Big Bores For Big Bulls

Handguns That Have What It Takes

Freedom Arms Model 83 in .454 Casull was responsible for this big cape buffalo.
The revolver features a T’SOB base with four Weigand rings holding a Leupold
2.5-8x scope. The 300-grain Buffalo Bore Dangerous Game ammo provided a one-shot affair.

Back in 1983 on my first African safari in Zimbabwe, I took a cape buffalo with a T/C Contender in .45-70. Not sure how to explain the experience on my hunting life, but it left a profound, indelible impression. There was something unique, distinctive perhaps, about the challenge, the adrenaline rush of the nerve-wrecking encounter. When you get inside of 50 yards from these large bovines, it’s definitely a heart-pounding situation. After the memorable hunt was finished, I knew this would not be my last buffalo hunt.

Over the years I’ve had the good fortune to hunt multiple buffalo species including those huge water buffalo bulls in Australia and South America plus I’ve taken all the different sub-species in Africa. I am by no means a buffalo hunting expert but I’ve done my fair share and have learned to appreciate and ultimately respect these magnificent creatures.

Mark and Karen are all smiles after days of hard hunting in the rain
forest of Cameroon. This dwarf forest buffalo, taken with a T/C Encore
in 373 JDJ, represents the most challenging of Africa’s buffalo.

Two Things

As a dyed-in-the-wool handgun hunter, I’ve taken all these buffalo with big bore handguns. No, it’s not a stunt by any stretch! After experiencing many hunts for these large beasts, I can confirm big-bore handguns are perfectly capable and decisively effective with the right combination of caliber and bullet. However, before we dive into calibers and details, there are two very important criteria not to be overshadowed — accuracy and penetration.

Proper shot placement on dangerous game can eliminate a lot of headaches and knowing the anatomy of the game is essential — you must know exactly where to place your shot regardless of angle or how the bull is standing. Even mammoth calibers such as the .500 Nitro Express will not compensate for a poorly placed shot.

Secondly, penetration is crucial. Cape buffalo are big animals with large bones, massive muscle tissue and thick, tough hide and the bullet must be capable of busting through all this before reaching the vitals. Premium bullets designed for this very task are not cheap. If you’re looking to cut costs on this type of hunt, look somewhere else. Proper bullet performance is your friend.

In many African countries, the .375 caliber is a minimum requirement for buffalo and similar game. In Africa for example, the quintessential .375 H&H is wildly popular and has taken so much game from the smallest antelope to the largest living terrestrial animals. So, when discussing big bores, we can begin our journey with the .375 caliber.

In handgun hunting circles, the 375 JDJ has a long, successful track record for taking large and dangerous game. The cartridge was designed by JD Jones and is based on the .444 Marlin case. For years, I shot Hornady 270-grain Spire Points and when heavy lifting arose, the 300-grain round nose. After taking all members of Africa’s Big Five plus hippo and croc, along with a wide variety of other large or dangerous game with the 375 JDJ, I have a ton of confidence in its effectiveness.

Many other handgun hunters have experienced stellar performance from this round launched from T/C’s Contender, G2 or Encore platforms. The late Ken French of T/C Arms had an Encore barrel built for me back in the day of Fox Ridge, T/C’s Custom Shop. This handgun has proven itself countless times and I’ll go to the grave with it, even though it’s cost me dearly — it has been responsible for keeping the taxidermist, his wife, girlfriend and three daughters all driving expensive sports cars and flying private jets to their summer homes in Jackson Hole, Wyo.!

While hunting the famed Zambezi Valley in Zimbabwe, I took a dandy bull with the 375 JDJ shooting Hornady 300-grain FMJ. These solids will definitely penetrate with most broadside shots and still leave an exit hole. The cape buffalo was in a herd but it was easy to detect this old bull from the others. Shots on buffalo are seldom long range and this one entailed a 60-yard poke. This incident occurred almost 40 years ago and I still remember the 375 JDJ working so well.

There are several sub-species of buffalo on the African continent, all worthy of pursuit. In Benin, the West African Savanna buffalo is smaller than the cape buffalo in body and horn but just as much of a challenge. Further west in Uganda, the Nile buffalo can be found. On the 10th and final day of our hunt, we followed tracks of two bulls deep into the forest. Luck was definitely with us on this last day when we snuck up to both bulls resting in the shade within 40 yards.

The dwarf forest buffalo is the smallest built African buffalo but the most difficult and challenging to hunt. I struggled with extreme heat and humidity during a 10-day hunt in the rainforest of Cameroon. To the untrained eye, following tracks in this jungle-like environment is humanly impossible. Experienced trackers are necessary if you have any hopes of seeing a bull in the gauntlet of undergrowth.

After days of sweating like a pig and walking for miles in unbearable heat, we finally caught up to a lone bull. You can’t see very far in the rainforest — 25 yards would be a long shot in most cases. The shot was close and I couldn’t actually believe we pulled this off as very few dwarf forest buffalo have been taken with a handgun.

As mentioned earlier, the .45-70 is likewise capable of tackling big bulls. During my first hunt in Zimbabwe, I was shooting 500-grain Hornady solids in a Contender I borrowed from JD Jones. He had opened up the chamber so the bullets would fit.

The .45-70 penetrates well and packs an authoritative punch on both ends — recoil with heavy bullets loaded to the max will do more than get your attention!

Magnum Research’s BFR in .460 S&W Mag is a superb candidate for hunting large or dangerous game.

Mark’s 375 JDJ Encore has proven effective on all of Africa’s buffalo
species, plus a wide variety of other large and dangerous game.

Sixgun Time

You can also successfully face down 15 hundred pounds of attitude and horn with a revolver. Several years ago, I was in the middle of nowhere in a very remote part of the Central African Republic. This is wild Africa in the truest sense. At one time, this country was a mecca for big game but unfortunately, Sudanese poachers have decimated much of a thriving wildlife population.

A Freedom Arms Model 83 in .44 Mag was riding in a Barranti Northwest Hunter holster when we bumped into a lone bull. In this hot and humid region, this sub-specie is recognized as Central African Savanna buffalo and they can vary in size, coloration and horn configuration. We spotted the bull early in the morning while he was walking across a small clearing. After a mean game of hide and seek, we snuck up behind him using sporadic patches of thick bush, closing the distance to 75 yards or so.

The trackers set up shooting sticks as the PH imitated some sort of buffalo sounds that made the buffalo turn around to look. The .44 Magnum held five rounds of Buffalo Bore 305-grain hard cast bullets and I sent one just behind the bull’s shoulder. This was all it took. We all were a bit shocked but elated nevertheless. Others have taken cape buffalo with the .44 Mag. but personally, I prefer a bit more punch.

My most recent hunt for cape buffalo yielded another exciting encounter. This time I was packing a Freedom Arms .454 Casull fitted with a Leupold 2.5-8x scope. Buffalo Bore 300-grain Mono bullets from their “Dangerous Game” series filled the cylinders.

Earlier in the hunt we encountered a couple of herds but only cows, calves and young bulls were seen. On the third day we decided to watch a water hole late in the evening.

Sure enough, as the sun was dropping behind the African horizon, a large herd of buffalo appeared. There were two big old bulls in the mix and I would have been a happy camper with either of them. The problem was getting a clear shot. There were always other buffalo in front or behind one the big bulls, eliminating any possibility of an unobstructed shooting path.

Finally, at 47 yards, one of the bulls stood broadside away from the others, offering a prime, picture-perfect shot. When I tugged the trigger and the hammer dropped, buffalo instantaneously took off in every direction and kicked up so much dust you couldn’t see the target bull any more. However, the shot felt good — and within a matter of 60 seconds, we heard the death bellow.

The bull hadn’t gone 40 yards and was down for keeps. Previously, the trackers and PH were a bit skeptical about the revolver’s capability but when they found the bullet had made a clean exit passing through his vitals, everyone was pleasantly surprised. The .454 Casull has proven to be a worthy option for the biggest critters on this planet.

In Uganda, this big Nile buffalo (above) was taken on the last day
of Mark’s hunt with his 375 JDJ. Smith & Wesson’s 500 S&W Mag.

Mark took this dandy cape buffalo in Zimbabwe. Mark was shooting
a Cor-Bon 440-grain hard cast bullet and took this bull with one shot.

Go Big

When Smith & Wesson first introduced their .500 S&W Mag. I took the large-frame revolver to Zimbabwe for buffalo using Cor-Bon 440-grain hard-cast ammo stuffed into the iron-sighted wheelgun. After a few days of following tracks to no avail, our luck abruptly changed.

On the way to a water source to look for tracks, a lone big bull walked across the dirt path. We eased our way up to the point where he crossed the road. To our disbelief, the bull was standing 55 yards off the road, looking askance. The trackers expeditiously put the shooting sticks in place as I rested the revolver. When the sights leveled on the bull’s shoulder, I sent the massive slug toward this monster. Before we could recover from the unexpected encounter, the death bellow insured the shot was true and our bull was down. A single shot from the .500 S&W Mag put the skinners to work.

Big bores and buffalo go together like vanilla ice cream and mom’s homemade peach cobbler. Hunting these large bovines with a handgun is very exciting and exceptionally rewarding. If you have an insatiable thirst for adventure, a longing for challenge and heart-pounding exhilaration, big bores and buffalo will check all the boxes.

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