The past few months have seen a rash of deaths and serious injuries among African professional hunters. At least two have been killed by Cape buffalo, one young PH had his arm shot off by a client, and another client shot himself in the foot with an elephant gun.
This is not an anomaly. The incidence of serious injuries resulting from clients’ lack of skill, especially with big rifles, appears to be rising. This is ironic, when you consider that you now find an instruction academy around every corner, offering courses lasting from a day to a week, teaching the use of “safari” rifles.
Don Heath, a Zimbabwe professional hunter and now a consultant to Norma ammunition, has suggested a number of reasons. One is that, with safari prices at a relatively all-time low, more inexperienced hunters are buying big rifles and heading for Africa.
Instructors at shooting academies tell me that too many students arrive with rifles they have never shot before, and some with rifles they have not even taken out of the box. In one case, this occurred exactly one week before the student was catching a plane for Africa. The client, a very busy man, decided it was more cost-effective to schedule everything as one trip, in order to minimize time away from the office.
There is absolutely no way on earth that you can learn to shoot a big rifle, and become familiar with every aspect of its use, in three or four days. Sessions at a shooting academy should be viewed either as merely a beginning, to be followed by a long period of practice at home, using what you’ve learned, or as a refresher.
The idea that, with a few days’ instruction and practice, you can go from being a complete novice with a rifle to being expert enough to hunt dangerous game for real is absurd. You wouldn’t go to a Walter-Mitty racecar academy for three days and then expect to enter the Indianapolis 500, but that is what hunters now seem to be doing.
Dr. Heath does not agree with me, but I have a suspicion some of the blame lies with professional hunters themselves, especially those just starting out.
Graduates from the old school were accustomed to clients coming out who were long on money and short on experience, and they learned to watch their clients almost as closely as a wounded lion, realizing that in some cases a client with a rifle was the more dangerous of the two. Hunters like Tony Henley and Lionel Palmer would not tolerate poor gun handling, and said so. The clients may not have liked it, but they either changed their ways or went home.
Today, a young hunter may be intimidated by a wealthy client who is twice his age, and be reluctant to say anything, fearing it will cost him his tip. Many successful men are used to people taking orders from them, not the reverse, and it doesn’t sit well. Or, the PH may be the kind of cowboy who comes close to getting either himself or a client killed before he learns some discretion. Either way, it sets up a dangerous situation.
In the end, though, it always comes back to one thing: The client’s incompetence with his rifle.
The only way to get to know a rifle well is to handle it a lot and shoot it regularly. Heavy-recoiling rifles can only be taken in small doses–six to 12 full-power shots at a session, usually–and so to get in any meaningful amount of practice requires many such sessions, spread over as many months as you can manage. As well, you should burn up a rail-car load of low-power practice ammunition.
In an age when we expect instant results from everything, hunting dangerous game with a heavy rifle is one area where it just doesn’t happen. The recent news from Zimbabwe and Tanzania is proof.—Terry Wieland
Per your request on the final page of the July/August issue of Safari Magazine, I’m dropping this brief note to give you data on the rifles/ammo and scopes that have been serving my varied needs best over the past 10 years or so. I’m keen to see the compilation and learn what others are doing and how things have changed over the past 30+ years.
My “favorite” rifle for the past six years has been a custom .257 Wby. built on a left-hand Remington Model 700 stainless action. The action is mated to a 26-inch Douglas barrel, all set in a McMillan black synthetic stock and packed around with an Uncle Mike’s neoprene sling. I’ve topped it with a Leupold VX-3 CDS 3.5-10X40mm scope and run handloads through it. I’ve used it on everything from elk, mule deer, caribou, Coues whitetails and coyotes stateside, to the varied bags in Africa stretching from jackals up to kudu, gemsbok and wildebeest. It will be with me on my first Stone’s sheep hunt in the Yukon in three weeks.
It has become my favorite for the following reasons: reduced recoil from a fast, flat-shooting cartridge, coupled with light weight (7.5 lbs.) and stainless/synthetic hardiness in a wide variety of environmental conditions. With handloads, it will consistently throw ragged one-hole groups at 100 yds. if I’m “on my game,” and I don’t own another rifle that can do that.
Second favorite in the arsenal is a Remington Mountain rifle chambered in .25-’06. It is the CDL model with beautiful wood (though showing some wear because I hunt in hard places and figure a rifle is to use, not just admire), and has a blued action and barrel. It is lightweight (6.75 lbs), and offers little recoil, but is a flat-shooter and has plenty of knock-down power for everything I chase in the Lower 48. I run handloads through this as well, and it, too, is topped with a Leupold VX-3, though standard issue with a duplex reticle, not the CDS dial.
You may have surmised that I have a preference for lighter cartridges with reduced recoil, fast velocities, flat trajectories and high hydrostatic-shock delivery. I am a firm believer in good marksmanship, and actually hunting an animal within reasonable range to make a good, sure shot. I place high value on one-shot kills. In my experience, bigger is definitely not better, but you have to know your capabilities when using lighter fare. It’s not for everyone, but works very well for me.
Lest I be labeled an “ultra light rifle snob,” my trusty Winchester Model 70 in .30-’06 still serves me well and has probably accounted for more big game animals than all my other rifles combined over my career. It’s a “Plain-Jane” walnut stock with blued action and barrel and still carries an old 3X9 Tasco scope that my father put on it 30 years ago. And yes, it still holds its zero quite nicely—just ask the Colorado bull I took with it last fall!
You don’t hear much about 8mm rifles these days, but when asked what his favorite rifles are, SCI Member Jim M. surprised us with one. He writes:
“With the help of Dad, I shot my first revolver more than 70 years ago (an H&R Special in .22 L.R.). I spent the war years (WWII) as a youngster memorizing the contents of the 1939 edition of Stoeger’s Shooters Bible. As a teenager, Jack O’Conner was my ideal, so at Christmas 1948 when Mom bought Dad a Remington Model 721 in .270 Winchester, my excitement was unbounded. I shot my first deer with that rifle using 130-grain Remington Bronze Points. My second deer was with a .250-3000 Savage M99 and 100-grain Speer handloads and my first two elk with 150-grain Nosler Partitions.
“For the past 30 years, I’ve used a two calibers–the .280 Remington and the 8mm Remington Magnum. The .280 I use for everything from springbok to mule deer and mountain lion. The 8mm Rem. Mag. is for larger game such as elk, red stag, eland and water buffalo. Because I’m familiar with these rifles and have confidence in their calibers, I don’t expect I’ll make any changes (although I’ve been interested in the new Kimber 84L in .280 Ackley).
“If you’re going to Africa on a one-gun hunt and it will include Cape buffalo, you can’t beat the old .375 H&H Magnum for a great combination of power and reasonable recoil. Nowadays I’m getting a bit old for buffalo, so I limit my hunts to plains game using the 8mm Rem.Mag. for everything from duiker (solids) to eland (Swift A-Frames).
“Of course, having hunted for so long I’ve had the opportunity to use other calibers–.257 Roberts, .25-’06 Remington, 7x57mm Mauser, and .30-’06, which is still a terrific all-around caliber for a North America hunter.”
Gil and Vicki Ash explain if your shotgun stock fits properly, you’ll make more hits.
By Gil and Vicki Ash
The month was November and we found ourselves in Argentina with a group eager to get into the field with their new Benelli Cordobas that they had purchased just for this trip. We had only worked with one in the group, Jeff Ward, who setup the trip and invited some of his friends from YPO (Young Presidents Organization). Two of the group were fairly tall and the guns they bought were too short for them. Had we worked with them before the trip we would have gotten them a leather slip-on pad that lengthens the gun about 5/8 -inch and put a half-inch spacer inside of it so the gun would be 1 1/8 inch longer and fit a lot better.
The one we recommend is made by Galco and comes in different sizes: small, medium, large and extra large. The thing that makes these unique is that they are easy to install and they are deep enough to put an additional 3/4-inch spacer in it. This gives the ability to extend the gun from an additional 5/8-inch all the way out to an additional 1 3/8 inches.
This doesn’t sound like much of an adjustment and if you were going to an afternoon dove shoot here in the states, it probably would not be as big a deal. But when you travel all that way and shoot as much as you do in Argentina, having a gun the right length is a big deal.
The Benelli Cordoba shotgun is one of the most reliable semi-automatic shotguns on the market. They have a recoil pad system that allows for a quick user-friendly way to change the recoil pad and thus change the length of pull on the gun. They also do make a recoil pad that is a little longer, but if you are more than 6 feet tall, you had better check to see if the longer pad will make the gun long enough.
The reason we are bringing this up is that due to the configuration of the inside of the stock and the way the recoil pads slip on and off, the gun cannot be lengthened in the conventional way by adding spacers and installing a new recoil pad. You have one of two options: either a slip-on recoil pad or have a gunsmith glue some wood in the hollow buttstock so spacers and a new thicker recoil pad can be screwed onto the butt of the gun.
If you are looking for a waterfowl gun and you hunt where it is very cold and you wear a heavy coat, then the shorter length of pull makes this gun work for you.
It is amazing how many people who call us to take a lesson before they go to Argentina and show up with a gun that does not fit, that is new or they have not touched in two years.
If you can’t mount the gun consistently to your face and shoulder in the same place every time, you are not going to experience much success or get better.
The same holds true for a gun that is either too long or too short. If it is too short, the amount of recoil you feel will be increased. If it is too long, the balance point will be too far forward and you will shift your weight to the back foot and recoil will increase.
A person who puts in the time and actually learns how to properly mount a shotgun will be a more consistent shooter. They will also be able to adapt to an ill-fitting gun after a few shots. Although they won’t be as consistent as they would be with their own gun or one that fits, they will be able to hold their own and not get hurt.
Guns that are stocked too low or have a little too much cast are infinitely more forgiving to shoot than guns that are stocked too high or have thick combs that require an extreme amount of cast. Any gun that you have to cheek harder to shoot well will produce more felt recoil and eventually bruise your cheek and you will never shoot it well.
The first thing we tell our students, especially the first-timers, is not to try to get your money’s worth on the first hunt. We tell them to pace themselves and look for the rhythm of the birds. We also explain that in order to be consistent they must get control of their gun speed and move and mount with the speed of the bird.
When we arrive at the hunting site, they act like a kid who is finally tall enough to ride all the rides at Disneyworld! They end up shooting so much, so fast that they look like a teenager’s thumbs texting on a cell phone! It is as if we never said anything. We get them to slow down and move with the bird and take better shots. They don’t have to shoot every bird that comes by.
Then we hear it, “Wow the birds really do slow down when you slow down.” It is at that point that the learning begins.
On this particular trip we actually had some shooters who spent some time shooting just longer shots, 35 to 45 yards, and made remarkable improvement. On these hunts we had the opportunity to shoot a few really high birds along with some that weren’t so high.
When shooting the incoming shot, the typical setup is to have the gun stock in the ready position between the shooter ’s elbow and ribs and the muzzle pointing just a little above the horizon. The shooter is watching the birds come in and, as they begin to come into range, the shooter begins to move and mount the gun. That all sounds great, but when approached this way there is a lot of movement and the extra movement is seen by the doves and they often will flare, creating confusion for the shooter.
Why the extra movement? Because the muzzle is pointed just above the horizon, but the birds are much higher than the horizon when they come into range. When you begin to move the muzzle toward the birds, you are so far behind that you must catch up to the birds, causing the muzzle to move faster than the birds and the birds see that movement, causing them to flare. If the hunter starts with muzzles pointing up fairly high, and looks at the birds either through the barrel(s) or to the side of the barrels, then the muzzles are more easily inserted in front of and on line with the bird in one slow, precise movement. If the birds should change their line in either direction, it takes very little movement to shift the muzzle to the line as the gun mount begins. Since the muzzles are ahead of the bird to begin with, it makes it easy to merge in front of the birds at the speed of the birds as the gun is mounted and the shot is taken. To do this well takes some practice.