Aquatics | Safari-ED

Aquatics | Safari-ED

The Ten Commandments of Firearm Safety

The Ten Commandments of Firearm Safety are stated variously by different organizations and are often presented in different order, but the meaning is consistent and universal, including in Africa. If these rules are followed, a firearm-involved accident is highly unlikely.

  1. Treat every firearm as if it were loaded.
  2. Control the direction of your firearm’s muzzle.
  3. Be sure of your target and what is beyond your target.
  4. Be sure that the barrel and action are clear of obstructions and that only the proper size ammunition is used.
    • It is not uncommon for termites and other insects to discover that a rifle barrel is an ideal place to build a nest. Take a look through your barrel every day!
  5. Unload firearms when not in use.
  6. Never point a firearm at anything you do not intend to shoot.
  7. Never climb a fence or tree or jump a ditch or log with a loaded firearm.
  8. Never shoot a bullet at a flat, hard surface or water.
  9. Store firearms and ammunition separately.
  10. Avoid alcoholic beverages and drugs before and during shooting.

These commandments rely upon basic common sense. Implied throughout is the reliance on control of the direction the barrel is pointed—and the lack of reliance on the firearm’s mechanical safety. These rules don’t change in Africa. Most professional hunters (PHs) will attest that the most dangerous creature in the African bush is an excited visitor with a firearm!

Four Basic Safety Rules

The International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) reduces the Ten Commandments of Firearm Safety to four basic safety rules. They can be remembered by using the acronym ACTT and the statement “ACTT responsibly around firearms.” ACTT stands for:

  1. Assume every firearm is loaded. Consider any firearm that you have not just unloaded to be still loaded, and treat it accordingly.
  2. Control the muzzle —point guns in a safe direction. Decide what the safest muzzle direction is, and keep your firearm pointed in that direction. Never point a firearm at yourself or others.
  3. Trigger finger —keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire. The natural instinct when picking up a firearm is to put your finger in the trigger guard. Don’t! This could cause an accidental discharge if the firearm is loaded.
  4. Target—be sure of your target and beyond. Never point your firearm at something you do not intend to shoot. Make sure you positively identify what you are shooting at and what lies in front of it and beyond it. Do not use telescopic sights as a substitute for binoculars when identifying persons, animals, or objects.

Universal Drills

Basic firearms safety applies no matter where you are, and is often accomplished by certain basic and universal rituals or drills.

  • Checking the chamber. Whenever passing a firearm to another person or getting into a vehicle, the normal etiquette or protocol is to check the chamber to make sure it is empty—likewise when receiving a firearm from another person.
  • Negotiating an obstacle. Whether crossing a fence, boulder, log, or stream, or entering a stand or blind, it is almost unavoidable that the firearm’s muzzle can be temporarily out of control and a 100% safe direction cannot be guaranteed. There are two ways to handle the situation.
  • The buddy system. Two buddies (or you and your PH) take turns holding the firearms and negotiating the obstacle.
  • Unload the firearm! The standard procedure for crossing a fence is to unload the firearm and lay it down at the base of the fence with the muzzle pointing in a safe direction. Cross the fence, and retrieve the firearm. While this is the “school solution” for all obstacles, many will be negotiated simply and quickly by slinging the rifle. The point is that the muzzle is temporarily out of control, especially in the case of a slip or fall, so the chamber should first be unloaded.
  • Getting into a vehicle. Customs and laws vary. In some areas, it is specifically illegal to have an uncased firearm in a vehicle. Required or not, it is always a good idea to put a firearm in a soft case while in a vehicle—not only to reduce wear and tear, but also to reduce the chance of a scope changing zero. However, whether a case is used or not, when a firearm is in a vehicle (including a boat or aircraft) or in a saddle scabbard on a horse or ATV, the muzzle is temporarily out of control, so the chamber must be clear. The drill for getting into a vehicle or any similar situation is thus simple: Clear the chamber and check it!

Introduction to Crocodile and Hippo Transcript

The crocodile and hippo are obviously two altogether different animals, but both spend most of their time in and around Africa’s lakes and rivers. And hunting either or both is a highly specialized endeavor. And there are some similarities between them and also some things that are quite different.

Properly called the Nile crocodile, the crocodile is widespread throughout Africa’s lakes and rivers systems. In some areas, crocodiles were greatly reduced by market hunting for skins, but they remain common along most major waterways in Africa’s hunting countries.

Although not so large as the saltwater crocodile, the Nile crocodile can grow very large. A big crocodile is perhaps 12 feet in length, but lengths from 15 to 18 feet are possible. Length is one thing and girth is another, but such a crocodile can weigh an honest ton. Crocodiles are opportunistic feeders, eating fish and smaller crocodiles, and lying in wait near water’s edge to catch animals that come to drink or venture near the water. Unlike the great cats, which only occasionally take human prey, all crocodiles of medium size and upward are potential man-eaters. Even today, losses to crocodiles are part of life for rural Africans.

From a hunting perspective, the most important thing to understand about crocodiles is they’re reptiles. They are long-lived and slow growing, but like all reptiles, crocodiles continue to grow throughout their lifetimes. So, a big crocodile may be 70, 80, or possibly 90 years old. A big, old crocodile has seen it all when it’s been hunted for many years. Few animals are as wary and difficult to stalk as a crocodile.

Since the crocodile is a cold-blooded creature, they regulate their body temperature by alternating between water and air temperatures. At night, early morning, and late afternoon when the air temperature is cool, they’re usually in the water. On sunny days, common in the African winter, they usually haul out on the sandbars and islands to bask in the sun. This is the only time they’re vulnerable to a stalk, but they can also be baited by meat securely anchored at water’s edge.

Like all reptiles, the crocodile has a very small walnut-sized brain and a slow nervous system. The crocodile is never far from its water sanctuary. With one sweep of its powerful tail, a crocodile can be in the water. Sometimes it’s possible to take a crocodile in very shallow water. But even fatally hit crocodiles that reach moving current are almost impossible to recover.

This means that the only viable shots are at the small brain or the spine so that the crocodile is anchored where it’s shot. The crocodile is thus not only extremely wary and hard to stalk, but it requires the most precise shot in the entire hunting world.

Technically semi-aquatic, the hippopotamus is the second-largest land animal after the elephant, and a big bull can weigh up to 4,000 pounds and more. Once extremely common throughout most of Africa’s lakes and major rivers, the hippo offers a huge amount of meat and is relatively easy to poach. Regrettably, hippos are seriously depleted across much of Africa. They remain on license in several hunting countries, with quotas carefully managed and permits growing ever more scarce and costly. Hippos serve a major function in keeping waterways open, so serious long-term effects are likely in areas where hippos have been eradicated or seriously reduced.

The hippo’s a grazing herbivore. Although underwater plants are favorites, the hippo typically leaves the water at night to graze, often wandering miles from his water sanctuary. In the early morning, he returns and spends most of the day in the water. Hippos are actually sensitive to the sun. A hippo may occasionally be found sleeping in shaded bush in daylight hours, and on cloudy days, they may meander along the bank. But most of their daylight hours are spent in water.

Hippos are social animals that join together in groups called pods, usually with a dominant bull in the group. Determining males from females is extremely difficult; it takes a lot of experience. In a group, sheer size is one indicator. The major tusks are the lower incisors, much larger in males than females. But when the mouth is closed, the teeth are invisible. However, these major tusks are covered by pockets in the upper lip, so a male hippo with large tusks will have prominent bumps on either side of the snout. Hippos found wandering alone on land or in small waterholes in the bush are often males, but it takes careful study to be sure.

Hippos are extremely aggressive, both on land and in water. In water, they’ll defend their sanctuary, often attacking boats that come too close. On land, they’ll charge readily. It’s said that the hippo kills more Africans than all the other dangerous game combined. This may not be exactly true. The crocodile still exacts a fearsome toll. However, the hippo poses serious danger. In the morning, rural Africans often go to water. And this puts them on a collision course with hippos returning from their night grazing to their water sanctuary.

 

Two Different Animals

The Nile crocodile and the hippopotamus (hippo) are obviously entirely different creatures. Both, however, occupy specialized habitats, spending much of their time in or near Africa’s rivers and lakes. Hunting for both or either is highly specialized and usually quite different from hunting any other African game.

 

The Crocodile

Although aptly called the Nile crocodile, this large saurian inhabits most major river systems and lakes throughout Africa. In some areas, crocodiles were greatly reduced by market hunting for skins, but they remain common along most major waterways in Africa’s hunting countries.

The Nile crocodile is not so large as the saltwater crocodile but can grow very large. A big crocodile is perhaps 12 feet in length, but lengths from 15 to 18 feet are possible. Length is one thing and girth is another; such a crocodile can weigh an honest ton! Crocodiles are opportunistic feeders, eating fish and smaller crocodiles and lying in wait near water’s edge to catch animals that come to drink or venture near the water. Unlike the great cats, which only occasionally take human prey, all crocodiles of medium size and upward are potential man-eaters. Even today, losses to crocodiles are a part of life for rural Africans.

From a hunting perspective, the most important thing to understand about crocodiles is they are reptiles. They are long-lived and slow growing, but like all reptiles, crocodiles continue to grow throughout their lifetimes. So, a big crocodile may be 70, 80, or possibly 90 years old. A big, old crocodile has seen it all and has been hunted for many years. Few animals are as wary and difficult to stalk as a crocodile.

Since the crocodiles are cold-blooded creatures, they regulate their body temperature by alternating between water and air temperatures. At night, early morning, and late afternoon, when the air temperature is cool, they are usually in the water. On sunny days—common in the African winter—they will usually haul out onto sandbars and islands to bask in the sun. This is the only time they are vulnerable to a stalk, but they can also be baited by meat securely anchored at water’s edge.

Like all reptiles, the crocodile has a very small (walnut-sized) brain and a slow nervous system. The crocodile is never far from its water sanctuary. With one sweep of its powerful tail, the crocodile can be in the water. Sometimes, it is possible to take a crocodile in very shallow water, but even fatally hit crocodiles that reach moving current are almost impossible to recover. This means the only viable shots are at the small brain or the spine so that the crocodile is anchored where it is shot. The crocodile thus not only is extremely wary and hard to get a shot at but also requires the most precise shot placement in the entire hunting world.

The Hippo

Technically semi-aquatic, the hippo is the second-largest land animal after the elephant. Big males, or bulls, can weigh up to 4,000 pounds. Once extremely common throughout most of Africa’s lakes and major rivers, the hippo offers a huge amount of meat and is relatively easy to poach. Regrettably, hippos are seriously depleted across much of Africa. They remain on license in several hunting countries, with quotas carefully managed and permits growing ever more scarce and costly. Hippos serve a major function in keeping waterways open, so serious long-term effects are likely in areas where hippos have been eradicated or are seriously depleted.

The hippo is a grazing herbivore. Although underwater plants are favorites, the hippo typically leaves the water at night to graze, often wandering miles from its water sanctuary. In the early morning, it returns and spends most of the day in the water. Hippos are actually sensitive to the sun. A hippo may occasionally be found sleeping in shaded bush in daylight hours. On cloudy days, they may meander along the bank, but most of their daylight hours are spent in water.

Hippos are social creatures that join together in groups referred to as pods, usually with a dominant bull. Determining males from females is extremely difficult and takes a lot of experience. In a group, sheer size is one indicator. The major tusks are the lower incisors, much larger in males than in females. When the mouth is closed, the teeth are invisible. These major tusks are covered by “pockets” in the upper lip, so a male hippo with large tusks will have prominent bumps on either side of the snout. Hippos found wandering alone on land or in small waterholes in the bush are often males, but it takes careful study to be sure. 

Hippos are extremely aggressive both on land and in water. In water, they will defend their sanctuary, often attacking boats that come too close. On land, they will charge readily. It is said that the hippo kills more Africans than all the other dangerous game combined. This may not be exactly true; the crocodile exacts a fearful toll. However, the hippo poses serious danger. In the early morning, rural Africans often go to water, which puts them on a collision course with hippos returning from a night of grazing.

 

The Semi-Aquatic Antelope

 

While this course focuses on the highly specialized hunting of crocodiles and hippopotamuses, it should be mentioned that Africa has several semi-aquatic antelopes. They are generally found near water and can often be hunted in conjunction with one or both of the aquatic monsters.

The waterbuck and reedbuck are both aptly named. Waterbucks are generally—but not always—found near water. Reedbucks are often found in long grass or tall reeds (which require water to grow). More specialized, however, are the four subspecies of lechwes, found discontinuously from southern Africa to southwestern Ethiopia. In native range, lechwes are always found on floodplains or adjacent marshes. They do not necessarily require specialized hunting techniques, but you can expect to get your feet wet.

The sitatunga is one of the most specialized of all African antelopes, very much semi-aquatic and usually found in or near papyrus. Like the lechwes, the several races of sitatungas occupy a broad but very discontinuous range from Namibia’s Caprivi to Uganda and then on west through the forest zone. Sitatungas are most commonly hunted from elevated platforms overlooking breaks in papyrus. Where they occur, lechwes and sitatungas can often be hunted in conjunction with crocodile and hippo. However, because their ranges are discontinuous, it is highly recommended that these animals be hunted if you happen to be in areas where they occur.

Equipment for Crocodile and Hippo Hunting Transcript

Legal Requirements

A lot of African countries have established legal minimums for various classes of game and most commonly for the dangerous game. And hey, in countries where there is a legal minimum, you can expect that the hippo will always be considered dangerous game. The crocodile often isn’t, and then there’s probably a reason for that.

If in doubt, ask your professional hunter. Although we often state that the .375 is the legal minimum, this isn’t always true. In several countries, the actual minimum is the European equivalent, which is 9.3mm or .366 caliber.

Some countries don’t have established legal minimum standards. In some countries, the rules vary. Zimbabwe uniquely has a minimum energy standard, which includes the 9.3x62mm Mauser. But this is only applicable on government land and not on private land.

Use of handguns and archery tackle is more restrictive, specifically illegal in many areas but allowed in some. Whether one prefers the European 9.3mm or the more common .375 or a larger and more powerful cartridge or a big handgun or archery tackle, keep in mind that whether enacted into law or not, minimum standards exist because of conventional wisdom developed over time and based on experience, which can be good or bad.

Regardless of law or convention, a 9.3mm or .375 is a sensible minimum for a hippo and also a pretty good choice for crocodile. If you want to deviate from that and the local law allows it, you need to discuss that with your professional hunter and make sure that either he or she is on board with it and has some experience using alternate gear such as archery gear and handguns, muzzleloaders, whatever. In some areas, you can do that legally, but you’d need to discuss that with your PH up front so that they’re absolutely prepared for it.

Equipment for Crocodile Hunting

Cartridges

Although the target is small, the crocodile’s skull is actually quite fragile, so it’s really more a matter of precision than raw power. If the brain is missed by even a narrow margin, follow-up shots become extremely important. Since the crocodile is a very large animal, this requires both power and penetration. Smaller cartridges can be used, but the better choices are probably 9.3mms and .375s.

Rifles

As stated, the shot on a crocodile has to be one of the most precise in the entire hunting world, but since it’s absolutely essential to anchor the crocodile and keep it from getting into the water, follow-up shots are normal. Combining accuracy with rapid additional shots, a bolt-action repeater is probably the best choice, but the double rifle can be used, provided it’s mounted with a scope. Single shots are not recommended because of the necessity for rapid follow-up, and other repeating actions are not factory chambered to adequate cartridges, although custom work is possible.

Bullets

Expanding bullets are essential. For the brain shot, bullet construction isn’t important, but the spine shot and follow-up shoulder shots require much more penetration. Choose tough expanding bullets that will provide adequate penetration on the largest crocodile.

Scopes and Sights

The shot at a crocodile will almost always be less than 100 yards, but the precision required is absolutely extreme. It’s very, very precise shot. Typically, a 9.3mm or a .375 is mounted with a dangerous game scope of 1-4X or maybe 1.5-6X and, hey, that’ll work. But if you’re hunting crocodile, consider mounting a scope with a bit more magnification—2-7X or 3-9X. And that’s going to make that very precise shot a whole lot easier.

Equipment for Hippo Hunting

Cartridges

As with the crocodile, the skull of a hippo is extremely fragile, so cartridges from .30 caliber up can be used for brain shots. But you can’t know for sure that you’re actually going to get a brain shot, so you really need to start with a more powerful cartridge. Again, the 9.3mms and .375s are a good minimum. But the hippo is a very, very large creature, and there’s no such thing as too much power for a hippo. Combining accuracy for the brain shot and power and penetration for the body shot, the most ideal choices for hippo are probably the lower .40s, cartridges like the .404 Jeffery and the several .416s.

Rifles

A bolt-action repeater is probably the most common choice for the visiting hunter. There are numerous options in various price ranges chambered to suitable cartridges. But if a bolt action is chosen, its user must make certain all aspects of feeding and functioning are totally reliable. And in practice sessions, one should concentrate on learning to work the bolt quickly for follow-up shots.

The double-barreled rifle can be used and has adequate accuracy plus that instant availability of a second shot, but doubles are often limited by sighting equipment. If a double is chosen, it absolutely has to be mounted with a scope so you have the precision to make the brain shot if that’s the shot that’s offered.

Several modern single shots are chambered in suitable cartridges for hippo. Because the frequent requirement for a fast second shot, single shots are not recommended for hippo hunting but can be used with the understanding that the visiting hunter will not be alone and may have to rely on the PH for necessary backup.

And no other action types, whether semi-auto, lever, or slide action, have been factory chambered for adequate cartridges for hippo. Custom work’s possible, but it’s very unusual.

Bullets

Because the hippo’s skull is fragile, expanding bullets could be used for brain shots only. The problem is that you never really know if you’re going to get the brain shot or not. And with body shots, you absolutely have to use non-expanding solid bullets; you’re asking for a lot of penetration. The hippo is really like a great big bullet sponge. They’re very hard to put down; you need a lot of penetration. So, for hippo, you really need to choose solid bullets that won’t expand but will penetrate.

The two primary choices today are the homogeneous-alloy or all-copper bullet—the solid solid—and then the traditional jacketed bullet that has a lead core. But it’s jacketed with a coating of mild steel, what we call steel-jacketed solids. Hey, both are extremely good. There really aren’t any bad solids on the market today. It’s obviously a very small market, and these are bullets that you trust your life to, and really, all the solids on the market today are very good.

You should use the one that gives you the most confidence. The only limitation is that the homogeneous alloy bullets have a slightly different pressure curve. it may not be a good idea to use them in older double rifles with thin barrel walls but, again, just a matter of confidence.

Scopes and Sights

If you knew you were going to encounter your hippo on dry land, then the shots are going to be fairly close, and open sights are going to work just fine. But in most circumstances you can’t know this. And if the hippo is taken in water, which is fairly common and may be essential, then the brain shot is the only shot you have, and that’s also a very, very precise shot. So, for hippo hunting, a telescopic sight is almost essential.

Low-range variables from 1-4X to maybe 1.5-6X are adequate for hippo hunting. They’ll provide enough magnification for that precise brain shot, and they can be turned down if the hippo is stalked on dry land. Lighted reticles greatly speed aiming and assist in precise shot placement.

Dust is a major issue in Africa, so bring scope covers and keep them on your rifle while your rifle’s in the vehicle. Take them off when you commence a stalk. As always, soft gun cases will help protect the rifle while you’re traveling inLegal Requirements

Most African countries (but not all) have established legal minimums for “dangerous game,” which always includes hippo but rarely the crocodile. If in doubt, ask your professional hunter (PH)! Although we often state that the .375 is the legal minimum, this is not always true.

In several countries, the actual minimum is the European equivalent, which is 9.3mm (.366-inch). Some countries do not have established legal minimum standards, and in some countries, the rules vary. Zimbabwe, uniquely, has a minimum energy standard, which includes the 9.3x62mm Mauser. But this rule is only applicable on government land and not on private land.

Use of handguns and archery tackle is more restrictive, specifically illegal in many areas but allowed in some. Whether you prefer the European 9.3mm, the more common .375, a larger and more powerful cartridge, a big handgun, or an archery tackle—keep in mind that, whether enacted into law or not, minimum standards exist because of conventional wisdom developed over time and experience—both good and bad.

Regardless of law or convention, a 9.3mm or .375-caliber rifle is the recommended minimum for hippo. Both calibers are good choices for crocodile. If you wish to deviate from this and local law allows it, discuss this with your PH, and make certain that he or she is willing and confident to conduct a hunt under such circumstances. the vehicle, and you’re going to do a lot of that in Africa.

Legal Requirements

Most African countries (but not all) have established legal minimums for “dangerous game,” which always includes hippo but rarely the crocodile. If in doubt, ask your professional hunter (PH)! Although we often state that the .375 is the legal minimum, this is not always true.

In several countries, the actual minimum is the European equivalent, which is 9.3mm (.366-inch). Some countries do not have established legal minimum standards, and in some countries, the rules vary. Zimbabwe, uniquely, has a minimum energy standard, which includes the 9.3x62mm Mauser. But this rule is only applicable on government land and not on private land.

Use of handguns and archery tackle is more restrictive, specifically illegal in many areas but allowed in some. Whether you prefer the European 9.3mm, the more common .375, a larger and more powerful cartridge, a big handgun, or an archery tackle—keep in mind that, whether enacted into law or not, minimum standards exist because of conventional wisdom developed over time and experience—both good and bad.

Regardless of law or convention, a 9.3mm or .375-caliber rifle is the recommended minimum for hippo. Both calibers are good choices for crocodile. If you wish to deviate from this and local law allows it, discuss this with your PH, and make certain that he or she is willing and confident to conduct a hunt under such circumstances.

Cartridges for Crocodile and Hippo Hunting

Crocodile

Although the target is small, the crocodile’s skull is actually fragile, so it’s more a matter of precision than raw power. However, if the brain is missed by even a narrow margin, follow-up shots become extremely important. Since a crocodile is a very large animal, this requires both power and penetration. Smaller cartridges can be used, but the better choices are probably 9.3mms and .375s.

Hippo

As with the crocodile, the skull of a hippo is extremely fragile. Cartridges from .30 caliber and up can be used effectively for brain shots, but you can’t know that a brain shot will be practical. If a hippo is encountered on land, it probably won’t be. So, in case the brain shot isn’t possible or it’s attempted and fails, much more power is needed. The 9.3mms and .375s are a good starting point, but larger calibers are better. Combining accuracy for the brain shot with power and penetration for body shots, ideal choices for hippos are probably the lower .40 cartridges, such as the .404 Jeffery and the several .416s.

Rifles for Crocodile and Hippo Hunting

Crocodile

As stated, the shot on the crocodile is one of the most precise in the hunting world. But because it’s essential to anchor the crocodile so that it’s unable to get into deep water, follow-up shots are normal and must be made quickly. Combining accuracy with rapid additional shots, a bolt-action repeater is probably the best choice, but a double rifle can be used, provided it is mounted with a scope. Single shots are not recommended because of the necessity for rapid follow-up. Other repeating action types are not factory chambered to adequate cartridges, although custom work is possible.

Hippo

Bolt actions. A scoped bolt-action rifle is by far the most common choice for the visiting hunter. There are numerous options in various price ranges chambered to suitable cartridges. But if a bolt action is chosen, its user must make certain all aspects of feeding and functioning are totally reliable. In practice sessions, he or she should concentrate on learning to work the bolt quickly for follow-up shots.

Double rifles. The double-barreled rifle can be used and has adequate accuracy, and it has the instant availability of the second shot. But it is often limited by sighting equipment. Regardless of action type, the ideal rifle for hippo should wear a telescopic sight so that the precise brain shot can be taken if offered.

Single shots. Several modern single shots are chambered in suitable cartridges for hippo. Because of the frequent requirement for a fast second shot, single shots are not recommended for hippo hunting. But they can be used with the understanding that the visiting hunter will not be alone and may have to rely on the PH for necessary backup.

Other action types. No other action types (slide action, semi-automatic, lever action) have been factory chambered for cartridges adequate for hippo, although custom work is possible.

Bullets for Crocodile and Hippo Hunting

Crocodile

Expanding bullets are essential! For the brain shot, bullet construction is not important, but the spine shot and follow-up shoulder shots require much more penetration. Choose tough expanding bullets that will provide adequate penetration on the largest crocodiles.

Hippo

Because the hippo’s skull is thin-boned and fragile, an expanding bullet could be used for brain shots only. The problem with this is you don’t always know that a brain shot will be presented, so for hippos, non-expanding solid bullets designed for the deepest penetration on the largest game are recommended. Choices usually fall between homogeneous copper alloy bullets and traditional lead-core bullets jacketed with mild steel overlain with copper (steel-jacketed solids). Both bullet types are effective.

Because of their highly specialized and relatively limited use, there are no “bad” solids in production today. However, homogeneous-alloy solids have a different pressure curve, so they are not recommended for older double rifles with thin barrel walls. The brain shot is a small target and must be precise, so ensure your rifle is properly zeroed for the exact bullet you are using to hunt your hippo. 

Bullets for Crocodile and Hippo Hunting

Crocodile

Expanding bullets are essential! For the brain shot, bullet construction is not important, but the spine shot and follow-up shoulder shots require much more penetration. Choose tough expanding bullets that will provide adequate penetration on the largest crocodiles.

Hippo

Because the hippo’s skull is thin-boned and fragile, an expanding bullet could be used for brain shots only. The problem with this is you don’t always know that a brain shot will be presented, so for hippos, non-expanding solid bullets designed for the deepest penetration on the largest game are recommended. Choices usually fall between homogeneous copper alloy bullets and traditional lead-core bullets jacketed with mild steel overlain with copper (steel-jacketed solids). Both bullet types are effective.

Because of their highly specialized and relatively limited use, there are no “bad” solids in production today. However, homogeneous-alloy solids have a different pressure curve, so they are not recommended for older double rifles with thin barrel walls. The brain shot is a small target and must be precise, so ensure your rifle is properly zeroed for the exact bullet you are using to hunt your hippo.

Scopes and Sights for Crocodile and Hippo Hunting

Crocodile

The shot at a crocodile will almost always be less than 100 yards. But the target for the brain shot is very small, and the shot must be nearly perfect in order to anchor the crocodile. Only telescopic sights are recommended. The typical scope mounted on a 9.3mm or .375 is a low-range variable from 1-4X or 1.5-6X magnification. Because of the precision required, consider mounting a scope with a bit more magnification for hunting crocodile. Somewhat larger variables in the 2-7X or 3-9X range will make that very precise shot.

Hippo

Optical or open? If you knew you were going to encounter your hippo on dry land and thus you were more likely to use a body shot, then open sights are perfectly suitable. The range will be short and the target is huge. Unfortunately, you don’t know where you will encounter a hippo. When taken in water, which is common and often essential, the shot may be somewhat farther, the target is much smaller, and extreme precision is required. So, for most hippo hunting, a telescopic sight is almost essential.

Ideal scopes for hippo. Low-range variables between 1-4X and 1.5-6X will provide adequate magnification for the precise brain shot, and they can be turned down if the hippo is on land and can be stalked in thick bush. Lighted reticles greatly speed aiming and assist in shot placement.

Protection. Dust is a major issue in Africa. Bring a scope cover or lens caps. Leave it on your scope in the vehicle, and remove it when you commence a stalk. Using a soft gun case in vehicles will also save wear and tear on the scope as well as the rifle.

Handguns, Muzzleloaders, and Archery Tackle

Handguns, muzzleloaders, and archery tackle are legal in some areas. Virtually all African game, including crocodiles and hippos, have been (and thus can be) taken with alternative methods. However, crocodile and hippo are both among the most difficult to take: crocodile because of the small target area and requirement for precise shot placement and hippo because of the sheer size of the beast. If alternative methods are desired, this must be discussed with and cleared by your outfitter and/or PH, preferably one who has previous experience with the type of method you wish to use.

Hunting success is never assured, but the choice of alternative methods of take renders success more difficult. This is not a problem for dedicated handgun, muzzleloader, and archery hunters, but it must be understood. Obviously, when equipment of marginal power and penetration are used, it is more likely that the PH will be required to fire backup shots.

How to Hunt Crocodile Transcript

Crocodiles are more or less habitual, tending to sun at pretty much the same places, and often at the same time of day. So, crocodile hunting generally consists of finding a big crocodile and then figuring out how to get close enough for a shot. Glassing is often done from a boat, and narrower waterways by glassing from the opposite bank. Getting close enough for a shot is usually done by either stalking or by baiting.

Baiting

Once a large crocodile is located, a bait can be placed near the water’s edge. Location of the bait may not be exactly at the crocodile’s favorite lying-up spot. More critical is the bait be placed so the shot will be practical.

A blind is usually built at the time the bait is placed. But depending on vegetation and terrain, a shooting position that can be stalked to in concealment may be preferable to a blind. Ideal distance from bait to blind or shooting position is about 50 to 75 yards—far enough so that a rifle can be moved into shooting position without alarming the crocodile but close enough so that the brain shot is possible. Prevailing wind must be away from the bait.

The actual bait can be any fairly large piece of meat—a smaller antelope whole, a larger antelope halved or quartered, or a leg or portion of a hippo. The more crocodiles are present locally, the larger the bait needs to be, as it can be expected that multiple crocodiles will come to feed. Typically, the bait is chained or wired to a strong pole or stake driven deep, with blood or offal spread in the water so the crocodile will catch the scent.

If a blind is used, it’s typical to move into the blind in the early morning when the air is cool and most crocodiles are going to be in the water. It can be a long wait. Expect to remain in the blind throughout the sunning period—late morning through mid-afternoon—departing the blind in the late afternoon when most crocodiles will again be in the water. A crocodile blind needn’t have overhead cover, so bring sunscreen and a good book. As with a leopard blind, typically a rifle rest is incorporated into the blind so that the rifle can be brought to bear with minimal movement.

If the intent is to stalk the bait, then this is usually coupled with surveillance from afar, either from a boat or observation position. When a crocodile of adequate size is observed feeding, then a stalk is executed.

Stalking

Stalking without a bait usually means that a suitable crocodile has been observed sunning on the banks of a lake or a river. Executing such a stalk is an extremely difficult and often frustrating exercise. Big crocodiles are extremely wary creatures. Any scent, sight, or sound of the hunters is almost certain to send the crocodile into the water.

But even if the stalk is going perfectly, there is no guarantee that something else—even a bird—might startle the croc and send it into the water. Or it might simply decide to slide into the water at any moment during the progress of the stalk. Nothing can be done about these things. The stalk has to be slow, methodical, painstaking, and usually exhausting.

The most difficult part of the stalk is at the very last, when the rifle must be brought to bear without spooking the croc. Hey, slow and steady does it.

Craig Boddington fires the shot, and the targeted crocodile’s skull explodes. Other crocodiles scurry into the water in a commotion as the wounded croc thrashes, dying.

Professional Hunter: That was a very difficult shot.

Craig Boddington: Yes, it was.

Professional Hunter: Very difficult shot. He looks a nice croc to me.

How to Hunt Hippo Transcript

 

Although to some extent the animal dictates how it’s going to be taken, there’s really two scenarios—on land and in the water.

In the Water

Although not nearly as exciting as encountering a hippo on land, it must be understood that most hippos spend most of their daylight hours in the water with only their heads exposed. So, realistically, the majority of hippos are taken in the water.

The primary advantage to taking a hippo in water is selection. Hippos are extremely secure in their water sanctuary, and they can be observed from afar for as long as it’s necessary to determine sex and size. Once a bull hippo is identified and selected, the next step is to figure out how to get in range for a good, clean shot.

Now in large bodies of water, this can be absolutely impossible. But in smaller pools and narrow waterways, a stalk can usually be executed. Since the hippo will probably be almost totally immersed in water, the brain shot is usually the only option. And in many ways, this is more a matter of sniping than hunting.

If the brain shot’s properly executed, the hippo will simply sink. In shallow water, the hippo can be recovered immediately. But in deeper water, it’s common to wait a few hours, and then, expanding gases will bring the carcass to the surface for recovery.

If the brain shot isn’t properly executed, anything can happen. The hippo may instantly charge or may porpoise away, or it may swim away leaving a trail of bubbles. But it’s going to resurface and offer another opportunity. So, after the shot, immediately work the action, and be ready.

On Land

Although this seems more common in some areas than others, there’s always the chance of encountering a hippo sleeping in thick bush. Lone hippos so encountered are usually bulls, but unless its tracks are seen first and judged, there’s often little time to be properly selective because a hippo on land isn’t secure and may charge readily.

Early in the morning and in late afternoon, hippos may be encountered on land as they depart or return to their water sanctuary. And they may leave the water and wander along the shore at any time of day for a short time. This seems especially common on cloudy days. Again, hippos get sunburned. Under such circumstances, hippos can be properly judged, and a stalk can be executed.

Without question, taking a hippo on land is the most exciting option and really one of the more dangerous situations. But no professional hunter can orchestrate this. It’s a matter of random luck.

If a hippo is encountered on land, then the shoulder/heart shot’s the preferred option, definitely with a non-expanding solid bullet and preferably with a very powerful rifle. Follow-up shots are essential as the hippo is not only big, but he’s tough.

How to Hunt Hippo

Although the animal to some extent dictates the manner of take, there are two primary scenarios for taking a hippo: in the water and on land.

In the Water

Although not nearly as exciting as encountering a hippo on land, it must be understood that most hippos spend most of their daylight hours in their water sanctuaries, often with just their heads exposed. So, realistically, the majority of hippos are taken in the water.

The primary advantage is selection. Hippos are very secure in their water sanctuaries and can be observed from afar for as long as it is necessary to properly determine sex and size. Once a hippo is selected, the next step is to figure a stalk within range. In large bodies of water, this can be almost impossible, but it is practical in smaller pools and narrow waterways.

Because the hippo will probably be almost totally immersed, the brain shot is the only option, so to some extent, this is a matter of sniping rather than hunting.

If the brain shot is properly executed, the hippo will simply sink. In very shallow water, it can be recovered immediately. In deeper water, the standard procedure is to wait a few hours, and then, expanding gases will bring the carcass to the surface.

If the brain shot is not properly executed, anything can happen. The hippo may instantly charge or may porpoise away or may swim away leaving a trail of bubbles. If the hippo does the latter, it will surface again and offer another opportunity. In the first two cases, the hippo must be stopped. So, once the first shot is fired, work the action immediately and be ready. 

On Land

Although this seems more common in some areas than others, there is always the chance of encountering a hippo sleeping in thick bush far from water. Lone hippos that are encountered in this manner are usually bulls. Unless its tracks are seen first and judged, there is often little time to be properly selective because a hippo on land and in daylight is not secure and may charge readily!

Early in the morning and in late afternoon, hippos may be encountered on land as they return to or depart from their sanctuaries. But they may leave the water and wander near the shore at any time of day—especially on cloudy days. Under such circumstances, hippos can be judged from a distance and then stalked.

Without question, taking a hippo on land is the more exciting situation and one of the most dangerous ones too. But no PH can organize such an encounter; it’s a matter of random luck. If the hippo is encountered on land, then the shoulder/heart shot is the preferred option, definitely with a non-expanding solid bullet and preferably with a very powerful rifle. Follow-up shots are essential because the hippo is not only large and powerful but also very tough!

Listen to Your Professional Hunter

Listening to your professional hunter (PH) is the first and most cardinal rule of African hunting, and it is even more important with all dangerous game. It is essential that you never shoot until your PH gives the go-ahead. But even when he or she does, it’s still your shot and your animal. So, don’t take a shot unless you are comfortable, steady, confident, and certain that you and your PH are looking at the same animal. This is especially important with hippos, as all hippos look much the same to the unpracticed eye.

Determining Sex and Judging Size

This is your PH’s job, not yours. Both hippos and crocodiles are extremely hard to judge. In both cases, size is the primary indicator of a large male, but if either animal is alone, there’s nothing to compare size against.

With hippos, it isn’t uncommon to watch a group, especially in the water, for many minutes and sometimes hours. Prominent bumps on the side of the upper snout are indicators of large lower tusks. If undisturbed, hippos can be observed from concealment, and a yawn will eventually reveal the tusks.

Older bull, or male, crocodiles are usually darker, almost black rather than green. They will have much more girth and weight than a large female. When baiting, a common trick is to put out pegs near the bait that are a known distance apart, such as 12 feet, thus offering a yardstick to measure crocodiles.

Trophy Quality

One of the best and most complete references is Safari Club International’s record book, available online (www.scirecordbook.org). Large male bulls can occur almost anywhere the animal is found, but relatively few areas seem to produce extremely large crocodiles. Record books are thus excellent planning tools, but in the field, it’s best to listen to your PH!

Measuring

Although record books are excellent references, try to avoid “record book fever.” Hippos go into the book based on length and circumference of the major tusks. But much of the tusk is embedded in the skull, so precise field judgment is almost impossible. Crocodiles go into the book based on overall length. This is one of few cases where field measurement is accepted because it is the only option. Crocodiles are cannibals, readily preying on smaller crocodiles. Many otherwise large crocodiles are missing inches or even a couple of feet of their tails, bitten off years earlier.

 

Researching Africa

Anticipation is part of the fun of any safari, but smart preparation will make any safari more successful.

For further study:

  • African literature. These works are unusually rich. While Africa has certainly changed, hunting hasn’t changed much, so there is value to this reading. Just be aware that today’s trophy quality is not what it was 50 years ago, so do not allow your reading and study to instill unrealistic expectations.
  • Films and videos. Beware of unnecessarily sensationalized media. However, there are great films, television shows, and videos (both amateur and professional) on hunting both crocodiles and hippos. The most important thing to learn is to visualize proper shot placement, and moving pictures are excellent for this.

Conditioning

Hunting the aquatics is generally not extremely physically demanding, but aquatics is the operative word. Some amount of wading may be required, and mud is extremely taxing to slog through. As with most hunting, the best conditioning is walking. Always consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Practice

Shooting accurately is a key to the success of any hunt. The more practice time you can manage in the months and weeks before the hunt is to the good. There is no formula, but if an unfamiliar heavy rifle is acquired for a hippo hunt, a minimum of 50 (better 100) shots should be fired through it prior to the hunt, both to build familiarity and to ensure absolute reliability. Because of recoil, this cannot be done in one or two sittings. You can use a .22 to practice shooting off sticks and while standing. Shooting a large-caliber rifle should be limited to 5 to 10 shots per range session to avoid acquiring a recoil-induced flinch.

  • Shooting sticks. Make or acquire a set of shooting sticks and practice with them, working your bolt through a full magazine or using both barrels of your double.
  • Speed. The greatest complaint of African professional hunters (PHs) about their hunters’ shooting is not raw accuracy but speed in acquiring targets and getting their shots off. Rather than just practicing shooting off sticks, practice starting a few feet behind them with rifle down and safety on. Work on getting into position, acquiring the target, and getting an accurate shot off quickly.
  • Offhand or standing. Practice shooting unsupported at closer ranges. In the field, this is to be avoided, and it is almost unheard of when hunting crocodiles. But in close encounters with hippos, there is often no other option, so spend a lot of range time shooting offhand.
  • Reloading. Practice working your action rapidly with as little movement off the target as possible, firing two or three shots rather than just one.
  • Use a .22. While there is no substitute for shooting the rifle or the rifles you intend to use on safari and becoming absolutely familiar and confident, shooting off sticks and shooting offhand can be practiced very effectively with a .22 rimfire—cheaper ammo, no recoil, less noise. Training with an accurate airgun is equally effective.

Medical Considerations

Always consult your doctor before planning any distant hunt, or beginning a training regimen for any hunt. That said, medical preparations for safaris are minimal.

  • Inoculations. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains a listing of required and recommended inoculations by country. Again, consult with your doctor before taking any medications, but “required” and “recommended” mean just that. You can expect to be required to show proof of a required inoculation in order to gain entry to a country, while recommended inoculations are at your discretion. It’s important to check the current listings, but typically, there are no required inoculations for Namibia, South Africa, or Zimbabwe. Countries to the north often require a current yellow fever vaccination.
  • Malaria prophylaxis. Except for Namibia and South Africa, most hunting areas have potential for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Of course, mosquitoes breed in and around water, so in malaria areas, hunting aquatics carries somewhat more risk. Numerous malaria preventives are available—all by prescription—so discuss the best option with your doctor.
  • Medical evacuation membership. African hunting is generally safe, but in the case of an accident or sudden illness, medical evacuation from a foreign country can be catastrophically expensive. Several firms offer medical evacuation memberships that will cover these expenses if evacuation is necessary. This coverage is a good idea any time you are away from home, so annual membership is ideal for people who travel regularly. If this is not the case, short-term membership is available to cover the period of your safari.
  • First-aid training. If you aren’t trained, get basic first-aid training. Your PH will do everything possible to prevent you from being injured. You should be prepared to help your PH if there’s a serious accident.

Paperwork

Temporary firearms importation and visa requirements vary with countries (and visa requirements vary depending on your country of origin). Both are subject to change. Discuss these requirements with your outfitter well ahead of your safari, and be clear as to what actions are required and who (you or your outfitter) is supposed to do them.

Airline Reservations and Requirements

Traveling with firearms is increasingly difficult. Some carriers no longer carry firearms, and many carriers require advance notice. Some interim destinations require special permits to transit with firearms. The simplest and safest solution is usually to use a “firearms-and-hunting-savvy” travel agent to help sort through the labyrinth, but if you book your travel yourself, speak to an airline representative and make sure all requirements are fully

Clothing

With current baggage restrictions, it’s advisable to pack light. This is generally possible on an African safari because weather is usually mild and, unlike hunting camps in many areas, laundry is done on a more or less daily basis.

Camouflage is becoming more common in Africa, and restrictions against wearing it have generally been lifted. Whether camouflage or solid, neutral green is the preferred color. You should have at maximum three changes of clothing.

Fabric chosen should be quiet to avoid scratching noises in brush and should be rugged enough to withstand vigorous handwashing. Cotton is always a good choice.

Whether you wear short or long trousers or sleeves is a personal choice. Most professional hunters wear shorts. Shorts are quieter in brush and cooler during the heat of the day but mean more exposure to the sun and (probably) more scratches from thorns. However, because of mosquitoes and, in some waters, leeches, long sleeves and long trousers are recommended for hunting the aquatic animals. Bring rubber bands or small bungee cords to secure your trouser cuffs to the top of your boots.

Expect to get your feet wet while hunting the aquatic animals. High-topped canvas boots that will dry quickly are recommended. It’s a good idea to bring two pairs so that you can rotate them.

Gloves and kneepads will be welcome while crawling.

Do not underestimate how cold it can be during the African winter (June to August), which corresponds with the peak safari season in southern Africa. In addition to layered outerwear for cold mornings and rapidly cooling evenings, bring a warm watch cap or balaclava and gloves.

Rain is extremely unlikely between June and October, but it is not impossible. Light rain gear can also double as an extra layer.

Additional Equipment

Optics

Binoculars are mandatory, likewise good sunglasses. Because of the precision required for brain shots, a rangefinder is recommended.

Firearms Accessories

Cleaning kit. Africa is hard on firearms. Dust is the major issue, but once in a while, insects nest in gun barrels (overnight). Bring minimal cleaning gear: oil, solvent, patches, and a jointed cleaning rod.

Rifle sling, scope caps, soft gun case, belt ammunition pouch, hearing protection. Especially if the decision is made to bring just one rifle, consider bringing a spare riflescope set in rings, along with necessary tools to switch in case a scope fails or is damaged in a fall.

Ammunition. Required amounts vary depending on length of safari and size of bag, but running low isn’t fun, and running out is a problem. Think about two to three cartridges for each animal you plan to hunt along with spares for zeroing and checking zero periodically. If a specific rifle is brought primarily for large dangerous game, then 30 rounds is plenty, mixed between expanding and solids. Weigh your total ammunition, and make sure you don’t exceed the international 5-kilogram or 11-pound baggage limit for ammunition.

Hunter’s Tip

Absolutely obtain a recommended equipment list from your outfitter!

Packing Tips

Firearms and Ammunition

Firearms must be packed separately in sturdy locked cases. Make sure your hinges are secure and the hasps allow the case to be securely locked. Always declare firearms and ammunition when you approach any ticket counter.

In the United States, up to 5 kilograms or 11 pounds of ammunition in original factory containers can be in checked baggage, separate from firearms. In Europe and South Africa, the same weight limit applies, but ammunition must be checked separately in its own locked case (wood, metal, or plastic). The simplest approach is to get a small, sturdy ammunition case and pack it in your duffel bag with locks inside but not locked when you leave the United States. In this fashion, you are ready to comply if required during a plane change or stopover.

Carry-On Bag

While baggage handling is generally reliable, delays and lost bags do occur everywhere in the world. Pack your carry-on bag as if it were the only bag you will receive! You can usually borrow a rifle and ammo and purchase basic clothing articles, so mandatory in the carry-on are binoculars, camera, extra prescription glasses, all prescription medications for the full period of your hunt, one change of clothing, and anything else you simply cannot live without for 10 days or 2 weeks.

Checked Bags

Luggage must be rugged and waterproof, but soft duffel bags are better than hard-sided luggage because they are easier to fit into vehicles and smaller final transport to camp.

Shooting Off of Sticks

In African hunting, three-legged shooting sticks are almost universal. There are several reasons for this.

  • They get you up off the ground. Low vegetation often precludes shooting positions commonly used elsewhere (such as prone, sitting, and kneeling) because the animal is often obscured.
  • Even when a low position is possible, everything in Africa has thorns, and biting ants are a common pest in many areas. Shooting standing off sticks solves the problem.
  • Sticks are ideal in the African situation. The lead tracker often carries them. During a deliberate stalk, the PH usually takes the sticks and the lead. But if an animal is suddenly spotted or encountered within shooting range, the lead tracker will customarily set up the sticks and fade to one side. The PH comes up to the other side to evaluate the animal. Your job as the hunter is to step forward, avoiding sudden movements, get the rifle on the sticks, and be prepared to shoot if the PH gives the go-ahead.
  • With hippos, use of shooting sticks is very likely. For shots at crocodiles, use of shooting sticks is extremely unlikely and not recommended. Because of the crocodile’s wariness, it would be very unusual to stalk standing up. And very few hunters can achieve enough steadiness to reliably place a brain shot off of shooting sticks.

Shooting Sticks Technique

Shooting sticks require practice! It takes a bit of work to become comfortable and familiar with shooting sticks. The two primary secrets are:

  • Learn the right height for you! Usually, it’s about the level of the top shirt button, so you can lean slightly forward into the sticks.
  • Placement of your supporting hand. Never rest the barrel directly on the junction of the sticks (or anything else). The ideal is to grasp both the fore-end of your rifle and the sticks, tying them together. Not everyone has large enough hands to do this, so you have to find what works for you. This is another exam you can’t cram for! Don’t let range day be the first time you’ve ever used sticks. Make your own or get a commercial set, and practice with it on your own range. Then you can not only demonstrate your ability but also show your PH and your trackers exactly how you like the sticks set up.

Practice does make perfect! Sticks are not a perfect solution; slight horizontal wobble is almost unavoidable. However, with practice, most shooters can become adequately steady for perhaps 150-yard shots, certainly covering almost all shots at aquatics.

Steady and Steadier

With shots at hippos, the range will be fairly close, but the target for the brain shot is small. The shot must be placed well, but speed with follow-up body shots is also essential. Practice on your range until you can consistently hit a four-inch target off sticks at 50 yards. This should prepare you for a brain shot at a hippo.

Loaded or Unloaded?

As in all things, listen to your PH, and follow his or her directions! Typically, the rifle will be carried with cartridges in the magazine but with the chamber unloaded until the PH directs. The PH will walk ahead of you, and in areas where dangerous game might be present, his or her rifle will usually be fully loaded and ready. Yours doesn’t need to be until you are “action imminent.” There is very little imminent danger while tracking aquatics. So, there is usually no reason for the chamber to be loaded until an actual stalk begins.

The basic rule is that the chamber should not be loaded unless you can absolutely control the direction of the muzzle. This means that if you are carrying the rifle slung over your shoulder, the chamber should be clear. In areas where dangerous game is present, most PHs don’t use rifle slings; they carry their rifles in their hands, and the rifles are always ready.

Most sport hunters do use slings, and that’s fine. But a fully loaded rifle should not be slung because it is impossible to control the muzzle in the case of a slip or fall, and many mechanical safeties can be brushed off by clothing while a rifle is slung. If in doubt, never hesitate to ask your PH if you should chamber a round.

Mechanical Safeties

The safety on your rifle is not a substitute for safe gun handling but serves as a backup for momentary lapses. Even if you are carrying your rifle at “port arms” ready, you may briefly lose control of the muzzle direction if you slip or stumble. But when glassing and tracking, whether carrying the rifle casually or slung, the muzzle is not under tight control, so the chamber should be clear.

Whether loaded or unloaded, the muzzle must be pointed in a safe direction. When the chamber is loaded, check the mechanical safety constantly to make sure it is engaged. African hunting is especially problematic for gun handling safety because it is normal for you, your PH, and your trackers to walk single file, and you as the hunter will be well back in the line. No matter how you carry your rifle and how often you check your safety, focus on keeping the muzzle in a safe direction: UP, DOWN, or SIDEWAYS.

Shots at Crocodile and Hippo Transcript

Shots at Crocodile

In order to prevent the crocodile from escaping into the water, there are really just two reliable shots: the brain and the spine. But after the shot, motion is absolutely inevitable, and both of those shots are now impossible. So, it’s also important to understand the shoulder/heart shot for the follow-up.

Brain Shot

The crocodile has small scaly projections called horns that are just behind and slightly above the eyes. From the side, the walnut-sized brain is located just in front of and below the horns at about a 45-degree angle. Obviously the shot must be adjusted if at any angle from broadside. And if the crocodile is facing, the brain lies directly between and slightly below the eyes. A facing-away shot is almost impossible unless circumstances are such that the shooter, perhaps from a high bank, is slightly above the crocodile. In that case, the brain is directly between and below the horns.

Even on a very large crocodile, the skull is fragile. So, while the goal is to center the brain, an expanding bullet that passes very close will probably achieve the desired result.

Craig Boddington executes a brain shot on a crocodile. Afterwards, he and the professional hunter inspect the carcass.

Professional Hunter: Nice shooting, Craig.

Craig Boddington: Yeah.

Professional Hunter: Nice shooting.

Spine Shot

This shot is actually preferred by some professional hunters because it’s relatively easy to visualize. But a broadside presentation is almost essential. When the crocodile’s lying down, the spine is almost in the vertical center of the body. From the side, you can see the mouth and the curve of the jowl behind the mouth. Stay even with this line, and shoot a few inches behind the smile. The shot will sever the spine at or near the base of the skull.

This shot is impossible from the front and from the rear. But if the shooter is in an elevated position and the crocodile is facing away, the spine offers a simpler and more visible target than the brain. Shoot directly in the center, just behind the head.

Shoulder/Heart Shot

Since crocodiles are reptiles, the success of the brain or the spine shot may not be immediately apparent. You can expect a lot of thrashing. And at this point, there’s so much movement that trying the brain or the spine again is almost impossible. So now, you need to work the action immediately and go for the shoulder/heart shot. The right place to shoot is right at the base of the shoulder, central on the body. Now, this shot is not going to immobilize the crocodile. But it might prevent its escape.

Shots at Hippo

Brain Shot

Viewed frontally, the hippo has a triangular depression right between the eyes. This is the target. A shot to the center of that triangle will center the brain. From the side, the brain shot is more difficult to visualize. Draw a line from base of ear to corner of eye, and shoot for the center of that line.

The hippo skull is surprisingly thin and fragile, especially from the front. So, neither large caliber rifles nor heavy bullets are essential. The problem is that if the brain shot fails, body shots must be taken. And these require both non-expanding solid bullets and powerful rifles.

Shoulder/Heart Shot

The shoulder/heart shot at a hippo is really no different from almost any other animal on earth, and it’s confused only by the sheer size and bulk of the animal. On a broadside presentation, visually divide the animal into horizontal thirds. Come up the center of the foreleg, one-third into the body. With a non-expanding solid, this shot will break the shoulder and penetrate through to the top of the heart or the major vessels leading to the heart.

Lung Shot

The hippo is too aggressive and too prone to charge to recommend this shot. But it’s essentially the same as with all other animals. With a broadside presentation, come up the rear line of the foreleg, one-third to one-half into the body.

Charging Shot

Hippos are extremely aggressive, and their razor-sharp tusks can cut a man in half with a single bite. So, if a hippo charges, it means business and has to be stopped. If the mouth is closed, then you can see that triangle in the center of the forehead, and that remains your aiming spot. But often they come with their mouth open and those teeth flashing. And if that’s the case, then you have to fire down that gaping mouth, and that shot’s going to sever the spine at the base of the skull. Hey, powerful rifles are essential.

After the Shot

Adrenaline is surging, and that’s good. But that’s not the time to throw away safety. After firing a shot, immediately make ready to shoot again.

With crocodiles, backup or insurance shots are almost always fired no matter what happens after the first shot. It is essential to immobilize the crocodile so that it is unable to reach deep water. Because the crocodile is a reptile, there will be significant movement even after a perfectly placed brain shot. In the case of a hippo, a brain shot will take immediate effect. But if the brain shot fails, things happen very fast.

In both situations, it’s critical to strive to place the shot perfectly, but be prepared for a follow-up shot immediately. Before you move forward, be certain you engage your safety, and maintain full control of your rifle with both hands. Before you move is the right time to top up your magazine, especially if you have fired more than one shot.

Approach downed hippos and crocodiles with extreme caution, and do not rush ahead of your PH and trackers. Approach with your PH. Ideally, approach so that a final insurance shot may be fired from a safe position—usually into heart or spine. With most animals, it is safest to approach from the rear. But with crocodiles, the swinging tail is just as dangerous as the teeth, so approach downed crocodiles from the side. Once it is certain the animal is deceased, unload your chamber.

Follow-Up Shot and Backup Shots

Follow-up shots. On the range, practice firing additional shots quickly from sticks and standing unsupported. For crocodiles, practice from a steady rest.

Backup shots. These shots are commonly thought of as being fired by your PH at your animal. Most competent PHs prefer not to fire, following the ethic that it is your animal and your long-awaited adventure. Some, usually with limited experience, are too anxious to assist.

  • The subject of backup shots must be discussed with your PH at the start of your safari. Unlike most situations, backup shots are recommended on crocodiles when practical, especially if the crocodile is near deep water. One swing of the tail and even a perfectly hit crocodile can become an expensive splash.

Stand Up and Shoot

 

Your PH’s default method will almost always be to set up the shooting sticks, but this requires both time and motion. There are situations with hippos when your stalk carries you so close that the extra movement necessary to set up the sticks is almost certain to spook the animal.

You should be prepared to shoot offhand, unsupported if the situation requires it. Absent sticks or other rest, the brain shot is not recommended because the target is too small while the target for the body shot is very large. Practice shooting standing unsupported on your range pie-plate accuracy at 40 yards is adequate. For the close-range encounter, practice so that you can raise the rifle, snicking the safety as you raise it, find the sight picture quickly, and hit the pie plate.

Shooting From a Rest

Because of the precision required to anchor a crocodile, most PHs will endeavor to incorporate a solid rest into the shot, whether from a blind or at the end of a stalk. From a blind, the rest will be very similar to rests used in leopard blinds. A stalk will usually be completed by crawling to the shooting position.

The PH will place the rest. The rest may vary from a lightweight commercial rest intended for use on a shooting bench to the field expedient of a backpack or a rolled-up jacket. The big difference between using a rest on your range and when shooting at a crocodile is the hunter must crawl into position and place the rifle over the rest with as little movement above ground level as possible. Extreme care must be taken to keep the muzzle pointed in safe direction! This can be practiced on your range at home. 

Closing on Hippo

In the final moments of a stalk—and any time a hunter is in proximity to hippos—the rifle will almost always be fully loaded (cartridge in the chamber and safety on). This is not only to be ready but also to avoid the metallic noise of working the action in proximity to game. Again, muzzle control is essential, with the mechanical safety as only a backup system.

Crawling. Depending on terrain and vegetation, a lot or a little creeping and crawling is often required to get into a final shooting position that is close enough for a brain shot. The biggest safety challenge comes when crawling is required. And this is potentially one of the most dangerous situations because many mechanical safeties can be brushed into firing position by grass and twigs. The trigger can also be snagged. Natural excitement doesn’t make it better! It is essential to focus on the muzzle, step by step, and ensure it is pointed in a safe direction. The muzzle can be offset to one side, or if you are in the rear of the line, the muzzle can be reversed.

Butt scooting. An alternative to crawling on hands and knees is to sit flat with legs forward, knees bent, and feet flat on the ground. The rifle is laid across the lap with the muzzle to either side in a safe direction and with arms straight and hands to the rear. Using legs and arms, you scoot forward a foot and then repeat. Although slow and uncomfortable, butt scooting is safer from a muzzle control standpoint. If any significant distance must be covered, it is also less strenuous than hands-and-knees and creates much less wear and tear on hands, knees, and rifle.

Closing on Crocodile

The wariness of a crocodile must be seen to be believed. If a stalk is attempted, it is essential for the hunters to keep completely and absolutely out of the crocodile’s vision. Reading and using terrain and vegetation are essential, but it is almost inevitable that a stalk will be completed in a full-out low crawl—keeping limbs, body, head, and rifle as close to ground level as possible. Crawling is extremely exhausting, but focus on firearms safety must be maintained.

Sand. In riverine terrain, it is likely that some of this crawling must be done in sand. Extreme care must be taken to avoid getting sand into the rifle’s action. The best technique is usually to lift the rifle off the ground, move it forward a foot or so, then move the body to the rifle and repeat.

Safety. While crawling toward an anticipated shooting position, the rifle will almost certainly be fully loaded with the safety on. Keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction is difficult, but it must be done. It can be offset to one side. Or if the hunter is last in line (usually second, with only the PH and the hunter) moving to the shooting position, the muzzle can be reversed and pointed rearward as long as members of the hunting party left behind are clear. While crawling, check the safety frequently to make sure it hasn’t been brushed off. Keep your fingers away from the trigger guard, and watch closely to ensure that sticks and other debris don’t contact the trigger.

The "African Carry" 

As so often seen in photos and on television, it is very common in Africa to carry the rifle with the action balanced over one shoulder, butt to the rear, muzzle forward and grasped and controlled by one hand. This is not in itself unsafe, as the hand controls the direction of the muzzle.

In order to understand the “African carry,” it’s useful to know where it comes from. In the old days when trackers also commonly served as “gunbearers,” the normal situation was for the gunbearer to walk ahead—rifle balanced on one shoulder, muzzle forward, butt to the rear. When game was encountered, the hunter needed only to reach forward, grasp the pistolgrip, and take the rifle, quickly and efficiently.

Today, almost all African hunters—professional and amateur—carry their own rifles. The “African carry” persists because few PHs use slings, and the muzzle-forward carry is very comfortable (especially with heavy double rifles, with flat action bottoms and broad muzzles to grasp). The obvious problem is the muzzle points forward. Thus, when walking in line, it is almost inevitable that the person carrying rifle will “sweep” the person walking ahead. If the rifle is unloaded, this is merely unsafe and a display of terrible manners. If the rifle is loaded, the “African carry” is potentially deadly. It is not recommended, but it is a very comfortable way to carry a rifle, especially on long, hot tracking hunts. If employed, it is essential to concentrate constantly on muzzle control. Keep the barrel offset well to the side and away from the people walking ahead.

The Professional Hunter's Greatest Concern

While we all think about Africa’s dangerous animals and snakes, most professional hunters (PHs) and guides worldwide worry most about strangers with firearms. Statistically, nearly as many PHs and trackers are injured by accidental gunshot wounds as by dangerous animals.

Range Day

One of the first events on any safari or guided hunt is to go “check zero.” Some PHs are astute “gun guys,” but many are not. Either way, they will endeavor to get you as close to your quarry as circumstances (terrain, vegetation, etc.) allow. Long-range shooting on either crocodile or hippo is out of the question, but the shot at a hippo may be standing unsupported at close range or on shooting sticks at medium range. Because the shot at a crocodile must be precise, a steady rest is almost mandatory. Over bait, a steady rest will be incorporated into blind construction. On a stalk, many PHs carry commercial rests or impromptu rests such as backpacks. Your PH has a vested interest in making certain your firearms have survived the journey and are reasonably in zero. But in most cases, they probably don’t care as much as you do that your zero is “perfect.” Crocodile hunting is an exception: Zero must be perfect, and in this situation, “dead-on” at 100 yards is recommended. As always, however, the purpose of that range day is actually threefold. The PH and his or her team—including the trackers—want not only to ensure that the rifle hasn’t shifted during travel but also to evaluate your shooting ability and your gun handling safety.

Every day is “qual day.” In the U.S. military, an oft-used saying is “every day is qualification or ‘qual’ day.” Range day is like qualification day, and it’s not an exam you cram for. Basic gun handling safety must be practiced all the time, and it matters to your safari. The way you shoot and handle your firearm on range day has much to do with the way your PH and his or her team will conduct the safari—how they will try to set up your shots, what shots they will recommend (or in fact allow) you to take, and how much time they will have to devote to watching your gun handling when they should instead be focused on finding game and orchestrating stalks. Safe gun handling starts at home on your range, but it continues on range day and must be constant throughout.