ElephantThe African bush elephant (as opposed to the African forest elephant – Loxodonta cyclotis) stands 10-13 feet tall at the shoulder and can weigh 10,360 – 13,330 pounds. It is the largest living terrestrial animal. Despite its enormous size it can be very difficult to spot an elephant in its natural habitat, and hunting them can be very difficult. This can be attributed to two factors. First, elephants can cover a lot of ground in their daily movements. For the hunter this means finding fresh tracks and then staying on that track hoping to close with the elephants before nightfall. Secondly, if elephants have been pressured they seek the thickest bush they can find. Often, it is possible to know their whereabouts, but getting close to a herd in thick bush, finding the right individual within the herd and then having enough visibility to place a killing shot can be extremely difficult and dangerous. Two other factors make the hunting of elephants particularly dangerous. One is that they are more prone to an unprovoked charge than other species. The other is that they pivot on their hind feet when investigating anything that approaches them from the rear. Thus, from the rear, if you approach to within 15 yards of a standing elephant (elephants are typically shot within 20-25 yards) and he turns on you, your “safety zone” has now suddenly shrunk to possibly only 10 yards, or even less.

In African elephants both bulls and cows can grow tusks. However, a recessive gene will sometimes produce both bulls and cows without tusks. Tusks continue to grow throughout the elephant’s lifetime. Elephants have a lifespan about the length of a human, or a bit less. Elephants are at their most fertile between the ages of 25 and 45. An elephant 60 years of age is headed toward starvation no matter how lush the vegetative environment in which it lives because it doesn’t have the dentition to properly masticate its food.

An elephant is both an important component of an ecosystem and also one of its most damaging. An elephant will consume 990 pounds of vegetation in a day. They eat grass, leaves, fruit, bark, roots and almost anything of a vegetative nature. In doing this they often strip limbs from trees, or push over the entire tree. This is beneficial in the sense that this keeps tree canopies from closing. The increased sunlight reaching the earth’s surface in turn produces a lot of forage that benefits all grazing animals. In contrast, too many elephants result in too much damage, serious reduction in tree numbers, damaged stream banks, etc. And during a drought, elephants will surround dwindling water holes denying other animals access to water.

Despite shrinking populations globally elephants are actually very much over-populated in some ecosystems, and their numbers can increase dramatically thus demanding that some sort of population control be introduced. Envision an ecosystem capable of supporting 85,000 elephants, but instead stocking levels are at 100,000. An elephant’s gestation period is about 22 months. But, a healthy population can increase at 2% per annum. Thus, those numbers get very big very quickly, like this kind of annual growth (assuming no deaths): 100,000; 102,000; 104,040; 106,120; 108,243. Thus, in this ecosystem 8,243 elephants could be removed in five years and at the end the ecosystem would still be over-populated by 15,000 elephants! The significance of this is huge.

Conflicts between elephants and a growing human population are a major issue in elephant conservation. On a good site it takes about 1500 acres to support one elephant. Thus, in the 100,000 elephant population cited above a land mass of 1.5 million acres is required. Where do such huge blocks of land come from? Who wants to set aside good productive farm land for elephants when the demands of a burgeoning human population want that land for its own purposes? Thus, controlling elephant populations is a must and the culling of elephants through lawfully controlled fee-based hunting is an important conservation tool for that purpose.

In choosing a rifle for elephant hunting, the .375 in its basic African forms is the minimum caliber by law. If that is your choice, use the largest bullet available——typically 300 grain. If you can handle the increased recoil of a .416 you will be increasing your bullet mass by 33 1/3% (300 grain to 400 grain), and theoretically your “stopping power” by the same amount. If you can manage a .458, .470, or .500 you will realize yet an even more significant increase in stopping power. However, you must be able to deliver the first shot, and any subsequent shots, with confidence and this is not always possible for every shooter with the bigger calibers. For sure, the average first-time elephant hunter does not need a double rifle in typical African calibers to kill an elephant. The best choice is a reliable bolt-action rifle with a low power scope mounted low over the bore. Two characteristics such a rifle must have is unfailing reliability, and a certain “quickness” in the hands. Clumsily stocked rifles with long barrels and over-sized scopes are not the ticket for this type of hunting. Bullet placement includes the side brain shot, the frontal brain shot, or the heart lung area. These locations are best understood by consulting books dealing with shot placement. All elephants should be shot with solid bullets —- not expanding bullets.