Don’t buy an elephant gun for moose hunting

Published on July 14, 2012

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