Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Fortunes of Stormy Weather

The storm developed like any other, building in intensity with a thunderhead climbing higher into the atmosphere by the minute. The term "Looks Like Rain" was tossed about jokingly. The hail appeared shortly after the first tablespoon sized rain drops slammed into the river bottom. Shelter was sought under the porch as the clouds opened up. The size of the hail and the ferocity of its impact on the roof was a premonition of the aftermath. An agent from the insurance company arrived days later to assess the damage along with other residences in the area. The copper roof was no longer flat and smooth but now dimpled like the skin of an orange. Shortly a payment arrived to cover the roof damage, a contractor was called and all was in order for reconstruction. But here's where the story takes a twist.

Shortly after a quote to repair the roof arrived booking agent Jack Atcheson & Sons phoned Kurt to see if he might be interested in a cancellation Elephant hunt and if so was it possible for him the leave in 30 days? The adventure was to be undertaken in the North Western edge of Namibia's famed Caprivi Strip. Koos Pienaar and James Chapman are the co-owners and operators of Huntafrica Namibia Safari Company and would conduct the hunt. The ball was now in Kurt's court, do we play or pass?

The cancelled hunt was for a Trophy Bull Elephant and Buffalo with an assorted selection of other game available. Shortly after this conversation the dimpled roof took on a whole new visual quality of its own, the setting of a whole new architectural fashion statement came to mind. Surely these funds could be put to better use. A month later Kurt was sitting down to his first evening in camp having just arrived from Montana. With a Grey Lowry calling a short distance from camp the hail damage had become a vague memory in the now gathering twilight.

Kurt is no stranger to Africa and has had the good fortune to hunt in some of Africa's more unique hunting destinations during his career. He is also one on the few hunters I know that is just unabashedly lucky on Safari. Luckily in the fact that the game he encounters is usually quite exceptional in size. Then his skill with a rifle is put to good use. He is always prepared and hunts hard to help make that luck unfold.

Not to long after this shop began building Legends I received a request to build an Iron Sight version chambered for 458 Lott from Kurt. The rifle was to be fit with an Recknagel Universal front ramp and Recknagel See Through rear blade. This specific Legend configuration has always been an elephant hunters rifle and at 9 1/2 pounds and loaded with 5 rounds it is very portable and controllable with enough applied practice beforehand. This combination of sights allow for windage and elevation correction and in my opinion are hands down one of the best Iron Sights systems for elephant hunting that I am aware of. The sights can be purchased from New England Custom Guns here in the States.

The last request was to have the entire metalwork on the rifle coated in Robar MP-3. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, as I hate to involve and introduce another variable into the construction mix. But what the hell, we gave it a try and Robar did not let us down. After two successful Safaris with this rifle Kurt made the decision to have us install one of my Peep Sights on the rifles rear bridge as age was beginning to take its toll on his visually acuity when using the original window rear blade sight. The request was met and rifle returned once again ready for the field.

October in Montana is blessed with cool weather and sunny skies where Kurt resides. The Bwabwata West Concession was a bit warmer than Montana with afternoon temperatures hovering between 100 and 105. You can't change the weather so you dress for it and roll out at dawn knowing its going to be hot day but any day on Safari is worth the heat and discomfort. With enough water and breaks in the shade they stayed on the tracks of Elephant bulls from one day to the next. Picking up spore in the sand when the track was large enough to garner interest and then following these tracks to the elephants. The amount of elephant in the area was remarkable Kurt said and they followed up singular bulls and herds of bulls over the course of the hunt. Finally they walked up on a bull that Koos confirmed was a good representative in regard to trophy quality for the area and for that time of year. It was now up the Kurt to either roll the dice and decide to continue the hunt or close the distance. Most hunters will never have the opportunity to hunt elephant. I have been an observer on a similar hunt years before in Botswana and I can only imagine the thoughts that goes through ones mind when facing that moment of truth.

Setting the science of proper elephant management and modern ecology aside this is a moment in a hunting career that can tip in many directions when the time comes. They are such a grand animal in every respect that the decision to pull the trigger can weigh heavily on ones sole. Some elect to pass and go home without ever having pulled the trigger, content with the tracking and close encounters. It is a decision that will make all the hunting you do in the future change to some degree.

Koos and his head tracker had the wind to their advantage and awaited a decision from the hunter. A nod from Kurt committed the team forward. Methodically they reduced the gap to 15 yards when the bull now aware something was amiss turned to face them. Kurt had spent a solid month learning all he could about elephant anatomy as resident surgeon would. Hoping for that pre-agreed upon Heart shot was now out of the question. As calmly as one could in this situation Kurt settled the bead on where he felt the bullet should impact the skull and sent a Norma 550r Woodleigh FMJ into the forehead killing the bull instantly.

At this moment everything happens in slow motion, you never feel the recoil, as your recovering from the shot you see the hind end buckle first and you know the kill was quick, often the only sound you can recall is the muted ping of the spent case leaving the rifle.

As they approached the fallen bull there was no whooping shouts of triumph, no high fives, no chest bumps or crass comments tossed in the wind. Standing at the feet of to a fallen giant is a very humbling moment that cannot adequately be put into words by anyone I wish to hunt with. This bull was the first and might be the last Elephant that Kurt will ever hunt. He feel the hands of the Bushman congratulating him and sees the excitement in their eyes but it takes quite some time for him to fully process the entire event, as it should.

Driving back to camp that evening with the air beginning to cool and sunset carving a notch in your sole the events of the day are replaying themselves over and over again in you head. This is what keeps you coming back.

Over the next two days the meat is entirely removed from the carcass by the locals in the area and dried in a fashion as old as man himself.

The rest of the safari is spent looking for an old Buffalo bull. Herds numbering in the hundreds are seen day after day, more buffalo than Kurt have ever seen in any given area. Like the search for elephant the day begins before pink light, traveling and looking for sign, looking over herd bulls and hoping for tracks of bachelor groups living on their own. Once the trackers pick up the sign you leg it.

One day while covering the area in search of Buffalo they encounter a very rare sight indeed and make good on the opportunity. A Leopard is spotted lying on a Termite mound. Of all the luck.

The Legend barks once more and the cat roles off the termite mound without so much as a twitch. Not many can claim to have shot a Leopard in the middle of the day and only a rare few have done it with Iron Sights. Luck was once again walking the point on Kurt's behalf.

Eventually they run into that solitary Buffalo bull that is to just to good to pass up. The wind was right, the foot falls in the approach quiet enough and the distance closed again. Shots ring out and the 550r Woodleigh Soft Points find their mark. As they approach the bull Koos shakes his head with a grin and extends a handshake, it has been quite a hunt with this chap from Montana. The bulls horns are both wide and deep and the boss substantial enough for any veteran buffalo hunter to admire. Other plains game is taken on the hunt as well and then one day Kurt woke up and it was the day of his departure.

You regrettably pack your kit, You make sure one article of clothing isn't washed before it goes into the duffel as you'll want to savor the smells as best you can when you arrive home. The boots are worn in a little more, the rifle wears a few more scars and a part of you remains behind with the dust, heat and sands of Namibia.

Further information about hunting with Koos Pienaar and James Chapman co-owners of HuntAfrica Namibia Safari Company can be found at or

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Attending an SCI convention has its perks

While at the SCI Convention last week I took some time to walk over to the Lewis Drake booth to visit with Stephen Alexander. Steve is gifted with inexhaustible talent. Self taught at a very early age and then taken under the wing of the late engraver Lynton Mckenzie Steve's formative years grounded him in the art of Gun Making disciplines that have been developed over centuries. Historical fabrication and restoration is his specialty and there seems to be no task to difficult to undertake.

The first time we were introduced was also at a SCI Convention over two decades ago and I have followed his career as best as I could ever since. I believe Steve can replicate any firearm or related article from any period he chose as long as the original materials were made up of steel and wood. While more than competent in the use of a modern manual shop equipment few of us if challenged, could forge a part, file it into shape, make the springs required then fit these parts seamlessly into walnut. Then insure all these parts worked to perfection, engrave what was required, checker and then tie the results together to make a functional firearm with the use of only hand tools.

I like to think I can talk a pretty good game yet I am always humbled in the presence of this kind of ability.

The Mortimer 8 bore double rifle he is holding below was the subject of an earlier Blog post. I played a very small part in the project that involved duplicating the original stock. Duplicator ! surely not, you say.  I forgot to mention another skill Steve processes is the knowledge to know a good thing when he sees it. Time is money after all and having the choice to use modern technology when available is also a skill set in itself. It was a pleasure to see the Mortimer almost complete, now lacking only the checkering.

Before anyone decides to make a call to Steve to inquire about any possible work it must be noted that Steve works exclusively for Lewis Drake and does no free lance work at all. This arrangement has work well for both parties as the work is always steady and very diversified. 

It doesn't happen often but when I receive as stock to machine for Steve the pattern is going to likely be a couple 2x4's screwed together with a glass bedded impression of the metal work on one end of the lash up. The instructions are always very clear and concise "Machine this close as close as you can, thanks, Steve". 

I always chuckle when I unwrap a package from Steve, as I never know what's in store for the day.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sand Hills Mule Deer

If you have followed this Blog for any length of time the hunter in then pic below will be familiar. Living in the Eastern Plains of Colorado can occasionally offer deer hunting opportunities that many of us only dream about. On a frigid day last December Ann and her husband were noodling through the gullies and hills not far from home when they jumped this buck out of his bed. A single shot from just under a 100 yards stopped him just before he cleared the ridge line. This buck is another added to a long line of game taken with her Legend 270.

I have built only a handful of rifles for women over the years. However these few have proven to me time and time again that when given the chance they shoot just as well and often better than their male counterparts. They are not encumbered with a battery of rifles, gadgets, ego or excuses. They practice and hone their skills until they feel proficient and then make good on their efforts when the opportunity present itself. No fuss, no drama, just be ready with a skinning knife if you're along as there's a good chance you're going to need it.