by Dave Campbell - Tuesday, June 15, 2010
For the hunter Africa is like magic. The lore of Africa is rife with adventure, drama, exotic cultures and challenges. Most who go there arm themselves with flat-shooting, powerful rifles launching heavy bullets because one never knows what the day will bring. Venture out in the morning with the diminutive impala or perhaps bushbuck in mind, and you may find yourself dealing with a 2,000-pound eland or a 1,200-pound zebra. Choosing a handgun for your armament is like adding jalapeños to a dinner recipe.
A handgun hunter must get considerably closer to his or her quarry than a rifle-shooting counterpart, although some handgunners, like Bill Booth of Blue Heron Communications, can shoot a heavy revolver right alongside a lot of riflemen. My handgunning skills pale in comparison to his; nonetheless he and Paul Pluff of Smith & Wesson invited me to join them on a plains-game hunt in the Eastern Cape of South Africa using X-frame revolvers.
The Eastern Cape is very different from the quintessential savannas and brushy veldts normally associated with Africa. Its climate is quite mild due to its proximity to the Indian Ocean. Even several miles inland it isn’t rare to catch a refreshing whiff of ocean breeze. But while the climate may be languid, the terrain can offer plenty of challenges. Most of the game country is mountainous, and while it does not rise to the lofty levels of the Alps or the Rockies, it is steep and treacherous, packed tightly with brush and timber.
In the western United States most of a hunter’s focus is on elk; similarly on a plains-game hunt the focus is on kudu. Similar in size and elusiveness, as well as offering superior table fare, the hunt for kudu in the Eastern Cape means extensive hiking in that mountainous country looking for pockets holding the big antelope, again, much like our own elk hunting. Since I have already gotten a kudu and a zebra, I was more than willing to take the trade offered me of an nyala for the other two. My PH, Peter Gernetzky of Kei River Hunting Safaris, knew of an area holding this prized and relatively rare spiral-horned antelope.
Early on the fourth morning of the safari Peter and I drove nearly within spitting distance of the Indian Ocean to scour a large canyon known for its nyala. The cool, damp ocean breeze vividly reminded me of the days I used to spend surfing Southern California beaches, and it felt a bit strange to have a revolver strapped on my hip and blood in my eye rather than a surfboard under my arm. We spotted a couple of lesser rams, and within an hour found a dandy ram some 500 yards across the canyon. It took a 45-minute stalk utilizing the brush for cover to close the distance to 125 yards. I cranked the Bushnell Elite 3200 handgun scope up to 6X and settled the Smith & Wesson 460 XVR on my shooting sticks. Even on the sticks the crosshair was bouncing too much for my taste, so I dropped the power back to 4X. When the ram turned broadside I touched the trigger, and the 200-grain Cor-Bon DPX bullet flattened him.
Meanwhile, Bill, Paul and James Guthrie were knocking down kudu, zebra, wildebeest and oryx with remarkable regularity. Bill closed the deal on a very old 50-inch kudu at an amazing 280 yards with his 460 XVR after an arduous stalk up the mountain. The shot was uphill at an extreme angle, and the bull dropped at the shot. James was crawling around vertical walls of granite to get a shot at an oryx, and Paul managed to sneak inside a herd of wildebeest with his 460 XVR.
Bill also took an impala at 224 yards and a zebra at 180 yards with his 460 XVR. Switching to the .500 S&W Magnum, he killed a blesbok at 140, a warthog at 130 yards and another warthog running at 76 yards.
Blesbok and bushbuck proved to be very challenging for me. In the Eastern Cape blesbok are very common. In fact, there were several occasions when we were stalking impala and warthog and a group of blesbok would bust us and ruin everything. When we decided to hunt them, of course, they became even wilder, running off whenever we got to within 300 yards—easy enough with a flat-shooting rifle, but with a handgun I wanted to keep my shots to no farther than 150 yards. We must have made a dozen stalks before we finally closed to within 80 yards of a nice ram, and once again the 460 XVR took him cleanly.
The bushbuck was my undoing, though. Again, it’s a very common animal in the Eastern Cape, and the others in my party got it out of the way early. I, however, was cursed with buzzard’s luck. Stalks always seemed to go bad for one reason or another, and watering holes did not draw a ram large enough to take. I hunted bushbuck for eight of the 10 days I was there and did not get one—reason enough for me to go back.
On the last afternoon of the trip we relaxed, enjoying a wood pigeon shoot with Smith & Wesson Elite shotguns. Wood pigeons look a bit like a magnum mourning dove and fly just as erratically. Considered more of a pest than a gamebird in South Africa, there is no limit on them. The cornfield we shot over ensured that for more than three hours we had a constant supply of targets.
The African bush retains its magical luster for me. One never knows what he’ll run into there. Pursue one species, and another will pop up in front of you—sometimes to your chagrin if it can eat or stomp you. Making the trip with a pair of handguns made it even more interesting.
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