An eland bull is a huge, impressive animal, and hunting one is an experience you won’t soon forget.
© Massaro Media Group
By Phil Massaro
My first safari was a ten-day jaunt spent on South Africa’s Orange Free State, in the semi-Karoo region not far outside of Bloemfontein. The terrain looked much like the photos I’d seen of classic East African safaris on the Serengeti Plain; couple that with the fact that I wasn’t far from the birthplace of J.R.R. Tolkien and I was just this side of heaven. Like any first-timer, the grandeur of simply being in Africa caused insomnia, euphoria, and elation, and with my well-planned shopping list in pocket, I knew exactly what I wanted to hunt. And, like any first-timer, that list was immediately revised as I was exposed to varying species ‘on-the-hoof’, and I began to just enjoy my time on African soil, but the one species that hooked me hard was the eland.
Yes, I still wanted a kudu – though that would take over a decade to happen – and still do, but my first sight of an eland bull was an absolute game-changer. The sheer size of the big blue bull was awe-inspiring, but the grace with which these animals carry themselves, whether crossing a fence as though it weren’t an issue at all, or watching the herd go into that famous trot-run that they can maintain for miles was nearly unbelievable. I was hooked, and the eland moved right up to the top of my list in a hurry.
I’d brought two rifles on that first safari: an Interarms Mark X in .300 Winchester Magnum and a Winchester Model 70 in .375 H&H Magnum. Though there was to be no dangerous game pursued on this hunt – though I did learn what the Afrikaans phrase “gevaarlike dier” meant in a hurry – I felt that bringing a three-seven-five to Africa was just proper in some manner. Once I’d seen the eland, I knew the cartridge had a worthy adversary on this plains game hunt. Dawid Schoeman was the PH on that first hunt, and we were hunting four contiguous ranches owned by Dr. Piet Venter. We’d need to obtain Dr, Venter’s permission to take one of his mpofu (the Zulu word for eland) bulls, and when I saw the gentleman nod his head in affirmation, I knew I was in for a great time.
The huge, flat plains were dotted with acacias – and I quickly became acquainted with the capabilities of their thorns – but there were a good number of tall kopjes which afforded a good vantage point for glassing the surrounding areas. The plan was to climb a kopje early in the morning, glass diligently to find the eland and/or kudu, and make a plan to set out after the chosen quarry. It was two or three days later when we caught sight of the herd from the top of the tallest kopje, descended as fast as possible, and got on their trail. By mid-morning, we caught the tail end of the big herd, and followed diligently, minding the wind as the day heated up. We ran out of cover with the herd still a long way in front of us; leopard-crawling between termite mounds was our only hope. Reaching the last of the rust-colored heaps of earth, we glassed the herd and easily identified the huge bull we wanted. Problem was, there were four football fields between us, and that’s a poke for the .375 H&H. We had the wind in our favor, and discussed the option of slithering across the open, but opted to use the dead-steady rest that the termite mound offered. We deliberated about the distance in those pre-rangefinder days, and agreed on an even 400 yards, or so close it didn’t matter. I had prepared a drop chart for just such an unfortunate circumstance, wrapped my arm in the rifle’s sling, dialed the Leupold scope up to 9x, held for the appropriate amount of trajectory drop and compensated for the steady wind, and broke the Winchester’s trigger. It took a second or two, but the unmistakable sound of a bullet breaking bone came back on the wind. The herd vacated the area – actually running within 75 yards of us – but that bull was hit hard, and though he didn’t drop, he couldn’t run either.
Massaro with a South African eland bull, taken in 2004 with a .375 H&H Magnum and handloaded 300-grain Swift A-Frame bullets. ©Massaro Media Group
The 300-grain Swift A-Frame couldn’t have been placed better, breaking the shoulder and traveling into the heart. Approaching to 200 yards, Dawid spread the sticks and I delivered the coup-de-grace, and soon stood, proudly, over one of the largest animals I’d seen up to that point.
Fast forward fifteen years, and I’d find myself in Namibia with the guys from Federal Premium ammunition, hunting with Jamy Traut’s outfit during one of the worst droughts in living memory. His place has a wide variety of terrain, including those lovely red sand dunes, as well as some acacia-dotted plains, with the occasional small hill we used for glassing. We’d had a great week, with some wild adventures, including sleeping under the stars on the Namib escarpment in pursuit of Hartmann’s mountain zebra – I took a grand old stallion – a red hartebeest bull and a really good springbok, but once I saw the eland herd, my focus for the remaining time was on the big guys. Hunting with PH Maré van der Merwe, we spent a couple of days tracking the herd around the huge Panorama concession, and finally drew to within 250 yards.
The drought had taken its toll in many ways, including robbing us of most of the cover. We got into a bit of a depression, moving as quickly as possible in that awkward Chuck Berry duck-walk, desperately trying to close the gap without running out of daylight. For that hunt I was using a late-1950s vintage Colt Coltsman rifle, chambered in .300 Holland & Holland Magnum. I had handloaded 180-grain Federal Trophy Bonded Tip bullets to a muzzle velocity of 2,905 fps, and it had proved to be a great combination. In fact, among the crew of us that Federal had brought, we had a lot of trouble keeping any of their premium bullets in an animal, and because of that drought the shots were on the longer side of normal. Our bull – my bull, with the impossible long horns – offered a broadside shot at over 300 yards, and I held for a half-foot of elevation, and broke the Colt’s trigger. Dead steady on the classic three-legged African shooting sticks, I knew the shot went true, but I absolutely did not expect what happened next: the bull fell out of the scope. Even through the recoil of the Super .30 I watched the bull tip over and stay there; I had suspected a spine shot, but it was a high heart/lung shot that just planted him. And staying in the tradition of the week, I couldn’t recover that bullet either.
Cartridges for eland
Federal loads the excellent Swift A-Frame bullet in their Safari line, making a perfect choice for taking an eland bull and Cape buffalo bull as well. © Federal Premium
I am often asked for cartridge recommendations for a first time plains game hunt, and my answer is often “bring your favorite deer rifle.” While that may generally true, my answer is also skewed by growing up in Upstate New York, where an all-around rifle is more often a .270 Winchester, .30-’06 Springfield or .308 Winchester, as black bears were often on the menu. I don’t feel a .243 Winchester or .25-’06 Remington makes a good choice for a plains game hunt which includes eland. At the very minimum, a 6.5mm cartridge with a stout 140-grain bullet could handle a true blue bull, but you’ve really got to pick your shot carefully. A better choice is one of the .270s with 150-grain bullets, and I’d be even happier with a 7mm 160-grain premium bullet or a 180-grain .30 caliber, and I wouldn’t frown upon the choice of a magnum cartridge. If you are on a dangerous game hunt, and have just a big bore with you, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using a .375, .404 Jeffery, one of the .416s, .458s or even a .470 NE if you can make the shot.
The common eland – Taurotragus oryx – can be larger than any Cape buffalo, weighing in excess of 2,000 pounds; get into a true ‘blue bull’ (so named for the color when the hair beings to fall out on older specimens) and you have a formidable slab of meat which requires a good amount of penetration to reach the vitals. Like other antelope species, the heart and lungs lie behind the stout shoulder bones, and that joint can test the mettle of lighter bullets. If someone were to look to the single ultimate choice for an eland cartridge, I’d have to consider the .300 Winchester Magnum, or even the .338 Winchester Magnum if the recoil can be handled. Though rare these days, my pet .318 Westley Richards would be a perfect choice out to 300 or 350 yards, and I could suggest the .338-’06 as well for a lighter recoiling option.
Bullet choices for eland
The author has a penchant for the .300 Holland & Holland Magnum; when mated with a premium bullet like the Federal Trophy Bonded Tip, the old cartridge performs even better. ©Federal Premium
I have used premium bullets for both the eland I hunted, and stand by my decision. I like big holes in an animal to ensure a quick, humane kill, and I prefer two holes over just one. There are plenty of good choices, from the Federal Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, Trophy Bonded Tip and Terminal Ascent, to the Nosler Partition and AccuBond, to the Barnes TSX and TTSX, Swift A-Frame, Peregrine Bushmaster, Woodleigh Weldcore, Hornady DGX Bonded and more.
What I’m looking for is controlled expansion; in the event that I hit those big bones I don’t want by bullet stopped due to over-expansion. The high weight retention of the bonded-core and monometal designs is a welcome feature for the serious eland hunter. At the same time I want to guarantee expansion for longer shots (both of my bulls were between 300 and 400 yards, not the norm) so I can get the biggest hole through the vitals. I would probably point to the Swift A-Frame, Barnes TSX and Nosler Partition for an all-around choice.
Same species, different build
Massaro with a Namibian eland bull, taken with the classic .300 H&H Magnum and a 180-grain Federal Trophy Bonded Tip bullet. ©Massaro Media Group
Not all eland are created equal, and certain areas are renowned for their bigger-bodied bulls. Two areas that come quickly to mind are northern Namibia – up in the area of the Caprivi Strip – as well as the central to northern reaches of neighboring Botswana. In order to get some further insight into the bulls of those regions, I reached out to a couple of good friends: Namibian PH Divan Labuschagne, and Botswana PH Jay Leyendecker. Divan is a native Namibian, while Jay is one of the few U.S. citizens to obtain a Bostwana Professional Hunter’s license. Both are highly experienced, and I respect both of their opinions highly.
Labushagne had this to offer: “I started my hunting career after school as I joined PH and outfitter Arthure Vickermann from Botswana where I hunted for some time until Botswana closed hunting.
I then came back to my home country Namibia where I built my own camp in eastern Namibia. We hunted mostly plains game and leopard. In 2018 Karl Stumpfe let me join the Ndumo hunting team up north in Namibia’s famous Caprivi where we run and operate four areas mainly for Elephant, buffalo, hippo, leopard and many more.
Regarding the eland up here, I have never seen eland this big and clever in my life. These bulls can grow as large as 2,000lbs.
Our area is a 700,000-acre open, free range area sandwiched between Angola to the north and Botswana to the south with some very thick cluster leaves forests where these bulls grow old and smart. Hunting these big bodied bulls requires patience, knowledge of the area and of course the eland itself. Tracking is the preferred way of hunting these big bulls and can sometimes take hours even days. One has to be very careful when tracking them because if they notice you the chase is on and most often won by the bull. They can trot for miles before coming to a stop and by then you are hours behind and have to play catch up for most of the time.
On a very hot summer day things can go your way if you can stay on the track as the bull will stop, more often in the blistering African heat to rest and that gives you the chance to gain valuable ground and hopefully get in shooting position.
Ammo and rifle choices can lead to a very long debate because everyone has his or her own opinion about bullets and rifles.
I love the .300 Win Mag for most plains game and works great on eland but still I believe a little bigger is always better. I love the .375 H&H with a well constructed bullet like Barnes or Swift A-Frame. When hunting big bodied bulls like these you need a very good bullet that will hold together and do the job, or if not you will spend most of your day tracking a very smart bull in some thick cover for hours, even days.
An eland bull will have a prominent dark patch of hair on his forehead, called a ruff. ©Divan Labuschagne
I do actually believe the bulls up here are a bit tougher than most eland south from here on game farms and such. Just because of the simple fact that these bulls are proper free range and can go wherever they want, they can go to where the food is best and thus can grow extremely large and tough.”
Leyendecker shared his eland expertise, adding the following: “I’ve seen many eland bulls taken with a variety of calibers, from .270 Winchester to .308 Winchester, and .300 Winchester Magnum, all the way up to .375 H&H and .416 Rigby. Interestingly, in my years as a Professional Hunter, I’ve never had a client take one with a double rifle, although I had often fantasized about it and thought it would be a fantastic experience.
If I had to choose my top eland calibers, given the density of the brush that they typically like, the usual distances of the initial shots, and the sheer enormity of the species, my list would be first the .375 H&H, secondly the .300 Winchester Magnum, and thirdly the .416 Rigby. The .375 has the capability of distance and striking power; a shot can easily
be taken at 300 yards in capable hands with a great understanding of the caliber and trajectory. With the .300 Magnums you may not achieve the penetration of the .375 and raking shots will be difficult. More specifically, on a hard quartering away shot presentation, the animal’s rumen will often stop a well-placed shot before I can get into the vital organs, and therefore result in a long day of tracking.
The .416 Rigby – and Ruger – is equally as capable as the .375, however I have had an incident where the client was not able to square up properly on the rifle, and the scope kissed him, so to speak. It was nothing of his fault it was just the way the animal was position. Had it been a .375, I feel nothing would’ve happened. The .300 would’ve kicked the least, but the animal was in a very, very strong quartering-away position. He took the shot right in front of the left hip and the with the bullet’s path reaching the opposing shoulder, killing the animal cleanly. That bull went less than 100 yards before piling up.
The hooves of an eland bull will ‘cross’, resulting in a clicking sound when the walk. If conditions are right, it can be heard at a considerable distance.
©Massaro Media Group
Namibian Professional Hunter Divan Labuschagne and client with a well-worn eland bull.
© Divan Labuschagne