Twenty-One Days in July
While you readers are taking a coffee break from pigeon shooting over laid wheat or roe buck stalking during the rut, spare a thought for your correspondent, for he is in far off lands trying not to get trodden on or eaten by something big and unpleasant.
The destination is Tanzania and the the small hunting party is in search of some big beasties. Lion, leopard, buffalo and hippo are on the menu. My job includes shooting impala for bait and camp meat, for we will be camping in the wild. It may involve dealing with the odd male baboon or hyena if any prove too inquisitive and there may even be the opportunity to bag a few francolin or guinea fowl for sport and for the pot.
Being faced with such a prospect, one has to consider the necessary kit. Weight and space restrictions apply and local conditions dictate choice. The challenge was to select a battery of guns and an essential pile of clothing and equipment to make the three weeks in country comfortable and safe.
For the big, hard-charging monsters, we need a true stopping rifle. Just have a look on youtube if you want to see what a hippo or a buffalo looks like moving at full speed and homing-in on your midriff. Fortunately, the leader of our party is in position to choose his rifles without cost being the major consideration. That being the case, he ordered a new Westley Richards boxlock double rifle in .577 nitro express. Delivered from the Birmingham factory about six months ahead of the trip, Michael was able to practice a little before leaving home. The .577 is the biggest of the ‘sensible’ dangerous game calibres. The rounds are 3.70” long and the bullets weigh 750 grains.
Larger rifles are made but their weight and expense makes them arguably redundant when compared to the power of this round. Many think the .577 is overkill: a .470 or .500 being more than enough to stop anything when shot in a vital area. However, the .577 is the classic stopping rifle of the nitro era.
While the .577 is ideal for putting an end to a charging buffalo or hippo at short range, for the softer skinned and more agile cats, a more reactive tool is called for and for this the weapon of choice is the most effective all-round cartridge yet made: the .375. This came in the shape of a Cogswell & Harrison sidekick double rifle built pre-WW1 for a minor Russian royal. Beautifully engraved with the cats we intend to hunt with it, this rifle is a veteran of several previous visits to Africa and is a known quantity. 300 grain blue-noses are selected for lion and leopard and for shooting medium plains game such as kudu. However, if necessary, it can be loaded with solids and used to punch a neat hole in smaller game without doing too much damage to the meat.
The birds require a shotgun and for these we packed a 1930s vintage Rach drilling with 20-bore shotgun barrels above a rifle barrel in 8×57, which is a hard-hitting round favoured by German foresters. Medium plains game and the smaller critters would find it more than a match. I used it in 2007 to shoot impala, lechwe and warthogs, as well as birds. The battery also enables more than one hunter to be afield at a time. Effectively we had two dangerous game rifles and two medium game rifles and a shotgun, depending how we deployed them.
Africa is cold at night. Layers are important. One light jumper, a fleece, a bush jacket, leather gloves, a hat with a brim are all essentials, then three of each of the following: underwear, socks, shirt, T-shirt, handkerchief. The rule is that you are wearing one set of clothes, have one set clean and dry and one set in the wash.
Since my job included being the official photo-journalist, I needed a camera. Helpfully, I left mine in Norway a month before the trip. So, I bought a new Canon SX700HS. It is a compact camera but has great low-light capability and a useful 30x zoom. My attitude for these assignments is that a camera you can have with you at all times is more use than a better camera that is cumbersome and less likely to be ready at short notice, when something happens. This fits the bill.
You need two knives on safari. A hunting knife of the type most stalkers here would recognise. I made my own out of an old, nicely figured, gunstock and a Brusletto blade, which sharpens like a razor and holds a good edge. It is neither too big, too weak, nor too flashy and expensive. I do own a custom hunting knife that cost be $350 and has a giraffe bone handle and polished blade but my home-made job feels more at home in my hand covered in blood. a pocket knife is useful for fiddly jobs. anything will do. I generally take Opinels, as they have a great edge, are strong and reliable and cost nothing.
So, as you are coming to the end of the page, I’m in the bush and all the equipment mentioned above is getting dirty. The new Westley is getting a few battle scars. The vintage Coggie is likely awaiting the approach of something in the half light: something with a throaty growl and big teeth. If we are eating, it is because I was efficient with the pot hunting and the old Rach is keeping the make-shift larder full.
Next month I’ll report back on the outcome of the quest for multiple species with very different but equally classic firearms. If I don’t, well, maybe I should have got a bigger rifle!