Here in the UK the season for hunting Roe Bucks opens tomorrow, April 1st. This diminutive little deer is revered throughout Europe and the stalking and taking of a mature 6 point trophy is considered by many one of the finest hunts you can partake in.
As a tribute to the Roe deer we were commissioned a few years ago to build this beautifully scaled hand detachable lock double rifle in 9.3 x 62 calibre. Weighing a mere 6lb 14ozs the rifle is fitted with Westley Richards patent single selective trigger, a slim semi beavertail forend and open sights regulated at 100 yards for relatively close range hunting.
In this calibre the rifle is primarily intended for the great Spanish ‘Monterias’ where you might also encounter big Red Stags, Fallow Bucks and huge Wild Boar. Nevertheless, it makes a super compact and quick handling woodland rifle and would certainly be great fun to use during the Roe Buck rut in late July/early August when the deer can be called to within yards of the hunter!
It was a fine winter day, in the duck season. I had my pickup loaded with all things for an afternoon hunt. My Labrador, Miss Feather (Miss Duckhill Sheba’s Bournebrook Feathershower) had already occupied her place in the passenger’s seat for several hours as she always did on these days. I had worked through the never-easy task of selecting the gun and this one was well beyond ordinary. It was a Scott Premier 10 bore, with Damascus barrels. It was all done up in ducks as they often were, but this one was decorated with several odd and unusual species of sea ducks. I was almost out the door for the 1 ½ hour drive when I received word that Simon had gone to the other side.
My first reaction was not to go hunting, but then realized that was a very foolish notion, one that would disappoint him deeply. Instead, the day and the GUN would be a tribute. The Scott was befitting almost any occasion, but today it had to be a Westley and not just any Westley, but the finest one I knew. One only has to witness the title of these pages to know Simon valued Exploras and I value them as well. In fact I see them as the most complete and sophisticated firearms ever made. The gun today would be “The Queen of Birmingham” a Deluxe Explora and the most wonderful Explora and Westley I have ever met.
It came to me in a rather unusual way; out of an auction. I saw the gun, held it and crushing-love at first sight would be an understatement. It was glorious and essentially new… and I knew I could not afford it. A mutual friend liked the gun equally, but he had something I did not, an invincible purse. He told me simply to bid and buy the gun. If in the end I could afford the hammer price I could have it, if not I was to continue and buy it for him. I wrote a number, my very last number, down before the bidding began. The hammer fell on that number.
With it I began to perfect Explora ammunition, ammunition that would be ballistically identical to that which the great Leslie B Taylor had created. I used a ballistic technique similar to the originals to get 735 grains (1 ¾ ounces) to go 1250 fps at normal shot gun pressure. Then I developed bullets that would fly like the L.T. Capped originals. In the end I had a cartridge driving bullets that would fly exactly to those glorious sights, each and every one of them, all the way to 300 yards; and be deadly when they arrived.
The Queen performed wonderfully as a shot gun; taking valley quail, rare mountain quail, and ducks with perfection. Its crowning moment came late one autumn afternoon in the Sheep Creek Valley. The great yellow 6 x 6 bull elk walked out of the thick young timber into a room-sized open meadow and stood broad side. I was sitting with The Queen on my knees and made my best estimate of 250 yards and turned up that leaf. I looked at those massive shoulders over the sights, sights that were strangely rock solid and crystal clear. My son was beside me and I whispered, “250 yards????”… “Yes, very close”, was his reply. I pressed the front trigger. The big bullet arced across the valley and landed with a mighty “wok” as the bull lurch into the black timber. We listened, for there was nothing to see and suddenly there was a huge fir-rending crash in the timber, followed seconds later by another when the big bull slid out into a little clearing. The bullet struck the top of the front sight with laser precision, dead center and completely through both of his shoulders. She is a very, very special Westley.
I thought back on these things as we watched the sky over the pretty little pond. It was a still cold, a day without ducks. And then he came, the loan magnificent mallard drake with the most brilliant orange feet I have ever seen. He circled twice and levelled across the far side of the decoys; at 40 yards… almost too far for an Explora barrel. The same right barrel spoke and he folded; the only duck we saw that day. Feather broke ice to retrieve him. To me there was a perfection about it all.
It may seem odd that I waited so long to write this, but it took me time to heal and find the courage to fully address the loss of this wonderful man. While he was a bastion of the trade and a truly passionate gun person I think I miss that dry humour and wit most of all. Some time ago I addressed my Selvyt Pad and Tin for preserving the Westley Detachable locks in these pages. When he received this he feigned being stricken and stunned. He thought he had the only tin and I had poached in this sacred space. But then in virtually his last notes to me, he won the day as always, “Well only real Westley men have a tin”!
He does not know this yet, but a Hundred Pounder is making those tracks he is following.
Here at Westley Richards there’s really only one or two topics of conversation that consumes the lunch breaks or after hours chat between work mates and it’s not who is playing football at the weekend or what you’re buying your girlfriend for Christmas, it’s hunting! Where we want to go next, what’s left on the bucket list, what rifle you would take and what trophy is most desired. While having this familiar yarn several months back the discussion of driven Wild Boar shooting came up and featured highly on several of the guy’s ‘must do’ hunts. Fortunately for us, Romain Lepinois, one of our stockers here is French and kindly offered to organise three driven days for myself, Jason Morris, Sam Banner and Stuart Richards in his home region of Bourbonne Les Bannes, which is roughly 3 hours drive east of Paris.
Safety briefing before the afternoon stalk.
As we were all completely new to shooting things on the run with a rifle and having had no previous experience of Wild Boar, the first day was spent stalking the hunting area on foot to get an idea of what game there was in the area as well as identifying what we were allowed to shoot. They have a strict policy on what size boar could be taken. Only females up to a size of 50kg could be shot, to conserve the larger, prime breeding females. Although large males were fair game too, our identification skills were not good enough to be able to determine the sex of the pig as it passed you at 30mph on a woodland ride no wider than a pickup truck, so we decided to stick to shooting the smaller ones.
The hunting area was a fenced 250 acre block of mixed broadleaves, commercial spruce trees with some clearfell areas and tall grasses, with several strategically placed high seats to shoot from. We saw a good deal of pigs in the afternoon and had a few small ‘practice’ drives. A couple of the lads got some shots off but the pigs were too good for them on this occasion. The evening was feast of wild boar meats, locally produced cheeses and superb wines. The excitement was high for tomorrow and our first proper driven day.
The guns heading to their pegs.
A cold but dry day greeted us and after a hearty breakfast we drew pegs and headed out for the first drive. Around 20 people were shooting and about 6 or so beaters with dogs, split into two teams, planned to keep the game moving through the drives. Having drawn peg one I was a little anxious I wouldn’t see much as peg one, in pheasant shooting terms, tends to be the worst out of the bunch. This turned out not to be the case and fortunately for me right at the start of the drive one of the beater’s dogs marked some boar around 50 yards from my peg. A beater ran over to me, shouted something in French which I could only guess was ‘get ready’ and they flushed a group of 20 boar, 15 of which headed down the wood towards the other guns and 5 came out past me onto the clearfell. Too far away at first but not wanting to be out in the open, the boar turned and headed back towards the cover of the wood. As they headed closer to my position, I measured them up through the scope and managed to take a nice 40kg male with my 6.5×55. Two of the beaters joined me to make sure the boar was retrieved and I was duly blooded and congratulated. A fantastic experience I shall never forget. The excitement of the drive continued with a volley of shots further down the wood, hoping it was my colleagues also joining in the action. There were plenty of game around with some larger females crossing the clearfell and the odd Roe deer and occasional fox passing by too quick to get a shot off. Just as I thought the drive had nearly ended, I decided to take a seat on a tree stump, no more than 5 minutes had passed when out of the corner of my eye I spotted another 40kg pig was headed straight for me, again trying to head back into the wood, on rising to my feet and aiming the rifle it took off at a rate of knots and I luckily managed to catch it up and shoot it before it made the thick cover.
Congratulated by the beaters on taking my first wild boar.
Sadly my comrades had not had quite such good fortune, only Romain had shot one, although they had seen plenty of game, a suitable shot did not present itself. Such is hunting.Stuart Richards keeping watch from his high seat.
After another fantastic feed we set out again and Romain and I decided to join the beating to line to see the action from the other end. After a few frantic hours following the dogs and flushing boar to the waiting guns, the day came to a close, not before Romain and I shared a nice, larger male boar. We met up for the final count and to exchange stories. Luckily Stuart had been successful and managed to bag himself a brace of boar from a large wooden highseat using his over & under double rifle also in 6.5×55. Total was 11 Wild Boar and a Roe deer.
The final bag on the first day.
The next two days hunting were done in much larger blocks of unfenced mature broadleaf woodland, extending to several thousand acres, about an hour from where we hunted on the first day. Hopes were high after an amazing first day. Red deer and Sika were both present in the area and should a large stag present itself we had permission to shoot it, adding a new level of trepidation. Around 30 people in total each day joined the hunt which was made of up of French, English, Belgium and Portuguese nationalities.
The view over a clearfell from a high seat.
Although we didn’t see a huge amount of game passing our stands, by the noise of the dogs and sounds coming from the woods there certainly was a good number of boar in the drives, but like any game we hunt, they are totally unpredictable and knew all too well how to evade the hunters. Although the Westley team didn’t shoot any boar in the larger hunting areas, a few of the local French hunters managed to take a few nice pigs and we shot a few equally challenging Roe Deer. The whole experience of the hunt and hospitality shown to us by our hosts and fellow hunters was superb and it was very special to be able to share their hunting heritage.
The excitement and anticipation of each drive is something none of us had experienced before and we’re certainly hooked on driven rifle shooting, something which is pretty much absent from the UK. The lunch break chats are still full of our boar hunting tales but will soon turn to planning the next adventure.
Westley Richards gunmakers Jason Morris, Sam Banner and Stuart Richards.
The .300 Winchester Magnum, first introduced in 1963 is certainly proving to be a continued favourite in the rifle world and here we have two recently completed at the Westley Richards factory.
The first is a true left handed rifle built on a double square bridge Mauser ’98 left hand action. The client in this case was very specific about a heavier than normal barrel contour with a recessed muzzle crown as he wants to eke every last bit of accuracy out of the 25″ barrel. The second is on a right handed double square bridge Mauser ’98 action and has our traditional barrel profile with our patent combination foresight and quarter rib. Both have quick detachable scope mounts that integrate very nicely with the square bridges.
One of the nicest things about these rifle and one that we always discuss with a client, is how high grade wood can really make all the difference on a bolt action rifle, particularly if the engraving is being kept to a minimum. Both rifles have stunning exhibition pieces of Turkish Walnut that the finishers here in the factory have spent hours hand oiling to the very highest gloss finish. We think it speaks for itself.
Both rifles have our elegant ‘name and border’ engraving, with little touches on the recoil bar, pins, sights and square bridges, all executed to the highest standard. This is a point often missed by other makers who see such engraving as a cheap option. We use our very best engravers to execute this work and it is always worth the extra time and expense.
May the new owners enjoy many years of use and hopefully perform as well as the rifles do!
If a notch were carved into the pellet gun’s stock for every dove, rat or plum-raiding mousebird it had shot, there wouldn’t be any wood left. To say it is a working gun would be an understatement.
The old BSA has been in the family for as long as anyone can remember, but neither my mother nor my uncles could recall exactly when it was acquired. They told me that as kids, it was as much a tool as a source of recreation to them when they lived on a farm in Natal. There was no need to lock firearms away back then, so it stood at the ready in one corner of the kitchen. Apparently, this turned out to be handy when the cat dropped a mouse under the kitchen table while my grandmother was preparing dinner one evening. Still extremely alive the rodent made a dash in her direction. With an ear-piercing shriek that sent the cat diving for cover, she wielded a broom with abandon and succeeded in upsetting the stew pot, but failed to stop the mouse scuttling under the hem of her dress and up between her petticoats to wriggle against her thigh. By then the rest of the family had rushed to the scene and were splitting their sides laughing, but they had to assist when my grandmother fainted. After my mother winkled the mouse out, Pat got it with an instinctively aimed pellet as it was speedily exiting the kitchen door. He said it was probably his finest shot ever.
Apart from plinking at cans, despatching pests and stocking the larder, the gun was also used to shoot my uncle Bob when he was about 8 years old. Exactly how this happened is shrouded in some mystery, but a friend of Bob’s was visiting and my mother had just returned from school with a cake she had baked in home economics class. Just then Bob ran in white-faced, to say he had been shot. His friend had disappeared never to be seen again and with Bob sitting on the handlebars wanting to know if he was going to die, my mother tore off on a bicycle to fetch her father. Bob was taken to hospital where the doctor took an hour to dig the pellet out of his chest and he carried a large scar for the rest of his life. During the drama Denise, Pat and Allen scoffed every last crumb of the cake, which cheesed Bob off no end. To my grandparent’s credit they did not ban the use of the gun because of the accident, recognising that it was a human, not the gun that made the mistake. If anything, it made everyone more safety conscious.
Pellet guns invariably experience intervals of inaction when their owners grow up and graduate to rifles and shotguns. Although the BSA was lent to family friends occasionally, it eventually lay dormant for the long periods between our family holidays, when I would covetously carry it around and be allowed to use it for a few short days on the farm. It was hard to leave it behind when we had to go back to the highveld. I was told I was too young to have it then, but one day it might be mine.
My mother and Pat must have had some discussion about the right time to let me own an air rifle and had settled on ‘after I had turned ten’, but the exact time was not specified. I had however, overheard a telephone conversation and I knew Pat planned to stop over en route to Northern Rhodesia a few months after my 10th birthday. Nothing had been said about the gun but maybe, just maybe, he would bring it along and the uncertainty and anticipation was almost unbearable. At night I kept having dreams where a distant treat kept appearing and then melting away as I reached out for it. During the day I minded my manners, washed behind my ears and ate all my peas.
My uncle Pat arrived very late one night after I had fallen asleep, despite valiant efforts to keep awake. He was known for a long morning lie-in and his ability to consume oceans of tea before rising, so I had to be restrained from bursting into his room the next morning. Eventually the door opened and I hurtled in only just remembering to say hello politely before asking if he had brought his rifle with him. A slightly cruel smirk appeared on Pat’s face and he scratched his head saying that he was in such a rush he had left it behind. My face fell and all joy had gone from the day. “I did bring you some trout flies and a book” he said. My thanks were hollow and insincere and the weight of disappointment made my shoulders sag as my voice rose tremulously demanding to know how he could forget the pellet gun. “Oh”, he replied. “I thought you meant my .22rifle. I think I might have remembered to pack the pellet gun”. He pulled out a soft canvas bag and suddenly it was in my hands; lightly oiled, gleaming and smelling of ‘adventure’.
Despite having used the gun under supervision before, I again had to endure a long lecture. Bob’s accident was recounted and dire predictions were made about my fate should I ever shoot anyone. Discovering that my mother had a very creative imagination when it came to punishment focussed my attention and most of what they said sank in. Next, a list of allowed quarry was recited. It included Indian mynas, mousebirds, fiscal shrikes (because they terrorised the weavers nesting in the garden), rats and mice. Outside town, doves were fair game and finally I was told that in the case of birds, ‘If you shoot it, you eat it’. So began a new era for that veteran old gun.
I wish I knew how many shots of ‘various calibres’ I fired through that barrel. I was alternately John Wayne or a Red Indian Chief or a famous war hero or explorer depending on what movie we had seen at the drive-in and in my imagination, the BSA was alternately a Winchester, a shotgun, a double rifle and sometimes even a machinegun. Cans and various other targets were set up and engaged in the back yard and none of the neighbours ever complained. I must also admit that many birds met their fate and I’m not totally proud of all of them, but nearly every one was eaten. I earned a rare hiding after crippling a thrush, which was not ‘on the list’ after my father noticed it hopping around the lawn on one leg. My backside recovered and so did the thrush because it was still around the next year.
The day my friend next door was given a ‘Gecado’ air rifle, the safaris really began and we cycled to the nearest open spaces to hunt doves or field mice and collect bird eggs. The hunt that remains clearest was sparked when my father remarked that in a book he’d read, an early explorer had recorded a herd of over fifty elephant crossing ‘Linksfield Ridge’. This was long before gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand and before the ridge got named and although its rocky spine is now covered in suburban sprawl, it was still pretty unspoilt when we were young. Most importantly though, we knew guineafowl still ran wild on its slopes.
It was a dawn start, because we planned to detour via some dams on the ‘Jukskei River’ to visit an old hamerkop’s nest before making for ‘Gillooleys Farm’ where we would leave our bicycles. The Egyptian geese had decided not to use the nest that winter so we hunted striped field mice on the dam walls for a while and brewed some tea over a fire that smoked pungently from the ‘khakibos’ kindling we used. Youthfully confident in our shooting skills, we had taken tea, two apples, matches, pocket knives and salt. This was adventure in its purest form. We could get where we needed to be on our bikes and we weren’t expected home till late. By 9.30am, we had ‘tethered’ our trusty steeds in some long thatch grass at Gillooleys. We carefully selected only perfectly formed pellets, keeping a few in our mouths and the rest wrapped in a handkerchief. I checked my rifle because prior to being soldered back on, the catch that locked the cocking lever against the barrel would sometimes slide out of its recessed groove. You could still shoot by clasping the lever tightly against the barrel while sighting, but then you could not ensure that the other small lever to open and close the loading aperture was pressed tight shut with your left thumb. We needed no distractions when hunting where elephant had walked.
Guineafowl are cunning and with pellet guns, we knew we would have to get really close. It was noon by the time we located a small flock and commenced our ambush. They always trotted off uphill if slightly disturbed, so we retreated out of sight and took a wide, circular route to position ourselves higher and far above them. After peeping over some boulders to spot the flock below us, the leopard crawling started. Actually, the slope made it easier and it was more of a slow, slither that took us over dry grass and around rocks towards the prize. After what seemed like hours, a soft ‘chink’ kick-started my pulse. Parting the grass, I saw what looked like the biggest guineafowl in the world ten meters in front of us and I could see the light in its eye. My friend nodded and aiming carefully, I squeezed the trigger. The gun went ‘thwap!’ and there was a corresponding sound from the guineafowl, then I clearly remember seeing the pellet bounce back off it’s wing before it flew off cackling with the rest of the flock. It was much later and with growling stomachs that we managed to shoot a ‘little brown job’. It was so small we ate it bones and all before cycling home.
That was all a long time ago and the BSA has of course, got older too. One day a friend gave me the contact details of a person he said keeps the historical records for the ‘BSA’ company. I wrote giving the details of my air rifle, asking if he could supply any information on the old girl. A few weeks later, I was delighted to find a hand-written reply in the postbox:- “Your old air rifle is a BSA standard No1 model, light pattern, made between 1919 and 1939 in various forms. Your particular rifle No5541 was despatched from the BSA factory on 19th February 1920. Yours sincerely, John Knibbs**”.
Last night I gave the old veteran a gentle rub with a lightly oiled rag and put it back in the safe, always ready for new adventures.
** John Knibbs is the official historian for BSA Guns (UK) Ltd and has published a book entitled ‘The Golden Century’ about BSA rifles.
This story is dedicated to my uncles Pat, Allen & Bob, my aunt Denise & my father Jock, but especially to the memory of my mother, Penny who ensured that little boys had fun while growing up.
The time had come for another long awaited holiday at my Mother’s Cousin’s farm, near to Uncle Pat’s town and I was going to be able to run loose for a while again.
Not that I was exactly constrained at home but even when we went off fishing, my mother wouldn’t allow us to cook and eat the carp we caught in the golf course dams, despite our pleas. These dams were fed by the ‘Jukskei’ river and although it looked deceptively beautiful when pooled and fringed by weaver-nest festooned willow trees, the metal ‘catch grill’ through which it entered the golf course told another story. Here the plastic bags, empty cans, occasional dead dog and other detritus from the city piled up and that wasn’t even counting the unseen and unknown spills from the industrial area further upstream.
I suppose it was also not a good idea having us kids running around with pellet guns upsetting the neighborhood, in a suburban setting. So even though we enjoyed our catapults, lovingly made with forks cut from the neighbor’s ‘Pride of India’ tree, it didn’t quite have the same tang of adventure that striding through the veld with your trusty pellet gun has.
From my then narrow perspective, life on the farm was uncomplicated and exciting and I was fortunate that the adults who populated my world at that time, allowed me to turn this illusion into reality.
The farm has been in the same family for three generations and consequently, has that comfortably mature look. The old house sits on a very gentle rise looking east, down the dirt access road that stretches straight away for nearly a kilometer, before curving down to the unseen tar road. On either side of the dirt road, lie some mielie fields, which in turn lie below the old fruit orchards and some rickety farm buildings. You have to go over a few cattle grids to get to the house and these were designed with elephant in mind, because they very nearly stopped my Dad’s Chev as well.
The old farmhouse sits in the middle of a large garden surrounded and screened on three sides, by a variety of densely growing mature trees. The number of birds attracted to the garden is astounding; just about everyone’s favourites, were the Lesser Striped Swallows that nested under the eaves each year. Mine though, were the small Laughing Doves that thronged the surrounding trees and filled every morning and afternoon with their slightly mournful cooing. The sound of their call today, is still enough to bring on a bout of nostalgia.
People built solid homes in those days, but they were not always particularly pretty or even well designed and as a result, some of the high ceilinged rooms were hardly ever used, being very cold in winter. Consequently, one part of the sunny ‘stoep’ or veranda had been bricked off, a fireplace installed, filled with overstuffed furniture and books and called, ‘The Snuggery’. This is where adults, dogs, cats and children congregated on winter evenings and where knitting, reading, dreaming and snoozing got done.
Behind the house, the rest of the farm stretched up to a far ridge of low hills on one side and up to the tip of a higher point on the other. You could see a very long way from this point and sometimes, it even snowed up there in winter. Since it was primarily a cattle farm, the only cultivated fields were the mielie lands and these were surrounded by natural grassland, cut through with thorn-tree lined dongas. Small farm dams, stocked with bass by Uncle Pat, were dotted around as sources of water for the cattle. There was even an atmosphere of history lingering around, because if you looked long and hard enough, you could still find old cartridge cases from some long forgotten skirmish during the Boer war and the one boundary was a stone wall built way before posts and wire were available.
We arrived late on a Saturday afternoon, after what seemed an interminable drive – there appears to be a limit to the adult sense of humor when a boy enquires for the hundredth and fifty-second time, ‘are we nearly there yet?’, so it was with relief on all sides that we poured ourselves out of the Chev and stretched our legs.
Some adults have the gift of talking to children in such a way, that the child feels important, so when Nora smiled and told me how happy she was to see me, I started melting. When she admired my pellet gun and told me she was really glad that I had brought it along because she just couldn’t get anyone to supply some doves for a pie she had been thinking of making, she had me deep in her pocket. It was with a sense of purpose and responsibility that I set off early the next morning.
Cattle were moaning in a far paddock, a black cuckoo was giving its characteristic, drawn-out ‘mid-mar…sloooop’ call way off in the bluegums and my pocketful of lead pellets felt reassuringly heavy as they made my khaki shorts sag to one side. I was after Red-eyed Turtle Doves, which although being rather wary and not nearly as plentiful as the Cape Turtle Doves that also lived there, they are plump and designed to fill a pie – I was to learn the virtue of perseverance that day.
The hunt started by scouting the old orchards and then through and around the mielie lands. There were certainly enough doves about, but despite careful stalking, they were on the lookout and I watched in frustration as they craned their necks in my direction before taking off with a clattering of wings just as I got within range. Uncle Pat’s trusty BSA had seen a lot of action and the spring was so weakened, that if you shot straight up into the air the pellets’ flight path was easily visible to the naked eye against the light background. This meant that any successful shots further than twenty meters out, were verging on being miraculous and I had only managed to work one miracle before lunch. Now a pie needs more than a single bird, but Nora told me not to be discouraged as she was sure I’d get enough in due course but that she’d ‘put a roast in the oven just in case’. Her cheerful faith in my ability to feed the ravenous hordes, had me really determined and excusing myself from the lunch table quickly.
The day had grown hot and the sweat tickled down my back as I headed off behind the house to explore the thorn-clad dongas, where succulent aloes grow in the open patches and the water runs fast and muddy after heavy rain. That day though, the ground was dusty and the air had become still. Grasshoppers flew up with a ‘click-click’ and a ‘whirrrrr’, to land ahead of me, only to repeat the process as I got closer again. As a couple of hawks soared lazily high above me, the only other sounds were a low, scolding chattering from a sunbird and the scuttling of a lizard as I went by.
Eventually, by way of another minor miracle, a second careless dove fell to my shot, snagging high in the branches of a thorn bush. Fifteen minutes and many scratches and youthful curses later, I emerged from the embrace of the thorns to consider my options; at the rate things were going, certain starvation stared us in the face.
Sitting on an anthill gloomily contemplating this state of affairs, I absently watched two Red-eyes circling and then dropping to ground towards the old implement shed far away in the distance, to the side of an old orchard. I took a bit more notice when another dipped in two minutes later and really sat up when they were followed in by three more. The old BSA again felt light and the scratches forgotten, as I hurried with renewed energy to take the most direct route to the shed.
A prospector finding a fat nugget, probably gets close to the feelings I felt, as my eyes slowly inched over the top of the grass separating me and the area in front of the creaky old building. There must have been at least forty-five dove-pie ingredients pecking over the heap of bare maize cobs strewn over the ground. After a long aim to calm my pounding heart, the closest bird slumped at the shot and the rest took off in mild puzzlement to a nearby tree, only to reappear in dribs and drabs soon after. A quick reload and I was another bird richer.
Not being able to see me, they never became alarmed enough to get going permanently. Instead, the interval between the ‘thwap’ of the pellet gun and their return just took a bit longer as time went on. I stopped at twelve doves, reckoning that a grand total of fourteen had dented the population enough for then, while at the same time ensuring that hunger would not be a factor for that day at least.
The guineafowl were calling each other and it was starting to get cold fast, as I slowly made my way up to a warm kitchen and some adults, who for some reason looked surprised at the pile of birds tipped onto the kitchen table. After dinner, I plucked doves till my fingers ached, and then staggered off to bed and one of those toasty, feather eiderdowns that they don’t seem to make anymore.
The following evening after a long day fishing in the farm dams, I returned to the farmhouse to some tantalising smells and later, a large, oven-blackened dish covered with brown, crisp, flaky pastry emerged from the kitchen. Inside, fourteen plump doves simmered in dark gravy, together with kidneys, potatoes, onions and some other magic ingredients. When this fragrant mixture was served over rice, accompanied by large hunks of fresh bread smothered in salty farm-made butter, silence descended on the table till the last lip-smacking morsels were gone – the left-over lamb roast was put back in the refrigerator untouched.
Thinking back, that pie was so good it has made me scour my memory for the recipe and it goes like this:
Firstly take one small, keen boy. Send him to a farm where plump doves live and…….
I am sat here at the weekend contemplating hunting as perhaps ‘the last great adventure’. In this modern world of super communication and internet many of the worlds once wild places have become easily accessible and where once there was great adventure getting to them, most have become easy to get to and ‘no great wonder’.
As hunters we are the very lucky few who really get to see some of the last remaining wild places on earth. They are often very difficult to get to which requires a determination I have really only seen in sportsmen. By way of example two very good friends who also happen to be clients of mine have just returned from a memorable trip in British Columbia where they both managed to achieve through true hard work 2 magnificent trophy Stone Sheep and 2 great Mountain Goats. What I found most interesting in listening to their story is that the valley they actually took their trophies in had not been hunted for 18 years! The whole area was remote and still very much untouched by man.
In the last year I myself was lucky enough to hunt in South Africa, Tanzania, Alaska and the USA, whilst also visiting India. All were adventures in their own way, but Tanzania and Alaska stand out as truly wild places.
As another good friend and client heads out to Mozambique with his fine collection of vintage rifles we should count ourselves lucky that we have the interest, passion and will to pursue game in the wildest of places. It is in our interest to share the stories of our adventures with the next generation so that they might pursue game in these places, for to remain remote and wild they need to be appreciated and more often than not real passion only comes from the sportsman.
Images from one of our Safari’s in remote Mozambique by Mark Hall.
One of the greatest experiences in the hunting world has to be approaching dangerous game with a large calibre rifle intent on using only the open or ‘iron’ sights to aim. The need to stalk in really close, as quietly as possible, often under tough conditions really adds a physical and mental element to the hunt and certainly heightens all the senses of the hunter!
Long before man had perfected the telescopic sight the majority of big game was hunted with open sights. Long range target competitions were shot with open sights, as were nearly all military weapons. As the telescopic sight improved for sporting arms so man learnt to shoot his game more accurately and humanely, often at more extreme ranges. Where dangerous game was concerned, buffalo in particular could be shot out to longer distances.
At this point the question of ‘sport’ raises its head. Dangerous game was traditionally hunted very up close and personal. As those of you who have hunted dangerous game will know, part of the sport in this type of hunting is the element of danger associated with being in close proximity to such game and that if all goes wrong then you really may be required to shoot your way safely out of a very tight situation.
Hunting with open sights may not be for everyone, but for a growing number of keen enthusiastic hunters it is. Certainly, say when hunting one buffalo on a safari it is better to enjoy the days with stalking and chase than taking a long distance shot on the first day that doesn’t even get the adrenalin flowing. I would prefer a ‘shitty’ buffalo and an exciting hunt any day, as opposed to a long distance better quality one. If of course a monster comes out a different decision may need to be made!
Hunting with a double I have always felt puts a different perspective on the hunt, it does force you in closer where you can take a safe accurate shot, practise with the rifle being the key here. Similarly with smaller game, hunting with say a classic .318 or .275 with open sights is immense fun and I always take greater satisfaction from taking a trophy in this manner.
For any PH’s out there wincing at these words, sorry, I know it makes you have to work a little harder but even you’ll agree it makes for a far more exciting hunt. Ultimately this is one of the very reasons for a hunter coming to Africa and the reason so many return.
This is the first of our modern take down rifles that I have noticed come to the market. A package we produced in 2010 for a client who was a regular African and worldwide hunter. The rifle has made some trips and has the knocks and bruises to tell the stories which I am not going to remove at this point in time. People have different opinions, some like their rifles immaculate and clean whilst others relish the patina gained by use in the field. I tend to fall into the latter category myself and will leave the final decision to the person who first feels he can’t live without it!
Mechanically totally sound, the rifle will be fully serviced, shot and tested. The only work decisions to be made are the refurbishment of the stock and blacking of parts. The Westley Richards bespoke case is a later addition and was made 2 years ago and is in immaculate condition, I also feel these canvas and leather cases are the most appropriate for this type of ‘working and travelling’ rifle.
Westley Richards Take Down Bolt Action Rifle No.43617 in .375 H&H Magnum – Completed 2010.
22 1/4″ barrel with Quarter rib, one fixed and one folding leaf rear express sight regulated at 100 and 200 yards. Westley Richards combination foresight. Swarovski Z6i 1.7-10×42 scope on Smithson QD mounts.
Very well figured stock with 14 1/2″ LOP, full pistol grip with grip trap cap, cheekpiece, leather covered recoil pad.
Weight of rifle – 9lbs 13oz – with scope on 11lbs 3oz
Westley Richards Bespoke Canvas and leather border case with accessories.
Any of you who head to Africa for safari will encounter, on your first visit, the use of shooting sticks, these are carried by the PH and provide an instant and stable rest for your rifle. I know I was unfamiliar with this practise 25 years ago when I went on my first safari, using them correctly took some time and practise, the height, the grip and flexibility all take getting used to. I don’t recommend taking expensive screw apart tripod sticks to Africa, it is weight and bulk you don’t need, rely on the PH and his sticks as he will place them fast and effectively giving you chance to concentrate on your quarry. I do however recommend practise with simple sticks which can easily be made at home.
I asked my long time friend Robin Hurt, one of the most respected Professional Hunters practicing today, who has carried the shooting sticks for many a mile, to write a short piece about the importance and use of the sticks which he has kindly done.
Robin Hurt with his 20 year old shooting sticks close to hand.
Accurate rifle shooting is all about a steady position and trigger squeeze. Without these two basic principals, most people will have difficulty in shooting rifles accurately. An unsteady rest leads to trigger snatching and a resulting badly placed shot. In the hunting field a good rest for ones rifle is crucial as no hunter worth his salt wants to injure or wound an animal – the objective is to hunt the animal in a sporting and fair chance manner and to take a deliberate clean shot.
The problem is that good natural rests to support and steady the rifle are not always at hand, for example an ant hill or a tree trunk. Also one is often faced with long grass or low scrub bush, making a lying down or sitting position shot impossible . This is where the African Shooting Sticks come in handy. The sticks can be set up in seconds, at the precise time the quarry is seen, without the need to possibly spoil the stalk by casting around looking for a rest. Off hand shooting, except at close range under 50 yards and on wounded game, is not to be recommended for most hunters.
My first shooting sticks were made for me by my Wata ( Waliaingulu ) elephant hunter tracker in 1963. In fact it was a simple bi pod of two wooden limbs of just under 3/4 inch diameter, 5 1/2 feet long, lashed together with strips of car tyre inner tubing. The lower tips of the thin poles were sharpened, so as to give proper purchase on the ground and not slip. It was an effective tool – but not perfect. All professional hunters at that time used these wooden bi pods.
Roger Hurt’s Tracker ‘Lekini’ with his shooting sticks and hearing protection.
Then there was a natural progression to more effective tri pods; using the same materials, but with two of the limbs being 4 to 5 inches longer and a shorter middle limb in the centre, again bound together with strip rubber tubing to give flexibility and strength when opening the sticks. This tri pod had now became an effective rest, for as steady a shot as possible in normal hunting conditions and used daily by most professional hunters.
To this day I carry wooden shooting sticks, home made by my trackers, using car tubing strips to hold the top sector together. My current sticks are now over twenty years old and used on every hunt. They never leave my hunting car and are as essential to my equipment as is a high lift Jack! The advantage of the natural materials is quietness. I have no problem with the commercial shooting sticks available, other than that they can be noisy, being made out of plastic or light metal tubing. But, they are useful for practice.
Robin Hurt following client HH Al Thani out of the bush, sticks to hand as always.
The way it works is that I always carry the sticks personally, and set them up according to my clients stature; by spreading the legs wider or closer together simply adjusts the rifles rest height as the need may be. The client follows close by and directly behind the professional, allowing quick and easy access to the rest.
Another huge advantage of the shooting sticks is that if your quarry is moving or partially blocked by bush or other cover, you can simply rest your rifle in a ready position until such time as an opportunity presents itself, set up immediately to take the shot . By the way, one of the biggest mistakes made by hunters is moving too quickly and in a rushed manner to place the rifle on the sticks. Quick movements are immediately spotted by game . Preferably a slow fluid movement of the rifle on to the sticks is what one should
Roger Hurt and client on the sticks. Note the forefinger grip on the forend.
Practice shooting off sticks will prove invaluable to better coordination and accurate field shooting . Practice standing , sitting and kneeling using the sticks . For sitting and kneeling I use one of the upright limbs and use my hand and fore finger to lock the rifle in position. For standing shots I personally also like to anchor the rifle on to the sticks by wrapping my left hand fore finger around the rifles barrel / fore end and holding the sticks where they are bound together, with the rest of my hand .
My son Derek, a professional in Tanzania, carries two sets of sticks – a short pair for sitting and kneeling shots and a normal long set for standing shots . His tracker carries the shorter pair and simply passes them to Derek when needed. I am too set in my ways to learn new tricks and only use one pair that I adjust as needed!
For longish or difficult shots on windy days , over 150 yards, I will often offer extra support to the hunter; by holding the sticks with both my hands and my body bent in a slightly crouched position, that in turn gives my shoulder as an added rest for the shooters elbow . This in effect gives a two position rest .
Lunchtime picnic use for the tripod!
Shooting sticks have other uses – they can be used as snake tongs to capture snakes ( not advised ! ). On one occasion in South Sudan I used the sticks as a spear to impale an unfortunate forest Guinea Fowl when I didn’t want to disturb the area by shooting! Here in the Namibian mountains, they make a useful walking stick in our difficult steep terrain! I often use them to carry small game as on a pole hung between two people ! Last season one of our P Hunters fended off a furious warthog with his sticks , when they surprised it charging out of its resting place in an Aardvark’s hole! I have used them as a make shift fishing rod by tying some line with a hook on one end! Yes, they have all manner of uses apart from being a splendid rifle rest!
Some further tips that may be found to be useful are :-
– Never rest the barrel on the sticks – always the fore end. Metal contact with the sticks will result in the shot going high.
– For standing shots, stand with your legs well apart. This will help stabilize your shooting position.
– For sitting shots, bring up your knees so that your elbows are rested. This will greatly improve your shooting.
– To make your own sticks, choose saplings that are strong and straight, about 3/4 of an inch thick. Strip off the bark. Hold the sticks upright, and cut to length. As a height measurement, cut them at the level of your eyes. The centre limb should be 4/5″ shorter . Bind all three pole’s with rubber strops tightly at about 1 1/2 inches below the top of the shortest sapling. You can tape or rubberized the twin stabilizer arms on the longer poles for added quietness and support.
– Get in the habit of taking off the rifles safety in one movement in time with placing your weapon on the shooting sticks.
– Don’t place your rifle on the sticks with the fore end and your hand grip too far forward as this creates a seesaw effect.
– If your making your own shooting sticks, try to find hard wood poles that are as straight as possible. Any bends found after de barking can easily be sorted by holding over a fire and straightening the heated sapling .
– Lastly practice makes perfect. Make or buy your sticks and make yourself familiar with them and their use. Go to the rifle range or some other safe place and practice shooting off them.
Good hunting !
Robin has 2 very successful hunting operations in Africa where he operates fromNamibia and Tanzania.Please follow the links for further information.
I will be discussing with our stick makers in England the manufacture of simple sets of these tripod shooting sticks with some details by our leather shop for protecting the rifle.