African Cats

African Cats

The world of cartridges has now reached a degree of madness that defies belief.  Barely a month goes by that one company or another does not introduce a new “factory” round — most of them merely duplicating what already exists, and almost all eminently forgettable.

How many of these will still be around in five years — that is, chambered in a factory rifle with factory ammunition available — is anyone’s guess.  I suspect not many.  Most will have gone to their reward like the so-called “short magnums” that proliferated 15 or 20 years ago.  A couple are still around, but not exactly robust; the others have wandered off into oblivion.

This would not matter, were it not for the fact that a few people bought the rifles and are now unable to obtain ammunition.  For one or two, even brass for reloading sells at a stiff premium, if you can find it at all.

For the past 50 years, at least, everyone from gun writers to professional hunters have been warning prospective safari clients that it is very risky to go to Africa with a rifle chambered for a wildcat cartridge.  Now, the same can be said for many of these new factory wunderkind.

There are several dangers.  With a wildcat, where a cartridge is formed from another case with a different headstamp, your ammunition will not match your rifle.  Some African countries have very specific regulations about the amount of ammunition you can take in, and a few stipulate that it must match your own firearm.  This came about, I think, because clients used to bring in hard-to-get ammunition, like .416 Rigby or .4709 NE, for their PH, even if they did not have such a rifle themselves.

Whatever the reason, I have had customs officials examine every single round of ammunition, trying to match the headstamp to the caliber mark on the rifle barrel.

Another, and greater, danger is that your ammunition will get lost in transit, and you will have to try to obtain some locally, or else use a borrowed rifle on your very expensive African trip.  There are very, very few cartridges that are readily available in African countries, especially those with a limited safari industry.  The ‘A’ list includes .30-06, .303 British, .308 Winchester, and .458 Winchester Magnum; on the ‘B’ list are the 7mm Remington Magnum, .300 Winchester Magnum, and .270 Winchester.

Depending on the country, you might find some European calibers like the 8×57 or 7×57, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Finally, there is always the danger of running into some restriction regarding the importation of “military” calibers.  This particular problem has been around for more than a century, beginning in (I believe) some British colonies, such as Sudan, where after 1905 you could not import anything in .450 or, later, in .303 British.  Today, in countries where poaching is rampant and the rifles used are generally AK-47s or FN-FALs, there might be a prohibition on 7.62×39 or .308 Winchester — the latter because it is the same cartridge as the 7.62×51 NATO.

Obviously, the place to start in deciding what to bring on safari is to talk with your professional hunter right at the beginning, and stay in touch with him until your day of departure.  Regulations change, often, seemingly, at the whim of some official who thinks he knows more than he does.

There is a final consideration which has nothing to do with legality and everything to do with taste and values.  Twenty years ago, during the heyday of custom-rifle making, clients spending ten or twelve grand for a custom rifle almost always stipulated that it be a .30-06, .270 Winchester, or something similar.  Today, when these rifles come up for sale at auction, anything in an unusual caliber, whether it is a wildcat, a short-lived wunderkind, or an oddball like the 7mm STW, brings considerably less money.

Classic rifles, which these are, demand classic cartridges.  Fortunately, it is the classic cartridges (.30-06 et al) which are recognizable to customs officials, and which can be found in most parts of Africa.

Now, you may ask:  Where does the 6.5 Creedmoor fit in?  It is, right now, the hottest cartridge extant, billed as the finest round since the .30-06 for everything from long-range target shooting to hunting in thick brush.  You might be able to find some, in some parts of Africa, but I wouldn’t depend on it.  And anyway, practically speaking, what will it do that the .270 Winchester or .30-06 will not?  The short answer is, little or nothing.  It is still best to stick with the classics.

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