It’s pretty amazing what professional wildlife managers can do to manipulate animal populations to meet specific cultural, economic, or geographic needs. For example, when I was growing up in rural Virginia, the rule when deer hunting was “bucks only,” as the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries was managing the herd for growth. It succeeded. In fact, some would say they over succeeded as today Virginia has liberal antlerless deer opportunities as the Department works to either sustain or in some places even reduce deer populations.
Indiana is no different in managing its deer herd to suit that state’s needs as evidenced by the Indiana Natural Resources Commission recently approving an indefinite extension of a management tool commonly referred to as the “one-buck” rule. That rule limits hunters in Indiana to only one antlered deer during the regular archery, firearms and muzzleloader deer seasons.
The rule was first applied in 2002 and was set to sunset after a five-year period. I spoke with Chad Stewart, the deer biologist for Indiana, about the “one-buck” rule, its background, and the effect it has had on the deer herd and hunting in Indiana.
Stewart wasn’t with the Commission when the rule was implemented, but his understanding is that sportsmen and women lobbied for the rule to manage the herd for more mature deer. Steward explained that in 2001, the year before the one-buck rule was applied, 56% of the bucks harvested were yearlings. He recalls that at the time, there was some push-back from some groups of hunters, but the rule was renewed in 2007 and today 65% of Indiana hunters support the rule, and most of those support the rule “overwhelmingly.”
According to Stewart, the popularity has a lot to do with hunters seeing more bucks, and the bucks they are seeing are larger and more mature. In fact, in 2011 (the latest year for which there is data) the yearling buck harvest was only 39%. As Indiana’s one-buck rule demonstrates, when hunters and game departments work together and use sound wildlife management practices, great things can happen.
Upon arrival we were stunned at the well-groomed front yard. The grass was manicured and the trees were pruned to form a canopy-like setting completely surrounding Estancia Cortaderas. The Parana River was the northwestern boundary of the Estancia and was larger than one would expect.
Paul met us with the excited smile of a new friend and a twinkle in his eye, which made us feel welcome immediately.
We were the only ones in the lodge and were shown the spa area, complete with shower, wet and dry sauna, message rooms and hot tub room all on the second floor.
First on the hunting list were pigeons. Tired from a day of travel to Buenos Aries, then change airports, then to Santa Fe and a ride with Omar for about an hour and a half to the lodge, we decided to not leave at 5:30 the next morning. We retired early, slept until 5:30 and started the day off slowly with coffee in the room. This put us a little late by most hunting standards. But the best shooting was going to be between 2:30 and 5 p.m., so Paul called it right.
The pigeon hunting was a blast and there were many lessons learned, especially for Gil. These birds are very large compared to the doves we normally shoot. They are hunted much like ducks, but not over water. Just a blind and decoys on the ground. No calling necessary.
One of the biggest takeaways for both of us was the fact that they appear to be moving fast, but actually are moving very slowly. It is easy to shoot in front of the birds. Why in front? It goes back to gun speed equaling bird speed, which is the basis for consistency in our system of shooting. Even though they are big birds they can put a move on a hunter who comes up too suddenly or too early.
We used our 20 gauge K-20s on this hunt and they performed flawlessly. With the Isis recoil systems there was little or no felt recoil. Omar who was our chief guide, made shot selection. We would be using #5 lead, which just happens to be my favorite shot size for large birds like the pigeon. With Modified over Modified chokes and those #5s, it was an unbeatable combination with clean kills even at 40 yards. We had many headshots as well as the usual misses behind because the gun stopped when we checked the lead or we mounted too fast and the accelerating muzzle caught our eye.
While at Estancia Cortaderas we had an occasion to take the General Manager, Paul James, and Hunting Guide and gunsmith, Omar Borghello, out on a dove hunt with us. Paul has shot rifles and done a little wingshooting, but was closing an eye and trying to aim.
The next morning we all went to a field near the lodge and began to shoot. They watched. When we pulled the trigger and the bird folded, they landed at our feet or just in front or just behind us.
Then it came their turn and Paul was first. Vicki put two shotgun shell boxes on the ground and showed Paul what he was supposed to see when shooting with two eyes and how it was different from shooting with only one eye. When he understood the difference she had him move on a few birds with an empty gun and then he loaded one shell and the next bird that passed he missed behind but he knew WHY! He immediately said he had looked down the gun while looking at the bird which made the gun come up on the bird and made the gun stop as he pulled the trigger. It was almost magical what happened on the next shot. As the trigger broke the bird folded and hit the ground dead.
Paul shot his first box of shells with two eyes for the first time. He killed 11/25 and on every shot he missed, he called the error correctly and CORRECTED THE MISS. His comment was that everything was moving in slow motion and he knew even before he pulled the trigger when he was going to hit the bird and not.
“In the beginning I was afraid of not being able to keep both eyes open. I got this habit from rifle shooting. Got over it easily as I was told not to look at the barrel but concentrate on the target and fine tune on the head,” he said. “I was surprised when I did this that I was able to keep both eyes open and when mounting the gun use short and gentle movements and you become very accurate.”
Will Paul be a great shot with two eyes from now on? Maybe, maybe not. That will depend on how much he practices, not on how much he understands the procedure.
Omar was fascinated with our guns and wanted to shoot to see what the recoil was like with the Isis recoil system. To his amazement, after the first shot, he said, “It’s like shooting a .410.” Well we couldn’t agree more. The combination of the K-20 with 32- inch barrels and the Isis recoil system is amazing in that the felt recoil is reduced dramatically. But because of the material it is made of, there is no change in the balance of the gun. In a hunting gun, balance and handling are everything. When you combine target gun handling with reduced recoil, you have just about the perfect high volume gun.
If we were going to set the record for most doves shot in a day we would go to 20 gauge gas guns and take the plug out to have three or four guns with two loaders so the guns could cool down a little in their rotation.
We must have made an impression on Omar and Paul because they both arranged to shoot with us in the afternoon. We worked with both Paul and Omar in the morning and they could not believe how their consistency improved. Runs of six to eight dead birds in a row were not uncommon.
On the afternoon hunt Gil decided to shoot long, high incoming shots so he put in two full chokes and went to work minimizing his move and shooting birds farther and farther out in front, with Omar and Paul looking over his shoulder. One of the birds Gil shot spilled some grain as he fell and hit the ground. Paul went out to pick it up to show Gil why these birds are seen as a pest in Argentina. As he picked the bird up, falling from its craw were “germinated soy beans” and on closer inspection we found several with the new root still intact. These birds have learned where in the field the seeds are planted and they scratch the ground with their feet until they expose the seed and then they eat it. Estimates of as much as 30 percent of the crop can be lost to doves between planting and germination.
Hard to believe that this little bird could be this destructive. But when you add to the equation the fact that there are as many as five hatches each year, you can begin to see why the dove is seen as a pest and the hunter is welcome. Capitalism baby, you gotta love it! We are looking forward to coming back to Estancia Cortaderas later this year to shoot a mixed bag of ducks, perdiz, pigeons and doves. Maybe even try some fishing.
Jörg Rodenbeck is an international member from Wilhelmshaven, Germany.
I like the idea of asking our fellow hunters what they like and use. My pet rifle is the first rifle I bought after acquiring my hunting license–a Sauer 202 in .300 Weatherby Magnum with a Zeiss 2.5-10x 48mm scope. This rifle was very accurate right out of the box and shot (and is still shooting) sub-minute-of-angle groups with Norma 180-grain PPC (Vulcan) factory ammo. It’s my favorite because it has so many “firsts”–first rifle, first hunt, first red stag, first wild boar, first kudu, first moose and so on.
This rifle was with me on 30 hunting trips on three continents and never let me down. From 1993 until today, I’ve shot roughly 300 game animals with it and the confidence in this rifle really improves my shooting. With its detachable stock, it’s easy to transport.
I have 15 African safaris under my belt and the 16th was scheduled for August. Over the past 12 years, I took more than 30 species of African game from dik dik to elephant and used a couple of different rifles for those tasks. I always take two rifles to Africa, but my battery changed over time and it depends on the area and the game as to which battery I take.
On my first buffalo hunt, I used a .375 H&H for the big stuff, but to my mind this caliber is overestimated and has not the stopping power I want from a “dangerous game” rifle. So I went to the German custom gunsmith K.H. Ritterbusch and ordered a .416 Rigby rifle with a Magnum Mauser action, equipped with a 1.5 -6 X 42mm Swarovski scope (detachable mount) and open sights. This rifle is a joy to shoot, very accurate with Romey ammo and 410-grain Woodleigh Bullets (20mm group at 100m) and all I want from a DG-rifle.
My second Rifle for the first four safaris was my pet rifle, but I realized that in areas with thick bushes, the .300 Weatherby is not the best choice. So I switched to the following batteries.
Battery For Dangerous Game
I use the.416 Rigby as mentioned above. Also, I use a .338 Winchester Magnum Winchester Model 70 rifle with classic receiver; 24-inch fluted Shilen barrel, Jewell trigger and JRS laminated stock, with Swarovski 3-12 X 50mm scope. For all the different plains game I may shoot on DG safari for bait or as a trophy, including leopard, eland or sable, I find this caliber to be very, very versatile, hard hitting and accurate.
Battery For Plains Game In Open Country
On plains game safaris in open country like parts of Namibia, the Kalahari and so on, where I may have to shoot at distances of 300 yards or more, I like a flat-shooting rifle. So my Number One for this kind of hunting is my .300 Weatherby Magnum pet rifle. For the “little ones” like duiker, dik-dik, steenbok or small cats like caracal and for jackals, my second rifle is a Sauer 202 Outback in .243 Winchester with a Zeiss 3-9x42mm scope.
Battery For Plains Game In Bush-Country
When I hunt plains game in bushy country like Zulu-Natal, I prefer the .338 Winchester Magnum as the first rifle and the .243Winchester as the second.
Ammunition and bullets are a never-ending discussion, and everybody seems to have his pet brand and pet loads. But since I have hunted on three continents and have shot about 500 game animals, I’ll try to explain my point of view.
I use factory ammunition as well as handloads, depending on which rifle I am using.
In recent years, I have become a fan of the bonded-core or welded-core bullets. Those bullets usually deliver good penetration, have good weight retention and leave a good blood trail to follow. With the .416 Rigby, I use the Romey factory load with 410-grain Woodleigh welded core bullet for buffalo and lion. For elephant and hippo, I use the Romey factory load with 410-grain Woodleigh FMJ bullet. With the .300 Weatherby Magnum, I prefer the 180-grain Norma PPC load for longer shots, and the 180-grain Norma ORYX (bonded core) load for closer shots.
With the .338 Winchester Magnum, I prefer the 215-grain Sierra Game King on lighter game like red stag, fallow deer or hartebeest. On larger game like eland, kudu, sable, boars and bears, I prefer the 250-grain Swift A-Frame.
With the .243 Winchester, I use 105-grain RWS factory soft-points, and with the .30-‘06, I use the 180-grain Norma ORYX or 180-grain Norma PPC loads, depending on the hunting circumstances. “Waidmannsheil!” (good hunting)
The smell of freshly baked bread greeted us at the door of the 1840’s lodge at Southern Cross Safaris. We were happy and hungry after a successful spot-and-stalk on a trophy mountain reedbuck. We had seen several and pushed a couple of nice ones out of range. They certainly have the eyesight. We also had seen a nice herd of zebra and more trophy impala that morning than you could count. The miles-long hike up and down along the game trails scratched into the mountainside certainly worked up an appetite. Each step had to be taken deliberately to keep upright and quiet. The luncheon discussion over a spread of fresh fruits and vegetables, sliced game meats, and marmite for the bread soon turned to the afternoon’s planned adventure for trophy bushbuck. Now we were talking!
“This will be more like your whitetail lie-and-wait game,” said my PH, Chris Cawood. “It will probably be approaching dark when the big males come into the fields, just like your deer. But one difference from the whitetail is a bushbuck can really hurt you if you make a bad shot.” I had read this about bushbuck, and I paid attention when Chris confirmed it. I’ve learned over the course of two safaris that he does not exaggerate or take artistic license when describing a hunt. “So have a quick nap and rest that trigger finger, hey chap,” Chris finished.
I drifted off with a full belly and thoughts of bushbuck dancing in my head. At 1:30 Chris and I climbed into his Land Cruiser and headed down the mountain through Bedford and on past Grahamstown, South Africa. The Karoo mountain scene surrounding Southern Cross had given way to open prairie periodically dotted with tree lines. It felt like we were driving from Denver to western Kansas for a pheasant hunt, but instead we were heading to the farm of a friend of Chris’ where lots of nice bushbuck had been seen feeding in the crop fields.
“You’re gonna like my buddy Mike, hey Jay. He’s made a fortune in the meat-packing business and now he plays Farmer Brown and cowboy-helicopter-pilot in his own Robinson R-44,” Chris said. Sure enough, as we pulled into the farm, we intercepted Mike and his sons on a tractor, just coming in from an honest day’s work. The tail of a helicopter peeked out from a nearby barn-turned-hangar.
“Oh my God, you’ve gone mad, Mike. Or have you lost it all and have to work your own tractor now?” Chris asked in a bright, cheeky tone.
“Don’t you know if you want something done right you do it yourself, hey Chris?” Mike said with a grin.
Chris and Mike caught up on the goings-on of farming and safari hunting while Paoway, the tracker, readied the gear. Today, for the first time on this safari, he brought Chris’ rifle–a custom .416 Rigby. I had killed a red hartebeest, a black wildebeest (okay that one took two days but that’s another story), a zebra, and a mountain reedbuck with me as the sole gunner.
“It’s not that I don’t trust your shooting, Jay. But if he runs and we have to track him into the woods in the dark, I want my rifle too.” That made sense to me and increased my heart rate a few beats, considering the “what if.” Hmmm–should I have signed up for MedJet Assist? After all, I thought this was just a plains-game hunt, and my wife had come along to South Africa since I assured her how safe it was. Well, at least she had stayed back at Southern Cross with Chris’ wife Lexi, a good book, and some great South African wine.
Based on Mike’s observations of some nice male bushbuck working his farm, we made a plan. We would walk along a fence line to a small rise where we could lie prone and still see the woods edge 250 yards out to the west. The wind would be just right, while the sun would set behind the trees and hopefully hang up long enough for a shot.
Chris and I gathered the gear, left Paoway in the Land Cruiser with a radio in case he spotted anything in another location. We said thanks to Mike, and started our trek.
“I’ll be on the porch with the cold beers ready when you’re done,” Mike said. “Good luck!”
We smiled, tipped our hats, and were off like a herd of turtles. It was almost 4:00 pm when I looked at my watch. It would be getting dark about 6:00. Chris sensed my slight concern about us perhaps being late, and said we had plenty of time and it would be a splendid setup.
We eased along the fence line so we could hopefully keep from spooking any game, and periodically glassed for any movement. Fortunately, we did not see anything to trap us, which confirmed we were indeed early enough for the show.
Chris pointed out our landing zone just through the fence and on a terraced plain. We held the fence wires apart for each other to climb through and stayed crouched on the other side. We slinked up to the selected spot and plopped our gear on the cold ground. Chris unrolled a wonderful fleece blanket that was backed with a water-and-thorn-resistant nylon. There was no need for water resistance in the dry Karoo winter, but the thorn and stick deflection came in handy. It seems that most things in Africa bite or pinch or sting.
I tried out the blanket in prone position and agreed this was the ticket. I could comfortably rest my rifle’s fore end on my backpack and have a super stable platform with a clear view all the way to the woods. We double-checked the distance, and the farthest practical point ranged 282 yards with the most direct line to the woods showing 248 yards. That gave us a nice triangle to work. Now all we needed was a mature bushbuck to enter our zone.
I heard dogs barking in the woods and thought they might have blown our chances, but Chris said those were not dogs–they were bushbuck–so my blood ran faster and the game was on. We stayed attentive for a good half hour but saw nothing but a few birds that looked like our good old black crows that seemed to mock me. I responded by rolling over on my back, closing my eyes, and lying quite limp as if I’d given up. Then I hoped they were not vultures that might mistake me for a carrion carcass. In actuality, I was simply thrilled to be there enjoying the paradox of excitement and relaxation that defines an African safari. I may have even dozed a few minutes, but my eyes sprung open when Chris announced the arrival of our first visible bushbuck.
The single doe snuck into the field from a small opening in the woods, just as the sun’s belly touched the treetops. It was now five minutes ‘till 5:00. We watched her through binoculars. I studied her movements and was amazed by her cautious feeding and head bobbing to scan her environment. This really was like whitetail hunting. Soon, another doe eased out to test the water. Before long we had three more, but where were the bucks? The sun was making that mad dash to hide in its way that ends whitetail hunts too abruptly. I was thinking we might have ourselves a bust when Chris whispered, “Okay, Jay, there’s a buck. But he’s a helluva long way off, there on the far left. We are in the wrong spot for him.” So just like that my hopes raced upward and then slid down as I saw he was well over 500 yards away. If they had zip codes in this place, he would have been at least in the next one.
“Maybe he’ll feed over to us,” I offered.
“That would be great, but I would not count on it, Jay. The bushbuck mostly come straight out from the woods, feast a while, and then head straight back into the woods,” Chris said. And he was right again. This guy was not making any beelines for us or anyone else.
As the sun tried to give up, two males came into view straight out in front of us. It was now 6:00 pm. Agricultural terraces and tall grass partially hid each male. I could see most of the one on the right, and Chris could see most of the one on the left. They would have to take a few steps to climb up into full view. It was now almost impossible to see them with the naked eye. I steadied my rifle on the backpack and studied my bushbuck through the Meopta scope.
“Chris, I’ve got him,” I said. “I’ve got a clear shot. Well, wait. Damn it. He turned. Can you see him?”
“Jay, I can’t see his horns. They’re blocked from my position, and I don’t want to move a muscle. You’d be surprised what they can see,” Chris said. “I don’t know if he’s mature enough for what we’re looking for.”
“His horns are twice the height of his ears, Chris. He looks good to me,” I said, talking about the first bushbuck I had ever seen through a riflescope. “Can I take him?”
“Hold on. Let me try to see him. Let me try to see his horns. Are you sure he’s twice the height of his ears?” Chris asked.
“Yes, that’s the way it looks to me. And I’ve got him now. I’ve got him again. He’s broadside, but the light’s almost gone. It’s dark. Man, it’s dark. I’ve got to shoot him now if I’m gonna shoot him, Chris,” I said, willing him to give me the green light.
“Okay, Jay. If you’re sure you’ve got him then let him have it.”
“Bawoom!” went the Sauer .300 Win. Mag., and fire flashed from the barrel. I tried to stay on him in the scope but I could not. Oh no. Where was he?
“He’s down, Jay. He’s down. That was a great shot. You smoked him,” Chris said. I rolled over on my back again and decompressed. The day’s events all flowed through me as I exhaled.
We used flashlights to navigate to him through the crops and over the terraced landscape. When I saw him, I couldn’t believe it. He was beautiful. What an amazing hide. And what interesting horns he had! They were unlike most bushbuck photos and taxidermy I had seen. I was ecstatic. Paoway made short work of carrying him back toward the Land Cruiser for optimal photo-op positioning. We took dozens of photos and then headed for Mike’s skinning shed. Mike and his sons met us there and congratulated me.
“Well done, man! That’s a great trophy, that,” he said. “I can’t believe how late it was when you shot. We thought for sure it was all over and there would be no shooting tonight.”
“Yeah, it was definitely last light, or maybe first dark,” I said, myself glowing in the dark.
We headed to Mike’s house and were greeted by the rest of his family and his dog, Scar. Chris and I regaled them with the details of the adventure in between gulps of ice-cold beer and bites of stewed wildebeest and other delights. I could not have been happier. The cool-and-getting-cooler South African night wrapped around me and it felt just fine. This bushbuck hunting is A-Okay.
The ride home was exquisite. Stars fell on South Africa that night. Radio Algoa played “Freshly Ground” and other contemporary African bands interspersed with good old American rock-n-roll while the hum of the off-road tires provided a soothing background tone. You could see forever in the crisp, clear weather. Our wives were happy to see us arrive safe, sound, and victorious, or maybe they had just corked an extra bottle. All I know is that I slept soundly and with more dreams of bushbuck dancing in my head. I’m hooked and ready for the next one.