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Big-game hunting is the hunting of large game for sport. The term is historically associated with the hunting of Africa's Big Five game (lion, the African elephant, the Cape Buffalo, the leopard and the white rhinoceros), and with tigers and rhinos on the Indian subcontinent. Most of these species are protected now, but other species such as kudu, antelope, hartebeest, moose, elk, and deer are still hunted.
Hunting of big game for food is an ancient event, dating back thousands of years. Based on cave paintings, it appears that early man hunted mammoth in groups, using a combination of spears or large rocks, or alternatively running the animal over a cliff.
Big-game hunting is approached in many different ways. A popular way to hunt is by using a tree stand. A hunter will set up a tree stand and wait for the prey to approach. The same technique is also used on the ground, but because animals tend to be more aware of things on the ground, stealth is more important.
Another common approach is stalking. While stalking, a hunter will approach his or her prey using stealth, with the intention to get into range with their particular weapon and ensure a clean hit.
Driving is another method. The shooter or shooters take position stealthily, using the natural landscape of the area to choose a spot that will help ensure a wide view. Then the drivers move toward the shooter in a line, making a lot of noise with the intention of forcing the animal to run toward the hunter, giving him a chance to kill the animal. This technique only works well when there is cover, and if there is a natural feature to help corral the game.
Helicopter hunting is sometimes done with large, swift animals because they may be too wary to approach otherwise especially in wide open terrain. It is not done for sport, but by game management officers. Ivory poachers sometimes shoot from their vehicles as well.
Almost every kind of firearm has been used to successfully hunt big game. Handguns are quite popular for big game in North America, but are not used as often in Asia and Africa. Shotguns are used to take big game, being safer in flat country as the large but relatively slow moving slug loses velocity quickly compared to the rifle bullet. With the advent of saboted, sub caliber projectiles for use in shotguns, there are questions about whether there is any practical difference in range compared to often identical bullets fired at similar velocities from a rifle. Rifles are perhaps the most common weapon for taking big game. In North America, the .30-06 is probably the most popular caliber and is often used for everything from pronghorn to grizzly bears although grizzly bears and Alaskan brown bears are usually taken with more powerful cartridges. In Africa larger cartridges such as the Nitro Express series, or other elephant gun chamberings are frequently used, and can take even the largest game. African hunters often prefer to use a double rifle as a stopping rifle (a rifle intended to incapacitate a charging dangerous game animal as quickly as possible) since these double rifles provide the possibility for a very quick second shot, but bolt-action rifles also take the largest game.
Bows and crossbows are also used to take big game all over the world. Bowhunters and black-powder shooters generally obtain earlier access to hunting grounds, making those kinds of hunting popular even for people who also hunt with modern firearms. Alternative weapons such as the atlatl are also being explored by big-game hunters, and are legal in some states in the US.
Famous big-game hunters
- WDM Bell (later known as “Karamojo” Bell), Scottish born elephant hunter
- John Henry Patterson (killed the Tsavo Man-Eaters)
- Frederick Russell Burnham (Lord Roberts' Chief of Scouts in the Second Boer War and known as: England's American Scout)
- Bror von Blixen-Finecke (who was, between 1914 and 1926, married to Out of Africa author Karen Blixen)
- Denys Finch-Hatton (who was, after her marriage collapsed, Karen Blixen's lover)
- T.R.M. Howard (civil rights leader, entrepreneur, surgeon, mentor to Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer, hunted African big game in the 1960s and 1970)
- John A. Hunter
- Philip Percival
- Frank M. "Bunny" Allen, whose safaris with Ernest Hemingway led the author to write Green Hills of Africa, True at First Light, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, and The Snows of Kilimanjaro
- Theodore Roosevelt, US President who travelled and hunted in Africa following his terms in office
- Frederick Selous
- Peter Hathaway Capstick, American hunter who spent most of his life in Africa
- Bali Mauladad, the only non-white to be admitted to the East African Professional Hunter's Association
- Britain's King George V hunted in Nepal in 1911.
- The fictional villain Colonel Sebastian Moran in Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories is described as a reputed, highly successful big-game hunter in India, specializing in tigers.
- Ibrahim of Johor who began shooting in the summer of 1897 and by 1898 killed his first tiger on foot.
- Jim Corbett, author of Man-Eaters of Kumaon
- Kenneth Anderson 1910–1974 Hunter and writer of Nine Maneaters And One Rogue (1954)
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- Trophy hunting
- The Most Dangerous Game, a classic story famous in the mid twentieth century that was inspired by and explores the philosophy of hunting for sheer pleasure.
- Foa, E. After Big Game in Central Africa. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-03274-9.
- Drawings by Douglas Hamilton
- Herne, Brian. White Hunters: The Golden Age of African Safari, Henry Holt & Co, New York, 1999.