046: Big Shot

Stella Case No. 046, Originally Published: 30 April 2003

Rolf Rohwer of Scotland is a “professional” big game hunter, and went on a safari in Africa to shoot game. When a lion charged him, he shot it — but the lion managed to keep going, crossing 30 yards to maul him.

federal bearclaw 300x158 - 046: Big Shot
A recent example of Federal “Bear Claw” ammunition at the center of this case. (Photo: Federal Premium Ammunition)

The problem, Rohwer says, was he was trying out a new type of ammunition in his hunting rifle, and it wasn’t the right sort of ammunition to blow away a charging lion. But a “professional” knows his tools, and a sportsman knows there’s risk, so that’s the end of it, right?

Not by a long shot.

“This bullet is not suitable for killing a charging lion,” says his American attorney, Louis Franecke of San Rafael, Calif. “It’s suitable for killing a lion over a period of time.” Except safari hunters aren’t there to kill animals “over a period of time,” they want those animals dead instantly. “The lion died basically while chewing on my client,” Franecke says.

So on Rohwer’s behalf, Franecke filed a U.S. federal lawsuit against Federal Cartridge Co. of Anoka, Minn. The bullet Rohwer used is designed for thick-skinned big game, such as rhinos and hippos; the lion has thinner skin, which allowed the bullet to pass through its body without causing it to expand, making it less lethal, Franecke says. Thus, the shot lion remained a “harmful beast capable of causing severe personal injuries to human for a substantial period of time,” the lawsuit says. Yeah, well, who loaded the bullet into the rifle?

How much compensation Rohwer is demanding was not reported. Who is responsible when a “professional” hunter uses the wrong ammunition for the job? Rohwer seems to feel that in the safari world, turnabout is anything but fair play.


  • “Injured Big-game Hunter Takes Aim at Bullet Manufacturers,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, 16 April 2003

Case Status

The newspaper did not report the bullet style: it was Federal “Bear Claw” ammunition, which bullet has been manufactured since 1985!

One part of the lawsuit was that the bullet entrance and exit wounds were the same size, thus supporting the theory that the bullet didn’t expand. But the court noted that the wounds were not photographed or measured, and the bullet was not recovered.

Judge James M. Rosenbaum of the U.S. District Court for Minnesota dismissed the case, ruling, “plaintiff has failed to present a question of material fact on essential elements of his claim.” I don’t see any indication that was appealed.

One note I found interesting in the summary: “When confronted, the lion charged toward plaintiff along a winding path. Plaintiff held his fire and waited until the lion was seven meters away before firing a single shot.” (The differing distance from the newspaper report duly noted.)

“Prior to this litigation, defendant received no reports of a Bear Claw bullet’s failure to expand. The bullet has expanded in all tests conducted for this litigation. As part of this testing, and in an effort to approximate a lion’s thin skin, defendant’s expert fired bullets from the same batch into a box of wet newspapers covered with saturated elk skin. The bullets uniformly expanded according to their design, and the entrance and exit wounds were of the same size. Defendant’s expert also testified that even a properly expanded bullet may not knock down a running animal.”

Source: Opinion on Rohwer v. Federal Cartridge Co., U.S. District Court for Minnesota, 18 November 2004.

My 2020 Thoughts on the Case

He wanted an exciting hunt by waiting until the lion got close? He got it.

Another tidbit from the decision: “Plaintiff testified that the lethal shot struck the lion’s left shoulder. Witnesses swear the shot entered the lion’s right shoulder.” Certainly if he was significantly injured mistakes can be made, but that seems to be another indication of Rohwer’s “professionalism,” along with the fact that he had more than 15 years to test the bullet before his injuries. He apparently chose not to before relying on it to protect himself and the party he was leading on safari.


The letters about my Power Grab editorial continued to stream in. Here are a couple more.

Mark, an attorney in Missouri: “Your suggestion that people lobby the legislature to kill the ABA’s proposed definition of unauthorized practice of law will not work in my home state of Missouri. In Missouri, the state Supreme Court defines the practice of law and it would violate the separation of powers for the legislature to enact a contrary statute. I suspect that the law is the same in most if not all other states. I am no longer a member of the ABA, in part due to ridiculous proposals like this one.”

Jim, an attorney in New Mexico: “Much of the debate I see in your publication on this issue is informed and valid. Some of it though is hyperbole. For instance, one response stated that once passed, the ABA could preclude a repeal by disbarring the complaining citizen’s lawyer. This is simply outside the ABA’s authority. The ABA is not an entity with any legal authority. It is a national trade association much like the Beef Producers Association or American Medical Association. Individual state supreme courts control who is admitted to the bar in their state and who is disbarred.

“Similarly, federal district courts control who is allowed to practice in their jurisdictions. The ABA could not disbar an individual lawyer in any jurisdiction. In fact, membership in the ABA is not required to practice law anywhere, and many lawyers I know decline to be members. However, that is not to say that the ABA is not powerless. Like many special interest lobbies, it carries a lot of sway and political clout with lawmakers. It makes many recommendations and drafts model legislations that are used by the federal courts and the states. Similarly, until the current President Bush, U.S. Presidents looked to the ABA for guidance in the appointment of federal judges (not insignificant because ‘Article Three’ judges are appointed for life).

“As you state there are no simple answers to the [frivolous lawsuit] problem, and I firmly believe that the only solution, like the solution to other thorny social issues, will come from education and public discussion of the problem. As you may have deduced, I am a lawyer. I enjoy your publication and implore you to continue the discussion, as I believe that it will be part of the solution.”

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