Big Boomers

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CHARGE-STOPPERS.The very name evokes scenes of hooves, horns, tusks and teeth thwarted at arm’slength in choking dust, the sounds of gunshots ringing in your ears. The ideabehind the concept is that a bullet with sufficient mass and velocity containsenough “ummph” to prevent the largest and most dangerous of beasts fromreaching you in a determined, murderous rush. Bonus points go to cartridgeswith the dimensions of a Churchill cigar. But what is a charge-stopper,exactly? How does it work? (Or not?) And what are the oft-debated”minimum” cartridges and bullets that qualify?

THE MYTH:”I’ve never seen a charging animal get hit in the chest and knocked off itsfeet,” says Walter Johnson, an African-born professional hunter who startedhis guiding career in the early ’60s. “I think it’s a lot of bull to saythat a bullet will knock an animal over because of its impact. It’s aboutplacement.” Johnson’s experience shooting lions with 510-grain softpointsfrom a .458 Lott–a thumping cartridge by anyone’s yardstick–illustrates thefolly of “impact” as a factor in killing game, let alone stopping acharge. “I like that bullet because it won’t exit the animal. You’d thinkthat with all that energy it would knock the animal over, but it doesn’t. Agood shot will put the animal down, but a bad shot will send it runningoff.”

THE REALITY: JoeCoogan, who has guided in Africa for 25 years, agrees with Johnson’sassessment. “The thing that stops an animal is killing it, meaning to takethe brain out and turn off the lights,” he says. “Hitting whatever itis that’s charging in the right place is the key.” Of course, the caveat isto fire a bullet that can penetrate well enough to hit that”switch.”

What works?During the royal colonial era in Kenya, regulations stipulated a bore size ofat least .40 caliber for thick-skinned game, a “sensible” minimum inCoogan’s estimation. Johnson prefers .458-caliber cartridges for dangerousgame, though he can’t argue with the results his father, Wally Johnson, and hisfather’s partner, Harry Manners–both renowned ivory hunters and safariguides–had with their .375 H&Hs. “We tried to get them to take biggerrifles, but they wouldn’t put down their .375s,” Johnson says. “Theirsuccess says a lot about that cartridge.”


The Minimum .375 H&H: Loaded with a 270-grain softpoint, this cartridge has proven itsworth countless times over the decades on buffalo, lions and even elephants.Its long-range capabilities (sighted 2.5 inches high at 100 yards, it hits just8 inches low at 300) give it an edge over its bigger brethren.

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

BULLET MV (fps) ME (ft./lb.)
270-gr. SP 2,870 4,141

The Sweet Spot .416 Rigby: When you’re shooting the 400-grain bullets available for thisold-time cartridge, there’s nothing on earth you can’t hunt with confidence. At2,300 to 2,400 fps, these projectiles generate about 5,000 foot-pounds ofenergy at the muzzle and penetrate deeply through thick skin and bone.

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

BULLET MV (fps) ME (ft./lb.)
400-gr. Solid 2,400 5,115

The Big Hurt .458 Lott: Yes, this cartridge hits hard at both ends of the rifle, but withthe stock in your shoulder you can be sure that whatever you tag downrange willfeel a lot worse than you. And if what you’re shooting is big enough, you won’tfeel it at all, which is why you use the Lott in the first place.

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

|||| |—|—|—| | BULLET| MV (fps)| ME (ft./lb.)| | 500-gr. SP| 2,300| 5,872| RUGER MAGNUM

This rifle has many of the features sought in afirearm for dangerous game: controlled-round feed, oversize claw extractor,integral quarter rib with scope bases and a bedding system reinforced withcrossbolts. It doesn’t hurt that it has good looks and a well-deservedreputation for accuracy. Available in .375 H&H, .416 Rigby, .458 Lott.($2,200;