The .550 Magnum Is Alive And Well In Africa

A Report By PH Jason Van Aarde

Yes, I am the idiot to do it first - licensing a .550 Magnum in Africa. Finally after 3 years it's done and doing what it was designed to do....crumple the big stuff as a back-up calibre. Happily I can confirm that it works!

To begin with my licence only came through towards the end of the hunting season but this still gave me the opportunity to test it out on two rhinos, two elephant and one buffalo. I had only one day to work a load out for it before the first hunt. What I came up with is 115gr of S335 (South African) and Fed 215 primer with the 700gr bullet at 2240fps. I used Quality Cartridge cases, 700gr Barnes solids and 700gr Alaska Bullet Works, heavy jacket bonded core soft's. Lehigh Design 650gr hollow points and GS custom 700gr flat nose solids and C-H Tool & Die reloading dies. All but the GS were supplied by Neal Sherley. My gun is custom made by Kevin Haley of Bloemfontein Custom Rifles and he did a great job. It weighs in at 11.4 lbs loaded with one mercury reducer and is very easy to shoot. My apprentice Danie Robberts swears his .458 Lott with no reducer kicks a lot more than the .550. At Johan Calitz Sable Camp Mozambique, the young lady running the camp had a shot and immediately asked if she can have another. I had to hide it from Edwin Young, the PH there, otherwise I would have had no more ammo left by the time the safari was finished. So far everybody who has shot it has said it's an amazingly shoot with great accuracy.

550 Magnum
L to R: 700gr GS Custom, 700gr Barnes flat nose solid, 650gr Lehigh Design hollow point, 700gr Alaska Bullet Works Bonded soft point

The first animal to fall with the .550 was a rhino - it wasn't too difficult for me to convince the two clients to use the .550. The first was shot at 20m and dropped with the first shot and a second bullet to make sure was also fired into the shoulder. The first GS solid went right threw and the second went through the spine on the point of the shoulder and ended under the skin on the other side. The most impressive thing to mention here is the amount of blood that was lying around the rhino. The second rhino was shot on the point of the shoulder facing us with a bit of an angle using again the GS solid. That bullet was found under the skin on the butt. Full length penetration on a rhino!

550 Magnum With Rhino
.550 Magnum With Rhino

The third animal was an elephant bull in Mozambique. Here my client used a .375 and I backed him with the .550 with again the GS solids. It was a frontal brain shot at about 30 yards that failed and I immediately put a shot into his shoulder as he started to turn. He only went 80 yards before going down, the client used the .550 to finish him off. The shoulder shot did not exit but again the amount of blood that was lying around the elephant was unreal. About 3x4 yards and one to two inches deep.

550 Magnum With Elephant
.550 Magnum With Elephant

The next was another elephant shot at about 20 yards. The clients 450-400 just missed the brain on a side brain shot. My first shot went on the right shoulder and the second on the left side entering in the stomach to get it to the chest. My third shot broke the spine and the client finished it off. I used Barnes 700gr flat nose solids here and none of the bullets were recovered but did not exit either.

550 Magnum With Elephant
.550 Magnum With Second Elephant

The last was a buffalo in bamboo that was facing us at about 50 yards and with the shot from the client using a .375 the bull charged. We both shot him and at 12 yards he turned and only made another 5 yards. I was using the GS solids here and again the amount of blood around the bull was amazing.

550 Magnum With Buffalo
.550 Magnum With Buffalo

My conclusion is that the Barnes solids work well but the GS solids are my favourite. Penetration is on par with my .458 Lott but it is still a bit early and I would like to do a lot more testing, with hopefully more time to recover bullets, as not once this year did I have time to actually dig for bullets. A 700gr Alaskan soft bullet was fired into the buffalo at 12 yards for testing and ended up under the skin on the other side and weigh 406gr. The Lehigh 650gr hollow soft just whistled through. From the exit wound it is clear that it did open up but must have broken some of the petals off. I will have to do some more testing on them but will not hesitate to use either of them on buffalo or lion.

I have to admit that I was a bit worried about my recovery time but it seems to me I am not much slower with the .550 than my 8.5 pound Lott.

550 Magnum
.550 Magnum

Then some stuff that came up around the hunting fire....Edwin saying, "What is that sound?....Oh, it is Jason dragging his gun!" and "Jason, at least you do not need to worry about wasps making nests in your barrel...but do be careful of swallows!" My reply was, "Edwin, can I borrow your rifle? I left my cleaning rod at home."

And finally after been asked by the only critic PH, if I can at least shoot that THING straight.... "I do not really know as I normally keep my eyes closed for a couple of seconds before and after each shot!"

Jason Van Aarde

550 Magnum
.550 Magnum

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