Gary's Gun Notes #44 (part 2)

This is the second part of several covering our most recent African hunt.

After our successful hunt in Port Alfred, the little area on the eastern coast of South Africa, we packed up our gear and headed out to Baviaan to join the rest of the group. We had hunted that morning for Blue Duiker but had no success and it was time to move on. Jason and I were the only ones who had decided to hunt the Port Alfred area so the camp was closed up in wait for the next batch of hunters. 

The drive to Baviaan was about 2 1/2 hours from Port Alfred. We arrived there in early afternoon and found out that most of the guys had already taken several very nice animals including Bontebok, Lechwe, White Blesbok, Vaal Rhebok, Grey Duiker and Bushbuck. As we drove into the camp I had noticed several white specks on one of the hills surrounding the camp. Anxious to get hunting I asked John about them. He said they were White Springbok. One of the guys in camp said there were no big ones in that group. I knew that was usually not the case so I grabbed my gear as Puff was grabbing his and we loaded up in the back of the Cruiser and headed out with John at the wheel. 

We drove up the hillside on rough dirt paths and the closer we got to the animals, the more they moved back, keeping the distance about the same. John had given the herd of about 30 animals a good once over and said there were at least 4 or 5 good ones in there. 

We figured if we stayed in the cruiser we could cut the distance slowly but surely, but if we got out of the cruiser, they would be gone. We started to angle almost even with them but easing a bit closer as we went. Hardly enough so you could tell it but we were getting closer. At about 125 yards John pointed to one lone male and told me to pile out of the truck when it was behind a large heavy pile of brush. We both piled out and the truck continued on it's way but this time easing away from them.

I had my suspicions about my 338 GNR barrel, that had taken a very hard fall in the cruiser while going up a very steep hill in a hurry to get to the dogs that were chasing a Lynx in Port Alfred. The cruiser had gone over a large hump in the dirt track and the gun, which I normally place under my thigh so I can hold on to the steel roll bars with both hands, had coming flying out from under my leg. It had slammed into the steel bar behind us, hit a glancing blow on the raised steel floor and then slammed into the bar surrounding the tail gate, before hitting the floorboard. 

The gun just didn't feel right to me. I couldn't place why it didn't feel right, but this barrel had been to Africa with me at least 3 times before and was an old friend. Something just wasn't right. But I decided to give it a try on this white Springbok.

The big male stood there broadside watching the cruiser drive down the hill. I got my breath back quickly and put the crosshairs on his frontal chest area. At the shot he tucked in his rear quarters and leaped away. That wasn't a good sign. usually if they do that it is a sign of a hit too low or too far back.

The big male Springbok ran about 30 to 40 yards and stopped behind a large bush. I couldn't see his shoulder but tried to place the crosshairs on a spot about where the shoulder should be. I don't like shooting thru brush but if the animal is right directly behind the brush, there is a very good chance that you will hit him. If he is standing 10 feet or so behind the brush, never take the shot as the bullet can spin off and miss the animal totally, or even worse, just wound him. 

At the shot the animal staggered and went another few feet down the hill before piling up in a heap. We quickly ran up the hill toward him. The trackers were mumbling to each other but it was a good mumble, not one of those "watch out he's going to get up" type of mumbles. As we got there, sure enough, my first shot had been back in the short ribs. The second shot even further back in the ham. Now I was convinced something was wrong with my 338.

We piled the animal into the back of the cruiser and headed back down hill. On the way I had John stop at a hundred yard range they had set up to sight in guns. I had the trackers set up a target at 100 and set down at the improvised bench. At the shot none of us could see the hole in the target. I tried another. Still nothing. We brought the target back to 25 yards and tried again. This time the hole was just barely on the extreme edge of the box, off the target by at least a foot even at 25 yards. This meant the gun was shooting at least 2 1/2 to 3 feet off at 100. I took the barrel and looked it over good and almost immediately found the problem. The barrel had hit either the steel bar or the edge of the steel platform when it took a fall and it actually bent the barrel right at the muzzle brake, which would be the thinnest part of the barrel. I checked the inside of the brake and you could see where the bullets had been hitting the front of the brake, destroying any accuracy. This barrel was trashed. But even though one of my old trusty barrels had been ruined, I still had my old faithful 378 GNR barrel and my new 280 GNR which was as yet unproven. 

We went back to the lodge for dinner and to do some gun rearranging. After dinner I took all my 338 ammo out of my belt pouches and put it back in the boxes and substituted it for 378 GNR. Little did I know that 378 GNR was to be really put to the test in the next day or so. 

The next day started out sunny and bright. We had planned to try Black Springbok today and headed off to the area where they called home. On the way there we ran across a small herd of White Blesbok. Very unusual animals. Like the regular Blesbok but a bright white color. John and Bill got down off the cruiser and started their stalk. So as not to spook them with too much movement, Jason and I stayed with the truck. we could watch the stalk and saw Bill take his White Blesbok with 2 good shots from his 338 GNR. 

Then on to Black Springbok country. John had the trackers set up sort of an improvised blind for Bill Firman as the Black Springbok are very wary animals. The are constantly on the move and this was about the only way we could get within shooting distance of them. Sure enough within an hour of the time Bill sat down behind his pile of brush, a small herd of Black Springbok came by and Bill got his animal with one shot of his 338 GNR. A really nice male Black Springbok. It wasn't to be that easy for me.

John and I sat for a short while behind some brush waiting for a herd that we had seen to wander by but they took another route and went way behind us. It was just as well as John likes sitting in a blind about as much as I do. About 30 minutes is all either of us can stand. 

We went up on a hill where we could watch the animals movement and had been watching them for maybe 10 minutes when John whispered to me, "here they come, get ready". I had been watching another group and didn't even see these. The good thing was they didn't see us either. They paused about 175 yards downhill from us and I took a shot at the big male, and missed. They still didn't know where we were and ran a short way to our left, now maybe 200 yards out. I shot again and missed again. They ran down hill and we eased down behind them at a quartering angle hoping to head them off. Just as John had planned we got to a point just above them as they ran below us at maybe 165 yards. They were not going to stop so I waited until they paused a bit and took my shot. Another miss. This was beginning to be no fun. 

We walked down the hill to an old fence row that was broken down and sat down behind some brush that had grown up around it. My confidence was shot. I held out my hand and could see a slight shake to it. I needed to hit something damn quick or it could take days to get my head back together. We sat behind that clump of brush for a short while and then John said they are just over the rise, take a shot. This time I had to use the shooting sticks, for one because they were slightly over a rise and I had to fully stand up to see over it and for two, that shake was getting worse. This time I put the gun on the crossed sticks, called myself a couple of pretty foul names and settled the crosshairs on the animal. At the shot he staggered and almost went down, but gathered himself together and ran like hell. But at least I had hit him.

Now that some of the confidence was coming back we went hard after him. he was hit hard but still moving. He stopped to lay down and we spooked him up. He paused at the crest of a hill about 100 yards away and I put another bullet in him. This time he was down for keeps. Now I have shot 2000 pound animals with my 378 GNR and have had them drop on the spot. In fact dozens of animals have dropped to this barrel, most of them several hundred pound animals. Yet this little 40 pound animal had blown my confidence all to hell and almost ruined this part of the hunt. As we put him in the back of the cruiser it started to rain hard. And continued to rain,it rained heavily and turned bitter cold. For those of us sitting in the open raised back seat it was miserable. We were all soaked to the skin by early afternoon and called it a day a bit early. 

The next day several of us were showing the signs of being soaked and frozen the day before as we had the sniffles and were beginning to feel the first signs of coming down with something. But it promised to be a pretty day, as soon as the sun burned off the low hanging fog and clouds. It was chilly but clear and no rain. 

Within an hour Bill had wounded a nice Mountain Reedbuck. He went over a hill and John said he saw the bullet hit high on the right front leg, not a killing shot and he could run for days. John said he felt he knew where the animal would head so rather than follow him on foot we planned to take the long way around the hill to head him off. As we went around one mountain we saw a large herd of Waterbuck and some Red Stag scattered in among them. This area is very much like New Zealand and the red stag do well here. We were just a few miles from the ocean and the cool damp weather was perfect for the Waterbuck and the Red Stag too. We drove over a series of hills and when crossing one we spotted a small group of Mountain Reedbuck. There was a good male in the group and John and Bill piled out of the cruiser and started easing up on them. A short 20 minute stalk and bill had a nice Mountain Reedbuck down. We put him in the back of the truck and continued over the hill and down into the area we thought the wounded Mountain Reedbuck would head for. We had no more than stopped the cruiser and started scanning the hillside and the wounded Mountain Reedbuck came over the crest. This animal was limping heavily so we knew it was our wounded animal. John and Bill got out and set up the sticks and at the shot the animal went down. Bill had himself a nice pair of Mountain Reedbuck. 

Just about an hour before dark the storm front eased back in and fog rolled in. We spotted a herd of Vaal Rhebok on a hill in front of us. Just as we spotted them and began to glass them the fog rolled in. John and I got off the truck and went down a steep hillside trying to get on the hill above the Rhebok and get a shot before darkness set in. We scrambled on the lichen covered rocks as fast as we could but the going was extremely rough and slippery. We finally got to the rise overlooking the valley where we had first seen them but they were not there. At least not that we could see. The fog kept rolling in and out making visibility very iffy at best. We walked over to the edge of a rock cliff to look over the edge and sure enough, there they were with their backs to the rocks for safety. But they had either seen us or heard us because they took off at a hard run. With darkness quickly closing in we called it a night.

The next day dawned bright and clear. Chilly but clear. We headed up to the top of one of the mountains for Vaal Rhebok. This time we spotted them fairly early and John and I went on a long hike. We planned to walk to the top of one mountain and be able to look down on where they were feeding. Very seldom do mountain animals look up. Danger, to them, always came from below. We managed to get to the top of the hill and peek over. Sure enough there they were . John stuck the shooting sticks in front of me and told me 275 yards, take the male on the far right. I tried to steady my breathing and took the shot. I shot just over his back. They ran but not away from us. They still thought the danger was below them. They actually came a bit closer. This time I sat down and braced my elbows on my knees. I asked john how far. he was already scanning them with the range finder. he quickly said about 255, same animal. I steadied myself and slowly took up the slack in the trigger. At the shot John and the tracker both yelled. The Rhebok was down.

We started the long trek down to where he lay and as usual the downhill part is worse than the uphill with rocks that roll out from under your feet making walking hard as hell. When we got there John and the trackers seemed extremely happy with him. Not having shot one before or even seen one up close, I had to take their word for it. But I was happy. There are only 3 or 4 Vaal Rhebok in the record book with a handgun, so any Rhebok was a good one. 

We got back up to the truck, took some pictures and headed off to another ridge, where we saw the ones the night before. As we got there the small herd was still there. This time Bill and John went after them. This time the Rhebok ran right to left in front of them and over a small rise. John took Bill to that rise and to a clump of brush. Looking over it, the old male of the group was still there. All Bill could see was the head and neck but that was all that was needed. Bill took the shot and had his Rhebok. 

Early the next morning we had all our gear packed up and headed out for Rooiport. We had to drop off two of our hunters in Bloemfountaine so they could fly back to the states, but the other 4 were headed to Rooiport northwest of where we were and right on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. We were to go into the camp there, get settled in and early the next day 2 cruisers were heading to Kimberley to pick up our second group of 6 hunters.That would give us 10 hunters in the big tented camp in Rooiport. I will have more on this part of the hunt in a couple of days in the next segment of Africa 2006. 



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