As promised, here's the next installment of caliber selection for my safari. As mentioned earlier, I'm not going to be hunting any of the Big Five, so I won't need any of the .400-caliber or larger rounds. But I do plan to at least try for a kudu and/or eland, and that's pushing the capability of even the best bullets in a .30-'06 or .308 Winchester. So what should I use for a 'medium' safari rifle?
The gold standard is the classic .375 Holland & Holland Magnum. It's the standard for good reason: it's got manageable recoil, a reasonably flat trajectory, great bullet selection, and enough power to take on just about anything on the continent under reasonable conditions. I wouldn't want to stop a charging elephant with one, but that's not my concern. If by some stroke of Murphy I'm charged by an elephant, well, my PH will have a .460 Weatherby in his Johnny Benchian hands. It's also readily available in Africa if your ammo somehow doesn't make the rendezvous.
But is the .375 truly the best choice for me, even amongst calibers with historical appeal? Let's look at some of the downsides. First of all, there's the cost. I'm not a rich man by any stretch, and safaris are getting more expensive every day. I would rather buy a more economical (note: not necessarily 'cheap') rifle and save my money for trophy fees and practice ammo. And one of the major fixed costs of the .375 H&H is the fact that it requires a magnum action. That adds $300 or so to the cost of the rifle, easily. That may not be a whole lot in terms of trophy fees, but it's a fair amount of reloading components that I could use to become more proficient with the weapon. And while .375 H&H ammo is cheap compared to the truly big bores, it's still not exactly low-cost for training.
Despite all this, until recently I saw no truly better alternative, and resigned myself to saving up my pennies to buy a .375 H&H. And then I heard about Otto Bock's creation: the 9.3x62mm. On paper, it doesn't look like much, appearing to be the Continental equivalent of a .35 Whelen. It pushes a .366-caliber 286gr slug at a rather sedate 2350 fps (or 2250fps for some loads), compared to the .375's 300gr projectile @ 2650 or so. So again, on paper, the .375 wins hands down. But the 9.3 had a sterling reputation in the early decades of the 20th Century. In fact, the .375 was created by Holland & Holland to supplant it, and there had to be a reason for this. Several African nations require a minimum of .375 to hunt dangerous game, and several of those nations have an exception to allow the 9.3x62mm. The commonly heard phrase is "It kills out of proportion to its size and recoil." It just seems to have that magic formula of sectional density, good bullet construction and moderate velocity that lets it penetrate deeper than you'd expect from such a relatively mild cartridge. And it just so happens that the 9.3x62mm fits into standard-length actions, with the same magazine capacity as a .30-'06.
Another explanation for the on-paper performance gap is that the .375 has benefited from years of handloading experience and development, something the mostly-forgotten 9.3mm lacked until relatively recently. In the last 10 years or so, there has been a resurgence of interest in the 9.3x62mm (and its near-twin for double rifles, the 9.3x74mmR), and the major makers (including Barnes, Hornady, Speer and Swift, as well as European makers like Norma, Prvi Partizan and Lapua) have started producing premium bullets and testing out new powders to bring out the cartridge's potential. Factory ammo (and reloading manuals) keep the velocity low for much the same reason as they do with the .45-70: there are plenty of older rifles that can't handle the pressures of a modern high-performance cartridge. Several companies chambered older-model (pre-98) Mauser actions in 9.3x62, and these don't have the strength or the safety features of the later guns. In a modern action with modern powders, you can push things a little further.
I heard about the 9.3x62 from my father, who was turned on to the cartridge by Bill Wilson of Wilson Combat fame. Bill's been hunting in Africa for decades, and learned of the cartridge from some friends there. He's become a big fan, so much so that he wrote the introduction for the 9.3x62mm section in the Barnes reloading manual. My father fired Bill's rifle and fell in love with the manageable recoil, higher magazine capacity, faster follow-up shots, and smooth feeding. He loved it so much, he took a 9.3 of his own to Africa for his latest safari, taking everything from Steinbok to Cape buffalo with it using Hornady DGS solids and 286gr Barnes TTSX .
Only a few years ago, your options for a factory rifle in this caliber, available in the US, were pretty much limited to CZ and Sako (the Scandinavians apparently love this cartridge for hunting moose and bear). The CZ is fairly reasonable in price, and the Sako isn't particularly bad, but still hovering around the $1000 mark. The CZ also wasn't available in an 'African' pattern. And then came Ruger. Ruger created their own .375 Ruger cartridge to duplicate .375 H&H ballistics in a standard-length action, but it came at the expense of magazine capacity due to the fatter cartridge casing required to hold all that powder. So when Ruger offered their Hawkeye African rifle in 9.3x62mm with a 4+1 capacity, both Dad and I jumped on it. And a good thing we did; Ruger discontinued the rifle in that chambering within a year or two. Perhaps they wanted to boost sales of their proprietary .375 and .416 cartridges, I don't know. But whatever the reason, we were lucky enough to get a pair. I immediately ordered a set of Warne quick-detach rings, an SWFA 1-6x optic, and some Prvi Partizan 285gr softpoints for practice fodder/donor cases. Once I got everything set up, it was off to the range to zero.
And that... is another story.