Calibers for Texas Super Exotics

By Kerry O’Day

The best thing about hunting in Texas is all the exotic game you can hunt. When you say exotic game most people think Fallow deer, Axis deer, and Blackbuck antelope. But here in Texas, we have many more super exotic game that can be hunted.

One of the best-known and my favorite animals to hunt is Nilgai antelope. This great exotic antelope comes from India. A big bull can weigh 800 pounds and cows will weigh 400 to 500 pounds. The Nilgai is hard to hunt, hard to kill and one of the most challenging hunts there is. You don’t want to hunt a big Nilgai bull with a small caliber gun like a 30-06 or even a 300 Win Mag. Big calibers work much better. Many ranches use 338 Mags or 35 Whelens and even 375 H&H’s.
Nilgai is just one super exotic game in Texas but we also have Eland, Water Buffalo, American Buffalo, Gaur, and even Cape Buffalo. The Gaur and African Cape Buffalo can be found and hunted on ranches like the Ox Ranch, YO Ranch or Champion Ranch. Any of these big game hunts require a big caliber gun to break down these strong tough animals and stop them.

With the exception of the Gaur buffalo, I have been lucky enough to hunt all of these super exotics and have found out how dangerous and hard to kill some of these animals really are. For most of them I was using a 35 Whelen or a 416 Taylor caliber but here are several other calibers to consider when hunting game that take a lot of bullet and energy to stop them.

The best calibers for hunting super exotic game are a minimum of 338 Winchester but the 338 Ultra is a better choice, 35 Whelen, 375 H&H, 416 Remington, 458 Win, or the 458 Lott. Yes, there are some other calibers like 470 or 500 Nitro Express but these calibers are fair and usually only come in double rifles where any of the other calibers are available in standard bolt action rifles.

It takes heavy well-constructed bullets to go through the thick skin, break bone and drive through to the vital area of these big animals. In most cases, a bullet has to penetrate 12 to 16 inches before it gets to the heart or lung area of the game. A good shoulder shot or a quartering shoulder shot is best if you can break a shoulder bone and get the bullet into the heart, then the animal is going nowhere. Unlike White-Tail deer, shooting behind the shoulder doesn’t work. The heart area is lower in the chest on all of these big buffalo-type game and with just a lung shot the animal can go for miles before it will die. I once saw an American bison shot 8 times behind the shoulder into the lungs before the guide finished it off with a bullet in the head. The bison didn’t even act like it had been shot just kept on walking.

If you’re using a 338 or 35 caliber gun, use the heavy 250-grain bullet The bullet will be a little slower but you don’t hunt this type of game at long range, typically 75 to 150 yards is a common hunting range. For the 375 caliber guns use the 300-grain bullets, for 416 caliber the 400 grains work best. The 458 calibers shoot 500-grain bullets but a good 450-grain bullet will work just fine. And don’t use a poorly made bullet, stick to the quality bonded bullets like the Swift A-Frame, Barnes Triple Shock, or Hornady Interlock. Here in Texas, you don’t need to use solids just stick with a good soft-point bullet. The heavier bullets will have a higher sectional density and a higher KO factor so they will penetrate deeper and hold together better. You don’t need the extra velocity for flatter shooting because you will want to get up close and personal with this type of game. Remember using too small of a caliber or making a bad shot on some of these super exotics can get you killed. Cape Buffalo, Eland, and Gaur kill hunters every year in their native land, I have not heard of it happening here in Texas but you don’t want to be the first. I have been in two Cape Buffalo charges and it definitely gets your adrenaline flowing. Thank goodness both charges ended up with dead buffalo and not dead hunters.

300 Win180 Grain29002945 @ 100 Yards22.9 @ muzzle
35 Whelen250 Grain26003210 @ 100 Yards33.3 @ muzzle
375 H&H300 Grain25003310 @ 100 Yards40.2 @ muzzle
416 Rem400 Grain24004410 @ 100 Yards57.1 @ muzzle
458 Win500 Grain22504825 @ 100 Yards73.6 @ muzzle

Gary Meade who guides 50 to 60 Nilgai hunts a year recommends a 35 Whelen or 375 H&H to hunt the Blue bulls. He has said many times “Either of these calibers will do a great job of killing the big bulls, the recoil is not so bad that a smaller hunter or woman will not get hurt shooting the gun. I don’t let my hunters shoot over 200 yards so flat shooting is not necessary. Leave your 6.5 Creedmoor and 7 Mag at home.”

If you look at the prices ranches are charging for a big trophy White-tail buck and compare that price to a hunt for Nilgai, you will want to hunt them at least one time. If they had a bigger set of horns (ten inches is big) everyone would know about them and want to hunt them. I try to hunt for Nilgai at least once a year. The hunt is challenging and fun, what I consider a “True Texas Safari” and bringing home several hundred pounds of meat is just a bonus. I would rank Nilgai and American Bison meat among the top five of wild game meat and some of the best you will ever taste.