A WORKING MAN’S AFRICAN DOUBLE
In this series of
articles, the author explores the concept and actual performance of an
affordable double rifle of sufficient power to handle large African game. This,
the third article in the series, describes the use of a Valmet
375/444 double rifle on medium-bodied plains game on Safari in
Author with Namibian Aloes in Flower, While Hunting Hartebeest
The flight to
Taxiing in to the terminal, there was only one other large aircraft on the tarmac, a Lufthansa 747 that must have come in from
Having only a carry-on got me through customs without
difficulty. I took time to let the local police desk know that I was expecting
a bag containing a rifle, a shotgun (actually just a set of 12 ga barrels for the Valmet), and a
9mm pistol. The latter was intended as “hijacker deterrent” during subsequent
road travel in
Transfer to Okatjuru Safari Lodge, the location of my hunt, was by minibus. My driver, Volker Schulz, who was also the owner of the shuttle service, met me at arrivals and within minutes we were en-route to our destination, some 120 kilometers to the Northeast. Unlike South Africa, where the PH normally meets clients and starts the day rate from the date of pickup, Namibian operators often don’t charge for the day of arrival, but do charge a flat rate per group for airport transfers, in this case $200. This can be less expensive for the hunter, especially if there are two or more passengers traveling together.
From the ground, the thornveld
looked a lot thicker and greener. Good rains late that summer had broken a long
drought period and the silky grasses were knee-high. Head-high thorny brush and
scrub reduced visibility to between 30 and 100 yards. The gravel road we took
was in good condition so we made excellent time, slowing only for flaggers tending herds of healthy-looking cattle. Volker
filled me in on the government’s land reform policies. Unlike
Volker had spent some time in
We spotted a nice Kudu bull, two Jackals, a Steenbuck, and several Warthog alongside the road, raising my anticipation of the hunting to come. I also noted that the roadway was literally crawling with giant black crickets, locally called Namibian prawns, that appear in hundreds during the autumn months, and provide fare for numerous small carnivores and birds.
Pulling in to Okatjuru, we were
met by Jochen Hein, the owner and operator. Jochen had
inherited the farm from his father, Fritz, who was one of the first farmers to
develop recreational hunting property in
Hochsitz Overlooking Waterhole
However, it was not the large variety or quantity of large mammals that impressed me most at Okatjuru. Having no rifle and not wanting to take game with a borrowed rifle, I requested the loan of a varmint rifle for the afternoon in the hopes of collecting a Jackal before the serious hunting began. Festus, who was my guide for afternoon, accompanied me to a nearby waterhole where we climbed into a comfortable “Hochsitz”, or high seat. From here, we had a commanding view of the waterhole and the surrounding area.
It was the birdlife that astonished me. For a fairly arid region with little or no crop farming, the quantity and variety of birdlife was astounding. At any one time, there were literally hundreds of birds at the water. Most common was the Sociable Weaver, which festooned the nearby bushes and seemed to be in constant motion, like a swarm of bees. They would descend to the water, and no sooner than they had landed, they would nervously swarm back to the trees for no apparent reason. This nervous movement went on for hours on end. Then there were the doves, three species as best I could tell. Smallest and most characteristic was the Namaqua Dove, a protected species with a long, sharp tail. Mourning Doves flew in and out in twos and threes constantly. And the larger Cape Turtle Doves, distinguishable by their banded necks, swooped in to drink with a flurry of white wings. Colorful but solitary Crimson-Breasted Shrikes and Lilac-Breasted Rollers contrasted with the coal-black Drongos. Several large groups of Helmeted Guinea Fowl, the raucous sentries of the bird world, visited. In one group, we counted over thirty half-grown chicks and about a dozen adults. And two Red-Billed Francolin pecked in the sand, periodically squawking their harsh calls.
While all this bird activity was going on, we observed several female Kudu cautiously coming to water and then socializing nearby. A young bull came in and sniffed one of the females rather lewdly as she urinated. A large Waterbuck male, a decent trophy by any standard, visited as well, as did a group of Impala and several Warthogs.
Valmet Double Watches over Warthog Drinking at Waterhole
At sundown, we heard a jackal calling nearby, sounding nothing like a coyote or a dog of any kind, but more like a bird. But he had not shown by quitting time, so we left for the lodge without firing a shot.
My home for the duration was the comfortable en-suite guest
quarters behind the main house. There was a separate adjoining bedroom, and an
additional chalet with two separate double rooms around the front overlooking
another waterhole in the middle of an open grassy plain that seemed to be the
chosen territory of a large group of Impala and some Springbuck. Blue
Wildebeest were often seen among them as well. Dinner was served in the guest
bar/dining room, after cocktails around a Camelthorn
fire by the pool. A German hunter and his wife joined us. His quarry was Sable,
offered by only a very few properties in
One of Two Guest Houses at Okatjuru
Word came during dinner that my bag would be delivered at the next morning. Thus reassured, I slept well, waking very early to the sound of a Lion moaning in predawn hours. Ooowhuh! Ooowhuh! Ooowhuh, whuh, whuh, uh! A shiver ran through me, and it had nothing to do with the cool night air. I had to remind myself that it was not a wild Lion roaming the veld, but one of the pair of fully grown male Lions that Jochen had raised from cubs and kept in a special enclosure nearby.
Authentic Lion Sounds Courtesy of Okatjuru
Precisely at 7, a small pickup pulled into the driveway and
my bag was delivered intact, with a receipt for the pistol in my guncase. My kit was pre-packed, so all I had to do to get
going was to pull on my hunting gear, fill my water bottles, and assemble my Valmet. A breakfast sandwich (an unusual but practical
custom) was already packed in a cooler and on the vehicle. After a quick stop
to check the rifle’s zero, firing at a 100 yard target from the back of the
vehicle, we were on our way to our first hunt, for the ungainly but tough Red
Hartebeest are fairly large antelope, indigenous to the Kalahari. The name refers to the heart-shaped profile of the horns, when viewed from the front. Like Impala, they occur in groups 10 to 20 strong, dominated by a large bull, or in small all-male groups. Like the Black Wildebeest, they were almost wiped out in the late 1880s, but are now common in arid areas and not expensive to hunt. Don’t be fooled by their ungainly looks, though, as they are very fast on their feet and have sharp eyes and hearing. And being gregarious, they are often found with Gemsbuck or Eland, making stalking very tricky. A bull Hartebeest, weighing up to 400 lb, was the next test of the rifle and the 375/444 cartridge, loaded with Speer 235 grain softs propelled at a modest 2300 fps by 53 grains of W748.
There followed several unsuccessful “bend over” stalks. These
animals had been hunted before, and it was not going to be easy to escape
detection by a herd of sharp-eyed in flat brushy terrain. When we spotted
the next group toward lunch time, patches of red hide through the brush, I
motioned to Festus to fall in behind me and began crawl on hands and knees,
taking advantage of the knee-high grasses. This tactic has worked very well for
me, to the extent that I now carry knee pads as well as gloves while hunting in
The herd we were stalking were together with a group of Gemsbuck. Reaching a suitable tree 80 yards from the herd,
I quietly cleared the dead branches from the immediate vicinity and we began
glassing the group. The bull was spotted, now laying
down with his back toward us. A cow lay across our line of fire, just short of
the bull, and two more cows lay beyond. I had a very good rest wedged between
two limbs of the thorn tree, and could have taken a head shot, but decided to
wait him out.
Minutes trickled by. An hour later, we were still sitting under our tree while the Hartebeest lay under their tree. Then suddenly, the bull stood up, but before I could acquire him, he moved out of our tunnel of vision, disappearing behind some bushes to the left. I waited. He reappeared, moving left to right, but did not stop and exited stage right! Rolling my eyes at Festus, we waited but the cows were now up as well and the bull was behind them. My efforts to move into a better firing position gave us away and the entire group bounded off amid loud sneezes and snorts.
The sun was high at this point, so we decided to quit for a late (and very tasty) lunch comprising a delicious fresh salad and baked lasagne. I ate alone, Jochen and his Sable hunter having eaten before me, but Ulrike, Jochen’s wife and partner, stopped by to chat and share some fresh lemonade made from her own grove of lemon and orange trees.
After a siesta, hunting resumed, this time on a second property across the road from base camp. This piece was around 15,000 acres in size and high-fenced, as Sable, Roan, Rhino and Giraffe were present. Our strategy was to still-hunt upwind, passing a waterhole and a large earthen dam, where game is often concentrated in the early afternoon. This area was more open, having been partially cleared of nasty Blackthorn scrub when it was managed primarily for cattle many years previously. Blackthorn (“Wait-a-Bit”) is the bane of the thornveld. Vicious little black hooked thorns, not apparent until they grab you, dig into your flesh and clothing all the more painfully as you instinctively try to pull away. After a few encounters, you learn to identify and give these bushes a wide berth.
Moving across a fairly open plain covered in three species of silky white and red grasses, Festus grabbed my shoulder and pointed to a commotion in the vegetation ahead. Having seen the extensive excavations earlier, I knew we were looking at a Warthog digging in the ground, obscured by the high grass and brush. Moving cautiously, we approached his position and caught sight of his large hairy back and a quick look through the binoculars confirmed my hopes: he was a large male with good tusks.
Die Ou Bakleier…With Valmet 412 Double in 375/444
This was one busy hog. To and fro he moved, never still, digging with his tusks and snout in the soft ground. He was moving away from us, so we were forced to follow, crouching and moving only when his head was down. At one point, after gaining some ground, he took off running away from us. Festus assured me we had not been spotted. Bent over and using a large bush for cover, we followed at a trot. After checking and not sighting him, we crossed a larger opening and moved up to a very large and dense bush. I peered round one side while Festus peered round the other. Catching a movement, I saw our hairy friend emerge from a mud wallow, freshly coated in dark mud. He began moving in our direction, so after a whispered evaluation of the situation, I knelt, rifle ready, and watched as he approached in fits and starts, moving diagonally across my front from left to right. The sun was on my left cheek, now low on the horizon, and the wind on my right. Perfect. After a short stop to root around behind a bush, on he came, following a direction that would bring him close to us on the updwind side. I cranked the scope down to 1.5x and got ready. Soon, he appeared, moving at a trot and closing fast. When he was broadside, not 15 yards from us, the bottom barrel barked and the pig sprinted off. Rising, I saw him about sixty yards off, going away, and I let him have the second barrel, snap-shooting. The bullet whined into the distance as the pig collapsed in a large cloud of dust. I reloaded and we closed in, finding him very dead and leaking from both shoulders, through caliber-sized holes. The second shot was a clean miss but unnecessary.
“‘n Ou bakleier” (an old street-fighter) pronounced Festus, as we noted his one tusk worn short and the nasty battle scars on his face. The two large warts on either side of his face, together with his large body and thick tusks, signaled his sex.
After loading him up, we resumed our hunt toward the distant wind-mill. Striding across the plains side by side in the warm late afternoon, sunlight streaming across our fronts, the shadows lengthening and the silky grasses waving in the comfortable cool breeze like a field of wheat, I realized that I hadn’t felt this good in years.
The next morning the Hartebeest hunt resumed. We glassed a large herd, moving toward the half-empty earth dam. There were several bulls among them including a good one bringing up the rear. Watching them file through an opening from the shade of a large Camelthorn, I prepared for a 150 yard shot but the biggest bull diverged from the herd and passed behind some bushes to the rear of our planned ambush.
Moving closer to the dam, we were able to observe the Hartebeest as they came over the retaining wall. It is rather tricky to pick out the males, both sexes being very similar in appearance. The males are blacker on the forehead, and their horns are thicker. With a good pair of glasses, and assuming the vegetation isn’t too high, one can also look for the penis sheath.
In this case, it was obvious who the larger males were. They were fighting, stirring up a large cloud of dust. We could hear their horns clashing and see the dust even when they were out of sight, which, unfortunately, was a lot of the time. They moved into the open but only their heads and the tops of their backs were visible over the dam wall. After almost an hour of watching but not being able to get a clear shot, I tried to edge closer, but we were spotted by a lone Gemsbuck that promptly took off, scattering the Hartebeest in the process. They disappeared in a large cloud of dust, and we spooked them again as we followed.
I was starting to think that this was too much work for such a homely trophy! At lunch, Jochen advised that we leave the large herds alone and look for a lone bull or a bachelor. Later that afternoon, he led as we walked toward a distant corner of the property where the bachelors liked to hang out.
En route to the indicated area, we encountered another large warthog extricating itself from a muddy wallow. However, it was limping badly and Jochen immediately recognized it as an animal wounded by a hunter the just prior to my arrival, and he indicated that I should take it. The hog moved off into the bush and tall grass, hunters in close pursuit. Atypically, the hog stopped when it got to the brush and I almost stepped on it. Fortunately, it moved off again, for an encounter with those tusks could have been nasty. Seeing only his back moving through the grass some twenty yards off, I watched through the scope for a shot. As soon as he stopped, I took a high quartering-away shot and the Warthog collapsed in a heap. The bullet had hit the spine at a minor angle and exited on the opposite side after traversing a good length of it. Again, the exit hole was small and very clean, in contrast to the rather nasty mess the other hunter’s bullet had made of the muscles of the hog’s front leg.
Leaving the trackers to load up the defunct pig, we resumed our brisk walk to a remote area of the property. Nearing the area, we slowed and soon spotted a pair of bulls about 200 yards off. Putting a convenient bush between us and them, we moved closer. At around 125 yards, Jochen halted and we looked them over. One was particularly good, but he had his rear end toward us. I stood behind Jochen, on the shady side of the bush, and moving slowly brought my rifle up, resting on his shoulder. After a minute or so, during which time the animal swapped ends but did not present a good angle, he whispered to put the gun down and relax. I did so, breathing to calm my nerves which were as taught as springs holding the twin internal hammers back. After a minute or so, our quarry, completely unaware of our presence, turned broadside presenting me with a clean shot. The crosshair was a little unsteady on his shoulder, but I took up tension each time it settled on the right spot. Jochen covered his ears with his hands and stood rigidly. Unexpectedly, and thankfully with the crosshairs squarely on the ungainly beast’s shoulders, the shot crashed and a flurry of disappearing Hartebeest ensued. Moving in immediately, ready for a follow-up shot, we found our quarry down not more than 15 paces from where he had stood. His head was up, so I raised the rifle to shoot again, but this proved unnecessary as he flopped over onto his side with a groan, having taken his last breath.
The bullet took him through the shoulders, breaking both of them, and we could feel the bullet lodged under the skin on his off side. Hastily, we took pictures as the light was fading, happy that we had a clean end to the hunt. Anxious to recover the bullet, I visited the skinning shed before dinner and watched the skinners peel back the hide until the bullet dropped out. It was deformed and the lead core fell away from the mangled jacket. Unlike all the shots to this point, two large bones had been hit and both lungs perforated. I could not have hoped for better under the circumstances.
One Shot Hartebeest Qualified for Rowland Ward
I was feeling very good about the rifle and the bullet at
this point in the hunt. I had taken three large Warthog, an Impala, a Nyala and a Hartebeest, all one shot kills. I had lost an
Impala to a poorly placed shot but was confident the animal would survive. Over
an excellent dinner of Gemsbuck medallions, we
discussed Jochen’s plans to begin offering bird hunts
on the property, given the surfeit of birds present on all three of his farms,
especially doves and Guinea Fowl. He added that in the mornings, large flights
of Sand Grouse (both Namaqua and Banded) came into
the waterholes to drink, noting that he had once counted over 900 in the space
of less than two hours at one waterhole. Having hunted Sand Grouse in
The Valmet was made for this type of mixed-bag hunting. I had brought with me, in the same padded case, a set of 12 ga barrels. Removing the rifle sling and the 375 barrels, I fitted these to the action the next morning and was surprised how light the gun felt, in contrast to the solid feel with the rifle barrels in place. We arrived at a water hole around in the morning, about a half hour before the Grouse normally appear. This was just enough time to enjoy a cup of Rooibos (Red Bush) tea, a refreshing beverage that contained no stimulants at all, and a morning sandwich.
Namaqua Sand Grouse Against the Bluest of Blue Skies
The liquid calls of the Sand Grouse were the signal that the
morning flight had begun. From all directions, flocks of birds arrived intermittently, some coming
straight in and others circling once before dropping toward the water. At
first, having most recently shot ducks and fast-moving chuckars
At this point in the hunt, only the Kudu remained. A large bull could weigh as much as 700 lb, raising the bar for the rifle. The area was well known for very large Kudu; a 62” monster hanging over the bar attested to this. However, two years previously, and outbreak of disease at the end of a drought had caused a die-off among the Kudu, with the oldest animals being most susceptible. We had seen a few decent specimens while traveling to and from the various hunts, and several females while hunting, but no outstanding males. Having hunted Kudu before, I knew that it could be a hard hunt. But my fears were to prove unfounded.
As the heat went out of the day, we arrived at a neighboring property where some large kudu had been seen recently. Picking up our grizzled guide Gideon from the small settlement where the farm workers lived, we drove into the property in search of the bull. We had not gone far when a good bull, albeit not the big one, was spotted in the company of several cows and some youngsters. The bush in this area was quite thick, to the point where there was more area covered by bush than by grass. Moving through this thick stuff was difficult and noisy, and we soon saw the group we were circling heading away from us at a rapid pace.
We spotted a few more bulls from the vehicle, but nothing worthwhile. Toward the end of shooting light, we decided to walk into a waterhole to see if we could intercept our quarry in the vicinity. Seeing nothing, Gideon and my guide Festus conferred and decided to head back to the vehicle for more scouting. Not much of a road hunter, I protested and insisted that we sit where we were for the rest of the hunt. Reluctantly, they agreed and we sat in the shadows, waiting.
Festus saw movement first. He signaled to me, moving his hands in twin spirals to indicate Kudu. Seeing movement through the bush, I took out my field glasses and saw a Kudu cow approaching. I turned and mouthed “cow”, causing him to shake his head and gesture in the rough direction. Again I glassed, this time clearly seeing a set of spiral horns approaching. There was nothing we could do at this point but wait. Kudu are extremely wary and cautious animals, and they can move infuriatingly slowly. I knew that unless I took the shot soon, it would be too late to risk it. Slowly, he moved to the right about forty yards out, showing his body but offering no clear shot. I raised my rifle in the sitting position, but the animal took so long to move I started to shake and had to lower it while relaxing my feet back by looking down. Then he moved another ten yards or so, providing a clear view of his shoulder, and stood there like a statue. Slowly, I raised the rifle again, putting the crosshairs on his shoulder, and began to squeeze. The trigger moved almost imperceptibly, the Kudu standing all the while. Everything was very quiet, even the normally noisy doves seemed to have stopped fluttering about. Finally, just as I thought I would have to start over, the rifle barked and my Kudu leaped forward, disappearing into the brush. Gideon, remarkably considering his age, leapt up and moved almost as fast as the Kudu, suddenly gesturing. I moved alongside him, seeing the gray ghost standing there, his feet spread apart and his head lowered. Being from the school that believes one should keep shooting until the animal is down for good, I moved to the side to get a better angle. Just then, the Kudu turned and I put another shot into his flank as he quartered away. This brought him to a halt, but still he stood, facing away. I reloaded, the spent cartridges landing some distance behind me. I shot again, this time aiming for the neck which was turned to the side, and he fell heavily at the shot and lay still, his head down.
Elated, we rushed up to admire our prize. His horns were good, with fairly deep spirals and tips just turning forward. Not a giant, but better than any other we had seen. I noted that the first shot had exited without expanding, without appreciable bleeding from the wounds. The second was lodged under the skin on his offside shoulder. And the third had broken his neck, again leaving a small dry exit wound. There was however, considerable bleeding from his mouth, leaving no doubt that the shots had punctured his lungs.
Elated, Author Claims his Kudu Bull Just as Shooting Light Faded Across the Veld
The bullet we recovered from his offside had expanded and broken that shoulder, and as with the Hartebeest, the jacket and core were lying nested together but came apart as we removed them.
As well as it had performed in
In future articles in this series, the author plans to test the 375/444 double on Wildebeest, Zebra and Eland using a heavier soft-nosed bullet. If all goes well, the final chapter in this series will put the gun to the ultimate test against Hippo and/or Cape Buffalo with solids and softs if both can be made to shoot to the same point of aim.
Russ Gould is owner
and operator of Double Gun Headquarters (Doublegunhq.com), a multiseller virtual gunshow
specializing in fine double rifles and shotguns. He also offers African Safaris
with personally selected operators to
Copyright R. Gould 2014. All Rights Reserved