Don’t buy an elephant gun for moose hunting

Paul Smith
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The moose licences are digitally allocated and out for another year.

I say digitally because I haven’t actually received anything in the snail mail just yet. But I checked online and there it was, a bull-only license for area 34, Bay de Verde, my home hunting grounds.

So if you haven’t checked and you’re anxious, log on and sign in.

I haven’t had a licence in my own backyard since 1999 and I’m pretty excited.  

I’ve been hunting moose for quite a long time now, well over 30 years. Even years when I don’t have a licence myself, I’m roaming the woods and barrens in search of a critter with one of my buddies.

I shot my first moose on the first day of the season in 1979. Beginner’s luck was definitely shining upon me that foggy and rainy morning. The conditions were far from ideal and we knew nothing about calling moose like we do nowadays. Nevertheless, I shot a fine nine-point bull from about 150 yards with a brand new rifle that I had bought just two weeks before. I think it might have been the perfect moose hunting rifle.  

Sadly, I later sold it for something glossy, fandangled and more powerful. It was a big error in judgment that I’ve lived to regret. Savage discontinued manufacture of their model 99 lever action and I’m looking for a well-loved, used one.

 What constitutes a perfect moose gun? This is a question that often sparks heated debate amongst hunters. Even armchair experts love to have a say on this one.

In my view, it depends to a large degree on how you hunt. So what I really meant earlier is that the Savage 99 chambered in .308-win was the perfect gun for me. It was a pleasure to carry, reloaded fast, and was very accurate to shoot offhand. It also hit plenty hard to kill a moose cleanly out to 300 yards. Those are characteristics I seek and covet in a rifle.

That said, I’ll leave perfect hunting rifles for another day’s column. Today, I want to tell you what definitely not to buy if you’re in the moose gun market.

The .375 Holland & Holland magnum is one of the most recognizable rounds used for dangerous and thick-skinned game in Africa. It launches bullets in the 270 to 300-grain range at speeds of around 2,700 feet per second (ft/s). To put this in perspective, the 30-06 Springfield — probably the most popular big game gun in North America — sends a 180-grain slug of lead out the barrel at 2,900 ft/s.

The 30-06 has a substantial kick and is a formidable weapon. The recoil takes a bit of getting accustomed and conditioned to. If you flinch your shoulder in expectation of the kick, you will never shoot straight and true. The .375 H&H kicks like a mule, twice as hard or more than a 30-06. But it will kill a moose no deader.

Moose are big but they have thin skin that is easily penetrated by a 180-grain bullet. The extra bullet weight in the .375 is to get through the thick hides on big dangerous critters like the Cape buffalo. African hunters need to suffer the punishing recoil of heavy calibres to hunt the massive beasts that roam the Dark Continent. You have to be committed and experienced to shoot well with these hard-hitting rifles.

In 2001, Remington introduced to the world a beefed-up .375 calibre cartridge, the .375 Remington Ultra Mag. It is a ferociously powerful gun, touted as an excellent elephant gun by ballistic experts. It recoils 3.5 times as hard as a 30-06 Springfield.

My friend’s uncle bought one for moose hunting. Not only that, but he chose Remington’s model 700 Titanium model, which is extremely light. Usually, magnum safari sort of rifles are heavy and the extra weight absorbs some of the horrendous recoil.

Guess who got the job of mounting a scope on the beast and sighting it in? Yours truly would experience the wrath of the ultra mag. I mounted a VX3 Leupold in machined steel rings held to the receiver with steel bases. There’s no place for cast or aluminum parts on this big thumper.  

The VX3 is tested and proven in both the factory and field to withstand magnum recoils, but only time and burnt powder will seal its fate on this shoulder canon.

Matt Brazil and I took the .375 to the St. John’s Rod and Gun Club early in the morning a couple of days ago for sighting in. I didn’t want anybody watching in fear that I might cry from the sledgehammer recoil. Just joking, but seriously I was a tad nervous about shooting the beast. The size of the bullets can set your feet to trembling.

I chambered a round and took the first shot standing.  I rolled with the recoil and it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. But you can’t sight in a rifle from the standing position.  It would have to be shot from the bench and I knew this would be zero fun.

I set the fore stock on a sandbag and lined up the crosshairs on the 25 yard bull’s eye. The rifle barked its deep-throated roar and my shoulder took the full brunt of its fury. I didn’t shed a tear, but it hurt. I put it out of my mind and adjusted the scope turrets for the next round.

Bang! — and the rifle hit dead on at 25 yards. Now it should shoot to the mark at around 200 yards or so. Next I needed to fine-tune at 100 yards. I fired five rounds with tiny adjustments here and there until the beast hit 1.5 inches high at 100 yards. My shoulder was hurting more with each round but I needed final verification at 200 yards.

I set up at 200 and bloody well flinched the shot. I think I might have closed my eyes long before the firing pin hit the primer. Matt was looking at the target with his binos and called the shot high and to the left.  It didn’t count anyway. I knew I messed it up.

That’s what happens with hard-kicking guns, and sometimes you can get into bad habits that are hard to break. I regained my composure and settled in for what I hoped would be the last punishing smack to the shoulder. I tightened my squeeze on the trigger gently and the rifle barked with not a hint of movement off target. I knew the shot was good and Matt called it just a smidgen off the bull. Perfect.

My shoulder was tender for a week.

The moral of the story is resoundingly, do not go out and buy an elephant gun for moose hunting.  There is absolutely nothing to gain and your shoulder and marksmanship will surely suffer.

Safari guns are for Africa and dangerous, thick-skinned game — stuff that will trample you into the earth if you don’t kill them outright. Only then is it worth the soreness I feel today.


Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at



Organizations: Rod and Gun Club

Geographic location: Bay de Verde, Africa, North America Brazil

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Recent comments

  • Liam C
    April 12, 2016 - 13:56

    The only reason i carry .375 h&h is not for the moose but for mr grizz. At the point in time your being charged by a mother grizz with three cubs (been there) you will be wishing you left your .308 in the cabinet. Not saying a .308 couldn't do the job with well placed shots, but last time this happened to me i had literally seconds to react, I owe my life to my .375.

  • Aiden
    February 03, 2016 - 11:16

    Ya, you obviously don't shoot heavier caliber rifles all that often if you are whining about the recoil of the rifle. I weigh about 130 lbs and I shoot 300 grain Federal from a Model 70 Safari express in t-shirts, at times close to 100 rounds in a day, so I think you might have to suck it up a bit princess.

  • Lucas
    December 13, 2014 - 22:14

    I hunt with a 375Ruger. Same recoil as a 375H&H. I hunt black bear, deer, moose. It is not too much gun. Nor is its a elephant gun. If you are a experienced shooter it is not bad at all. It causes less meat loss then my 30-06. If a gun is too much for you dose not make it too much for everyone else. "Even armchair experts love to have a say on this one" How's your couch?

    • paul smith
      December 14, 2014 - 09:05

      Hey Lucas. I'm not exactly as armchair expert. I've been shooting moose since I was 18 and high power rifles since 12. Now I'm 55, and that's a lot of gunpowder. I've shot a very broad range of calibers. But enough of that. I agree the .375 Ruger likely spoils less meat. That's because it's a slower heavier bullet. I use a 45-70 quite a bit and that's the nature of the big bore - heavy bullet beast. I like it. That said -- if the shot is well place np rifle will spoil excessive meat. The gun I referred to as elephant gun was the .375 Ultramag -- not your .375 Ruger. And I said that you have to put the time and burn lots of powder if you were to shoot straight with one of the big bores. I did not say the .375's were too much gun for experienced shooters. After all you have to shoot straight ion the dark continent. The rifle I do take issue with is the .375 Rem Ultramag in whats essentially a super lightweight mountain rifle. That caliber is much more potent than your .375 ruger and in a light weight format kicks like a mule on steroids. Give it a try sometime and let me know what you think -- that's if your haven't already. It is far different than a standard weight .375 ruger or H&H. I have shot both and incidentally -- not while sitting on my couch.

  • Jim
    June 20, 2014 - 11:54

    Good article. I do hunt with a 375 H&H Mag, but I also reload fro accuracy. I will admit that factory ammo will get your shoulder sore after a bit but reloading to a more accurate load maintains good velocity and results. Now my 458 Lott is another story, no matter how I reload that one, it still will bite ya :-)

  • Jason Winters
    July 19, 2012 - 17:07

    Good argument Anna, just because i don't know how they kill the cow, it makes it ok.... LOL Unless you don't eat meat at all your can't weigh in your opinion saying that harvesting one from of meat is different then the other. They still Kill that animal so you can fill you mouth. BTW Anna they just don't talk about it they made a movie about it, Fast Food Nation.

  • Anna
    July 17, 2012 - 14:25

    but you don't hear people eating hamburgers going into detail about they killed the cow, the only thing to do Amanda is ignore this column at it is too upsetting.

  • Jason Winters
    July 16, 2012 - 10:06

    Amanda Scott, If hunting is a past time of sickos, what would you call animals that hunt for food? would you too call them sickos? Animals hunt and kill for food every day to survive. Humans still hunt for food aswell. Killing a Moose is no different then having a hamburger cause well they kill cows too.

  • Amanda Scott
    July 14, 2012 - 16:37

    Hunting must be banned. It is the pastime of sickos. I feel I'll reading this stuff. Leave the moose in peace they haven't done anything to you.

    • kibbledog
      October 01, 2015 - 16:58

      Hunting should not be banned. I am a target shooter and never hunted - of course that is another argument isn't it - guns should be banned as well according to many out there. Listen - I eat beef, pork, chicken and fish, and none of it was eaten alive when it was consumed. I don't know how it all got started, but the notion that humans are no longer supposed to be "hunter gathers" is hogwash. I have met hunters and sports shooters from all "walks of life". And they are not the stereotypical "duck dynasty" folks that many people in-vision. If you don't want to hunt or handle firearms, fine - leave the rest of us alone to live our lives in peace.