Here’s a mental exercise and some fodder for campfire or pub discussion: if you could hunt any species anywhere in the world without consideration for the cost and time involved, what would you hunt, and why? Where would you hunt, and what would be your preferred method of take?
While a discussion that ignores reality – say, hunting a T. Rex in downtown Terra Haute, Indiana with an RPG – is probably inevitable after several rounds, let’s first keep it real, mas o menos. Still allowing some wriggle room for fantasizing, let’s start with what we can call Must-Hunts We Will Never Really Do. These are must-hunts we can probably never afford because we’re just Average Joes taking care of family and bills and paying for kids’ education, corporate bailouts, a decade of wars and $4 a gallon (this week) gas. We’ll base our choices on our reading of famous hunter/writers’ experiences, choices and opinions.
Let’s deal first with the five hunts probably on every hunter’s wish list, Africa’s Big 5: elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard. While there was a time when this was conscionably viable, as a conservationist hunter, I have to drop rhinos from the list. The only non-endangered rhino is the Southern White rhinoceros, and even that one is listed as “Near Threatened.” I’d make an exception if there were a specific “problem” rhino beyond reproduction age that game managers wanted culled.
Elephants are near extirpation in some areas, but in others their numbers are a problem, so an elephant makes the “to do” list. For both these bruisers, I’d choose a 600 Nitro Express double rifle just for the nostalgia – and I’m sure I’d never shoot that shoulder canon again.
For lion, how about Teddy Roosevelt’s “medicine gun for lions,” the 1895 Winchester in .405 Win., again largely for the nostalgia of it? But maybe I wouldn’t want to get “iron sight close”, so a different African-American (if you will) combo to consider is a scoped Model 70 in .338 Win Mag. The 1895 would work for a treed leopard, but because leopards are often shot at some distance from a blind in low evening or morning light, a scoped bolt gun is probably more appropriate. Even though that Model 70 for lion would be OK for leopard, money is no object, right? Let’s buy a second classic African, a Mauser 98 in 9.3×62, this one sporting a large objective scope with a lighted reticle.
I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve read that water buffalo kill more hunters than do any other dangerous game, so my non-experienced opinion on this one is to use a rifle that holds as many shots as possible in an appropriate caliber. My choice is another custom 98 Mauser, this one chambered in .416 Rigby. A PH backing me up with something even bigger (.458 Lott?) would make me happy. Some experts argue in favor of a double rifle for a more rapid second shot; but then you’re dry after two shots, whereas a bolt gun gives you three or four more chances to live, other experts opine. Aren’t pub discussions among the inexperienced fun? Let’s have another round.
But that’s only a Big 4; we need something to replace the rhino. While a hippo is a good candidate, I’d prefer a longer-range, precision shot challenge on another dangerous critter: crocodile. I understand they are the #1 people killer in Africa (OK, people kill more people in Africa, but let’s not go there), so they’re certainly a “problem.” The precise number of croc victims isn’t known because often it’s just a case of Momma going down to the river to wash clothes, and she never comes back.
The only way to ensure not losing a wounded 15-foot people eater in the muddy river is to make an instant-death shot to the almond-to-walnut-sized brain while it’s lying on the bank contentedly digesting people meat in the warm sunshine. Just about any scoped centerfire match rifle can do that at 100 yards, so take yer pick, though I’d want a little oomph for contingency’s sake and so would choose something in the .308 class. Match rifles are quite heavy to carry in the field, but that’s my gun bearer’s problem. My problem is identifying where, exactly, that walnut spot is in that ugly, flat head and then hitting it, possibly from a sitting position in a boat.
While on the subject, I’ll pass along this anecdote. Once while talking with the late great Fred Wells in his shop about customizing a rifle for me, he handed me a bolt gun and said, “What do you think of this front sight I’m working on?
It was a standard ramped bead front with a hood; what differed is that Fred had soldered a second bead on top of the hood. Since aiming with the higher bead would lower the shot, it could only be for up-close use. Fred saw me thinking and said, “It’s for when a dangerous animal charges. Up close, a lot of hunters shoot too high. Think it’ll work?”
I was flattered that he asked my opinion, and I somehow didn’t mention I’d never been charged by anything more dangerous than an angry wife.
“Hmm..” I said, “it should, though it would take some practice to make sure I always paid attention to the sight and didn’t use the wrong bead at the wrong time.”
He seemed satisfied with that, though I don’t know if he ever followed up on the idea; if not, I may revive it myself.
Again, I have no personal experience in Africa – this is just speculation over a couple of brews among hunting friends who all wish they could do Africa like the famous hunter/writers. The next five “must hunts” are more realistic for those of us who buy our camo at the local big box. Be thinking about it, and let’s see how our choices compare.