Double Rifles "On Safari" in the High Desert
By Gary Lewis
"We've had reports of a couple of crop-raiding elephants in the vicinity. We think they're close and if we don't act now, they could destroy some junipers. And we here in Central Oregon love our junipers."
They stood in a semi-circle as I described the upcoming "safari," to two dozen enthusiasts of the double rifle and the big bore bolt rifle, firearms that the uninitiated refer to as "elephant guns." We encouraged our shooters to wear safari gear, a shade-giving hat and a canteen. Each would be accompanied by a professional hunter or PH.
Some of the assembled had been to Africa, others were anticipating their first safari and for a few hours in the high desert, they would put their favorite rifles through their paces.
Our first course was a walk through junipers where two life-sized plywood elephants lurked. The first was a static target encountered between trees. The second swung out from behind a large bushy juniper to present a side profile of neck, head, trunk and ivory. It looks like shooting the side of a barn until you realize the target is an eggplant-sized "brain" in front of the ear.
Next, the shooter encountered a chunk of plywood carved in the shape of a cape buffalo head. When the buffalo charged, the shooter was supposed to put two bullets in the black between the horns.
For the leopard blind, we constructed a hide out of native juniper branches. Once inside the blind, the shooter could see the leopard in the tree and a jackal nearby.
Ambling from the leopard blind to a hunt for springbok, we instructed the hunter on the scarcity of animals. "We used to have a herd of springbok here, but the poachers have hit them really hard. We think there might just be one left. There he is. And look, there's the poacher!"
We held our first big bore double rifle "safari" in Central Oregon in 2008 and our second in 2010. Our course designer then was Bill Fockler, a past president of the Central Oregon Shooting Sports Association. When he passed away in 2012, Matthew McFarland, a double rifle enthusiast stepped in to help.
McFarland, who is the general manager at Hoodoo Ski Area, has a lot of experience in making things run on tracks and cables. This year we used target systems of his design as well as a few of Fockler's and some of the new and excellent photo-realistic images from Harrisburg-based Spot Hogg.
New this time around, we had a running cheetah, powered by a portable generator, a 12-foot closed-cell foam crocodile that we had to shoot from a boat with a real harpoon gun, and a full size 3-D bison dressed up as a rhino.
No safari would be complete without a little bit of danger. No one expected to see a snake, but when they stepped up to dart our "rhino," a yellow polymer reptile leapt out of the grass like a ten-foot black mamba.
The big bore shoot was presented by COSSA in conjunction with the High Desert Safari Club and was sponsored by Nosler, Carter Cutlery, Walmart of Redmond, Bend Mapping and Gary Lewis Outdoors.
This year, I shot a scoped Swedish Husqvarna 9.3x62 I borrowed from Chub Eastman. I was out of the ten rings on the cheetah and that put me out of the running in the most competitive division. Lee Van Tassell won that one with a scoped 375 H&H and a score of 165 out of a possible 180.
Shooting a 458 Win Mag with iron sights, Vance Allen was tops in his division. Joan Hardy, of Azalea, Oregon, shot well enough with her 500-416 double rifle to take first place in her category. Dan Rohrer, of Powell Butte, shot his way to first place with an 11.6x71 drilling that he picked up at a pawn shop.
Taking first place in the above-500 category, Dennis Jones carried an 1882-vintage Cogswell and Harrison 577. In 1887, a surgeon named E.H. Fenn took delivery of the rifle from the company's New Bond Street shop in London. Dr. Fenn would be pleased to know his rifle is still in action 126 years later.
Was it realistic? Our charging lion was fast, but a real lion is faster. At 30 yards on a flat-out sprint, the cheetah might have been hardest to hit,. Our pachyderm and antelope targets were paper and plywood, but the pressure to perform in front of peers and a pretend PH was enough to make participants perspire.
With the exception of the leopard blind, we required all shots be made offhand. This was my fifth safari shoot to participate in and host and never have I seen better shooting with the big guns.
Set up a Safari-Style Shoot
To hold your own double rifle/big bore invitational safari shoot, start with the guest list. To keep the crowd manageable, limit the number of shooters to 20 or 25.
As an example, to compete, a shooter must bring at least one double rifle or bolt-action rifle of at least 9.3mm (.366) caliber. In addition, a shooter may bring a combination gun or a double-barreled shotgun of any gauge.
Set the rules and stick to them. Start with minimum caliber and arrange the prize table to reflect the use of bolt rifles with and without scopes and double rifles with and without. Make sure there are plenty of categories and ways shooters can win a prize. Keep the costs low and charge admission to cover the expenses. Make sure that there is a little extra to provide a gratuity to the people cooking dinner or making lunch.
The shoot should be planned by a committee. One person should be responsible for arranging meals and prizes. Two or more should be responsible for building and fabricating targets. Volunteers should be recruited to organize the shotgun stage and to set up and take down the course. One person should be chosen to be master of ceremonies.
Try to make the targets lifesize and as realistic as possible. Targets can include standing impala, kudu, springbok, baboon, warthog and more. Besides static targets, a few moving or reactive targets should be employed. Set up a running impala or a running cheetah and build a track to run a charging lion. Each running target should be engaged with two rounds. Build a blind and set up a leopard in a tree such that the animal is only visible from inside. Make the shot a tricky one with a branch almost in the way.
The shotgun stage is the wild card. A lot of shooters are riflemen only and a poor showing with a shotgun can bounce them out of contention, while a good wingshot can make up for subpar shooting on the rifle range.
Last, it doesn't hurt to have a best-dressed category. It encourages everyone to show up in the attire they would wear on safari. Require boots, binos and a canteen. It's all in fun, but a well-planned safari-style shoot can help prepare a hunter for Africa.
The Professional Hunter in Africa
Most people that go to hunt in Africa do so with a professional hunter. We might call him a guide, but the best way to describe him is as a PH. He started in this business not to make a lot of money, but to find a way to get paid for doing what he loves. He is probably a member of a professional hunting society. He owns at least four guns and is proficient with each: a big game rifle, a small game rifle and a shotgun for upland birds or ducks.
Before he gets his license, the PH must complete a course of training in firearms, safety, conservation, animal identification, trophy care and vehicle maintenance. He becomes a master of many things. He learns to get along with people from all walks of life and, over the course of time, learns business skills that would serve him well in any career. But he is most at home in the bush, on the veldt, on the savannah.
A PH can identify the animal and its sex by looking at the track. He probably has in his employ, a native tracker who is an even better tracker than he is. And, in the bush, he is on alert for danger. He has probably stopped an angry hippo or an elephant with a rifle and he will do it for you, too, but he probably won’t have to.
While the professional hunter walks ahead he watches for looks for game, but he is seldom so absorbed that he can’t stop to admire a lilac-breasted roller or stoop to watch a dung beetle at his labor. Call him a hunter, call him a businessman, call him a recluse or a people person, but above all he is a naturalist and a rugged individualist. And once you hunt with him you will probably hunt with him again..