DALLAS — A native Kansan and decorated veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Craig Boddington is one of the country's foremost authorities on African safari hunting in addition to an accomplished North American game hunter.
With more than 30 years of staff-writing experience for some of the outdoors most acclaimed publications and more than 3,000 published feature articles, 19 books on hunting and shooting as well numerous video collections and his work as host of the television show, Dallas Safari Club's Tracks Across Africa, Boddington is speaking to attendees of this week's DSC Convention in Dallas about the importance of selecting the right rifle for African safaris.
But in between educating fellow hunters on the virtues and subtleties of big-bore rifles and other work on behalf of DSC, he took some time to speak with ESPN Outdoors about his opinions and experiences on safari shooting.
ESPN Outdoors: You're speaking at the Dallas Safari Club Convention on selecting a safari rifle. Which calibers do you recommend for plains game, large game and dangerous game?
Boddington: For plains game, a caliber adequate for the largest game you will hunt. Your favorite deer or elk rifle is probably close! For thick-skinned, dangerous game, the largest caliber you shoot well.
ESPN Outdoors: Which specific models for these calibers? Which attributes make these rifles ideal?
Boddington: Whatever gives you the most confidence — provided it has absolute reliability. Africa is no place for a brand-new rifle!
ESPN Outdoors: When matching a firearm to the species, when in doubt, should hunters always opt for the largest calibers?
Boddington: No. A hunter should opt for the largest caliber, within legal minimums, that he or she shoots well.
ESPN Outdoors: Talk about the importance of ammunition in relation to safari hunting. Is it as vital as caliber selection?
Boddington: We argue endlessly about cartridges and calibers, but it's always the bullet that does the work. So the bullet should be selected with at least as much care as the cartridge.
ESPN Outdoors: Talk about optics selection for safari rifles and when they are or aren't needed.
Boddington: A good scope with medium magnification is essential for plains game and the cats. Buffalo are fun to hunt with open-sighted, big bores, but over time you will take more buffalo and bigger buffalo — and more cleanly — with a low-powered scope. Iron sights are absolutely superior for elephant hunting.
ESPN Outdoors: Safari-grade rifles normally conjure images of magnificent wood, ornate inlays and custom gunsmith work. How much have the more utilitarian, synthetic-stocked, off-the-shelf rifles been embraced by safari hunters?
Boddington: Personally, I prefer good walnut in Africa because it's more traditional and, although this is silly, looks better in photos! In general, however, synthetic stocks are always more practical — and are the only way to go for forest and rainy season safaris.
As for the difference between custom or factory, there is always a bit of extra confidence with a custom rifle built especially for you — and more bragging rights — but factory rifles today are so good there is very little practical advantage.
ESPN Outdoors: Whether used for plains game or dangerous game, what features must Craig Boddington's rifle possess before it can be considered for safari use?
Boddington: Reliability is first and foremost. Like most Americans, I'm a nut for accuracy, but, realistically, very little long-range shooting is done in Africa, so reliability is far more important. Versatility is also very important with plains game rifles, while dangerous game rifles are — by definition — much more specialized.
ESPN Outdoors: Hypothetically speaking, if you were hunting Africa for a mixed bag of plains game, large game and a cat with only one rifle, which would you choose?
Boddington: Since 1912, the two best choices have been a .375 or a .416, mounted with a scope but with iron sights and detachable mounts. If the safari is primarily plains game with maybe a cat and a buffalo, the .375 is the better choice. I love the great old .375 H&H, but recently have been using the .375 Ruger a lot, and I have used the .375 RUM and .375 Weatherby. Take your pick.
If the safari has some multiples of buffalo and elephant with less emphasis on plains game, then a .416 is perhaps a better choice — again, take your pick on which .416 cartridge. I prefer the .416 Rigby for nostalgia, but the .416 Remington and .416 Ruger are equal in performance.