die