Monthly Archives: January 2014

Hunting The Big Island: The Inadvertent Scouting Trip

My wife planned a vacation for herself, on which I was permitted to accompany for parenting reasons, and naturally I found a way to hunt. Initially I priced out Hawaiian Safaris, Patrick was extremely helpful and lined me up with numbers for a sheep guide and a boar guide on the big island. He very seems passionate about the sport in the Hawaiian islands and a very “Aloha” kind of fellow, offering assistance with outside guides even. I ended up booking only for boar, deciding to hunt sheep myself to add to adventure and subtract from potential success and cost, but more on that soon. Neil, my boar guide, is one of the best guys I’ve yet dealt with in hunting, he did three hours of driving for me due to a error in communication, and didn’t ask for a cent. Again, more on that later, hunting Hawai’i was characterized largely for me in the great people there.

The big island of Hawai’i itself, is also one of the least populous. This is curious, as it is likely the best of the bunch. Not small by any means given it is significantly larger than all the other Hawaiian islands combined and comprises 63% of the state’s total land area at 10,430 square kms (that’s big, equal to 4,028 sections of land for those of us that think that way, or about 2.6 million acres), yet it holds only 13% of the state’s population. This is a very good thing for hunters. Ranging in elevation from sea level to just under 14,000 feet, it is also one of the most diverse and amazing environments I’ve ever experienced in over 30 countries of adventure travel. You can go from a coconut treed beach at 30 degrees C through massive tree rainforests to alpine and coniferous trees, and ultimately climb to above where vegetation can exist and there’s snow, within 100kms. I’ve never experienced anything like that, at least not this drastic. Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s tallest mountain, is merely 1,500 feet lower than Mount Fairweather, British Columbia’s tallest mountain, and has 800 feet more prominence (rise above surrounding terrain). On top of that, there are two mountains, volcanoes actually, that size on the island, Mauna Loa is a mere 134 feet lower than Mauna Kea. If ever there was the tropical isle of adventure and endless different environments we read about in comics growing up, this is likely the nameless place.

 

The Jungle, Windward Side

 

Game wise, all of it is feral, as the only mammal native to Hawai’i is a bat. Prevalent beyond belief are feral goats, two varieties can be distinguished, then further hybrids. Rumour has it they are largely the descendants of goats introduced by Captain Vancouver in the late 1700′s. The “Ibex” goat, casually so named for its long sweeping horns, comes in a variety of colours and are roughly the size of an Impala or small deer. There is a black goat as well, which I heard referred to by several names, and both it and the Ibex are seen every few miles from the highways it seems standing tall on a rock somewhere obscure. Speaking of highways, be prepared to drive on the big island; we did over 3,000kms of driving in our 11 days, all on one island. There is just that much to see. We stayed principally in Kona, with a few days elsewhere, Kona being on the lee side of the mountains and therefore very dry. Crossing the island will take you to Hilo, slightly larger but also slightly less tourists, and both cities couldn’t have more different feels. Kona is modern, Costco, flashy restaurant, and Walmart suburbia to Hilo’s almost time warp to drive ins and hotels straight out of Hawaii Five-O. Kona lies in a volcanic desert of palm studded beaches, where Hilo is dense jungle and rainforest.

 

 

Evergreen Grove as you Climb the Saddle Road

Ascending into the Big Island’s Alpine

 

Every route between the two is fascinating, and I came to know some very well, such as the Saddle Road 200 which connects the coasts over the top of the island, rising up to 6,632 feet in elevation. You will find the surrounding terrain varies from West coast BC with firs, to alpine, to Mars. This drive became very familiar, as I hunted Mauna Kea, the tallest of Hawaii’s volcanoes, several days and access to the excellent Mauna Kea Game Management Area lies up the road. Parker Ranch at 250,000 acres, which predates the large Texas ranches by three decades having started in 1830, also lies up the Saddle Road, one of the largest ranches in the US.  The place of death of David Douglas, namesake of the West coast’s Douglas Fir Tree, also lies up the saddle road and a grove of them is planted at the Bullock trapping pit he died in under mysterious circumstances in 1834, while on a Mauna Kea climbing expedition. Up the saddle road roughly what seems halfway to Hilo from Kona you will find the access to the hunting areas and trails, Unit A comprises the first 4 miles of the 4×4 trail, and is a bowhunting zone. Unit G, the rifle zone begins after passing a permanent camp and a fence at a Eucalyptus grove. There are some stunningly large Eucalyptus in this grove, and the smell is amazing.

 

 

Prior to making it into the hunting areas however, you must sign in, with your Hawaii Hunter’s License number and your vehicle’s plate number. You can get a letter of exemption which qualifies you for a Hawaii Hunting License by submitting your hunter training from Canada. The Hunter’s Road is 4×4′s only so rent a Jeep, and is more appropriately referred to as a trail, and a good one however it is hard on tires with all the lava rock. I grabbed one of the maps from the check in station, and headed for the highest reaches the first day to work my way down. Only on Google Earth later did I discover I had marched up to within spitting distance of 10,000′ and likely over, the climb is steady and the terrain easy underfoot so you gain altitude rather quickly, I have climbed near 20,000′ in the past in the Andes and this was refreshingly “easy”; not too steep, not too cold, not too high. I parked my Jeep at a pullout and set off the investigate high valleys where the moisture seemed to allow for more vegetation on the Mars-like environment, and quickly found spoor. Not long after, I was onto sheep, of a peculiar smell; dead. I found what appeared to be the remains of more successful hunters. As well, apparently the pigs on the island, talking to guides later, actively hunt down sheep and goats, having taken the role of apex predator. Also, the largest of the pigs are mountain pigs, apparently, all quite surprising news to me.

 

I spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon lugging my 9 1/2lb .375 H&H about the volcano, waves of soaking mist would roll in so I decided to ascend higher, ultimately climbing above the clouds, a surreal experience on an island. Temperatures dropped to the edge of comfortable when sitting still with a sweat on in the wind, also surreal as that morning I was sweating in bed in 28C. After a fruitless but fascinating first day I descended back to my Jeep, and on my way out met a fellow hunter by the name of Tyler, a successful young contractor on the island with a passion for hunting. Tyler had hunted Alaska, and the mainland US, but of all things loved Hawaii for hunting and they had moved there from Washington state. Tyler was bowhunting Unit A and seeing him on the road I stopped to chat, quickly we were exchanging contact information and Tyler assured me next time I’m back, he’d get me on a sheep. We looked over my .375, talked pigs and other Hawaii and global hunting, and I look forward to my return visit and our hunt. As always, the people are some of the best aspects of the hunt. I look forward to our hunt in the near future on my return.

 

The Steady .375 Working for a Living

 

 

Now for a point of extreme frustration; I didn’t bring a shotgun. I even had my Gold Label on my ATF Form 6! Not wanting my two absolute favourite guns in the same basket when they didn’t need to be, as I was big game hunting of course, I left the gun that could have brought me one of the hunts of my life at home. Hawaii, I discovered, is a wingshooter’s paradise; and of all things wingshooting is my favourite hunting. I had coveys of Quail literally at my feet, Turkey was in season and beautiful Tom’s abounded literally like vermin, great Pheasant, and numerous other species. I was so frustrated by my lack of foresight or planning I almost can’t put it in words. My second regret is just walking by them and cursing, I should have been shooting with what I could; the camera. I didn’t take a single photo of them or the many pigs later I passed on. Live and learn, thank goodness Hawaii’s a short flight from BC! The wingshooting may well be my next trip’s focus, and I hope to go back within the next couple years for round two and a very successful trip.

I returned for more sheep chasing, equally successful (as in not) but every bit and even more enjoyable, the Mars-like landscape approaching and over 10,000′ is surreal and some of the more interesting hunting terrain I’ve experienced. Right down to the red hue, it’s Mars, and if there were plants on Mars I imagine they would look something like the silver swords and other peculiar life at altitude on Hawaii’s volcanoes. Investigating small valleys and draws, I saw ewes, completely unconcerned with my presence, but no rams. It was nice to see living sheep. Poking about the periphery of these draws looking for a ram until the end of legal light, I made my way back to the Jeep with plenty of scuffs from loose footing amongst razor like lava rock. Your ankles will feel like jello after hours on lava rock, I rolled one ankle repeatedly as it weakened. There was a smile the whole time however, as just having my RSM on my shoulder in another new landscape and taking in a different kind of wilderness is my idea of a perfect day. Often, I enjoy a hunt without a kill as much as one with. My coolers stayed empty and my ice clear yet again, but the cold beer back in Kona tasted better each time and I had plenty to share with my family.

Welcome to Mars, Yes, Sheep Live Here

 

Hunting pigs occurred on the opposite side of the island from our main place of stay, Kona. Meeting up with my pig guide Neil, we started the trip to the opposite coast overland through Waimea. Neil owns a place adjacent to a small ranch, to which he leases hunting access, and is building a remote cabin to do outfitter -style jungle hunts. I rode with Neil to his home, we gathered and readied our gear, and headed out about 17:30 to climb a clearing on a hill, each side framed by very steep gorges down to stony jungle entwined creeks. Pigs would come out to feed at dusk, I was told, and we saw many. First, the small, less wary pigs came out, akin to young foolish bears. Not interested in small meat pigs, we waited for the large boars. Sows of some weight came next, all rooting on the hillside around us as we hunkered down. At one point we took cover behind a large tree single file, and a good sized boar came within literally five yards of us in very tall grass. The grass swayed as he came our way, and he didn’t stop, the pig just kept coming. At five yards there was a snort, and a rapid retreat from the pig. Even Neil was chuckling, that didn’t happen everyday apparently.

 

Sounding Good…

 

We would eventually move from our position along one gorge’s edge, working downslope and at one point we came across a small pig rooting away, head down, arse up as they say. Well approaching more for intrigue to see how close we could get before it spooked, we were taken aback when we realised the little pig wasn’t so little; we were looking at its butt, end on. It turned sideways when it realised something was untoward, and bolted, a considerably larger pig than we had suspected, and it seemed quite a bit larger indeed at the handful of yards we ultimately determined its exact constitution. Swing and a miss, didn’t even fire. Neil has guided a bunch of the proessionals / TV types, and the good news is they miss too, sometimes terribly and on stellar boars. That doesn’t get shown on TV. He also guided a bonafied SEAL, who made a bad shot (though his speed at snapping the shot was apparently remarkable). So we are all human, unfortunately I didn’t even make a bad shot but no shot at all rather. I held my .375 back off the sows and meat pigs, I had travelled a long way for a good boar and have collected Warthog whose tusks are near impossible to beat in the pig world, a minor example of a species is not something I’ll kill for the sake of killing. These days in my hunting, generally he’s got to be big and old or I let them live, whatever the species, Neil agreed.

I had an extremely enjoyable evening of hunting with Neil, and we arranged to hunt again the following evening. Here’s where Neil shines through, it became apparent there was a misunderstanding and that he lives on the windward side, well, when I was brought to his windward side house. I was under the understanding, and somehow we managed to both misunderstand even speaking on the phone, that he lived in Kona and I would ride return with him from the pig hunting area. I had just returned the second rental car, taken for hunting reasons, that morning… My wife was now going to drive three hours with our toddler at night… (There aren’t enough dot-dot-dots in the world to illustrate the sinking feeling of how badly you’re about to tick off your wife[...]). Neil worked on the Kona side, and I’d hopped in with him after work, not realising until getting to the other side of the island that was home. What a commute Neil! Long story short, he drove me back without even my asking, driving three hours at night for me and didn’t even want gas money (a hundred was forced upon him). He said we’ll hunt tomorrow, or next time, but we’re getting a big boar and when we do, then he would accept funds. That’s the right kind of guide folks.

Parenting and life ultimately cancelled the next day’s date however, and as mentioned Neil didn’t accept anything but gas money for his time, in his words he just liked hunting. Considering elsewhere we’ve been dinged for no success, I was impressed. Next time Neil, we’ll get out boar. This trip was inadvertently my scouting trip it seems, and next time I may have to reside in Hawaii for a little bit and experience full use of this hunting heaven. I’m sure my wife won’t have any complaints, and that’s not the norm for proposed hunting destinations! That’s one of the beautiful things about a good hunt, you don’t need to necessarily even bag anything to enjoy it. If you came up empty and had a blast, that’s one heck of a good time. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Hawai’i for those after a true vacation, with a strong side of hunting, all the family will enjoy. I can’t wait to be back. It was also great to be reminded how to enjoy a hunt even without a kill, pretty hard not to enjoy it on the Big Island. Feel free to contact me for Neil’s information if you’re looking to hunt the Big Island.

‘Til next time, which I believe will be the Wolf hunting article, thanks for reading!

 

Boar Habitat: Found from the Jungles to the Windswept Volcanoes

Okay, not hunting, but outdoors indeed. Green olivine sand beach, one of two in the World. Great afternoon hike, great surfing.

 

The IWI Tavor TAR-21 Part I: Out In The Cold

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I’m a traditionalist, when the Keltec KSG was first sent to me for a review I wasn’t immediately smitten. I like wood and steel guns still, and I’m making quite a departure moving into the modern realm of bullpups full of polymer. I ended up liking the KSG, much to my surprise, just as I’m also finding myself extremely fond of the Tavor. The number one question I had, and that I hear from others, with modern polymer guns and especially bullpups is just how reliable, and sturdy are they. To me in Northern Canada, that means cold. I stuck the Tavor out in the cold in an open cardboard box last night, and let it cold soak down to -31C at 0600 this morning when I checked it. I then posted my intentions on a forum I frequent, and received a suggestion to ice spray it. It sounded like a very good bad idea, and I increased the level of questionable choices by snow packing the rifle, tossing it multiple times into a snow bank following the ice spray.

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I sprayed the rifle with water from a spray bottle, focusing extra ice on the bolt / ejection port, magazine release and catch assembly, bolt catch, and trigger, ultimately coating the entire rifle with ice on the exterior. Then just prior to shooting, I tossed it in a snow bank, photographed it, and went straight to this video. Function was flawless, I continued to fire after the video and it even grouped just as well as usual. I was impressed, the amount of snow in the action doesn’t show, but it was an awful lot, and it didn’t bother the Tavor one bit. All polymer bits proved strong, and I fiddled hard with them at -31C, no concerns. The trigger photo above is after it was fired, you can see the ice broke away at the top of the trigger.

Lion Rifles, A Safari In Arms Part I: The Merkel 140AE Double Rifle, .375 H&H

Lion Rifles: A Limited Safari in Arms in Search of The Right Tool.

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I’m off following Lion spoor about the Dark Continent on my next venture overseas in a few weeks, and have been giving a good few rifles mine and otherwise a run for the role of Lion hunting rifle. Before we can really discuss rifles, we must discuss Lion cartridges as that mandates the choices, and while Chuck Hawks has mused on this with, and perhaps it rude of me to assume this, little experience I feel there is room to expand on the subject needless to say. For me, the choice was extremely easy; .375 H&H. Those that know me, know why. Or was it such an easy choice? In a previous review of a Sauer 202 Takedown Forest in 9.3×62 I mentioned I purchased it for trial as my Lion iron, and for my own preferences and purposes found it severely wanting. At the same time, I purchased a Merkel 140AE double rifle in .375 H&H standard, standard noted to differentiate it from the Flanged. Frankly, I would have purchased one in .375 Flanged if it was available, it is however, not. I came to a curious understanding with my rimless chambered double rifle, it even has appeased my misgivings, for I love few things more than less junk on the hunting shelves, and one less cartridge to stock, one less brass hoard. It simply means less time organizing and sourcing the tools of hunting and more time afield. At least that’s how I see it, and I’m sure I’ll be grateful if my ammunition doesn’t arrive in Africa with the rifle.

This said, would I recommend a rimless chambering double rifle? Yes and no. For the purist or highly technical, the Flanged cartridges are without any question superior from a double compared to the rimless, most commonly found in doubles in the guises of the .375 H&H, rarely the .404 Jeffery, the .416 Rigby and now .450, and .458 Winchester & Lott. The Flange or rim to us Colonials ensures proper extraction, providing your rifle is working properly and is appropriately maintained. It is without question a compromise to chamber a double in a rimless chambering, and one I initially accepted begrudgingly only to find myself embracing. In the hundred or so rounds I’ve run through my double, the rimless ejectors have not hiccupped in the slightest. Will this be the case during a rapid reload with Lion at thirty yards? Perhaps not, that’s the nature of mechanical compromises. This compromise doesn’t actually instill steely confidence on close examination, featuring small spring loaded palls that engage the rimless cartridge. They are dainty, mechanically wanting devices that function with German precision and reliability. I haven’t once cleaned the palls, in order to check their character under duress, and have hauled the rifle through snow and thick bush after Bison now and the report is Germanically dull and functional.

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So if asked if one should purchase a Flanged cartridge in a double over a modern rimless alternative I can’t say I would attempt to sway the purchaser from a Flanged classic. They are better. However if the question asked was whether I felt a rimless double, well made and preferably English or German, was a good choice in and of itself I would answer with a resounding yes. I would also throw a strong vote of confidence in for ejectors, another divergence from the classic options. Having of course shotgunned more than I will ever shoot hunting rifles, the joy of a good set of ejectors, the sound of hulls or brass briskly shucked aloft, the smell of spent cartridges arcing into a cool morning, now that’s the stuff of life. The speed this allows on reloads more than makes up for any risk one takes in their mechanical integrity, in my eyes. A double rifle is a user friendly device. It is generally very short due to essentially no action length, it swings and points like a biologic extension if it fits the wielder, balances between the hands naturally, with double triggers offers two complete mechanisms from the utmost of reliability, and generally exudes a sporting magic that is hard to summarize in prose. Double triggers are a classic choice I support 100%, I like a single selective on my double shotguns, but on a Dangerous Game hunting rifle give me the benefit of a pair of fire switches for ultimate redundancy. You’ll never recover to level before your finger has moved to that rear trigger anyhow, so you save no time on the single trigger.

The Ejectors At Work.

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This all, roughly brings me to the Merkel 140AE .375 H&H, for which I shall write a review proper once Lion is grounded by it. For now I’ll explain to those unfamiliar my love affair, come marriage of circumstance with the .375 H&H, and the path to doubles for me. The .375 H&H modernized sporting Africa from the dark ages of cartridges in my eyes more than any other. It proved a .500, or even more, was not always the best medicine, though yes the brutes still have profound uses to this day. What it did was set a middle ground by its 1912 introduction between the brutes of old & yore, the classic heavies still advocated by many at that time for Africa, and the for the time the speed laced smokeless small bore military cartridges. The latter had proponents as strong as WDM Bell with experience that will remain unmatched, the former as strong as Frederick Selous. Though Selous certainly enjoyed his .256 in later years, as I’ve read it was paired with a .450 Nitro Express, itself a relative small bore compared to his earlier rifles. Selous in his younger years also favoured a 4 Bore for Elephants, taking almost a hundred of them as I understand it, and a 10 Bore for Lion. What the .375 H&H did with its standard 300 grain bullet of high sectional density was add strong insurance to the 7×57, .303 British, and 8×57 modernized high velocity cartridge concept. It retained the modern cartridges flat trajectories, and offered milder recoil than the heavies, with typically equal lethality. That is to say game shot with the .375 dies on average likely just as often as those shot with the .500 or 8 bore, stopping is an entirely different article I may offer my small change on in the future as I build a stronger resume for the thoughts.

As for my personal introduction to the .375, I had my first fall in my lap due to the very acute dislike for too many varieties of gear mentioned earlier in this article, and I sought a rifle I could stock a single set of components and accessories for and take anywhere in the world. I travel extensively by trade, nature, and lifestyle. While I would love a room full of irons suited to particular tasks and have had just such a room in the past, I find it wholly unsuited to my actual tastes and requirements. Some years ago I was taking off chasing helicopters to fly around Northern Canada for my day job, and could only take what fit in the vehicle. I also wanted any gear purchased to be useful anywhere in the World for my hunting. One rifle, one chambering, the World overs spells one thing; .375 Holland & Holland Magnum. Not that it is always the best chambering for a task, in fact by acute and honest analysis it never could be. There is always a better rifle; one with more power, lighter, more cartridge capacity, less recoil, flatter trajectory etc etc that may minutely suit a given shot better than what you’re holding. However for the gross majority of shots and hunting there is essentially nothing that can be done with a rifle that a .375 H&H cannot do with an appropriate load. It does everything in the middle; bullet weight, velocity, magazine capacity, recoil. The middle was exactly what I sought, and the chambering has taken game from tens of pounds to thousands of pounds in body weight now, all with equal aplomb.

The final considerations are the forced ones, such as legal requirements, and the realities of less than perfect shot placements. Many countries mandate a minimum Dangerous Game chambering, and that is nearly universally the .375 H&H. There is sound logic to this. However, as a keen student of Bell’s, it should be mentioned I full heartedly believe his argument in precision placement of small chamberings being superior to mediocre placement of large ones. Frankly it is more than an argument, it’s science. If one can graduate to expert field marksman, under all field conditions, and I estimate this at less than one in a thousand big game hunters and I don’t yet include myself, you only need a cartridge capable of penetrating to the vital area you seek. Things don’t always work that way, and as with all things that may be viewed statistically, if the first shot is marginal, the follow up shots often become exponentially more marginal in placement. Hunting away from home on a tight schedule with perhaps fleeting shot opportunities, with unfamiliar habitat and anatomy despite the best studying and mental visualization, can result in slightly imperfect placement. Certainly more often than a hunter would experience in his own backyard and more than most would like to admit, then consider the undeniable durability of African big game, especially Wildebeest and up. Typically the hunter will experience forced poor shot angles and opportunities on a wounded game follow up as a result of moving game and the dense places they hide, the quarry’s adrenaline is also by then spiked as well markedly increasing their durability. In the case of Dangerous Game it gets worse, with animals that hold a credible threat of sharing your personal space in short order, some modicum of horsepower is highly desirable. The .375 H&H provides recoil tolerable to practiced shooters, meets all legal requirements for Dangerous Game in the countries I’ve hunted, and represents the minimum end of “stopping power” cartridges. This rounds out the technical aspects of my selection for it. Years of personal experience with it on dozens of head of game, seals it.

Local Friends: It’s Actually the Black Bears that Worry me More, but a Nice Photo.

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Now, in seeking a Lion hunting rifle, and this was the express purpose for this purchase as it will be used to hunt Lions as well as other cats and bears, .375 H&H was the natural selection for all the reasons detailed above. Is Lion really a species heavy enough to demand a .375 or up chambering? No, not when everything goes well, on a good day and if it were legal a .300 would prove perfect. When it doesn’t, few things this side of the Starship Enterprise will close the gap faster between hunter and prey, or invert the understanding of that relationship to the hunter, than Lions. I had a brief affair with the 9.3×62, and found its recoil in expediting 286 grains of Norma’s finest to be exceptional mild, akin to a .30-06 due to the rifle weight of over nine pounds. I ran into several issues with the 9.3×62, first it barely met the energy requirement of the first jurisdiction I planned to hunt Lion in, requiring hot rodding at the loading bench to do it. The requirement is based on, you guessed it, the .375 H&H’s baseline or classic load performance, essentially matching a 300 grain bullet at 2,500 feet per second. Second, it was another cartridge to stock, hand load, and get to know, crossing my personal ethos mentioned earlier in the article. Third, I didn’t gain any speed whatsoever on follow ups, even using a svelte little 20″ barrel Sauer Forest of ample weight to tame the recoil to negligible. I could find no good reason to give up performance and try and make the 9.3 something it is not, when .375s are so readily available in excellent configurations. Now, my 9.3 was a takedown 20″ barrelled carbine, as small and comfortable a package as one can find. To compete, and this is where my original .375 H&H Ruger RSM was struck from the roster, the .375 would need to be equally compact and quick handling, and hit and follow up better than the milder 9.3. A fair challenge.

The rifle that ended up meeting that challenge was sourced at the same time as the Sauer, another German, the Merkel 140AE .375 H&H with Recknagel mounts and quick detach rings. I ordered this on a whim despite at the time thinking the Sauer was all that was required as something in my sixth hunter’s sense, which my wife would argue is a nonsense, perhaps foresaw the issues I found with the Sauer 202 Forest Takedown for my uses. Those are in the review of the 202 Takedown Forest, a link to which you can find on the main page of my site. The Merkel double offered many things I really only properly came to appreciate in hindsight after using it a good deal. Among them, the fastest follow up shot of respectable power I’ve ever been able to dispatch from any rifle, whilst hitting my desired target, an extremely short overall length as a result of the lack of action length common to all doubles, natural handling to an avid shotgunner with a preference for side by sides, perfect tang safety rendered non-automatic, and a panache befitting of African Dangerous Game hunts- certainly the last aspect is dubious and sentimental. Many would argue panache begins at a far higher price point carrying an English name, however I truly beat up my rifles in use and have trouble justifying such truly beautiful and refined tools. This is a half ton pickup of a double rifle, being tough, affordable, not the prettiest, and remarkably functional. You also find you’re not afraid to use it as any Northern Canadian rifle ought to be used; many months a year, in adverse conditions. It has already experienced frost, rain, dirt, and a black spruce thrashing for instance, not to mention plenty of under seat and pack transport. In my time with a gun room alluded to above, I owned a fine little Holland & Holland that I wouldn’t dare expose to any of this fun. And where the dirt and maltreatment is, truly lies the fun.

The Merkel Taken Down, With the Sauer 202 Forest Takedown.

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The Merkel double has quickly become a favourite, and has accompanied me working in Grizzly country thanks to its tiny size when broken down, a mere two foot long bundle easily stowed. Ready in a flash as such? No, but a lot better than the conventional .375 left at home. It gained valuable experience when called upon to follow and put down a wild Wood Bison bull by the conservation officers, the bull wounded by poachers and vital evidence that was about to walk off to the Wolves. I met him at a handful of yards in black spruce best described in opaqueness as a wall. The double was kind comfort and an able friend under the circumstances, dropping the very disgruntled, huffing and swaying bull in his place a spit away. My affinity for it has grown further as my time with it increases, hits falling naturally, though admittedly not with varmint rifle precision, in killing zones with little setup time or breathing focus. It is not, of course, a tack driver. My briefly mentioned other .375, the conventional bolt action, is a precision instrument, and scantly comparable in paper performance to the imprecise squat German double gun. However sending round after round into one hole means little to Lions or most game really, where the ability to place the quick shot made in the moment of opportunity well means more than a hundred rounds placed into a 1/2″ group that misses on the snap shot. The double provides this reflex shooting for me. At 100 yards, the two barrels print 3″ apart using 300gr Federal blue box budget fodder, with a nicely centred pattern using the 75 yard blade. Groups do not change with continued shooting and barrel warming, remaining tea saucer for both barrels combined. This would be appalling to many a Western bolt action hunter, but to those who have used doubles on game and acquired the taste for the feeling, it is quickly realized lethality isn’t affected at all in the off hand field shooting of game by the double’s liberties.

The Merkel At Work, Ending Discomfort for a Poacher Wounded Bull.

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 The final important consideration is that double rifles take down into very small components with ease for transport, an invaluable consideration to the travelling hunter. The Merkel is a two foot long package taken down, assembles to ready in about five seconds, cleans like a dream, and suffers no compromises in being a take down as it is merely an intrinsic part of its nature. I have not been overly smitten with my take down bolt actions. There can be frustrations in assembly and disassembly and zero retention I have not yet experienced with a double. The difference to my eye is a double is a purpose built gun that just happens to take down, where a take down bolt action is a modification or compromise of a design not generally planned for takedown. This said, I have yet to review a takedown of extreme quality, the Sauer being the highest I’ve reached so far at the $6,000 or a bit more range. I very much look forward to trying a Dakota Traveler for a future article. For now, I’ve found a gun I’m perfectly happy with, a very rare feat. I will be sure to offer a proper review of this proper Dangerous Game rifle, in weeks to come after it has played the dangerous game. As always, thank you for reading, the pleasure was mine.

-Angus