Monthly Archives: April 2012

Hunting The Elusive Kwe Kwe Lion – Part I

 

HUNTING THE ELUSIVE KWE KWE LION, ZIMBABWE – Part I

By Jonathan Collet, Professional Hunter, Zimbabwe.

 

Hunting leopard on a property 3 ½ half hours NE of Bulawayo we were given the opportunity to hunt a marauding lion. The main priority was to get Mr Spots and if time allowed we would try for the lion. The lion had shown up there about 2 years ago and had been harassing the farmers ever since, killing cattle and just being a nuisance. Many hunters tried their luck at him but failed. The last guy who hunted him about 4 weeks prior to us hunting him figured out the plan of using another lion call to lure him in. They had the lion running at their truck causing lots of chaos. It terrified the clients and to cut a story short they shot at and wounded it. Two weeks later it was back more the wiser. This is where we came along….

After a successful leopard hunt and trip back into Bulawayo to get the right sound equipment to boom the sound of a lion roaring out across the night sky we went lion hunting. There were 8 of us; myself, a South African PH, the client, his two sons, the one son’s girl friend and two trackers. The first night we called and called but nothing, had no response from the lion, getting back to camp at 3 am. Next morning we receive reports that the villagers had heard the lion roaring in the early hours of the morning. We figured they had probably heard us calling but decide to investigate the reports just in case. Turns out the reports were correct as we found the lion’s tracks not too far from where we called the night before.

 

Night 2….

We headed out again with renewed enthusiasm, started calling where we had seen its tracks from the night before. Called and called but nothing. At around midnight, all half asleep and about to call it a night the lion decided to show himself and make his presence know. Less than 100 yards from us he roared. Well….. For those of us who were half asleep we were now wide awake and unsure of what chaos was about to ensue. We were expecting it to rush at the land cruiser as it had done previously but it didn’t. I got one fleeting glimpse of it that night and that was that. We worked with him for another couple hours but never did see him again.

 

Night 3….

Back at it and again better prepared and ready for action we headed out. It wasn’t long and we had him roaring back at us. As the night wore on it became evident we had the wrong plan. We discovered that the lion had been really close but never showed its self. We had him following the truck but always out of sight. At one point he was less than 30 yards from us and we didn’t know it…. Freaky shit I tell you. Hours later we drove our weary asses off to bed.

 

Day 4….

After lots of debate we decide that a live bait was the plan. He loved beef, rump steak and brisket in particular and surely would not pass up a free meal. This lion had over 30 cows to its name, cows that it had killed and eaten. An elevated blind had been built by some previous hunters and we figure that would be the ideal stake out position. I persuaded Sandy, the land owner to provide us a likely candidate. I felt bad about putting just one cow out on its own so we put 2 cows to keep each other company… 5pm Steve, the hunter, his one son Jake and I climbed up into our perch. The truck headed off to start calling. It wasn’t long before the lion responded. The plan was that the truck would call the lion past us, the lion would see, smell or hear the cow and pounce on it giving us the perfect shot opportunity.

It all worked like clockwork. Not too long after dark the truck drove past us with the lion in hot pursuit. A few minutes later here came the lion. I first heard it walking on the road below us. Now you must know what it felt like being out in the dark with a super predator only feet away from you. Fortunately lions don’t like to climb trees so I felt somewhat safe and out of harm’s way. Ok, so the lion was below us, we waited intently for something to happen with the cows. We had a cow bell tied to the one cow as our early warning system. Sure enough, the bell started ting-alinging and next thing the one cow started bellowing. Happy days…. game on…. so we thought.

We got ready and I switched the spot light on. That flippen lion didn’t give us one second and it was gone. SHIT!!!! So we settled down in the hope of it coming back. Sure enough about 10 minutes later it was back and pounced onto the same poor cow. Again I switched the light on and again it dashed off without a shot. It never came back again and we spent a long night in our tree stand. We couldn’t leave because we had to guard the cows. The others went back to camp to sleep off what was left of the night. It was all very disheartening as we had the lion dead to rights but it knew the plan and didn’t give us a shot. By morning all we had to show for it was a lot of frustration and one dead cow.

 

Day 5….

We re-strategized and came up with a new plan. We did the live bait thing again, used the poor buddy that survived the night before. Shame, I really felt bad for it… Anyway, we shifted the whole setup; put our blind on the ground this time, on the lions turf…. I wasn’t too sure about that plan but figured what the hell. I’d never hunted lion before this but Trevor the SA PH had and I really went on his knowledge and suggestions and he figured this was the plan. We changed our light setup as the spot light didn’t work. I set up a dim light above the bait to simulate a bright star and figured we were good to go. 5pm, we snivelled into our new blind, just Steve and I this time. The truck drove off to fetch the lion. Heard them calling then a while later heard the lion responded.

The truck drove past us and we waited. The cow was tied to a tree right on the edge of the road. Our blind was 50 yards away from the cow. The cow was lying down and didn’t even bother to get up when the truck drove past. It probably figured its time was up and was just going to lie there and die quietly. After a few minutes I heard the bell go but not frantic like the night before. We sat still expecting the lion to pounce and the cow to bellow…. Nothing! So we waited some more. It was dark and we could see nothing, we were relying on the bell and the cow’s bellow to let us know the lion had pounced. The bell went silent without a peep from the cow. Steve had a shitty pair of night vision binos which I used to have a look see without using the light. The cow was standing but nothing wrong. The cow laid down again.

A few minutes later I heard the bell again but same deal. No bellow. We waited and again nothing. I took another look a few minutes later and the cow was fine. All along I’m figuring it must have heard a mouse fart or something and got a fright. Turns out the lion had walked by it the first time following the truck which made it get up and the bell sound. The lion didn’t pay any attention to the cow. When the bell went the second time the lion had come back, walked around the cow, checked it out then walked off without touching it. I couldn’t believe it!!!! So now we had a lion that was not only light shy but had also figured out this live bait story. That was it, off to bed…

 

Day 6….

We decided to call it a day. It was our last day and the lion had defeated us. The clients had to fly out the next day. As the day drew on we got to thinking and decided to try for it one last time as it was our last night in camp and our last opportunity at getting the lion. We now knew the drill. If the bell sounded we knew the lion was close no matter whether it pounced on the cow or not. For some daft idea we figured the blind needed to be closer. So we moved it to 30 yards. We used a different cow as I couldn’t bring myself to using the same cow as the night before. It stood the lion off and I figured it had earned the right to live. I modified the light a bit more. Same deal, we snivelled into the blind, the truck drove off and we waited. This time the truck called and called but no response.

Not to worry, the lion had followed the truck before without responding so they drove by with the assumption that the lion would follow. One hour went by but nothing. The truck headed back and called some more. They called and called and again nothing. Eventually they heard it respond from a long way away. They called again and sure enough, they heard the lion getting closer. So they drove by us and parked not too far off. Steve and I were now ready, waiting for the bell to jingle. Sure enough, I heard the bell… I had the night vision bino’s, Steve was in position. I could see the cow standing but no lion. The truck called again and right then the lion appeared but not interested in the cow. It headed straight for the truck. It trotted straight past the cow as though it wasn’t there.

I couldn’t believe it… I radioed the guys in the truck and told them what had just happened. I told them to turn around and drive back past us in the hope that the lion would follow. They did and sure enough the lion followed. This time it appeared and stopped about 20 feet from the cow then lay down in the road. I could see all this through the night vision, barely… A couple minutes later it got up and walked towards the cow, stopped a couple feet from it and stood there looking at the cow. This was our cue. I turned the light on and again it bolted without giving us a shot. That was it… we admitted defeat and went back to camp. We all left early the next morning to get clients back to the airport but not without another plan… Night vision scope!!!

The thing is this, at some point the lion must have been poisoned by natives for killing their cattle. He must have got sick but recovered. As a result he wouldn’t touch bait anymore… Lesson number one! Then the guy with the lion call came along and his plan worked but they cocked up and wounded him. The lion survived but learnt the hazards associated with a spot light… lesson number 2. Then we came along with the live bait story which also worked but we didn’t realise he was so light shy because of lesson number 2, and after our first attempt with live bait the lion knew not to touch live baits again… lesson number 3.

Stay tuned for our next episode on this lion hunt. It’s going to be entertaining no doubt…

 

Hunting The Elusive Kwe Kwe Lion – Part II

 

Hunting The Elusive Kwe Kwe Lion – Part II

By Jonathan Collet, Professional Hunter, Zimbabwe.

 

PART II – THE RETURN

Part II of the lion hunt I did mid-June 2011.


Our long awaited return had finally arrived. Six weeks of planning and anticipation was now over and we were back to finish where we had left off. Seeing that lion bolt out of sight our final night six weeks earlier was cause for many sleepless nights.

 

Day 1…

We had a few things to do like make sure the sound system was working and erect our blind, the blind we had set up the last two nights of our previous trip. I sorted out the sound system while Trevor and the others went off to erect the blind. With sound system working and blind in place we took the afternoon off. It had been a couple weeks since he had killed another of poor Sandy’s cattle. Was he still in the neighbourhood? We wanted to find out so chose to spend our first night doing some reconnaissance work, not hunt but locate him only. We left camp after dark and headed off to where we hoped to find the lion. Sure enough he was still lurking around. It didn’t take long and we got a response from him. That was all we wanted, to know he was there and to let him know his diesel smelling and engine roaring buddy was back. We headed back to camp…

 

Day 2…

After a leisurely wake up and a hearty breakfast we all headed off to make sure we had everything in place for the evenings hunt. I checked on the blind to make sure it was the way I wanted it. We also wanted to see what the lion did the night before and how he had responded to us. He followed us as planned but not past our ambush site. Maybe it was just a coincidence that he chose to turn back 100 yards before. Then again maybe not… This cat was smart and one step ahead of us every time. We brushed the thought aside and hoped it was just coincidence. With everything ready and in place we headed back to camp for lunch and a nice long nap in preparation for our evening out. I arranged with Ken to have the live bait delivered to the sight late that afternoon. I wanted it tied and in place by the time we got there. Although we had the right equipment this time we felt that the moon was vital to our success. It was a couple days after full moon and it was rising later than hoped but nothing we could do about that. We had to work around it.

By 6 pm that evening Steve and I were “comfortably” seated in our little hideout while Trevor and crew went off to fetch the lion. Within minutes I heard the lion respond but no caller. The lion was not far and I thought it a bit odd that it was calling us rather than us calling it. About half an hour later the Landcruiser roared up the road and came to a screeching halt in front of our blind. I rush out the blind to find out what the problem was “THE SPEAKER IS NOT WORKING” Trevor said. Damn!!! (Putting it mildly) I discovered the power source to the Amp had a faulty connection. I fiddled with it for a few minutes and thought I had got it working. I scuttled off back to the blind while Trev and crew headed off to try again. Minutes later landcruiser and crew were turned around and heading off in the opposite direction to go fix the sound system. I obviously hadn’t fixed the problem. Hearing our crew drive off into the distance was rather unnerving. Where was the lion??? What was he up to???

An hour and a half later the LC crew were back (what a relief) with the problem fixed. It was now late and who knows where the lion was. It took almost an hour to locate him again. He had gone walkabout. The game was back on and the LC crew were headed back towards us with the lion in hot pursuit. Steve and I were ready!!! The ‘Cruiser drove past us and stopped about half a km down the road. They called again and then we waited… and waited… and waited. No lion… What the hell!!! FLIPPEN HELL… next thing the damn thing roared less than 50 yards behind our blind. Don’t know about Steve but I just about shot through the roof of the blind… Baboons roosting in a tree not too far behind our blind alerted us to him passing, to and from. That was it, back to the drawing board. That cat knew the plan, he had figured us out from our botched attempt six weeks earlier. Even with live bait in place he wasn’t interested. He showed enough interest in his diesel smelling buddy to follow as he had done before but that was it. We weren’t fooling him. We had been out smarted yet again. Back to camp we went feeling rather despondent and frustrated.

 

Day 3…

With very little sleep and no time to waste we were off to change things again. After each failed attempt we very quickly figured out that a new plan was needed as the last would never work again.

 

  • He’d been poisoned so never touched bait again.
  • He’d been spot lighted and shot at. Became very light shy as a result.
  • We pulled him in underneath our noses with live bait but the spot light spooked him off. He never touched live bait again.
  • We had him sniff and circle the live bait after that but our attempt at a little light high up in the tree above spooked him off to where he never came anywhere near our live bait again.
  • And to add to all this he was losing interest in the caller. It took more and more effort to get him to respond let alone follow the truck. Our hopes of getting him were fading fast.

 

We had two options in place for our next plan, the elevated tree stand that we had used before and a road blind. The lion had walked below the tree stand four times the night before in response to our caller. This was while we were in our ground blind with the live bait. The road blind was built out of grass in the tall grass on a slight bend with a long stretch of visible road. Both were built in the hope of ambushing him as he followed the truck. If the one failed we had the other as plan “B”.

We had a very late start that night as the moon was vital to our success and it was now waning, moon rise at 10 pm and high enough in the sky for us to see after 11 pm. “Tonight was our night” so we hoped but little did we know that we were going to be in for a long one. We got our first and very distant response from him around 1 am. In the past he came bounding in to the caller but it took another two hours to get a second response out of him this time, a clear indication that he was losing interest. After his first response we moved closer to where we thought he was. Called and called but nothing. We moved again and again but nothing. After a good hour of this I made the decision to move to where we wanted him, to stay put there and call every fifteen minutes for as long as it took. Our moving all over the place and calling was no doubt confusing the fellow. He didn’t know where to go or what to do. What was originally one lion now sounded like a whole pack of them calling from all directions. So we parked and called. About an hour later we got our second response, this time he was close. It had worked… The game was back on….

Plan ‘A’ was the road blind which was less than 500 metres down the road. We shot off there. Steve and I debussed and snivelled into the blind as the ‘Cruiser drove on. Trevor stopped and resumed calling a few hundred metres further down the road. Steve and I were ready. We could see at least 150 metres of the moon lit road. The lion was toast, if only it would follow in the road. The lion responded a couple times but clearly wasn’t following along the road. It sounded like he was following parallel to the road about 100 metres in. No plan!!! The ‘Cruiser came back, we loaded up and went back to where we had called him in. Called there again and he responded, same place. He hadn’t budged. Where we sat in the road blind it sounded like he had followed in the bush but in actual fact he hadn’t. He stayed put and was further away than we had thought.

Plan ‘B’ – Tree stand!!! We rushed off to it, again only a few hundred metres away in the opposite direction. Steve and I clambered up into our perch while Trevor and crew called once then drove on. Surely the lion wasn’t too far behind. We were ready… Nothing… Trevor called again a few hundred metres further away. We got a response that time but the lion was not budging. For the next hour Trevor called and the lion responded numerous times behind us but never moved. It seemed Mr Lion was onto us. His diesel smelling buddy was a hoax…

 

4am…

I was frozen, the lion had gone quiet and all hope was lost. Trevor wanted to call it at night as did I but I suggested we stick it out until sunup because I didn’t want to compromise yet another situation. This lion was one step ahead of us all the time and if it had figured out our tree stand plan then it was over. We had no choice but to endure the torturous cold until sunrise.

 

4:45am…

Trevor radioed to ask if he should play the hyena call. He had consulted with the trackers and they figured it was a waste of time. He wanted to hear what I thought. The lion call wasn’t working, we needed a change so what the heck… I told him to go for it. We had various calls, a couple different lion calls, a hyena call, hyenas feeding and a bleating wildebeest call. Trevor made up a concoction of the hyena call, the feeding frenzy and the bleating wildebeest. It sounded pretty convincing from where Steve and I sat but who were we to convince the lion. Nothing… No response, not a peep out of the lion.

 

5:45am…

Staring out at the horizon, frozen through to the bone I could see the faint glimmer of hope signalling the onset of sunrise. I was battling with a cramp in my right leg and was about to stand up when I heard the call. Using the lion call, Trevor called again, one last time before it got light. It took my mind off my discomfort when out of the blue the lion responded, he was responding on top of our caller. We had listened to him respond from behind us the whole night but this time it was different. He wasn’t behind us, he was in front of us. I quickly moved into place where I could see through my little hole. Steve followed suit. There in the road walking towards us was our lion. I couldn’t believe it, thought I was dreaming. Trevor’s hyena concoction must have worked as the lion left his hideout behind us to investigate the commotion. He obviously saw that he had been conned yet again so was now on his way back along the road right where we wanted him. Trevor’s timing was impeccable as the lion would easily have snuck past us without a peep or responded where we couldn’t see him. He was wasting no time and it was now or never… The lion turned to his left 50 yards in front of us and presented a brief shot opportunity. Before the words “take him” left my mouth the shot rang out, echoing through the frigid valley. The lion gave out a low grunt as it leapt backwards then bolted off into the long grass. It was a hit but how well was anyone’s guess.

Instantly the radio came to life with Trevor wanting to know what the heck was going on. He hadn’t heard the lion respond to our caller and was oblivious to what was unfolding before Steve and I. “We got him, we shot the lion…”

 

6:15am…

Armed and ready Steve, Trevor and I with our two trackers in the lead slowly advanced along the blood trail. Expecting the worst but hoping for the best we were ready. The trail was good and surely the lion couldn’t have gone far. I strained to look through every bush and tuft of grass that could possibly hide an angry lion seeking his revenge. It was still, the pounding of my heart was all I could hear. There 50 yards out I saw him, laying on his side motionless. It was a good shot…

Twelve gruelling nights had finally paid off.

 

For information on hunts with Jonathan in one of the Dark Continent’s most beautiful corners, visit his website at www.touchafricasafaris.com

 

The .375 Holland & Holland Part I

Seeing as next year marks my favourite big game cartridge’s birthday, I figured it was finally time to write about my experiences, perceptions, and further considerations on the ever popular .375 H&H. The .375 H&H has a very well founded claim to the title of “Most Versatile Sporting Cartridge”, and as I aim to illustrate in this article through my own experiences and actual numbers, I believe this to be absolutely correct. Like most things viewed as niche, the .375 H&H suffers from much misinformation, especially with regards to perceptions of recoil, trajectory, and suitability for game. I had been meaning to muse on the .375 H&H for some time, and I thankfully finally have a snowy Northern day suited to the cause.

We view the .375 H&H as ‘big’ in Canada, but it truly isn’t. I have friends who grew up hunting in southern Africa and it is very common to start hunting with a .375 H&H; it is Africa’s .30-06. With regards to the recoil, it’s seen on the Dark Continent more or less as the .30-06 is here, which makes sense as like the -06 the recoil is completely manageable and as with the -06 here, the .375 is ready to take on anything on the continent. The .375 strikes a balance of five or more factors; bullet weight, sectional density, velocity, ballistic coefficient, and the aforementioned recoil. You can load a .375 with bullets as light as 200 grains, however it is likely at its best with the 300 grain loading. A 300 grain .375 bullet has a sectional density above .300, a characteristic shared by the 175gr 7×57, a favourite of W.D.M. “Karamojo” Bell, the 286gr 9.3×62 and x74R, the 400gr .416 Rigby and .404 Jeff, 450 and 500gr .458 Win and Lott, 500gr .470 Nitro, 570gr .500 Nitro, and 750gr .577 Nitro. Quite simply, this only means with a century of proof, it bloody well penetrates, and reliably.

In North America, Weatherby et al have espoused the virtues of speed and light bullets- lighter recoil, flatter trajectories, and supposedly “shocking” terminal ballistics. You know what? All that’s true. It’s also not necessarily a good thing, when speed goes up penetration as a general rule, drops. Bullet weight generally shows the inverse of this relationship, where as weight in a given bullet diameter increases, so generally does penetration. Picturing each factor as a curve on a single graph, what the .375 H&H has done is embody the meeting point of the velocity curve as relating to trajectory and the bullet weight curve relative to penetration. You could also argue it is the meeting point of what most can tolerate for recoil and still shoot accurately, and overall power. Some might argue the light and fast group is more effective at putting an animal down from shock, right there. I would ask them to find anyone who sees a .375 with the same shot placement in the vitals as lacking in any way in lethality and “dead right there” capability.

As the World’s Medium Bore, it is also the World’s Happy Medium as a hunting cartridge. Very, very few cartridge designs are so balanced, and this is a reason for its enormous Worldwide popularity far and beyond its likely expected life. It is an antiquated design, formed in shape for cordite, a long defunct propellant, and the .375 is the beholder of only the second cartridge belt formed onto a case head. However these design factors have also subtly aided the .375 H&H through life, as even a minute budge of the bolt on opening frees the case fully from the chamber walls thanks to its strong taper. The belt assures reliable headspace in the many different chambers made over the last century one can encounter, and it also backs up the extremely gentle and slick feeding minimalist case shoulder. Feeding reliability and slickness is a well earned reputation the .375 enjoys, and every bit of it is true. It truly “funnels” home to the bore, and being slender holds more cartridges in the magazine than fatter competitors.

With regards to trajectory, it surprises there as well. All of the following uses the top Hodgdon load in the cartridge and bullet weight combination for both the .375 and the comparison cartridge. First off, the .375 H&H loaded with 235 grain has the same trajectory as a 140 grain .270 Winchester inside 300 yards (it’s close even further, as well) however it delivers one-ton more muzzle energy. At 300 yards, the .270 is only just a hair over an inch flatter than the .375- 1.3” for those that like numbers. Next, the .375 can deliver a 300 grain bullet with an SD of .305 to 300 yards with the exact same trajectory as a .308 Winchester shooting 180 grain, and it doesn’t go subsonic until past 1000 yards (Hornady 300gr SPBT). If you want to take down the biggest and nastiest game on earth, you can go up to 350 grains or 380 grains (although even just the 300 grain has likely done it more than any other cartridge!), with the .375 H&H delivering the 350 grain 6” flatter than a 9.3×62 can deliver a 286 grain to 300 yards, and the better part of a foot flatter than the top Marlin-level load of the same bullet weight in .45-70. As a side note, the .375 also arrives at 300 yards with double the .45-70’s energy, and bringing us to our next consideration, with less recoil than the Marlin oddly enough as well.

Many shooters cringe at the thought of shooting a .375 H&H, but would step in to shoot a Marlin Guide Gun loaded with top shelf 350’s without the same apprehension. I shot exactly the load we’re discussing, Marlin level 350 grain loads in a Guide Gun, long before I ever picked up a .375 H&H and I certainly wasn’t expecting less recoil from the .375, but that’s what I found. Granted, the .375 is as a general rule a much heavier rifle than the 7lb guide gun, and this factors in significantly. The point I’m making however is simply that many of us are likely familiar with .375 level recoil despite viewing it as something else altogether and something to be wary of. There is also the much talked about shove versus smack, and if ever a cartridge embodied the principle in the shove end of that spectrum, it is the .375 H&H. I will not call it a giant, as truly it’s not, but if it were it would be a gentle one. I would compare it to a 3” 12 gauge with a longer, less sharp recoil impulse, for those looking for a benchmark. Enough numbers and related arguments now to what it does in the hands, my hands.

I have a somewhat storied .375 now, despite it being young, a Ruger .375 H&H RSM. I bought it just several years ago, from the now defunct Russell Sports for less than $2,000. Like many guns, I explained to my wife this one would do many jobs. For once, I spoke genuine truth and more than I knew. The first experience I had shooting that .375 began like this, I was headed north to Fort Nelson for a new job, and at the time I had no ammunition as I hadn’t ordered any from Russells, I didn’t yet understand I hadn’t bought another .30-06 or even .338 Mag. I also didn’t understand how popular this chambering was, and how far spread ammunition for it could be found. I was visiting family on the West coast before I departed, and stopped in the first town I passed through figuring it was worth a shot, Hope, BC. Finding a tackle and hunting shop that was open, I asked if he had any .375 H&H, and was surprised after a pause to hear “270 or 300 grain?”, I bought a box of 270 grain Federals and was on the road minutes later. That box of 270’s will come up later, a round from that box went a long ways and did some interesting things years later, and I have just one round of that box left to this day.

I’ve since found the ammunition to be available at the end of that trip in Fort Nelson where I ultimately moved, in Frankfurt Germany, in South Africa, and Zimbabwe. It is doubtless spread all over the world in between those points, as well. Remember I said it is Africa’s .30-06? I think it’s actually the .30-06 of global hunting. If you want one rifle that can do it all, the .375 H&H is it, and its reputation is gained purely on performance not marketing unlike many other more modern chamberings. Holland & Holland hasn’t exactly taken out a magazine spread on the cartridge or hired Craig Boddington to push it in quite some time. So, everything its known for, it comes by honestly. It is probably one of the least hype laden popular chamberings going- no commercial hyperbole, no proprietor pushing it and the wares chambering it, no cheap rifle as a vehicle to its popularity, it’s not a big bore with the associated lore there, it’s not dazzlingly fast and no acquaintance to the Weatherby end of the spectrum… it is, in a word, sensible. Boring, really. It’s also not a niche or boutique chambering, you can find ammunition in small Northern towns or dusty enclaves in the Dark Continent, and it fits the absolute middle ground of ballistics to a T. Perhaps this is why it has become so respected and popular… why am I saying perhaps, I know it is, and ahead is what I’d like to say is a fairly interesting tale of how I found out. It will likely be more personal than what I’m used to sharing as well.

Following that trip to my new job in Fort Nelson, I had zero free time, and did very, very little shooting. My rifles were stored, and the only rifle I’d been using was the newest one, like many of us are apt to. That was the .375 H&H of course, and I hadn’t yet mounted the planned Leupold 1-4x20mm, shooting it over irons only. The irons suited me fine, I grew up firing literally tens of thousands of rounds on the farm over irons and am more familiar with them than scopes. Like often happens, you gravitate to careers that suit your abilities, and one item in my plus column (the sheet’s balance leans heavily to the negative, I assure you) is 20/10 vision. So I tend to shoot and fly well, and have spent much of my life so far doing one of those two things. For the shooting part of that, probably 95% of the time has been looking over irons- which fatefully all good .375’s come equipped with. Positive #1. I received a call around this time, actually when back on the coast in BC in an interlude before moving my wife up to Fort Nelson, that had me and the .375 that was travelling with me in the truck and en route to the foothills of Alberta that evening.

My mother was on the farm, and had suffered a heart attack, a bizarre thing seeing as she was in fantastic shape, when her dog was attacked by what we thought was a very large Coyote literally right in front of her. My mother was a typical farm gal, and when her dog was attacked she went after the attacker raving mad screaming to save her good friend, Porter. Porter is a Beagle-sized dog and my mother and him were off to the barns in the early morning, still near-dark out. Suddenly, something large grabbed hold of Porter and started dragging him into the dark. My mother loved animals more than people (just ask my brother and I what happened when we herded cattle with a BB gun), and went after Porter to the point of having a heart attack and passing out in the snow. She was incredibly lucky, it seems she scared the attacker’s grip from Porter and the dog took off for the house, bleeding profusely. My mother didn’t follow (apparently she was a better friend to Porter than him to her!), and woke up in extreme pain much later, barely making it to the house. We were shocked to get the call, hearing my mother laughing about it all in the hospital, and two things were on my mind; we needed to get out there and see my mother and I needed to kill that Coyote.

We spent time with my mother at the hospital, learned she was going to be alright though they were concerned why she would have a heart attack, a former All-American collegiate swimmer who kept her shape. I set out to hunting him the next morning, having made a blind the night before above one of our stock pens out of spruce boughs where we’d lost goats recently. We have a mercury vapour lamp on a post there, and I set up a platform maybe four feet up a feeder behind the lamp and I put up a feed sack on the post on my side of the lamp, keeping me in the dark behind the boughs and dimly lighting the pasture in front of me. I went out well before dawn in the morning with my.375, and started calling, standard wounded Jack. Very quickly, I had movement a couple hundred yards out, and it was gone. I waited, then started up calling dramatically, and stopped, giving the odd moan. The movement returned, and I gave another dramatic burst, I knew I’d have to get him close. This was nearly four years ago now and I remember every bit, likely one of my most intense hunting moments though to my knowledge at the time, I was about to shoot just another Coyote, the situation was however rather unique giving the precursors to the hunt.

I didn’t even know how I’d get the same animal that had attacked Porter brazenly, you can call a Coyote any day you want on the farm. All I knew was he was supposed to be big, but aren’t all things that are attacking your dog right in front of you? As the movement changed from a blob to a rather large and light coloured four legged animal, moving quicker and quicker my way I continued calling and picked up the call’s pace, attempting to fool whatever was coming my way into thinking their pray was getting nervous. I had to get him close, really close, as there was a good chance I was about to shoot a moving target, in the twilight except for the dim LED-like light of a mercury vapour lamp, over iron sights offhand perched on a plank. I wasn’t about to miss, I’m not afraid to admit I had some typical hunter’s pride on the line, in nailing the ‘beast’ the very next morning, no drama. As I was feeling better and better about the situation and my coming achievement, the prey took an unexpected turn; he turned along the fence at the edge of the paddock and followed it instead of coming under it as I expected, I had hoped to shoot him in the middle of the dimly lit paddock backed by white snow; easy.

Instead, he tracked down the fence, which meant he was circling to the side of my blind. Between the dim light and the fence I was losing him as he was coming up on my side, maybe 60-70 yards out. I was also getting into a very awkward spot on the plank that made my platform, as with the house at my back I anticipated shooting only out into the pasture. I was also concerned with shooting towards the farm house if he circled much further. He went until he was slightly behind my blind, and came right in at me fast from about fifty yards, I’d stopped calling at this point and was trying to swivel for a shot and decide if I could shoot safely from that angle. I decided I could, given I was elevated four feet or so, and shooting into the ground at a shallow angle, and he also hadn’t put me with the house right behind him yet thankfully. At ten to twenty yards, I shot as I was startled how fast this thing was arriving and with no let up. He was just over-confident and dead set on his Jack, I’d had Coyotes in this close before, and he wouldn’t have ever caught on I wasn’t his Jack either had I not shot high.

I spined him, just behind the shoulders, and he was pissed. I’m still not sure if this means he was turning when I shot, as I honestly can’t remember anything from the split second just before I pulled the trigger. BOOM is the first memory than registers following him cutting and running in, it was instinctive at that point not contemplated. I think he was just close enough the angle gave me spine as he faced me from my small platform, I believe it exited rear low. The next clear mental image of him I have was him murderously mad, scruffed up, and flashing teeth snarling when I jumped down with the .375 before he decided to beat back for the field with his front two legs. Catching up to him and following him briefly at a few yards, I shot him a couple more times as he motored back for the field dragging his back end. Finally, he died, fire in his eyes, and suddenly everything was very quiet. Phew.

It didn’t seem so dark then, I imagine my pupils were dilated as wide as they could go at that point and the inklings of daylight were coming when I stood over him, dead. He was bigger than I expected too, here’s a photo of him below taken when I returned to the field to get him after coffee, breakfast, and a phone call. I’ll be dead honest, and I say it with shame, this was the only pelt I haven’t recovered. I threw him in a frozen ravine and left, I’ve often speculated at his size and weight, but this too is foggy as I spent extremely little time with him, long enough for the picture for my mother in the hospital and to load him, drive to the ravine, and drop him over. He was heavy, too heavy to throw, and had to be dropped over the edge. I later went to look for the skull in summer, not a trace was left.

What I found in shooting him, was though he was larger than I anticipated, he still wasn’t a large animal, and the .375 made no mess of him. In fact, my .375 acted very “mildly” on him, with virtually no pelt damage or large exits, the exits were actually hard to see. He was too light to allow any large expansion, I have since used TSXs on more small game and have found they actually open up more than the soft points generally. Not what most would expect. The next time my .375 would draw blood, was to be on another continent. I pulled some terribly cheesy and terribly entertaining books out of the Fort St. John library. One of them, Peter Capstick, A Return to the Long Grass to be exact, in particular started a fever in me. I had not initially contemplated Africa when I bought my .375, though I always knew I would go, what I probably should say is I had not bought the rifle FOR Africa. Well, it wasn’t long and that .375 was overseas the first of a couple times in the last few years.

After the long trip, unpacking her in African heat inside the canvas walls of my accommodations at camp was a very good feeling. I was building memories with her my son would read in my hunting journal while holding this rifle one day. For this trip, I had loaded and packed a large assortment of ammunition, starting with reduced 270gr TSX loads for culling, a handful of the original 270gr Federals from Hope, BC, and 300gr TSX Nyati loads. It was here in the Long Grass, to pay homage to my inspirational though perhaps inflammatory motivator, Mr. Capstick, I came to really appreciate my .375’s versatility. I also knew I had shown up with the right rifle, as my friend and PH was the first of several I would meet and be asked by “What are you shooting?” to which I always reply “.375.”; this always garners a content smile or strong head nod of pleased expression in the PH.

My first animal in Africa was an Impala ram, the details are fuzzy a couple years later, maybe just around a hundred yards with a 300gr TSX- bang, whomp. I had taken him from a small knoll, nicely shrouded to act as a blind, after a brief stalk. I centered the Express sights just on his shoulder as most African game are shot in contrast to North American placement, and it was all over. I saw him drop, one thing I love about iron sights and a straight comb stock, you’re still in the hunt unlike the “video game” of a scope where you lose sight of the situation as soon as the trigger’s pulled. Impala are a roughly small deer sized antelope, maybe 80-140lbs, and unbelievably tough for their size, I’ve shot a lot of different species and pound for pound an alert Impala makes my top three for toughest game despite my rather uneventful encounter with the species there. Later in this trip, I would engage in culling Impala, and this is where I saw their spirit. When one of a pair of rams that were fighting was shot, the not selected ram hung around long enough to give the old boy who’d just dropped to a .375 shot forty or so yards away a “what for” goring with his horns! Balls. They have them.

Following a bunch of Impala the next animal I would shoot with the .375 was the Black Death; Nyati, Inyati, Mbogo… Cape Buffalo… Many names, one image, this one (I took this in 2010):

My Bull came on the last day of my time in Dark Continent. Getting concerned, I had been onto Buffalo too many times to count, but we were hunting in April, a very lush and green time in that part of Africa, and it was impossible to see fifteen yards half the time. I was also management hunting, meaning I was gunning for an over-mature, still dominant, but no longer a good breeder ancient bull they wanted out to let the young guns of the buffalo world in. If you ever want to have fun, “bump” Cape Buffalo at a handful of yards from downwind in thick thornbush and jess following their tracks to where they’ve held up. There were times, glassing from atop a Gomo we had climbed, a rock outcrop jutting high out of the savannah below, I had watched vast herds in relative open, but no old bulls were among them. I’d watched for ten minutes as buffalo passed, thinking this must, truly must, be my time… but only soft-bossed bulls.

By the time I knelt with my rifle on the sticks and a huge bodied, old bull in my sights just shy of watermelon seed spitting distance I was almost weary, expecting the break any second. It started to sink in this was it when I was weaving the irons looking for a hole through the thick bush to somewhere important on the behemoth right in front that this was it. I could tell I should be excited, as my PH looked as excited as I was, his custom .458 Lott Winchester Model 70 firmly in his grasp. Frankly at that moment I felt fairly detached, we had snuck up on our bellies, pushing the .375 through thorns and rusty soil, to get close enough to shoot in this thorn packed hell. I say hell lightly, as I love the place- a handful of acres can seem like infinity, get you spun around a half dozen times, and this same stuff can hide Cape Buffalo, Hyenas, or Black Mambas right in front of your face. Wonder is everywhere. Fortunately I grew up on a farm full of similar mangrove like growth and learned to navigate it well, but our farm didn’t hide many things that would kill you.

By the time I was there, kneeling and sighting for my bull, the 35 plus degree heat and belly shuffling were catching up, in all honesty I was almost glad it may be over there, success at last and a break after cleaning up the bull. If I dropped him well that is, not necessarily easy to do on Nyati I was told; a follow up in here would be hell. I found his Achilles heel, sighted on it, squeezed as I exhaled and the jess came harshly and vividly to life with the thunder of the .375 in the thorns, the solid connection of a 300 grain bullet at close range finding an animal finally big and heavy enough to stop it dead, no exit, and the body of a nearly one-ton symbol of everything powerful crashing against the tree to his side. He was down, not out by any means, and I put two more 300gr Barnes into him for insurance. An unknown amount of time later, as time lost meaning there, he death bellowed twice; a deep, foreboding, guttural rumbling sound. I felt very lucky to hear it, and my weariness was gone. Our attention went to the other, unseen buffalo- they often hang around a dropped member of the herd. They were gone.

My Bull had captured and kept two out of three of my 300gr TSXs, one through his neck if I remember correctly had exited. In retrospect, next buffalo I shoot will be with 350gr TSXs. The 300’s were spectacular, but more penetration wouldn’t have hurt. In the same light, I’ve found the 300gr TSX to be marvelously effective, and to make no mess of the smaller animals such as Impala. Take another look at the Impala photo included above- clean. Less mess even than my .243 could make. Frankly, on the smaller species, I don’t believe the .375 to be any more effective than even just a .243. The differences a hunter is however likely to note are less meat damage for what I’ve found to be slightly better lethality, and the ability to be lethal from any angle. There is not a single angle deer sized game can present that a .375 with its standard loading cannot take advantage of to be immediately lethal. I also believe the same stands true for the most part on up to Elk-class game, though the Texas Heart shot is never a shot to make first, but one possibly necessary if following up. Please don’t take my comments to mean I shoot from any angle, or endorse it, but rather I feel the ability to do so is incredibly important.

I’m a young man, though in just my hunting alone I’ve seen and learned enough to know hunting is never, ever a sure thing. It would be terribly boring if it was. I’ve seen the very best wound, as I have myself as well and had to follow up. I’ve also discussed the reality of hunting with a popular hunting TV show’s cast over dinner in Africa and how they have to selectively edit to make the appearance of all immediate, clean kills. Follow ups are reality, especially on tougher game such as Elk, Grizzly, and Bison for North America and a slew of creatures in Africa. If you can do without, fantastic and take warm hearty self-congratulations, I did with the Buffalo pictured above. When you can’t take that hearty self-congratulations, I hope you’re carrying a .375 or better. Second installment to follow, with following up a wounded Wildebeest and the .375 doing what a .300 Weatherby barking beside it couldn’t, the effect of marginal hits on Elk+ sized big game with the .375, and more general ramblings.

The .375 Holland & Holland Part II

.375 Holland & Holland Part II

Bullets, recovered and otherwise, marginal shots and nasty follow ups. This article diverges slightly from the technical, to experiences and is as much about hunting in general as the .375.

Welcome to Africa…

Shortly following cleaning up my Nyati, two bullets from which will be pictured below demonstrating the foundation of my appreciation for TSXs and .375s, we were on our way back to camp via Landcruiser when we came across a positively ancient Bridled Gnu, or Blue Wildebeest. A large Elk+ sized, and incredibly tough animal, I haven’t met a PH yet who doesn’t strongly respect their tenacity and vigor. The Wildebeest is another one of those animals that just screams Africa: tails swinging, heads powerfully bobbing, seal grey with ghostly dark stripes up their sides, and they always seem to be moving- often very quickly and en masse. They have a strut and head jerking manor that is emphasized by red dusty soil coming up around their hooves. Typically herded up, this character was on his own, an old brute with weathered, battle scarred horns and the marks to go along with them.

My PH procures meat for local celebrations when requested if there is sufficient suitable game for the purpose. An old Wildebeest bull suited this purpose, a local celebration, very nicely indeed. We jumped from the Landcruiser, without words, I simply followed Jon’s rapid disembarking and mimicked his low stalk into the bush, not entirely sure what he had in mind. We made it to a nice natural blind, under an Acacia which curled over us with the trunk on our left, and the branches arching overhead, coming near the ground with leaves overhead and thorns on our right- not unlike a wave. My apologies for the emphasis, I love trees, and Africa has beautiful ones. Back to the hunt.

“Shoot that Wildebeest.” Jon commanded as he dropped his binoculars, and using the trunk of the Acacia, I complied seconds later. The range I underestimated, a typical issue for me over irons, 175 yards often looks like 100 to me in the field. I suspect in reflection the shot was 175 yards or so, and I hadn’t come to this opinion until a year after my hunt, just this fall really. More experience in Africa on the same size game has made me realize a lot of my shooting was further than I thought at the time. We hunted without rangefinders on that hunt, and frankly, I still don’t own one as I want the best it seems am I to buy one, such as the Leica range finding binos I used several months ago on my last trip to the Dark Continent. Wants and funds fail to agree on those, especially since a year from now a better model will be out no doubt; I detest technology and love its handiness…

Anyhow, the .375 shoots flat enough you’ll get away with thinking 300 yards is 200, and 200 is 100 and so forth, a benefit I described as numerical prowess in the first part of this write up. Here I can give the real world application; experienced shooters and hunters who overestimate not range, but their ranging ability; I’m that guy. The .375 makes us look good. In the case of this Wildebeest, almost too good… Like most shooting irons at slightly extended range, I am often guilty of minor overcompensation for drop that comes from a childhood of shooting irons on the farm lobbing .22 bullets into the back 40 at far flung vermin. Very few animals were hurt in the making of that line of this story and many agitated, don’t worry.

Despite under-estimating the range, I still compensate slightly high on a reachier iron sights shot subconsciously, I’m fighting it and have improved with the .375 considerably. But I digress and self serve, back to the point. At the further end of iron sights comfortable range, such as my first Wildebeest, a slight inclination upwards makes for going a good bit higher than you would like with a cartridge that shoots flat. My shot was still placed solidly fatally, and only one round was required, but my goodness if you ever want to see the damn’dest interpretation of the Starship Enterprise engaging Warp 9, double lung a Blue Wildebeest bull. From dead, unsuspecting calm to 15,000 hoof beats an hour before the bloody shot’s stopped ringing. Away my old bonus animal went, seconds earlier a heart raising addition to a fantastic hunt, suddenly a barely sub-mach speed cannonball tearing through thick jess.

Only little flecks of lung blood showed, and they weren’t reassuring, this was a very poor ending to a fantastic hunt and a letdown for my friend who needed the meat. Thank goodness I hunt with a .375… I would see what a very good, but equally barely marginal shot on another Blue Wildebeest with a .300 Weatherby and 180gr would do just over a year later, on my brother’s SCI Gold Medal bull. It turns out that lung shot on my first bull, which had Jon very concerned even if only his face spoke it, was handily fatal thanks to the 270 grain Federal softpoint easily deflating both lungs, he was running on fumes from the moment 270 grains of Federal’s cheapest left his opposite side. Even the cheap Federal soft, with all its much more violent expansion, was incredibly ‘clean’ for its lethality, a trademark of the .375 I very much appreciate. Remember that first box of .375 from Hope, BC? Well that round came from that very blue box, quite a journey it made, with no plan on my part to send it such places. I still have one round left, what to do with it… time will tell.

The exiting of 270 grains of Federal’s cheapest from the unfortunate Gnu’s side brings me to the subject of exiting bullets, and recovered ones in the .375. Of the latter in my own experience, there are very few: two actually, pictured a couple paragraphs below. I like bullets that exit, my views on terminal ballistics have about as much in common Roy Weatherby and his fragmentation theory (since modified by higher quality bullets and the passing of ‘ole Roy) as Saudi Arabia’s politics do with ours. Exits allow one more place to bleed and let in air ahead of the diaphragm, ceasing the activity of the lungs by disallowing differential pressure, a familiar concept to all of us here but worth outlining. Perhaps not an issue on deer, but a serious benefit on Wildebeest, Buffalo, Elk, Bison, large Bears and so forth. Big things, in my experience, don’t react like smaller large game with even slightly imperfect shot placement. Sometimes, all too often even, they still don’t react like smaller game even with perfect shot placement.

Reference the following photo of a Bison heart that I took this winter, the walls of the ventricles are for the most part an inch or more thick of heavy muscle, very akin to the Cape Buffalo’s heart. Those muscular walls can seal off bullet wound tracts, especially those of fragments in the case such as the 180gr Core Lokts from my brother’s .300 Weatherby experience. Cape Buffalo and other similarly sized game have frequently survived heart shots for an astounding period of time, lung shots, they can even fully recover from. Reference Ganyana, and his article “Bullet Wounds on Game: How Survivable are They?”-1-

 

“There is only one thing more frustrating than watching a fine animal that you have carefully stalked and shot at rushing off, apparently unharmed, and that is finding a few small flecks of blood. That sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, and the desperate hope that you, or your tracker are up to following and finding the animal. The only worse feeling comes hours or even days later when you finally concede defeat.

Over the years I have been positively astounded by the wounds which game seem to survive. The only Hartebeest I have ever shot had three other bullets in it. A.303 lodged in one lung, A 7.62 military ball recovered under the skin near the rump and a “pot leg” from a an old muzzle loader lodged in the shoulder. The animal was in perfect health as far as I could tell when I shot it. I have seen buffalo on their feet putting in a determined charge twelve hours after being hit through both lungs with a .375 solid. A buffalo cow got really otherwise with a friend’s client and afterwards in the skinning shed we found out that she had a “pot leg” in her chest that had perforated the bottom of both lungs. The wound was festering but I suspect she was actually on her way to recovery. I could go on for pages, but the fact remains that animals seem to survive the most remarkable hits from all manner of bullets and recover just fine when it just doesn’t seem possible.”

-Ganyana, of African Hunter

 

True large, tough game can literally turn everything you thought you knew about terminal ballistics on its head. ‘Ole Roy Weatherby deserves a nod here, with a couple choice quotes, good for entertainment value if nothing else:

 

A 1951 Gun Digest article:

 

“It doesn’t matter whether you shoot (a game animal) in the ham, the ribs, the paunch, or the shoulder; you do not have to hit the heart, the lungs, or the spine in order to kill when using a bullet that disintegrates inside his body. I recommend you try a .25-caliber bullet travelling at 4,000 fps to shoot your next game animal, whether it be deer, moose, or African buffalo.” –Roy Weatherby

“I shot him with my .257 Magnum, hitting in the front leg only, high toward the shoulder … nothing can withstand the shock of high velocity bullets, even when not hit in a vital spot.” –Roy Weatherby

 

You can be lulled into ambivalence and end up dismissing all game as the same; they drop to good shots, and for Roy, even to bad ones apparently (short reading reveals the man lost a lot of game, especially the big ones). A lot of good hunters hunt Deer and Moose at home all their life, go to Africa, bag some plains game animals, maybe even a Cape Buffalo that drops like mine did, and presume all lost game are the result of poor shot placement. Not true. I’ve never lost an animal larger than 100 or so pounds, and only a few below that cutoff; but there is a lot of luck and help in that statistic . I came very close to losing a beautiful Zebra stallion a few months ago, with no excuses, I pulled a shot from an impromptu rest and missed my mark; front, low shoulder. He was tough, incredibly so, and was on his feet for what I would estimate as an hour and hid himself well in jess. It would have been my first big loss in hunting (I have lost the animal I see as pound for pound one of the toughest, Impala), and my heart was crashing in preparation for that realization when we found him. Loading him up was also one of the best feelings of my hunting ‘career’ (though I pay, my wife would scoff at this pretention), though very somber, and I’m eternally grateful for the lessons he provided.

I had loaded 235 grain soft points into the magazine of my .375 instead of my usual heavier Barnes TSXs, reasoning that 235 grains was still a healthy bullet weight and Zebra likely didn’t ask for a heavy TSX. I was confronted with far, far less blood trail, pinpricks only that snaked like mad through thornbrush, following my pulled shot. Eventually even the pin pricks stopped. Had I shot one of the TSXs I’d loaded and brought instead, a pulled shot would still have occurred but tracking and lethality would have been vastly improved. That 235gr Speer Hot-Cor could have been my third recovered .375 bullet, as it didn’t exit, but I was feeling too low to want anything to do with it and following loading the stallion I merely wanted to sulk in a beer and let out a big “Phew” inside.

 

 

The following pictured pair of TSXs were discharged into my Nyati, and if you’re like me, first off you’ll note that left hand TSX. TSXs are supposed to hold together, right? Retain near 100%, no fragmentation? Well that doesn’t always happen. The one on the right actually only opened mildly, but performed beautifully, and the left had one actually fragmented slightly and lost two petals. It is actually a common sight on TSXs fired into Buffalo I’ve since learned, as they are incredibly heavy boned, Jon mentioned his high appreciation for the TSX as even if it loses all its petals, it’s a solid at the core. I was leery, commercial wisdom had told me I used TSXs thanks to (as had been my experience in the past, as well) perfect weight retention and expansion. It took me quite some time, including animals not reacting to conventional cup and lead core softs as I’d wish, to come to understand even a TSX missing ALL its petals will act favourably on game, given the remaining bullet shank acts much like a solid.

The TSX is really an expanding solid. My musings have drifted from the .375 to general bullet construction and hunting, but there is a point I assure you that brings us back on track. Sectional Density; even in the era of wonder bullets, it remains critically important, and the .375 has it in spades. That is unless you’re like me and try a 235gr soft, and combine that with a pulled shot. Seeing the petals broken off the shank of that 300gr TSX from by bull, I immediately understood why interest is fast growing for the 350gr .375 TSX in Africa, when many would deem it overkill. Even with the petals missing, a 350gr TSX weighs approximately 280 grains, plenty to get the job done reliably up to Cape Buffalo and Giraffe, shank alone. As mentioned the petals on a .375″ TSX weigh approximately 70 grains, so even if all the petals shear off with “just” the 300 you’ve got 230 grains of solid going for you. They retain weight like nothing else, as well. The top TSX in the scale went into a Cape Buffalo bull, departing weight 300 grains, finished weight 300 grains. The second TSX sheared two petals, and still acted perfectly, with 297.3 grains retained weight when weighed together.

The final day of my brother’s and my hunt this October in the Limpopo we were driving not expecting to hunt even, my brother in a red shirt and others in sandals, when a nice(!) big Wildebeest bull showed himself in the bush. My brother dismounted, and went into the bush with my PH Louis to stalk in for a shot. A tall Boer and exceptionally talented and dedicated PH, Louis will go barefoot into the thorns to stalk in on exceptional animals, and he did so this time as well. He has the hyper-focus of a master at his craft, and I knew Luke was about to have a stroke of good luck. What am I saying, he’d taken another SCI Gold animal just a few days previous, he had all the luck! They got their shot, and the .300 Weatherby’s report thundered out of the jess after a pins and needles wait, inciting the rest of us to pile out of the truck like a hockey team following a game winner with 1 second left in the third. Here my respect for the toughness and tenacity of African game grew further, from an already healthy and deeply impressed reverence, to awe with this Wildebeest bull.

Shortly after tracking began, we found healthy (from our perspective, not from his) signs of a lung hit. My brother had a difficult frontal shot in thick bush, and we were all curious for clues as to the hit, the strong evidence of lung hit being the first sign. Two trackers, two PH’s, and two hunters combed the jess for his beautiful bull. The only other rifle in the truck was my .375, Louis’ .458 being at camp as we were done hunting. I always travel with my rifle, even if we’re just “commuting”, and it was in my hands as I had been humbled before by how fast an animal could appear and disappear in the jess. Luke stated adamantly that the hit was good. He had that same shaken and unsure look I could recognize as a feeling in myself at times following a shot and an animal that disappears. This was his first time in Africa and I really wanted to end it on a high note for him, he’s also not the most frequent hunter and this hunt meant a lot. A lost SCI Gold class bull, with the trophy fee to pay and only bloody thorns to take home, was not what I wished for him.

Tracking continued for a good while, following the brown globules formed by blood in rust red sandy African soil, with six of us working a fairly small area, he had not gone far the bush is just so thick where wounded game go; and it was thick enough where that Wildebeest started. He was literally milling among us, and with such a group in the bush and two rifles, there was concern among all of which direction fire would go if we saw him again. With rifles there was Louis’ younger brother Peter with the .300 Weatherby, myself with my .375, and my brother to take the shot if at all practicable and finish his bull personally. We heard one snort from him, very close, but it was impossible to tell where on earth he was. Wandering close with Peter, all of a sudden he showed up, it’s amazing how a massive, dark animal can just show up from nowhere a short distance away. He stood and stared, still for a couple seconds, but those seconds lasted a long time as my eyes were fixed on him and my .375 rose. Peter and I both fired instinctively, and the bull absorbed our broadside of potent rifles with a snort, spin, and that trademark Wildebeest “Warp 9, engage”.

So again, we were tracking. More blood now. Again, he didn’t go far. We were in the lead, clear of everyone else who was dropping back until this was resolved, and the final showdown came in a narrow, tight corridor among the thorns which we were lead into by the brown globules amongst the red soil. Peter fired at the still apparently fully alive and alert Wildebeest at maybe twenty yards, no reaction, I sent Barne’s best regards to the bull, he hung up only slightly, moving a bit slower now. Peter was in front and out of cartridges from the .300, I threw him my .375. The strong, big bull finally went down while turning to run again falling to a .375 H&H Texas Heart Shot. My respect. Turns out, Luke’s frontal shot was 2 inches horizontal from dropping that bull in his place and tore up a lung, I don’t want to sully North American game’s reputation but no Elk or Moose I’ve seen would have taken that shot, like that. In Africa carry a strong rifle, with strong bullets. The .375’s ability to penetrate likely proved to be the reason he dropped to it, and not the .300. On a deer, even a moose, a .300 Weatherby is plenty of medicine, in Africa, I have my doubts on the bigger stuff, it’s just too fast. A 7×57 with a bullet 5 grains lighter likely would have even done better.

OK… I didn’t make it to anatomy, but a peek of what I’d like to talk about there, took this while we were cutting up a Giraffe bull in 2010. Part III we’ll discuss my rifle opinions too and really rile folks up!

-1- http://huntnetwork.net/modules/wfsection/html/Ahbullet%20Wounds%20on%20Game%20How%20Survivable%20Are%20They.pdf

 

Thanks for reading, that’s me and the .375 below. Be careful where a .375 may lead you.

Browning BPS All Weather 20″ Stainless Barrel

 

Working remote in Northern British Columbia, Alberta, and the Territories I have a keen interest in defensive guns. I have a particular affinity for shotguns in this role due to the versatility of a 12 Gauge, with the ability to gather small game better than any other firearm, shoot flares, Bear bangers, slug, or buckshot. Few guns will allow you to take a Moose, stop a Bear, take a Grouse for the pot, or signal for help with equal ability. A 12 Gauge will, and to be truthful I’ve been searching for what I view as the ideal 12 Gauge for bush use for years. I still haven’t found that ideal 12 Gauge for my purposes, though one shotgun comes closer, the Browning BPS All Weather.

One of my principle gripes with shotguns as bush guns is they have yet to follow industry progression and add stainless models. Nickel plated, or otherwise coated shotguns are commonly available, notably in the guises of the Remington 870 “Marine” and Mossberg “Mariner” 500 & 590. Likely plenty suitable, but still just not the real deal stainless I’ve been hoping to see hit the market. Winchester has offered stainless barrels on their aluminum receiver Model 1200 and 1300 pump actions, the magazine tube and other components remaining carbon steel, though those models just never rang true to me. It’s not the aluminum receivers, as I like the Mossberg 590 quite a bit for instance, it was more the wobbly operation and the rotating bolt with which I experienced very questionable lockup. Firing a 3” shell from a 1300, I experienced the action unlocking and the forend slamming rearward violently, ejecting the fired hull as if a semi. It only happened once that badly, however the action would always unlock and come back halfway with 3” in that particular brand new 1300. The partial unlocking is a design feature of the 1300, and worked very smoothly with 2 ¾”, however I found the 3” erratic and potentially unsound.

Fortunately, another quality brand has recently fielded stainless barrels in an action I enjoy much more. Browning’s new BPS All Weather weighs in at 3.35kgs, or 7lbs 6oz if you prefer, a very solid chunk of steel. Perhaps too solid, but more on that later. The nickel plated receiver is machined from a solid steel forging, and is large and nicely contoured. Everything on this shotgun seems beefy, right down to the extra wide trigger. Controls are fully ambidextrous, and frankly, slightly favour a left-handed shooter only due to the placement of the bolt release. The bolt release is easily operated by a right handed shooter’s middle finger or thumb, however its left side placement behind the trigger guard will be a lefty’s dream. Strength and refinement would be the sentiments that come to mind holding and cycling the BPS. The Ithaca 37 reminiscent action, and it’s more than just a resemblance, is silky smooth and very fast to cycle, without the slop or wobblyness one can encounter in Mossbergs and modern Winchester pumps. One feature it shares with the Mossberg is the excellent tang safety, one of the stoutest appearing such safeties I’ve encountered being visibly solid steel and mechanically crisp in operation, using a simple red dot for “Fire” position indication.

The magazine tube of this particular model holds five 2 ¾” shells or four 3” (assumed with regards to 3”, will test later), and is thankfully of end cap cleanout design unlike the Mossberg 500. Loading of the magazine is the easiest I have experienced, as a trough in the bottom of the carrier acts as a chute you can drop a shell onto with the gun upside down and light thumb pressure sends it home into the magazine. It loads easily upright and reaching under the action to top up as well. The action is cycled by way of dual action bars from the forend, and the forend is very solid and slop free, as well as close to the shooter. It fits most shooters better than the long reach to the Ithaca 37 forend for example, I have long arms but nonetheless prefer a close grip on the forend to keep my supporting arm elbow closer to the body and the BPS feels good. Length of pull on the synthetic stock is 14” to a soft and comfortable recoil pad, it feels a tad short to this shooter but should serve very well for most. Sighting is provided by way of a curious machined aluminum front sight that holds a green fiber optic insert. I was skeptical when I unboxed the BPS All Weather, as I didn’t even realize until later in the evening that the front sight fixture was machined aluminum, not plastic. It is large, and wide, initially leaving the shooter accustomed to beads, rifle sights, and ghost rings a little unsure where to aim. Then you remember to point, not aim, and it is actually very instinctive. I practiced quick fire drills from 5, 10, and 25 yards and found the sighting arrangement fast and intuitive. I have used much better for slugs, however it still serves as you’ll read further on.

Now, to my favourite feature of the shotgun; the bottom loading and ejecting action. There is only one port on the BPS, the bottom one, like the Ithaca 37, so it looks the same viewed from either side. Shells are loaded conventionally through the bottom into the magazine tube, and the shell lifter is up and out of the way thankfully unlike the Remington 870 where shells must be pushed past the lifter into the magazine. The neat part is what happens after you’ve fired a shell, and cycle the action for the first time; the spent hull is shucked out with authority straight down out the bottom port. Not only does it keep hulls from bouncing around everywhere, it makes them easy to clean up, and removes one port for the entry of rain and dirt as compared to conventional side ejection port designs. I consider it an Ithaca 37 improved, on account of the much improved safety location for one, though it doesn’t have the crisp clean trigger pull of a 37. The trigger pull on my example by way of a beefy, thick trigger was a reasonable 5 ¾ pounds with industry typical creep, overall decent for a defensive pump. The trigger guard appears to be aluminum, and very solid. The barrel on the BPS can be removed by removing the magazine cap like a Remington 870, very handy for cleaning and takedown for transport.

Shooting the BPS proved satisfying, on account of several factors. The weight, at just over 7 ¼ pounds for a 20” defensive pump is skookum and provides for very mild recoil as far as small 12 gauges go. Sighting with the large, and curious front sight was better than anticipated, I noticed this when reflecting on how I was no longer considering the odd aluminum and fiber optic front sight and was simply shooting, and hitting my targets where I wanted to. Slugs from the BPS proved accurate, 2 ¾” 1 oz rifled Federals, with no difficulty putting three into a grapefruit at 50 yards rested. The weight and recoil pad made them a non-event from the shooter’s perspective, very mild. Function with slugs, buckshot, and birdshot of a several brands including cheap Winchester was of course perfect, zero issues or malfunctions shucking one hull after another out that lovely bottom port action. Orion 2″ 12 Gauge flares were tested and the action both cycled and fired them perfectly. Another reason I appreciate the stainless barrel is with flares as they begin to ignite in the barrel and produce rather acrid smoke and residue. The recoil pad is plush and comfortable, and likely doesn’t get the notice it deserves given how the weight soaks up the recoil. It is not a shotgun you’re afraid to shoot fast, and I found my rapid fire to be better with this BPS than most other defensive pump actions and I believe the weight is why. That silky action of course is a large part too, it is incredibly smooth to operate. On clays the BPS proved capable, scoring decently and I found it natural on the moving targets, though not as lively as lighter competition when aimed aloft. The slick action you forget you’re operating made up for any homeliness in skyward pointed handling.

In summary, I found this new 20” All Weather BPS to be surprisingly well made and sturdy, much heavier than I anticipated in most respects and with regards to apparent strength. All components with perhaps the exception of the synthetic buttstock exude quality, not to say the buttstock is poor it seems very sturdy, it’s just not quite as crisp and high quality in presentation as the rest of the gun on account of washed out checkering and details. I would prefer ghost ring sights or rifle sights, but the fiber optic arrangement outperforms a bead. Frankly I didn’t expect this level of quality from a shotgun that retails in the $650 range, and I’m impressed. It is actually quite pretty, and that clashes slightly with my ideas for it; a knockabout, all weather vehicle, camp, and bush gun. But at $650, I guess I can’t feel too sorry for it, and I have no doubt it will serve well. It is certainly a shotgun that one would appreciate from a vehicle a bit more than on the shoulder all day in the mountains, not that seven and a quarter pounds is a boat anchor by any means, however it has competition a full pound lighter. If you’re looking to shoot the gun as much as carry it as an insurance policy, then the BPS All Weather pays dividends in its Cadillac shooting temperament. The quest for the ultimate defensive wilderness shotgun continues and isn’t sated yet, but we’re getting closer. Keltec KSG test anyone?