Out Of Your Element

Whenever someone asks me what it’s like to hunt in Africa, I’m kind of at a loss for words.

The African bushveldt, you see, is pretty difficult to hunt.  Here’s a representative sample:

It’s pretty dense — not tropical jungle, though as much densely covered, and visibility is often measured in feet rather than in yards.

To give you an idea of what this means:  from a standing start, a lion can cover 100 yards in about 3.5 seconds.  Typical visibility in lion country:  about 100 feet, as above.  (Do the math.)

And death is everywhere, the minute you leave the relative safety of your Land Rover or hunting camp.  It could be a mamba, a scorpion, a Cape buffalo, or any number of things with teeth and claws, for whom a human is kinda like a marshmallow:  can’t run that fast, no tough hide, no horns or whatever to protect itself, and laughably slow reflexes and crap hearing by comparison to the typical prey animal.

Like this leopard:

Now you know.

Different Hunting

As I’ve got older, I’ve watched in the rearview mirror as my hunting days disappeared into the distance.  It’s okay, really;  I’ve done enough, and scratched that itch quite sufficiently.

Nevertheless, while I don’t really miss the hunting as such, I do miss the camaraderie of the thing:  going out with a couple-three like-minded souls to send boolets into unwary animules.

Which led me to this thought.

I can’t do the regular hunting thing anymore — all that stalking / crawling around on the belly / walking miles through rough country, you know what I mean — but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be up for something more sedentary or at least stationary.

My preference, of course, would be to do some high-bird shooting with Mr. Free Market, but that would involve an expense that is (far) beyond my wallet.

So I thought:  why not varminting?  Find a farmer with a gopher / prairie dog / coyote problem and offer to help him out, so to speak.  Then take one or two like-minded souls, set up a shooting table, and start popping a few of these undesirables at distances of (say) 200-400 yards.

Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

Except that I don’t have the proper gear for such an activity.  I do have a shooting table, spotting scope and sandbags etc., but not the rifle or scope.

As things stand, my sporting long gun collection caters well to precision shooting at shorter distances — .22 LR and .22 WMR, oh yes:

…both fitted with bipods, if sandbags are not available, and both being capable of one-hole shooting up to 50 yards (.22 LR) and 75-100 yards (.22 WMR).

But if I want to shoot anything (that’s of the varmint genre) past 100-odd yards, well, there I’m sorely lacking.

The criteria are simple:  quality rifle, decent scope and cheap ammo — cheap in the sense that it costs more than .22, but less than (say) 8x57mm, .308 Win, .303 Enfield and the like (of which I have shall we say an adequate quantity).  Also, I love my shoulder and am not interested in pounding it into fragments by shooting lots of .3x cartridges, as one has to do when varminting.

Step forward the excellent .223 Remington, which I have often denigrated as a poodle-shooter cartridge, but of course I’m talking about shooting at “poodle-sized” (or smaller) varmints, aren’t I?  And even were I to go with actual .223 Rem and not the military-grade 5.56x45mm, the cost thereof is bearable.

So then:  what rifles?  I have three favorites in mind, of course, of rifles I’ve owned or shot before and that are relatively affordable.  (As much as I’d love to have a Cooper Arms or something of similar excellence, they are just too $$$pendy for someone who belongs to the Poor Of The Parish, i.e. me.)  Even so, I’ll have to sell a couple of my mil-surp rifles to be able to buy one of the candidate rifles and a fitting scope for the purpose.

Here, then, are the three candidates, all chambered in .223 Rem and sporting heavy barrels.  The first two run for about $700 (excluding the scope):

1.) Howa 1500 Legacy

Loyal Readers will recall that I used the above rifle at Boomershoot (albeit with a more manly chambering), and raved about its wonderful trigger and outstanding and consistent accuracy.  It’s definitely my first choice, subject to availability.

2.) Ruger American Predator

Like the Howa, I’ve used the Ruger at Boomershoot (once again, its larger cousin the Hunter in .308 Win), and I would have absolutely no hesitation in using this one.

Finally, we have my sentimental favorite, but at $950:

3.) CZ 600 Lux

I like everything about this gun:  that hogsback walnut (not plastic) stock, the excellent CZ trigger and faultless controlled feed — the CZ has it all, and always has.  Were it not more expensive than the other two, there would be no choice;  but as it is, that $200 premium is a hefty speed bump, and I don’t want to have to sell three of my beloved mil-surp rifles just to afford this one.

There are other brands, of course, but I’m more familiar with these, and I can’t afford to mess around.  There are some cheaper options, of course:

  • Savage Apex Predator line runs about $400, which is nice, but I don’t trust those skinny little barrels — for sustained shooting, nothing beats a heavy barrel
  • Mossberg’s MVP is priced the same as the Savage, but I’ve never shot one before so… but it does look interesting and Mossberg have that reliability thing going for them:
    I just don’t know about the trigger, and I’d hate to have to hassle with a gritty or heavy one.

As for the scope, I’d almost certainly go for a Vortex Crossfire II 6-18x44mm AO — once again, I’ve used this scope often before, mounted on several different rifles — and had excellent results each time.  (I’d like to get a similarly-powered Optika6, but $800 is way too much for my wallet.)

Practice ammo is likewise a simple choice:  PPU 55gr. (bless their little Balkan hearts).  For the actual hunt, I might go with something maybe a little more hefty, say a 60gr. pill, but that can be decided later.  (Incidentally, of the three rifles above, only the CZ 600 is comfortable shooting 5.56x45mm as well as .223 Rem, so that’s something else to be considered given the ready availability of the military ammo vs. the .223 Rem.)

All this said, I’m a little early in the game;  I don’t have a location planned, nor have I even thought much about setting up a shooting party.  But I will need to have extensive practice before I do any of that, because if there’s anything I hate more than burning up ammo to no avail, I haven’t thought of it.

So there it is:  Death To Varmints, at a time TBD.

Your thoughts and input are welcome, as usual;  and if anyone has such an excursion planned for the spring, summer or fall of this year, please consider me as a participant.

Oh, and please don’t use this opportunity to try to talk me into getting a Mattel rifle.  Bolt-action only.

Perennial Complaint

I’ve often bitched about the high cost of .22 Mag / .22 WMR ammo before — and yes, I know it’s all driven by its (non-)popularity, which drives its price up.

And yes, I’ve also been an ardent supporter of the rimfire cartridge (not that it’s helped at all) because it just adds a little extra reach to the .22 LR:  the Long Rifle bullet just flat-out runs out of steam past 50 yards, whereas its magnum counterpart is still providing some oomph at 75 yards and further.

“Okay Kim, but you’re only getting about 25% more performance, so you should expect to pay more.”

I know, and I accept that.  I would even be prepared to pay double the cost of .22 LR for the added performance of the .22 WMR.  But it’s not that, not even close to it.

Right now, premium .22 LR (but not target, which is a lot more expensive) is going for about (say) 7-8 cents per round.

WMR?  Here’s Eric’s Christmas sale price:

…which, while an excellent deal, still works out to 32 cents per round, or over four times the cost of .22 LR.  And that’s just not worth it, as much as my trigger finger tries to persuade me to throw the old MasterCard at the thing*.

So my much-loved Marlin SSV is going to have to remain idle for a while longer… [sigh]

* The Hornady V-Max, by the way, is absolutely wonderful, and will easily reduce even a fox or coyote to a bag of fur and bones at up to 75 yards.  The stuff I have on hand cost me a ton (more than 32 cents each, more like 50), but it has been an excellent and consistent performer.

Fun Day

This one’s for Reader Old Texan and all you other pigeon-hunters:

Jonny bags 130 in a day

Of course, it’s always a pleasure when watching a master go about his craft, and Jonny’s teacher Paul Payne is just that — he’s been doing it for forty-seven years.  And of course, Jonny is an excellent student:  despite being a pretty decent shot, he’s always open to learning something new.

It’s an hour out of your day — the shooting ends at about 38 minutes — but if you carry on watching to see the gear they use… whoa.

Whatever, you’ll feel as relaxed as I was at the end of it.  Lovely stuff.


Heads On Walls

The Greatest Living Englishman has an opinion on big-game trophy hunting:

People who hunt big game are evil…

That’s why Boris Johnson (remember him) received universal support in 2019 for pledging to end the practice of big-game hunters bringing back the severed heads of animals they’d shot in Africa.

I was so supportive, in fact, that I went outside and banged my frying pans together, like we used to do for the nurses.

Because I just cannot understand why anyone could go to Botswana to shoot a lion or a giraffe.

It simply doesn’t compute in my head.

Fear not, however, because:

…but here’s why they are necessary

Because as the House of Lords debated the ban on severed heads this week, six African governments wrote to The Times newspaper begging them to let the hunting continue.

And they have a point.

They argue the big, wild animals in Africa often attack villagers and trample crops.

They are seen as a nuisance and are often shot by farmers.

But if a rich white hunter arrives on the scene and is prepared to pay upwards of £20,000 to shoot an animal, it’s suddenly worth the farmer’s while to make sure he has something to shoot at.

So instead of killing the wildlife, he starts to protect it.

Because he’s going to get a LOT more money from Hank the Texan dentist than he is from half an acre of maize.

The fact is that the rich white hunters who do this kind of thing are actually paying for the animals to be protected and looked after beforehand by the locals.

They’re even reintroducing rhinos to areas they haven’t been seen in for decades.  I know this. I’ve been to a park and witnessed it happening.  And I’ve met the locals who patrol the area at night, hunting the poachers.

If hunting was banned, all that would stop.

So it’s a weird conclusion but if a halfwit with way more money than sense and no moral fibre at all wants to fly to Africa to shoot an elephant, the kindest thing we can do as a nation of animal lovers is . . . let him.

Here’s my take on all of this.  Firstly, as Clarkson notes, without hunting the game will just disappear.  Farmers will either shoot, shovel and shut up or else they’ll set out poisoned bait.  To a farmer, a predator isn’t just a dangerous pest:  it’s something that takes away his property — and as I’ve said before, a leopard will kill an entire flock of sheep, just because it can, before taking one away to eat.  Lions are not any better.  A large herd of springbok will eat all the farmer’s grazing for his sheep or cattle, and the farmer will end up with starving herds.  Don’t get me started on elephants, which are more destructive than governments.

So spare me the maudlin “O the pore wee beasties”  PETA nonsense.

All that said, however, I should also point out that I’ve never been a trophy hunter.  I’ve hunted either as part of a (very unofficial) game management system — helping a farmer protect his herds from lion and springbok, for example — or on very infrequent occasions for the sheer joy of the stalk, in terrain and climate so inhospitable it would make your nuts retract into your body.  On the latter occasions, I’ve been close to death so many times that my ultimate survival was a matter of pure luck.  That’s why I did it — and that’s why I don’t hunt anymore.

All that said, however, I understand the point of trophy collecting. When you have hunted something and taken its life, it is the ultimate form of possession, and there is a profound intimacy between hunter and prey — an intimacy that demands that one keeps a part of that animal, not as proof, but as a form of gratitude.  Even on those stupid “wilderness survival” TV shows, you’ll see someone who has just killed an animal for food say, “Thank you giving me your life so I can survive.”  It’s not hokum:  it’s about as primal a ritual as one can find, and it’s embedded deep within our hunter-gather gene code.

People like Jeremy Clarkson, who’ve never experienced that emotion, will say that they don’t understand that need to keep a bond with one’s conquest.  The key lies within the phrase “who’ve never experienced that emotion”.  You can’t explain it to them, and they’ll never understand it because, of course, food comes from the supermarket and not from the barrel of your gun.  (You’d think that Clarkson would understand this, seeing as he keeps cattle and — at one time — sheep.  But there ya go.  He may be the Greatest Living Englishman, but he’s not perfect.)

Of course, trophy hunting isn’t about getting food.  But the emotion it brings out is no different — “moral fibre” has nothing to do with it — and if we weren’t so coddled and anesthetized by our oh-so civilized society, we’d all know that.

That aside, we’ll just have to justify big game hunting as “game management” to assuage the hurt feewings of the Weepy Animal Lovers Set.  Like Jeremy Clarkson.

Other People’s Lives

During our semi-regular phone call yesterday, the fiend Mr. Free Market breezily informed me that this coming weekend he will be blasting birds out of the sky at this address:

Even worse, the weather forecast is for “sunny with mild temperatures”, so I can’t even wish that he’ll freeze his nuts off.