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by a.k.a. Walkingthemup Last updated: 2014-09-15 11:44:31
I’ve returned after a ten day handgun hunt in South Africa. Some might ask why I chose a handgun hunt rather than using a rifle. To me the whole point of hunting is the challenge. Hunting the game on its territory with the odds stacked in its favour. A rifle would have been doing it the easy way. I live in a country which doesn’t allow handgun hunting which means that I wanted to experience a handgun hunt, I had to travel overseas. After a lifetime of being a competitive handgun shooter, this was a challenge I had to meet.
The handgun I used was a Ruger Super Redhawk revolver chambered in .454 Casull, 7.5” barrel, firing a 300 gr Hornady XTP Mag projectile at around 1500 fps. The sight was a Burris FastFire III red-dot reflex.
I’d booked the hunt with professional hunter (PH) Andrew Renton of Kei River Hunting Safaris. I chose Andy because he has an established reputation for understanding the needs of handgun hunters. Andy isn’t a handgunner, but is a very experienced bow hunter. As such he knows all there is to know about stalking and how to get in close to your quarry. It didn’t take long to realise I’d made the right choice. Andy proved to be a friendly, larger than life character, highly skilled, knowledgeable and with a passion for the chase. The area hunted comprised five farms which had come together to form a game reserve of approximately 100,000 acres. It was located near the town of Komga in Eastern Cape Province. We were based at the Mpotshane Game Resort, a hunting lodge operated by Andy’s cousin.
I had originally booked to hunt Kudu, Blesbok, Bushbuck and Warthog. After discussions with Andy, I swapped the Blesbok for an Impala. While the property had large numbers of blesbok, they were located in open grasslands. It would have been impossible to stalk any closer than a few hundred meters. Doable with a rifle, but definitely out of handgun range.
The hunting style was ‘spot and stalk’. A large proportion of time is spent glassing from ridges trying to locate suitable animals. Andy used a set of Leica range-finding 10x42 binoculars. For checking animal quality and horn size, he used a Zeiss 80x spotting scope. Top class optics are a must. Once a suitable animal was located Andy would form an appreciation as to where the animal was going and how to get into a position to take it. The whole hunt philosophy was around trophy animals, ie mature males with trophy sized headgear. Cows and lesser animals were avoided.
Of all the animals, the Kudu was going to be the hardest. They are known as the grey ghosts of Africa due to their ability to become invisible in the scrub. (Having watched a large bull vanish in the middle of a game trail in dead open ground, I formed the view that they were the prototype for the Klingon cloaking device.) They have ears like radar dishes and superb eyesight. The big bulls normally have large number of cows, or a few lesser males, around them as early warning. Many eyes and ears watching for the slightest threat.
The hunting started at first light. We spent the morning and afternoons after Kudu. Middays were spent looking for warthog as that was the time they were likely to be visiting waterholes. Painstaking stalks concentrating on each foot placement, and numerous crawls through the scrub. The terrain was a mixture of scrub, thorn bushes and rocky shale. One careless footstep or scraping noise and it was game over.
Several times we got close to suitable Kudu bull, but on each time something would go wrong at the last minute. On one of days, we watched a bull make its way through the scrub and disappear behind a clump of trees. If it came out to the right it’d move into a small clearing where I could take a shot. If it moved out to the left the result would be similar. In the end it started to step out to the right. Its head was visible, but its vitals obscured by the trees. Four more steps and it would have been mine. At the last minute it turned around and moved back uphill, still obscured by trees. On another occasion we stalked far closer than expected. The first we knew as to how close we were, was when an immense bark came from behind a clump of scrub only 15 metres away. The Kudu was hidden from view, but the cows had sensed us and started their warning barks. Up close they sound like the noise from a massive steam engine, unbelievably powerful. That continued for the first few days.
By Wednesday, Andy was getting worried that nothing had been put on the ground. He decided we should give the kudu a rest and look for something else. In the morning we went off after an Impala ram. We spotted a nice sized ram with a herd feeding on the other side of a gully system. We moved into position. We watched the ram as it moved around feeding. After what seemed like an eternity it presented a broadside. The .454 roared. All I could see was the ram bounding away. Damn I thought. My first shot at African game and I missed. I turned and saw Andy broadly smiling. He came over to shake my hand. The impala had run for about fifty metres and collapsed out of my sight. One shot straight through the heart at a measured 90 yards. Andy had his ‘boys’ collect the carcase and bring it up for the obligatory photos.
Immediately after lunch we went looking for warthog. Although we saw several, none were suitable. I was still on a high from the impala and wasn’t particularly disappointed. Later that afternoon we went looking for a Bushbuck ram. Although these are a comparatively small animal, bushbuck are considered one of the most dangerous animals. Pound for pound the PHs rate them as second only to buffalo for tenacity and aggression. We spotted one near a creek line. Our stalk in was made more difficult by having to move past a female bushbuck and a couple of waterbuck. We got to around 40 metres where I took my shot. The bushbuck went down but then struggled to its feet. Head down, horns pointed straight at us, basically saying ‘you just try coming closer and I’ll have you’. Andy told me to put 2 more shots into him for insurance. This time he stayed down. Andy was treating this animal with extreme respect, he’d had previous bad experiences with this species. He waited ten minutes and then very cautiously approached the carcase. The bushbuck had expired, all three shots had gone through just behind the shoulder.
This had been a good day. Not only were two animals down, but the both the gun and ammo had proved themselves.
The next morning it was back looking for a Kudu bull. Over the next few days we glassed and stalked up and down hills, across gullies and watercourses. Despite all of the effort, we still had no luck.
The last day of the hunt was hot, over 30 C with a dry wind. Around 10 am we spotted a large Kudu bull come over the crest of a distant hill. We watched him as he meandered through the scrub feeding. There appeared to be a direction and purpose to his movements. He was alone which meant that there were no cows keeping watch for him. Andy studied his movements and determined that he was likely to be heading to a creek bed to drink and lay up under the cover of trees for the afternoon. We moved off to get in a position to intercept him before he could get to the cover of the creek bed. We set up in one of the few spots that could give us a view of his approach. He was only visible for short periods of time as he stuck his head out from bushes or moved across small openings. We could see his horns moving in bushes across the gully. There were game trails on either side of the bushes. If he stepped out onto the game trails there’d be a chance of a shot. Andy instructed that if I got the chance to fire, take the shot and keep shooting until the Kudu was down. Slowly the bull emerged from the bushes. The angle was all wrong, but then he turned broadside. I lined up on his shoulder and fired. I missed and the Kudu took off. I fired the next 2 shots double action. Not a good idea at long range. I forced myself to mentally slow down, to concentrate and single action the revolver. I fired three more shots. I hurriedly dumped the empty cases was trying to reload when Andy came up grinning from ear to ear. “You can stop now, he’s down”. While I had forced myself to slow down, it must have still been very quick. The Kudu had only covered a few meters before collapsing. The last three shots had hit. One shot took out the aorta and the top of the lungs, one shot took out the main neck artery. The other shot had also hit but I can’t remember where. The shots were taken at a measured 139 yards. By this stage I was on another planet, as was Andy. He told me that to take a large Kudu bull, with a revolver, at that range was something very few people had ever done. He was so happy he asked to be in the photo, which he promptly emailed to all his associates.
These animals are impressive. In the photo, you’ll see Andy and I behind the Kudu. What you don’t see is that, in order to hold the head and neck in position for the picture, Andy’s tracker is lying immediately to my right behind the Kudu.
There was still a warthog boar on the list. It was now late afternoon on the last day. We had come across several sows and a few small boars, but nothing of shootable size. Towards last light we saw a large boar coming up to a cattle trough. The stalk in was incredibly painstaking. The warthog have poor eyesight but superb hearing and a very nervous disposition. The slightest noise and they would take off. Footsteps were in ultra-slow motion, the tai chi of stalking. We got to within 20 metres. The boar had at least eight inch tusks. This was going to be the easiest shot of the trip. He turned broadside and the hammer dropped. Pigs took off like rockets. Examination of the tracks found no traces of blood or anything to indicate a hit. The easiest shot of the trip, at the closest range, and I fluffed it. Ballistic thrombosis (clot behind trigger) had set in.
Although disappointed, somehow I didn’t really care. It had been a great trip. Each day had been filled with intense and challenging stalks. It was the hunt and the challenge that mattered, not the number of animals taken.
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