Jim Chapman, Eric Henderson, and Randy Mitchell head to the Eastern Cape of South Africa for an airgun hunting adventure like no other. The three hunting buddies from Indiana, Texas, and Kentucky (respectively) met up in Washington Dulles airport for the 22 hour trip to Dakar, Johannesburg, and on to Port Elizabeth South Africa .
A Quick Introduction
Ever since my return from South Africa last year, Randy Mitchell, Eric Henderson, and I have been planning an airgunning safari for the three of us. I had arranged with my friends at Hounslow Safaris on the Eastern Cape to organize a yearly hunt, and this was to be our inaugural trip with a group of airgun hunters. I can’t think of a better group of guys to hunt with; besides the three of us were Professional Hunter/Outfitter Rob Dell and PH Andrew Myers. The Dells 10,000 acre farm serves as the base of operations, but Rob has tens of thousands of acres in additional land to hunt. Andrew has the airgunning background, having picked up on hunting with them while living in Europe and looking for hunting opportunities (much like my own introduction to the sport). These guys have developed the knowledge of airgun technology, equipment, performance, and hunting techniques to qualify them as the only airgun hunting specialist that I know of in Africa.
The species hunted on this trip fall into the big stuff; kudu, impala, bushbuck, springbuck, duiker, Steinbuck, and warthog,,,, and small stuff such as hyrax, suricate, mongoose, porcupine, guinea fowl, crows, pigeons, springhare and brush hares.
Methods of hunting are mostly spot and stalk; driving or hiking the rugged brush and glassing with a good set of binoculars then setting up a stalk into range. Long stalks and lots of crawling through heavy brush is the norm, with most shots occurring in the fifty to eighty yard range. There are four blinds on the property for bow hunters which can also be used by airgun hunters; two are elevated over waterholes, one is a mud hut on the flats, and the forth is baled hay over the stock pens for varminting. Hunters can also shoot safari style off the elevated benches in the back of trucks, which is particularly useful for targeting nocturnal varmint with a lamp (legal in SA).
The Facilities and Terrain
The facilities at Hounslow are worthy of high praise; the buildings originally housed British military officers in the 1800s, and retains that sense of history though it now provides five rooms with en suite, wood floors, traditional furnishings, and plenty of space which are all very comfortable. Breakfast and some dinners are served in a formal dining room, and there is a billiards/game room for relaxing at the end of the day. However the real heart and sole from the hunters perspective, is the small private pub/trophy room which is where we gathered ourselves in the morning, had lunch in the afternoons, and ended our days in conversation. Part of what makes this such a great experience is the Dell family themselves. This is a working ranch that has been in their family for several generations, you can sense right away that these people know and care a great deal about their stewardship of the land and wildlife. They make the visitor feel welcomed and comfortable, the overall ambiance is really nice, and results in one of the most pleasant hunting experiences I’ve ever had.
As mentioned, the hunting terrain is comprised of the Dells 10,000 acres (which is the core of the operations) but they have access to tens of thousands of additional hunting acres spread around the district. They can also arrange to move the group to the coastal regions or inland if a specific game not present in their area is desired.
The ranch itself is rugged brush covered hills interspersed with small grassy plains and steep rock formations jutting up like mini mountain ranges. While not the most difficult terrain I’ve ever hunted, I do suggest the hunter get in reasonable shape before the trip. Airgun hunting is a lot like bow hunting in that it requires the hunter to close with their prey, we spent a lot of time creeping, crawling and crouching in our pursuits.
Pest control takes place around the stock yards and feeders that make up a couple hundred acres of the property. While not the most scenic area on the ranch, it is very productive for pigeons, crows, crows, monkeys and all manner of varmint! It is a great environment for the airgun hunter to get in lots of shooting. In this area exact shot placement and target selection are necessary so as not to damage equipment or buildings.
There is a range area set aside for sighting in rifles, but Rob has also built an airgun range in a dry dam a short walk from the lodgings. This proved convenient for testing guns, ammo, and fill pressures, with the added advantage of providing refilling facilities right at hand.
The guns used were of course dictated by the type of hunting to be undertaken, with each hunter allowed to bring three guns into the country. We each carried a Quackenbush .457 for large game (of course) and a variety of .22s for small game; a Quackenbush .22, an Evanix AR6 .22, and a Prairie Falcon .22. We also had Andrews tuned BSA Superten .22 available, which had been put to good use on last years hunt. Our middle guns were the point of divergence, with Randy bringing along his DAQ .308, Eric a Quackenbush/Bigbore Bob Liege Lock replica in .445, and I opted for a recent favorite, the Dragonslayer. 50. There are reviews of these guns on our various websites, so I’ll not repeat that information here but rather direct interested readers to those write-ups. The Quackenbush .457 is a newer gun that Dennis built us for this trip, so mention of a few details is warranted before moving on.
After last years hunt, Dennis and I discussed what I’d like in my gun for the next trip, in contrast to the tuned .50 that had been used. I wanted a smaller caliber propelled at higher velocity to provide a flatter shooting profile. To compensate for a smaller caliber I wanted to shoot longer bullets and therefore needed a barrel with a twist rate optimized for such a projectile. Performance-wise the gun needed sub 1 groups with 2-3 shots at 75 yards, and to generate around 450 -500 fpe. I’d also felt a lighter, smoother trigger would be needed to get the best accuracy out of the gun, but not too light. About the same time as these discussions were going on, Eric and Dennis had been working on a Long Action version of the DAQ Bandit in .457 which had most of the attributes desired. Although I’d wanted something in the mid 30s caliber-wise, these guys were getting good results with the larger bore and it made sense to leverage this project for the African gun. The DAQ LA .457 as delivered produced over 500 fpe with a 425 grain bullet, and delivered good out of the box accuracy after determining the right filling pressure and the guns sweet spot. Mine preferred a 3200 psi fill, the gun delivered the first and second shot into an inch at 75 yards, with the third shot dropping POI about 4 “. On the range with a refill after each shot, five shots went into a big half inch hole ripped into the target. As far as I was concerned this performance provided exactly what I wanted in a large game airgun, but to cap things off Dennis had reworked the trigger on this gun, and the improvement was significant. It was just about perfect for me, the blade had been widened and though I wasn’t able to measure it before the trip I’m guessing about a 4lb pull that was quite smooth, and for field shooting worked out great.
Both Randy and I took our guns in production trim; the only difference was that his gun had the laminate stock, and mine wore the standard walnut (though I’ve since ordered the laminate, very cool furniture out of the DAQ shop). Eric wanted more power and shipped his gun directly to Bob Dean (AKA Big Bore Bob) for a power tune up; increasing the volume and opening the valve for more (and better) airflow, and balancing the hammer springs so the gun would work at higher pressures (circa 3800 psi). Is this tune up required? I am not sure for deer sized game. The longest shot of the trip was my 111 meter springbuck ram a broadside heart/lung shot that smashed the offside shoulder and exited the animal. However, Eric’s main goal was a large kudu bull, and the over 600 fpe generated by his gun certainly wouldn’t hurt on an animal this large. He managed to get in fairly close to his bull, but still the 510 grain bullet was very effective going right through the animal. I’d like to see this gun and game with a soft lead bullet, and will probably send my rifle to Bob for a tune up after deer season.
The Ammo for the large bore guns was manufactured by Hunters Supply; and came in a 300 grain, 425 grain, and 510 grain configuration. These 300 and 425 are conical bullets and the 510 are roundnose cast in hard lead, and were quite accurate out of the Quackenbush guns (for which they were purpose designed). They also penetrated well and were very effective on most of the game we shot, though I can’t help but think that on especially tough game like warthogs a soft lead bullet that expanded would have anchored the animals more solidly. The bullets were penetrating the big pigs, but I think if all the energy had been dumped on target we might have saved a couple long and hard follow up sessions.
Randy brought a couple boxes of Hunters Supplies 76 and 115 grain .308 cast bullets for his DAQ, finding this was the best load in his gun. I brought a couple boxes of the Hornady 180 grain .497 roundball for the Dragonslayer. This roundball is extremely accurate in my Dragonslayer and provided surprisingly good terminal performance on game.
For the .22s we brought a number of pellets including; the Logun Penetrator, Predator Polymags, Beeman Kodiaks, H&N FTs, Eu Jin Heavies. Each gun had its preferences and all designs were used, the Loguns worked very well in the Falcon and Superten, the Kodiaks in the DAQ, and the Eu Jins in the AR6.
Regardless of which caliber and type of ammo, there was one constant; we brought way too much! I paid an extra $100.00 in excess baggage and the left three quarters of it unused when we departed.
The purpose of this brief summary is to give a general idea of the trip, but in time each of us will relate the details of our individual hunts. It is always better to hear these from the guy that had the experience, plus we were not always together. Eric and Randy hunted big game with Andrew and Rob for the first couple of days while I pursued small game on my own, then I stayed on for a few extra days to hunt. The following details came out of our conversations and observations from the hunters and PHs at the end of the day. I also want to mention since much of this game is not well known in the States; everything we shot was legal, in season, and allowed with our permits. All animals were retrieved and all were used, the edibles processed for the larder and pest used for bait to draw in other pest.
For my part, I got everything I’d wanted except for a bushbuck. My first big animal of the trip was a 21 impala ram shot at 77 meters, using a .457 425 grain bullet. The broadside heart/lung shot dropped the ram on the spot with a one shot kill. He did not move two feet after being hit.
Next was a springbuck with 12 horns, shot at 111 meters with DAQ .457 300 grain bullet after a two hour stalk/crawl in spiny brush. The ram ran 30 yards and was dead when we walked up. This was one of the biggest rams they’d seen in a few years, and I think it will score well.
I am working on the Eastern Cape small five, and last year took an outstanding duiker ram, but the Steinbuck I shot was only fair. This year I had the opportunity for a nice 4 Steinbuck ram (which is very good) that I shot at 74 meters with the Dragonslayer .50 caliber. The broadside shot pierced the lung and aorta before breaking the offside shoulder, the ball coming to rest just under the skin on the off side.
My last big game animal was a small warthog shot at 25 yards with the DAQ .457; through the front of the chest and out the rear end, a reverse Texas heart shot. The pig ran 10 yards and dropped. I missed my one chance for a bushbuck after a long stalk, taking a 100 meter shot up a steep incline that was right on line, but hitting under. And that my friends, was the last time I got into airgun range though I spent several hours stalking another one.
I was very pleased with the Quackenbush .457 and overall bullet performance, and while I’ve often said I am a competent but not great shot, I was on for this trip. With the exception of the missed bushbuck, every shot I took at big game hit where it was intended. I also shot several small game/varmint species including; Guinea Fowl, Yellow Bill Ducks, Rock and Banded Pigeons, Rosy Doves, Crow, Hyrax, Surricate, Red Mongoose, Monkeys, Brush hares, Springhares, and a huge Porcupine
Eric shot a couple of impressive animals, and got everything he came for including; A 39 ” Kudu bull from a blind at 20 meters with his DAQ .457 510 grain bullet. A quartering heart/lung shot penetrated the bull, and he ran about 75 yards before dropping. This is as far as I know, the largest animal taken in South Africa with an airgun. Eric spent three days in hard stalking for a good bull, but couldn’t get inside 100 yards. He made a judgment call (and we all think the right one) to shoot from one of the bow hunting blinds to ensure a clean ethical kill, which is what he achieved.
Next he got my â€¦â€¦. Errrr, I mean â€œa ” nice bushbuck with 13 ” horns that he shot at 76 meters. The animal was hit broadside with a 510 grain bullet that entered beside the shoulder with a complete pass through, another one shot kill. Eric stalked this animal right up to dusk, and shot in the last light of the day.
When the three of us headed out together for impala, he had the opportunity to go after a nice 20 ” ram that he shot at 78 meters, using a .457 510 grain bullet. After the broadside heart/lung shot the ram ran about a hundred yards and was finished with a quick followup shot, after a grueling one and a half hour stalk.
Borrowing a gun for smaller antelope, Eric then shot a nice 4 ” duiker ram with Randy’s. 308 and a 75 grain bullet. A one shot kill that was a perfectly placed neck shot at 45 meters. These little antelope are a great airgunning quarry.
Erics last animal was a small warthog shot at 90 yards with the DAQ .457; first shot was a broadside that hit spine and dumped him on the spot. The pig started to crawl a way and this was the last shot in Eric’s gun, so he grabbed the PHs 30-06 and finished the job with a quick follow up, saving us a long tracking session with the dog. I think these are about the toughest animal we hunt over there. Eric also shot several small game/varmint species including; Guinea Fowl, Egyptian Geese, Banded Pigeons, Hyrax, Gray Mongoose, Monkeys, Springhares
Randy also scored on everything he had wanted on this trip, with the exception of a warthog (that’s what next trips are for). He was the first one of our group to score a large game critter and collected a nice impala ram at 50 meters, using a .457 425 grain bullet. A quartering Broadside heart/lung shot that hit spine and the ram dropped on the spot to a one shot kill.
Next he spent a while in pursuit of a very nice springbuck ram with perfectly shaped 9″ horns. Finally getting into range, a shot was fired and the ram was hit at 50 yards, dropped with a single shot of the .457 425 grain slug.
Randys final big game animal was a duiker ram with 4 ” horns, that was hit low on first shot at 65 yards, but went down to a follow up shot. Randy also got a number of small game species including; Guinea Fowl, Banded Pigeons, Rosy Doves, Monkeys, Brush hares, Springhares, and a Porcupine
The Professional Hunters thought that these were some of the more difficult hunts they had done for the season, because of the ranges we wanted to get into. If we’d been hunting with firearms, many of the shots we made after long and strenuous stalks/crawls through the brush could have been shot at 200 – 300 meters without having moved more than 20 yards from the trucks. They were also impressed with the number of one shot kills and terminal performance obtained, which I think was due to our attention to shot selection. For the most part, both shooters and guns performed well. The fact was that none of use had as much range time with our guns before leaving, but this was offset by getting in a fair amount of shooting and testing once we arrived. We tried different bullets with different fill pressures to determine what the various combinations would do across the ranges we planned to hunt.
This was a great airgunning adventure; the trip over and back was long and some of the paperwork a bit tedious, but the place, the people, and the hunting all made it worthwhile. Eric and I have hunted quite a bit together, Randy and Eric have hunted together, and Randy and I share a lease and hunt together a lot. But this was the first time that all three of us were out as a group. It was a great dynamic and an excellent team. On the South African side, Rob and Andrew have become valued friends and the chance to get this whole group together is an experience I won’t forget. Everybody liked each other and we all enjoyed hunting together. From my perspective, there is nothing more I could have asked for except maybe a second chance at that bushbuck! Randy and I in my den taking care of last minute paperwork before our departure. And this is where we were headed….. South Africa Sighting in is the time to check how the guns and scopes survived transportation and for the hunter to shake out the kinks after 30 hours of travel. It is also a chance for the professional hunters to observe their clients shooting and equipment to establish confidence they can perform in the field.
In this picture Eric is shooting with Randy on deck, Andrew and Rob looking on. The Landscape The land we hunted on was comprised of a varied character. There were large plains covered in long grass and indigenous thorn trees dressed in two inch long wooden nails. We would glass from the side of the rolling hills that undulated across the veld until spotting quarry, then strategize the approach into shooting range. There was precious little cover at times, which made getting inside of 70 yards on an animal with a 200 yard safety zone a challenge. Andrew and our Xhosa tracker/skinner Tululu discussing a bushbuck ram they’d spotted a couple of hills over. These guys had unbelievable eyes, and could spot far away game bare eyed before I could get my 12x binos trained on it. Some of these rock formations were very steep and made for hard slogging. This was the environment preferred by bushbuck and is one of the reasons this animal can be such a challenge. They are very wary and have a propensity for backtracking and using their dagger like horns on the pursuing hunter if wounded.
These rocks are a favored haunt of hyrax as well, and sometimes these animals could be seen swarming over the rocksides. Chapman, Henderson, Mitchell Cont’d After the Hunt Small herd of impala sighted from high atop a hill. We needed powerful glass to determine there was not a good ram in the bunch, which saved us from a long and non-productive hike. One piece of hear that is an absolute must on for these trips is a good set of 10x-12x binoculars. I found that standard patterns of camo developed for our North American environments works well, going more with browns and earth tones than greens. I did not see any streams or running water in the locations we hunted, however there were a few waterholes and a few dams spread around the property.
Animals are very jumpy in these areas, and getting into shooting range takes a bit of time and effort. In this picture Tululu is going after a duck I shot with the Falcon at approximately 90 yards. I was dropping trou and getting ready to go in when he came up looking for me, and offered to go in. I hunted this hole for three hours trying to get in, and finally set up in camo an waited… still 90 yards was as close I could get. After the hunt and at midday meals we retreated to the small pub for food and rest. The ambiance was great and a very cool place to hang and discuss the various hunts. Robs friends, other PHs and ranchers would come by to see our guns and discuss what we were doing. Another option for relaxing after the hunt is the billiards/game room. A bit more formal than the pub, but another style with an ambiance all its own. I always have liked this room… it’s just that I like hanging at the pub more…..
The rooms (lower) are very comfortable and I slept well every night, of course miles of bunderbashing contributed! Big Game Eric and Andrew with the Kudu bull Eric shot with his DAQ .457. The bull was hit at 20 yards and ran about 75 yards before dropping.
As far as we know this is the largest animal taken with an airgun in Africa, eclipsing the kudu cow I shot last year.
This was the primary quarry that Eric wanted, and he spent three days of solid work to finally fill his ticket. I shot this nice spring buckram at 111 meters after a long and difficult stalk. I finally crawled under a tree and was able to set up my shot, sitting down and using the bipods.
The ram ran a short distance before dropping, and was dead when I walked up.
Andrew, Rob, Diesel the wonder dog and I taking a picture with my trophy. Eric with a nice little duiker ram he shot with Randy’s DAQ .308 (left). I took this warthog with a reverse Texas heart shot as it headed along a wash directly towards me (lower). Randy, Eric, and I drove to another ranch about a 100 kilometers north to hunt impala one day. It was a great trip; Randy was the first to connect with an impala ram. After spotting two rams, he worked his way into 50 yards before pulling the trigger. His 50 yard shot struck low and he was off on a long recovery track. Eventually Rob finished the ram with a long shot with his 30-06.. Randy was using a 425 grain bullet and a fill pressure of 3200 psi.
My ram was shot late in the day after spotting a bachelor herd of eight nice rams feeding. Rob and I crawled on hands and knees over a couple hundred yards working our way into range, A 77 meter broadside resulted in a one shot kill. This was the third stalk we set up that day and we kept getting busted at around a 120 yards, which was further than I wanted to shoot. I was using the same bullet and fill pressure as Randy.
The terrain was rolling hills covered in long grass, with sparse thorn trees offering the only cover. My ram measured 21″ and is a couple inches better than last years…. I think he will score well by SCI, I have a few animals to send in to be scored when the mounts are ready.
Eric shot this impala at 78 yards with a 510 grain bullet and a fill pressure of 3800 psi. The ram ran a short distance before being anchored with a fast follow up shot. The meat from the from the large game animals we took was used at our table, used to make biltong, and sold to the local game butcher.
We kept the horns and the skins for trophies. Our skinner/tracker was a Xhosa named Tululu, and after he dressed the animals they were stored in the ranches cold house. The skulls and the skins were packed in salt before being delivered to the taxidermist. Chapman, Henderson, Mitchell Cont’d Small Game and Varmint Eric and I got in a bit of water fowl; he has an Egyptian goose shot with his DAQ .22, an 80 yard head shot. I’ve got a pair of yellow billed ducks both shot at over 75 yards with the Prairie Falcon. These birds are very difficult to get into range on, when your dinner for so many other animals it makes you cautious (above left and right).
This huge porcupine was nailed with the Dragonslayer .50 at 30 yards on a run. Unlike the North American species the African porcupines are fast. Our tracker was over the top with this one as it was destined as the main course for his dinner. Shooting monkeys is counter-intuitive for most of us, however the vervet monkey is a real pest animal that causes a great deal of damage around the property, raiding crops and livestock feed. The eagles that prey on vervets are in decline, and populations in some areas are out of control.
These animals are very wary and difficult to get into airgunning range, but can be shot from a blind or from deep camo such as a ghillie suit.
I shot a couple of big males with the Career Dragonslayer which anchored them dead in place. The .50 caliber roundball dropped them on the spot.
Randy shot a few of the beasties with the Evanix AR6, laying in headshots that were decisive. He told me that the rapid cycling of this gun made it ideal for the rapid shoot, and the high power worked well on these larger animals. All of us took multiple Guinea Fowl; I used my Prairie Falcon, DAQ .457 and Dragonslayer .50 with good effect. I especially liked the Falcon for the game. A flock of birds moving through the brush offers some fast shooting. Eric is seen here with a brace of birds taken with hius DAQ .22 right before dusk fell. We took a few of the strange little animals called dassie (or Hyrax). Here Eric poses with a dassie and the DAQ22 used to harvest them.
Eric took the Falcon out to the blind and used it to tag a gray mongoose. These fast little animals do not give much in the way of a static target. This one went down to a head shot.
In this picture we the three of us show off some of the springhare we bagged. Populations were higher than I’d seen in a long time, they were everywhere this year and in large number. Bird hunting was available everywhere you turned, it was fun to shoot pigeons as the birds swarmed in to raid the feeders. We left the “house crows” alone, the ones that hung out near the out buildings, but the ones outside of the protection zone were pest and fair game. The five of us together at the end of the hunt, as stated during the intro, we had a great group to hunt with and a lot of fun. To my way of thinking, having the right guys together can make or break a trip. Saying our goodbyes on the last night before Eric and Randy left.. Almost all of the small game was considered busk meat and given to the locals. They particularly liked the springhare, brush hare, pigeons, vervets and porcupines we shot.